How I Managed to Breastfeed Two Difficult Babies

Breastfeeding…ugh. Even after three collective years of doing it, I’m still baffled by how difficult it can be. Breastfeeding is by far and large the most challenging thing I’ve done in my life. Period. And that’s saying a lot for someone who has rehabbed an injured back following getting hit by a car. I’ve run several grueling marathons too. Breastfeeding still takes the cake. Unmedicated labor (I shudder in memory) or breastfeeding? I can’t believe I’m about to say it but yes, breastfeeding. But here’s the thing, through all the self-sacrifice and uphill battles to exclusively breastfeed, I would do it again for the next baby, if possible. It’s one of the things in my life that I’m most proud of. 

 

 

I’m sharing my stories and struggles today to shed light on how hard breastfeeding can be. It’s not always hard for every mom, but it was for me and I know it is for many. If it weren’t so complicated and if moms felt better supported then I imagine that the 4 out of 5 moms who start out nursing their newborns, presumably with the goal of breastfeeding, wouldn’t drop in numbers so drastically and quickly. By 3 months old only 50% of babies are still exclusively breastfed and by 6 months old only 25% still are. If you’re asking yourself,

“Why does it feel so hard, unnatural, exhausting, painful, time-consuming, emotional, lonely, etc. to feed my baby?”

…then you’re not alone. Many moms think this but shame themselves into keeping silent about it because they feel it’s a sign they are “bad moms.”

If you struggle with breastfeeding please hear me when I say:

You are NOT a bad mom.

We are all doing our best. End of story. I hope sharing my personal breastfeeding journey will help some tearful or tired mom out there to feel less lonely. There are many tips and tricks for successful nursing that you can read about on other websites such as KellyMom and United States Lactation Consultant Association, but that’s not my objective today. For now, we’re talking simply about you, mama, and the emotional experience of the whole boob and baby thing.

 

Breastfeeding Baby #1: Carter

My first son was born a full month early. As a new mom I was completely bewildered. He was so tiny – his fingers, toes, nose, and mouth. Mouth…mouth…if you’ve ever had pain from a full-term baby’s latch just imagine that pain with a smaller, preemie mouth. According to the Loire Infant Follow-up Team (LIFT) study, only 16% of premature babies were breastfeeding at the time of hospital discharge, an indication of how difficult it is to nurse them. Having a premature baby is overwhelming and taxing in more ways than I can list, and every mom is dealing with unique health challenges and concerns for their child. I got lucky that my son, Carter, didn’t have to spend any time in the NICU but not so lucky for the fact that he had jaundice that required returning to the hospital for a bilirubin treatment amid a colossal blizzard.

Despite everything, I was feeling very empowered about breastfeeding in the first few days of my son’s life…that is, until returning to the hospital and having to place Carter’s wet diapers in a plastic bin to be weighed throughout a sleepless night while snow stacked up over 10 feet high outside. Carter’s scrawny limbs flailed under the bilirubin lights and he wore nothing but a diaper. The urge to snuggle and swaddle him tore me apart. Carter was crying all night and trying to claw the protective eye wear off, despite multiple nurses’ attempts to change the fit and even tape it to his delicate skin. I was confused about how I was only supposed to take him out of the lights once every 2 hrs for 20 minutes when it took him about 40 minutes total to nurse at that point.

 

 

I started trying to pump for the first time (not recommended in the heat of stress and without proper support) so that I could bottle or syringe feed him under the lights. I proudly showed a nurse what I got from pumping for a few minutes and she shook her head and told me that it wasn’t much of anything and that “some moms will pump several ounces from each breast.” I will never forget how deflated I felt in that moment. I was trying my best in challenging circumstances and needed emotional support that was completely absent. In retrospect, I think I actually pumped a normal amount of milk for only a few days postpartum and a premature baby. That nurse should have boosted me up and encouraged me to keep honing my new craft. Instead, as can so often be the case, new moms are made to feel that their bodies are insufficient and can’t be trusted. This is so far from the truth that it brings me to tears.

That night, as my baby flailed under the bilirubin lights, I made a decision based solely on my maternal instinct, and which defied doctors’ orders. I let Carter nurse on/off all night long, with none of the called-for time restrictions, and I swaddled his arms to help him sleep, letting the light shine on his face and legs. I changed diapers under the lights too. Otherwise, and mostly, he was pulled to my breast as I fought off sleep with every weary muscle in my body. In the morning, Carter’s jaundice had improved enough to be discharged. In my most sincere opinion, it was because of the power of breastmilk, not the lights.

Did I mention that Carter was born with a tongue tie? Yes, well…this explains some of the difficulty nursing too, doesn’t it? A tongue tie makes it nearly impossible for a baby to latch and nurse properly, almost always causing severe pain and nipple bleeding for the mom. I can still recall how he would pull on and off, trying to find an effective latch. I had severe letdown pain each time that felt like someone stabbing a knife in my chest. I would practice deep breathing and wiggle my toes until he finally settled and the letdown pain subsided. I burned through so many tubes of nipple cream that first month while we waited for the procedure to resolve his tongue tie.

Those initial challenges were substantial and it was *very* tempting to quit. After the first month, my sore nipples healed and things settled a bit, but Carter being born early meant I needed to keep nursing him frequently through the night instead of letting him dictate the pace. By the time Carter weighed enough to go to on demand at night, he was so habituated to waking frequently that he never slept longer than a few hours until 6 months old when we did some sleep training. Sleep deprivation was and will continue to be the one thing that physically, mentally and emotionally wrecks me.

 

 

All the early struggles were followed by normal breastfeeding hurdles like teething, biting, feeding frenzies, pumping, etc. When I reached my 12-month goal for breastfeeding I was shocked that I wasn’t ready to wean. I kept counting down to Carter’s first birthday but then suddenly, weaning didn’t feel right. Nursing was finally snuggly, “easy,” and something I came to enjoy. Sitting down to rest after chasing a young toddler around and enjoying the sweet stillness together was absolutely lovely, even with toes dancing across my face and hands tangling my necklaces. I couldn’t believe how I had transformed: I turned into a mom who liked nursing and shed tears when the bond reached its conclusion when Carter was around 1.5 years old.

 

Breastfeeding Baby #2: Colby

When my second son arrived right on time at 40 weeks with a great latch from the start (unlike his older brother), I thought to myself: “I’ve got this. I’m a pro by now.” I really tried to boost my ego and relished in staying more laid back than the first time. We took our full-term baby home with no known health complications and celebrated that this time would be “easy.” Oh how wrong we were!

My second baby, Colby, was a content little guy. Except for 15-20 minutes of crying each night at 10 pm that first month, he was happy, slept well and nursed like a champ. Well, so I thought. Colby was gaining weight but not as quickly as the doctor wanted. He slipped a little from his growth curve but there was nothing of major concern. This confused me because I was very engorged at the time and felt I had an oversupply with a strong letdown. The pediatrician anticipated that the stress of traveling with my baby a month after his birth (I was matron of honor for my cousin’s wedding) had taken a toll on his feeding schedule and my milk supply. I worked hard to add nursing sessions when we got back home, even though my baby didn’t seem to demand them. In retrospect, this is when I needed to get with a private lactation consultant. The hospital-led lactation support group I attended was warm and fuzzy but not helpful enough.

 

 

Around the second month of Colby’s life we were told that he needed to be put in a rhino brace for clicking hips. This is protocol for hip dysplasia and although Colby didn’t have full-blown hip dysplasia he was at risk for it, ironically the result of his tight positioning in the womb (which hadn’t been fully stretched in my prior pregnancy due to pre-term labor). I could always tell that Colby’s latch majorly suffered once in the rhino brace, especially on one side due to torticolis that would be soon diagnosed, but I was so sleep deprived and the hip brace was such an ordeal to take on and off all day for diaper and outfit changes that the latch issue slipped to the back of my mind. To this day, I wish that it hadn’t.

