Scan and fix, times twenty
June 5, 2021 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Think of this as a body scan with actionables - I am looking for tiny mindful, healthy habits that have personally worked for you - this could either be for mental or physical health. My specific context is that I'm a woman in early thirties, who is looking to lose weight, become stronger, better able to handle stress, and less anxious. Some examples of the kind of things I'm looking for, below the fold.

Examples of things that have worked well for me are
-A 19 minutes long, specific deep relaxation exercise on a meditation app prior to sleeping.
- Limiting caffeine intake to before 6pm
- Taking the stairs to my apartment on the sixth floor whenever possible
- Epsom salt soak for my feet (in the BeforeTimes when I had a shitty commute)
- Getting a minimum of six hours of sleep at night
- Pomodoro technique while working
- Trying to get a minimum number of steps in a day
- cuddle time with my cat when stuff gets overwhelming
I'm aware that not all of these are exactly health hacks, nor small changes in habit (some are just coping tricks, but those are welcome too!). I'm hoping to get a range of suggestions that I can look at and incorporate in my regular routine. Hit me up with whatever worked best for you in any of those areas. Please and thank you!
posted by Nieshka to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
A morning routine that includes brushing, flossing and using the waterpik thing on my teeth, finishing up with mouthwash and then an evening routine where I brush and use the waterpik again keeps my dentist visits short and sweet. Dental health is super important!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:57 AM on June 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

I saw mention 25 or so years ago that an easy way to add a few steps was to park on the far side of the parking lot from the store. That, combined with years of parenting small children, a dislike of backing out, and a low tolerance for people who drive in circles looking for the closest parking spot, meant that I've built a pretty solid habit of parking near the farthest-out basket corral and the edges of parking lots. (Unless it's night... then I'll choose the safest-looking place.) Additional benefit/detriment - It's generally easy to find my car, which is good, because I stopped remembering where I parked it long ago.

If I'm tired, my willingness to cook extends as far as the microwave, maybe. I also am not terribly willing to eat solid food before noon. I can also be weird about vegetable textures unless they're well-cooked. That leads to not-good-for-me-food choices. But I'll happily throw things in the blender and rinse it out when I'm done. So keeping a bag of peeled and frozen bananas on hand, along with whatever other frozen fruits and veggies, is doing an excellent job of getting me to lose weight while eating healthier. Bringing home veggies and turning them into frozen cubes has done wonders, and while some people might feel the need for specific recipes and flavors, I just toss whatever in it sounds good at the moment. (Grossed my daughter out yesterday... banana, spinach, kale, carrot, beets, blueberries, watermelon...) And I HATE kale... but 2-3 cubes is pretty invisible.
posted by stormyteal at 12:27 PM on June 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I eat the same damn thing for breakfast. I have slowly tweaked the line-up this year, and now it's healthier without me having to Make A Change that I probably would have backslid from. So maybe that is a thing you could do?

Now I have my bagel with a little cheese and ham and a hard boiled egg, plus a bowl of fruit and yogurt and granola; I drink water.

I used to drink black coffee and eat oatmeal (a near-guarantee of *ahem* "weight loss" an hour later -- and snacking until lunch!), or sometimes cereal with milk (which ended up too sugary).
posted by wenestvedt at 12:51 PM on June 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I keep salad stuff ready to go in the refrigerator and eat big hearty salads for dinner. My basics are prewashed mixed greens, kidney beans, edamame, mushrooms, and blueberries plus a homemade salad dressing. I also use roasted chickpeas that I make in the air fryer every few days. I make the chickpeas without oil, and I think that may be why they stay crunchy.
posted by FencingGal at 1:37 PM on June 5, 2021

I just turned 40 and am okay financially and give myself an allowance- I always spend this allowance to the full and a little more sometimes... usually on something expensive at the beginning of my budget... last month I didn’t do that and it felt great. Today I saw an amazing coat on half off and spent a large part of my day figuring put how to swing it. But then I was honest with myself that not being tight on spending money the rest of the month was going to feel better. So for me being more intuitive and honest in my feelings about those small decisions is something that will reduce my stress.
posted by pairofshades at 1:38 PM on June 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have a few things that have been good for me, relatively easy, and manageably maintainable. This is me, YMMV:
  • I spend too much time sitting at a desk and making sure to stretch my pecs everyday is an important part of my chronic back pain management plan. I have trouble making time to do so.... so now I do it in the shower and enjoy a couple extra minutes in there guilt free.
  • Grocery delivery has gotten much better and cheaper 'round here thanks to the pandemic. I don't want someone picking inferior tomatoes for me but getting heavy staples delivered (to amortize the delivery cost) saves me carrying them home. So I don't have to shop as often, I get to focus on things that I should be there in person for and I don't have to carry said heavy things the considerable distance home.
  • Meal plan; when I'm tired (or chronic health conditions eat all my spoons) having a meal plan means I don't have to choose cooking & prep plans every day. Much easier to "make $x because it's $x day!" then it is to choose to do so
  • Pill organizers. I have a couple prescriptions (for the afore mentioned chronic conditions) and take some OTC analgesics everyday. Using a pill organizer for the Rx means I never miss it, using a pill organizer for the Advil means I never over-use it.
  • "Out of office blocks". My current role has some "must be in a place in person doing specific things" time and a fair amount of flexible "just get things done at home" time. The former has hard limits, the latter can (and will if caught unawares) expand to overflow all available space. So most weeks I an explicitly unavailable:
    • all of Sunday save for a very specific window
    • working on uninterruptible things wed morning - pretend I'm sleeping because I'm not pickup the phone, answering email or returning an IM for any reason save someone's dining and I'm the most appropriate person to deal with that.
    • after set time in the evening I am simply unavailable. No matter what timezone my co-worker might be in. full stop. Even (especially) if attending to a request would be "easy, quick and satisfying".

posted by mce at 1:39 PM on June 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Friday/Saturday plan a week's menu. Saturday/Sunday review it and make changes, then buy the food.

And then enjoy the lack of planning stress allllll week loooong.
posted by wenestvedt at 2:53 PM on June 5, 2021

Also, this may sound crazy, but I have become a huge fan of giving myself stickers on a calendar for things I want to do everyday, but tend to put off or not get around to. I buy stickers in sheets (search "chart stickers" to find small ones) and assign a different type of sticker for each task. In my case, that means penguins for cleaning for 20 minutes, owls for writing for 15 minutes, and stars for practicing fencing for 15 minutes. I find it really motivating to be able to look at the calendar and see how much I've done.

A doctor I listen to on podcasts does this for running, and she says she'll run ten miles for a sticker, which seems somehow hilarious, but I totally get it.

The Forest app is a possibly more grownup version of this kind of reward system. If you go a certain number of minutes without using your phone (so working on a task), it gives you a little tree for your forest.
posted by FencingGal at 4:13 PM on June 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

Regarding weight loss, I found that keeping keto makes a world of difference for me. I also am finding that intermittent fasting (16:8, in my case only eating between 11am and 7 pm) is really helpful for weight loss. I tried IF out of recognition that (a) if I wanted to lose weight I was bound to be hungry sometimes and (b) I can feel stressed about decisionmaking about eating when I’m hungry. So, IF kind of feels like a hack in this way. The decision is made; if I am hungry I just have another cup of coffee and hold out until 11 am. The book The Obesity Code by Jason Fung lays out the biology behind all this.

This has worked for me really well. Last year was such a train wreck that I put on 30 lbs between stress eating and getting cavalier about carbs. I got my act back together in January and have lost 40 lbs and counting since then. Might be worth investigating.
posted by Sublimity at 6:07 PM on June 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

For getting stronger your best bet is to incorporate regular weight lifting. That doesn't mean trying to look like Arnie, but you can't get stronger if you don't practise lifting incrementally heavier things, up to a point where you are as strong as you want to be. Focus on things that improve your core and especially your back, glutes and legs - these are the body parts that carry the most load. You really don't need big guns to be strong, and weight lifting will only give you massive arms if you focus on building arm muscle.

Regular weight lifting 3 times a week will make you noticeably stronger quite quickly, and you can do it in your own home with a couple of dumbells and/or a barbell if you don't want to go to a gym. Spend the money on a session with a female trainer first though (because they will probably will understand the female body better than a male trainer) to make sure you're lifting safely.

As for coffee, it's worth noting that caffeine stays in your system for 9 hours, so if you're having any sleep issues don't drink coffee in the 9 hour period before you go to bed. (Tea also has caffeine, but in such small quantities that the effects are negligible so you could drink that instead.) I realised a while ago that if I didn't have coffee by about 10 am I was getting a headache, so I slowly cut it out entirely and I haven't missed it. It's been replaced with decaf, and I can't tell the difference from a taste point of view. It's nice knowing I'm not addicted to something.

But life hacks sometimes only fix a symptom, not a cause. I've previously fallen into the "curse of productivity" (feeling like I have to productive all day else I'm wasting time) and this made every decision fraught as I wanted to be "productive" and "efficient" and when I wasn't I beat myself up.

