How to Safely Exercise During Pregnancy

HOW TO SAFELY EXERCISE DURING PREGNANCY

Melinda Wenner Moyer

THE GIST

  • Exercising during pregnancy is generally safe and can reduce the risk for several conditions including excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
  • Always consult with your doctor before starting any exercise routine, since certain conditions can make it more risky. 
  • Doctors recommend about 30 minutes of exercise a day — or 150 minutes a week — but no more than 45 minutes per day, which can increase your risk of overheating and dehydration. 
  • Aerobic exercise, including jogging, is safe during pregnancy, but you should be able to carry on a conversation while active. Start slowly if you rarely exercised before pregnancy or are obese.
  • Avoid inherently risky activities, such as scuba or sky diving, contact sports, horseback riding, gymnastics or downhill skiing. Hot yoga and hot pilates are also unadvisable since they can increase body temperature too much and endanger the fetus.
  • If you notice warning signs of early labor or pregnancy complications, such as vaginal bleeding, breathing problems, or painful contractions, stop and contact your doctor.

Both times I’ve been pregnant, I’ve felt conflicted about exercise. On the one hand, I was often tired and nauseous; napping felt way more appealing than sweating. On the other hand, I wanted to do what was best for my baby and ward off extra pregnancy pounds. So I began hunting for the perfect prenatal workout. I tried what felt like everything — elliptical machines, yoga, power walking and even weightlifting, which elicited a number of concerned comments from gym-goers to “take it easy.”

According to Dr. Margie Davenport, Ph.D., director of the Program for Pregnancy and Postpartum Health at the University of Alberta in Canada, the belief that it’s dangerous to exercise during pregnancy is common — but it’s wrong. “We recommend beginning exercise or continuing to exercise as soon as you become pregnant,” she said. In most uncomplicated pregnancies, exercise is safe and tied to a reduced risk for many complications including excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, back pain and depression. For anyone worried about the safety of exercise during pregnancy, like those judgey gym-goers, Dr. Davenport and her colleagues recently published a systematic review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which analyzed 46 studies, and concluded that prenatal exercise does not increase the risk of miscarriage or death of the fetus.

The research I consulted, along with the obstetrician and maternal-fetal medicine specialist I talked with for this guide, agreed with Dr. Davenport: In most circumstances, exercise is good for both mom and baby, although there are important things to keep in mind. 

WHAT TO DO

  • Understand the differences between safe and unsafe exercise

Most of the time, exercising during pregnancy is safe, but nevertheless “it’s really important that women speak with their health care provider to see if they have any contraindications, or medical reasons that they shouldn’t,” Dr. Davenport said.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women with certain health conditions — including certain heart or lung diseases, cervical issues, pregnancy with multiples, persistent bleeding during the second or third trimester, preeclampsia or anemia — shouldn’t exercise while pregnant at all.

ACOG’s guidelines also note that if you have certain conditions or habits, such as heavy smoking, high blood pressure, overactive thyroid or are morbidly obese or underweight, consult with your doctor before exercising, because the benefits of exercise may not outweigh the potential risks.

  • Recognize how exercise can help you

Exercising during pregnancy isn’t just about keeping off extra pounds (although it also does that). According to a recent review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, pregnant women who exercised in various ways had about a 40 percent reduced risk for gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension and preeclampsia. Studies also suggest that women who exercise during pregnancy are less likely to become depressed and develop less severe low back and pelvic pain. Regular exercise can help with labor and post-delivery recovery, too, by reducing the odds of having an instrument-assisted delivery — a delivery in which forceps or a vacuum device is used — and lowering the risk for urinary incontinence after birth. 

  • Take precautions before and during exercise — and avoid risky types

To reduce the chance of developing low blood sugar, you should eat before exercising, said Dr. Raul Artal, M.D., a professor and chairman emeritus of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at the St. Louis University School of Medicine. Smoothies, fruits, nuts or whole-grain crackers are good choices. Drink water to stay hydrated, too, and don’t exercise outdoors at temperatures above 90 degrees. That’s because heat stress in the first trimester, such as from saunas and hot tubs, has been linked with birth defects of the brain, nervous system or spinal cord. According to recent research, though, exercising when it’s not really hot out does not increase core body temperature enough to cause problems. In fact, research suggests that exercising during pregnancy is linked with a reduced risk for neural tube defects.

ACOG recommends that pregnant women avoid the following activities, which could pose health risks:

  • Contact sports such as ice hockey, boxing, soccer and basketball
    • Activities with a high risk of falling, such as downhill skiing, water skiing, surfing, off-road cycling, gymnastics and horseback riding
    • Scuba diving
    • Sky diving
    • Hot yoga or hot pilates 
  • Choose activities you can do regularly

“Oftentimes, women think that exercise means going to a gym, and it doesn’t,” said Dr. Diana Ramos, M.D., M.P.H., an obstetrician and medical director for reproductive health at the Los Angeles Public Health Department. “It’s as simple as walking.”

Other activities ACOG recommends include swimming, stationary cycling, yoga, pilates and low-impact aerobics such as jogging and pool aerobics. What’s most important is that you choose an activity that you’ll be able to do regularly. My favorite prenatal workout ended up being one I did in my basement — where I was conveniently shielded from intrusive bystanders and just a few steps away from the essential re-fueling station (aka my kitchen).

ACOG’s guidelines recommend that pregnant women exercise for 150 minutes a week, or about 30 minutes a day, five days a week. They caution against exercising for more than 45 minutes at a time because doing so can increase the risk for low blood sugar, which can make you lightheaded or dizzy. If you didn’t exercise much before you got pregnant, or you are obese, it’s O.K. to start with as little as 10 minutes of activity a day and “build it up at a rate that is going to be sustainable,” Dr. Davenport said. Dr. Davenport also pointed out that some activity is better than none at all — exercising for fewer than 150 minutes a week still provides some benefits.

Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, is safe for women who were active before they got pregnant. Guidelines recommend that women be able to pass the “talk test,” meaning they can carry on a conversation while exercising. More intense exercise may also be O.K., but Dr. Gregory Davies, M.D., a professor and chair of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Queen’s University in Canada, pointed out that very little research has been done to address this question. “Most, if not all, our knowledge about safety and pregnancy benefits is based on research protocols that reflected moderate exercise, at most,” he said. The same goes for strength training, so if you’re going to lift weights, don’t overdo it. A 2015 trialfound that pregnant women can safely lift 10 pounds or less, but studies haven’t evaluated the safety of heavier weight-lifting. 

  • Remember that your body is changing

During pregnancy, a woman’s joints become more relaxed, so it’s important not to overstretch, Dr. Davenport said. It’s also wise to avoid activities that require jumping or quick directional changes, which can stress the joints, too. Balance becomes less stable after the first trimester, which is why it’s also important to avoid activities that require careful balance, such as skiing. To stay safe, invest in supportive shoes — don’t go for your daily walk in flip-flops — because “you really need the right support for your feet,” Dr. Ramos said.

ACOG also suggests avoiding exercises that require you to lie on your back during pregnancy. Doing so can restrict blood flow to the heart, which might also restrict blood flow to the fetus. Usually, if this happens, you will feel light-headed and nauseous, Dr. Davenport said, which you can take as a sign to sit up.

WHEN TO WORRY

According to ACOG, women who experience any warning signs while exercising such as vaginal bleeding, regular painful contractions, amniotic fluid leakage, difficulty breathing, dizziness, headache, chest pain, muscle weakness, or calf pain or swelling should stop and contact their health provider immediately.

SOURCES

Dr. Margie Davenport, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology, sport and recreation and director of the Program for Pregnancy and Postpartum Health at the University of Alberta, Dec. 5, 2018

Dr. Diana Ramos, M.D., M.P.H., medical director for reproductive health for the Los Angeles Public Health Department, Dec. 5, 2018

Dr. Raul Artal, M.D., professor and chairman emeritus of the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and women’s health at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, Dec. 6, 2018

Dr. Gregory Davies, M.D., professor and chair of the division of maternal-fetal medicine at Queen’s University in Canada, Dec. 10, 2018

Prenatal exercise is not associated with fetal mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, October 2018

“Impact of prenatal exercise on maternal harms, labour and delivery outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, October 2018

“Effectiveness of exercise interventions in the prevention of excessive gestational weight gain and postpartum weight retention: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, November 2018

Prenatal exercise for the prevention of gestational diabetes mellitus and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, November 2018 “Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period,” UpToDate.com, November 2018

The Foods to Avoid When You’re Pregnant

THE FOODS TO AVOID WHEN YOU’RE PREGNANT

Rachel Meltzer Warren

THE GIST

  • Pregnant women are more susceptible to foodborne illness than most people because their immune systems are weakened. 
  • Microbes like salmonella, campylobacter and Toxoplasma gondii can be harmful to a pregnancy, but experts are particularly concerned about Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause infection that can have devastating consequences. 
  • To minimize listeria risk, avoid foods most likely to carry it, such as certain types of processed meats (unless they’ve been thoroughly heated), smoked fish, soft cheeses and unpasteurized milk and dairy products. 
  • Although research on moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy is mixed, experts have said that abstinence is the safest bet.
  • Unless your doctor suggests otherwise, you can keep your morning coffee, as long as you limit yourself to 200 milligrams of caffeine or less per day. 
  • Worried you ate the wrong thing? Don’t stress. Discuss it with your doctor, who can give you tips on what, if anything, to do next. 

WHAT TO DO

Take care with certain types of processed meats

  • There are dozens of bacteria, viruses and parasites that can linger in foods and cause illness. Experts are particularly concerned about listeriosis — a bacterial infection that can cause seemingly mild or even nonexistent symptoms in pregnant women, but which can be especially dangerous to an unborn baby — including causing miscarriage, preterm labor or stillbirth. 

Listeria infections during pregnancy are rare. Between 2009 and 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were just 227 cases in pregnant women in the United States. But research suggests that pregnant women may be up to 20 times more vulnerable to a listeria infection than the rest of the population. 

“Your immunity is altered when you’re pregnant, and that makes you more susceptible to serious consequences of foodborne illness,” said Dr. Zoe Kiefer, M.D., M.P.H., an ob-gyn at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Nearly one-quarter of all listeria cases in pregnant women in the United States result in fetal loss or death of the newborn, according to the C.D.C. 

Listeria outbreaks tend to occur in certain ready-to-eat meat products such as hot dogs, sausages, and store-bought, meat-based salads such as those made with chicken or ham. Cold cuts and deli meats are a common source, too. In fact, on April 17, 2019, the C.D.C. reported that at least eight hospitalizations and one death were linked to a listeria outbreak among sliced deli meats and cheeses at several deli counters across four states. Other outbreaks have been caused by refrigerated pâtés, meat spreads, smoked seafood, carpaccio, produce like cantaloupe and lettuce, and dairy products like ice cream and soft cheeses (more on cheese below). 

Instead of cutting these high-risk foods from your diet completely, Mary Saucier Choate, M.S., R.D.N., a food safety field specialist at the University of New Hampshire Extension, recommended cooking foods that can be eaten hot to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, or until steaming, since high temperatures kill the bacteria. A hot open-faced turkey sandwich or a fully cooked hot dog would do the trick. Or, consider making your own alternatives, such as freshly prepared salmon salad (made from canned salmon), egg salad or a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Experts have said to keep fruits and veggies (with the exception of sprouts; more on that below), in your diet unless there’s an outbreak. Cooking produce is another way to minimize potential risk, said Dr. Haley Oliver, Ph.D., an associate professor of food science at Purdue University.

In general, keeping kitchen surfaces clean, thoroughly washing fruits and veggies and properly storing them (like keeping cut melon refrigerated) can help keep you protected. 

  • Be flexible with fish choices

Fish is packed with nutrition and is an important addition to many people’s diets, especially if you’re expecting. It’s not only high in protein and essential vitamins and minerals, but supplies healthy omega-3 fatty acids that aid in your brain and heart health, and in your baby’s brain and retina development. 

That doesn’t make fish an all-you-can-eat food when you’re pregnant, though. Most fish contain some level of mercury, a metal that can cause brain damage as well as vision and hearing problems for babies exposed in the womb. But certain types tend to contain more mercury than others. Large, long-living fish like bigeye tuna, swordfish, shark, king mackerel and orange roughy have the highest mercury levels and are best avoided. 

Federal health agencies recommend that pregnant women eat two to three servings (8 to 12 ounces) of fish per week, including a variety of low-mercury fish including cod, flounder, salmon, sardines, shrimp or canned light tuna; or one serving per week of moderate-mercury fish like halibut, snapper or albacore tuna. 

There is debate, however, over whether some types of tuna are safe for pregnant women to eat at all. In 2014, Consumer Reports analyzed Food and Drug Administration data and found that while canned light tuna on average was low in mercury, the amount varied greatly from can to can, with some containing unsafe levels of the toxin. Since there’s no way to tell which can is which, or which type of tuna the can contains, the group recommends avoiding all types of tuna while you’re pregnant. Talk with your doctor about the best diet plan for you.

  • Take care with raw foods

Raw fish known to harbor parasites (such as the anisakiasis worm, which can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea) are typically frozen before they’re sold for consumption as sushi in the United States. Freezing can also halt the growth of bacteria like salmonella, which may be present. 

But freezing is not foolproof against foodborne illness, explained Dr. Christina A. Mireles DeWitt, Ph.D., an associate professor of food science and technology at Oregon State University. And it doesn’t prevent cross contamination. Most people’s immune systems can handle the temporary G.I. distress resulting from eating a contaminated food, said Dr. DeWitt, but pregnant women and their babies are at higher risk for complications (as are young children and the elderly or immune-compromised), so it’s best to avoid uncooked fish, such as sushi and raw oysters, when you’re pregnant.

It’s also best to avoid raw or undercooked meat. While most pregnant women are advised to avoid cleaning their cat’s litter boxes due to the increased risk of infection from Toxoplasma gondii — a parasite that thrives in cat feces — about half of the yearly toxoplasmosis infections in the United States result from eating food. Common sources include undercooked pork, lamb and wild game meat; as well as raw fruits and vegetables (which could contain infected soil).

Consult the F.D.A.’s “heat chart” for instructions on how to ensure your meat is fully cooked. And wash your hands with soap and warm water after touching soil, sand, raw meat, cat litter or unwashed vegetables. The F.D.A. also recommends thoroughly washing and, if possible, peeling, fruits and veggies before eating.

  • Abstain from alcohol

While some studies suggest that light-to-moderate drinking — defined as no more than one drink per day for women — is no big deal during pregnancy, there’s enough evidence to the contrary for many experts to agree that no amount of alcohol is safe. A 2013 review of 34 studies, for example, concluded that women who drank up to three drinks per week throughout their pregnancies were more likely to have children with behavioral issues like poor impulse control or difficulty interacting with other kids than women who didn’t drink at all.

Drinking during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, which can lead to facial abnormalities, improper growth and intellectual disabilities. A 2018 study published in the journal JAMA estimated that as many as 5 percent of children in the United States have an F.A.S.D. 

“We really don’t know what amount is safe,” said Dr. Kiefer. So for now, skip the booze.

  • Avoid unpasteurized drinks

Pasteurization, or the process of heating foods to kill harmful bacteria, has made many foods safe for pregnant women to consume. But be on the lookout for milks, juices, dairy and other products that haven’t gone through the process.

Raw, unpasteurized milk can harbor germs like listeria, salmonella, campylobacter or cryptosporidium. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that since no studies have found any benefits of drinking unpasteurized milk, pregnant women who drink milk and milk products should only consume those that have been pasteurized. (The same advice goes for infants and children.)