By the time Colby’s hip brace was no longer needed he had dropped precipitously in weight and had reached the 3rd percentile, perhaps in part due to increasing reflux that was made worse by the brace. Even still, I couldn’t understand – I know what I’m doing, right? I successfully breastfed another child for 1.5 years already! My dilemma just goes to show how every baby is wildly different, even for veteran moms, and that breastfeeding must be flexible and responsive. I was very grateful that the pediatrician never guilt-tripped or shamed me for Colby’s weight struggles, and she never threw out that ugly term “failure to thrive.” Except for his weight, Colby was thriving beyond my expectations. The feisty little guy was rolling BOTH directions by 8 weeks old and started social smiling at a month old when he first heard “Canon in D” by Pachelbel. His curiosity and energy felt unsurpassed for such a little man.

At the 3 month postpartum mark a talented LC finally came to my home and gave me the rundown of what it would take to get my milk supply and Colby’s weight back up. Let me tell you this: It was NOT easy. Her plan was for me to breastfeed 10x/day, supplementing with donor breastmilk after 6 of the feedings. I was to pump to empty any time my breasts didn’t feel drained and I had to pump after nighttime feedings. Basically, I had zero time for anything except breastfeeding, bottle feeding and pumping. In addition, I took fenugreek and did breast compressions for every feeding. There were times I wasn’t convinced I could do it. It was insanely hard, especially at that point when most moms have the luxury of longer nights of sleep and less rigorous nursing schedules. I felt exhausted and guilty that it was difficult to tend to my older son.

Gradually, I was able to drop the bottle feedings and my son still gained weight (.75-1 oz/day) on my milk alone, even though he didn’t drop from 10 to 8 feedings/day until 7 months old, probably thanks to the introduction of solids. Right as I finally took a big sigh of relief, Colby began teething like crazy, waging nursing strikes, and pulling off the breast any time his big brother was around, eager to play instead of eat. I felt like I might go mad! All my hard work was in jeopardy. We pulled through the rough patch but the exhaustion and emotional toll finally set in. I began seeing a therapist for postpartum anxiety and I’m so glad that I got support. Frankly, I wish I had gotten it sooner.

 

 

Colby is now 17 months old and still nursing twice a day, morning and night. It’s mostly comfort nursing, not nutritional, but it’s a snuggly time that we both enjoy. I’m proud that we weathered the storm and can’t believe that I actually went from under supply to over supply around the 1-year mark. Small pumping sessions, getting just a few ounces each time, added up to roughly 150 ounces of breastmilk for my freezer stash. I could scarcely believe it! I have never been one of those moms who pumps a ton so for me, this was a true accomplishment and the result of my tireless efforts.

It was such an honor to be able to donate 100 ounces of *my breastmilk* this summer to a mom who had to leave her 6-month old to go serve our country. I couldn’t think of a more important thing to do with it than pay it forward. Once upon a time, a mom donated to me and now, I get to return that kindness to another mom who needs support. How amazing is that? (Not to mention, free!)

 

 

Takeaways

Breastfeeding is a two-way relationship between mom and baby. Sometimes you do everything “right” and it’s still hard. Some moms have milk that is very fatty and caloric while other moms have milk more like skim milk, packing fewer calories per ounce. Some moms have difficult babies with violent reflux like Colby developed and others have babies that are ravenous eaters like my Carter was, making even congenital obstacles less insurmountable.

Every mom’s set of circumstances is completely different. We have different birth stories, goals, careers, emotional needs, spouses, levels of support, babies of various temperaments, and more. I can’t argue that breastfeeding is going to work out for every mom’s life circumstances, but I can say with some measure of oomph that breastfeeding is a great way to set a child up for wellness which is why, despite every obstacle and setback, I committed to breastfeeding/breastmilk, even when that took another mom helping me out.

I think most women would be surprised to find that casual milk sharing and donations are relatively common. Support does exist but it seldom walks through our front door. Moms and their loved ones must collectively bond and work to support the breastfeeding relationship and the mom’s breastfeeding goals, whatever they may be. Without this support, many women will only know the experience of nursing a newborn and not the complex bond that forms from nursing an older baby throughout its first year (or more) of life.

Even with ample support, there is no one secret answer for making breastfeeding work. It takes grit, perseverance and a lot of self sacrifice. 

Y’all…breastfeeding is hard. End of story. Anyone who commits to it, even for a very short while, deserves a damn medal.

Yours in health & wellness,

Maggie

 

 

A Guide to Using the Gym During COVID-19

Gyms are carefully reopening in some places, taking action under government guidelines to increase cleaning and sanitation procedures. Gyms are also implementing new social distancing measures to ensure members’ safety. Although it’s intimidating to get back into the gym, your health is paramount during this pandemic and exercise bolsters wellness in many ways.  Getting back into the gym is a personal choice that must be carefully considered based on health risk factors, mental comfort, and the extent to which your gym has taken appropriate actions to protect its members.

Here are some things to look for when/if you return to the gym or consider doing so. I’ve included a few recommendations on how to improve your safety from the minute you step into the gym to the moment you walk back into your home. Lastly, check out the tips for how to make the experience time-efficient and effective.

 

 

Considerations When Returning to Your Gym

Before stepping foot in the gym, check its website for COVID-19 updates. There’s a decent chance that your gym will have adjusted hours of operation and updated check-in procedures that you will want to familiarize yourself with. Reinstating your membership may also be a step that you need to take with a membership director prior to walking in for your first workout. This is likely done over email or phone right now while membership directors are working remotely and social distancing.

If your gym doesn’t have clear COVID-19-specific policies and adjustments then I strongly urge you to freeze your membership until it is safe to return or they adopt new policies. Many gyms have responded professionally and appropriately to the new operational challenges because 1) they need to stay in business, and 2) they care about their members. To help with this, many are using advance online registration for group classes and capacity trackers like Club Automation. These capacity trackers use real time data to reflect how busy (or not) the gym or fitness facility is, so you can decide from the comfort of your home whether or not you want to pay the gym a visit.

 

 

Gym Safety Check List

Below is a list of COVID-19 safety measures you should check for at your gym. Please note, this list is not exhaustive.

  • Temperature and wellness checks at sign-in.
  • Masks required in busy corridors such as the entrance/exit, stairwells, cafe, locker rooms and restrooms.
  • At least 6 ft of social distancing required between all members. 10 ft is even better indoors.
  • “Out of Service” signage on alternating pieces of gym equipment to ensure social distancing and/or rearrangement of equipment to create more distance and open space.
  • Encouragement of wearing face masks in areas with cardiovascular exercise equipment (when you’re breathing heavily and fast you expel more viral and bacterial particles into the air).
  • Ample supplies of hand sanitizer at check-in and on the gym floor as well as stocked soap dispensers in restrooms.
  • Limited capacity in any and all elevators on site.
  • No gym towels allowed on the gym floor (reduces spread of germs).
  • Signage asking members to wipe down equipment before and after use as well as ample supply of equipment wipes.
  • Reduced capacity for gym classes and enforced social distancing during participation.
  • More outdoor exercise class options with social distancing when/where feasible.
  • Possible signage and floor markings indicating traffic flow/walking directions through hallways and corridors.
  • Possible reduced overall gym capacity depending on government regulations and directives.
  • Possible upgrades to air filtration systems (can’t hurt to ask if your gym has the ability to invest in one that eliminates viruses and bacteria in large spaces).

Use this check-list to gauge which safety measures your facility of choice is leaning on and let it inform your decision about returning for exercise.

 

 

Gym Childcare – Is it Safe?

This is a really tricky one to answer. Scientists have seen hints that children pass COVID-19 among themselves at a lower rate than adult-to-adult transmission; however, research is fledgling at best. Unfortunately, it may take seeing how transmission rates change once school is back in session in some places come fall (hopefully they don’t get worse). Part of what will weigh your decision about the gym childcare will be:

  • Age of your child; children who are under 2 years old and mobile are likely putting everything in their mouths…which is probably, unfortunately, not so ideal.
  • Age of children who are able to wear masks versus those who are too young, and whether or not these different age groups will be playing in close proximity.
  • Health status of your household and family members.
  • Enhanced hygiene measures of the gym’s childcare; additional temp and wellness checks, modeling covering coughs/sneezes, hand washing upon entering and exiting, routinely cleaning toys and floors, etc.
  • Type of flooring in childcare – for gyms that have wood, tile or otherwise non-carpeted flooring, the facility should be deep cleaning it daily. Unfortunately, gyms with carpeted childcare areas are likely unable to deep clean the carpet every day because of how long it takes to dry. This may affect your choice, especially for parents with babies who are crawling.

