Health and Wellness, Self-improvement

Owning and Embracing Your Introverted Self

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My name is Amber, and I am an introvert. 

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not asocial or a recluse. I need human connection just like anyone else; I just don’t need as much of it as some people do.

I love and cherish my partner, friends, and family — and they’re easy to spend time around because I know them so well. But nine times out of ten, I would rather stay at home and do my own thing than go to a social gathering with a bunch of people I don’t know as well.

I have to admit I’m not really much for parties, concerts, or other noisy events with big crowds. I’ll go to one every now and then and enjoy myself for a bit, but as soon as I leave, I pretty much need to go home and retreat into my cave for a while before I can face the world again.

I’m not into a lot of the things that other people my age are into. I’d rather read, play music, or do art than have a rowdy night out on the town. I am so not a night owl, it’s not even funny. I am neither trendy nor hip, and the vast majority of pop culture references go right over my head.

And I’m completely okay with it.

I didn’t always love this part of myself, though. I grew up in a culture that rewards, encourages, and praises extroversion. Being loud and outgoing is valued over being quiet and reserved. Extroverts tend to dominate the social scene and the cultural conversation because, well, they talk more than we do. Our voices aren’t always heard over the commotion, even though we have plenty to say.

But in our silence lies our strength. There’s so much more to us introverts than meets the eye. I feel strongly that it’s time for us to stop seeing our introverted nature as a weakness and start owning and celebrating all of who we are. Being an introvert isn’t anything to hide or be ashamed of; it’s a gift.

Living in an Extroverted World

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The truth of the matter is that we live in a world that strongly caters to extroverted personality types. As a result, we’re often misunderstood by people who don’t share our tendencies. Author Susan Cain talks about the “extrovert ideal” that Western culture idolizes. In an interview with The Guardian, she says: 

“Western society is based on Greco-Roman ideals of the person that can speak well, a rhetorical ideal. We have always been to some extent a society that favors action over contemplation.”

How many of us can relate to this? We’re taught growing up that we need to be gregarious, confident, and “alpha” in order to succeed in life — all stereotypically extroverted traits.

But what if we’re not all of those things? Are we destined for a life of stunted growth and missed potential? Are we doomed to be overlooked and underestimated time and time again simply because we don’t always attract as much attention as the extroverts in our midst?

Hell no, we aren’t. 

We’re not broken, even if we learn to believe that we are from growing up in a society that holds up extroversion as the “ideal” personality. What is broken and deeply wrong is the societal messaging that tells us we’re not okay the way we are.

There’s nothing at all wrong with being outgoing and energetic — if that’s your natural orientation. But feeling constantly pressured and forced to act this way when it’s not who we truly are can make us feel ashamed of ourselves. It sends the message that there’s something wrong with us — even though nothing could be further from the truth.

If you identify as an introvert, I highly suggest you read Susan’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s full of research and deeply comforting wisdom about the unique gifts that introverts bring to the world. 

How Do You Know If You’re an Introvert?

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There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what it means to be an introvert. Many people confuse introversion with shyness, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Although introverts can be shy, not all of us are. Moreover, not all shy people are introverts.

What’s the difference, then? Shyness is a mild form of social anxiety where you feel timid around others and worry about what they might think of you. Shy people don’t necessarily enjoy being alone; they just have a lot of fears around social interactions.

Being introverted does not mean you’re afraid of social situations; it means you draw more energy from being alone than you do from being around people. We introverts can enjoy socializing on our terms — I definitely do — but too much interaction drains our energy, and we have to spend time alone to “recharge”. We usually need and want a lower level of stimulation than our extroverted peers.

Also, introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum. Most of us don’t neatly fall into one or the other category; instead, we have a mix of introverted and extroverted qualities, but usually lean one way or the other (except for ambiverts, who fall right in the middle).

If you’re not sure whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you could take a personality test like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (there’s a free version online). Or, take a look at the following list of statements and ask yourself how many you identify with:

  • I truly enjoy my own company.
  • I can think more clearly when I’m by myself.
  • I am very aware of myself, my feelings, and my motivations.
  • Social situations usually leave me feeling drained.
  • I am easily overstimulated by big crowds, lots of noise, and commotion. 
  • Some people have said I am quiet.
  • I have a small but close-knit circle of friends.
  • I tend to think and consider my options before acting.
  • I value my independence and solitude.
  • I’m good at listening and offering advice to others.
  • I have little patience for small talk and casual conversation.
  • I am very observant of the world around me and notice things other people don’t.

Sound familiar? The more of these statements you can relate to, the more likely you are to be an introvert. And if that’s the case — welcome to the club, my friend. You’re in good company here.

The Gifts of Introversion

As introverts, we may be quieter and less “out there” than our extroverted peers. We may never be the life of the party, but our personality type brings a lot of unique gifts to this world. Here are just a few of them.

Creativity

Many introverts are unconventional thinkers with vivid imaginations. A lot of us enjoy thinking outside the box and finding new ways of looking at things. We are deeply connected with our inner selves and often long to express ourselves through creative outlets.

We may very well be artists, although not all of us are. Those of us who are artistically inclined might enjoy activities like drawing, painting, writing, or playing music.

Introspection

If you break down the word “introvert” into its Latin root words intro and vertere, the meaning is “to turn inwards”. Instead of turning outwards towards the world of people and things, introverts turn within. We spend a lot of time in a rich inner world that enables us to explore who we are, what we care about, and where we find meaning in life.

When we take it too far, we can become a bit detached from reality, living too much inside our own heads. But we have a strong capacity to self-reflect, and we make decisions with an awareness of ourselves and our values.

Compassion

Introverts’ self-awareness and sensitivity can provide us with keen insights into how people work. Often, we are empaths who soak up the emotional energy of people around us — which can be part of why it’s exhausting to spend too much time around others. We need to spend time alone to get back in touch with ourselves.

And yet, these same qualities give us the ability to understand and relate to others on a deep level. So when we do extend ourselves and invest in relationships with others, we have a strong ability to love and care for those people.

Thoughtfulness

Although some of us can be impulsive at times (like me!), introverts are usually known for thinking before they act. We tend to be contemplative and think about issues from multiple different angles. We often have a strong sense of right and wrong and well-thought-out philosophies on life that we love to discuss with others. 

Perceptiveness

We may not always share everything we observe, but we introverts take in a lot of information from our surroundings. We notice beauty in our surroundings and small details that other people might overlook. We’re usually observing rather than joining the fray, so we see patterns and dynamics between people that may be subtle. 

Finding Happiness as an Introvert

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In my opinion, the most essential part of living happily as an introvert is to accept that we are introverted. Being introverted (or extroverted) is an orientation towards the world, and it usually doesn’t change much over the course of a person’s life. We need extroverts in the world, for sure, but introverts bring balance to society and provide a different outlook on life. We are the yin to their yang.

So we have to find ways to trust ourselves. We must learn to believe that we are valuable, that we are okay, that we matter and that there’s a place for us in this world. Sometimes, we have to un-learn the societal messaging that we learned growing up. It can take time. But can we do it? Absolutely.

With greater knowledge of what it means to be an introvert, and awareness of the blessings that come with our personality type, we can feel more confident in ourselves. We can identify any negative or limiting beliefs we might have about introversion and start to question them. And most importantly, we can learn to embrace our many strengths and celebrate all of who we are.


How about you? Are you a proud introvert? I’d love to hear about your journey, wherever you’re at, in the comments below.

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Have you ever felt self-conscious about being an introvert? Learn about the many upsides of your personality and why they're worth celebrating. #self-improvement #self-care #health #wellness #personality #introversion #quiet
Health and Wellness, Mental Health, Self-Care

How to Stay Mentally Healthy During Winter

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As the daylight wanes and the weather starts to get chilly, many of us might be starting to feel the first pangs of sadness about the coming of winter. I know I am.

For me, it seems to start after the fall colors have faded and daylight savings time has ended. I find that my energy and motivation starts to dwindle, especially as night begins to fall earlier and earlier each evening. I usually fade fast once my daylight is gone, and I start to adopt the bedtime habits of a grandma. (8:00? Is that too early to go to bed?)

All joking aside, seasonal dips in mood and energy can really take a toll. Those of us who suffer from anxiety or depression might struggle a little extra with the coming of winter. Plus, we all tend to be less active and stay at home more during the winter anyway, and with the pandemic still raging, we might feel the effects of isolation even more acutely this year. 

I want to talk today about how we can prepare ourselves for this season — how we can take steps to love and care for ourselves now to stay resilient, adaptable, and able to handle the lows that may be coming in the months ahead.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

If you struggle at this time of year, you’re far from alone. It’s common to feel a little under the weather as the winter approaches. But for people who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it’s more serious than a case of the “winter blues”. SAD is a form of cyclical depression that usually sets in during the fall and lingers through the winter. 

Somewhere around 5% of American adults experience SAD symptoms such as:

  • Feeling down or sad
  • A loss of interest even in favorite activities
  • An increase or decrease in appetite
  • A change in your sleep patterns
  • A low energy level
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of guilt or low worth
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions

Although it usually starts to subside when spring rolls around, SAD can make you feel miserable for a few months. And if you’ve got underlying anxiety or depression to begin with, your symptoms could be more severe.

Winter and Isolation

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For a lot of us, winter also means that we don’t get out and about as much. This year, the pandemic will probably keep us at home even more often since it could be a challenge to safely spend time with friends and family. Feeling cooped up at home could lead to feeling lonely and isolated.

We’ve got some unique challenges ahead for the coming winter, but that doesn’t mean we have to resign ourselves to feeling lousy until spring arrives. Here are some ways we can proactively bolster our mental health and keep ourselves well throughout the winter season.

Tips for Staying Well Throughout the Winter

Eat a balanced diet.

I know that eating healthy probably sounds like really obvious advice. We all know eating a balanced diet is good for our long-term health — but did you know the foods we eat can also have an enormous impact on how we feel day-to-day?

I should know. I’m a stress eater. I eat pretty decently most of the time, but I have a tendency to load up on junk food and sweets when I’m stressed or in a low mood. And in the moment, sugar does give a quick boost of feelgood chemicals. It activates reward centers in your brain and boosts levels of dopamine — the same neurotransmitter that cocaine releases in huge quantities.

The problem is, after the dopamine high wears off, your blood sugar plummets, and you wind up feeling more crappy than before. According to Healthline, eating a high-sugar diet increases the odds of mood disorders in men and women. Sugar is also addictive and can make you reliant on its fleeting mood-boosting effects.

You don’t have to swear off all sweet treats. But especially if you know you’re prone to anxiety, depression, or SAD, you might want to reduce your sugar intake this winter and opt for more nutrient-rich foods to support your mental health.

Make sleep a priority.

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Along with eating a nutritious diet, sleep is crucial for good mental health. Our bodies and brains need this time to regenerate, repair, and rest. Poor sleep not only leaves us feeling cranky and on-edge; it actually reduces our ability to manage stress. Studies have also shown that people with insomnia may have twice the risk of developing depression as people who sleep normally. 

Of course, stress and depression can also make sleep more challenging, which may create a vicious cycle. Practicing good sleep hygiene –such as sticking to a regular bedtime and unplugging electronics before winding down for the night — could help you develop healthy sleeping habits. Doing a little breathing work or mindful practice before you go to bed can calm your mind and set the stage for a good night’s rest.

If you’re struggling with getting adequate sleep, you may want to talk with your doctor. They might suggest taking supplements or even medications to aid with sleep. And a therapist can help you work through anxiety or other issues that are keeping you awake at night.

Ask your doctor about light therapy.

Light therapy is a recognized form of treatment for SAD. It involves sitting near a box that radiates a bright light, similar to the natural light you’d see outdoors. The extra light exposure is believed to alter brain chemicals that affect your mood and sleep patterns, which can alleviate some symptoms of depression.

Although it’s generally safe, it comes with some risks and possible side effects — so make sure to check with your doctor before beginning light therapy. 

Get creative.

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Expressing yourself through creativity is a marvelous antidote to anxiety, depression, and winter doldrums. Taking part in creative activities has known benefits for mental health, such as reducing depression and anxiety, increasing positivity, and possibly even boosting our immune system.

And creativity doesn’t only include artistic activities like drawing, painting, or playing a musical instrument. Most of us are creative in some way. Think about what you enjoy doing or making, whether it’s cooking up new recipes in the kitchen, quilting, webpage design, or flower arranging. All of these hobbies have a creative component, and all of them can potentially boost our happiness. It’s about finding something that’s meaningful to you and making time to do it.

Even if you’re feeling a little blue, you might be surprised at how doing something creative can lift your spirits and brighten your day.

Connect with friends and family.

While it might be hard to gather with friends or family in-person right now, it’s vital to stay connected with the ones we love. If you don’t already have a video chat app such as Zoom, Google Duo, or Skype, I highly suggest you download one of these programs, sign up for an account, and learn how to use it before the winter comes. 

Having virtual chats with your favorite people can be almost as good as seeing them face-to-face, and you won’t even have to leave home to do it. Another huge upside of these apps is that you can use them to host (or attend) virtual gatherings — so you can see all of your nearest and dearest ones for the holidays without compromising anyone’s safety.

Stay active.

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Physical activity is one of the best stress-busters I know of. Even during some of the hardest times in my life, if I could get myself to work out, it always made a positive difference in how I felt. 

Exercise is extremely effective at reducing anxiety and depression — it releases endorphins, refocuses your mind on something new, and gives you confidence, all of which can give your mood a boost. When you’re in a funk, it can be hard to find the motivation to work out. But staying active can help you blow off steam, clear your mind, and arrive in a clearer, more peaceful headspace. 

And you don’t have to go to the gym to add some movement to your day. With all of the online options available these days, you can easily find online yoga routines, Zumba workouts, and fitness classes to do from the comfort of your own home. 

Create things to look forward to.

Many of us aren’t traveling or going out a lot right now. But if possible, start making plans for fun things you can do in the future — whether it’s this weekend, a few weeks from now, or a couple of months down the road. 

You could set dates to meet up — in-person or virtually — with your friends and family. Or think about the next road trip you’d like to take. Or plan a Netflix night with your sweetie to watch a new movie as soon as it comes out. Pick some things that get you excited about the future so that you can give yourself something to look forward to.

Distraction isn’t always bad.

I’m going to share something with you that my therapist told me once: sometimes, when you’re in a really bad place, one of the best things you can do is distract yourself

I’m generally a huge proponent of mindfulness and delving into difficult feelings to find what’s at the root of them. But if we’re starting to spiral out of control, focusing more on those feelings only magnifies them and makes them worse. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to distract yourself until you’ve calmed down. Turn on some music and sing at the top of your lungs. Watch an outrageous movie, or a few Youtube videos filled with adorable baby animals. If possible, resist the urge to self-medicate, no matter how tempting it may be.

Once you’re back to feeling calm, you could try some meditation or breathwork to gain some clarity on what you’re feeling. But if you’re not there yet, don’t force it.


What about you? What do you do to lift your spirits when you’re feeling down? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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Does wintertime get you down? Learn how to stay happy and well through the cold months and isolating at home. #health #wellness #anxiety #depression #SAD #mentalhealthmatters #winter

Health and Wellness, Self-Care

8 Self-Care Tips for the Fall Season

Feeling a little off-balance? Learn some of my favorite self-care tips for keeping yourself healthy and well in the fall. #fall #health tips #meditation #mindfulness #selfcare
Photo by Amber Carlson

Fall is the season of deepening shadows; of longer nights and ever-shorter days. The trees turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, red and purple as they shed their leaves and sink their roots deeper into the earth; animals gather food and seek shelter for a long winter sleep. There’s a slowing down of the summer festivities as we unpack our cool-weather clothes and shift into a quieter, more introspective season.

This time of year makes me want to cozy up with a mug of hot tea and spend whole mornings writing, sketching, or dreaming. I can just as easily spend afternoons cooking green chile or spiced apple cider while my house fills with delightful aromas. Fall seems to bring out my creativity, and yet the mood is bittersweet as the daylight begins to fade and the nights grow colder, reminding me that winter is on its way.

As a gardener, I feel a little melancholy around this time of year because fall brings the end of the growing season. My beautiful plants that thrived and bore fruit during the spring and summer months are starting to die back. In a few weeks it’ll be time to clear out the garden beds and get them ready for winter. The summer went by too fast, as it always does. And yet, I understand: the earth needs its time of rest. Things have to die and go back to the soil so that new life can come back next year.

