I feel like that is a really heavy title to start off with but it is intentional. So many of us understand that fears are part of life. We can have irrational fears like jumping into a pool and there's a great white shark waiting to gobble you up. We can have fears based on traumatic events. We can also have fears based on our perception of ourselves and the world around us. These are the fears I want to speak about today.
I am sure I am not the only one who has been taking this time to learn more. Whether it is on online learning platforms like Udemy or Skillshare, or through blogs, or learning from the Edu-TikToks that are making their way to many of our "For You" pages on the popular app.
My personal favourite way to learn is through consumption of multi-media. I typically start with podcasts. I take a lot of walks, and spend a lot of time driving kids around, so the podcasts are easy for me to consume even on the busiest of days.
From podcasts I will typically dive deeper into the subject matter by finding the expert authors, searching through relevant apps, and sometimes even finding courses on one of the online learning platforms available to me.
What I want to focus on for today's blog is the idea of psychological safety. I heard about this on a podcast last week, and it actually perfectly aligns with something that I have been practicing myself, and that is absolute honesty - with a few "rules", or guidelines, if you prefer.
The entire world is on lockdown except 2 countries - Belarus, and Sweden. As some of you may know, I moved to Sweden in August of 2019 to work as an au pair. Initially I had moved here as a way to break from the life I was living in Ottawa, and hit the reset button in a country I had always wanted to see more of.
Prior to coming to Sweden, I had always thought that Sweden was like a Canada 2.0. Beautiful scenery, nice people, and better social programs and environmental policies. Although a lot of this is still true, my view of Sweden has changed during the coronavirus pandemic.
It goes without saying (but I am going to say it anyway) that a lot has happened since I last updated this blog.
Coronavirus took off in a way that I am not sure any of us expected. Entire countries are shut down and the world is in some weird limbo between freaking out and finding greater global connection than we have ever experienced.
At the beginning of this week I was feeling like many of us do at the start of a new goal. I was full of excitement and dreaming of the possibilities.
The program seemed fool proof. I just have to walk more, follow an intermittent fasting protocol I have done in the past, and eat gut-friendly foods.
By the second day the reality settled in. The second day. Talk about feeling defeated.
As you can see from the image, Monday stadted strong but as the days went by my step count declined. I found myself laying in bed feeling like I really couldn't get up, and this was better for me. This wasn't the only thing going through my mind though.
In my last post I mentioned that I had 2 weeks until my next period. Well... that was false. I am in the final few days before my next period.
If you know me, you know that I do a lot of research. If I feel a new feeling, or find a new weakness, or experience a certain food sensitivity, I then obsess over it. Last year when I had some serious hormonal issues, I did a deep dive into all things menstrual cycle and female hormones. In this research I discovered that in those 5-10 days before a period, the body and mind will naturally want to nest. It is a time of organizing and preparing the body for the period.
So as soon as I realized that I was mistaken about what time of the month it was for me, I realized that what my body would crave most is nesting. So I gave myself permission to nest. When I found the energy I would go for walks and get fresh air. And something amazing happened.
Listening to the nesting instinct
Instead of forcing myself to work really hard and push through those nesting feelings, I took each day slowly. I got done only what I needed to get done, and the rest of my time was spent feeling cozy.
I think I mentioned this in my last post, but the Thursday before each period is typically a crazy day for me. It feels like someone else has control of my body and thoughts and there's no rescuing me.
Well this week was very different. Although I felt low energy and tired Monday - Wednesday, by Thursday I actually felt really energetic. I went to the gym and had a great workout. I made myself really great food. I got a lot of work done. I had the energy to be social and to be pleasant while I was being social (not to say I am ever unpleasant, but I felt like I could give more of myself to my friends).
As I write this (Friday) I am feeling very energetic and positive.
The simple act of listening to my body has rewarded me with a much more steady approach to my period. My cravings also aren't out of control. With that said I did have a few cravings on Tuesday night, which I gave into, but since then my appetite has been pretty steady.