Again, as long as safety measures are in place, this must be a personal choice you make. Please note: Bringing a symptomatic child into the gym childcare for the sake of your workout is irresponsible both during a pandemic and otherwise. Let’s all agree on this…please!

 

 

Extra Measures You Can Take to Boost Your Safety

Here are a few extra steps that I personally take when coming and going from the gym. I’ve done most of it since years ago when my oldest son was 15 months old and came down with a nasty case of bronchiolitis that landed him in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. To see a loved one struggle for air is a horrible experience. I don’t wish it on anyone.

  • Leave wedding bands and rings at home to keep them both clean and safe – bleach-based gym wipes and cleaners can erode certain metals.
  • Bring and wear workout gloves or disposable gloves if you have sensitive skin and/or allergic reactions to the gym wipes, sanitizer, etc. Also not a terrible idea to help reduce overuse of hand sanitizer.
  • While exercising at the gym, consider wearing a face mask for your entire workout, even if it’s not required. Double-layer masks that include some type of air filter sandwiched in the middle and masks that fit snugly (but are breathable) are great options because they offer you a little bit of protection while also boosting safety for others.
  • Store hand sanitizer in the side pocket of your car door or in your hand bag/gym bag in case you forget to wash your hands when you leave.
  • Remove gym shoes before entering your home.
  • Immediately put your reusable gym water bottle into the dish washer or sink for cleaning.
  • If you used your phone during your workout then clean the phone with a phone-safe wipe, cleaning solution, portable UV sanitation device, or PhoneSoap container at home. I like to clean my keys with my PhoneSoap too.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds, even if you already used hand sanitizer.
  • Promptly remove your gym clothes and face mask and place them in the washer or laundry basket – then go take a shower!
  • Now take a deep mask-less breath in the safety of your home and be glad you kept yourself both healthy and safe at the gym!

 

 

Tips for Making Your Gym Experience Time-Efficient & Effective

Wiping down equipment before and after use combined with certain machine restrictions will force you to think outside of your normal gym routine. I hope these tips are helpful so that you can have an effective workout on day one. If you have any other tips to offer please drop them in the comments!

  • If possible, limit workouts without masks to less than 45-60 minutes since the viral load of COVID-19 is shown to increase in this amount of time in enclosed spaces.
  • Use machines that you don’t have at home; save body weight and mat workouts for home.
  • Instead of rotating weight machines between sets (because machines will be limited and in need of wiping), complete all sets on one machine with short breaks between sets or do stationary exercises like squats/lunges/push-ups/planks in front of the machine during rest periods.
  • Buy a few sets of affordable dumbbells for home and use props like the roman chair, bench press, squat rack, plated machines, etc. while at the gym.
  • Skip the treadmill and save running for your neighborhood – choose the Stairmaster or ARC trainer on an incline for a great low-impact glute workout to switch things up.
  • Set a goal to finish your workout in less than 45 minutes and plan it out in advance. Your determination and effort might surprise you when you’re working towards a time goal.
  • Focus on three main things: Building cardiovascular health, muscle, and a sense of calm. We could all use a bit more of these things right now.

I hope you have a GREAT workout whether it’s at the gym or at home. Remember, staying healthy and well is the only critical component here, and that can happen essentially anywhere.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Planning and Optimizing Your Strength Training

I had the honor of sharing my advice for a MyFitnessPal article back in the winter but publication was massively delayed when Covid19 changed the face of the earth as we know it. With gyms shuttered, the article became less timely. Now that gyms are gradually reopening (or perhaps now that you have more at-home equipment to work with), it’s well worth the effort to get acquainted with the basics of strength training.

The reality is that most of us aren’t getting in as much daily activity and movement these days. Focusing on acquiring or maintaining lean muscle mass is perhaps more critical than ever for our metabolisms and overall health.

 

 

The article is detailed and specific – give it a read!

It covers:

  • Strength training benefits
  • Fundamental movement patterns (squats, lunges, hip hinge, push and pull, lateral rotation and carry)
  • Choosing the right equipment
  • Structuring your workout
  • Optimizing your workout

I hope you find this helpful! Feel free to reach out in the comments section or through direct message on my contact page or Instagram for questions. I’m always happy to chat and offer tips!

Other MyFitnessPal “fitness basics” articles include:

Bodyweight Training

Cardio

Recovery

Goal Setting and Motivation

Training Plans

 

Yours in health & wellness,

Maggie

 

What You Need to Know About Wellness in 2020

This year is not going according to plan. We’re halfway through and needless to say, nothing is as we expected. First, a failed impeachment of the President of the United States followed quickly by a novel virus that has brought destruction and changed the way of life around the globe. Most recently, a brand new era for the civil rights movement has taken hold in America and other countries too. Change is in the air. It’s stressful and emotional for everyone involved, but there are promising whispers of a better future, if you listen closely. We are learning and growing every day, but it takes work, time and vulnerability. With our energy pouring out to so many different things right now, we must pause to ask ourselves:

How do I keep myself sound of health in body and mind during such a uniquely difficult time in history?

 

 

Well, here’s the thing…

Wellness can look and feel very different in one person’s life versus another’s. Our self-care routines and preferences all look different. Our spiritual desires and practices greatly vary. Some people love healthy home-cooked meals and invest in all-natural cleaning products while others scoff at spending $20 on a pound of organic wild-caught salmon, or flat-out can’t afford it.

I’m not here to prescribe a list of self care habits for your every day life, nor am I advocating that everyone should start a running program, eat flax seeds every morning, and add collagen to your smoothie mixes. And actually, wellness isn’t any of these things.

Wait, wellness isn’t a routine of working out five times a week? It’s not meditating for 10 minutes right after waking up at 5:00 am each day? It’s not a vegan diet? Or keeping track of my calories and steps with a FitBit?

Nope.

The components of wellness can vary according to person, age, time, place and situation. The only two things that consistently define wellness are flexibility and growth.

Wellness is an ongoing lifelong process, a never-ending journey of balancing mental/physical/spiritual health, and it takes vulnerability to see where we need to grow and change. It requires learning from our past, taking action in the moment, and moving forward with mindfulness. In a lot of ways, wellness is *exactly* the journey we must inwardly take through these uncertain times.

Take me for example…

I spent much of last week pouring over videos and social media posts of the heinous crimes committed against black people. I empathized and grieved every day, often finding myself distracted from caring for my children and full of despair. Like many white people, I finally fully identified my privilege for what it is and ran head first into my ignorance about just how systemic racism is. I can only imagine the tremendous grief abound in the black community given the weight of my small glimpse of it. The enormity of the emotions took a toll on my immune health. Yup, just one week of opening my heart to the raw pain fueling the civil rights movement caused me to go so high on the stress scale that my immune system tanked from excess cortisol, disturbed sleep and, admittedly, a few too many heavy pours of wine in an unhealthy attempt to calm my nerves. To think that some people must live in a high-stress state all the time is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.

(Note: I do NOT want to make this “about me” nor do I want to distract from black voices and platforms at this pivotal moment in history – please feel and listen with your hearts to the Black Lives Matter movement on matters of racism.)

Has anyone else shared my experience this year? The experience of fight-or-flight, adrenal overdrive, fear, anxiety, pain, confusion, guilt, shame, denial and so many other negative emotional experiences that drive our health off the road and into the gutter? I’m pretty sure most of us have experienced something profoundly hard at one point or another.

 

 

But here’s the invitation we have…

Bend and flex. Open up. Grow.

