Category Archives: Happiness

Your Gut Health and Mood

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We often feel a bit hungover when we return home from holiday travels after too many glasses of wine and a tad too much pie (let’s not kid ourselves, sample bites and partial pieces of pie add up to a whole slice). We wonder why the food coma haunts us for days, leaving us lethargic and foggy-headed, perhaps even coming down with a touch of a cold. As the holidays approach and we begin to daydream about those heaping piles of mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce, it’s important to remember that a lot of our health and immune function lies in the gut. When we mess with our gut health, we impact our hormones, immune system, nervous system and mood. Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”

Today, I’m going to take a plain-language approach to gut health so that you can quickly and easily understand what hurts it and helps it, and why it should matter to you. Disclaimer: There’s just a liiiiitttttle bit of scientific jargon included because at the end of the day, I’m a nerd. 

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Gut Health…The Bad News

Research over the last several decades has increasingly pointed to poor gut health as a major contributing factor in a variety of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, autism, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and more. Chris Kresser, named by Greatist.com as one of the 100 most influential individuals in health and fitness for his leadership in nutrition, functional and integrative medicine, helps people understand what contributes to gut dysfunction and what they can do to restore good health.

Kresser claims that gut health comprises 75% of the immune system and can be broken down by the following lifestyle and health factors:

  • Antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs
  • Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
  • Diets low in fermentable fibers
  • Dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic infections                                                                 (Kresser, 2011)

While it’s easy to think that we may not have an issue with our gut health if our stomach and gastrointestinal function seems fine, an increase in bad gut flora and/or breakdown of the barrier of our gastrointestinal systems (i.e., leaky gut) can show up in all sorts of other forms. For example, gut health can be linked to depression, brain fog, eczema, psoriasis, diabetes, allergies, asthma, heart problems and more. Even simple things like falling victim to multiple colds, infections and/or inflammation in joints/muscles which leads to injuries can be linked back to what’s going on in the tummy. Holiday weekends packed with stressful travel, extra rich food and exposure to germs (gotta love when someone sneezes next to you on the airplane) can throw us off our game.

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Gut Health…The Good News

Some things that stress our bodies aren’t fully under our control, so don’t guilt yourself if you feel less than optimal. There’s no telling exactly what the cause is or whose “fault” it is. The only thing we can do to feel better is remove things from our diet and environment which stress our bodies and add in positive foods and habits that will help us. In this way, we slowly allow our bodies to restore good gut health. This will allow us to have better immune function and hormonal balance. As we become less prone to feeling “blah,” we will find new energy and have an uplifted mood.

Kresser recommends the following for boosting gut health:

  • Remove all food toxins from your diet
  • Eat plenty of fermentable fibers (starches like sweet potato, yam, yucca, etc.)
  • Eat fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chi, etc., and/or take a high-quality, multi-species probiotic
  • Treat any intestinal pathogens (such as parasites) that may be present
  • Take steps to manage your stress                                         (Kresser, 2011)

If you take simple steps like these to feel better before the holidays, your gut health won’t take such a big hit from the stress you experience and the food you consume. You will be able to enjoy a few indulgent meals without making yourself overly inflamed and sick. After the holidays, gently steer yourself back on track with healthy habits and you’re good to go. There’s no stopping someone who feels GREAT!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Slow Results

In today’s world where everything is a swipe, tap or click away, it can be excruciatingly difficult when results are slow to come. I’m not just talking about fitness results either. Delays and setbacks in successful romance, job promotions, having children, saving for retirement, and many other areas of our lives challenge us to the core. The waiting game is not easy. But, I’ve noticed through my time as fitness professional that there is much to gain from slow results. In fact, you should delight in the delay! Let’s talk about what you gain through overdue gratification and feeling like you’re in a place far from your goals.

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Endurance

People who exercise realize that reaching your goals can take a lot of time. There are long sweat sessions after which you feel like a champion. There are also days and weeks when you feel like a failure because you sit at your desk thinking about how you should hit the gym but instead waste time procrastinating on social media. Ringing any bells? The ups and downs are all a part of building up endurance and grit as you push onwards through both the accomplishments and setbacks, driving incrementally harder towards your goals.

Anyone who has tried to shed pounds can tell you that there are usually times in the process when a little bit of weight is actually gained. It’s during those times of gain that a person has to reevaluate how they are moving forward in the weight-loss journey. Are they fully committed? What can they learn from the weight gain? If a person can recommit themselves to exercise, healthy eating and self-care during this time, they haven’t lost anything from their weight making a small rebound. In fact, I will argue that they have gained endurance by understanding that losing weight, or any goal for that matter, isn’t just a one-time decision. It’s a recurring decision to get up and work towards it every day in spite of challenges. For example, sticking to the goal even through a messy breakup, the holiday season or an injury. The definition of endurance is “enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.”

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Character

One of my favorite things about personal training is that I can see individuals’ personalities and perspectives slowly transform as they undergo the process. For example, one woman I trained used to think that she should push herself really hard all the time in workouts or there was no point in showing up to the gym. If she missed the first 10 minutes of a training session she felt like she should give up and not come at all. Any time she was tired or needed to take a break from exercise she felt like it was a free pass to overeat, feel guilty and wallow in despair about her body, love life and work. Over time, I helped her to see that you can lose pace with your goal for results without completely falling off the wagon. She could let herself have a couple days of feeling a little blue and taking care of her emotional health without sabotaging herself through junk food or drinking too much.

Over the years (yes, years), I saw this woman go from self-loathing during times of slow results to confidence and composure. She knew that she would achieve her goals even through the setbacks. This wisdom helped her mentally and emotionally. Suddenly, long hours at the office didn’t stress or burn her out so quickly. Her dreams of marriage in spite of lacking a romantic relationship didn’t feel quite so pressing. Her small ebbs and flows in her fitness and weight didn’t drown her in guilt. She became a more empathetic and self-loving individual. In my book, not even running the world’s fastest marathon can compare to achieving that.

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Faith

This blog post was inspired through my own experiences as a personal trainer and also as a woman of faith. The theme “delight in the delay” was inspired by a sermon I listened to which encouraged people to see the positive aspects of waiting for their dreams to come alive. The biggest thing that I took away from this spiritual message was that dreams WILL come true. As hokey as that sounds. When you have a confident hope that you will see your dreams come to fruition, you will continue to put yourself in a position of passionate pursuit, no matter how long it takes. Very few dreams worth achieving come easily.

Hang on tight whether you’re chasing after better fitness or a bigger paycheck, and don’t turn away from the lessons available to you during the wait. Life happens in them. They are the foundation for hope.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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The Lighthouse Method for Fitness and Wellness

Stacy S. Kim, PhD and author of The Lighthouse Method, helps people navigate what she calls “life junctions” or times in your life when you feel stuck, frustrated and unfulfilled. While her book and speaking engagements usually revolve around helping women revamp or launch their careers, her coaching and suggestions are excellent and can be easily applied to the fitness and wellness space. So, what is this methodology? How do you apply it in your own life to get out of a rut? How do you use it to enjoy your body and health? Let’s explore together…

Lighthouse

When people come to Stacy they are often frustrated and lacking answers. They want a career change but they don’t know how to achieve it. Sometimes, they don’t even know where to start because they aren’t sure what they want to do. As a personal trainer, I can say that this happens to me a lot too. People come to me feeling like they need to try something new for their health and wellness, but they aren’t sure where to start. The sea of information is overwhelming and getting started feels daunting. As coaching professionals, it’s important to help people get “unstuck” and to navigate them towards answers. For this reason, I love Stacy’s approach…

Stacy encourages people to forget about drawing up a perfect roadmap for their career and happiness. In fact, she says to ditch the planning altogether! Shocker to all us Type A ladies, I know. The need for a perfect plan leaves many people in decision paralysis and/or feeling stressed out. They are unable to take the first steps of action because the timing or logistics of their “perfect” plan fall short. There is never a perfect way or time to get started on a perfect plan. For example, a mom wants to work with disabled children but doesn’t have experience to gain a job in special education. She starts planning out how to get a degree in order to become qualified, but the analytical planning (how to apply for schools, where they will be, the financial commitment, juggling study time with family time, etc) keeps her from feeling like she can take action. She gets stuck trying to navigate and her good intentions are so fraught with perfectionism that she pigeon holes herself into inaction.

Likewise, a lot of people wanting to change their health try to think of the perfect weight loss plan before getting started. They map out exactly how many days they want to be active each week, where they will work out, the times of day that work for them to exercise and even how they will start a diet plan. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. Before you know it, there are so many preconditions necessary for exercise and eating well that it becomes difficult to get “all the ducks in a row.” Before you know it, broccoli is spoiling in the fridge and guilt is piling up about the tennis shoes that are still stowed in the front hall closet.

So, how do you get unstuck? How do you move forward? 

Stacy suggests thinking of a lighthouse. The light may be barely visible, but it still has the power to help boats navigate. Similarly, think about whatever inkling of a feeling you have about what you want to do or what you enjoy the most. It might not be crystal clear, but whatever it is, that is your lighthouse. For example, a woman might really love crafting (i.e. “her lighthouse”) but she doesn’t understand how that could correlate to a career. She was formerly a lawyer before becoming a stay-at-home mom. Stacy would encourage this woman to find the time, in small ways, to do more crafting. Over time, it may evolve into an unexpected path or it may make her a more joyous person and bring clarity to other parts of her life.

I encourage readers and personal training clients to think of their health, fitness and wellness in a similar vein. For example, what do you enjoy the most when it comes to exercise? Maybe instead of thinking about your “need” to hit the gym five times a week you can become more active simply by allowing yourself to do something you genuinely enjoy? Perhaps participating in a tennis league twice a week will be so fulfilling that you find yourself suddenly willing to drop by the gym and eat more healthy! Another example; if you absolutely hate kale, why force yourself to eat a kale salad just because you hear it’s a super food and feel like you should fit it into your diet? That’s only going to make you gag! Although I love me some crispy kale chips. Instead, try eating veggies like you enjoy them on a holiday or special occasion. Maybe this is enough to make you get creative about other ways to eat them (and perhaps more healthy ways?!). In short, we are better at caring for ourselves when we come up with a “lighthouse” or some activity we know deep down will fulfill us.

What do we do after we discover our lighthouse?

Rowboat

Stacy points out the obvious: we will never get to our lighthouse if we don’t step in the rowboat and start rowing! In the process of rowing, we actually have to turn around backwards in the boat. In other words, we have to temporarily forget about our lighthouse/large goal or vision and focus on the task of rowing. If we focus too much on the lighthouse we will never get to it. We must take action and row the boat.

Cheers to Memorial Weekend, WellnessWinz readers! Discover your lighthouse and start rowing soon!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Gratitude: Why I Love My Thick Thighs

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m asking readers to reflect on the following two questions: “What is your favorite part of your body?” and “What is your least favorite part of your body?” Now, let’s assess our answers and what they mean to us, starting with a little bit of my personal story. Today, I will share what has been my greatest insecurity through the years…

If I had to answer the first question myself, I would probably say my hair. I love that I’ve never dyed it and that it falls straight no matter what I do to it (even though that’s annoying when I want it curled…ahem, wedding day hair disaster…it was one thick, knotted and stringy mess by the end of the night). I love that my hair is the exact same as my mother’s and father’s and that the combination of my espresso locks and deep brown eyes has caused strangers to ask if I’m related to one of my older brothers (who yes, could very well be my twin if not for the five-year age difference).

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If I had to answer the second question…well…that one’s even easier. Since I was little, I’ve always had thick thighs. Other little girls’ shorts would hang loosely around their spindly legs while mine would sometimes cling awkwardly or bunch up at the crotch. My inner thighs are no strangers to chafing.

I vividly remember sitting beside a friend in elementary school one day. She looked from her lap to mine and said “look how much bigger your legs are than mine.” I blushed. Another time, I was in a swimming pool during the evening. The underwater lights cast shadows to the pool’s floor. A friend commented that she was told she has “perfect legs” because there were several diamond-shaped gaps between them when pressed against one another. I looked to see if my legs had the same gaps….nope. No gaps. Thigh to thigh, I had Just one single inverted triangle shape from hips to toes.

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As I got older, I noticed that I didn’t feel comfortable wearing skirts as short as my peers. If anything hit above mid-thigh, I felt I looked bulky. I craved the long, lean look that so many other girls seemed to have. I wondered how come I couldn’t get that same look, no matter how hard I tried especially since I wasn’t overweight. I was athletic. It seemed my days in high school playing field hockey didn’t help my cause. Even my dad would comment at how my legs transformed during pre-season (in field hockey you’re basically in a squat position for the majority of the game…go figure). Dance team practice would kick off right after hockey season ended. I would pull tight black spandex pants up my legs and groan.

In spite of my insecurities, I never let my legs get me down for too long. I have always been proud of my athleticism and there is little I can do to change the fact that genetically, my body prefers to store fat down south rather than in my stomach. The thickness of my thighs has threatened to be my undoing, but I have been quite decisive that I will never let them make me too self-conscious. In fact, my husband even likes them. 🙂

Who cares if I’ve had a few stretch marks on my inner thighs since middle school? So what if I have a tad bit of cellulite at the very tops of them (even at my very leanest body fat levels)? My body is healthy and strong. For THAT, I give thanks. For THAT, I applaud my legs. They have carried me through several marathons, the deserts of Arizona, the ocean depths of the Bahamas, and nine different sports. How on earth could I despise them? They have given me everything. They have given me freedom and energy to engage with the world around me. Their strength may even be what cushioned and protected me from more severe injury during a potentially life-threatening accident.

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In moments when insecurities have crept in, I’ve noticed that I’m not as caring and considerate of others as I want to be. The times in life when I let myself get hung up about my appearance were also the times that I wasn’t very selfless or giving. I don’t know about you, but that’s the opposite of how I want to live. I want to strive to always love others with openness and unbridled affection.

Can you take something you DON’T love about yourself and see it as a benefit? How do you take your “deficit” and see the positives in it? Ultimately, our greatest strength can also leave blind spots and what we perceive as our greatest weakness can also be viewed from a different, more positive light.

During this upcoming holiday season, I challenge you to adopt an attitude of gratitude. If you do this, then you will be more prepared to give to others. By loving ourselves first, we are primed and ready to have a giving heart. Isn’t that what the holiday season – and life at large – is all about?

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea

 

Millennials; An Unhealthy Generation?

The Millennial generation is more likely than their older peers to exercise. So, why is it that this generation is also more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors? Here’s the inside scoop…
Millennials 2 Please do forgive me for my use of this image…I came across it and thought it was so wildly inappropriate and hilarious that I had to use it. Like….REALLY?!

According to Media Post, “Millennials and Gen Xers are more likely than Boomers and Matures to engage in unhealthy behaviors like unhealthy eating, drinking alcohol, and smoking to manage stress.” Also, when Millennials were polled on their perceived levels of stress, they reported an average ranking of 5.4 on a scale that considers a ranking of 3-4 to be healthy.

Possible Roots of the Millennials’ Stress:

Overeducated and Underutilized. 

This generation is often highly educated but may be underutilized or underemployed in the workplace, leading to lower feelings of professional accomplishment. The Millennials have suffered greatly since the 2008 American recession, with fewer opportunities for job promotions and transitions. Although they are gradually getting more established in their careers, there is little doubt that this dreamy, optimistic generation has suffered some major setbacks, challenging their personal feelings of competence and purpose.

“A.S.A.T.” 

MediaPost says this acronym means “always social, all the time.” Fair enough. Millennials check their smartphones 43 times a day! There is a newfound need for constant feedback and validation, which can be captured via social media interactions. Yet, in spite of constantly tuning into their peers and world happenings, Millennials seem dissatisfied. They place a higher value on in-person interactions. Thus, it has become a priority for some of them to focus on disconnecting (digitally) from time-to-time so that they can focus on quality, real connections.

Millennials 1It’s Natural. 

According to WebMD’s “Happiness Quiz,” younger people are typically less satisfied than older generations. One of WebMD’s quiz questions is about which age group is most happy. News Flash: I guessed it wrong. Apparently, it’s people over the age of 50 who are happiest! WebMD writes “A recent survey of more than 340,000 people showed overall feelings of well-being improve as people pass middle age. Negative emotions such as stress and anger decline after the early 20s, and people over 50 worry less than younger folks. Researchers say it may be as simple as this: With age comes increased wisdom and emotional intelligence.” Wait, you’re saying my sporatic emotional breakdowns are par for the course?! Hooray! 😉 

How Can Millennials Get Happier and Healthier?

Apparently, the following stress management techniques help this generation:

  • Exercising
  • Listening to Music
  • Spending Time with Friends
  • Eating (Hopefully not stress eating!)
  • Shopping

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So, ignore the social media apps on your smartphone and, instead, load up some new tunes into a playlist. Enjoy your music while you go on a jog or walk en route to meet a friend for a nice meal or a little shopping. All the birds with one stone. Perfect!! 😉

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie wellnesswinz blue sea

 

 

 

The Heart of a Woman

It warms my heart to say that WellnessWinz is officially one year old! Thanks to your support and continued readership, WellnessWinz has successfully published over 60 articles that…get this…have reached women in 112 countries to date!!!!!!!!! (Sorry, that deserved a lot of exclamation points.) Reaching this milestone has caused me to take pause and evaluate whether or not we, as women, are any further than we were a year ago. Are we? It’s an individual answer and one that I encourage you to explore for yourself. But first, let’s talk a little bit about the heart of a woman. What does she need most? What motivates her? What holds her back?

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According to research, women may be just as prone to cardiovascular disease (i.e., heart disease) as men, but, for different reasons. Women’s heart disease has been increasingly associated with psychosocial factors. In short, this means that risk factors such as depression, anxiety, exhaustion/fatigue, lack of social support, and stress can all threaten our health.

I don’t know about you, but this upsets me. It’s also another thread in the fabric of life which proves that the mind and body are connected. Our mental health impacts our physical health, and vice versa. Most of us understand this, but, does knowing convert to “doing?” Studies show it doesn’t

The number one thing that women claim hinders them from “ideal health” is not cost, time, convenience, or their body weight (although those are high on the list), it’s self-motivation. Raising your eyebrows or, perhaps, nodding your head? Personally, when I first learned of this, I was stumped. While it makes perfect sense that only a desire from within can compel someone to take action for their health, it also confused me because of how many women tell me they are working towards improving their health.

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Why the discrepancy between what women are telling others and how they feel? Well, I can’t claim to know the full answer, especially as it may vary from woman to woman, but I can tell you my number one hypothesis. This is merely my opinion, but I think that a big part of optimal long-term health is about opening up our hearts instead of working to protect them.

I have worked with lots of people in the exercise setting who were restricted in their movements due to fear. Some feared reinjury while others feared trusting another person with their body. Ironically, those who feared injury often put themselves at greater risk by not moving as their bodies naturally desired to. The incredible thing though was that as soon as each of these people opened themselves up and began to trust, it was like the whole world unfolded before them. I witnessed people transform their bodies, careers and love lives all at once after shedding layers of defensiveness and self-protection. Oftentimes, they credited personal training for their newfound physical confidence…I, on the other hand, strongly believe it was because of them opening up their hearts.

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If you have been with me in this blog journey since this time last year then you may remember my very first post: “So much to do, so little time”. In this article, I mention polling women about their top health and fitness needs. Do you remember what was number one?! 2/3 of women said they need help managing stress. If you want to see the three tips I suggested for stress reduction, simply click-through and read on!

So, now we are here…one year later, and I ask you two very important questions:

What are you doing to reduce stress?

…and…

How can you open up your heart?

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea

10 Ways to Instantly Cheer Up

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In the spirit of nurturing our emotional wellness, today’s post is a list of 10 easy, affordable and creative ways to cheer yourself up. Let’s be honest, sometimes the one thing that doesn’t make our to do lists is giving ourselves the TLC we want and need. Pick one that sounds appealing to you and get ready to feel some warm fuzzies! You deserve to care for yourself, in whatever form works best.


1) Give yourself a daily “happy hour.” Pick the hour and commit to treating yourself to something relaxing or fun every day for a week. Want to soak your feet in a warm bath and zone out to your favorite tunes? Go for it! Want to take a leisurely stroll with your dog down forgotten corners of your neighborhood? Grab the leash!

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2) Make a list of 15 things you have accomplished in the past several years. You may not be writing down “Climbed Mount Everest” or “Built a Fortune 500 Company from Scratch” but that’s okay! When you reflect on all that you have done, you will surely be blown away. No feat is too small to include on this list. Ahem, like finally donating a half dozen of your old high heels to charity instead of saying you will get around to wearing them again when they’re back in fashion. Not a fashionista? Maybe you have made progress in a relationship, realizing you can be more trusting and open than you ever imagined. No? I promise you can and will find a million other things you have done and are proud of!

3) Get out your stress by writing down all of your life’s “problems” – follow it up by writing possible solutions for each one. Make note, there can be multiple solutions for each! This exercise is especially helpful if you have an all-or-nothing mentality about the outcomes of your goals and challenges. Stretch your thinking and you will feel sweet relief – there are many paths your life can take and THANK GOODNESS for that! How scary would it be if we were set on one and only one straight-and-narrow path? Now THAT would be suffocating. Some of the happiest elements of my life are those which I never would have never envisioned for myself…and I mean never, ever, ever. 

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4) Think of a place outdoors, within a 15-30 mile distance from where you live/work, that is beautiful, peaceful and/or exciting to you. Mark a day within the next month to go enjoy an afternoon there. Pack a picnic, pick pumpkins, take a hike, sit and gaze into the distance, catch up with a friend, or journal…let your imagination go wild! 

5) No matter how tough of a day you’re having, try to smile at everyone you pass and interact with, from the person checking out your groceries (yes, even if she seems to be in a foul mood or puts your bananas at the bottom of the bag) to the awkward work colleague whom you typically disassociate from. Spread love without bias!

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6) Read something you want to read, not something you have to read for an assignment or something you feel you should read because it will better you professionally or personally (unless that is also what your heart truly desires to lay eyes on).

7) Reconnect with your faith. Try watching a webinar, attending a new church, picking up a book about an interesting religion, starting a two-way prayer journal (you write your prayer and write the response you feel God would have to your words), or telling a friend you want to grab coffee specifically to talk theology (or join a meet-up group that already does!). In modern society, we often forget about the “spirit” in the “mind-body-spirit” balance. 

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8) Splurge and buy yourself flowers and candles – place the flowers in bud vases or water glasses throughout your main living space and light as many candles as you can (just be careful of a fire hazard!) and do something that relaxes you for an evening in your new, cozy, self-made space. Somehow a dimly lit room makes even the most worn out or casual spaces drip with decadence!

9) Visualize, write down and plan your next big vacation in all the detailed, full glory you can. Now, write down a plan for how you will save money and/or carve out time to make this happen (even if it won’t be for another three years!). Fiji? Cape Town? Prague? Rome? Buenos Aires? Yes – yes – yes – yes – yes!!!!!

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10) Think of the #1 thing you take for granted in your home town or city and put a date on your calendar to go enjoy it. Maybe you never actually get around to touring your area’s most historic sites or popular museum? Well then, now’s the time!


Again, pick one and ENJOY!!! In fact, I think I’m off to buy a new novel and some candles… 😉

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea