Hi Wellness Peeps! I had my first ginger lemonade of the season recently, and it reminded me of a wellness post I wrote a few years ago after a visit from my adorable nephew from New Jersey. After chatting with him one evening, I realized that when you need the answers to life’s big questions . . . just ask a kindergartener!
“Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it.” Margaret Thatcher
My 5 year old nephew was visiting from New Jersey last week, and we were chatting one evening while I made dinner. At one point, he looked at a big bowl of lemons I had sitting on the counter, and said to me in his wise little kindergarten voice, “You could make lemonade out of those lemons.”
I remember looking at this sweet little buddha nephew of mine and thinking, “Wow! At five years old, he has already figured out one of the keys to a happy life!”
Turning lemons into lemonade is a life lesson we’ve all used at some point to navigate the chronic stress and anxiety that often greets us in the morning when the alarm clock sounds.
But I’ve made homemade lemonade before, and I know that it doesn’t taste good if it’s overly sweet. Add too much sugar, and you end up with a syrupy slurry minus that zing of great citrus flavor. Fresh squeezed lemonade tastes best when it has some POP! That tart edginess that makes you smack your lips when you reach the bottom of the glass.
Most of us would agree that a life well lived is like that. Sure, we love to cast stress as the villain. If only things would run more smoothly with no big surprises, we’d be happier and more content. When I ask my workshop participants what wellness feels like they often reply, “No stress!”
But let’s be honest. We really aren’t happy unless we’re living slightly on the edge—-just a tad bit out of our comfort zone. Tackling big projects at work, challenging ourselves with new experiences, or overcoming unforeseen obstacles are things that motivate us and give us an opportunity to become our best selves.
Stress, for better or worse, gives life the ZEST! POP! and PING! that makes us feel alive and engaged in the world.
The problem is, stress can also kill. Managed poorly, it can follow us through our days zapping our energy, robbing us of sleep, and leaving us feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
Yep, stress is the #1 thing that gets in the way of our wellness. And it’s one of the biggest reasons why we turn to unhealthy behaviors like overeating, skipping the gym, or zoning out in front of bad reality TV (that last one is me).
We don’t always have a choice about how much “sour” creeps into our lives. Stuff happens, as they say. But countless studies suggest that making healthy choices in the way we eat, breathe and move our way through adversity can help us not only manage, but truly embrace this unpredictable, imperfect life of ours. It’s like stocking the pantry shelves with plenty of sugar, so that we’re ready for the big day when the lemon tree out back comes into bloom.
Here are my favorite strategies for striking just the right balance between “sweet” and “sour:”
Nourish: We all know that eating is often our “go to” coping strategy when things get a little out of hand. Eating gives us something to do and can be comforting when we’re feeling overwhelmed. But eating the wrong things, or eating too much, never turns out well. In fact, the guilt and shame we feel after a stress binge just adds to the discomfort.
Recently, I heard an intuitive eating expert share the importance of making all foods “equally accessible.” She suggested making stress busting foods like calming teas and already cut up fruits and veggies just as easy grab as the cookies and caffeine sitting around the house. Make these foods your first stop, and then if you need something more, allow yourself a small indulgence—-or better yet, go for a 10-minute walk!
Breathe: Breathing and meditation are proven ways to ease the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that accompany stress. But many people, myself included, are not natural meditators.
I love this tip for us “stillness challenged” folk: Start by choosing an activity you do often throughout the day–for me it’s driving the car or working on my computer. Each time you do this activity, take three or four deep cleansing breaths. This simple practice encourages the breath to be the calming influence you turn to when you feel your anxiety level rising.
Move: Make time to move, and don’t wait until you’re ready to throw something before you do! Even a brisk walk can ease anxious feelings or boost your energy when you’re feeling down.
And while 10 minutes of light activity is a valid prescription for easing your anxiety, a workout that pushes you to sweat and challenge your limits can get the feel good hormones flowing, giving you a powerful sense of accomplishment at the end.
As Margaret Thatcher says, we feel most satisfied with life when our head hits the pillow at the end of a busy day, and we have a story or two to tell about how we got through it.
But like those fresh lemons sitting in the bowl on my counter, that crazy busy life of yours needs balance. Taking care of yourself by making healthy food choices, learning to breathe through stress, and moving your body on a regular basis will all help make your life, lemons and all, that much sweeter.
Feel good. Be well. Meg
I’d love to know what “good” stress you have in your life—-the things you do that make your life POP! And also your fun easy tips for managing the “not so good” stress. We all could use some good ideas!
. . . or try this week’s wellness prompt on your own:
Wellness Prompt: Let’s try making a few lists this week. List A is the sweet—the things in your life that bring you passion, purpose, and energy. Look down at your list and smile—that’s where the wellness is! List B is the sour–activities or commitments that cause you to feel anxious, fearful, or just plain stressed out. List C is a list of simple, doable, stress busters that you know can bring you back into your wellness zone—like taking a daily walk, connecting with a friend, or removing the stressful task. I think you have a plan! Let me know how it goes!