Archive of ‘Healthy Habits’ category

Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, Try Intentions.

We made it! The year is wrapping up and we are looking onward to the clean slate and potential of a brand new year! No matter what the past year held, many are ready for a fresh start. We are in a season of optimism, hope, and commitment to change.

With the new year comes the New Year’s resolutions. I’m not a fan of the New Year’s resolution and I’ll tell you why in a moment. But first, a small disclaimer: I believe we mean well when we set resolutions. Looking at life with a fresh lens and committing to making changes we want to make is healthy. When we set resolutions, we mean to commit to ourselves that this is the year that things will be different. This is the year that we will do the thing, take the leap, start new, and close the gap between who we are and who we want to be. Believing in our highest potential is a gift to ourselves.

But here is the problem with resolutions: They set us up to fail. They are outcome-dependent, often designed to be pass or fail, black or white, all or nothing. We either did the thing, or we didn’t. Sure, it is good in the beginning. The first three weeks of January go smoothly. These new habits are hard, but we are adapting. But what happens when life gets messy or we get busy? We start to slip. Regression is a natural and expected part of the change cycle, but it sure doesn’t feel that way when the commitment we made to ourselves was do or do not. There was no try.

For some, resolutions work. I have heard a few stories about people who stuck with their resolution for the full year, reached their potential, and didn’t look back. But by and large, the experience with resolutions is this:

  • At their best, resolutions become something we feel that we “should” do, a pesky little reminder that we are not living up to the dreams we had for ourselves.
  • At their worst, resolutions can make us feel downright horrible. What messages do you send yourself when you are letting yourself down? I doubt any of us are hoping to highlight or strengthen our feelings of inferiority in the new year. Who wants that?

How do we preserve the part of resolution setting that is helpful while ditching the part that can create anxiety, feelings of failure, and inadequacy? I propose we set intentions instead. Intentions are a mental state that provide a framework for the future. An intention is not what we want to accomplish, but rather how we want to accomplish it. Setting an intention is like setting a reminder to yourself of how you want to live your life.

Intentions are different from resolutions because they are disconnected from any specific outcome. When we focus on how we want to live and the traits we want to embody, the decisions we make will align with our intentions. We will grow to choose what is best for us because we are rooted in honoring our ideal selves. Naturally, we will progress toward our goals.

In three steps, here is how you can get started on setting your New Year’s Intentions:

  1. Brainstorm. The answers to these questions will help you generate ideas and clarity for your New Year’s Intentions:
  • What type of a person do I want to be?
  • What words do I wish people would use when they describe me?
  • How do I want to move through life, work, and my relationships?
  • What do I want more of in my life?
  1. Refine. Now that you have a few ideas percolating, try plugging your intention into this sentence: “When given the choice, I will ____________.

Examples of intentions may sound something like this:

  • When given the choice, I will choose peace.
  • When given the choice, I will choose kindness.
  • When given the choice, I will love myself.
  • When given the choice, I will honor my body.
  • When given the choice, I will celebrate my progress.
  • When given the choice, I will be gentle with myself and others.
  • When given the choice, I will be patient.
  • When given the choice, I will listen to my intuition.
  • When given the choice, I will trust the process.
  • When given the choice, I will move with grace.
  • When given the choice, I will follow through on my commitments.
  • When given the choice, I will be present.
  • When given the choice, I will balance ease and effort.

Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Play around with the language. The language I suggest may seem foreign, and that is okay. Modify it it something that fits you.
  • Seek clarity and specificity. There is power is precision.
  • You can have more than one intention, but there is also value in hitting the nail on the head. It will be easier to remember and honor over time if you have one sentence to go back to.
  1. Remind. How will you remember your intention? I suggest writing it down in multiple places. A few ideas could be a note in your phone, in your planner, on your bathroom mirror, a post it note on the refrigerator, taped to your computer monitor at work or under your keyboard if you would like privacy. Writing it down where you will naturally see it will position you to gently guide yourself back throughout the year.

How does your New Year’s Intention compare to the resolutions you have set in past? I would love to hear! Connect with me at [email protected] or on instagram @counselingandyoga.

About the author: Katy practices at Austin Family Counseling where she provides relationship and couples counseling, and counseling to individual adults and teens navigating life’s many challenges.
Katy Manganella, M.A., LPC-Intern is supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S.


The Practice of Gratitude

With December marking the end of the year, it is natural to reflect on what kind of a year you’ve had. I encourage having reflections that include gratitude’s and appreciations; it is imperative reflect on the positive things that have occurred over the past year. Having that perspective on how you have seen growth and change, or maintenance and consistency, in a positive light can reduce stress and anxiety and make it easier to reflect with a positive outlook in the future.

I’ve heard the different perspectives of positive and negative described as a cloudy lens and a sunshine lens. I love the simplicity that provides as a visual because looking at your past year in a cloudy lens could lead to feeling sad, conflicted, and unmotivated. This cloudy lens has the ability to reach in all areas of life and makes it hard to find those sunshine moments. Looking through a sunshine lens doesn’t mean negative and bad things don’t occur, rather a sunshine lens means choosing to find something that you are grateful for, no matter how big or significant that something is. Examples could be feeling grateful that you survived your day, you went to a concert, hanging out with close friends, or ending your day with a nice hot bath.

To start a gratitude practice, set yourself up for success. Choose a time during your day that you can have 5 minutes to reflect. Once you have your daily time scheduled, reflect on one thing of gratitude. Just one. If you think of more, that’s great! But only start with one, so that way you feel encouraged to continue this gratitude practice. Once you feel like your reflection time has become consistent, then move up to listing three to five items of gratitude.

Practicing gratitude is like building strength in a muscle. It takes time and consistency to see growth and change in how your perspective shifts from a cloudy to sunshine. I hope with the reflection of this past year, you are able to find those moments that you truly appreciate and are grateful for!

Julie Smith MA, LMFT-A under the Supervision of Kirby Sandlin Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S Senior Clinician at Austin Family Counseling


Why is Sleep Important?

This question deserves much more time and energy than I can give it. I cannot stress enough the idea that sleeping is the elixir of life. It is the most important pillar of a healthy and prosperous life. Every single system in the body is affected by sleep. EVERY SINGLE ONE.

The first reason sleep is important and maybe the most critical one…sleep is the time in which our body gets better at everything we do. The brain identifies areas of weakness and reorients them. If we are trying to learn a new behavior, our body recognizes this and puts resources into learning the behavior. During sleep, our brain processes problems 20x faster than when we are awake.

Now, let’s talk diet! Regardless of your diet goals, sleep is vital for keeping your body running at an optimal level. Sleep is involved in fat loss, digestion, hunger, and even insulin sensitivity. When we are sleep deprived, 70% of the weight we lose comes from our muscle; the body chooses to store fat because it is a more efficient energy source. Our digestive system slows down, and we become more sensitive to insulin spikes, which leads to the body storing more fat cells. When we are sleep deprived, the body increases production of a hormone called ghrelin and decreases the production of leptin. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells us that we are hungry and leptin is responsible for inhibiting hunger. Which means we are lead to eat more food and feel less full.

Mood or emotional well being is handled partly by REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep or otherwise known as dream sleep. During REM, the prefrontal cortex of our brain shuts off. This is the “prison guard” of the brain, it regulates between rational and irrational thought processes. During REM  sleep, our brain can take memories and sort through them without the guidance of rational thought. This is where the idea “sleep on a problem” comes from or as the French like to say “sleep with a problem.”

Lastly, it’s important to consider recovery and performance, whether it be physical or mental. To operate at an optimum level, we must recharge our batteries and let our body recovery with quality sleep. During non-REM sleep is when our physical bodies are given the time necessary to recover. This is a time for body and metabolism replenishment. Sleep deprivation turns on genes that signal inflammation in the body and turns off genes that inhibit inflammation. As a result, our immune system suffers. We are more likely to get sick, we have less energy, and our decision making becomes affected. Another feature that sleep provides is this sort of sewage system for the brain. Our brain builds up sticky toxic proteins that slow down processing. Sleep is the time for our brain to clean out all these sticky proteins. It is a time for a brain to get a proper cleansing. If we are sleep deprived this process does not happen which leads to that worsening feeling of brain fog.

4 Tips to Help You Sleep Better

Regularity

Establish a regular sleep schedule. That means go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even weekends). If you stay up late the night before, still wake up at your regularly scheduled time the next morning and accept that it will be a rough day. In times like these, it is ok to go to sleep a little earlier than your regular time. A quick note on regularity, it is safer to always wake up at your regularly scheduled time rather than sleep in to offset going to bed late.

Temperature

Our bodies sleep better in the cold. The ideal temperature for your room is 65 degrees. The brain needs to drop a few degrees below our average body temperature to prepare for sleep. The key here is helping your body lower its core temperature. A quick hack for decreasing core body temperature is to take a hot bath right before bed. When we rapidly heat our bodies we have a rapid cooling process immediately after, its this cooling process that makes you feel sleepy, not the hot bath.

Decrease Exposure to Light

Blue light, yellow light, red light, green light, ALL LIGHTS! We have all heard stop looking at your phone, tablets, and computers before bed because of the BLUE light. I am here to tell you that it is ALL LIGHT that affects sleep. Minimize your exposure to all light at least an hour before bed. Remove all the light in your room. The most beneficial way to sleep is in complete darkness.

Walk it Out

If you are having trouble falling asleep after you have gotten in bed, wait 30 minutes and then get out of bed don’t continue to lay there tossing and turning. Our brains are powerful associative devices. We can train our brains to associate our beds with sleep as well as being awake. After about 30 minutes of wakefulness in bed get up and read a book (a real book, not an electronic book), do some breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga; anything that will prep your body for sleep. DO NOT eat food, read emails, play Candy Crush, or watch TV. Wait to get back into bed until you are feeling sleepy.

Myths About Sleep

Myth 1: “I only need about 5-6 hours of sleep a night.”

Most people need five sleep cycles a night. Each sleep cycle consists of REM Sleep and Non REM sleep. To complete a cycle your body and brain us go through each stage of sleep. Our sleep cycles take on average 90 minutes, so five cycles X 90 minutes = 7.5 hours of sleep. I could write an entire blog on why sleep is essential, and how dangerous to sleep deprivation is. However, for the sake of time, I will leave you with a quick fact about sleep deprivation. After one night of poor sleep, our testosterone levels drop by 20%. Men who are chronically sleep deprived have testosterone levels of a man ten years his senior. To put it another way, chronic sleep deprivation can age you by ten years.

Myth 2: “You can sleep when you are dead.”

Adopting this as a life philosophy or suggesting it to friends is straight lousy advice unless you want a short life. The scientific literature has shown that people who are chronically sleep-deprived live shorter lives. Those of you who believe sleep is a waste of time might want to reconsider your philosophy on productivity.

Myth 3: “A nightcap helps me sleep better.”

Alcohol! Those of us who drink know that having a few drinks before bed makes it easier to fall asleep. Why isn’t this a good thing? Alcohol puts us in a sedated state, not a sleep state. Alcohol inhibits our ability to reach REM sleep and causes sleep fragmentation, so we are never able to experience deep sleep fully.

By: Josh Killam, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S


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