Four Simple Stress-Busting Strategies

How do you handle a stressful job, demanding school work, family life, parenthood or the challenges of life in general? There is no one-size-fits-all solution but there are some strategies that can help us cope with the day-to-day demands we face. Based on my personal experiences, I have found that there are 4 things that consistently give me energy, stamina, improve my mood and attitude:

  1. Regular exercise: It can be tough to find time to exercise 3 or more times per week. There are so many other things that need to get done! But, physical activity is as beneficial to our bodies as healthy food is. In fact, when it comes to cardiovascular health, physical activity is just as important as healthy food. It can take some time to find a regimen that works for you but setting realistic goals and easing into it could help set the tone for a more consistent exercise routine. Why not start with just 10 minutes every other day? Establishing the habit is the hardest part but you can do it!
  2. A good night’s sleep: This means different things to different people. Some can get by on 5 hours while others (like me) need at least 8 hours a night to feel fully rested. I have personally found that my mood, attention span, ability to learn and handle stress are much better when I have been sleeping well. If you are feeling stressed, consider whether the amount of sleep you are getting is sufficient for your daily needs.
  3. Social ties: Sharing our struggles with those we trust can take some of the burden off our own shoulders and help us cope. There is no shame in feeling overwhelmed or tired. Reach out to someone if you can!
  4. Reflection: Taking time for reflection, prayer or meditation is a fantastic way to make sense of your thoughts and slow down the rhythm of our fast-paced lives. It can also help us bring to the forefront unresolved feelings, hurts or other difficult emotions. Why not set aside 10 to 15 minutes a day for this personal reflection time?

Whatever stresses you may be going through, consider the above basic strategies to help you cope. Simple but effective!

My recommended workout of the week. This is a great 30-minute cardio workout with light weights (5 to 10 pounds) that also targets chest, abs, glutes, obliques, shoulders and legs. For those with problematic knees (like me!), there is a modified version of the exercise displayed. In general, aim for exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once to get more bang for your buck!

Photo credit: highway2fitness.com

 

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Five Tips for Living a Healthier Lifestyle

When deciding to live a healthier lifestyle, it can be difficult to know what changes to make and how. When I look back at my attempts to live more healthily, the approach that worked best for me was tackling my goals in small increments and doing the things that I truly enjoyed.

So whether your goal is to eat more healthy food, exercise more, reduce stress levels or simply have more fun, here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. Start small: our bodies and minds have learning curves and need time to adjust to new changes. It will be easier to sustain a healthier lifestyle by starting with a small goal and increasing our threshold over time. For example, if you have done no exercise lately and want to start exercising, you could begin with just a 10 minute walk 3 times a week and build up from there. You’ll be amazed how your body becomes stronger with time and soon 10 minutes will become easier and you will be able to go for longer. Although the general guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week, this can be daunting for some people. It is certainly a worthy goal to eventually get to but it can help to just start small until you build up the habit.
  2. Do something you enjoy: There are many shapes and forms of exercise and it’s important to find one that you truly enjoy otherwise it can be difficult to keep up the stamina and motivation. Some people find it hard to exercise alone and need the company of others. Challenge your friends to join you for some weekly exercise! Some people have sensitive knees (like me) and cannot accommodate high impact exercise. This does not mean that there is no hope of getting fit! Even with physical limitations, there are ways to strengthen our bodies through yoga, swimming, weight training, walking, and more.
  3. Rest and refill regularly: It can be difficult to sustain a healthy lifestyle if we are running on empty. It’s important to find ways to filter out the stress of daily life and to do activities that fill up our souls. This could be through our hobbies, exercise, spending time with family or friends, a change of scenery, and through getting enough sleep to rejuvenate our minds and bodies.
  4. Get creative: When it comes to eating, it can be easy to find ourselves in a rut eating the same foods over and over (this happens to me sometimes!). You don’t have to have perfect cooking skills to come up with some delicious, healthy meals. I personally had no idea how to cook until I was in my twenties and it took some experimentation and some generous ‘guinea pigs’ willing to try my food to give me some experience with cooking. My goal is to try at least one new recipe each week. Yummly, my favorite site for finding new recipes is user-friendly and recommends recipes based on your tastes, preferences and diet type. It will even populate a shopping list of ingredients based on the recipe you choose.
  5. Find a balance: Living a healthy lifestyle does not mean we have to always be on the go or never eat certain foods. It’s about finding the right balance (easier said than done sometimes!) that accommodates nutritious foods, our own tastes and that gets us active while allowing time to rest and de-stress. Every individual is different and it takes time to achieve a balance and determine what works for you.