Most juices sold in the United States are pasteurized, including all that are shelf-stable. But some refrigerated juices sold at certain types of stores like high-end chains, local organic juice joints, corner bodegas or farm stands may not be. If you don’t see a label stating a drink has been pasteurized, ask whether it has been. If they’re not sure if it has, skip it.

  • Be choosy about cheeses

As with refrigerated meat and unpasteurized dairy products, cheese can harbor listeria and other pathogens. But unlike the “cook it or skip it” recommendation for meat products, the advice on cheese isn’t always straightforward. 

In general, the softer — and wetter — a cheese gets, the more you have to worry about pathogens surviving and growing. Bacteria like moisture, said Dr. Dennis D’Amico, Ph.D., a professor of food microbiology at the University of Connecticut, so pathogens tend to grow on soft cheeses more quickly than they grow on harder ones. 

“As you go from a mozzarella with high moisture to something like a cheddar or a Monterey Jack, the risk is starting to go down,” said Dr. D’Amico. Dry, hard cheeses such as a traditional Parmigiano or a Pecorino Romano have virtually zero risk of foodborne illness, said Dr. D’Amico. 

Soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk are by far the riskiest: C.D.C. estimates suggest they’re as much as 160 times more likely to cause foodborne listeria infection than soft cheeses made with pasteurized milk. But even pasteurized soft cheeses are not risk-free: A 2018 C.D.C. report revealed that there were 12 times more listeria outbreaks linked to pasteurized soft cheeses between 2007 and 2014 than there were between 1998 and 2006. One such outbreak in 2015 hospitalized 28 people — six of whom were pregnant. Latin-style cheeses, like Queso Fresco, have been implicated in more outbreaks than other types. 

While the F.D.A. says it’s O.K. for pregnant women to eat soft cheeses made with pasteurized milk, Dr. D’Amico and other experts have suggested that pregnant women consider avoiding them to be safe.

  • If you drink coffee, stick to one cup

Decades of research has linked consumption of coffee and other sources of caffeine to increased risks for miscarriage, preterm birth and low birth weight babies. But the research isn’t clear on how much is safe to consume. Most public health groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, agree that limiting caffeine to no more than 200 milligrams per day will not majorly increase such risks. 

“I tell my patients it’s O.K. to have one cup of coffee daily,” said Dr. Kiefer, no matter your stage of pregnancy. 

But caffeine content can vary depending on what you drink. At Starbucks, a shot of espresso has 75 milligrams of caffeine; whereas its Tall-sized brewed coffee drinks have closer to 190 to 280 milligrams. The English breakfast tea I ordered at the coffee shop that day probably had around 50 milligrams. 

Also keep in mind that caffeine can pop up in unassuming places, such as in decaf coffee, colas, iced teas, energy drinks, kombucha and chocolate. 

  • Avoid raw eggs

Eggs can carry salmonella, a bacteria that can cause infections resulting in fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. And if you’re infected during pregnancy, symptoms can be so severe that they may lead to serious complications for both you and baby.

Salmonella can’t withstand high heat, so eggs cooked to 160 degrees or more will be safe to eat. Cook eggs thoroughly until the whites and yolks are firm and no clear or runny sections remain. 

Most liquid eggs sold in refrigerated cartons are pasteurized and likely won’t have the potential to make you sick. Pasteurized shell eggs probably can’t make you sick either, though these are harder to find. Also remember that raw eggs can be found in seemingly innocuous foods and drinks, too, such as Hollandaise sauce, Caesar dressing, eggnog, raw cookie dough, aioli, meringue, mousse and tiramisu. 

After handling raw eggs, wash your hands and disinfect surfaces they’ve touched to prevent cross contamination. 

  • Go nuts

Past A.A.P. guidelines have advised pregnant women to avoid eating peanuts — and to delay introducing them to high-risk children (such as those whose parents have allergies) until age 3 — so as to prevent peanut allergies in their children. But as peanut allergies increased despite this advice, and more research emerged, the A.A.P. rescinded that recommendation in 2008 (and reaffirmed their stance in 2019). 

However some pregnant women still haven’t gotten that memo. 

If anything, newer research suggests that allergen exposure may reduce food allergy risk. A 2014 study of more than 8,000 women and their offspring published in JAMA Pediatrics, for example, found that moms who ate peanuts and tree nuts (like almonds or walnuts) five or more times per week during, shortly before or shortly after their pregnancies had kids who were 69 percent less likely to develop nut allergies than those whose moms ate them less than once per month. 

That’s good news, since nuts are good sources of the protein, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals that pregnant women need. 

  • Avoid sprouts

All raw sprouts — including alfalfa, mung bean, radish and clover—are risky for pregnant women. “Seeds may become contaminated by bacteria in animal manure in the field or during the postharvest stage,” said Choate, the food safety field specialist at the University of New Hampshire Extension. These bacteria can grow to high levels during sprouting, and are impossible to wash out. To play it safe, ask for your sandwich with no alfalfa sprouts, and for the bean sprouts to be left off your pad Thai.

  • Review the recalls

Every few days it seems there’s another healthy food we’re told to avoid due to an outbreak, from romaine lettuce to tahini to sliced melon. To stay on top of the latest news, sign up to get notified about alerts and recalls from both the F.D.A. and the Department of Agriculture by email here. You’ll also get an email when the recall is over, so you won’t unnecessarily need to limit your diet for longer than you have to. 

WHEN TO WORRY

Ate something on the “do not eat” list? Don’t freak out. The chances that one slip-up will damage your pregnancy are relatively slim, said Dr. Kiefer. “If a patient calls me and says, ‘I had a ham sandwich,’ I try to reassure them that they’re probably O.K.” 

You do need to worry, however, if you experience symptoms that could signal actual food poisoning, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills or dizziness; or any signs of preterm labor such as cramping or bleeding. If you have any of these symptoms or if you’re unable to keep fluids down for more than a few hours at a time, call your doctor or head to the E.R. so you can be monitored for hydration and treated as needed. 

As for that before-you-knew-you-were-pregnant party night, bring it up with your doctor. While experts have said that no amount of alcohol is safe, one isolated exposure to alcohol may not cause problems for you or your baby, said Dr. Kiefer. Talk with your doctor about concerns you have regarding drinking at any point in pregnancy, especially if you’ve had any significant alcohol intake since your last period. 

SOURCES

Dr. Zoe Kiefer, M.D., M.P.H., an ob-gyn at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, January 2019

Mary Saucier Choate, M.S., R.D.N., a food safety field specialist at the University of New Hampshire Extension, January 2019

Dr. Christina A. Mireles DeWitt, Ph.D., an associate professor in food science and technology and director of the Oregon State University Seafood Research and Education Center, January 2019

Dr. Dennis D’Amico, Ph.D., a professor of food microbiology at the University of Connecticut, January 2019

Dr. Haley Oliver, Ph.D., an associate professor of food science at Purdue University, March 2019

“A.C.O.G. Practice Advisory: Update on Seafood Consumption During Pregnancy,”The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, March 2019

“Talking About Juice Safety: What You Need to Know,” Food and Drug Administration, March 2019

“Consumption of Raw or Unpasteurized Milk Products by Pregnant Women and Children,” American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement, January 2014

Listeriosis Outbreaks Associated With Soft Cheeses, United States, 1998-2014,” Emerging Infectious Diseases journal and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 2018

“Cheese Microbial Risk Assessments — A Review,” Asian Australasian Journal of Animal Science, March 2016

“The Effects of Early Nutritional Interventions on the Development of Atopic Disease in Infants and Children: The Role of Maternal Dietary Restriction, Breastfeeding, Hydrolyzed Formulas and Timing of Introduction of Allergenic Foods,” Pediatrics, March 2019

“Listeria (Listeriosis),”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 2019

Life as A Parent: What Kind of Father Will You Be?

LIFE AS A PARENT: WHAT KIND OF FATHER WILL YOU BE?

Dedan K. Bruner

Growing up without a dad was my first lesson in parenting.

I was 35 years old when my mother gave me the box. It was during my first visit home to California from Washington, D.C., after sharing the news that my new girlfriend and I were expecting a child. The contents were sparse. Among them was a telegram that my mother sent to my father, who had been away in Botswana serving in the Peace Corps, announcing my birth. Also included was a letter my father wrote to my mother a few years later, stating that he was moving back to the United States and that my mother and I, along with my father, his new wife and their children, should all live together upon their return.

At the bottom of the box was a small stack of checks — these I remembered well. Right around New Year’s when I was 5 or 6, I received an envelope with almost a dozen $25 checks, each predated for a different month, plus a $50 birthday check for July.

Seeing the checks brought back a flood of memories. I’d hotly anticipated each one, and felt frustrated at how long it took for my mother, whom I called Bobby, to hand over my “birthday money.” I’d clung to those checks as evidence of my father’s ongoing support. So imagine my embarrassment as a teenager when Bobby confessed that the checks began bouncing a few months in, and she’d started paying me their value out of her own limited budget. Until that day, I’d naively believed my dad’s promise to fund my college education.

Bobby and I never talked about the box. We didn’t need to. My mother’s message was loud and clear: “What kind of father will you be?” The answer seemed simple. I had been thinking about the type of father I would be since I was a kid growing up without one.

Embraced by a circle of dads

When I found out I was going to be a father, I was working on Capitol Hill in a fast-paced congressional office. In the moments that weren’t consumed with congressional votes or meetings, one of our favorite pastimes was getting updates from the three office dads. There was Joe, our 30-something military liaison, who would tell stories about his twin daughters and his son who was born with cerebral palsy. Then Riley, our elder statesman, who along with his wife had decided in his 50s to adopt Ethiopian siblings. Finally, there was our boss, James, a father of three teenagers, the eldest of whom was diagnosed with autism.

These men loved being dads. While their journeys were different, their stories of breakthroughs, tiny victories and comic setbacks connected them and entertained us all. When I announced that I was going to be a father, they welcomed me to the club with the kind of love and support that I had never seen among men. They showered me with tips about car seats and college savings plans, and tons of little ideas to make each day special. Their energy was infectious and edifying. I knew I would be O.K.

Months later, when my daughter Ella was born, James showed up at the hospital with a copy of the local newspaper and the February 2011 issue of Essence magazine so my daughter would, as he put it, “always know exactly what was going on when she came into the world.”

Nine months after my daughter was born, her mother moved out. While difficult for both of us, it was for the best. At the time, she was a first-year law student with a rigorous schedule. There was no custody battle. We crafted a schedule that worked, splitting Ella’s time evenly between the two of us with built-in flexibility to absorb her mom’s studies and my busy seasons at work. Eight years later, while much has changed, the same plan is still in place.

Society does not expect a whole lot from dads, much less single dads. The bulk of the nurturing, and most of what we consider “raising” a child is said to be the work of mothers. Dads “provide,” give the occasional bit of “fatherly wisdom” and do all the “outside stuff,” like camping. As it turns out, toddlers need less fatherly advice and more clean diapers. Children do not require us to be “baby whisperers,” but they do require resilience. I discovered that running warm water through Ella’s hair was a sure-fire way to get her to fall asleep not because I’m good at being a father; on the contrary, I learned the hard way that changing a baby girl on an incline at 3 a.m. can cause pee to run down her back and into her hair — requiring an early morning bath.

Fatherhood means trial and error

Ask the average dad for advice on how to raise a son, and you’ll get tips on the proper age to start sports and how to deal with bullies. He might share his dreams for his son, strategies for discussing sex, and the proper way to grip a hand and lock eyes during an introduction. Ask the same guy for advice on raising a daughter and he’ll wince his silent condolences while recommending that you get a gun and forbid her from dating until she turns 30.

I adopted the philosophy that it didn’t matter if my kid was a boy or a girl — at least until puberty. There are no lessons that I would teach a son that I would not want my daughter privy to. Self-respect, consideration, compassion, kindness and good citizenship serve each gender well and can be modeled by either parent. While her mother is adamant that Ella not use “bad words,” I care more about making poor language choices — howshe uses her words. Every now and then, I offer my daughter amnesty — 10 seconds to get any curse words she really wants to say out of her system. The first time I offered, after I pinky swore that I wouldn’t tell Mommy, she said the “S-word.” Months later, when I offered again, she passed. While her mom and I may not always agree on strategies, our goals are the same.

No matter how hard I try, not everything I do will be right. My inability to style my daughter’s hair was frequently criticized by the women in our lives, and apparently nearly every kid on the playground. Several friends tried to teach me; I watched YouTube videos and bought expensive products, to no avail. One day after picking her up from school, my daughter hugged me and whispered in my ear, “I don’t think I want you to do my hair anymore.” The statement crushed me, not because of what she said but because I could imagine the ridicule she’d endured before reaching that conclusion.

A few days later, a neighbor called me over as we were returning home from school. Still sensitive from Ella’s rebuke, my guard was up. I was working through the best way to tell my neighbor to mind her own business when she said she appreciated seeing me as a father. She said she knew a lot of fathers but that she liked seeing me. Sometimes you don’t know how empty you have been until someone or something fills you up. Relieved, I thanked her. As we turned to walk away, she told me to bring Ella over Saturday morning so she could “figure out that head.” I laughed and dutifully agreed. To this day, she is still our go-to hair guru.

There is no secret (that I could find) to fatherhood. Being there and being engaged matter most. There are times when I cannot be there, but I remain engaged. When my daughter is with her mother, we chat before bed and again before school. While I enjoy my own pursuits, I also spend time planning activities and adventures to ensure that we get the most out of our limited time together.

On New Year’s Day this year, I launched On Fathering, an online destination that celebrates fatherhood the way the dads in my old office did. The goal is not to make money or hold myself out as an expert on being a dad, but rather to give fathers and fathers-to-be a safe space to explore the beauty of parenthood. With any luck, we’ll help banish the days when the best advice a new father of a daughter could receive is to “get a gun.”

30 Honest Life Truths You Must Know Before Hitting 30

30 HONEST LIFE TRUTHS YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE HITTING 30

Team Lovepanky

Hitting the big 3-0 is a monumental step for anyone. Are you equipped with the essential life lessons to make it in the next decade of your life?

Let that little factoid sink in for a moment…

The transition from your 20’s to your 30’s will not come in predictable increments. Instead, you’ll wake up one day, look in the mirror, and realize, “I’m in my 30’s.” It will feel as if time flew by in the blink of an eye, and you feel as if you’re in a different path. The lessons you learn won’t suddenly come rushing into your head like a tidal wave of wisdom. Instead, you’ll feel a few slight changes from how you perceived things when you were in your teens and 20’s.

30 life truths you need in your 30’s

If you feel as if your 30’s are drawing near and you haven’t learned enough, here’s a refresher course. Below are 30 life truths everyone should know by the age of 30:

#1 Your body won’t be as fit and strong as you once were. Your metabolism slows down as you age, so you can’t stay as fit as you used to be without a little elbow grease.

#2 Your 20’s will catch up with you, so be prepared. All the cheap booze, cigarettes, bad sleeping habits and even worse eating habits will catch up with you someday. Turn an unhealthy lifestyle around before it causes irreparable damage to your body.

#3 It’s the perfect time to invest in classic pieces in your wardrobe. Your 20’s are the time for fashion exploration or keeping up with the trends. In your 30’s, appropriate work clothes and a respectable wardrobe are more important.

#4 It’s now comfort over fashion when it comes to clothes and shoes. The shoes that pinch your feet or that too-tight shirt can make way for more practical pieces. Sure, some of them may look dowdy, but they’re way more comfortable!

#5 Kids can be your greatest joy and your greatest pain. No matter what your kids do, you will always find it in your heart to love and forgive them.

#6 Everyone needs passion in their lives. Whether it’s geeking out over a video game or harboring an intense love for an author, your passion gives you that added zest for life.

#7 Experiences will make you happier than possessions. The joy of getting new things fades over time. Experiences like an out of town trip or a long meaningful conversation, on the other hand, allow you to cherish those memories time and again.

#8 Staying at a job you hate isn’t worth it. If you’re getting no fulfillment in your job, get out and open yourself up to new employment options. Wasting your time in a job you despise will only wreak havoc on your mind and body.

#9 Your plans won’t always make it to fruition. The plans you had when you were in your 20’s will eventually change according to who you’re turning out to be. Let it happen.

#10 Some good things happen by luck, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t improve your chances. You’re lucky if you get your big break by chance. But remember, you also need to work on your craft in order to be celebrated in your field.

#11 Learning never stops. Every single day can be a learning experience. You may think you’re learning something irrelevant today, but you never know when you might be able to use this information.

#12 The journey matters as much as, if not more than, the destination. Let’s use an analogy: When you were back in high school, were you more concerned about the lessons you learned and the friends you made or the piece of paper they give you when it’s over?

#13 You’ll change and not everyone will like it. Our younger selves would have been devastated to know that someone doesn’t like us. As you move forward in life, you’ll realize that it’s not your job to please everyone.

#14 Some things are worth waiting for, and it’s up to you to find out what those things are. It can be anything from the man or woman of your dreams to that job vacancy you’ve been waiting for. The thing is, only YOU can determine how much time you’re willing to wait for them.

#15 The past should not dictate your future. You don’t wear your mistakes and your failures on your sleeves. Not everyone will know, and not everyone will care. Don’t let a dark past extend its stain into your future.

#16 It’s okay to switch role models. You may have idolized Lady Gaga, Beyonce or Barney Stinson in your 20’s because they’re who you wanted to be. But when you’re in your 30’s you may be surprised that your role model can be your parent, a historical figure or even a fictional character!

#17 Your debts can haunt your future. Unpaid credit card debts, bank loans and student loans will affect your credit score. This will greatly affect your credibility when you need to borrow money in the future.

#18 Everyone needs simple pleasures. It’s important to have that easy to do pick-me-up habit to get you through a particularly stressful day. Whether it’s cuddling with your pet or having a slice of pie, these little pleasures can give you the added boost you need to keep on going.

#19 You must learn to embrace change to move forward. Things will change around you, whether you notice it or not. Your key to embracing it is your ability to adapt and your willingness to trudge on.

#20 Kindness and compassion mean more than intelligence and riches. People will remember you more for the kindness than for your clever quips or for those times you picked up their tab at the bar.

#21 You will lose friends along the way, and that’s okay! New jobs, spouses, kids and hobbies often cause friends to drift apart. You don’t have to move heaven and earth to remain as close as you once was. Instead, learn to let it go and form new friendships.

#22 You must love your parents while they are still here. They won’t be there to guide you forever. Reconnect with them, get to know them a little deeper, and most of all, learn from the wisdom they can still give.

#23 A sincere apology can mend a huge rift. No matter how late your apology is, the impact can still be big enough to restore your relationship to how it once was.

#24 Nothing feels lighter on the soul than forgiveness. You don’t necessarily have to forget; but once you’ve forgiven someone, you can slowly let go of the weight their wrongdoing has borne upon you.

#25 Bad relationships are there to learn from. Don’t beat yourself up for being in a bad relationship. Learn from the experience and pinpoint the warning signs so they never happen again.

#26 You can’t always keep your promises, but work hard to keep them anyway. In order to avoid the awkward situation of breaking a promise, be careful whom you make promises to.

#27 Love isn’t always enough. In your relationships, you may realize that no matter how much you love a person, there may be other bigger things than can prevent you from having a future together.

#28 Intelligence is contagious. Surround yourself with those who are smarter than you. We learn more from the people surrounding us than we think. Mental stimulation in the form of intelligent conversations can be one of the most fulfilling life experiences.

#29 Kindness can be found in the most unlikely places. Boo Radley and the Good Samaritan are great examples of this. Don’t let someone’s culture or appearance make you think that they’re not capable of kindness.

#30 30 isn’t “old.” There’s that dread many 20-somethings feel when they’re nearing 30. It won’t come as a barrage of stray grey hairs and wrinkles. You can look and feel as fresh and as fit as you were in your 20’s but you’ll be armed with a lot more knowledge! Embrace your 30’s!

Life is all about learning in all its different forms. The things you knew in your teens, 20’s, 30’s and 40’s will change in time. And within these changes are the life truths you will learn at your own pace, in your own way. Embrace your 30’s as it approaches, and don’t forget to take these life lessons with you!

Insecurity Hurts Your Marriage. Here’s What To Do About It

INSECURITY HURTS YOUR MARRIAGE. HERE’S WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

Isabella Markert

Close to the end of my college career, I applied to an internship that I had been dreaming about, working toward, and planning on for four years. I knew it was competitive, but everything my professors, peers, and bosses said to me made it clear that I would be getting that internship. “You’re a shoo-in for this job!” they would say to me.

But the rejection email came, and it deflated me. I was depressed. It was clear that I had placed my self-worth on my abilities as a writer and editor. The rejection was a message from certified experts: You are not good enough.

My depression didn’t get to dangerous proportions, but I did struggle with motivation and energy. I would come home, sit on the couch, and do nothing until bed. My husband was a champ through it all, but that summer wasn’t great for our marriage. He did all the giving, and I did all the taking. All because my self-esteem took a major hit.

Insecurity isn’t good for marriage. Whether it’s personal insecurity or insecurity about the relationship, individuals need confidence for their marriages to thrive.

To keep your insecurities from hurting your marriage, recognize the ways insecurities can do damage, meet your spouse halfway, recognize when insecurity is more than just a feeling, and try a couple of practical exercises.

Recognize how your insecurities may be hurting your relationship

When you’re insecure, it can be tempting to think “This just affects me.” But the truth is that how you feel about yourself affects your spouse and your relationship. Here are some signs that your insecurities are hurting your marriage:

  • You struggle to fully trust your spouse. This keeps you from being totally open and honest in your relationship.
  • You believe and act on your negative thoughts about yourself. Let’s say you tell yourself you’re boring often enough that you start to believe it. Next thing you know, you prove yourself right. “It’s not that you are not allowed to judge yourself,” says Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics. “Do it, but remember as you do it to be a wise advisor, not a vicious tyrant.”
  • You compare yourself to your spouse’s exes. Never a good idea, especially since none of those relationships worked out.
  • Your spouse constantly has to reassure you. There’s nothing wrong with needing reassurance now and then, but if you constantly need validation, that’s a sign your insecurities are getting the best of you. There’s a feeling of distance in your relationship. If you’re not communicating about your insecurities, your spouse will pick up on that, whether consciously or not.
  • You read too much into what your spouse says. “You begin to read into the words of your partner in a way that reinforces the insecurities you are feeling,” says Dr. Kelsey M. Latimer, PhD, CEDS-S, assistant director of operations for Center for Discovery. “The focus of the relationship becomes about proving the feelings the person has rather than enjoying the time.”

Meet your spouse in the middle

Sometimes insecurities come because you’re afraid your spouse doesn’t appreciate the ways in which you differ. Maybe you’re fun-loving and adventure-seeking, and you worry that your spouse doesn’t think you’re serious enough. This discrepancy requires you to talk with your spouse and determine how you can meet each other halfway.

Maybe “meeting halfway” means the two of you meet weekly to discuss your finances, and then afterward you get to pick a zany restaurant to try out. But in the compromise, realize that being carefree doesn’t make you less desirable—it just makes you you!

Realize when insecurity is more than just a feeling

Let’s say you’ve noticed people aren’t laughing at your jokes as much as they used to. It would be natural to feel a little insecure about your sense of humor. You have the choice to use that feeling of insecurity to do a little self-reflection. “Sometimes, those feelings are guides,” says Gail Grace, LCSW.

Maybe you’re making it up, and your insecurity is telling you that you need to be a little kinder to yourself. Maybe people aren’t laughing at your jokes because your humor has crossed the line from witty to rude, which just isn’t like you. In this case, your insecurity is telling you that you might have some bitterness you need to work through.

The same goes for insecurity about your marriage. Maybe your insecurity is a reflection of something you need to work on personally. Or maybe you and your spouse have an obstacle that’s keeping you from trusting each other. In either case, it’s a good idea to communicate your feelings to your spouse and work through it together.

Try these exercises:

Exercise #1

“It requires more attentional effort to disengage from a negative thought process than a neutral one,” says cognitive therapist Jennice Vilhauer, PhD. So it might take a formal exercise to overcome your insecurities. Here’s the exercise Vilhauer suggests:

  1. Each night right before you go to sleep, write down three things you liked about yourself that day.
  • Read the list before you get out of bed the next morning.
  • Add three items to the list each night.
  • Repeat this sequence every day for 30 days.

“This simple-to-do but nonetheless effortful exercise essentially helps you build the strength to disengage from any negative thought stream,” she explains. “But remember: There is no benefit to your mental health in just understanding how the exercise works, just as there is no benefit to your physical health in knowing how to use a treadmill. The benefit comes from the doing.”

Exercise #2

How do you get to the point where you can feel happy for someone else without comparing their successes to yours (or to your failures)? Charlie Houpert, founder of the YouTube channel Charisma on Command, tells the story of how after he and his girlfriend broke up, he couldn’t help but compare himself to the guys he was sure she was hanging out with. He wasn’t happy she had moved on so fast, and he sure wasn’t happy for the (imagined) guys that got to spend time with her.

He went to see a therapist, and this is the three-step exercise the therapist recommended for when you are feeling jealous or insecure:

  1. Interrupt your thought pattern with an eye scramble. Hum a simple tune like “Happy Birthday to You” and move your eyes back and forth to the rhythm. This will get you to a neutral place.
  • Feed yourself whatever you need. Chances are that, whatever you’re feeling—less-than, abandoned, disrespected—you need to feel loved. Look at yourself in a mirror (or imagine looking at yourself in a mirror) and say, “I love you exactly as you are.” You might feel goofy because you’re talking to yourself, but it will get you in a better mood. And the more you say this to yourself, the more you’ll believe it.
  • Extend that unconditional love to the person you least want to extend it to. In Houpert’s story, he tried to imagine his girlfriend happy with someone else and feel happy for her. Then he imagined the guy she was with and was happy for him because the guy was with someone Houpert knew was so great. After extending that love, come back to the present. Rather than comparing, now you get to “look around you and see all the happiness in the world, and you get to partake in it,” Houpert says.

Becoming secure in yourself and your relationship will heal and strengthen your marriage. To overcome your insecurities, recognize the ways insecurities can do damage, meet your spouse halfway, recognize when insecurity is more than just a feeling, and try practical exercises for overcoming insecurity. Next time you face a difficulty, you and your marriage will be ready for it.

This Simple Communication Rule Can Rescue Your Marriage

THIS SIMPLE COMMUNICATION RULE CAN RESCUE YOUR MARRIAGE

Harriet Lerner

The columnist Ellen Goodman once quoted a friend who gave her daughters terrific advice:

“Speak up, Speak up, speak up!” this mother said. “The only person you’ll scare off is your future ex-husband!” What an improvement over the pre-feminist advice I was raised on:  “Listen wide-eyed to his ideas and gracefully add your footnotes from time to time.”

All ways of speaking up, however, are not equal. One of the challenges in marriage is to make authentic “I” statements that express our beliefs and feelings without judging or attacking your partner.  This may be easy enough if your partner is nodding vigorously in agreement (“I thought you were brilliant tonight”) or if the subject matter is a neutral one (“I know you like vanilla but I prefer chocolate”).  But when you’re dealing with a defensive partner or a high-twitch subject, nothing is simple or easy.

“I” statements, however, can keep a difficult conversation from exploding into an all-out fight. An “I” statement starts with “I think…” I feel…”  “I fear…”  “I want…”  Practice making these kind of statements.

Most importantly, remember that a true “I” statement:

* has a light touch

* is nonjudgmental and non-blaming

* does not imply that the other person is responsible for your feelings or reactions

* is only about you—not about your partner.

Every “you” statement (“You’re being controlling!”) can be turned into an “ I” statement. (“I need to make my own decision here”). Keep in mind, however, that changing the grammatical structure of your sentences is only part of the challenge.  You also need to get the edge out of your voice. An intense, reactive tone will “undo” even the most carefully constructed  “I”-statement” and may come across as blaming.  So hold off until you can state your “I” position without the edge.

A note of caution:   Beware of Pseudo “I” Language!

We may think we’re talking in “I” language when we stick “I think” or “I feel” in front of a sentence, but that doesn’t do the trick.   Sometimes it’s easy to detect a pseudo “I” statement  (“I think you have a narcissistic personality disorder”) that judges or diagnoses the other person.  

In many cases, however, the difference between a true “I” statement and a pseudo  “I” statement can be subtle.  My friend tells this story about his wife Jill.  It’s a good example of his wife making an “I” statement that was really a “you” statement dressed up in “I” statement clothing.

My friend writes:  My home office has been a mess lately and Jill, who shares the space, is a much more organized person than I am.  After glancing at the stacks of papers everywhere on my desk and floor, she said to me:

 “When I walk into this room, I feel like our household is totally falling apart.”

Totally falling apart! Our household?  I’m her hardworking faithful partner of 14 years and because my half of the office is a mess she feels like everything is crumbling around her? And yet when I said, “That’s a pretty extreme statement, she simply responded, “Well, it’s how I feel.”

How can I possibly respond to that?

A partner is unlikely to have the space to consider his behavior, much less apologize for it, if he feels he’s putting his head on the chopping block and taking responsibility not only for his behavior but for your unhappiness, as well. 

Remember this:  An “I” statement should serve to clarify our position, not act as a Trojan horse for smuggling in judgments and accusations.

It’s a new week, so let’s start it with 3 more powerful stories…

IT’S A NEW WEEK, SO LET’S START IT WITH 3 MORE POWERFUL STORIES…

Angel Chernoff

I received these thought-provoking stories in my inbox over the past few days from book readers who responded to a ‘thank you’ email I sent them for ordering the NEW edition of “1,000 Little Things” (I’m sharing these stories with permission):

Story #1: “This afternoon an older man and woman walked in and sat at the bar in the five star hotel where I work. They were under-dressed and reminded most of the staff of the kind of cheap tourists that are demanding and tip poorly. Since I’m the newest waitress at the bar, my coworkers insisted that it was my duty to wait on them. So I did. It turned out the man and woman were the owners of the hotel (their son now runs the company… who we’ve all met before). They tipped me $100 bill and said they were going to put in a good word for me with their son. Boy am I glad I didn’t do what my coworkers did, and let my thoughts about these people’s appearance get the best of me.”

Story #2: “My chemo therapy is making me lose chunks of my long, strawberry-blonde hair a physical attribute I’ve always been proud of. This afternoon I had a male nurse shave my head because my hair was so patchy. As I was tearing up because it was hard seeing the rest of my hair fall to the floor, the nurse bent down in front of me and sincerely said, ‘Gosh, you have the most beautiful eyes.'”

Story #3: “Lately, I’ve really been feeling like I’m failing with my rehab counseling and that I want to quit. It’s the primary reason I bought your book—to help me stay motivated. And I have some good news! Just a few moments ago my 8-year-old daughter told me, ‘I really like my new mommy that I have now so much better,’ and then proceeded to give me a huge hug. So, I guess I’m making more progress than I give myself credit for.”

Let these people’s stories be your wake-up call this week.

Let them remind you that, to a great extent, we make our own life stories by our thoughts. The reality we ultimately create is a process of our daily thinking. And when we think better about our lives and those around us, we live better in spite of the obvious challenges we face along the way. (Note: Marc and I guide our readers through powerful mindset shifts in the brand NEW edition of “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently”. If you haven’t done so already, watch the official trailer for “1,000 Little Things” below.)

And note that when you order the new book today you also get $25 in bonuses for free (offer ENDS TODAY). So, order now and then just reply to this email and paste your Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. order/receipt number and info. Marc or I will personally reply you within 24 hours with instructions for getting your free bonus. 🙂

The bottom line is that you are not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or a week ago. You are always growing. Experiences don’t stop. That’s life. And the very experiences that seem so tough when you are going through them are the ones you will look back on with gratitude for how far you have come. Of course, it takes practice to get there, emotionally and physically, and that’s why we wrote the NEW edition of “1,000 Little Things” for YOU.

Because, honestly, it’s your choice…
YOUR choice.
You are choosing right now.

And if you’re choosing…
to complain…
to blame…
to be stuck in the past…
to act like a victim…
to feel insecure…
to feel anger…
to feel hate…
to be naïve…
to ignore your intuition…
to ignore good advice…
to give up…

…then it’s time to choose differently.

But, let me also remind you that you are not alone. Generations of human beings in your family tree have chosen. Human beings around the world have chosen. We all have chosen at one time or another. And we stand behind you now whispering:

Choose to let go.
Choose to be present.
Choose to be positive.
Choose to forgive yourself.
Choose to forgive others.
Choose to see your value.
Choose to see the possibilities.
Choose to find meaning.
Choose to prove you’re not a victim.

Sincerely hoping you’re ready to practice thinking better.

How to Reduce Stress Fast

HOW TO REDUCE STRESS FAST

sheqoz

In today’s fast paced world, stress can easily take a toll on you. Situations like being held up in traffic easily raises stress levels. You cannot always avoid stress but there are simple effective exercises to calm you down and reduce stress in just 2 minutes.

Box Breathing:

There’s a well-known stress relief technique called box-breathing which is commonly used by Navy seals or people who work at very stressful environments like first responders. This technique has a direct effect on the functioning of the nervous system. It is a powerful yet simple relaxation technique aimed to return breathing to its normal rhythm.

This breathing is also known as resetting your breath. It helps clear your mind, relax your body and improve your focus. Most meditation classes use this technique to help their students re-centre themselves and improve concentration.

Follow the following simple steps to help you relax.

Breathing techniques to eliminate stress

Breathing Exercises:

  1. With your eyes shut, breathe in through your nose while slowly counting to four. Feel the air enter your lungs.
  2. Now hold your breath slowly and count to four. Avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 seconds. (Do not clamp your nose or mouth.)
  3. Exhale slowly for four seconds.

Repeat steps 1 to 3 until you feel calm. Normally 4 minutes would work.

You can practice as many times as you want. Breathing deeply for few minutes can tremendously benefit your body and brain at stressful situations. It causes the vagus nerve which runs from the neck down to the diaphragm to send a message to the brain to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and shut down the sympathetic nervous system.

Sympathetic Nervous System:

This is the part of the nervous system responsible for rest, peace, relaxation and digestion. When facing any perceived threat, the body will instinctively either run or fight. Also known as the body’s fight or flight response. Box breathing prevents the adrenal dump and the fight or flight response.

Alpha Wave:

In return, the body makes smart choices based on relaxed concentration, a brain wave state, referred to as Alpha.

Alpha waves brought about by deep breathing patterns Creates a positive feedback loop that brings back harmony between the mind and body.

This brain wave state is Also an indication of the eureka moments of compelling new idea. This enables you to create something out of nothing especially when in a challenging situation.


No matter what obstacles you have to overcome, take care of Yourself first

While the box breathing technique helps calm you down, it’s more important to avoid very stressful situations if you can. Too much stress over extended periods of time can create more complicated health issues. In fact most health related complications are due to stress.

Practice good Habits:

Balance your life with exercise and healthy foods and, when caught up in unavoidable stressful traffic, you can play some calming music while you work on the breathing exercise. This will distract you from the surrounding noise and, before you know it, you will be free from all the hustle and bustle. Stay healthy and stress-free.

Can’t Shed Pounds? Here Are 8 Reasons Why!

CAN’T SHED POUNDS? HERE ARE 8 REASONS WHY!

Charley Reid

Losing weight doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how badly we wish it would. If you keep trying and failing, here are some reasons why.

It doesn’t matter if you want to lose weight before a vacation, before your wedding, because you gained a few pounds over the holidays or if you simply just want to live a healthier lifestyle, losing weight is a challenge, and it’s one that you really have to be up for.

Sure, there are different things out there like diet pills, wraps, and whatever else you might see on a commercial that promise quick results, but the fact is that losing weight does not happen overnight.

There is no “magic pill” that automatically makes you drop down 2 pants sizes, and the reality is it’s about making healthy decisions and being active. A body in motion stays in motion.

Why you can’t seem to shed those pounds

If you have been trying to lose weight, but aren’t seeing any results, here’s some insight into why. Some of these reasons are probably things you don’t want to hear, but they are definitely things you need to hear.

#1 You’re not educated about weight loss. If you think going to the gym, and doing a light walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes or less, and then going home and eating chips, cookies, and other fatty foods is going to help you successfully lose weight, you’re very wrong. Just because you are going to the gym and working out, doesn’t mean you should then go home and eat every fatty food in sight.

The key to losing weight is being educated about what food you should be putting into your body, and also knowing how many calories you should be burning, in order to meet your desired goal. If you aren’t sure, do some research on the internet, go to the library and check out some books, or start with a simple plan like making sure to have more green items on your plate than white.

#2 You’re not determined. Although you might think you are motivated and really pumped up to lose weight, you’re probably not, at least not enough. The only way you will truly ever see results, is when you actually want something bad enough that you work harder than you’ve ever worked before.

If you go to the gym 2-3 days a week, but then eat pasta for dinner every night, or wake up and make waffles for breakfast, then you’re basically throwing away every hard workout session you’ve done. If you find yourself making up excuses like “I’m too tired” or “my leg hurts” as reasons you can’t work out, you don’t want it bad enough.

The next time you find yourself making up excuses, do a quick Google search of Bethany Hamilton and Jason Lester. These 2 athletes certainly didn’t use excuses and let having a hurt leg or injury get in the way of them reaching their dreams and goals. So honestly, what’s your excuse?

#3 You want instant results. No matter how badly you want to see instant results, you need to accept the harsh reality that it just isn’t going to happen. No matter how many times those infomercials make you a believer, and you continue to order whatever product, pill, or wrap they are selling, you will not see results, at least not the real results you want.

Working out and losing weight takes time, dedication, effort and motivation. You have to want it bad enough, but the good news is that you can do it, once you accept the fact that it takes time. So instead of falling for products making false promises, start by making small goals that are within your reach, and you will slowly but surely start to actually see the results you have been dreaming about.

#4 You might have a thyroid problem. One reason you might not be losing weight is because you might have thyroid problems and not even know it. Women are 10 times more likely to have a thyroid problem than men. Let me also mention that having a thyroid problem is by no means something you should blame yourself for.

In fact, at least 30 million Americans have a thyroid disorder and half—15 million—are silent sufferers who are undiagnosed, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. There are signs and symptoms you can be aware of to know if you should consult your doctor.

If you find yourself feeling anxious often, your appetite has changed, your brain feels foggy, your sex drive is down, your skin is dry and your bowel movements are all over the place, a thyroid problem might be to blame. In addition to this, you may also notice that your menstrual cycle has changed, you have high blood pressure, you feel cold all the time, your sleep is irregular, you’ve gained weight or you start to notice your hair is thinning or falling out, you should definitely get your thyroid tested.

Having a thyroid issue is not the end of the world, and it is something that can be fixed, but again, probably not overnight. Testing and treating thyroid disorders take time, but are worth it for your health and happiness. And, if you do have a thyroid disorder, then it will be nice to know why you haven’t been seeing the weight loss results you’ve been working so hard to achieve!

#5 You do the same thing over and over again. If you are doing the same workout routine over and over again, and not seeing results, the answer should be pretty obvious. It’s because you’re not progressing to the next level! Just like your skin can get used to a certain cream that no longer works on your face, your body can get used to the same workout and it no may no longer work.

The best way to lose weight is to change it up: run one day, do interval training the next, or take a workout class 2 days out of the week, instead of doing your everyday routine of walking and weightlifting.

You can even change it up simply by running on the treadmill a few days a week, and on other days, running outside around your neighborhood. Whatever you do, just make sure that you make this change to give your workout some variety. You’ll start seeing the results you’ve wanted to see for a while!

#6 You’ve fallen victim of relationship weight. When you first started dating your boyfriend or girlfriend, you were probably very active about working out, and you wanted to, because you wanted your partner to see the sexiest you possible—and they did! But now that you’ve been dating for a while, you find yourself cuddling on the couch and being much lazier when it comes to working out than you used to. It doesn’t help if your partner isn’t motivated either, never wanting to do active things with you.

So, if you can relate to being a victim of relationship weight, it’s time you stop being this victim. Stop being lazy! Start working out, and start taking care of yourself. You don’t want to look back a year from now and wonder what the heck happened. You’ll have no one to blame but yourself. Stop with your lazy ways right now, and start getting back to the most amazing version of yourself.

I have a funny feeling that once your lover starts seeing you getting in shape and living a healthy lifestyle, they’ll want to start coming with you on your gym dates.

#7 Can’t give up alcohol. If you are one of those people who always has to have a glass of wine after work, or loves going to happy hour and letting go of all the stress from your workday, that’s all good and everything. But it’s not good when you do these things all the time.

Having a glass of wine after work is relaxing, and it’s okay to go to happy hour from time to time. But you shouldn’t be doing these things every single day of your life, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. I know there are studies out there that show wine is good for you, but there are also studies out there that says having one glass of wine is equivalent to having a piece of cake.

The next time you want that glass of wine, ask yourself if you want wine or if you would rather have cake. Then, ask yourself if you would rather have cake, or if you would rather lose weight. I’m sure your answer will be the one about losing weight. And hopefully this will motivate you to get your butt in the gym!

#8 You obsess too much. It is very possible to get in the way of yourself, especially when it comes to weight loss. There is a reason that counting calories or obsessing over the number on the scale actually backfires on you when trying to lose weight. When you start becoming obsessed with every number and calorie, you mess yourself up from achieving your goals.

The saying “everything in moderation” is so very true, especially when it comes to losing weight, and it’s so important to remember this. A great way to keep track of your progress is to keep a journal. Write down your workouts, what food you eat, and whatever else you want to keep track of. Once you’ve logged your information for the day, let it go. Don’t sit there and obsess over the numbers and calories you burned or consumed. Remember, losing weight is a marathon, not a sprint.

It takes a lot of hard work and determination to lose weight. If you are trying to lose weight, about to start, or have been for a while, it’s exciting to know what the future will bring, and you should be excited! You are about to become the very best version of you possible.

It’s also important to be aware of these 8 reasons that seriously can keep you from achieving your goals. Remember that losing weight takes a lot of hard work. It wouldn’t be called a workout if it didn’t.

Remember above all else, you can do this! You are fully capable of achieving your weight loss goals. It starts from within. You have to want it for yourself, and be okay with doing it all by yourself.

Reaching a Compromise: Part two of the State of the Union Meeting

REACHING A COMPROMISE: PART TWO OF THE STATE OF THE UNION MEETING

Kyle Benson

Only after you and your partner both feel understood during your weekly State of the Union Meeting can you begin to problem solve in order to reach a compromise. Not before.

The first step in problem-solving is to identify your core needs. Problem-solving fails when partners are not open to being influenced or when one partner gives up too much.

Dr. Gottman recommends drawing two ovals on a piece of paper, a small one and a big one around the smaller one. He calls this a compromise bagel.

Compromise


Fill in the smaller oval with the needs you cannot live without. These are your inflexible areas. Try to keep this short by including only the needs that are essential to your happiness and, thus, your relationship’s success.

Next, in the bigger oval, list aspects of your position that are negotiable. These are your flexible areas. This doesn’t mean compromising on the need itself. It means being open to shifting some of the specifics about the need, such as timing, location, or methods to achieve your goal.

For example:

  • “I can live with only going out with my friends every other weekend.”
  • “I’ll switch to a closer yoga studio so I can be home earlier to help out with the kids.”

Your solutions probably won’t be as simple as this. In fact, you can expect a great deal of back-and-forth as you search for ways to weave each other’s needs into something both of you can accept.

Be open to each other’s creative suggestions. Finding a solution may not happen in one meeting. It may take a few meetings and that’s okay and totally normal. I’ve witnessed couples find a win-win even when they appear to be in opposition. For example, Kris and Kurt found a solution that allowed both of their dreams—owning a place in Hawaii while remaining financially secure—to become a reality.

It’s worth mentioning that sometimes compromise isn’t possible in a relationship. This happens when one partner’s dream is the other’s nightmare. For example, if one person’s inflexible need is to have children and their partner is inflexible about not having children, the couple is unlikely to reach a solution. In these cases, couples may need to end their relationship with a clear understanding of their differing values and why they need to move on.

In the majority of relationships, Dr. Gottman’s blueprint does lead to a compromise that works for both partners. After studying thousands of couples, Dr. Gottman discovered that nearly 2/3 of relationship conflict is about perpetual, unsolvable problems. This doesn’t prevent happy relationships—it’s how couples manage perpetual problems that makes the difference.

When dealing with an unsolvable problem in your State of the Union Meeting, it’s important to create a temporary compromise and then revisit it later to see how it is working. This willingness to play with ways of being with each other makes it easy to compromise and truly discover what works and what doesn’t for both partners.

compromise

Part 2: Problem-Solving & Compromise

Below is a continuation of the State of the Union meeting with Kris and Emily. Before talking about ways to problem solve, Kris and Emily drew their two circles and wrote out their flexible and inflexible areas.

Kris: Let’s move on to the finding a solution part. I have my two circles. I’m inflexible about having time together as a couple and as a family. I need at least a few hours once a week where it’s just you and me, and I need you to spend at least one evening at home during the week so we can have family time. I feel Jacob needs and wants to see more of you.

Emily: Okay, and what are you flexible about?

Kris: I am flexible about the days of the week this happens.

Emily: That makes sense. I am inflexible about going to yoga at least three times a week and attending my weekly women’s support group at the church. I really value being there for those women.

Kris: I know how much you enjoy those women and yoga. I get that. What are you flexible about?

Emily: I’m flexible about taking some of the other responsibilities off my plate such as being the PTO president for Jacob’s school and attending the weekly book club.

Kris: It sounds like we are in agreement about you doing less and spending more time with me and Jacob. Am I hearing that correctly?

Emily: Yes, you are.

Kris: That’s wonderful. I’d like to take you out on a date this week to celebrate breaking through this gridlocked conflict that has been pushing us apart.

Emily: We haven’t gone on a date in a while. That sounds nice. I’ll tell the book club I won’t be attending anymore which will free up my Thursday night and I’ll skip Yoga on Tuesday so I can spend time with you and Jacob. How does that sound?

Kris: Amazing!

Emily and Kris were able to reach a compromise fairly easily after they understood each other. Although they worked through a lot of hurt feelings in part one, they were able to hear each other’s core needs and agree to meet them.

You can expect to fall back into a nasty argument on occasion, especially during stressful times. But once you’ve mastered the vital attunement skills, you’ll be able to climb out of the hole before lasting damage is done to your relationship.

As with any new skill, improving attunement and working through conflict in a constructive way will feel uncomfortable and awkward at first. But just like learning to drive, meeting once a week for an hour will eventually cultivate the ability to be able to use your powerful attunement skills the moment there is a misunderstanding.

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