Week 1 Progress
Okay so despite some of the setbacks, there has been progress this week. I have already mentioned the general progress in my mental and emotional stability, but there are other areas of progres I want to touch on.
I am going to get this one out of the way first. When I was in Dubai last week I was 69.5kgs. When I weighed myself on Thursday I was 69kgs. So I have seen a drop of 0.5kgs in a week. Not only is this healthy, but it also aligns with my theory that keeping stress levels low should help reduce inflammation in the body, thereby reducing some of the retained water in the body. If you look at my progress photos below you'll also see a slight de-puffing of the body.
This one is really important for me to manage. I have had hormonal acne once and I really do not want to go back to that. With what I have been eating - ie. reducing processed carbohydrate intake and increasing healthy fat intake and water - the little allergy-like bumps on my forehead and cheeks should have gone away. I also should have seen a mild pre-period breakout.
The little bumps on my forehead and cheeks have definitely gone down. Unfortunately I do not have a picture from earlier this week, but here is my skin this morning. Some breakouts on the chin, but other than that, my skin has really improved in just a week's time.
The final metric I mentioned in the last blog was my mood. Again, ahead of my period I typically get quite moody and even slip into a depressed-like state of mind.
As I mentioned before, I typically have a crazy day about 5 days out from my period. That has not happened this week. Although I felt slow and fatigued Monday-Wednesday, I handled that by listening to my body and not going overboard with my surrender to cravings.
So I'd say that so far this program is working well for my mood. I usually have this feeling of "What do I need to do next??? SHould I be DoIng MoRe?!?!? I nEed to GeT thIs DoNE Now!!".
Those tried to cross my mind a few times this week, but I just reminded myself that this month is about reducing and managing stress. So chill out - everything will get done that needs to get done.
With this week's data, I am adjusting my goals slightly. Before I started this program I was getting an average of 8,000 steps a day. So to essentially double that is a pretty far reach. I know that setting realistic goals is key to achieving them. So I am adjusting my goals. Instead of 15,000 everyday, my fitbit is set to a goal of 10,000 steps a day. Just 2,000 steps more than more average.
On Mondays and Fridays - the days I usually have the most motivation to do stuff - I will aim to go above 10,000, but if I only hit 10,000 steps, that's still great.
I am sticking with my intermittent fasting and 1 day/week of strength training.
Next week when I have my period I will likely feel a little run down and depleted, so I'll make sure I am including a lot of healthy fats and proteins into my diet, with room for carbs high in soluble fibers. That should keep my mood steady and energy high.
Looking forward to reporting back on this next week!
Do something good for your body today!
The beginning of every month is a great opportunity to set new goals and try new programs. Last month I incorporated more ab exercises and decided to make my workouts more playful.
That style of workouts was exciting and I was able to show myself that I am still capable of things like TRX rows, pull ups, and box jumps. These were all very rewarding aspects of the workouts and I really did enjoy the progress I felt.
For the month of March I am going to be doing something a little nerve-racking, but hopefully with good results.
I know that I can get very stressed. Despite my best efforts to minimize stress and take plenty of "me-time", I still notice signs of stress in my body. This includes breakouts, carrying weight around my middle, cravings, fatigue, and mental fog.
So for March I really want to work on reducing my stress levels. More specifically I want to take actions that have been shown to reduce cortisol levels.
After doing a ton of research over the last week there a number of ways that I can reduce cortisol in the body. I'll start with nutrition first.
One of the hormones that is linked to cortisol in women is estrogen. Having high levels of circulating estrogen means having high levels of cortisol. High levels of cortisol typically means high levels of insulin as well. To tackle all of these issues at once, I will be reintroducing intermittent fasting into my life.
Intermittent fasting allows the body to regulate insulin levels and use fat stores for energy. Instead of being in a constant state of high insulin from eating every 3 or 4 hours, I will be giving my body the chance to reset every night.