We can move through 2020 with our heads down, teeth gritted and foreheads stuck in a frown. Or…we can move through 2020 becoming increasingly aware of how to care for our mental, physical and spiritual health so that 2020 becomes a year marked by growth and strength in the midst of what sometimes feels like chaos.

When we look at our flaws constructively, with a vulnerable willingness to change, then we can start to take action on both a societal and personal level to better ourselves and the world around us.

Like I said, too often people define wellness by “the things” that are actually under its umbrella (ex: exercise, meditation, nutrition, sleep, etc) instead of taking a step back to see wellness for what it is; an evolving sense of self coupled with self-love actions.

Hear me when I say…

Your body wants your self-awareness more than it needs another broccoli floret.

Your mind craves peace more than scouring the web for answers to all your problems.

Your soul needs authentic love for growth more than a regimented meditation routine.

I have my moments of feeling anxious and slipping up too (read: too much wine), but we have a choice to move on from the 2020 weight gain and stress spirals. We have the opportunity to live bravely through uncertain times. We have the chance to stay flexible and GROW more than ever before.

 

 

And as a side note, if you want advice and resources for “the things” that fit under the wellness umbrella (ex: workout advice, product reviews, nutrition tips, discounts, etc) then I invite you to hop over here to sign up for my *free* monthly newsletter.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

Calm Your Body and Mind: A Therapist’s Guide for Nervous System Regulation

Before Mental Health Month concludes, I thought it best to bring on board one of my closest friends for some discussion. Please help me welcome Lauren Goldberg (MSW, LCSW), a mental health professional who owns a therapy practice in Colorado called Secure Base Mental Health LLC. Lauren will guide us through how our nervous systems respond to stress (especially amid a pandemic) and how we can become flexible and responsive to our emotional needs through daily grounding practices. Believe me: You should want to read her advice. I’ve already gained some extra wisdom for my wellness journey thanks to the insights Lauren shares here and I’m confident you will too. And now, passing the torch to Lauren (see below)…

 

 

A Therapist’s Perspective

As a therapist, I am often asked my opinion on major current events involving mental health. It makes sense; people want advice, insight, and maybe even answers. They want to feel better. There’s never been a harder event to weigh in on than the COVID-19 pandemic. Why? Because I’m going through it with you.

Generally, there is some space between me, my family, and the major current event, but I am inundated as much as you are with the newest data, often conflicting information, and evolving requirements. Like everyone, I am constantly (daily, hourly, sometimes minute to minute!) adjusting the way I think about the world and how I interact with those around me. It is exhausting spending extra energy navigating tasks that used to be second nature. Plus, I can’t forget the ever-present message that the world is not a safe place. That’s enough to throw anyone’s nervous system into a tizzy!

When Maggie asked me to be a guest on WellnessWinz, I initially thought “what do I know?!” These are such unprecedented times. There’s no context from which to draw on to provide “magical insight.”

What I quickly realized is I do have insight. It may not be magical, but perhaps it can be useful. After all, the same principles can be applied to navigating a pandemic (wow, that word alone is charging!) as they can be to any stressful situation. There are key concepts that I apply to my work with every client, regardless of their circumstances.

 

 

The Autonomic Nervous System

My approach to therapy is based on the value of safe relationships and developing the capacity for autonomic nervous system regulation. My main goal as a therapist is to help my clients feel safe enough to connect to me and, as a result, connect to their own experiences. Let me break that down…

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the term “nervous system.” When I reference it here, I am referring to the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which responds to cues of safety and danger. It helps us know when it is safe to connect and when we must protect ourselves from a threat. There are three modes (or “neural circuits of regulation” if you want to sound fancy) that our ANS shifts into as it responds to the environment. Two of them are more commonly referenced – mobilization (fight/flight) and immobilization (freeze). Side note: There’s also the “fawn” response if you’re a nerd like me and want to do additional research.

An individual’s nervous system drops into fight, flight or freeze when a threat is perceived in the environment, whether the origin is internal or external. These threats do not have to be acute, life-threatening events but can also be chronic, low-level stressors, such as developmental trauma (i.e. not having basic emotional and/or physical needs met throughout one’s life). Responding to repeated threats of safety without the opportunity to re-regulate can decrease resiliency in one’s nervous system. I’ll explain this more in a bit.

The third circuit that is rarely talked about but just as important is called “safe and social.” This is the mode from which we feel safe enough to connect to ourselves and others. In this regulated state, we have access to logical thinking and can learn, communicate and engage with others.

A healthy ANS is flexible enough to respond to an incoming “threat” and recover quickly. However, many people lack this flexibility and end up spending more time in survival mode than in a safe and social state. Generally, this is a result of upbringing and life circumstances. Our nervous systems are so smart that they can be “trained” to look for threats. This can be advantageous when there are threats, particularly in childhood when we have no choice but to adapt to our circumstances.

 

 

The Disconnect Between Brain & Body

What happens when we logically know our environment is safe but our nervous system is still stuck in survival mode?

This disconnect between our logical brain (i.e. “mind”) and our survival brain (i.e. “body”) causes what we call dysregulation and brings with it some seriously unpleasant symptoms. A person with chronic dysregulation may experience anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, intensified autoimmune responses, irritable bowel, an inability to problem-solve, difficulty connecting with others, and a myriad of other symptoms.

Amidst the global novel virus pandemic (yikes!), some people are spending more time in survival mode as their nervous systems shift away from connection (safety) and towards protection (danger). The world as we know it no longer exists. Our way of moving through life with relative ease and predictability is now replaced with reminders to protect ourselves, stay vigilant in our interactions with others, and deal with the grave uncertainty of our future, not to mention financial stress, social isolation, and serious illness.

 

 

Mindfully Navigating a New & Stressful World

So what can we do to help ourselves navigate this new world, especially with the number of “danger” cues around us? It is difficult to manage the influx of advice and information and to integrate so many changes without access to critical thinking. Remember, our logical brain goes offline in survival mode. To bring it back online, we must show our nervous system it is safe to come out of protection and get back to connection.

While the concept is simple, it is not easy. It takes practice, but the good news is, the more we practice, the easier it becomes. We can literally show our nervous system a different way to “be,” one small step at a time. Even in the midst of a pandemic, our bodies can be trained to notice safety cues. This does not mean ignoring discomfort in our systems; it means learning how to experience comfort and discomfort at the same time. Mindful practice can help our systems move fluidly between the two. Remember, a healthy nervous system is one that is flexible.

There are certain things we can do to show our system signs of safety and even joy. If we focus on these cues instead of cues of danger, we can build our capacity for regulation. I’ve included some suggestions below. Figure out what works for you. You can do this by paying attention to your body’s response (i.e. “gut reaction”) as you read through them. You may find that you already do many of these things so the key now is to do them mindfully. (Helpful hint: Try them for the first time when you’re relatively calm. The idea is to reinforce and expand any amount of regulation rather than attempt something that feels too hard and end up reinforcing survival mode.)

 

 

Daily Practices to Regulate & Calm the Nervous System

1) Ground in all five senses. I lead my clients through an exercise in which I cue them to notice what they see, hear, taste, smell and feel. This orients them to time and place and reminds their bodies they are safe in the room with me. You can do this on your own, too. I have my clients use this video outside of therapy to continue their practice of nervous systems regulation. If this feels too challenging or if you find yourself in a very escalated state, try focusing on just one part of your body that feels good or even neutral. This can be anything from one toe to the tip of your nose. All you’re doing is reminding yourself there is a place on your body that’s okay. When you focus on the comfort rather than discomfort, you’ll be surprised by the shift you begin to notice!

 

2) Get moving. Any kind of movement or exercise, including dancing, is a great way to connect to your body and remind it of its power, health and strength. Try to stay connected to your experience. Overriding your body’s needs and doing too much will push you back towards dysregulation.

 

3) Listen to music and better yet, sing along. The reason is complex, but engaging vocal cords can do wonders for discharging emotions.

 

4) Put pen to paper. Journaling, especially the good old-fashioned way, can help you get acquainted with and reflect on your experiences.

