Fear, Self-awareness, Self-improvement, Technology

I recently bought the book, How to Break Up with Your Phone, by Catherine Price. I felt like I was spending far too much time looking at and preoccupied with that screen in my pocket when I could be doing many more productive things (like writing for instance, or reading, or even, dare I say it, doing nothing!). The studies that Price present are astounding and frightening, like a New York Times analysis that calculated that Facebook users were spending collectively 39,757 years’ worth of attention on the site, every day; or that as of 2017, Americans were spending an average of more than four hours a day on their phones. We really are becoming a nation of phone zombies. My family is no different. I try to limit my kids’ screen time, but it’s probably far more than what is recommended.

What is really interesting in the book is how much the phone (looking at it, checking it, scrolling endlessly) is simply a habit. She describes Charles Duhigg’s definition of a habit (from his book, the Power of Habit, it’s a good one), which is “a choice that we addiction-phones2deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day.” And how habits are loops made up of three parts: the cue (or trigger), the response, and the reward. In the case of the phone, it could be me bored while waiting in line somewhere (cue or trigger) so I check my phone (response), and find that I have email I could read (reward). And so it goes. First in situations of boredom, then in times of avoidance (say, when I don’t want to hear my kids complaining), and finally, just because. How many times have you looked at your phone simply because someone else did? Or checked your email or texts, thinking you heard that little ding, but it was just your imagination. (If you can believe it, the term for that is phantom ringing syndrome.)

I haven’t finished the book yet because it is broken up into two parts that take a while. The first is just information about how hooked we have all become, the second part is a 30-day plan to break up with your phone (I’m about halfway through) with tasks to do each day. She recommends small daily changes like turning off notifications so you’re not constantly checking every email when you hear the ding, or installing an app that tracks your usage so you truly know how much time you look at your phone, or even just pick it up.

It all accumulates into taking a complete vacation from your phone for twenty-four hours, meaning turning it off completely and putting it away for a full day and night. For some people, that’s seems impossible and anxiety-producing. For me, I’m not so sure. At first, I think,phone addiction “No problem,” but then I seem to think of reasons why I might need it on (my mom for instance, or some excuse I think is “important”). In the end, it’s just silly anxiety running the show and making me think that the world will end in those twenty-four hours simply because I (the all-important legend in my own mind) don’t have my phone on (in reality, I guess, it is the phone running my show). I will post a follow-up when I complete my thirty days of phone withdrawal and let you know how it went!

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Health & Diet, Self-improvement

This January I embarked on the Arbonne 30-Days to Healthy Living Cleanse. I did this last year too and wrote about it (the Power and Pain of the 30-Day Cleanse). However, this year I was not alone. Somehow, I managed to talk others into doing it too (besides my husband who probably felt that he had little choice). Four other couples and two additional women did it with us, and oh, what fun it was!

green smoothieFor those who don’t know about this cleanse, the following foods are cut out for thirty days: wheat, sugar, dairy, peanuts, corn, soy, caffeine (except for green tea), canola oil (which is in many foods and is inflammatory), all vinegar except apple cider, pork, beef (except grass-fed, once a week), starchy foods (like potatoes), and sugary fruits (bananas, pineapple, etc). Why, you might ask, would anyone voluntarily cut out ALL of these foods? And, what does that leave a person to eat?!  I did this cleanse again because last year it helped with my migraines, my husband did it to lose weight (and he’s a nice, supportive guy in that way), it’s also a good way to get rid of the guilt-ridden pounds and general yuckiness felt after overindulging during the holiday season (which we both did). Those who joined us did it for a variety of reasons: for some it was to lose weight, others wanted to get rid of the guilt too, some wanted to get a good start on the year by eating right, and one other person had mysterious pain issues and wanted to see if a diet change would help alleviate some of the pain.

The cleanse did help with all of these issues. Everyone lost weight. My migraines improved. All of us felt “good” in general (either from not eating so crappy anymore or for paying penance from the month before, we don’t know), and the person who had the pain issue said her body felt better (though it didn’t all go away). If that’s the case, why don’t we eat like this ALL of the time, then? And here is where the list of drawbacks begins.

Convenience: it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to eat out or grab something quick during this cleanse. No restaurant or quick eatery has entirely cleanse-compliant menu options (Chipotle is the one exception, and even then, there is one or two items on the menu to have). Meal-planning is essential, which was good in some ways because it forced me to plan, but for those of us who aren’t very creative or enjoy figuring out meals, it was hard. Which leads me to the next one:

Lack of variety: there are only so many ways to cook a chicken, especially when most marinades, vinegars, or any type of sauce is forbidden. I don’t eat meat, so it didn’t bother me, but others who did the cleanse groaned, “Chicken…again?” Grass-fed beef is an option, a very expensive one. Most chicken sausages have a pork casing. And for me, the vegetarian, beans – yet again – got pretty old. After it was over, though, we definitely appreciated some simple foods that we couldn’t have – regular old potatoes, for instance, or tofu in my case.hungry with donut

Missing out: many of us had certain foods or beverages that we realized were hard to let go of. For most it was the beloved coffee, but after the three to five days of withdrawal, many were okay (some weren’t). My nightly cookie with tea was dearly missed, or a Friday night beer (a glass of wine for others). How much of this was habit or actually hard to give up? We’re not sure.

The length of the cleanse got to me in the end. I was flying through it for the first two and a half weeks, finding that it wasn’t so hard because I had given up a lot of these foods anyway (mostly wheat, dairy, and coffee), but after fifteen days, I hit the wall – hard. I was tired of eating the same old things. I wanted chocolate. I wanted my old salad dressing back. I wanted to stop thinking about what to eat for the next week. I asked my husband why we ever decided to do this stupid cleanse (and he said, “I don’t know, why did you decide that we would do this stupid cleanse?”).

But we got through it, just like we did the first time. And, like before, we felt better – all of us did. Now, nearly a month has passed, and some of us are slowly going back to our old foods, others have dived in headfirst (with G.I. payback), and some have given up a few foods entirely. Last night, I asked most of the fellow cleansers if they would do it again, and many said yes. Despite the pain, the inconvenience, and the difficulty of following such a restrictive diet, we would do it again. (Well, I might change it to twenty days instead!). I think that shows how many of us knew we were making the right choices, filling our bodies with real food, and not feeling guilty for eating things that we knew satiated just our brains, not our stomachs. There must be something to that. I’ll let you know next year. Or would you care to join us? 😉

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Health & Diet, Self-improvement

So many moms out there experience these debilitating headaches, and so many of us find little relief. For those of you who have never had a migraine, here is a brief description: extreme, throbbing pain, usually on one side the head, that is relentless. It pounds away minute by minute and is accompanied by heightened sensitivity to light, sound, and even smell. Almost anything will make it worse. Some experience nausea or vomit, some have a weird halo (or “aura”) that obscures their vision, others must hide away in a dark room, and the worst must go to the E.R. because the pain is so great. Most get no relief until they go to bed that night and hope it’s gone in the morning. For many sufferers, it has miraculously disappeared after a good nimigraine1ght’s sleep; for others, it can continue for two to three more days. The pain can be so excruciating that most people are willing try anything to make it go away, and most things don’t work. Adding children to the mix (especially young and needy ones) when a migraine hits tests the strength of the strongest moms!

I have suffered from migraines since the age of 26 (I am now 42). I have researched the topic, tried almost any and every suggested remedy, gone to doctors, acupuncturists, and herbalists. Here is what I learned over the years to hopefully help anyone with these mega-headache blues:

Causes and Triggers:
Following are some common causes and triggers that contribute to a migraine occurring. Note that it isn’t just one of these that will cause the headache, it is typically a combination of them. I spent many years trying to find that one culprit, thinking that I could eliminate that and be cured; and it took me a long time to realize that it’s not the case. Too many triggers experienced at the same time will cause that dreaded pounding to start; there isn’t one source.
– Migraines are typically hereditary. If you get migraines and start asking around your family members, you’ll probably find that someone else gets them too. My dad does occasionally, as well as my aunt who experiences them often, and now my younger cousins. Unfortunately, we’re a migraine family, but they also have been a good resource for me when trying to discover my common triggers. Often, they are the same.
– Getting too little sleep. This is a big contributor to the onset of a migraine, and I know that if I have multiple nights of no sleep, a migraine is sure to follow. Sleep can be nearly impossible with little ones, but try to make it up where you can. Go to bed when your babies do, nap when they do too, or try to find some time during lunch breaks to just close your eyes and rest that poor brain.
– Having too much caffeine. Caffeine, our lifesaver in the morning or when we don’t get that beloved sleep, can also bring on a migraine faster. It constricts your blood vessels and increases your heart rate. It feels good in the moment, but can also make that incessant pounding worse. I finally kicked the coffee habit after many loving years with my darling java, but it has really helped. I still drink tea, a combination of black and green, so I still intake caffeine, but not at the same rate or in the same concentration.
– Not eating regularly, or drinking enough water. In combination with healthy sleep, migraine sufferers also benefit from eating at least every three hours, as well as drinking plenty of fluids (ideally water). The drop in blood sugar really affects those with migraines. Lacking these two essentials just adds fuel to the migraine fire.
– Menstrual cycle migraines. Some women find that the dips and dives in their hormones due to their period cause migraines to regularly occur. At least two moms I know have found that their menstrual cycle is the major contributor to their monthly migraine.
– An onslaught of stress. We all know that stress is unavoidable in our lives as moms, but an influx due to family problems, illnesses, financial worries, and more can add up fast. Taking a break with some relaxation or even a short meditation can help. It might not solve your problems, but can give you a little distance for a short while, and maybe keep that headache at bay.
– Red wine, some cheeses, dark chocolate. That just doesn’t seem fair, does it? All of those delicious foods can cause migraines? For some, yes. Red wine has been a culprit for a long time. Tannins and a substance called tyramine is supposed to contribute to those who are prone to migraines. The same goes for aged cheeses, they contain tyramine, which helps that headache along. Dark chocolate also contains it, and chocolate has caffeine from the higher content of cocoa. My aunt discovered that dark chocolate is her biggest trigger (along with caffeine,) so she avoids it completely.
– Food allergies or intolerance. Foods that your body cannot tolerate or has a reaction to will cause inflammation in your body. Inflammation can help that migraine come into being. After doing a food intolerance test, I discovered that I am intolerant to milk, lactose, cheese, and many types of seeds. I have completely cut those out of my diet and seen positive results.
– Weather changes. This trigger might seem a little silly, but it can be a contributor. Drops in the barometer mean changes in pressure, which can be painful to an already sensitive head. Major changes due to the changing of seasons affect my headaches, as well as visiting other places where the humidity is vastly different (like the southern states). There isn’t much that we can do about the weather! But being aware of it might cause you to not have that extra cup of coffee or stay up a little later.

How to help your head:
– Healthy lifestyle changes: do your best to get enough sleep, don’t overdo it on caffeine (or drink it at all if possible), always be aware of when you ate and when to eat again (do not go over three hours, carry snacks in your purse, always have water with you).
– Track your menstrual cycle along with your headaches. If you notice a pattern, avoid your other triggers when you know might start your period (or whenever headaches occur in your cycle). You also can visit your doctor to discuss trying birth control pills, which has helped those moms I know who get cycle-related migraines.
– Keep a headache log and note any patterns: did you have red wine the night before, what did you eat, did you get little notebook-and-pensleep, are you particularly stressed, is your period coming or did it recently end? The goal is to narrow down any little pattern. That will help you untangle the triggers that bring migraines on.
– Get a food intolerance test. Knowing what foods your body reacts to can help your entire system (from your G.I. to your head). I had no clue that my body doesn’t tolerate milk products, and I’ve been eating them my entire life! You may not like the answers, but if you’re desperate for relief, you might be willing to try.
– See your doctor to get a prescription for migraine medication. There are options out there for us migraine sufferers and I have tried many of them. There are meds to take when a migraine starts to attack and there are some to take on a daily basis to ward them off. Choosing to take medication is personal and entirely up to you, but know that options exist, some of them might be helpful.
– See an acupuncturist who can get you back in balance. Acupuncture is beneficial for chronic pain or any other problem, which is often due to an imbalance somewhere in your body. The right acupuncturist can treat this imbalance, and in turn, alleviate some of your headaches, or make the pain less severe when they occur.

What worked for me:
First, please note that everyone is different and what has worked for me may not work you in the same way. Everyone’s migraine journey is unique; still, some of my solutions might help you too.
– Adequate sleep, eating healthily, and drinking lots of water. If I miss out on any of these, especially in combination, I’m in trouble.
– Exercising on a regular basis – it helps my body and brain, even short walks are something.
– Changing my daily diet. After getting the food intolerance test and cutting out my body’s major reactors, in my case, milk, lactose, many seeds, and some alcohol, I noticed a marked difference in my headaches. As a family we also cut out gluten (due to my daughter’s intolerance), and that has helped too.
– Acupuncture – it took me awhile to find the right practitioner (every acupuncturist has their own theory for your ailment, like a doctor), but once I did, she worked wonders in clearing out and detoxing my body and helping my energy level overall, especially my headaches. I went from having migraines a few times a month to having one sporadically every four or five months. She worked wonders for me, but again, everyone’s experience is different.
– Prescription migraine medication – I have tried a variety of these as well, some with varying success. In the end, I take a common medication (Imitrex) when I feel a migraine coming on. Since I have eliminated most triggers, that medication usually stops the migraine before ballooning into a full-blown attack. Prior to my lifestyle changes and acupuncture, the medication didn’t always work and I would take it much more frequently than I liked. Now, I am not waiting anxiously to fill my prescription.

The migraine problem is a hard one to solve, and it might be that you will always be prone to them, but know that you can cut out some of the major contributing factors and, if anything, reduce the times that you get them (and the severity). Good luck, migraine mamas!

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Self-awareness, Self-improvement

My favorite Yogi tea (Vanilla Spice – Perfect Energy) had this message for me recently: Happiness is an accomplishment. This led me to ponder this elusive state called happiness that we are all continuously seeking in some way. I’ve been trying to just “be happy” for most of my adult life. happy teaWhat job would make me happy? What material item can? How much more money do I need to find happiness?

Here are a few things that I have picked up over time about happiness.

Happiness is a temporary state. We can never reach the final destination of happiness and stay there (unless, I guess, we cease to exist). It’s temporary. I always thought that if I did the right things, then I would be happy. And my husband has often said, “I just want you to be happy,” as though it were something I could turn on and keep on. Happiness doesn’t work that way. It isn’t permanent; each moment can be a happy one, or not. The good old Dalai Lama says, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions,” and I believe this to be true. We cannot depend on others for it, nor can we expect it to last forever. It’s up to us to create it, regardless of what is happening around us.

Happiness is a practice. The first statement about the impermanence of happiness leads me to the second – that happiness is truly a practice. It’s not something we arrive at; it’s work – all the time, every day. And that’s okay. If we can add up all those little things that make us happy (for me some are: a hot shower, sleeping in, good coffee, having nothing to do), then we will find these little moments of joy. And if we multiply them, then we might just find that we are, well, happy, for now anyway. The Dalai Lama’s buddy, the Buddha, says “There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.” That might be a little tougher to swallow, and understand, but my interpretation is that we won’t find the place that lsmiley-and noteads to happiness, we must practice it all the time.

We do that by knowing that we won’t ever stumble upon happiness and stay there. We won’t reach that point where, finally, we’re happy (though part of me still wants to believe that). We will have some good moments where we feel it, then some that are really far from it too. So, if my Yogi tea bag is correct, then happiness is an accomplishment, but one that we can’t hold onto forever. As Thanksgiving is a day away and we are all supposed to be happy with this holiday of gratitude and surrounding ourselves with family, maybe we just try enjoying those little things instead: the gravy that came out right, the weather, or relishing a day of food and rest because it’s a small break before Christmas looms upon us.

And we can use the words of Ellen DeGeneres for that day, and others: “Do things that you make you happy, within the confines of the legal system.” Sage-like advice.

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Parenting, Self-awareness, Self-improvement

phrasesIn my ripe old age of somewhere in my fourth decade, I’ve come across three phrases that can make a world of difference when dealing with your children, friends, family, argumentative adults, anyone. Lately, I’ve noticed the lack of these phrases coming from people of power (or those who think they have power), those who feel superior, or just people who feel owed (at any age). Regardless of who you are, consider these phrases and question when you last heard or said them. Here they are in no particular order:

1) “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” These synonymous statements can go far in releasing someone’s anger directed at you or anyone, and it doesn’t take much to utter them. Hopefully, they are said meaningfully, but even if you’re not truly sorry, “I’m sorry to hear that” is at least a little something that can ease a person’s angst. Whenever someone, adult or child, has a problem and tells me all about it, one of my first responses is “I’m sorry.” Sometimes I then hear, “You don’t have to be sorry; it’s not your fault,” but to me that doesn’t matter. The fact is I’m just sorry that person is going through said difficult situation. Even if my kid is starving to death after just eating dinner, my reply is usually, “I am sorry to hear that.” Mainly because I am sorry to hear that (“And why didn’t you eat all of your dinner?” but that is usually said in my head) and I’m also bit dismayed as I offer the plate of uneaten food, but it’s better than an argument. Other times, kids (or adults) just want to be heard or validated, and by saying “I hear you and I’m sorry that happened,” can go a long way in many cases.

2) “That was my fault.” (Or, even, “Oops! My fault!”) Why is it that people have such a hard time assuming fault? This one goes hand-in-hand with “I’m sorry,” such as “That was my fault; I’m sorry.” It’s not going to kill your ego and it is truly okay to admit self-blame. You’re still a good person, and not perfect (because who wants to hang out with the person who never makes a mistake?). Once you admit fault, the pressure is often faultrelieved. This applies to situations with your kids or in a meeting, just assume the blame if it truly is your fault, remedy the problem, and move on. I’ve been in multiple situations lately where the same person doesn’t ever accept fault or blame, but instead turns it around and puts it on someone else. That not only makes everyone upset (and infuriates me), it also reveals that this person cannot be trusted because who knows who will be wrongly blamed next? It could be you; it could be me.  It also seems to say that this person never does anything wrong, and how is that possible? We’re human, we make mistakes, own up to it, learn, and keep going. It’s that simple.

3) “Thank you.” This very easy two-word acknowledgment can go miles in someone’s life. Just saying “thank you” makes people feel like the effort they put into something was worth it. Expressing gratitude can be applied to adults or children. They all appreciate it because no matter who it is, thank-youpeople like to be recognized for their work, and saying “thank you” (or even “thanks!”) is so easy. When my kids finally put their shoes away instead of kicking them off and leaving them on the floor, I say thank you. If someone goes out of his way and holds the door open, tells you that your gas cap is not screwed on, or whatever small token it might be, just say “thank you.” Express your gratitude for those big or small things and everyone wins.

So there you have it, three phrases that can make a world of difference; try them out (if you don’t use them already) and see the results for yourself. (And thanks for reading! :) )

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