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And just as the earth needs time to regenerate, so, too, do we need periods of quiet and stillness for rest and contemplation. Fall provides us the perfect opportunity to slow down, to take stock of our lives, and to give thanks for all that we have. Because it’s a season of change and transition, fall can also leave us feeling a little anxious and unsettled, and our bodies can become more vulnerable to illness as the weather turns cold.

I’m always an advocate of self-care no matter what time of year it is, but as the fall arrives it seems especially helpful and important for us to nourish ourselves in various ways — at least, it does for me. So in case your body, mind or soul is also feeling in need of a little TLC, here are eight of my favorite self-care tips for the fall season.

1. Cultivate gratitude for your life.

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If you don’t already have a gratitude practice of some sort, now is a great time to begin one. As the summer activities wind down, it might be easier to find a little more space in our days for quietly reflecting on everything we have to be thankful for. According to Psychology Today, practicing gratitude on a regular basis improves our physical and mental health, makes us more empathic, and increases our self-esteem. 

And the more often you take the time to be thankful, the more you’ll find you have to be thankful for. You may start noticing smaller, more subtle things that you’ve previously taken for granted as you shift towards a more positive mentality. Cultivating a sense of gratitude will open your eyes to the beauty that is already around you.

Having a gratitude practice doesn’t have to take a lot of time or energy. It can be as simple as spending five minutes before you get out of bed in the morning. If you like, you can keep a specific journal for writing lists each day of what and whom you feel grateful for. I like to give thanks before each meal because I feel lucky to have food on my table (not to mention a wonderful partner to share it with).

Another idea? Every time something positive happens in your day, write it on a slip of paper and drop it into a jar. Keep filling this jar with beautiful moments, uplifting experiences, and even inspiring words people have said. On days when you aren’t feeling so great and need a boost, you can open the jar and read these stories of sunny moments to lift your spirits and remind you of how wonderful life can be.

2. Ground yourself through meditation.

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I wrote a previous post about how beneficial meditation can be, and how little time it truly takes to have a regular meditation practice. The changing weather of fall can leave us feeling a little extra stirred-up, so I like to focus on re-grounding at this time of year. I find it helps me stay focused and centered.

There are tons of ways to do a grounding meditation, but one of the best ways involves (literally) sitting on the ground. Go outside on a nice day and sit underneath a favorite tree, perhaps with your back against the trunk. Once you’re comfortable, close your eyes and drop your attention inward. 

Take time first to notice your breath and the way your body feels, and then sense the earth beneath you. Visualize sending roots from your sit bones down into the soil, going deeper and deeper with each breath. Each time you inhale, imagine drawing nourishment from the earth into your body. Stay here for several more minutes, mindfully breathing and deepening your roots as far into the earth as you can imagine.

3. Keep a journal.

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Because fall can provide more space for stillness and reflection, it’s also an excellent time for personal journaling. I’ve been keeping a journal in some form since I was 10 years old, and I can’t imagine giving it up. For so many years now, it’s been my private space for thinking, feeling, reflecting, processing, dreaming, and making meaning of all that has happened in my life. It’s allowed me to explore my mind, heart and soul at a level of depth that I wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise. It’s helped me develop my awareness of who I am and what’s important to me.

There’s no “right” way to keep a journal. Some people use theirs for documenting what happens in their day-to-day lives, and others write more sporadically. I don’t write in my journal anywhere near every day. Usually I only feel moved to journal when something important is happening in my life and I need to sort through my thoughts and feelings about it. But every person is different, and your journal can be whatever it needs to be to support you in your journey. No matter what your personal practice looks like, journaling can be profoundly healing, impactful, and illuminating.

And one of the best parts? If you keep journaling over the years, you’ll start to accumulate collections of old journals that you can read through for years to come. You’ll be able to trace the changes that happen in your life over time and the ways you evolve as a person because of it. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can take long walks down memory lane and spend hours reminiscing about bygone days. Sometimes, reading through old journals can even provide fresh insights about life or remind you of long-forgotten dreams. These letters from your previous self are a gift unlike any other.

4. Go for a walk in nature.

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Another way to re-center yourself is to take walks outside. Being outdoors boosts your energy, reduces stress, and improves sleep, and if you live in a temperate area, you won’t want to miss the magical fall colors! They usually only last for a few weeks, so make sure to get outside and enjoy them while you can.

Leave your phone at home (or put it in airplane mode) and treat yourself to a mindful stroll through a park, open space, or along a hiking trail, savoring the sights and sounds you encounter along the way. You may want to bring a camera so you can take pictures of anything and everything that inspires you. Go as slowly as you want — you can even turn it into a walking meditation, only taking a single footstep each time you breathe. You’ll be amazed at how much more you notice and take in when you slow down the pace.

5. Take a hot bath.

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Nothing is more luxurious and soothing than a hot bath. The heat calms your mind and relaxes your muscles, and you can add other elements such as bubbles, a book, or a cup of tea for a truly indulgent experience.

Set aside 30 minutes when you won’t be interrupted, then draw a bath with water as hot as you can comfortably handle. Add scented oils, a bundle of herbs, a bath bomb, or whatever accoutrements you’d like to the water. Pour yourself something to drink, light a candle, put on some music, and let yourself soak for up to 15-20 minutes. (Just make sure to drink some water afterwards since the heat can be dehydrating.)

6. Give yourself a massage.

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Doing a little self-massage can be a lovely practice, especially just before bed or immediately after a shower or bath. Massage is famous for its stress-reducing, pain-relieving benefits, but it also increases feelings of connection and well-being. And in the fall, giving yourself (or your partner) a little love can leave you feeling comforted and nourished.