Living a healthy lifestyle does not happen overnight. It has its challenges and victories like anything else in life. It doesn’t matter if you have fallen by the wayside on your journey to becoming more healthy. There is always a new day, a fresh start, another opportunity to try again. Your body and mind will thank you!

Image courtesy of samsung.com
Image courtesy of samsung.com

Abs-Core, Dance Workout and Meditations on the Book of Psalms

As some of you may remember from the 30-day fitness challenge, one of my goals with exercise was to maintain variety in my choice of exercises to avoid getting into a rut and becoming unmotivated. The same exercises over and over again can become boring and eventually your body is not as challenged as it was before.

This week I have focused on fun dance workout videos which are great for cardio and also a good way to work on your coordination. The brain craves new challenges and it has been shown that trying something new is good for the brain! I also came across this challenging Abs-Core workout. What I liked about it is that you are not spending your whole time just doing crunches. There is a combination of lunges, planks and other exercises that strengthen and tone obliques, glutes, shoulders and arms. If you are looking for a new exercise to do and are looking for more of a challenge, I think you will enjoy this video.

During my devotional times, I have been enjoying reading the book of Psalms. David has such a vivid way of describing his life and circumstances that you almost imagine you are right there with him experiencing what he is going through! One theme that continually pops up as I delve into Psalms is ‘God as a refuge’.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a refuge as ‘shelter or protection from danger or distress‘ and ‘something to which one has recourse in difficulty‘. In my mind, this really encapsulates what God means to me as a refuge. He protects us, he shelters us, he encompasses us like a mother hen protecting her chicks. Even though struggles may come our way, we can run to God during those times of difficulty for comfort and healing. Have a blessed day!

Psalm 7:1 “O Lord my God, I take refuge in you!”

Psalm 9:9 “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Image courtesy of photobucket.com
Image courtesy of photobucket.com

The 30-Day Challenge is Done! Congratulations!

Congratulations! We are finally at the end of the 30-day challenge towards wholesome living physically, emotionally and spiritually. Thank you to all those who joined me for the challenge and for your support and motivation. Having others to hold you accountable and give you encouragement makes all the difference in being successful in a venture like this!

Here’s a recap of the last week:

  • Fitness: My fitness goal over the last 30 days has been to exercise for at least 30 minutes daily, particularly cardiovascular exercise that would get me to break a sweat. Overall, my goal has been met with the exception of a few days break here and there due to recurring knee soreness. I had to find a balance between giving my knee adequate rest and not breaking up the momentum I had built in keeping to frequent exercise. I knew that if I stopped doing exercise for more than a few days, it would be harder to resume. This week my exercise consisted of an intermediate total body workout, yoga, upper body strength training and brisk walks outside in the beautiful sunshine with the kids. I feel myself getting stronger and fitter. It’s nice to see hard work pay off! If you don’t have time to do any formal exercise on a particular day, try to do something small for your body like going for a quick walk on lunch-break or using stairs instead of the elevator. Every little bit helps!
  • Nutrition: My nutrition goals were to eat healthily, have more variety in my diet and to make sure I was eating enough calories (~2800) to maintain my weight. I was concerned that with daily exercise (particularly cardio) that I would lose weight which I did not want to do. Fortunately, with making sure I ate enough healthy calories, I maintained my weight! I did indulge in BBQ flavored chips and cheese-cake a few times, but for the most part, I met my nutrition goals. My desire to have more variety in my diet resulted in our family eating more fruits and vegetables than we normally do which is great. This week, I made delicious spinach ‘chips’ which were a big hit with our son. All you have to do is drizzle baby spinach leaves with 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, 2 teaspoons of garlic powder and a pinch of salt then spread out flat on a baking tray and bake at 350F for about 10 minutes or until crunchy (see pictures below). This will be a big hit with kids who may not normally like vegetables. The sesame oil-garlic powder combo also works well as a dressing if you prefer to eat the baby spinach raw. This recipe also works well with kale leaves.
Baby spinach drizzled with sesame oil, garlic powder and a pinch of salt
Baby spinach drizzled with sesame oil, garlic powder and a pinch of salt
Baby spinach laid out on baking tray.  I have no
Baby spinach laid out on a baking tray. It’s important to have only one layer to avoid sogginess.  I have no “after” pictures to show you as the spinach chips were instantly devoured by my family!
  • Spirituality: This was my favorite part of the challenge as I really felt the difference in my frame of mind and outlook in life by spending time with God daily in prayer, reading the Bible and just reflecting on the blessings in my life. This week I read some excerpts from “Our Daily Bread” and I liked the quote by Winston Churchill “Failure is not fatal”  in other words, our failures do not define us. We may fall short in many ways but God will always restore us. He is our hope and our anchor. I also enjoyed reading about the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33). It reminded me that even those goals, dreams, or difficult situations that seem insurmountable can be accomplished or overcome if we just believe it’s possible. I really feel transformed by these 30 days because I feel that I have forged a stronger identity in Christ. I am constantly blown away by the fact that God loves me unconditionally, no matter what! This gives me such a reassurance, a true hope, and a fiery excitement to see what the future holds!