There are so many ways to do intermittent fasting, but the way that has worked the best for me in the past has been the 16:8 protocol. 16 hours of fasting, and 8 hours of "feasting".
During those feasting hours I will be focusing on a few main nutrients. I'll be consuming soluble fiber as often as possible as that has been linked to lower cortisol levels. This will likely show up in the form of apples or blueberries. I will also be keeping my sugar content as low as possible, meaning that I will do my best to avoid processed sugars for the next month.
When I am stressed I have a nasty habit of justifying eating sweets, despite knowing the effects of processed sugars on the body. This is one of the more difficult aspects of this month's plan as breaking the habit of eating refined sugars can resemble going through withdrawals. For this I am going to take pictures of everything I eat and post them to my ririsdiscoveries instagram page so that I am held accountable.
The next nutrient I will be focusing on is healthy fats. It is really easy for me to eat chicken and ground beef while I am here because it is the main protein sources that my host family eats. However, I would like to eat more fatty fish instead to see if I can balance out my hormones. I've recently noticed that my PMS irritability has been crazy these past few cycles. I can anticipate at least 1 day about 5 days out from my period where I don't feel like myself. It feels like someone else has taken over my thoughts and feelings and I can't escape it.
From my research on healthy menstrual cycles, eating fatty foods is a great way to help support progesterone production, and keep estrogen levels from getting too high. Remember - insulin and estrogen are tightly linked, so by eating foods that cause very small insulin responses, I am also helping to regulate my estrogen levels. Prior to our periods, if our estrogen is too high and we do not have enough progesterone, that is when we experience the classic PMS symptoms like cramping, irritability, breakouts, and eventually a heavy flow during our periods.
This is where the plan becomes a little scary for me, but I know it will benefit me in the long run.
Although my high intensity training is really fun, it also causes a spike in cortisol. Yes - this rise in cortisol is actually beneficial to the body as it helps facilitate the adaptations that the body must undergo in order to be ready for the next training session. However, if I am working to keep my cortisol levels low this month, I am going to try and train at an intensity level of about 40% of my maximum.
More specifically I am going to take on a walking program. That's right - walking.
It seems really simple, but walking is the perfect exercise. It is low impact and free to do. I have set the goal on my Fitbit to try and hit 15,000 steps a day. That will be my main exercise focus.
On top of that, I am going to step away from the ab exercises like leg lifts and knee drives, and go back to core basics. This will include deadbugs, planks, side planks, and shoulder taps. All movements that will help stabilize the core, but not necessarily build ab muscles.
In addition to the core exercises, I will be doing my breathing exercises to further engage my core muscles and retrain healthy breathing patterns. By taking 5-10 minutes every day to work on just my breath, I will also be encouraging a more relaxed state and reducing my cortisol levels.
I do plan on having 1 strength session a day where I will work squats, deadlifts, pull-ups and bench press, but this will also be designed to be lower intensity. No more supersets. Just straight sets of each exercise, with adequate rest periods in between.
Unfortunately I do not have a way to test my cortisol levels at home. So I will be working off of my general feelings. I have my next period in about 2 weeks, so I will be monitoring my mood closely during that time.
I will also be keeping an eye on my skin. Currently I am experiencing breakouts and itchy spots. They aren't big, painful breakouts, but more like hives. Small, little bumps, that I really can't do anything with on the surface. I also have small patches on my cheeks of itchy bumps. They are not proper breakouts, but again, they almost feel like an allergic reaction of some kind.
Lastly, I will be tracking my weight throughout this process. I typically do not track weight when it comes to my programming, but if my theory is correct about stress causing me to hold onto weight, if I am successful at reducing my stress, then my weight should go down as well. I will also take progress photos to visualize the "depuffing" that this program should promote. High cortisol levels typically means high levels of inflammation as well, which can lead to a rounding of the face, puffy eyes, and extra fluff around the body.
I have struggled in the past to hold myself accountable to new goals, so for this month my accountability system will be instagram, and this blog. Every week I will share my experience including my step totals, progress pictures, weight, and general mood throughout the week so that you have the most honest picture of how this program works for someone like me.