For extra grounding effects, focus on the feet and lower legs. You can use a scented massage lotion or oil, if you have one, or you can just grab an oil you already have at home (such as sunflower, olive, or coconut oil). Apply a small amount of oil or lotion to your hands, then use your thumbs and fingers to massage the soles of the feet, toes, ankles, calves, and muscles of the shins. Cover feet with warm socks when you’re done to help them soak in the moisture.

7. Sip on hot tea.

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Although I’ve become a coffee convert recently, I’ve always been a tea lover at heart. “Real” teas, made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, come in varieties such as white, green, black, oolong, and pu-erh (all coming from different ways of oxidizing and preparing the tea leaves), but if you prefer a caffeine-free variety, there are all kinds of herbal teas that are lovely for sipping on chilly days.

Teas with chamomile or lavender have relaxing effects, while peppermint or ginger brews can help with digestion. Herbal teas such as nettle, raspberry or blackberry leaf are full of nutrients and have a pleasant, earthy taste. Hibiscus or fruit blends have a delicious sweet-tart flavor that will leave you craving more. For a quiet afternoon indoors, try brewing a whole pot of tea and slowly enjoying it cup by cup.

8. Cook with warming spices.

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When fall arrives and the weather starts to cool down, I like to start eating more warming, spicy foods. Southwestern pork green chile is always a favorite of mine, but soups, stews, and spiced meats with roasted vegetables are other fall-time options.The foods don’t have to be spicy, necessarily (although I like a little heat), but spices like chile peppers, garlic, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon will heat you up and may even have some immune-boosting benefits.


What are your thoughts on these ideas? Do you have any favorite ways to take care of yourself in the fall? Please share in the comments below.

Fitness, Health and Wellness

A (Brief) Guide to Getting Started with Running

New to running and not sure how to get started? Here are some ideas for beginners. #fitness #running #runningforbeginners
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Those of you who know me (or have read my previous post on the subject) know that I am a big proponent of running. Maintaining my health has always been a priority for me, but I also have come to love the character-building aspect of this sport and the community I’ve found through doing it over the last few years.

With all its challenge and intensity, I really enjoy and appreciate running. And I say this to you not as someone who’s been doing it her whole life, not as someone who was ever a natural at it, but as someone who long thought of herself as a “non-runner”. It’s unfortunate that so many people identify with this label. After all, beliefs about what we are not tend to be self-fulfilling. My old swim coach used to tell us that “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” And it’s absolutely true; if you’ve created the story in your mind that you can’t do something, most of the time, you won’t do it. Not unless you’re open to changing that story.

Perhaps you, too, feel like you are “not a runner”, and yet you are curious about how people get into it — and that’s what drew you to this article. Perhaps there is some small, crazy voice within you that asks — what if I could do it? Well, what if I told you that it’s absolutely possible? Even if you’ve never run before in your life, it can be done. I didn’t start running seriously until I was almost 30 years old, and I’ve known other people who started even later. It’s never too late. And if you’re in good health and take care to avoid injuries, you can keep it up well into old age; I have a friend whose 80-something-year-old mother still runs marathons. It’s pretty incredible, really, what the human body and mind are capable of.

My partner, an ultramarathoner and coach, likes to say that our bodies already know how to run. There is an innate wisdom in our bodies that knows how to execute the necessary movements without having to think about it. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning our form and harnessing natural momentum to carry us forward so that we are efficient and light on our feet. Remembering how to run this way, actually, is a joy; it doesn’t have to be purely “hard work”, and if you think of it as something that can be fun, it will be.

So, where do you begin with this sport? Here are just a few of the many ways you can get started as a runner.

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Create a positive mindset around running.

When you think of running, what comes to mind? For me, for most of my life, the answer was pain. I truly, for the life of me, couldn’t understand the appeal of this sport because anytime I tried it, it would kick my butt. Even in my swim-team days, when I was swimming (literally) miles each week and in excellent cardio shape, I struggled to run more than half a mile. So I got it in my head that I was a “non-runner”, and it was years before I dropped my negative attitude about it and finally gave it a fair shot.

If you want to become a runner — or anything else in life — you have to at least be open to the idea that you are capable of it. You don’t have to know that you are yet, but you must be willing to entertain the possibility. If you dismiss the mere idea of it out of hand, you won’t try — and you won’t come to know your full potential.

Decide what your goals are and start small.

Becoming a runner does not mean you have to run ultramarathons. If running a 100-mile race is on your bucket list, by all means, go for it. But there are many different levels of runners, from pro athletes to race runners to recreational “weekend warrior” types who just do it for fun — it’s totally up to you to decide how far you want to take it and how serious you want to get. When you’re just starting out, you might try a 5K. Once you’ve done that, you could work your way up to a 10K or half marathon. If you still like running after you’ve done those distances, you might just be hooked for life.

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Try a running app.

If you’re new to running and aren’t sure where to start, I highly suggest trying a running app. Couch to 5K (C25K) is the one that I used when I was first starting out, and I have sung its praises to anyone who’s ever asked me about it. What’s great about C25K is that it assumes you are starting from zero running experience and gives you structured workouts that gradually increase in difficulty. So you’re not going to go out and run a mile in your first workout; you’ll start by alternating, say, one minute of walking with one minute of jogging for 20 minutes. 

New runners can get intimidated by thinking that they have to immediately start running long distances, but that’s not really how it works. You work your way up to the longer distances. With C25K, you’ll start with jogging for one minute at a time, and over a few weeks’ time, you’ll gradually increase your ratio of jogging to walking until you are able to jog for 10, 15, and eventually 20 minutes at a time. The workouts are challenging but doable, and you can complete them at your own pace. You’ll be amazed at how fast you can progress.

Join a (real or virtual) running group.

Joining a running group can be a great way to get into running, especially if you’d like to meet some new runner friends. Running is a great social activity, and there are so many groups out there — if you’re looking for an in-person group, you can find anything from serious running clubs to laid-back social groups who meet up once a week to jog around the park and then grab beers at the neighborhood bar. Virtual groups and apps like Zwift allow you to run with people from around the world. Regardless, many of these groups welcome runners of all levels (including newbies), and having some running buddies just makes it all the more fun.

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Commit to doing a race with a friend or family member.

Signing up for a race can be a powerful motivator to keep up with your workouts. My mom was actually the one who decided she was going to commit to doing her first 5K; I just decided to jump on her bandwagon and do it with her. And honestly, I loved it. There was something beautiful and life-affirming about being surrounded by throngs of people who were all out there, running alongside me, challenging themselves and being part of something positive. And when I saw the finish line coming up ahead of me, when I fully grasped that I was about to achieve something I’d never done before and didn’t think I could do, it was a very emotionally powerful moment.

Now, granted, this was a few years ago, before the time of COVID-19. There are fewer in-person options for races at the time of this writing, but there are still virtual races and other creative events being offered for those who would like to participate.

“Racing” can have a negative connotation for some people who don’t consider themselves competitive by nature, but the truth is, a running race doesn’t have to be a competition at all. There will always be the elite athletes striving to be at the front of the pack, but in most races, most of the runners are just out having fun. If anything, they might be racing against themselves, trying to beat their best time from before. But a lot of people don’t even pay attention to their times, and there’s no rule saying you have to.

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Keep after it.

When you first start running, it will probably feel hard. It might feel like a slog. There is an initial hurdle you have to clear as your body adjusts to the exertion. But once you do adjust, it starts to get a little easier. In my case, once I could run 15-20 minutes without stopping, I felt a noticeable shift; my body seemed suddenly able to tolerate running better than ever before, and I started enjoying the whole experience a lot more.

Even if you’ve never considered yourself a runner, you might be surprised at what you can do. Sometimes, the hardest part of doing a new thing is just getting started with it — and if you start running and stick with it, you’ll add a great new mode of activity to your repertoire that can keep you healthy for years to come.


What about you? Are you curious about running? Or, if you already are a runner, how’d you get your start? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Health and Wellness

8 Simple Ways to Add Mindfulness to Your Day

Wondering how to live a more mindful life? Want to meditate but don’t have the time? Here are eight simple techniques you can do every day to strengthen your awareness and clarify your mind. #mindfulness #meditation #consciousliving #stressrelief
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“Mindfulness” is quite the buzzword these days. Spiritual teachers, psychologists, celebrities and health professionals are heralding the benefits of mindful practices such as yoga and meditation. And there’s a growing body of research to back up the idea that these positive, life-affirming practices can reduce stress, relieve pain and improve our health and well-being.

But what does it actually mean to live mindfully? This definition sums it up well: 

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

— mindful.org

In theory, this sounds simple. In practice, it can be quite challenging to do. Our modern lives have become chaotic, fast-paced, and filled to the brim with responsibilities and distractions galore. Most of us have got a ton of different things competing for our time and attention to the point where it often gets overwhelming. And on top of all that, we constantly receive societal messaging telling us that we need to have more, do more and be more — that we aren’t good enough as we are. If we’re not careful, we can get wrapped up in trying to compensate by overstuffing our social calendars and working our butts off until we’re completely fried, exhausted and burnt-out.

These reasons are precisely why mindfulness is such an essential discipline for our times. I’ve read that if we want to be happy in life, and if we truly want to make the most of each day, the key is not doing more; it’s doing less. Not speeding up, but slowing down. It may sound counterintuitive at first, but the truth is that just as we need to recharge our bodies with sleep, we must rejuvenate our minds and souls with moments of stillness and quiet. We need time and space to re-center, to gain clarity and perspective on our lives and to make intentional choices that align with our deepest values.

But what are we to do when time feels like it’s in such short supply? That’s where we may need to get a little creative. The good news is that you don’t have to have tons of free time to start practicing mindfulness. You can practice in the small spaces and gaps between the various activities of your day — even if it’s just a few minutes here and there. Even those little snippets of time count. According to Verywell Mind, practicing meditation for just five minutes a day can be beneficial. Meditating in short bursts is certainly better than not practicing at all because, like a muscle, the ability to be mindful becomes stronger through regular use. And the length of time you spend practicing matters less than how consistent you are at it. Spending just a few short minutes each day on mindfulness techniques will help put you on the path towards a more mindful life. 

With all that in mind, here are eight of my favorite ideas for you to try:

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1. Stop and breathe. Bringing awareness to your breath is one of the simplest and most effective techniques for coming back into the present moment. Feeling the physical sensations of your chest and abdomen rising and falling, and the air flowing in and out of your body, redirects your focus to your immediate experience. Ancient yogis believed that pranayama, or breathing exercises, were ways to regulate physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy, which is why breathwork is still such a central part of yoga practice today. And even if yoga doesn’t happen to be your jam, you can still benefit from incorporating a little mindful breathing into your day. 

Try this exercise for starters: close your eyes, inhale slowly for four seconds, then slowly exhale for four seconds. For a relaxing effect, you can gradually increase the length of the exhale to six, then eight seconds (while keeping the inhale at four seconds). Lengthening your exhalation will actually stimulate your vagus nerve and deactivate the “fight-or-flight” stress response. If you’re having a stressful day, there aren’t many quicker ways to take the edge off than to take a pause, turn your attention inward and just breathe.

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2. Play the 5-4-3-2-1 game to tune into your senses. This is a tool I learned from my former therapist to manage my anxiety. It’s especially useful for moments when you feel overwhelmed and a little out-of-control, but you can use it at any time when you’re starting to feel stressed. The game uses your five senses to immediately draw you back into the present. Here’s how to play:

  • First, find five things that you can see around you.These things can be anything–a notebook, a photo hanging on the wall, or a cloud in the sky, perhaps. 
  • Now, notice four things that you can feel with your touch. Maybe it’s the feeling of your shirt against your skin, the soles of your feet against the floor, or a breeze moving through your hair.
  • Take note of three things that you hear. Is it the sound of cars in the distance? The hum of a refrigerator? The ticking of a clock?
  • Identify two things that you can smell–perhaps the smell of food cooking for breakfast, or the aroma of the earth just after a rainstorm.
  • Pay attention to one thing you taste–most likely lingering notes of whatever you last ate.

The purpose of this exercise is to focus your attention on the myriad of sensations that are all around you–things we often don’t notice because we’re preoccupied with something else. Some of these sensations might be immediately obvious, while others can be quite subtle. Either way, paying attention to these small details helps you become more present in the moment and more aware of how rich and multilayered our consciousness can be.

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3. Set alerts on your phone to remind you to take a break. I have a good friend who does this. My favorite alert of hers is the one that tells her to go outside at twilight so she can watch the sunset. You can time your alerts around events like sunsets, but even if the alerts are just set at regular intervals throughout the day, they are a good reminder to take a few minutes to rest and decompress.

4. Practice single-tasking. Some of us take pride in our ability to focus on many different things at once, but the truth is, our human brains don’t actually do multitasking all that well. We can pay attention to multiple tasks simultaneously, but we can only give each of them a fraction of our focus and effort.

“Single-tasking” results in less residual mental clutter — it’s more efficient (and less stressful) to do only one task at a time and complete it before moving onto something else. So, when doing an item on your to-do list, see how it feels to set aside everything else for a few minutes and focus all your attention on that one thing. There is a Zen proverb that says, “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” No matter how mundane the task is, give it your full, undivided attention. If it’s something you’ve done a thousand times before — and especially if it’s something you don’t really enjoy — try using your senses to pick up on a new dimension of the experience that you’ve never noticed before. Experiment with different ways of doing it, if you like. But regardless, do nothing else until you’re finished with that task. When you focus only on one thing at a time, you greatly enhance the quality of effort, attention and intention that go into everything you do.

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5. Get out of your head and into your body. If you’re prone to overthinking — and so many of us are — you can use physical movement to pull yourself back into present-moment awareness. Our minds are great tools when used properly, but sometimes, they’re a little too powerful and they get the better of us. If that sounds like you, a few minutes of activity could be just what you need to pull yourself out of “thinking” mode and into a more clear, centered space. You don’t have to do a full workout; you can go for a short walk or do a few jumping jacks and you’ll still get some of the positive effects of exercise. You could even try a short Qigong routine like this one. Whatever you decide to do, when you take the opportunity to bring awareness into your body, your mind will naturally slow down.

6. Do a mini-meditation. A regular meditation practice can have a profound impact on your mental clarity, ability to regulate your emotions, and your day-to-day stress levels. And there are plenty of meditations that can be done in just a few minutes. There are so many different ways to meditate, but if you’re new to it or could use some guidance, you might want to try a meditation app such as Headspace. These apps have a huge assortment of short, guided meditations to choose from, and some of them can be completed in as little as three minutes.

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7. Go outside. I can’t stress enough how beneficial it is just to get outdoors for some fresh air. As I mentioned earlier, going for a walk is a great way to center yourself, but even sitting outside for a few minutes can do wonders for your state of mind. According to Mental Floss, being outside can boost your energy, improve mood and increase focus and creativity. The natural aromas of flowers, grass and trees are a treat for the senses and can give you a lift when you need one.

8. Spend a few minutes being bored. We spend most of our lives running from boredom, don’t we? Honestly, even though it makes us miserable to be crazy-busy, constantly overwhelmed and scrambling around the clock to get things done — I have a theory that a lot of us would rather live that way than be bored. But what’s so wrong with boredom, really? Is it that bad? Or have we simply been so conditioned to need the never-ending excitement of stuff happening all the time?

The more we train ourselves to need constant stimulation, the more lost we are without it. But the more we learn to sit with and even embrace boredom, the more adaptable and resilient we become. So, I challenge you to try this: remove all outside noise and stimulation for just a few minutes and do nothing. This may be surprisingly hard to do at first. But, with practice, you’ll become more comfortable being in this quiet space. It might even start to feel peaceful.


What about you? I’d love to hear about your experiences with these and other mindfulness techniques, and where the journey has led you. Feel free to share in the comments below!

Fitness, Health and Wellness

How Running Changed My Life (and Could Change Yours, Too)

Think you’re not a runner? Here are some ways it could change your life if you give it a chance. #running #fitnessgoals #healthyliving #selfimprovement
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Running can be a very polarizing sport. On one end of the spectrum, you have diehard fans who compete in ultramarathons and races throughout the year, and on the other end, you have haters who say that it’s a sport for crazy people who enjoy pain and suffering. In my life, I have been both a lover and a hater of running, and trust me when I say that I was a hater for a long, long time before I finally came around.