Congratulations once again for making it to the end of this 30-day challenge. I hope you have benefited from it as much as I have. Keep going with the good habits you have developed and continue to look for new ways to challenge your body and mind to greater heights!

Image courtesy of ponsuwan at freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of ponsuwan at freedigitalphotos.net

Week 3 of the 30-Day Challenge is Done! We are almost there….

Welcome back to the 30-Day Challenge! This has been a fantastic past few weeks of focusing on consistent exercise, healthy eating and daily devotional time. If you are only just joining the challenge, it’s not too late to get on board and improve the quality of your health and mind!

Here’s a recap of the past week:

  • Fitness: Although exercise has often been something I deemed important, I have not always been consistent with it in the past, and therefore this 30-day challenge has been a great way to keep me motivated towards building good habits. So far, I have managed to exercise 30 minutes a day every day for the first 2 weeks of the challenge. My sensitive right knee then started acting up and I felt under the weather so I made the difficult decision to rest from any exercise for 3 days until I felt better. I also made sure to focus on upper body exercises and moderate paced walks outside for the rest of the week to put less strain on my knee. Injuries, sickness or pain can be frustrating when you are trying to keep to a consistent exercise regimen but it’s best to give your body rest to avoid aggravating the situation. Once you are feeling better, get right back on the saddle! Keeping things fresh is important in keeping you motivated so if you are looking for some new workouts to do, here are my favorite 3 workouts from the past 3 weeks: high intensity interval training cardio-abs workout, yoga workout, and T-25 workouts which give you an invigorating cardio workout in just 25 minutes (available through Amazon).
  • Nutrition: Eating healthily has been going well. Two of my main goals are to stick with enough healthy calories to maintain my current weight and to add more variety to my diet. Since the weeks are busy, I am picking Saturday night as the meal to try a new recipe for every week. That way, when my pre-schooler asks me “what are we eating tonight mummy?”, I can actually have something to say other than “chicken, peas and potatoes”. It’s also a good opportunity to offer something new and tantalizing to guests we have over for supper.  Another added benefit is that our brains like new challenges so even trying a new recipe is good for your brain! This weekend’s new recipe was home-made pizza. (See pictures below). The sky is the limit with this because you get to be creative with the toppings: peppers, pineapple, tuna, olives, chicken, sun-dried tomatoes…whatever takes your fancy!
  • Spiritual: My time in prayer, singing and devotional reading time has been great for clearing my mind of clutter, focusing on the blessings in my life and reminding myself of God’s grace towards me. There were a few anxious moments this week about the future but I’m just reminding myself to trust in God and not worry about things. I have been enjoying digging deep into the Bible and spending more time and thought on what I am reading. I am finding such a richness of information, guidance, comfort and inspiration. One particular verse that captured me this week was the call set forth in I Peter to use our gifts and talents: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others”. I Peter 4:10. In a world that is getting increasingly competitive, we may sometimes wonder what we have to offer. But it’s important to remember (and I’m reminding myself of this too) that it’s not the scale of what we do but the heart behind it. Are we doing everything we can with what we’ve got? And are we sharing that gift with someone else in some way, shape or form?

We are now on to the last week of the 30-day challenge. Even though the goal was to be consistent for 30 days, I am looking forward to keeping up the healthy habits we have acquired well beyond the 30 days. Keep going! Allez-y!