Changing my mental model to realise that a) I will die, and in the finite time I have left I cannot read every book, climb every mountain, try every life hack, etc, and b) that doing something for the sheer pleasure of it - reading a novel, playing video games, laughing with friends - is not a crime, in fact it's the things I'll look back on most fondly when my time comes, has made my whole life better and more relaxed.

You said you want to be "better able to handle stress, and less anxious", and changing your mental model to one where enjoyment of things you enjoy is not accompanied by guilt will probably help with that more than any number of "efficient" life hacks. I'm not knocking the benefits of cleaning your teeth and exercising every day (I do those things too, and it's perfectly good advice), just saying that it's easy to get into a thought pattern where you've "failed" if you didn't hit your step count, or if you order takeout instead of making a salad every now and then. You can't "optimize" that kind of stress or anxiety out of your life.

Give yourself permission to occasionally enjoy your life and not think about goals, targets, stats, or achievements, and you'll be less anxious. A life well-lived is a lot more than ticking things off a to-do list and worrying what other people will think if they knew you'd "failed". If you can incorporate a regular reminder into your routine that life is short, it will help you focus on what's important to you, and most things become a lot less stressful because you realise that in the big picture the thing you're stressing about really doesn't matter.
posted by underclocked at 1:55 AM on June 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

A longer term approach to handling stress better and being less anxious is to go back through your history to find things that are sources of ambient background stress. E.g., your relationship with your family of origin, something you feel guilty about, etc. Basically, think of your stress system like a computer's bandwidth and turn off or uninstall unneeded programs running in the background. Easier said than done!
posted by slidell at 5:38 AM on June 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I eat the same damn thing for breakfast.

This kind of thing works well for me too. Basically it's the "Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt?" approach to getting a toddler dressed, except for me it's about making breakfast manageable. "Do you want breakfast #1 or breakfast #2?"

Other things that have been helpful though the biggest thing has been therapy and meds which I acknowledge is not for everyone for various reasons.

- at least 45 min offline before "screens" (except book reading) in the morning a putting away my phone for 45 min before I try to sleep
- making time for sleep in whatever way I have to since it's one of the best things I could do for stress reduction
- same with exercise. I decided 150 min a week, usually just fast walking, was the sweet spot, so I aim for that and am frequently over but try t get that as a minimum.
- good smelling stuff in the bathroom. Not everyone is super smell-focused but for me a combination of nice incense, really nice soaps and shampoos, etc can make shower time (not my fave, sensory issues) into something I enjoy and will do more often which has a ripple effect.
- building things that are tasks I don't like into routines with stuff I do like where it's all or nothing can help. So I brush my teeth after a smol snack in the evening. I do arm exercises right before lying down and getting into bed. They just come bundled so I do them together and like at least half of them.
posted by jessamyn at 11:53 AM on June 6, 2021

I suffer from anxiety, and one thing that helps is to be EXTREMELY PROTECTIVE of my sleep. The less sleep I get, or the poorer quality sleep I get, the more anxious I feel. So, I make sure to give myself a BIG sleep window -- I turn out the lights around 10:15 or 10:30 pm, and get up around 7:15 am. According to my FitBit, I spend about 7 or 7.5 hours of that 9-hour window actually sleeping; it takes a while to fall asleep, and you can wake from time to time without even remembering it. If you're giving yourself a 6-hour sleep window, you might only be getting 5 hours of actual sleep. I would shoot for more if it at all possible.

I'm also really, really good about turning off the light when I need to. I cannot be the person who watches just one more episode, or reads another chapter, or gets sucked into Twitter at bedtime. Lights out by 10:30 pm, no exceptions.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 4:32 PM on June 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Some ideas. Splashing cold water on my face when I am feeling anxious to activate the "dive reflex." Doing a brief gratitude practice - writing down 5 things I am grateful for that day. Asking myself "what will I let go of today?" each morning. Doing a cat/cow and some twists on a yoga mat. Booking 3pm for a "boba break" and eating a boba ice cream pop then. Take a shower and listen to "Soak up the sun." Making myself a cup of hot tea. No multitasking at work - one tab open at a time. I've found the "Therapy in a Nutshell" YouTube videos to be really helpful, actionable and practical.

To be honest, I experienced the greatest improvements with therapy and getting on anti-depressants. I felt like I was piecing together attempts at well-ness through these little bandaid hacks, but therapy and medication have been very very helpful.
posted by ellerhodes at 5:37 PM on June 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Even though it made me feel like a grandma, I bought one of those pill keeper thingies and I am finally taking vitamin D every day.
posted by yawper at 11:06 AM on June 7, 2021

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