I had (sort of) tried it a couple of times when I was younger, but it never came naturally to me the way it seemed to to other people. Don’t get me wrong; I was plenty active growing up — I was on a swim team as a kid and teenager — but even so, running was always my Achilles’ heel. We’d do dryland training from time to time and while the rest of my teammates seemed to be able to run without a fuss, I struggled to keep up. Even half a mile felt like a lot for me. And a whole mile? Forget it.

So, I made up my mind early on that running was “too hard” and not something I could ever enjoy. I wrote it off, and regrettably spent most of my life telling myself the story that I was “not a runner”. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I finally tried challenging that notion. How I got into it is a story in and of itself, but after training and running my first race with my mom, I was hooked. 

The thing is — and most runners will readily admit this — running is a little insane. It has an intensity that scares a lot of people away. Sure, usually you feel great after a run, but during? It’s work. It can be grueling, hot, sweaty, even miserable work. Sometimes you feel like stopping; other times the hardest part is dragging your butt out to get started in the first place. Simply put, it ain’t for sissies.

But looking back on the last few years of my life, I can see that running has been hugely influential on the person I have become. It might sound dramatic to say that it has changed my life, but I believe that it has. And if it left such a strong imprint on me, surely it could do the same for others. Now, I’m not saying that everyone in the world has to become a runner; if it’s truly not for you, then it’s not for you. But if you’re open to giving it a try, here are just some of the ways that running can transform your life.

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You’ll get in amazing shape, and possibly live longer. Running is one of the best cardiovascular activities out there. It will keep your heart strong, your lungs healthy and your muscles toned. Like any form of exercise, it can reduce stress and lower the risk of long-term diseases, potentially increasing your longevity. Of course, running is also high-impact and can be hard on your body over time, but running in the right gear (especially shoes) and working on your form can help minimize the risk of repetitive motion injuries, falls and sprains.

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You’ll become stronger through pushing yourself to do things that are challenging. What if I told you that a huge part of the value of running is the difficulty of it? For me, running isn’t worth doing because it’s easy; it’s worth doing because it’s hard. It toughens you up on so many levels. You’ll quite literally “feel the burn” of your muscles and lungs as you start to fatigue. Your feet, your legs, your hips and your back will get sore.

But the real challenge is more mental — and the real question is, can you keep on pushing and striving towards a larger goal even when things are starting to get really uncomfortable and hard? Can you move through layers of physical, mental and emotional resistance and keep going anyway? Can you ignore the negative, self-sabotaging voices inside that tell you you “can’t” do something and then proceed to prove them wrong? Running will push you to do all of these things and more, and you’ll be better off for it.

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You’ll become better at sitting with discomfort and prioritizing long-term rewards over short-term comfort and ease. I wish I could say that running gets easier over time. It does, in a way, as your body adapts and becomes stronger, but you’ll always be riding the edge of discomfort. While running shouldn’t be painful, when it’s done right, it should bring you up against your edges and push you out of your comfort zone.

This may not ever feel entirely easy or pleasant, but when you practice doing that on a regular basis, you’ll at least get more used to being with discomfort — observing it, noticing it, and letting it pass without attaching any meaning to it. Sooner or later you may even find you’re less attached to “being comfortable” and that it feels more natural to make decisions that benefit you in the long term rather than resorting to doing whatever is easiest in the moment. Running is a perfect example of how sometimes, the difficult things in life are great teachers for us.

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You’ll become more in-tune with your body, mind and surroundings. As challenging as running can be, it can also feel oddly meditative. Especially being outdoors where you can breathe the fresh air and feel the sun on your face. Your senses are engaged, perhaps even heightened. You might find yourself marveling at the beauty of the scenery that you normally breeze by without a second thought while you’re driving in a car. If you go without music, you hear sounds you normally don’t notice — the sound of your feet hitting the ground as they fall into a rhythm with your breath is borderline hypnotic.

Some people run to distract themselves, watching TV on their treadmills or listening to music as they go. But I run to practice being more present. It’s amazing how rich the experience of just running can be on its own, and being free of distractions (even for a few minutes) is wonderfully liberating. Running without distractions is also safer because you stay more aware of what’s happening around you, which makes it easier to avoid dangers like oncoming cars and bikes.

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You can make new friends. While there’s an incomparable peace and stillness that comes with running alone, running with others can be a lot of fun. Running is a great social activity to do with partners, friends, family, and fur babies. One thing I really enjoy about running is the way it brings people from many different walks of life together. And there are always exceptions, but in my experience, the running community is generally made up of positive, upbeat, supportive people who will encourage you along in your journey. There’s a real kinship among runners — a shared understanding that we’re all a little crazy in the same way, we’re all pushing ourselves to see what we are capable of, and we’re all in this together. And there’s something special about that.

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You’ll expand your sense of what is possible for you. Running is incredibly empowering and a huge confidence-booster. At least, for me, it has been. I believed I could never in a million years become a runner — and then I proved myself wrong. I went from struggling to run half a mile to running 5Ks, 10Ks and even a half marathon. My “limitations” with running had been entirely self-created, and once I realized that, I felt like I could do anything.

The same could be said for any challenging thing in life — anything you’re telling yourself is hard or impossible, anything that seems out of reach. I don’t know you, but I can tell you this: you are strong, and you are capable of so much more than you realize. So start questioning and challenging those stories that are holding you back in life, and I can almost guarantee you’ll surprise yourself with what you can do.


Running may not be for the faint of heart, but it is quite the journey. If you choose to go on this path, know that it will challenge you, it will help you grow, and it will take you to places you wouldn’t expect. And if that doesn’t make it a worthwhile pursuit, I don’t know what does.

How about you? Are you a runner? If so, what do you love about it and why? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.