Tag Archives: wellbeing

Women of Every Age

Women of every age have something to look forward to. Not only are there weddings, babies, grandbabies, career promotions and other life events to be excited about, but there are also many physical changes that are positive – yes, positive – as you age. There are physiological facts and breakthroughs in each decade of a woman’s lifespan which prove that aging gracefully and healthfully is possible. In fact, there’s never been a better time in history to be a woman!

According to an article by Buzzfeed, 30 Reasons Being a Woman is Awesome, women have better chances of surviving melanoma, have excellent communication skills, have more wardrobe choices than men (duh), and, apparently, are better leaders than men too! (Stepping on any macho toes? Sorry!) The article also points out that women have authored some of this century’s most popular book series, including The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, and 50 Shades of Grey. Whether or not you’re into teeny bopper books, you’ve got to admit, we women are impressive! Now, let’s see what we can look forward to with each physical stage in life…

 

5-13

5-13 Years Old:

There are more and more programs out there which help young girls become physically active. It’s so awesome to see this change in society since, as mentioned in WellnessWinz’s This Girl CAN! article, sports and exercise have been proven to have significant and positive impacts on girls’ physical and mental health. For example, girls who participate in sports tend to have higher levels of self-esteem and confidence. What better time to get active than when your body is bursting wtih youthful energy?!

In the DC metro region alone, there are multiple non-profit organizations rallying behind girls’ involvement in physical activity. Girls on the Run (GOTR) and Koa Sports are two of these organizations. GOTR provides an “after-school program that encourages preteen girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running.” Girls train for a 5K race under a coach’s supervision and training. On race day, the girls are accompanied by a parent, teacher, friend or guardian who runs the 5K with them. If you’ve ever been to one of these events, you will see just how awesome the energy is and how many people (who don’t even know the girls) come out to volunteer and cheer them on. It’s amazing! GOTR has officially helped one million girls. Now that’s how we change the world!

Koa Sports (see picture above) helps children enjoy excellent sports programs and camps. They have a “Play it Forward Scholarship Fund” which ensures that no underprivileged youth, who is interested in sports, gets left behind. Koa Sports draws on its coaching and equipment resources to make a difference. Organizations like this exist because sports have an incredible power to unite divided communities, to strength social bonds, to inspire confidence, and to offer unique health benefits.

If you’re not in the DC area, there may be organizations like this that exist in your own community. As a woman, I encourage you to seek them out, learn more, and perhaps even volunteer so that we can usher a new generation of girls into a healthy lifestyle. No longer does “run like a girl” mean something sissy. Girls are finally being recognized for their strengths! GIRL POWER! (forgive me, it felt right) 

 

13-20

13-20 years old:

Most women reading this blog are in their 20s or older, so it’s safe to say that we’ve all “been there.” We’ve experienced the roller coaster of being a teen; the whiteheads, the first heartbreak, the ability to eat junk food with little to no consequences. Ahhh, the golden days.

With plenty of life ahead, a metabolism capable of burning off a full pan of brownies in an hour (okay, maybe that’s just a tad extreme), and plenty of organized activities to be involved in, being a teen isn’t half bad! However, being overweight in one’s teens can lead to being self-conscious and less healthy. But, it’s the easiest time in life to lose weight! This isn’t just because of the high levels of physical energy that teens possess, but also because of a teen’s ability to ask her mom or dad to buy certain foods that will help her feel better and improve her health. Adolescents aren’t starving college students living off of raman yet!

There are ways to feel great before flying the nest, especially since teens now have incredible resources at their fingertips thanks to smartphones, tablets and laptops. It’s easier than ever to find healthy resources and support. Pinterest, anyone?! 

 

20s

Your 20s:

At the time of this article’s publication, the 2015 Women’s World Cup is taking place and US Women’s Soccer is captivating the attention of American audiences. The average age of the team’s players is 28 years old. This may be skewed a little bit due to three players who are slightly older but still, it’s awesome to think about the fact that even into the late 20s, a woman’s body is capable of performing incredible athletic feats.

A woman’s physical performance may be, in part, thanks to her higher pain threshold. Yup, that’s right! Women have higher tolerances for pain, probably due to child bearing. This helps us to not act like big babies when we stub a toe or have the stomach flu. I mean, have you ever seen the sad puppy look that your significant other shoots you from the couch when he is laid up from illness, sucking on ice chips and gingerly munching on Saltine crackers? It’s not a pretty sight. 

Another cool thing about the adventurous, self-discovery years that define a woman in her 20s, is that she is literally still growing. Isn’t that incredible? The frontal lobe of the brain furthers its development, allowing us to become more mature, articulate and physically agile. Livestrong eloquently summarizes this process and its impact on our development:

“The frontal lobe of the brain continues to grow and develop during early adulthood. This area is responsible for judgment, a concept that contributes to a person’s mental maturation. In your early 20s, you will begin to more clearly distinguish right from wrong, beyond than the basic concept learned in childhood. The frontal lobe also helps speech functions and muscle movement, helping you become more coordinated and agile.”

30s

Your 30s:

There are a multitude of articles featuring older women speaking to what they wish they had known at a younger age. One of these reflective, advice-giving articles was recently published via The Huffington Post, written by Catherine Pearson. Pearson’s first two bits of advice include 1) ditching the unnecessary struggle of trying to fit into skinny jeans and 2) avoiding judgement of other women at all costs. Her advice is in keeping with other women’s outspoken wisdom. It appears that as we age, we become a lot more accepting of and comfortable with our bodies.

Part of this newfound body embracing may be because most women have had a baby by the time they are in their mid-30s. According to BabyCenter, the average age that American women have a baby is 26 years old. So, maybe this life altering experience [having a child] resets one’s overall perspective? Perhaps the frontal lobe’s development (mentioned in “Your 20s”) also contributes to this change? Whatever the case, it’s awesome to see women in their 30s accelerating in both their personal and career growth, more confident of who they are both physically and intellectually.

Pearson ends her article encouraging women to “not worry so much” and “just wear the damn bikini.” Let’s raise a glass to that! After baby bearing years, women may have a few stretch marks or loose skin, but they have also gained bragging rights: “Yea, I created a life. No biggie.” That’s an awesome physical feat that justifies putting on a bikini any darn time you like, in my opinion! As for women who haven’t had children yet, or who have decided to forego that aspect of life, they’re still probably glowing with newfound confidence and self-love – even more reason to ditch time-consuming worries and just start living life. Babies or no babies, it’s full steam ahead!

 

40s

Your 40s:

Mid-life is when plenty of women and men alike re-evaluate their personal goals. There may be some disappointments, realizing that certain things may never happen, but there may also be newfound hope once setting new, refreshing goals for one’s life. What’s important to remember throughout the challenges is that even though your body is changing, it’s still incredibly responsive. It will improve and adapt with some effort on your end.

Many women believe that by this age their metabolisms have dropped dramatically. Although it’s true that metabolic rates drop by about 2% or more per decade, that’s really not all that much! It’s not a drastic 500-1000 calorie difference a day like some women believe. For example, if you can eat 1800 calories/day in your 20s while maintaing weight, and your metabolism decreases by 2% every decade, then in your 40s, you’re likely eating around 1650 calories/day for weight maintainence. That’s the equivalent of 1.25-1.5 bananas, a yogurt cup, 3/4 of a granola bar, or a little less rice or pasta at dinner. Of course, everyone has different genetic, height and weight factors that play into this equation, but still, not as bad as you thought, huh?

Want more encouraging news?! I’ve got more for you…but err…maybe not such good news your spouse…

Time Magainze highlights several key differences between the average woman’s health profile compared to the average man’s. For starters, women have higher HDL cholesterol than men. HDL is a good kind of cholesterol that protects the heart and vascular health. As you can imagine, this means that women tend to have a delayed risk for heart disease. Additionally, women’s brains have better recall compared with men. Thus, women are more likely to remember where the car keys were left, what time her daughter’s dance recital is scheduled for, and what was on the grocery list that accidentally got left on the kitchen counter. I’m biting my tounge here because there are endless stories I could share which show that this holds true in my household! 

 

50s

Your 50s:

I know, I know…MENOPAUSE. I’ve worked with plenty of women going through it and I completely understand that it’s not easy. I’m not trying to take away from that. But, I think it’s interesting to consider one positive aspect of decling estrogen. Here it goes, deep breath…

Higher estrogen prevents your body from being able to put muscle on quickly, causing women to see lesser strength and lean mass gains compared to men who work out at an equivalent level. So, what I pose to my older female clients is this: “What if now, assuming you work for it, your body can actually put on more muscle for the first time ever, allowing you a boost in your metabolism?!” Of course, menopause comes with a lot of fatigue that can make it hard to motivate to work out, but energy can and will boost if you get adequate rest, control food portions, stay hydrated, embrace relaxation and de-stressing, and exercise daily. Click on “Anti-Aging Foods” for a nice resource on eating healthy as you age. Psstt- this should be something that women of younger ages should also try to abide by!

Healthy eating and exercise really can do wonders. These women who are 50 and fabulous defy age expectations: These 7 Women Prove that Fitness is the Fountain of Youth. True, a bunch of them are in the health/fitness industry, but if these normal women can do it, then so can you! You’re still attention worthy, vibrant and beautiful.

 

60+

Your 60s and beyond:

Healthy eating and fitness habits don’t have to stop in your 50s. They can and should continue, giving you energy to enjoy retirement, tubby grandbabies, and your favorite leisure activities. Plus, given the fact that women live longer than men, on average by seven years, you will want to remain healthy and mobile so that you can enjoy the added years nature has blessed you with!

Women around the world are proving that age is just as much a mentality as it is a physical state. People who have a strong desire to stay active and feel good can do just that, if they set their minds to it. This blog’s motto is “start believeing you can” because much of how we feel begins with a mentality that we set.

If you’re not convinced, check out this video from June 1, 2015: Hariette Thompson, Rock ‘n Roll Marathon. It shows one determined, 92 year old woman crossing a marathon’s finish line and setting history. She is now the oldest female on earth to finish a marathon! WOW! 

 

Women of every age: There’s a lot of life to live and a lot to look forward to in every season. Cheers to being healthy and having some fun as we cruise down life’s highway!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz logo 2

References:

http://www.babycenter.com/0_surprising-facts-about-birth-in-the-united-states_1372273.bc

http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/planet32.htm

http://www.buzzfeed.com/buzzfeedshift/30-reasons-being-a-woman-is-awesome#.mv4RAZExK

http://www.foxsports.com/soccer/story/united-states-womens-national-team-womens-world-cup-roster-23-players-annoucement-041415

http://www.girlsontherun.org/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/09/30-advice_n_7514694.html

http://www.koasports.org/

http://www.livestrong.com/article/492350-physical-growth-development-for-early-adults/

http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/92-Year-Old-Seeks-To-Become-Oldest-Woman-to-Finish-Marathon-305609511.html

http://time.com/3644888/health-benefits-woman/

http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/anti-aging-diet

http://wellandgood.com/2012/05/04/50-and-fabulous-these-7-women-prove-that-fitness-is-the-fountain-of-youth-2/#50-and-fabulous-these-7-women-prove-that-fitness-is-the-fountain-of-youth-1

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Tuning into H.A.L.T.

H.A.L.T. is an acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These physical and emotional states can leave us feeling very vulnerable. For this reason, H.A.L.T. is often used in recovery groups such as Alcoholic Anonymous and Dual Recovery Anonymous. H.A.L.T. is relevant for all of us though. Women cope with stresses by turning to other forms of addiction: eating, shopping, watching TV, being on the computer, negative dialogues with friends, inappropriate sexual activity or attention-seeking behaviors, and more.

Today, in the spirit of wellness and self-awareness, we’re going to take a look at quick lists of healthy activities you can engage in so that hunger, anger, loneliness, and fatigue are nipped in the bud.

Prefacing these suggestions, I encourage you to do the following:

1) Identify which one or two parts of H.A.L.T. leave you feeling the most susceptible to making poor choices.

2) Write down two to three healthy actions you can engage in when you feel challenged by these physical or emotional states.

Now, a closer look at H.A.L.T. coping strategies…

 

HUNGRY

When was the last time you ate?! Have you worked through lunch? Have you been trying to deprive yourself of calories all day?

hungry

  • Carry small, healthy snacks in your purse or keep them in your desk drawer at work.
  • Make note of when you feel most hungry and cranky (ever heard of HANGRY?!) each day. Try to start eating a snack or meal 30 minutes before that time.
  • Take time to sit down and focus on your food. No computer. No distractions. If you fully taste the food then you will feel more satisfied, calm and able to control portion size.
  • Avoid mindless eating by putting everything you want to eat on a plate. Yes, that’s right! Pile it on. Some days you may eat it all, but there will be plenty of days when you don’t finish it all because you fill up or you realize that you just don’t need that food. If you keep mindlessly reaching into a bag of chips or tub of ice cream, you’re at greater risk for overeating. You are also likely to feel less satisfied by the food and what started as hunger may turn into anxiety.
  • Don’t skip meals thinking that you should save up calories for a decadent meal later. Chances are this will leave you hangry (yet again) and making poor choices later. Let yourself eat. Maybe consume a hundred calories or so less per meal leading up to your big night so that you can indulge a little.

NOTE: When I was a little girl my family always knew when I was hungry because I got SO cranky. It’s pretty funny in retrospect. I always protested, feeling like my frustration was rooted in something else, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. They were always right though. I just needed food.

 

 ANGRY

Are you experiencing a particularly stressful period in your life? Do you feel like you need an outlet for all that bottled up frustration?

angry

  • Recognize that it’s OKAY to feel angry, but taking it out on yourself or others isn’t.
  • Acknowledge that controlling anger takes practice. You’re not going to be great at it on day one, but it’s important to identify a time when you’re ready to start dealing with it.
  • Learn what makes you angry. Write it down. A journal identifying how you deal with anger is a good idea too, especially as you start to progress to healthier responses and actions and you can reward yourself for it! This is a great place to get some worksheets that will guide you through the process:  http://bit.ly/1APW2j3
  • Exercise! You will feel a lot better afterwards. Your body will have passed through the fight-or-flight phase and will feel more calm a little while after exercising versus when you initially feel angry and your heart starts to race.
  • Talk with someone you’re not feeling angry with. They will probably give you outside perspective and help you calm down. Plus, you will avoid escalating the issue with the person you really wanted to scream at.
  • Deal with your frustration later. It’s probably helpful to deal with the issue when a little time has passed – even if that’s counting to 10 slowly while taking deep breaths. Time can aid with perspective and healing.

 

LONELY

Have you had quality time with friends or loved ones lately? Do you feel isolated while you work at home or take care of your child? Do you experience feelings of isolation even though you’re surrounded by other people?

lonely

  • Join a class! This could be exercise related like a running group or bootcamp, or arts related like an acting or pottery making class. Or you may be interested in a group like a bible study group or a book club. Whatever spikes your interest, try to find a way to become engaged with people who share your passion.
  • Similar to joining a class or group; try volunteering! This is a great way to be around people and generate positive vibes for others and yourself.
  • Research has shown that loneliness and depressive symptomatology can act in a synergistic effect to diminish well-being, meaning the more lonely you are, the more depressed you feel, and vice versa.” Thus, consider looking into a cognitive behavior therapist. It can be a bit scary and vulnerable feeling at first, but it’s perfectly healthy and normal to lean into professional advice and support. You don’t have to wait until you feel like it’s the only option left.
  • Reach out to an old friend – sometimes even just writing an email that positively recounts your years of friendship and shares your current experiences can be therapeutic and heart-warming.
  • Try to use any of the above strategies to build towards three solid friendships with individuals who you can share life with you in this season. Your best friend may be across the country and your dependable mother may be just a phone call away, but relationships with other women who we can see in person, on a regular basis, is also important for relieving loneliness and feeling emotionally fulfilled.

NOTE: Getting a pet is another strategy but if you feel it will add a ton more stress to your life right now, then maybe hold off on going to the pet store…because once you see Fido’s cute little mug, you may not be able to say no! 

 

TIRED

Did you get enough sleep last night? Do you regularly skimp on sleep to get more done? Do you get enough sleep but still feel lethargic every day?

tired

  • If you’re feeling excessively tired but you get plenty of sleep, then you may not be moving enough! Yes, it’s true; exercise keeps our metabolisms going and helps improve alertness. Try gradually getting into the habit of exercising most days of the week or, at the very least, try standing up every 1.5 – 2 hours to walk around for 5 minutes.
  • If you’ve been sleep deprived or stressed lately, try lying down for a 15-20 minute power nap. Your body will wake up refreshed versus craving more sleep (as is the case with longer naps).
  • Set a bedtime and stick to it. It’s a good idea to do something calming like reading a book or stretching in a dim lit room for an hour before bedtime versus doing something that keeps you alert, like trying to manage stressful tasks or chores.
  • Enjoy caffeine here and there to perk you up, but try to keep consumption moderate. Approximately 300-400 mg of caffiene/day appears to be healthy for most adults, but individuals may vary in sensitivity so listen to your body and identify if this is too much for you (i.e. jittery feelings, racing pulse, increased anxiety or agitation). Also, be careful to keep caffeine consumption to the earlier half of the day, especially if you notice that it disturbs your sleep.
  • Try to take breaks from multi-tasking as this can wear you out. Short bouts of mindfulness or meditation are particularly helpful for re-energizing mentally and physically.
  • Eat healthy foods that have an even mix of protein and carbohydrates so that nutrients are properly absorbed and readily available for energy. (Oh yea – and don’t skip breakfast!)

I hope at least one or two of the aforementioned H.A.L.T.-health strategies speaks to you and feels like something you can implement right away! If you have any others that I haven’t mentioned then please share them in the comments section!

Lastly, as useful as these strategies can be, it’s important that I take a moment to acknowledge the need to sometimes seek professional intervention. Please reach out to someone in your area if you feel that you may need help. There is support out there that, along with eating well and exercising, can help you flourish. 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz logo 2

 

References:

http://www.addiction-recovery.com/HALT-hungry-angry-lonely-tired.php

http://www.chinnstreetcounseling.com/zomerland/zomerland_11.shtml

https://draonline.qwknetllc.com/relapse5.html

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678

http://www.innerhealthstudio.com/anger-management-worksheets.html

http://stress.about.com/od/psychologicalconditions/a/loneliness.htm

What I Learned About the Body…after I got hit by a car (Part 2)

If you’re joining the story now, please feel free to read the first part of it: http://bit.ly/1Leo8Fp

These are lessons that I have learned the hard way and that I’m here to share.  

 car accident 4

 

Lesson #5: Don’t give up on finding the right care from the right professional

It can be incredibly difficult to navigate the confusing network of health professionals. So many people get lost when they try to figure out if they should seek treatment options from general practitioners, massage therapists, physical therapists, acupuncture specialists, chiropractic doctors, nutritionists, personal trainers, psychologists, and more. One common question is: “Should I try one at a time or opt for multiple forms of treatment at once?” This is a tricky question to answer because it’s very different for each and every person, according to their condition and stage of healing.

For me, I’ve tried it all. Literally. I sought out acupuncture and cupping techniques with one specialist, cognitive therapy for post-traumatic stress with another, chiropractic adjustments with two doctors, physical therapy with five different professionals, and massage therapies from an uncountable number of nimble-fingered individuals. This is not even an exhaustive list of the professionals I worked with while trying to recover from my accident. The reason I kept trying different things is because every person gave me a different opinion. I would give heed to their opinion and try their approach for a while and if it wasn’t working out, then I moved on to the next.

Although I had moments when tears of frustration would roll down my face, feeling like I had set out on a fruitless treasure hunt, I just knew that I had to keep trying. What on earth would happen if I gave up?!  Thus, the years stretched on, but ironically, I started to learn so much more than I bargained for. I began to learn how to heal other people who were dealing with back pain. In the time that it took me to heal my own, I helped over a dozen people quickly dissolve their issues. Perhaps, I thought, those seemingly pointless efforts with other health professionals weren’t such a waste of time after all!

In the end, I’ve learned that different stages of healing may require different forms of assistance. For example, there was a time when the most important thing for me to do was heal emotionally. Once I was calmer, I began to believe in the physical healing process again. Once I rebooted that journey, I found that needling in physical therapy worked for a while, to bring flexibility back to stiff muscles that had been stuck in spasm. At another point, I found that my muscles were flexible enough to allow my back to get adjusted into alignment by a chiropractor. And finally, I found that my body was getting better and better at keeping me in alignment all on its own, thanks to being able to increase strength training again.

car accident 5

This long, drawn-out process is just my story. (Believe it or not, we barely scratched the surface.) It doesn’t have to be so convoluted for everyone. What’s important is that you keep looking for the right help. Once you’ve found a great professional, give them time to really impact your body with their treatment/approach. Full healing won’t happen overnight so try not to leave after your first session expecting the process to be done.

Lastly on this subject, although I’m preaching to give practitioners time and patience, it’s also important to recognize and get out of a bad situation. One chiropractor I used to work with actually had the audacity to tell me not to gain weight, citing that it wouldn’t be attractive to men. It was so out of the blue (not to mention UNCALLED FOR) that it completely took me aback. I told the chauvinist straight to his face that he was lucky he said that to me and not another woman because I wouldn’t sue the pants off of him for harassment. This was not the first comment of his that was inappropriate. I walked out of his clinic that day and never turned back. There is nothing more damaging than someone who is supposed to heal you trying to tear you down instead. I deserved better. You deserve better.

 

Lesson #6: Inflammation does weird things to the body

Yes, it’s true. When inflammation is high, your body reacts in strange and confusing ways. For example, I already mentioned to you that my body gained a lot of weight during this time. Part of this weight gain was my body hoarding fat because it was scared for its life (rightfully so). Another part of the weight gain was because of excessive water retention. My body couldn’t figure out how to flush anything through its system because it was so backed up and slowed down by all the stresses it was trying to combat.

I can remember one evening when I was with a group of friends, and the guy I liked at the time, at a bar. I drank a cocktail and it sent me over the edge. I felt sick and got an intense menopausal-like hot flash. I couldn’t understand what was going on with my body. All I knew was that I needed to cool down FAST. I was profusely sweating through my dress. I told my friends that I needed to go to the bathroom but instead, I snuck around the bar counter and flung open a beer fridge’s door. If I could have squeezed my whole body into that cool little space I would have. I was desperate.

I understand now that when the body is severely inflamed, even simple things like eating a food that you are sensitive to, or drinking an alcoholic beverage, can tip you into unpredictable states of discomfort. I wish I could say exactly what happens to each person in every scenario known to man, but I can’t. I can only say that keeping attuned to your healthy – or unhealthy – habits is more important than ever. Pay attention to how your body is reacting. It’s a powerful experience to realize just how prepared our bodies are to defend themselves. It physically feels like a bad thing, but it’s actually a good thing in the end.

There was another time that I experienced something really bizarre, that I think may have been related to inflammation too. It happened to me was about a year after the accident. I went for a jog on a treadmill one afternoon. It felt good. Later that day, I had red spots all over my legs. I couldn’t tell if they were burst blood capillaries, an allergic reaction, or what! Even doctors weren’t sure. It was terrifying.

I’m still not sure what the red spots were from but I have my suspicions. I was hyped up on Ambien every night, to help with my insomnia, and I took pain killers from time to time, when my pain got really bad. In other words, my body was dealing with a lot of foreign substances. It seemed that anything wacky was game to happen.

Since I noticed that my body was obviously NOT okay with me putting anything foreign or toxic into it, I started to strip down my diet and reduce medications. I was extra careful about everything I put into my body. Over time, eating clean and being cautious about medicines really helped me. I think the crazy bodily dysfunctions were its way of telling me to stop putting foreign substances into it, and to let it do what the human body is best at: take care of me.

car accident 1

 Pictures on top = post-exercise red spots.

Pictures below = marks from cupping treatments I did for a while…definitely not ideal during sundress season. 

 

Lesson #7: If your spirit is defeated, your body is defeated

A few months after my accident my cousin visited. She was excited to see Washington, DC and at the time, I lived smack dab in the center of “the action.” She was in my bathroom, showering and primping to get ready for a fun girls’ night out, while I was in my bed, head spinning and body screaming for more sleep. She came into the room and asked if I was feeling okay. The only thing I could say was “I feel like I want to go to sleep and never wake up again.”

She was in obvious shock at my statement and shared her concern. I had to explain to her that I wasn’t suicidal; I just didn’t want to keep fighting. I was spent! My comment just felt like the most natural statement I could make at the moment.

This feeling of burnout lasted for a while. I made many careless mistakes during that time in my life. I went out partying, initiated arguments with my family over nothing, and showed interest in “bad boys” when I had forever favored mamas’ boys. It wasn’t until I started to put more effort into finding peace within myself and with God that I got back on track.

I decided to initiate this process by taking a month off of work. I spent lots of time soul-searching in coffee shops and wrote a book that reconnected me to my faith. As I wrote, I started to realize that I wasn’t alone. I could stop feeling so afraid. I can still remember the day that I fell down to my knees in my shower – it hit me out of nowhere that God had been there for me the whole time, even when I had forgotten and lost my way. I began to understand how to replenish my spirit and thereby discovered energy to move forward and physically heal.

 

Lesson #8: The universe has a wonderful way of bringing the right people your way during times of need

I wonder if I would still be married to my husband if I hadn’t been hit by that car. I know it sounds crazy but it’s true! I met my husband during my “bad boy” streak and he was the farthest thing from dismissive, rude and reckless. He was compassionate and full of life. Although I tried to shrug him off, his persistence and light kept me tethered. Although I didn’t feel attractive or worthy at that time, he saw every good thing about me even though I was focused so exclusively on the bad.

I remember the night that we met. We ended up dancing for hours. Dancing became our favorite thing to do during the first few months of knowing one another. It felt great. We would find places to dance in the city and would continue dancing in our living rooms. Wherever we were, we found a way to celebrate and have fun. It was the most refreshing experience ever.

I really do believe that he was sent into my life at the exact right time. He helped show me that healing was possible and that there is much to be excited about, even when you’re not feeling physically great. I would briefly forget about my pain while I was having fun and laughing with him. Soon, the bouts of pain became less frequent and less severe. Eventually, I would go an entire 24 hours without severe pain. Even when pain did hit me with a vengeance, I found new ways to stay calm because I realized that someday I would get over it completely. Everything was going to be okay.

0376-Maggie_and_Casey

 

Lesson #9: Moments of weakness and frustration are not signs that you’re failing to heal

I wish I could say that healing is a linear process but alas, I can’t do that. I had many hang-ups and pitfalls along the way. Sometimes I would feel gently defeated and other times I would feel like an utter failure, but I learned to get over those negative mentalities. I learned to get stronger each and every time.

Simple moments challenged me, like when I slipped on ice during the winter and my back went into a brief spasm, and when friends would ask me to go to tough exercise classes with them and I would have to say no even though I had formerly always said yes. There were other more profound moments that set back my body and spirits too. For example, one mid-summer day I collapsed in my apartment building’s elevator. I had been carrying heavy groceries because I was planning to spend the whole day cooking for family. It was a quiet hour in the middle of the day so no one was around to help me. I crawled, dragging my groceries along the floor. I tried to stand up but keeled over again. I kept trying to get back on my feet but I collapsed another two times as I made my way down the hallway to my apartment. Once inside, I cried until I was too tired to cry more.

Although moments like this have the power to defeat you, they aren’t a sign that you haven’t made progress. Every time I would reignite the pain, I would get over it a little faster than before. Each time, I learned something valuable.

 

Lesson #10: Learning to let go is the final step

Has my body reached pre-trauma condition? Honestly…no. But, have I fully recovered? Yes. Let me explain…

Up until a few short years ago, I still had to put a heating pack on my back a few times every month. I would also occasionally have a sleepless night or two when my nerves would get set off and I’d fear falling back into insomnia. To this day, my back and hips have remained a little more sensitive and prone to instability. I keep it under control though.

My heart will always feel a little bit sad when I think of how dark some of those days of pain were but I also know that they taught me a lot. I decided years ago that I would be okay and my body has followed me in that decision. I’ve learned exactly what to do in 15-20 minutes to immediately correct a flare-up that would formerly last for months. I’ve also learned that I’m capable of surviving one of the worst kinds of pain in the world – the loss of self-identity. If I can rediscover myself and come out stronger, I know that you can too.

Recovery is possible when we decide to let go of hurt and move on. It’s a single, simple, profound decision [to let go] that one has to consistently choose, every day and during every moment of frustration. It’s a decision that is made in the midst of pain that can pull you through to the other side.

I believe that the power of letting go can have a meaningful impact in anyone’s life. I encourage you to give it a try.

 

I sincerely hope that sharing this authentic story will help someone else

find healing and joy soon too.

“Start believing you can.”

Maggie

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What I Learned About the Body…after I got hit by a car (Part 1)

Six years ago, from the day of this article’s publication (05/18/2015), my world literally turned upside down. While riding my bike to work, I was hit by a car at a busy intersection located in the heart of Washington, DC.

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I immediately felt sharp pain in my back after plunging to the pavement in the middle of Florida Avenue. At that moment, a startling thought crossed through my mind, one that concerned me far more than the physical agony; Am I about to become roadkill?! I couldn’t move for a minute. My breath had been taken away. I couldn’t pick myself up to get out of the intersection. I couldn’t even wave my hands for help. All I could do was focus on trying to stay conscious in spite of bolts of pain through my hips and back. Thankfully, no other car ran an additional 4,500 lbs of steel and aluminum alloy into my 130 lb body.

The EMTs arrived quickly on the scene. They gave me a disapproving look when I waved them briefly away in order to call my work to say that I couldn’t teach my “Cycle and Core” class that morning. After placing the call, I let the EMTs strap me down to a spine board and make their assessments. I recall laughing with pride at how my blood pressure was still fairly stable, just minutes following a trauma. Only a crazy fitness professional would be proud of something like that. My amusement was quickly snuffed out though, thanks to escalating pain.

While on the way to the hospital, one husky, dark-and-dreamy man asked me several times to rank my pain on a scale of 1-10. I kept thinking, well, if you’d just let me off this stupid spine board then it would be a whole lot better. But, I couldn’t be let off that cursed board. It was protocol for the ambulance ride. So, my response was consistently and emphatically, “TEN!!!!!!”

…….

The pain didn’t stay at its initial 10 forever but it did continue. It troubled my health, threatened my career, and haunted my psyche for the next five years. It had such a palpable presence in my life that it felt like the pain was on the verge of scraping itself out of my body and becoming its own entity; an embodiment that could more properly pound the shell of my formerly strong self deeper into the unforgiving ground. It was the cruelest “thing” I’ve ever met – hell bent on squeezing every last ounce of hope and perseverance from my body.

But, I’m here today to tell you that the pain didn’t win. I did. I won thanks to the lessons I learned along the healing journey. The trying times taught me how to interpret the language of pain and how to affect physical well-being through a multi-pronged approach to healthy living.

It was a long process, let me tell you. But, the silver lining is that I get to share the things I’ve learned with others. I hope that lessons from my journey can help you with yours. I pray that they shed light on your pain or even personal challenges.

We all go through pain at some point in our life. The process of picking ourselves up again is not always pretty. But, it’s important that we try. And try again. And again. And again.

 

Lesson #1: The first serious pain you experience is always the hardest…but it has the potential to be the one of the most meaningful experiences in your life

Before getting hit by a car, I had literally never broken, sprained or strained any part of my body. One time, when I was 5 years old, I was ambitiously trying to follow a friend across the monkey bars, swinging and stretching each arm to skip every other bar. It was the cool thing to do. I missed one bar mid-way across and landed in a precarious position on the ground, one arm twisted behind my back with my little body’s weight crushing it. Even then, I didn’t actually break anything; I bent my arm bone!

I assumed that injuring my arm would mean getting a cast with my kindergarten classmates’ sympathies strewn all over it, smiley faces, hearts and rainbows. I was miffed by the removable brace that I was given to wear. No cast tic-tac-toe? No purple marker heart encircled by stars?

Similarly, after getting hit by the car, I was certain that the pain I was experiencing would reveal itself on X-rays. It didn’t though. No fractures in my pelvis, no hairline fractures upon my follow-up appointment, nothing! Just one enormous, dark-as-night bruise taking up 75% of the real estate on the left cheek of my rear end. I will spare you those gruesome pictures…but below you can take a glimpse at some other ones. My face is the thing behind the purple wash cloth and ice…in case you were wondering.  

car accident 2

It was so frustrating for me to be told that nothing major was wrong because I could tell that something was actually very out-of-sorts in my body. It made it difficult to justify to my co-workers and friends that I was decidedly NOT okay. I was in pain for a long time. I just couldn’t pin a clinical name and prognosis to the discomfort. I didn’t have something like a cast as proof.

Unfortunately, because my pain lacked a “title,” I thought that all I needed to do was take the pain killers and muscle relaxants that I had been prescribed, and wait it out. The doctors at the hospital didn’t recommend physical therapy, so why would I need it? They didn’t say anything about psychological help, so why would I assume that counseling for post-traumatic stress should be considered? I could deal with it all on my own, right?! Wrong.

The first serious injury you experience is scary and overwhelming. You may even be in a situation like mine, with a lot of unanswered questions and mixed information coming at you. You may even have feelings that getting over the injury is your sole responsibility and burden to bear – but that is just false, false, false!

There is a reason that children color “get well” messages on a friend’s cast; it’s important not to feel alone as you undergo the process of healing. Finding the right support networks as you navigate the journey is essential because feeling confused and afraid is normal. Lean on everyone you can the first time around because how you respond to this injury will impact your mentality the next time you encounter pain or hurt. It can either cripple you or cause you to take a step back and calmly evaluate your plan to get over it.

It’s interesting…the first time that you’re injured, you’re in a position to learn and grow. For example, if a woman (let’s call her Angela) sprains her ankle and has to avoid her favorite sport, running, for 8 or more weeks, then she is likely going to feel frustrated and maybe even depressed. Instead of giving in to these defeated feelings, Angela can come out of her injury stronger than ever by remaining mentally patient, emotionally calm, and focused on things that she can control. She may decide to cook more healthy meals at home or spend time with friends whom she usually brushes off in order to exercise. If Angela does want to keep exercising rigorously then she can devote effort to building upper body strength so that she looks incredible come strapless dress season!

The options are endless, not ending, when you get injured and have to look at the world from a new perspective. It takes time to see things this way, but it can happen.

 

Lesson #2: It’s OK to take a little time to grieve

Okay, I know I just mentioned that learning from your injury helps you become stronger and move on. But, I know that it’s also important to grieve, to give yourself time to be frustrated and feel that the world crashing around you. If you don’t do it initially, you may have a surprise meltdown far later in life when buried emotions get unearthed. I wish I had listened to this advice. Instead, this is what I did…

car accident 6

Chick in picture looking lovely since this “accident” was merely staged for stock photography. Disclaimer: The real deal is NOT this tidy and attractive!

Once I was released from the hospital, I got a ride home from a cop. After she dropped me off, I took a nap on my couch and then hobbled down the block to the pharmacy for my pain killer and muscle relaxant prescriptions. Moving felt terrible but I took it as a positive sign that I was capable of putting one foot in front of the other. This meant that I could get back to my job, right?

The day of my accident I had 11 hours of work on my schedule. I was terrified of losing income and damaging accountability with my clients. Most of this fear stemmed from the fact that it was the spring of 2009, not long after the major U.S. economic crash. I was in a hustle mentality, happy to have a secure job and determined to pack my work days with exercise classes to teach and clients to train. I was exceptionally exhausted and simultaneously exhilarated from my one-woman daily mission to change the world in spite of the most obvious obstacle: people were tightening their purse strings because they were afraid they would lose money or already had lost money in the crash.

So, ignoring my exhausted body’s protests, I went in to train the last few hours of clients I had on schedule for that evening. I was delirious and in denial. I laughed off others’ concerns about the “crazy accident” that happened earlier that day. Needless to say, nothing about it was funny.   

I wonder, if I hadn’t been so naïve and if proper discharge procedures had been in place, would I have stayed home and gotten the appropriate rest and recovery that I needed? If I had gotten that rest, would I have continued to deal with severe pain, bulging discs, spinal disc fissures, hip instability, and dysfunctional scar tissue on my piriformis for years to come? Would I have still slipped into insomnia, chronic pain, anxiety, weight gain, and borderline depression? It’s hard to say…

All I do know is that I refused to think of myself as “injured” for too long. One of the most critical things to do when injured, is to accept it. Also important is learning (over time) that acceptance doesn’t mean your life is over. Acceptance is simply the first step towards truly healing.

 

Lesson #3: The mind-body connection is REAL; sleep-deprivation & somatization

As mentioned in lesson #2, I dealt with some major challenges after getting injured, one of which was sleep deprivation. At first I couldn’t sleep because of the severe inflammation in my hips and back. Any direct pressure on that area was excruciating. Sleeping directly on my back or stomach was simply out of the question due to the discomfort, so I slept on my side. Even that posed challenges. I could be sound asleep in the middle of the night and wake up to pain while attempting to roll from one side of my body to the other. Over time, I couldn’t even fall sleep because I was afraid of the pain and restlessness that lay ahead of me throughout the night.

This fear caused me to stay in a fight-or-flight mode throughout the night, my heart racing. The harder I tried to fall asleep, the more sleep evaded me. My efforts regularly turned into frustrated tears and fits of fatigued hysteria. For almost a year, I barely got 6 hours of sleep each night. The majority of this timeframe, I was working 10-12 hour work days on a broken 4-5 hours of rest. Obviously, my mind and body began to break down even more. The more I mentally and emotionally caved under the pain, the worse it became. It was a vicious cycle that I didn’t know how to break. I can remember days when I wondered if my life was over. I thought I would never see the day that the pain ended. It was stifling and slowly suffocated my ability to stay positive.

As I became more physically inflamed and emotionally overrun, my stress translated into many new physical issues. This is sometimes considered to be somatization; mental and emotional stress resulting in physical problems. I suffered a few panic attacks that seemingly struck me out of nowhere, I had a moment or two of binge eating in my distress, and I began moving in pain-avoidance patterns that exacerbated my issues. My stomach would hurt. My head would hurt. Everything hurt. I could no longer tell which pains and challenges were the cause of my physical stress versus my emotional stress…there were no hard lines separating the two because they were inherently connected.

car accident 7

 

Lesson #4: Pain pathways are tricky to navigate – understanding the “language” they speak is essential

For the longest time, I felt like I could control the pain if I just tried hard enough. Eventually though, after many months and years of playing ring-around-the-rosy with this nemesis, I discovered that the world could stop spinning…if I learned my pain’s language. I realized that the pain wasn’t actually trying to hurt me, it was trying to help me! My body was sending me signals that something was wrong and if I learned what my body wanted most, then it would reduce the pain, sending me the message that we were finally on the same team with the same mission: to get better!

Although I already mentally knew that the body acts like one integrated machine, with all its complex parts influencing one another with every step and every breath, I didn’t really understand this firsthand. I hadn’t felt this truth before. But suddenly, I started to realize that a brand new pain in my knee, and a strange crackling in my ankle, were both related to my initial injury. They weren’t brand new injuries out of the blue, they were responses that my kinetic chain (i.e. musculo-skeletal system and neuromuscular system) was having to the primary issue: back and hip misalignment and instability resulting from damaged soft tissue (i.e. muscle).

The more I remained out of alignment and unstable, the more the different parts of my body started talking in foreign languages and losing touch with one another. It was up to me, and me alone, to figure out how to treat the initial issue in order for my body to send out a message to all its parts, commanding that they get back to their primary language. They needed to speak the same language to work properly together.

When I started to realize that my body wasn’t breaking down in a million places haphazardly, I began to look at exercise and recovery solutions that would benefit my whole body rather than its isolated parts. If I continued to ignore the relationships between my various body parts then each would continue to grow stronger in its new language (which subsequently would make the whole body weaker).

Thank you for reading Part 1 of this story. As you can tell, it’s very personal to me. Part 2 is coming up soon! Stay tuned.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Is Stress Bad…or Good?

We long for straightforward answers, and so rarely get them. What will my future look like? What job will make me the happiest? What exercise and eating plan will make me feel the healthiest version of myself? So many questions that demand a black and white answer. But, most answers fall into the grey. Even the impacts of stress fall into the grey.

It seems that stress can be both bad and good, but since the scenarios of when and how stress can cause us to stumble are more abundant, we will look at a few profound examples of how stress can actually benefit us. These are what I like to call “slingshot” scenarios. They are challenging times that cause us to move backwards and presumably, lose ground on our goals.

If you understand the simple principle of a slingshot, then you know where I’m heading with this…a slingshot pulls an object back to maximal tension before subsequently propelling it forward faster and farther than it would have traveled on its own. The slingshot effect is awesome. Truly, awesome. Unfortunately, it’s not always fun to be approaching that maximal point of tension…and, if that point of tension is held for too long, the slingshot will likely break.

Is stress bad or good

So, is stress bad or good? Below we look at two examples from nature and human experience that suggest that stress in moderation doesn’t fit neatly into a good or bad category. Stress in moderation is a necessity. It helps us become more resilient. It helps us thrive.

Scientists decided to examine the life cycle of trees grown in a fully protected environment, “Biosphere 2,” compared with trees encountering the varying forces of nature. The scientists found that the trees in Biosphere 2 grew more quickly than the other trees. This seems great – remove environmental stress and the trees flourish. Well, not quite.

Although the trees grew quickly, they fell over after reaching maturity. In an article called The Necessity of Stress, Travis Brownley explains that the scientists came to realize the following:

“…a lack of wind in Biosphere 2 caused a deficiency of stress wood. Stress wood helps a tree position itself for optimal sun absorption and it also helps trees grow more solidly. Without stress wood, a tree can grow quickly, but it cannot support itself fully. It cannot withstand normal wear and tear, and survive. In other words, the trees needed some stress in order to thrive in the long run.”

We see a similar phenomenon when we move from nature to human experience. Alison Levine, team captain of the first ever American Women’s Everest Expedition, encountered the forces of nature on Mount Everest and shared her experience with the world in a profound Tedx Talks. The 20 minute talk is absolutely mind boggling. You will take away far more than you imagined in that short time. Alison brings our attention to the fact that an expedition up Mount Everest actually consists of a lot of time climbing down!

the summit

 One of Alison’s many amazing quotes.

Alison’s team had to hike ten days just to make it to base camp. After several days acclimating to Base Camp, her team hiked up the mountain to Camp 1 and then back to Base Camp. After this, they hiked to Camp 2, before returning once again to Base Camp. Then, they hiked to Camp 1, Camp 2, and at last, Camp 3. And then? Yes, they hiked all the way back down the mountain to Base Camp. Hiking back down after each moment of triumph, reaching a higher altitude, was necessary to acclimate, recover, and climb higher.

While hiking back down the mountain is an obvious example of the aforementioned slingshot effect, Alison also brings up another form of stress; slow progress.

Alison takes us through what happens at the Death Zone on Mount Everest. The Death Zone is at 26,000 ft. altitude, where life can’t be sustained. Thanks to important gear, and taking five to ten breaths for every single step taken, Alison’s team continued to climb towards the summit. Think about it – in order to survive, you have to take ONE step, and then FIVE to TEN breaths, before lifting the other leg. Alison jests in her Tedx Talks presentation, “so…if you ever think you’re having a slow day…” For real, Alison. For real.

Clearly, a slow application of stress can be vital for success. If Alison’s team had tried to face to the top, they would have experienced certain defeat. As it turns out, Alison was just 300 ft. from the top of Mount Everest on her first expedition when she had to turn around due to weather conditions. She returns and conquers the mountain, but she remains more changed from the climb than actually reaching the summit. 

Stress, powerful force

So, how do you deal with “stress in moderation” when it feels tedious and frustrating? Alison suggests what worked for her; focus on what’s directly in front of you and just try to reach that milestone. Once you reach it, find the courage to tell yourself that if you made it that far, then you can try to reach the next milestone, and go for it.

For Alison, and many of us, it’s hard to understand the future. And yes, that can be stressful. But, as Alison says, “Sometimes, I think, you don’t have to have total clarity in order to just put one foot in front of the other.”

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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References:

https://travisma.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/the-necessity-of-stress/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hUybmqUVmM