Image courtesy of kromkathrog at freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of kromkathrog at freedigitalphotos.net
My hubby kneading the home-made dough
My hubby kneading the home-made dough (adding some garlic paste to the dough will give the pizza base a delicious flavor)
Hubby spreading out the dough in the baking tray (you can use any shape of tray)
Hubby spreading out the dough in the baking tray (you can use any shape of tray). Push the dough against the edges of the tray to make the pizza base more aesthetically pleasing.
Base ready for toppings after par-broiling in the oven for ~10 minutes
Pizza base ready for toppings after par-baking in the oven at 425C for ~10 minutes (this step partially cooks the pizza base before adding the toppings so you end up with a nice crunchy base at the end.)
First layer of toppings (tomato paste or sauce, mozzarella cheese, black olive, pepperoni)
First layer of toppings (tomato paste or sauce, mozzarella cheese, black olive, pepperoni)
Second layer of toppings (green peppers, mushrooms, more mozzarella cheese)
Second layer of toppings (green peppers, mushrooms, more mozzarella cheese)
Finished product (Baked for ~15 minutes at 400C then broiled on low for a few minutes until lightly browned)
Finished product (Baked for ~15 minutes at 400C then broiled on low for a few minutes until lightly browned)
Delicious!
Delicious!

Week 2 is Through! The 30-Day Challenge Towards Wholesome Living Continues…..

Welcome back everyone! Can you believe we’re already half way through the 30-day challenge? I hope you’ve been seeing the benefits of your hard work towards attaining better health physically and mentally while at the same time preserving sacred time to be intimate with God and reflect on your spiritual state of being.

It has been a great past few days and I have to say that despite a brief period of discouragement last week, this 30-day challenge has done wonders for my life overall. Just knowing that there are others doing this with me and that we are accountable to each other motivates me to prioritize exercise, healthy eating and devotional time. I have found myself feeling more patient and just ready to enjoy each day as it comes.

This weekend was our first free weekend in months and normally that would mean that I am flitting around the house looking for things to “accomplish”. But this weekend, I just slowed down the pace of my mental thought, looked out at my backyard and just gaped at the beauty of the landscape. It had been weeks since we had gardened and things were getting a little out of control with the weeds and fast growing trees. We spent a good part of the weekend outdoors, clipping trees, pulling out weeds, while the kids ran around in the yard, and it was just….beautiful. When my son was telling me something for the thirtieth time, I didn’t distractedly say “oh, really, that’s cool”, I looked him in the eyes and laughed like it was the first time he was telling it to me. It was just amazing to be so in the moment with my family and with my surroundings.

My walks in the neighborhood with the kids were more enjoyable than usual because I decided to try and engage with whoever I passed by, be it a smile, a wave or stopping to say hello. It was something so simple, yet meaningful to me, and perhaps to the other people I met too, whose lives I don’t know much about but who may have been going through a rough time and needed that smile or moment of engagement from another human being.

The 30-day challenge has been going well the past few days with me achieving my goals of consistent exercise daily (at least 30 minutes), eating healthy and spending time with God. This week in particular I was aiming to eat some new foods just to introduce some variety into my diet so I opted for some tilapia, sweet potatoes and green beans which I hadn’t eaten in a while. I have also been using a spreadsheet of foods categorized into food groups so that when I am planning my meals, I can just look at the spreadsheet to see what foods I haven’t eaten in a while and to make sure I am including foods from every food group. Exercise-wise, I am finding myself feeling fitter and can already see physical changes in my body. I am more alert and energetic. I am starting to find ways to fit in exercise in my day no matter what. If you think about it, 30 minutes a day is not that much time even with a busy schedule. If I am having a really busy day, I try to consider what ways I can make my current activity into an exercise. For example, if I am alone with the kids at home and I can’t find the opportunity for exercise, we go for a walk together or they hang out in the yard with me as I am doing the gardening (which can be surprisingly strenuous, I was aching from having my arms over my head for an hour snipping branches and moving them). So don’t feel bad if you don’t always have time to do more ‘formal’ exercise. Even folding laundry or tinkering with the car can be done with a spring in your step and some exaggerated movements just to get your heart-rate up and your blood flowing.

