Focusing on What You Can Control

Hi there! Before I launch into my topic for today’s blog post I just want to say thank you to everyone who read and reacted to my last blog post. I got wonderful feedback and I’m glad my thoughts resonated with so many people. So, thanks y’all! I’m still feeling nervous about going back so I’m focusing a lot on what my curriculum will look like come September. I’ll only have my students in-person 2 days and then we’ll be remote for the other days, so I need to find a way to adapt my stuff to make that possible. I’ll be focusing a lot on that for the remainder of the summer (can you believe summer is almost over?!) and that brings us to something I’ve been thinking about lately: focusing on what we can control when the world is crazy.
I listened to a podcast the other day by Autumn Calabrese, a Beachbody trainer, where she talked about taking control of your life, especially during these COVID times. It makes a lot of sense: there are things beyond your control right now and that makes you feel uncomfortable, so as a coping strategy you can become laser-focused in other areas of your life that you can control. While this is a good coping skill for some, for others this can become a slippery slope towards disordered thinking and behaviors (I’m thinking specifically of a time when I was a teen and I couldn’t control what was happening in my life except for food so hellooooooo dabbling with an eating disorder…don’t do that).

So what does this look like? You’re an adult, you still have a lot of control in your life. You can control when you go to bed, what you eat, whether you move your body or not, how much Netflix you binge, etc. The thing about these choices and this control, however, is that while you have the choice and control, you also have to accept the consequences of your choices. Stayed up all night eating ice cream and scrolling on your phone? Hate to break it to you, but you’re gonna feel like shit the next day. I don’t want to sound preachy but you know this is true (at least for most people). I know what you’re probably thinking: Ok so then what do you want me to do, eat healthy food, exercise, and get enough sleep?!
YUP. That’s exactly what I’m getting at. See, you have the power to control the aspects of your life that will make you feel your worst, or your best. For me, I feel my best when I’ve moved my body in a way that makes me feel good, when I’ve eaten nourishing foods, and when I’ve gotten enough sleep. Lord above, when I get less than 7 hours of sleep I’m truly a nightmare.

Let’s talk about these three things independently:
Sleep. A lot of really important stuff happens when you sleep. When we were kids, this was literally the time we would grow. Now as adults, this is the prime time for our bodies to heal and recover, both physically and mentally, plus getting adequate sleep is critical for a healthy immune system which is key right now. You should be striving for 7-8 hours of sleep at the very least. This can be really hard, especially if you have kids. I know for me personally, the only time I get with Dan during the school year is after the kids go to bed, so I don’t want to be hustling off to sleep at 9pm.
If going to bed early isn’t your jam, at least consider being screen-free for the 30 minutes leading up to bed time. Study after study shows that blue light from phones, TVs, and computers disrupts our circadian rhythm and makes it more difficult to fall asleep and to get the deep, restorative sleep that we so desperately need. Try reading a book or magazine before bed instead, or write in a journal to reflect on your day and set intentions for the next day.

Exercise. Maybe part of the issue of going to bed early is that you’re not as tired as you used to be. Seems silly, but if you used to frequent the gym or get a lot of physical activity but have found yourself lacking in that department as of late, you might not feel as tired at bed time as you used to. Back when I was doing lots of heavy lifting and training for a half marathon I was infamous for zonking out on the couch before my kids were even in bed.
And while gyms (at least in NY) may still be closed, you can move your body to both promote better sleep and strive towards a healthier version of yourself. Exercising, or even doing something as simple as going for a walk, not only gets you active and moving, it helps improve your cardiovascular health and makes your body secrete all kinds of feel good hormones that will make you feel awesome when you’re done.
And if you’re looking for a more structured way to work out, there are all kinds of programs out there from companies like Beachbody and many others. Back during pre-QUAR times I found that I was most successful when I worked out in a class setting with other people suffering doing the workout with me; I thrived on having people there to hold me accountable and being able to cheer each other on. I missed that a lot once gyms closed, and while working out to a prerecorded class isn’t exactly the same thing, I have found that I enjoy seeing other humans, it helps keep me focused, and the person leading the class has a lot of great quotes to keep you motivated.
You have the choice to move your body or not, you have control over how you feel at the end of the day. I know a lot of people struggle with finding the time to get a workout in, and I get that. I have to schedule it as part of my day. But here’s how I want to frame this for you: would you rather carve out 30 minutes a day for yourself and your health now, or would you rather need to make appointments with cardiologists and other specialists down the road for health issues that could have been prevented by being more active and taking better care of yourself?
You will never own anything as long as you have your body; treat it well so it lasts you a long time!

Food. Ah food. I love food. I love healthy food, and I love food that I know really isn’t the best for me. The thing is, I get the opportunity to make a conscious choice, every single day, of how I want to fuel my body. And I’ll tell you, I do allow myself some of those less healthy options (I hate calling them “treats” because I’m not a hecking dog and I don’t like calling it “cheating” because that just makes it seem…bad in some way. Having an ice cream or fries from time to time does not make you a bad person! And terms like “good” food and “bad” food can go straight to hell. No food is bad). I try to listen to my body and hear what it needs from me, not what it wants. Yes, I want chocolate every day, but my body doesn’t need it. My body needs veggies and water and the occasional bit of chocolate is ok too.
I have a long history of disordered thinking and eating, so making conscious choices about food is kind of a paradox for me; while having the choice can sometimes be empowering and liberating, it can also be debilitating and I have to be careful not to let one special “sometimes” item become meals and meals of shitty food or super restrict myself as a form of punishment. It’s a balancing act that I’m still working on, but what I can tell you for sure it that I feel my best when I eat a balanced diet and hydrate. I could drink iced coffee all day every day but damn, my head would hurt after a while, so I have to balance my coffee with some water. I always have multiple drinks with me, it’s wild.
I find that meal prep has helped me a lot with making healthier choices when it comes to food. If I know I have something healthy already made up and all I need to do is heat and eat, the allure of that sodium laden flavor bomb just isn’t as strong…plus it gives me an opportunity to really think, to truly make the choice, and I’ll usually choose the healthier thing. And fun fact about a diet rich in healthy foods and fiber: it will improve your digestion, which will help you sleep better! Whaaaaaat?!
For me food and exercise are very closely linked, and the benefits of both really are two sides of the same coin. You can exercise all damn day but if you’re still eating like a raccoon in a dumpster, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Every single food you consume is within your control and it’s a choice that you make.

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I know, for a lot of people these three things can really be a struggle. My husband doesn’t love eating healthy foods or exercising the way that I do, but here’s the thing: he’s an adult and he knows what he needs to do. Does this mean he eats perfectly every day or gets a great workout in all the time? No. But he knows these things are within his realm of control and he can make the choice. He does his best to be consistent, and consistency will lead to more benefits than not trying at all. During this time of free-falling and not knowing what’s happening in the world at a given moment, these are the tenants we can cling to.

Now, with all this being said, please know that I am not perfect in adhering to my own advice. This past weekend we did a quick trip to Maine to drop my daughter off with her grandparents and you’d better believe I enjoyed ice cream, lobster, the most amazing chocolate raspberry croissant, and fancy chocolates. But I also drank a lot of water, packed a salad for the trip, ordered a breakfast bowl to go with the croissant, and had a burrito bowl instead of in a proper tortilla. Was everything perfect? No, not at all. But I did my best and made sure to really enjoy these foods that I’d never be able to get any other time. And that ice cream…I’ve been dreaming of that particular flavor of ice cream FOR A YEAR and I’ve only ever seen it at one place in Maine. It’s called chocolate cookie monster and omg it’s amaaaaazzzzinnnngggg.
I know that personally, once school things start back up again I’ll feel incredibly stressed and overwhelmed by everything that we’ll be dealing with, but I know that if I focus on what I can control rather than what I can’t, I’ll be in a much better place mentally.

Thanks for tuning in again! Talk soon 🙂

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