 

5) Take a shower or bath. Water is grounding. Take the effects up a notch by noticing the water fall onto and off your body. Try integrating aromatherapy. Figure out what smells good to you by experimenting.

 

6) Breathe mindfully. Breathe in through your nose as you expand your belly and out through the mouth. Focus on the exhale, not the inhale. Contrary to popular belief, the exhale is what slows our heart rate. Focusing on the deep inhale can actually have a dysregulating effect. As you breathe out, trust your body will know when to bring air in again.

 

 

7) Cook or bake. These two nurturing tasks can help you focus on a basic human need, and the completion of them can feel so fulfilling.

 

8) Practice self-compassion by connecting to your emotional experience. Such a therapist thing to say, right?  Well, there’s a reason – letting yourself feel your emotions allows them to discharge, and this can have far-reaching effects on regulation. Think about what you do for a kiddo when they’re upset – you acknowledge what they’re feeling before you try to apply logic. This is called co-regulation and you can do the same thing for yourself.

 

9) Take a nap. Rest may be just what your system needs to regroup. If you’re feeling up to it, see if you can tune into the heaviness of your body on the bed, couch or whatever supportive surface you’re using. This will allow your body to fully let go and lead to even more restorative benefits (you can also add a weighted blanket for more sensory input).

 

10) Restorative yoga poses. I am no expert on yoga but I do suggest using certain poses like laying on your back with your bottom all the way against the wall so your feet rest on the wall. Shivasana, child’s pose, figure eight/infinity pose and others that are “cooling” can help rest the body and elicit a parasympathetic nervous system response.

 

11) Connect to nature. Walk barefoot on the grass or sand, put your feet in a nearby body of water, notice the animals, plants and trees around you – really notice and even name them aloud or in your mind.

 

12) Listen to relaxing sounds. I have a playlist of ambient sound that I use as needed. My favorite is waves crashing onto a beach and rain falling. Soothing noises like this can be helpful when it’s hard to connect to your body. Engaging your auditory system provides a nice anchor.

 

 

13) Sunbathe! Good old vitamin D can most certainly aid in restoring vibrancy and positivity.

 

14) Pursue social interaction. There is no better way to regulate than by connecting with another safe person.

 

15) Do something creative, whether coloring, drawing, painting, molding or crafting. This is a great way to connect to yourself and discharge survival mode energy.

 

16) Hang with your pet. Spending time with them can be incredibly grounding. Intensify the grounding effect by engaging as many senses as you can. Notice how their fur feels on your hands, notice their color, the sound of their breathing, how they smell, how they feel if they are sitting on your lap, etc.

 

17) Do a puzzle or another game that supports problem-solving. Engaging your logical brain will in and of itself create space for more connection.

 

18) Watch comedy or light-hearted, feel-good shows. It’s important to screen out overwhelming and negative news. This is good practice when it comes to social media, too. Unfriend or unfollow people that seem to be stuck in survival mode. They will only serve to remind your system it’s not safe.

 

 

19) Visualization. Imagine being in a place that brings you comfort. For me, it’s sitting on the shore of the beach with my toes in the sand and my family nearby (but not close enough to disrupt my peace). Use ambient noise to intensify the visualization. You can find a lot of these on YouTube! As you begin to settle in, notice how your body feels. Don’t worry if your mind wanders. Just notice it is and gently bring yourself back.

 

20) Eat! You read that right. What’s more nurturing than a delicious meal, especially one that nourishes your body? It’s also okay to indulge. Just try to stay present while doing so. We run into problems when we disconnect and numb ourselves with food. Notice every bite as it goes into your mouth, notice the texture, the taste, and try to notice when you’ve had enough.

 

21) Pursue therapy. Especially if all of these suggestions feel like a challenge or if you know you’re experiencing symptoms of chronic dysregulation. Most therapists are trained to stay regulated so they can act as a regulating source for their clients. If you are interested in my style, seek out a somatic experiencing therapist. They are specifically trained to attune to the autonomic “conversations” in the therapy room, which can help you reconnect to your body and show your nervous system a more regulated way to be.

 

There are many more options to show your system signs of safety than what I’ve listed here. Do some experimenting! And I can’t say it enough – this is a practice. It’s not supposed to be easy. If it were, I wouldn’t have a job…

Thanks for reading, reach out with questions or comments, and best of luck on your journey to nervous system regulation. ~Lauren

 

*Feel free to contact Lauren with inquires and mental health needs at Secure Base Mental Health LLC.

 

Thanks for reading everyone! Keep nurturing the mind/body connection through daily grounding practices and self care for your mental health!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

Encouragement for Moms Struggling to Lose Weight

As if we needed any reminders that mothering is hard, we now have a pandemic that’s hammering that message into our sleep-deprived mom brains. Caring for babies is an around-the-clock job, toddlers have excessive energy-expending needs and curious little brains (“Why do the scientists say the parks have to be closed?”), and I hear from moms with teenagers that “the moods” are quite real. Our plates are full and our cups overflowing, but often with chores and responsibilities for others instead of ourselves. Of all times in our lives, it’s now officially more difficult to exercise than ever before. Case in point: Me, a fitness professional.

 

 

At the start of this whole thing, my 1-year old was taking an hour nap each morning, allowing me to exercise in the driveway with my 4-year old or plop him in front of an activity or show while my husband worked on his computer and I hit the neighborhoods sidewalks to release all my pint-up energy on a good run. But then my 1-year old entered that dreaded nap purgatory where nothing seemed to work because he wasn’t quite ready for one nap but two naps felt like too much. Plus, hello molars. Enough said.

My morning workouts now start earlier than I’m used to, often before breakfast is fully digested, or they’re shoved into 20 minutes mid-morning while my 1-yr old does “quiet time” in his crib with some books and music. On the occasion that I try to workout with my youngest around, he usually climbs on me during planks, snuggles my face during mat work, and throws balls at my legs during squats. He routinely pulls at my yoga mat and makes it impossible to complete a single set of anything because he is climbing between my legs and onto my stomach as though trying to crawl back into my womb. No thanks, buddy. This whole exercise without childcare thing is really hard. It takes patience and consistency, but also flexibility.

Not only are our exercise schedules and access to fitness equipment different right now, but also our ADLs have changed. ADL stands for activities of daily living. Mine often include running a bunch of errands, shuttling my children to activities and parks (and then chasing after them), house chores, yard work/gardening, and general at-home childcare. With stay-at-home restrictions in place, the first few items on that list have evaporated and in truth, that’s where I burn just as much energy as in the gym.

 

 

Less energy expenditure on a daily basis and low-grade anxiety over the whole covid crisis have caused me to gain back three pounds that I had been recently really proud of myself for losing since they dropped me lower than my pre-pregnancy weight. Three pounds doesn’t sound like much and in the big picture, it isn’t. But if a fitness professional (me) can easily gain weight during times of stress and change, it stands to reason that another woman might possibly gain even more. Full transparency: Those three pounds were gained in the first month of quarantine, so that’s almost a pound a week. You can see how this becomes problematic if it continues, easily turning into 10 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs…etc.

I’m here to tell you a little secret: It’s okay.

I don’t care if you’ve gained 5 lbs or 50 lbs, my message to you is the same: Really, I promise, it’s okay.

We often shame ourselves into thinking we’re terrible people when we gain weight but the shame-and-blame game is tired and unfair. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is address the reality of our weight gain:

I’m having a hard time. Something is emotionally difficult for me right now.

It might be grief, shame, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, jealousy, fear, anger, self-pity, boredom, social rejection or something else. What is on your list of tough emotions?

I’m not trained in Psychology so I’m not here to explicitly tell you how to sort through your emotions but I am here to say that your emotions can be identified and talked about. And they can be separated from your body’s experience, to an extent.

The pounds on the scale tell a story. Once you identify what that story is then you can take the steps towards making amends with your body. Addressing and working through your emotions and life obstacles with a qualified mental health professional might be the ultimate difference maker in your weight loss journey. Self care measures including leaning into your faith, family and friends might free you up emotionally to focus on your health at last.

