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

 

Updates on the Second Semester of Medical School

The second semester of medical school is well on its way and it’s been fun, challenging and amazing! From our anatomy labs, I continue to be awed by the beauty and intricacy of the human body. Seeing for oneself how arteries, veins and nerves weave in and out of various organs while trying to piece together the physiological mechanisms that keep us breathing and alive is nothing short of miraculous and fascinating!

We have completed our blocks in Public Health, Respiration, Circulation, Renal and are half-way through Digestion and Metabolism. I am continuing to enjoy my exposure to family medicine which I get to do about 2 to 3 times a month. My favorite aspects of it are the variety of cases you get to see right from children to the elderly. I have enjoyed following up on return patients and getting to practice doing various procedures.

One of my goals in medical school was to ensure I carve out quality time for God, family and hobbies. This has generally been going well! My biggest struggle however has been keeping up with consisent exercise. To help me improve on this, I have downloaded a “30 Day Fitness Challenge” app on my phone which will keep track of my progress.

The kids are doing great! My 5 year old son started taking karate classes (perfect for his high energy personality!) and recently went skating for the first time. His reaction to skating… “Mummy, why do I keep falling?” He also wanted  know if he could bring his snowman inside from the front yard and put it in the freezer to keep it from melting!

My 3 year old daughter is full of funny remarks too. She recently informed us, “Med school is where mummies go and when I become a mummy…..I’m going to med school!”

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My little girl checking on me!
birthday
Birthday surprise from hubby and the kids!
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Celebrating mummy’s birthday with a family movie night. We watched “The Good Dinosaur”. Loved it!
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Nerdy birthday gift from hubby!

 

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 One is Done! The 30-Day Challenge Continues…

My son and I have a funny routine at bedtime where we have a “sword-fight” after his bath and we end up rolling around on the bed grunting and roaring. As I walked into the room yesterday ready to get into battle mode, I was surprised to instead find my son with a huge grin on his face and his arms open wide. He then enveloped me in a long, warm bear-hug. Needless to say, I melted into a puddle of goo on the floor. My son is affectionate by nature, but moments like this never cease to amaze me. It was a lovely way to wrap up the first week of the 30-Day Challenge, a journey into wholeness… physically, emotionally and spiritually!

Here’s an update for you from the weekend:

  • Fitness: My greatest challenge with exercise is getting it done on the weekend because often we have social activities and are extra busy with the kids so it’s difficult to get that physical exercise in. Thankfully, I knew that I would be reporting to you early this week so I forced myself to make that time one way or another! Friday consisted of a nice, brisk 45 minute walk around the neighborhood with my daughter. Our walk took us through some woods in which I was hoping to stop and do some stretches and squats, but the palpable mosquito presence in the woods forced us to make a quick exit!

    My daughter and I going walkabout in the woods (before the mosquitoes descended upon us!)
    My daughter and I going ‘walkabout’ in the woods (before the mosquitoes descended upon us!)
  • Fitness: Saturday was busy with us hosting a good friend’s baby shower and so there wasn’t much time to work-out. However I am consoled by the fact that I was on my feet most of the day decorating the house, prepping food and attending to guests. Sunday was also busy with church and although I was feeling really tired, I decided that a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood was better than doing no exercise at all. If you are feeling tired or unmotivated about doing exercise, take heart! You don’t have to do a killer workout everyday. Just get on your feet in some way, shape or form, even if it’s gardening, doing housework, dancing, walking or riding somewhere instead of driving. And if you miss a day, don’t feel bad, try again the next day. You can do it! Today’s fitness consisted of a light 10 minute warm-up on the elliptical followed by a similar upper body workout as last week, including some additional wrist strengthening exercises. In addition to physical exercise, I realized the importance of having good posture. This is crucial for keeping our spines properly aligned and preventing back problems. I am quite tall (5 feet 9 inches) and so I have a tendency to slouch (I was reminded of this recently when I saw some pictures of me that a friend took). We often don’t realize the way we sit or stand, and this can have an impact on our overall well-being. So I have been making an effort to monitor my posture, particularly while sitting or standing. Here’s an interesting link I found with tips on maintaining good posture.
  • Nutrition: Friday and Monday went well for my nutritional goals but Saturday and Sunday consisted of two BBQs so it was difficult to keep track of nutritional content and to stick to healthy foods. There’s nothing wrong with eating less healthy foods now and again (they can be so delicious!) but I’m trying to avoid it becoming a habit. My goal this week is to try and eat some different foods compared to last week to introduce some variety in my diet. Let’s shake things up!
  • Spiritual: I thoroughly enjoyed having my prayer time during my walks outside with my daughter. It allowed me to put God in the context of nature and just appreciate the beauty around me. I loved those moments with my daughter where her eyes would light up when she saw a bird or a horse. Kids have a way of keeping things so fresh! I have really been enjoying reading what I call “chunks” from the Bible. In the past, I  had a habit of reading a few verses here and there but I am really enjoying reading scriptures in the form of complete chapters where I can get the full context and even imagine myself being there in that time. Despite the busy weekend, I definitely saw the difference it made to have time with God daily. It brought me to a place of reflection and to a time when I could continually unload and tell God that He is in control and all I can do is my best. It’s so comforting to know that we are not “doing” life alone. We have a Heavenly Father who is working out all the details of our lives. We only need to walk in faith and trust. “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it…” Phil 1:6.

Well done everyone for making it to the second week of the 30-Day Challenge. What exercise do you have planned for this week? Having an idea of what you will do each day will increase your chances of actually doing it. Formulate a plan for the week and try to stick to it as much as possible! You’ll hear from me again soon. Thank you for joining me on this challenge and keeping me motivated!!

Here comes Week 2 of the 30-Day Challenge…Keep going!!!

Courtesy of arztsamui @ freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of arztsamui @ freedigitalphotos.net