I am someone who has been consistently training for almost 5 years now. Ever since college I have been doing weight training and high intensity training, so for me to take a step back and only have 1 day of weight training, and the rest of the days are just walking is very different for me.
Again, I am hoping that the research I have done will serve to make this a successful month of less physiological stress, so that I can get back to weight training with a healthier and happier mindset next month.
Do something good for your body today
There is a lot of conflicting information about whether or not you should train your abs in order to get abs. In the past even I have been skeptical of ab exercises as many of them come with the risk of injuring your lower back, and I believed that abs were purely made in the kitchen.
For the month of February I have been giving abs workouts a try. I recently really got into Sarah's Day on YouTube and got some serious ab-envy from her. She's had a baby in the last 9 months and has managed to get her old body back in a healthy and gradual way and so I wanted to know how she did it.
In a recent video (linked below) she was preparing for a photoshoot to launch her new swimwear with White Fox Boutique, an Australian brand that she has worked with in the past. She eats very well, so making her abs in the kitchen is definitely something she supports by choosing to eat only foods that support healthy hormones and digestion.
The day before her shoot she also did a full on abs/core workout. Within the workout were 7 or 8 ab focused exercises. I really liked how she said that she didn't want to just bust out a bunch of reps, but instead she wanted to take her time, focus on breathing, and making sure she really feels the exercise as it was intended.
I just really loved the simplicity of it. So I decided that I would also try to incorporate more ab workouts into my program. Me being me I made it a 6 day program, with 3 ab days and ab exercises on my legs and upper body workouts. I am going to tailor this program down to a 3-day program that is more accessible to people and more realistic for normal people's schedules.
Do I think that training abs is necessary to get abs? Sort of.
I think like any other muscle in the body if you want it to get stronger you need to train that muscle. Will doing 100 sit ups a day melt away the fatty tissue on your belly? No, but it will give you something to reveal when diet, inflammation, hydration, and all of your other training comes together.
For many people, January starts off hot and heavy. There's excitement and motivation and a real drive to make the new year the best one ever.
I have had so many of these. With the climate in Ottawa, where I have been living for more of my life, January is cold. Cold, windy, icy, and many people spend the month complaining (I have been one of them).
Why this year is different
This year I didn't start the year with a glass of wine, or with friends, or celebrating in any way. I was wrapped up in bed, timing my antibiotics, and making it through many, many episodes of Netflix. I was really sick, and it was easily a sickness I could have avoided had I acted more responsibly.
This was a wake up call. I started the new year and the new decade alone and very aware of the consequences of my poor choices. But, in the spirit of being an eternal optimist and always seeking the positive in the situation, I looked at this as an opportunity. This was my chance to actually take control of my life.
No more self pity.
No more doubting myself.
Just real change.
So I started reading. I started listening to podcasts. I got really focused on what areas of my life need improvement and how exactly I was going to fix them.
This is why I decided to focus on habits. Habits are at the root of many of my faults and if I want to change something, my usual and more successful course of action is to research the heck out of it and "get to know my opponent."
What I have done to change my ways
I read about about habits, called The Power of Habits. I read about finding my "why", by Simon Sinek, called "Start with Why". I have recently finished a book call "The Secrets of the Millionaire Mind" by T. Harv Eker that taught me about ambition, and the importance of money management and pursuing your passion.
All of these books have brought up a lot of baggage that I was carrying around. I was allowing that baggage to weigh me down. Once I addressed it and realized that the baggage was a learning opportunity, and also a guiding light to what I actually believe in, I began to believe in myself.
When we grow up we are all born with a little personality. That personality is then influenced and developed by our environments and the experiences we have throughout life. What I have learned is that there are aspects of my personality that I have allowed other people to dim.
I have always had wild/big ideas. I have always wanted to pursue the most extreme goals. When I wanted to be a photographer, I didn't want to be just any photographer, I wanted to work for National Geographic taking pictures of animals in the wild. When I wanted to study climate change, I didn't just want to do research projects, I wanted to save the world from global warming.
I am not a small goals type of person. I have also never particularly enjoyed working for other people. I would always tell my managers at a new job, "I start off quiet but that's just because i'm trying to figure out how I can make my job as efficient as possible." Essentially I was just trying to make the job work my way, instead of how they had always done it.
When I was given my business registration number in the early days of my personal training career it sort of felt like the door was opened to me. I could actually start seeing myself as an entrepreneur.
So this year I am laser focused on improving myself. I know have areas of my life that I have been neglecting and if I let them go on any longer I could be in big trouble.
While I continue to grow and improve, I have a long list of items that I want to deliver to you! These are things that I have been wanting to do for ages but my self-doubt always held me back. I am working on getting rid of that self-doubt and so you will be seeing a lot more of me online, sharing what I love doing, and hopefully achieving my original goal: to motivate, educate, and inspire. This was my original bio when I first started my fitstagram and it reminds me of why I started this in the first place.
My hope for this year is that I engage a community of friends and family and help them feel better educated in the area of health and fitness. I want each of you to feel like you have a place to go where you can find great workouts, relevant and useful information, and a whole heck of a lot of support.
This is the dream and it has become very clear to me. I think that's why January has been so good to me. I feel focused. I feel purposeful. Every day I believe in myself and my vision more and more. There's no better feeling than that.
Here's to February being just as great!
Do something good for your today, friends!
My close friends and family will know that I am very sensitive to late nights and missed sleep. I can remember being at the world's longest church service, 9 lessons and carols, and after about 6 lessons, it was 10:30 PM and I decided I had had enough. In the front row of the church I started to cry... sad, sad, tired tears.
This was the first of many exhaustion-fueled cry fests, and was where (from my memory), my mother decided that I was like a pumpkin. Like the pumpkin in Cinderella, you know? I can be a beautiful chariot, but when the clock strikes midnight, or about 10:30 PM in my case, I turn into a pumpkin.
Secrets and the stress of this horrible thing on my leg caused me to experience proper insomnia for the first time in my life. I would go to bed tired, but wouldn't be able to fall asleep. When the sun came up I'd get a red bull, or buy candy from the school vending machines to try and wake me up, but every night I would continue to struggle to sleep, managing 30 minutes to an hour of sleep most nights.
It all came to a head the night I went to see my best friend perform in the high school play. I was really proud of her afterwards and gave her hug. Then it was like I had reached my breaking point of exhaustion and the flood gates opened. I could not stop crying.
All this drama because of sleep, or lack there of it.
Since then missing out on sleep has become an indicator of stress, it has been a guaranteed indicator of getting sick, and is therefore one of my main research obsessions. I love to read about sleep.
Here's Why We Need Sleep
Humans, on average, spend about 26 years sleeping. It has been cited to be the time when our body recovers by repairing and building new tissues and cells and memories so that we may enter into a new day better than we were the day before. Sleep is also cited as a crucial time for healing, specifically in our dreams. Our dreams are this crazy part of sleep that are thought to exist so that we have more time to process complex emotions and situations we may have been in, or are thinking about being in in the future.
Sleep is absolutely vital. There are terrifying studies out there that show what happens to a human when they get absolutely zero sleep, and if you somehow get no sleep for 11 consecutive days, you can actually die.
But the consequences on little sleep can actually begin from just a few nights of sleep lasting less than 7 hours a piece.
For some reason we praise the individuals who are able to "function" on very little sleep. They "get shit done", and are real "disciplined, go-getters". A new study has actually found that getting less than 7 hours of sleep over multiple days can lead to impairment that is worse than drunk driving.
This is because the brain is desperate to sleep. It is a vital function and it will stop at nothing to get those recovery processes done, regardless of what you think you're capable of.
When you don't get enough sleep your brain will shut down certain areas of the brain while you're awake in order to allow those areas to achieve micro-sleeps. Unfortunately this can mean that things like fine motor skills, decision making skills, and good judgement can all be impaired throughout the day. You may think you're doing fine on very little sleep, but the chances of you snacking without realizing, or engaging in risky behaviour go up because the areas of the brain that would otherwise control cravings and risk assessment are turned off.
How Can We Get More Sleep?
I like to think of myself as an expert sleeper. I can reflect on my day and know exactly how well I will sleep that night, if it will be easy, or difficult to fall asleep, and how refreshed I'll feel the next day.
There are a lot of factors that go into the perfect night sleep. I'll go through what contributes to my perfect sleep conditions, and then you can pick and choose what you can adapt and control in your life. Everyone is different in some aspects, like the firmness of pillows and the bed, but there are some biological aspects of sleep that are fairly universal. I'll try to keep to those, but throw in a few personal items as well.
1. Get a blue light filter for all devices.
There is some speculation about the efficacy of blue-light blocking glasses, but I still encourage people to get a blue light filter on their phone and their laptop and to set it to sunrise (filter off) and sunset (filter on). Yes, it creates a weird orange hue, but it also means that your brain won't be confused about whether the sun is up or not.
Blue light is the light that is emitted by the sun and lets our brains know that the sun is up and it is daytime and we should be alert. When our phones, laptops, and tablets emit that light, it basically tells the brain that the sun is never going down.
2. Try not to eat too close to your desired bed time
This is one that I firmly believe in, as the hormones in your body that control sleep work with the hormones in your body that control hunger and satiety. So if you eat late at night, you interrupt the production of melatonin with a new leptin cycle (the satiety hormone).
I have always found, with the exception of drunk snacks in bed (although these have their own consequences), that I have a really hard time falling asleep when I eat right before bed. Some people may not experience this, especially if they have worked late night snacks into the routine of sleep, but for me, eating right before bed is a guaranteed bad sleep.
3. Avoid processed sugars before bed
Everyone knows that sugar can cause a "sugar-high", so not eating it before bed makes perfect sense.
What isn't talked about as much is the fact that eating processed sugars before bed can actually throw off the metabolic and recovery processes that go on in the brain during sleep, and has been shown to lead to irritability and anxiety the following day. This is something that I always notice. Especially after an evening out with friends, sometimes I come home and get sweets to snack on before bed, and the next day I usually have to deal with a few existential crises.
4. Make sure your room is cool and dark
This is a big one for me. I find that I am very easily disrupted by light and a room that is too hot or too cold. This is why I cover all lights on power bars, and chargers, ensure that I have very good blinds on the window, and if I can control it, I make sure there's no light sneaking in under the door from outside.
As for the temperature, this is something that is different for everyone. The home I live in here in Sweden is kept quite warm through the winter months, so I typically sleep with my window open, or light PJ's while I sleep.
They have done studies on this and apparently the ideal sleeping temperature is between 15.5 degrees Celsius and 19.4 degrees Celsius. I'm not keeping a thermometer in my room to know what exactly the temperature is, so I just make sure it's cool and then I can usually fall asleep much faster than when I'm in a warm room.
5. Make sure I have my stress in check
We have all had those nights where we have 1,000,000 things running through out minds and we just can't fall asleep. This is normal and bound to happen, but you can take steps to limit the number of nights this happens to you.
I try to make my pre-bedtime routine as stress free as possible.
My Fitbit has a relax setting on it that takes me through either 5 or 10 minutes of breathing, and I have found that setting to be helpful when journaling and meditation podcasts are not getting the job done (sometimes the person leading the meditation can have an irritating voice on the wrong day).
There's a reason why my PT clients would always be asked about their sleep (and their water intake) when they trained with me.
Sleep is so important. I hope that this article has done its job conveying that message and I hope you all may have sweet dreams tonight!
Riri's Discoveries blog documents Riri's discoveries as she develops her skills as a marketer, and finds new and sustainable ways to stay healthy.