 

 

It doesn’t matter how much weight you’ve gained, you have control over whether or not it comes off. I know this truth is hard to internalize so let me say it again:

You have control. And if it doesn’t feel like it then take it back for yourself! You deserve it! 

As you work through your emotions and establish self care practices, you will free up your energy to focus on your body’s health without fear or shame – and perhaps you will even start to feel pride and joy!

I’ve seen countless women lose weight only to regain it back. It’s not really because they started eating donuts at the office again or slackened their workout regimen, it’s because feelings of worth weren’t cemented as the foundation of their health. Self worth, love and respect usually need to be in place in order for us to maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight isn’t all that complicated, we just tell ourselves it is because deep down we’re scared of failing or we don’t feel worthy.

But you are. Worthy.

Here are a few of my professional recommendations for losing weight to help you get started. Guess what? None have anything to do with exercise.

 

 

These are measures which set the stage for effective weight loss before lifting even a single hand weight or stepping on the treadmill:

1. Identify emotions that keep you in a weight gain cycle or prevent you from losing weight – this takes courage and being honest with yourself

2. Write a list of 3 daily self care routines you can lean into to help you counter these negative emotions and experiences

3. Consider talking to a professional or counselor, or perhaps confide in a friend or spiritual mentor

4. Increase your ADLS – activities of daily living, or anything you do throughout your daily, weekly and monthly routines that involves movement but isn’t considered “formal” exercise. 

    • Ex: walking the dog, cleaning the house, yard work/gardening, childcare and playing outdoors with children, errands that involve walking/lifting/carrying, caring for a loved one who is physically dependent on you, lovemaking (yup! it burns energy!), cooking dinner instead of ordering, chores, etc.

5. Get enough sleep to reduce inflammation, balance hormones and enable nervous system recovery

6. Start taking steps towards healthy nutrition;

    • Shop the periphery of the grocery store for fresh meats and produce
    • Choose meals you can cook or make at home that are easy and healthy (ex: I do some kind of fish, a roasted veggie and a rice/quinoa/cous cous or sweet potato 3x/week to free up my energy to be more creative for a few other meals)
    • Have healthy snacks on hand (ex: hard boiled eggs, fruit, nuts, yogurt, protein powder)
    • Choose a style of eating you enjoy for your lifestyle. Ex: Schedule snack times if you enjoy eating often or set your “feeding window” if you prefer large, infrequent meals in keeping with intermittent fasting.  No one way is the best way to eat. The “best” approach to nutrition is what will work for YOU.

7. Find a spiritual outlet. I’m a big believer that all people have a spiritual need to connect to each other and something bigger than ourselves in a heartfelt, intangible way. This might be enjoying a traditional religious service, prayer or custom, or it might be selecting a mantra or meditation routine that speaks to you. Omkar chanting, burning sage, placing crystals in your home, striking a Tibetan singing bowl – anything is better than nothing. Honor that place and space within yourself that is already above this world and connected to more.

 

 

Courageously jump-starting a weight loss journey must start from a place of wellness in order to last. We won’t always be able to enjoy our “perfect” workout routine so relying on exercise alone for weight management entails a high level of risk. I hope you can stay encouraged by all the other ways you can kickoff the weight loss process before setting foot in the gym again (because let’s be real…we are stuck in a pandemic that could last a while).

Cheers to your health and its priority during this moment in history! Moms, you deserve the best.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Are Clean Products Worth It?

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I began to wonder – Are the household cleaning products I’m using safe? Is the perfume I’m wearing potentially harmful to the baby? At the time, I had already committed to buying grass-fed, hormone-free meats and some organic produce at the grocery store but I worried: Is that enough to stay safe and keep harmful chemicals out of my body? 

I decided it couldn’t hurt to buy a plant-based everyday counter cleaner and I started using only one spritz of my favorite Chanel perfume on my shirt sleeve instead of several pumps directly to my skin. Eventually, my pregnancy nose got the best of me (and I realized the fragrance’s fumes were still very potent) and I stopped wearing perfume altogether. This was the beginning of my slow transition to “clean products,” which is still very much an on-going process. I’ve found that I can only bite off a little bit at a time, my beauty products coming in last in the multi-year transition. I like the cosmetics I already use and clean beauty products seem intimidating and expensive, leaving me with the question: Are clean products worth it? 

I’m no beauty expert so I decided to bring one on board for a Q&A about clean beauty and its impact on our wellness. Please welcome Morgan Adams to the blog to answer all our burning questions! Morgan represents Beautycounter and is a breast cancer survivor who has pledged herself to advocating for clean beauty. I’m truly grateful for the insightful information she shares below and I hope you find it useful too! 

 

   

1) What inspired you to work in clean beauty?

Clean beauty was something I’d never really planned on pursuing as a career. In November of 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I was researching on how to heal, the information I was seeing was directing me to lower my toxic load. The toxins that seemed to be of biggest concern in my research were the toxins found in our everyday cleaning and personal care products. Being a makeup and skincare junkie most of my life, I decided to start there. I was disappointed to learn that most of the products I was putting on my skin contained unhealthy ingredients, many of which were linked to breast cancer. I had known about a company called Beautycounter for several years, but always dismissed their products. I didn’t think that products in the “natural” category would perform up to my expectations. But I decided to give it a try since they were the cleanest products I could find on the market. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the products and how well they worked. So in late 2018, I decided to join Beautycounter as a consultant.

 

2) How has your perspective of clean beauty evolved through the years?

I had never really heard of the term “clean beauty” until I found Beautycounter. I was more familiar with the terms “organic” and “natural.” The general consensus among many people I knew in the beauty world (makeup artists and estheticians) was that products in those categories didn’t perform as well as products you might find at your dermatologist’s office or Sephora. Beautycounter was the first clean beauty company I ever really gave a fair chance. Since I’ve jumped on the clean beauty bandwagon, I’m pleased to see other clean beauty brands popping up. Even some conventional beauty brands are developing products that are cleaner. It’s moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

 

3) Why is clean beauty so important?

Decades of studies have pointed to the fact that many serious health issues like cancer, infertility and asthma have increased. One of the reasons is due to our ongoing exposure to toxic ingredients we’re exposed to everyday. The cosmetics industry in the U.S. is, for the most part, a fairly unregulated industry. Only 30 chemicals are banned compared to 1400 that are banned in Europe. There hasn’t been a major federal law passed to govern the cosmetics industry since 1938. There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today, many of which don’t have any safety data. This is particularly true of those in the cosmetic industry.

 

 

4) What should consumers be careful about (or watchful for) when purchasing beauty, skincare, household and/or cleaning products?

There are thousands of chemicals that could potentially be harmful in our products. My recommendation is to download a free app called EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) Healthy Living App. You can scan the barcode to a product or type it in to see how it’s rated in terms of safety. Products are rated 1-10, with 1 being safest to 10 being the most potentially toxic. There is a special classification called “EWG Verified” (look for the small green circle) which means that a product/company avoids EWG’s ingredients of concern, provides full transparency, and uses good manufacturing practices. My general rule of thumb when selecting my own products is to choose products that are EWG Verified or between 1-3. When products are rated 4-6, I will dig deeper into each ingredient to determine if I want to use it. I don’t recommend using products ranked 7 or higher.

 

5) Does your passion for clean products extend beyond the beauty and skincare industry?

It does. I choose the safest cleaning products possible and have recently become a fan of Branch Basics. After my cancer diagnosis, I invested in an air filtration system (Air Doctor) and a water purification system (Berkey). I’m also a fan of eating as much organic food as possible.

 

6) What is your best advice for people seeking to change their skincare and beauty product routines in effort to be healthier and safer?

I would advise most people to transition slowly as it can be overwhelming to do it all at once. I made a really quick transition, but that was propelled by my cancer diagnosis. As you use up a product, look for a cleaner option. Prioritize anything that can be inhaled or eaten, such as powder products and lipsticks. Also prioritize products that sits on your skin for a long period of time like moisturizers and serums. I also recommend finding a couple brands you trust and sticking with them.

