Mindful Living: What is Really Killing Americans

It’s been drilled into us– the leading causes of premature death for Americans is heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Yet I would argue that those diseases are not what’s causing American’s to die prematurely. And no, it’s not stress either, which is often suggested as the real reason.

American citizens are the sickest people in the world, and yet we’re dying from preventable and treatable causes. What’s killing us is that we’re not paying attention– most of us are living on autopilot and have developed detrimental lifestyle habits. Many of us are clueless about how we are treating our bodies and what we really need to be whole. Our diets are lacking vital nutrition, our lifestyle is lacking movement and we’ve lost the self-awareness to realize something is not right.

Lack of Nutrients

The reality is most people eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) are not eating REAL food, but a mixture of processed ingredients and chemicals. A common chemical found in our foods is MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). MSG is a powerful flavor enhancer that tells our brains we’re still hungry– ever been hungry right after eating Chinese food? MSG contributes to fast growing invasive cancers and also is commonly referred to over 50 different names, so it’s unavoidable if you eat processed foods. Aspartame is another dangerous chemical; it’s an artificial sweetener that invades the body causing neurological problems. Another major concern is that a large percentage of the processed food contained genetically modified ingredients.

Additionally, consider the fact that in our prehistoric days we were forced to go for weeks without food when it was scarce. A slow metabolism allowed us to store fat, keeping us alive; our slow metabolism is a evolutionary gift that brought us here. However, fast forward today’s pervasive high-calorie and low nutrient density foods, and our slow metabolism seems like a curse. Not only has this lead to health challenges, we are a nation who has no concept of real hunger because food is so readily available.

We must take back our power as individuals and make informed conscious choices about what we’re putting in our bodies and how much we actually need. The human body is designed to heal itself and keep homeostasis. All we have to do is support that process by giving it the necessary nutrients, which can only be found in whole, unprocessed foods. Read labels, research your food’s origins and tune in to how foods (good and bad) affect your body.

Lack of Movement

On my last trip to Costco I suddenly saw too many people, with shopping carts loaded with oversized portions, shuffling their feet, pacing about the store in a daze. What a stark contrast from our ancestors who hunted and gathered their food exerting their bodies in order to work up a true appetite. Unfortunately we live in a society that is not conducive to getting the adequate movement our bodies need to be healthy and strong. We sit at desks all day, maybe making it to the gym afterwards to run on treadmills like rodents on a wheel. We have to get outdoors whenever possible and move our bodies in more natural ways. Movement allows our bodies to function efficiently, to grow, and to heal.

Lack of Awareness

We are so focused on the external world around us that most of us have no clue what is really happening to our bodies on a daily basis. We have lost all connection to the messages our body is sending us, which is why we can no longer manage stress, difficult emotions, or negative thoughts. Our minds are too busy keeping up with the Kardashians and eating food mindlessly on the couch to focus on what our body truly needs. And it is this lack of awareness is what is killing us. We’re living on autopilot and not paying attention. Our bodies are starving for nutrients and movement; our minds are starving for attention and are thirsty for knowledge. When we are good to our bodies and treat them right, they are good to us. We have to start making conscious decisions about our well-being if we want to prevent premature death. We have to learn to love ourselves enough to make a healthy lifestyle a priority.

We begin making lasting changes by reflecting on what health means to us, why it’s important to us, and what our vision of health and wellness includes. The answers to these questions will be unique to you. Once you are aware of the value of true health, you can begin acknowledging other areas of your life where your patterns of behavior or poor choices do not align with these healthful values. The next step is to set short term, practical goals for yourself and monitor your progress. Connect with others, ask for advice, do research, and get the support you need to make your health a top priority.

5 Signs You Need To Rethink Your Values

Values give us clarity when we have to make tough decisions in life. They guide us through challenging times. They’re completely unique to us, created from our own personal experiences and beliefs.

When we aren’t clear on what those values are, or what it is we’re living for, we end up in sticky or dangerous situations. Here are some red flags that will help you determine if it’s time reassess, and potentially change those values:

1. Something’s missing and you can’t quite put your finger on it.

You know there’s more out there for you, and you believe you deserve better.

2. You’re restless.

Your attention moves from one thing to another, but your mind is always somewhere else. One day you’re motivated, and the next you’re dragging your feet.

3. Life is messy and hard.

When you try to cope with stress, things just get more complicated and difficult. You feel the tension rising and you’re not in the driver’s seat to take over the wheel.

4. You’re impulsive.

You make decisions before thinking things through. Disappointing yourself and others is a regular occurrence these days.

5. You’re haunted by your past.

Repressed memories are popping up out of nowhere. A simple comment or gesture by someone triggers you into an emotional outburst.

All of these messages are signs that it’s time to stop, take a deep breath and start digging deep! Considering what’s important to you and where you see yourself going. Values you care about might be “being a loving partner,” “being a reliable friend,” or “living a healthy lifestyle.” When you commit to living your values, decision-making becomes clearer.

Look at all the areas of your life and write out what type of person you want to be in each domain (i.e. parent, employer, lover, daughter). Post them up somewhere in your home or office so that you’re reminded of them often. If you find your values conflicted, remember the value of taking care of yourself first is always most important.

Why You Don’t Need A Life Purpose

A few years ago, a friend invited me to attended a yoga retreat called “Finding Your Life Purpose.” I thought wow this is going to be great I’ll have it all figured out after this, right….?

Wrong!

Apparently this ‘finding your purpose’ is all the rage these days. The message is clear: without a life purpose you’re going nowhere, your life is meaningless, and you’re unhappy.

During the retreat, we did several activities to keep us searching for what we wanted to do with our life. While I knew I was happy with my life, had great relationships, enjoyed my job, etc… I felt this external obligation to pinpoint one particular thing I must accomplish in life before I died. This didn’t settle well inside me but I went along with the activity anyway. I kept searching, and searching, and searching… nothing.

People in the group began to proclaim their life purpose: a dancer wanted to grace the world with artistic beauty, a doctor wanted to be a spokesperson for autism, and a college student wanted to write stories about strong female characters. Still, I could not articulate one specific life purpose.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have goals or aspirations, quite the opposite actually. I had too many. Truth is, there is an incredible amount of things I want to accomplish in life and some of them aren’t even related. I finally decided I don’t need a life purpose and don’t feel the need to come up with one.

Rather, I choose to find direction in what I value in life. For me, some of those values would include things like, love, learning, health, adventure, authenticity, compassion, fun, justice, and passion. As long as the actions I take and my behaviors are in line with those key values despite obstacles I may cross, I’m confident that I’ll be completely satisfied in life.

The problem I found with attaching to one life purpose is that it’s a specific destination, so if you don’t ever make it there you may end up feeling disappointed. If you put all your self-worth into accomplishing one thing, how will you feel about yourself if unavoidable obstacles prevent you from continuing to achieve it? What if you change your mind and what once interests you no longer does? Are you then a failure?

A purpose is a structured way of defining your self-worth and keeps your mind pondering the future. In perspective, it is very much an Americanized and individualistic way of thinking, to always be striving for more, bigger, and better. Eastern cultures teach more collective traditions by putting other’s needs above personal interests and to live in the moment without judgement.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a purpose, I respect those who’ve found theirs. Having a purpose identifies a need or feeling that we’re longing for. If you can tap into what that need is, underneath that you’ll find what’s important to you: your values. Values are less specific but define who we are and what we want our lives to stand for. They are more of a direction rather than a destination and can help you prioritize. Consider what makes you smile, what warms your soul, what makes you laugh, cry, and love. Those are the things we should live for and seek in our daily life.

So if you haven’t discovered your life purpose yet, stop beating yourself up! You may never find it. Let go of the struggle to define your worth in a tangible accomplishment and find it in being true to your values. Appreciate what comes your way in life; your interests will spark out of love and compassion for yourself and those around you.

How To Deal With Negativity When You’re Trying To Change Your Life

Every time we set out to change our behaviors, work toward a goal, or just become a better person, the “yucky” stuff always seems to get in the way somehow. I’m referring to habits like:

Focusing on self-doubt
Feeling powerless over urges or cravings
Trying to prove to ourselves we don’t really need to change or we shouldn’t have to
Thinking about failure associated with past attempts to change
Feeling the awkwardness of stepping outside of our comfort zone
Noticing feelings like guilt, shame, doubt, anxiety, frustration, envy, etc…

This can be so distracting that it will stop us from real progress! Plus, it’s exhausting trying to avoid these pesky thoughts and feelings.

I wish I could give you advice on how to eliminate these experiences from your life. Truth is, I can’t. It seems logical that once the “yuckiness” is out of the way, your path to achieving your goals is clear, but actually it’s impossible to completely eliminate these negative thoughts. In fact, the harder you try to push them away, the more intense they become. But the good news is: this doesn’t have to derail you from living a life you want.

An alternative way to keep moving toward a meaningful life is to accept these difficult thoughts, feelings, and sensations as a part of life. When we observe these experiences as another entity, rather than “being” us, we can withhold judgment and recognize them for them for what they are: just a thought, just a feeling, and just a sensation.

We are not our thoughts. They don’t define us, and they don’t dictate our behaviors. Just because I have the thought I am not good enough, doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because we feel “helpless” doesn’t mean we are. Our thoughts and feelings only have as much truth as we choose to give them.

Try this:

1. Write down one of the thoughts that keeps you from living the life you want and reaching your goals.

2. Sit with that thought, consider it an object that you’re observing. Repeat it in your head until it’s just a sentence.

3. Now write down that thought on a small piece of paper and place it in your pocket.

4. Continue about your day, do what you need to do (i.e. go to the store, cook dinner, etc…) Notice that thought isn’t going away, it’s still in your pocket but it hasn’t stopped you from accomplishing your tasks.

Thoughts and beliefs are not what define us. Our behaviors and our actions are what make a living a meaningful life possible. The “yucky” stuff will never go away, but it doesn’t have to stop you from creating a life you love.

Are You Dealing With Stress Or Avoiding It?

I often hear others say:

Man this stress is killing me!
If I just didn’t have all this stress in my life, I’d be fine.
I’m so stressed out, I can’t get anything done.
Everyone else is stressing me out!

Why we stress

Stress is our body’s natural reaction to threat or challenge in our life. Our body, particularly the sympathetic nervous system, begins to produce hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline to activate our senses telling us we need to “fight” or “flight.”

You know when it happens: your heart starts to beat faster, your muscles begin to tense us, you feel sweaty, and more alert.

The stress response gives us strength and endurance (that’s why athletes produce adrenaline) to escape a potentially dangerous event. Evolutionarily, this automatic response has saved our lives. If a bear was about to attack us and our body didn’t give us signals to get outta there, we’d be eaten alive.

Of course we aren’t being attacked by bears much in today’s society, but we do have challenging events and difficult experiences, so here we are with all this cortisol and adrenaline running throughout bodies as soon as a stressful event occurs.

So it’s not stress that’s killing us, it’s what we do with stress that’s killing us.

Common unhealthy ways we avoid stress

Overeat
Oversleep
Act out in anger
Neglect loved ones
Become reckless with money
Smoke/drink
Ignore it
Take pills
Procrastinate

These are common because society sends us the message that these will “make us feel better,” and while I agree, they sure can make us feel great …. for the moment that is. Stress will catch up with us. Lets talk about some ways to face stress head on, get to the root of it, and prevent it from harming the life we love.

Healthy ways to face stress head on

1. Breathe

Simple as it sounds, oxygen actually dissipates the excess cortisol running through our system.

2. Listen to music

Music triggers an emotional state in us depending on what memory or sensation we attach to it. Try listening to music that is soothing and peaceful for you.

3. Laugh

Spend time with people who bring joy and humor into your life. Laughter is contagious!

4. Roll it out

Stress gets lodged deep into our fascia, which turns into rough scar tissue welcoming pain and disease to the body. Pick up a foam roller at your local sports store, your body will thank you.

5. Seek touch

Snuggle up with a loved one, practice gentle massage, or just hold hands. Allow yourself to feel good.

6. Aromatherapy

Calm your nerves by adding a few drops of lavender or lemon balm to your bath water or pillow case. Essential oils have proven healing qualities.

7. Get in touch with nature

Feel the grass between your toes, pick flowers, or breathe fresh air. Nature is very soothing and can diffuse tension.

The reason these techniques are effective is in part because they keep us in the present moment. They allow us to focus on what happening now rather keep us ruminating on recent, stressful events. If we can practice these regularly, even when we aren’t feeling stressed, we begin to activate our parasympathetic nervous system which counterbalances the sympathetic nervous system (remember that’s the flight or flight response) because it’s job is to create homeostasis in the body. So we’ll be better equipped to face stress when it comes up rather than trying to avoid it.