Laurie Gribschaw DPT, ATC, PRC, Level 1 PN Coach

These unprecedented times have sucker punched us pretty hard over the past year, catching us totally off-guard.  But with 9 months of practice under our belts, and by tapping into our superpowers to prepare and innovate, we can be healthy and thrive through the cold, dark season.  This blog is about being proactive and identifying planning tools to set the arc toward thriving despite these tough times.

Identifying mandatory minimums to keep healthy is one trick that has really helped me through the years. These are the bare necessities I need during my week to keep me focused and sleeping well. While every individual is different, common mandatories usually include some combination of movement, whole unprocessed foods, sunlight exposure and quiet/meditative time. Here’s a general breakdown of my weekly mandatory minimums:

  • Movement: While my preferred drug is weight lifting, my bare minimum to remain sane include my daily walks with my dog, Ziggy. These might be short, but I get 3 little ones in per day, and it gives me light exposure to help keep my circadian rhythm regular. I also try to park further away for some bonus steps during my errands when my schedule is packed.
  • Food: At minimum I prioritize protein and vegetables. If by chance meal prep gets away from me and I’m living on Chipotle salads, I have powdered greens and whey protein in my pantry to fill in some gaps.
  • Mindfulness/quiet time: At the lowest minimum I double down on Ziggy’s walk time and keep my smart phone in my pocket to practice walking meditation. During this time I’m sensing the ground under my feet, being aware of my breath, and expanding my peripheral awareness to notice my surroundings.
  • Sleep: My nervous system strongly benefits from prioritizing at least 7 hours of restful sleep. This helps me reduce the urge to reach for sugar/caffeine the next day, and keeps me more efficient at work.

What are your mandatory minimums? Once your needs are loosely identified, then you can start to put some systems in place to try and encourage your ability to follow through on what you’ll need to stay sane in the upcoming months.

The shorter days and classic Seattle rain makes it more difficult for us to safely exercise and socialize outdoors.  Essential gear will help you overcome that obstacle.  For my movement goals, adding gore tex pants (thanks REI!), durable rain boots and hat and a good headlamp allows me to stay outside for walks/hikes in the rainy conditions.  For socializing, beyond maintaining mask wearing and social distancing, creatively setting up a covered, lighted outdoor “room” can be both challenging and fun.  Prepare for that outdoor “room” by purchasing an easy up canopy or tent, or tarps to cover a pergola.  Add warmth from an outdoor heat source like a propane fire bowl or electric lamp and supply your guests with washable blankets.  Finish this outside space with holiday lights and you’ll be ready for safe festivities.

With the holidays approaching, and Covid reshaping how we are able to gather, there is greater potential for elevated levels of stress and anxiety. The whole goal through this pandemic is not to berate or shame ourselves based on our decisions, but rather to make our choices just a little bit better.  Here are some ideas to help you create a rough plan so that you can better adhere to those mandatory minimums:

  • We know we’re going to tap into that holiday alcohol (prosecco is my weakness!), so why not start to slowly try out some low calorie cocktail/mocktail recipes; plenty of resources free on the internet and the use of bitters/sugar free juices or sparkling flavored waters can leave you much less bloated than wine or beer.
  • Would you benefit from a sound machine/weighted blanket/sleep assist supplements (cortisol manager is my favorite gem) to help encourage better quality/quantity sleep? Order now to have it for when you need a little extra support.
  • Could you use a vegetable dense food subscription for the weeks or months pre/post holiday season to reduce some decision fatigue?
  • Can you play around with some stress reducing phone apps or practices? HeadSpace, binaural beats via youtube and using my blue light blocker glasses are some of my favorites.
  • Instead of an advent calendar can we switch it to a gratitude calendar, or utilize Thanksgiving break for a family daily gratitude check in? Gratitude reaps substantial benefits to encourage a growth mindset and helps relax our stressed nervous system.
  • Can you adjust your current reading/podcast material to promote a positive mindset (even if it feels forced> fake it ‘til you make it!). I’m loving some free audiobooks from the public library with things like: The Genius Life by Max Lugavere, Untamed by Glennon Doyle, Mindset by Carol Dweck PhD.
  • How about some deep breathing? As per usual, the cheapest ways to encourage calm in our systems is to primarily use nasal breathing and remember to exhale fully with a pause.

These small moments of mindfulness and intention gives our system a tiny moment of quiet and reminds us that everything is going to be alright. We can do this! The small things add up over time to make some substantial impacts on our mood regulation, stress tolerance and resiliency through the vast unknown ahead of us.

Summary of action items:

  1. Identify your mandatory minimums; your most basic needs to keep going through the 2020/21 fall/winter season.
  2. What can you order now to help maintain your self-care and minimums (weighted blanket/rain pants/food subscription)?
  3. What can you implement now as a stress reducing practice (Headspace/Binaural Beats)?
  4. Breathe through your nose and remember to exhale fully once in a while, then pause before you slowly and quietly inhale. It’s a beautiful reset for diaphragmatic and vagus nerve input to reduce anxiety over time!