 

 

7) What’s your favorite clean product and why?

I would say the Overnight Resurfacing Peel by Beautycounter. It’s the company’s best-selling skincare product and a client favorite of mine. It’s a gentle but effective serum containing multiple botanically-derived acids. You use it at night to help fade any discolorations and brighten up your skin.

 

8) What’s the most dangerous ingredient consumers should keep their eyes open for?

It’s hard to limit it to one since there are so many, but the one that concerns me the most is the ingredient “fragrance/parfum.” When you see fragrance listed in an ingredient list, you should understand that it’s an engineered scent or flavoring agent that may contain any combination of 3,000 or more stock chemical ingredients, including allergens and hormone-disrupting substances. Fragrance formulas are protected under federal law’s classification of trade secrets, and therefore can remain undisclosed. When you spray a product in the air, it doesn’t only affect the person who sprayed it. It could potentially cause issues for anyone who’s close by. It could make their bodies react negatively with allergy symptoms, asthma and migraines. In some cases, exposure might not cause immediate symptoms, but the long-term effects remain unknown since many of the chemicals haven’t been properly tested.

One of the things that’s impressed me the most about Beautycounter is their advocacy efforts to change laws so that companies are charged with disclosing exactly what ingredients are lurking behind “fragrance.” Beautycounter’s CEO Gregg Renfrew provided witness testimony on December 2019 to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, urging the FDA to require more oversight over the personal care product industry. A bill called the Cosmetics Safety Enhancement Act of 2019 was introduced that month, and in March the health subcommittee passed the bill which will be voted on by the full committee before it can be advanced to the House floor for a vote. This was a huge win for clean beauty advocates since the last federal law governing cosmetic safety was passed in 1938.

 

 

9) If you could give readers your best professional advice, what would you say?

I would urge folks to start to take closer look at the products they’re putting on their largest organ, their skin. The EWG Healthy Living app which I mentioned earlier is a great, free tool that’s accessible to everyone. Consider “voting with your dollars” and buying from companies that are committed to transparency and are making their products safer. On a personal note, when I became aware of all the unhealthy products in the marketplace I put a lot of pressure on myself to go 100% clean. This mindset has the potential to create some internal anxiety. It’s important to remember that this is about progress, not perfection. If you can aim to follow the 80/20 rule, with 80% of your products being clean then I think you’re definitely doing your overall health a huge favor.

 

10) Do you see or anticipate any trends towards clean ingredients? If so, which industries and products are making the switch?

The market has showed us lately that clean beauty is definitely not a trend. It’s really here to stay. In 2019, the beauty industry grew by 3% while the clean beauty segment grew by 18%. I’m pleased to see retailers like Target, CVS and Walmart starting to roll out more clean product lines so that people of all income levels are able to access cleaner and safer products.

 

Morgan Adams is a clean beauty advocate and educator who loves helping people make changes to enjoy healthier lives. Morgan’s desire to help others live healthier began after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. She thought she was doing “all the right things,” but the cancer diagnosis inspired a journey of knowledge, action and healing. Now Morgan teaches and helps others on their wellness journey. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband Stephen, a marketing consultant and rock and roll drummer, and their shaggy dog Ollie.

*If you’re interested in Beautycounter products click here

 

Please join me in thanking Morgan for sharing her wealth of clean beauty knowledge and professional advice here on the blog! This is very helpful information that informs many of our product decisions.

 

Yours in health & wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Time-Efficient Exercises for Home Workouts

I’m doing a little something different today by offering up some ideas for at-home workouts (see videos & tutorials below). I feel it’s my job to do my little part to help others during this difficult time of uncertainty, fear and cabin fever. Globally, we are vulnerable to coming out of this pandemic more at risk for obesity-related issues. The time has come to figure out once and for all how to exercise at home. My sincere hope is that once we all figure it out, we won’t be so saddled with the age-old excuses like “I don’t have time to exercise.”

 

I’m no videographer so these shots from my home office are very basic, but they are educational. Hopefully they can help you learn how to combine exercise movements for time-efficient, full-body workouts. Side note – Please forgive the pop-up appearance of my curious little yorkie and the missing “pizzazz” of professional lights/music/editing. It’s the time to give each other some grace and keep it real, right? Feel free to do 1-3 sets of 10-15 reps per exercise. Even just one set can prove beneficial so no need to shy away or be intimidated! All you need is a mat (or the carpet) and a set of dumbbells. Quick heads up – it’s a little easier to view the instructions and videos simultaneously from your desktop instead of mobile.

Let’s battle this coronavirus the best way we can – with good health! Stay well, everyone!

Exercise Combo #1: Down Dog with Leg Tuck + Chaturanga + Upward Dog


Target Muscles: Lower – tightens quadriceps, lengthen hamstrings and calf muscles; Upper – lats, traps, deltoids, pec major and triceps; Core – rectus abdominus and transverse abs


Benefits: What doesn’t this exercise cover?! It’s a great warm-up but can also be quite challenging after enough reps. It stretches tight hamstrings, works the entire upper body and challenges the core.

Exercise Combo #2: Double Leg to Single Leg Crunches + Overhead Pull


Target Muscles: Lower – Lightly engages quadriceps; Upper – triceps and anterior deltoids; Core – rectus abdominus


Benefits: Great way to get more done with core work. Overhead pulls target the triceps while also ramping up the challenge of this exercise.

Exercise Combo #3: Alternating Lunge w/ Twist + Alternating Side Lunge w/ Twist


Target Muscles: Lower – glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and abductors; Upper – pec major, traps and rhomboids; Core – obliques


Benefits: This is an excellent way to hit all three planes of motion in one sequence! The chest and obliques benefit from a nice stretch and the lower body muscles work isometrically during each twist.

Exercise Combo #4: Curtsy Lunge + Bicep Curl


Target Muscles: Lower – all major leg muscles including adductors and abductors; Upper – biceps; Core – transverse abs for stability


Benefits: Strengthens hips and soft tissues surrounding the knees. Challenges lower leg muscles and ankle stability, especially if you hold the low position for a slow bicep curl.

Exercise Combo #5: Plank + Alternating Single Arm Row + Alternating Single Arm Twist


Target Muscles: Lower – all muscles working for isometric support; Upper – deltoids, trap, rhomboids, biceps; Core – rectus abdominus, transverse abs, obliques, QLs and multifidus


Benefits: The entire body gets a great workout with a focus on stability, the core and muscles that support posture.

Exercise Combo #6: Static Hip Bridge + Chest Fly


Target Muscles: Lower – glutes, hamstrings; Upper – pec major, biceps; Core – transverse abs, QLs


Benefits: Hip bridges are a wonderful way to engage the major glute muscles and open tight hip flexors. Chest flies are a nice alternative to push-ups.

Exercise Combo #7: Alternating Weighted Lunges + Single Leg Balance + Bicep Curl to Shoulder Press


Target Muscles: Lower – all major muscles are involved; Upper – biceps, deltoids; Core – tranvserse abs for balance


Benefits: Balancing exercises train the nervous system to be sharp. This specific sequence challenges your center of gravity and gets the heart pumping!

Exercise Combo #8: Static Plie Squat + Upright Row


Target Muscles: Lower – Adductors, quadriceps; Upper – medial and rear deltoids; Core – transverse abs for stability


Benefits: Excellent workout for those hard-to-tone inner thighs. (P.S. – do you hear my 1-yr old starting to cry in the background? ha! #reallife)

Exercise Combo #9: Balancing Side Leg Lift + Lateral Raise + Single Leg Balance + Frontal Raise


Target Muscles: Lower – Abductors; Upper – frontal and medial deltoids; Core – transverse abs for stability


Benefits: Stable abductors support your hips and low back making this a go-to for tight, weak back muscles and hips in need of some TLC.

Exercise Combo #10: Single Leg Reach + Reverse Fly + Straight Arm Tricep Kickback


Target Muscles: Lower – glutes, hamstrings; Upper – rear deltoids, triceps; Core – transverse abs used for balance


Benefits: Improves balance & posture thanks to working the posterior kinetic chain (i.e. muscles in the back of the body)

 

If anyone has questions or needs help modifying form then feel free to contact me or drop it in the comments.