Time with God has been awesome and I have not been restricting myself to one particular time of day. If I cannot do it first thing in the morning, I find moments throughout the day, when I can just clear my head of all “noise” and just focus on God and his goodness. I try to think of a few things to be grateful for and that puts me in a more positive frame of mind. Sometimes, I just sing as I’m going about my day and I find the kids joining in with dance-moves. Other times, I pray as I’m pushing my daughter’s stroller around the neighborhood. I find that the more I focus on God, the less I focus on me. And that helps me not to dwell on life’s uncertainties or fears. I trust God with the smallest details. No issue is too silly or insignificant for him.

So as we enter the second half of the 30-day challenge, I encourage you to keep going. If you fell off the band-wagon at some point, don’t worry! You can get back on! And if life is going a bit too fast, slow it down a little. Take time to enjoy each day afresh. The moments we have with people are the most important and will be captured in our memories for eternity.

Slow down...and enjoy life! (I took this picture close to the Giraffe Center in Nairobi, Kenya. It makes me smile!)
Slow down…and enjoy life! (I took this picture close to the Giraffe Center in Nairobi, Kenya. It makes me smile!)

Week 2 of the 30-Day Challenge…Should I Give Up?

Today was a difficult day for the 30-Day Challenge. Both kids woke up much earlier than usual and since I had stayed up late studying for the MCAT, I didn’t get enough sleep. Coupled with a brewing cold and general grumpiness, I was in no mood to get out of bed, let alone exercise or pray. MCAT studying has proven challenging the last few weeks as I am now at the stage where I am tackling practice questions and there are some topics that I am finding difficult. I was in a “give up” frame of mind when I woke up today and I decided I needed to nip that negative attitude in the bud without delay. So with a stuffy nose, droopy eyes and yawning, I sat down at the piano and began singing.

Sitting down to sing at the piano
Sitting down to sing at the piano

One of the songs that was particularly uplifting today was the upbeat song ‘Enough’ by Chris Tomlin: “All of you is more than enough for All of me, for ev’ry thirst and ev’ry need, You satisfy me with Your love, And all I have in You is more than enough”

I then launched into prayer time where I simply laid my anxieties about the MCAT and getting into medical school at God’s feet and said, “I can’t do this alone, I know I can do all things through you who strengthens me“. I felt such a sense of peace after my prayer time and was further encouraged by my devotional reading which talked about God always being on time. “[God] never issues a call that we’re incapable of responding to, but the timing of His call always seems too soon to us. We think we need more…..more time, more money, more preparations, more qualifications, more……But the Savior is also a saver of time when it involves his purposes. He won’t waste it by calling us into His purpose prematurely or by allowing us to linger beyond the timing He knows is best.”  (From ‘Praise in the Presence of God’ by Jack Hayford). This really encouraged me as I am sometimes tempted to question whether I am prepared enough or if I can really succeed in getting into medical school. When you are pursuing something big, that takes you out of yourself, that pushes you to your limits, that gets you questioning your abilities, you have to push negative thoughts aside and focus on the goal. There will be periods of enthusiasm and periods of doubt, but always the focus should be on “I will get there…..at the right time“.

Despite my feeling under the weather the past 2 days, physically and emotionally, I very much wanted to keep up with the 30-day challenge and enjoyed doing the following two workouts:

  • Tuesday: an intermediate workout great for toning legs, glutes, core and obliques. There is also a tutorial at the beginning of each exercise so that you can get the hang of things.
  • Wednesday: a yoga workout great for core, abs and arms. I was looking for a light workout today but actually found this workout a good challenge. I recommend you only try it if you’ve had some past experience doing yoga. It was tough!

Nutrition has been going well and today I ate mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts throughout the course of the day. I thought I would have little energy without eating much in the way of carbs but I was surprisingly clear-headed as the day progressed, even with having a cold (it was only towards the end of the day that I had an energy low). This was definitely a break from my usual routine of eating lots of chicken, heavy carbs and dairy, and I think my body welcomed the change! Nuts are a great snack filled with fat and protein so will give you that energy boost you need.

So back to my question….should I give up? No, I will not give up on the 30-day challenge, I will not give up on the MCAT and I will not give up on my dream to pursue medical school! Whatever goal you are working towards, be it the 30-day challenge or something else, there will be days when you want to give up. Don’t let yourself do that! Confront your feelings, write about them, talk about them, and work through your thoughts until you are in a positive frame of mind again.

We’re almost half-way through the second week of the 30-day challenge! Keep up the great work! Onward……

Photo courtesy of arztsamui at freedigitalphotos.net
Photo courtesy of arztsamui at freedigitalphotos.net