Yours in health & wellness,

Maggie

 

Staying Spiritually and Physically Fit During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Fitness merges with faith to equip and armor our bodies and souls!

 

Roughly a month ago, I was invited to be a guest on the Up2Me radio station with host Kim Crabill this Monday (03/16). Kim has authored seven books, runs a non-profit, was named “Outstanding Leader in Media” for 2017-2018 by the CWIMA and was featured in London’s Highly Fabulous magazine by Dr. Patricia Benjamin as a “2018 International Woman of Influence.” What an honor to join her!

Listen to Audio Recording

Listen to Podcast

 

Brief Summary:

Our radio conversation was originally going to focus on the mind/body/spirit connection and how my personal journey as a fitness professional relates to others. But amid a rapidly changing global crisis, our dialogue necessitated redirection. Instead of chatting about my story, we focus on how to hold tight to two lifelines during times of fear and uncertainty: 1) faith and 2) wellness.

 

 

Kim and I chat about how we can manage the anxiety and fear we ALL share during this difficult pandemic. We share faith practices we can infuse into our daily lives and easy-to-access resources for maintaining our fitness and wellness while practicing social distancing.

I sincerely hope that the podcast recording of this radio chat proves useful and uplifting to you during these hard times. Let’s not forget that we are all in this together. Here for you, friends. Let’s use the tools we have to stay HEALTHY and STRONG!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

Meditation Counters the Negative Effects of Multitasking

Steve Jobs is a great example of the powerful benefits one can reap from daily meditation. Why? Well, because when Steve Jobs died at 56 his brain was only 27, thanks to daily meditation practice. (I highlighted these results back in my February newsletter.) By roughly the age of 45, symptoms of brain deterioration related to the aging process become apparent and measurable. Meditating for just 30 minutes a day can “reverse” the aging process of the brain, repairing cells and thickening areas associated with memory, emotional regulation, self-confidence, focus, empathy and more. In one study, these results were seen in as short as 8 weeks of regular meditation.

If that’s not fascinating enough, meditation can also help counter the negative effects many people experience from multitasking. Women are the ultimate multitasking pros who juggle work, home life, children, doctor appointments, cooking, social calendars and more, so this is especially compelling for us.

 

 

But wait, let’s backtrack for a second here…multitasking is a NEGATIVE thing?!?

That’s right, friends. This news stopped me mid-stride in one of my daily mental sprint sessions. I’m the queen bee of multitasking and I take pride in it! I juggle two young children as a stay-at-home mom, a daily breastfeeding schedule, part-time work squeezed into nap and late-at-night hours, and oh yea, self care…that ever-elusive concept. I literally sit down to nurse my baby with an agenda, my mind ramping up to full speed as I tackle 5 emails, respond to 3 texts and proofread an article…all in 15 minutes while nourishing a small human. I mean…yikes!!! Is anyone ELSE’s head going to explode? Mine sure is close…

 

It turns out that there are 3 different types of multitasking:

  1. Multitasking – attempting to do two or more tasks simultaneously
      • Ex: Computer work while making an unrelated phone call
  2. Switching costs – switching back and forth between tasks
      • Ex: Prepping dinner for children and running to the living room to keep toddlers entertained (because they just love to run into the kitchen the second it’s time to take something out of the hot oven)
  3. Attention residue – performing a number of tasks in rapid succession
      • Ex: The fast pace of western culture. End of story.

 

The Negative Consequences of Multitasking

According to Rescue Time, an app that “helps you understand the habits that make you productive,” multitasking leads to the following negative consequences:

  • Impacts short-term memory
  • Leads to increased anxiety
  • Inhibits creative thinking
  • Stops you from getting into a state of flow
  • Causes more mistakes and less productivity
  • Can drop your IQ by 10 points
  • Similar to losing a night of sleep

Okay, now it’s really clear that multitasking does harm to our minds and bodies! This is seriously such a game changer for me as a wellness blogger because I routinely wonder why I’m so exhausted at the end of every insanely busy day, even after a good night of rest and some healthy exercise in the morning. Anyone else feel like their *brain* needs some rest and rejuvenation? I can practically hear all the miscellaneous thoughts and agendas rattling around in my own as I write this, just waiting for me to give them attention. But this information really makes me pause and consider how I might approach each day a little differently. How about you?

 

 

Decision Fatigue

Multitasking is part of what makes moms so worn out because it “comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing.” This may be why women need on average 20 minutes more sleep each night than men. Another aspect of multitasking is that it leads to decision fatigue – that feeling that once you’ve made so many decisions in a single day you simply don’t have the energy to make another one. This is a real phenomenon!

An article from the New York Times states that “decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.” This totally explains why I have a hard time making decisions after 5:00 pm. Anyone else in the same boat? I’ve used up all my decision making power right in time to cook a million different things for small humans with specific food needs, portions and cut-into-bite-size meals.

 

Different Types of Meditation

Still thinking about whether or not meditation is right for you? I have good news; there are lots of ways to meditate so it’s easy to find the right style for your personality and energy. There are four main methods that I will mention here:

  1. Body-Scan Meditation – scanning your body top to bottom and becoming aware of different sensations as they arise, one body part at a time, bringing your attention back to the practice when your mind wanders. This allows thoughts to stay in the background and breathing and relaxation to take the main stage.
  2.  Breathing Meditation – in traditional ashtanga yoga this is called pranayama or breathing practice. There are lots of ways to do this (I will try to write a whole article on it some day) but the most basic is slowing down the breathing and silently counting inhalations and exhalations while quieting the mind and refraining from judging one’s own thoughts.
  3. Observing-Thought Meditation – this is the same thing as what some call “mindfulness” meditation which allows for greater awareness of the nature of one’s own thoughts. It is sometimes done while picturing your thoughts as clouds passing or waves coming and going, acknowledging their temporary nature.
  4. Loving-Kindness Meditation – repeating positive phrases about oneself then applying those phrases to another person, then to a person who you are in conflict with, then to all of humanity.

For what it’s worth, my personal favorite is breathing meditation because it creates a rhythmic pattern that helps me better establish flow. I also enjoy switching the type of breathing exercise midway. It helps hold my attention while remaining calm and peaceful.

 

 

The Good Stuff: Meditation Resources

Meditating just a few times a week can prove beneficial if it helps you calm down. I’ve personally found that my morning “meditation” of sorts is to listen to the Bible and to do yoga or meditation a couple times a week, when I’m diligent (let’s be honest, not every week is “perfect”). Other times I pray for a few minutes or try to close my eyes and just clear my head for a second. The point is that you can approach meditation with flexibility and openness rather than stress over how to fit it into every single day. Allow yourself to grow and get there gradually. After all, there’s no rush.

Below is a list of different apps and websites that you can use to help you establish a routine with meditation.

  • Headspace – mindful approach to improved happiness, health and sleep
  • Meditation Studio – various meditations that are led in [what I consider] a psychologist/counselor style so great for people who want a lot of guidance and discussion of emotions
  • Stop Breathe & Think – short activities to tune into emotions, can even be used on Alexa
  • Calm – app for “mental fitness” and has option to use its services within the workplace/for a team
  • Ten Percent Happier – meditations by some of the world’s leading experts, book and podcast by the same name
  • Mindful.org – podcast with free body scans ranging from 3-25 minutes long
  • Audible – free with subscription; “Morning Meditations for Daily Magic” & “Rise & Shine Yoga Flows”

Last but not least, if you’d like to take your practice to the next level I suggest you consider a personal growth journey through Mindfulness Certification Training for Individuals and Coaches. My experience getting trained to become a yoga teacher was one of the foremost challenges of my life. Pushing yourself, even for a short while, to become disciplined in meditation can be life changing. My experience was over a decade ago and I’m still learning from it to this day.

If none of this sounds enticing then…

Just. Breathe.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie