Yoga for Mental Health and Stress Resilience

Yoga isn’t just a “fitness trend.” There is so much data to support yoga as treatment for mental illness, trauma, and stress management.

In this episode, yoga instructor Luci Davis shares her love of yoga in a practical, helpful way! Download here or listen wherever you get podcasts.

Luci is the founder of “Pajama Yoga with Luci.” She began practicing yoga in 2006 following surgery and treatment for thyroid cancer. She believes yoga was integral to her recovery physically, mentally, and emotionally. Her motto is “practice with the body you have today.”

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The Power of Breathwork for Mental Health

Learning to breathe has been one of the most impactful tools for my healing.

When you experience trauma, on any level, the last thing you want to do is intentionally unite your body and mind. Stillness is scary; being present is scary. It is easier to run away, literally and figuratively, which sometimes can only lead to further dysregulation and disconnection between body and mind.

The connection is in the breath. Bringing balance to your breath impacts just about every single function of your body. For some reason, though, this tool goes underutilized by most people. Maybe it’s not “hard enough.” Maybe we don’t want to slow down long enough to try it. The excuses vary, but the takeaway must be – learn to breathe!

Top benefits of breathwork:

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Caring for the Mental Health of Aging Family Members

While I frequently share information about supporting children’s mental health, adolescent mental health, and the mental health of everyone else, I have failed to address a very important group of our population – aging adults. Like children, older adults may have symptoms that appear to be physical in nature, but in actuality are a manifestation of depression or anxiety.

Amanda Lambert and Leslie Eckford are co-authors of “Choose Your Place: Rethinking Home as You Age,” “Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home” and “Beating the Senior Blues: How to Feel Better and Enjoy Life Again.”

Download this episode here or find wherever you get podcasts!

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It’s Time to Befriend Your Body

“Self-regulation depends on having a friendly relationship with your body.” 

– Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score.

You can work with your body or against it. You can force it into eating patterns that don’t work for you and your natural hunger cues, or you can ignore your body’s core needs completely and have a food free-for-all, contributing to poor sleep, mood issues, and blood sugar roller coasters.

Whether you are deep into restriction and diet culture or on the “screw-it-all, I don’t care” train, your body is still fighting for you, looking for balance.

Your body needs to feel safe in order to keep functioning in a healthy way. Chronic stress, intense exercise, yo-yo dieting, busy schedules, constant phone alerts, and an inability to deal with unpleasant emotions will take a toll on your physical well-being. The fear center in your brain, primed for your survival, doesn’t know if you’re running from an invading army in 1406, or if you’re just living the typical overstressed lifestyle of the 21st century.

When you befriend your body and learn healthy emotional regulation, and you will see your mental health improve as well. It’s allll connected.

Here are some of my favorite ways to befriend your body:

  1. Lay off the intense exercise. I know, I know. Cardio is addictive and also feels productive. Getting your heart rate up so high you can barely hear yourself think is comforting for many of us wanting to escape real life anxiety. BUT. It is still a stressor, on top of dozens of other stressors. Depending on what kinds of signals your body is sending you, it may be time to re-evaluate your chronic cardio habits.
  2. Do a body scan and check in with yourself. This is the opposite of cardio, and I promise, it’s way harder than running 6 miles. Lay in a quiet place and close your eyes. Breathe deeply, flooding your body with oxygen. Start scanning down your body, checking in with various body parts as you go. Where are you feeling tension? Where are you feeling pain or discomfort? Breathe into it, and lean into the stillness, connecting with your body. This isn’t easy, and it may be helpful to download a meditation app or try restorative yoga if you need assistance with this.
  3. Schedule intentional down time. Whether you’re taking yourself out to lunch or dinner (without being on your phone), or you’re planning a morning to be lazy and lay around the house, plan it ahead of time, proactively. I like to set aside one day on the weekend for reading time, and by reading time, I’m talking about fiction, not the usual health/educational books I devour during the week. Taking time to remove yourself from the constant GOING will help you find balance in your nervous system.
  4. Stay off social media. This really causes a flare-up of those “I’m not good enough” thoughts. It’s hard to be present and at home in your own body and life, when you’re constantly surrounded by what everyone else’s lives (and bodies) look like. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I feel so much more anxiety when I’m regularly scrolling on Facebook or Instagram. It inspires the opposite of gratitude in me, and causes me to feel unsettled and annoyed, which flows into every aspect of my relationship with myself and others I care about.
  5. Make a nourishing meal at home – and eat it slowly. Food tells your body you’re safe. Period. Rushing through the drive through or mealtime may be a survival necessity at times, but it’s sending powerful messaging to your body. Eating nutrient-poor and quickly consumed foods tells our body we are stressed and that our body isn’t safe. Depriving ourselves of calories (energy) via dieting also sends unsafe messages to the body. Planning for a meal rich with nutrients and colors, food that may take a bit of chopping and prepping, prepares your body for digestion from the moment you start. I’ve found that while I often dread getting those first veggies chopped, once I’m doing it, I find it can take on almost a meditative state for me. Signing up for a meal kit delivery is a great way to provide intentional nourishment. (Note: Green Chef is one of my favorites, and by going here and using the code spark100 you can get $100 off and enjoy free shipping.)
  6. Start re-training your brain to take the negative thoughts captive. Your negative thoughts are toxic, and they send powerful chemical messages through every cell of your body. When you talk negatively to yourself about your life situation, your body, your food choices, the state of the world, etc – you are sending a cascade of stressful messages to your body. Unfortunately, negative thoughts are addictive because they are so familiar to our brains. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome of the mind. It’s important to find tools to break away from those habitual thoughts. Having a regular practice of gratitude, journaling often, practicing mindfulness and meditation, developing mantras or reminding yourself of verses or Scriptural truths are all ways to start retraining your brain away from the the negative. My recent podcast episode with Dr. Caroline Leaf also provides some helpful tools.

Taking time to slow down and be present, in the body you’re in, with whatever state of mind you have, will make a huge impact on your body’s intuitive need to regain homeostasis. It’s okay if you have built up coping mechanisms of constant activity and commitment. Those behaviors were probably really helpful at one point. But over time, your body will likely get worn down and need some new tools for long-term support… tools that will make you more resilient to stressors in the long run.

Your body sends you signals every day. Are you listening?

I have multiple opportunities for one-on-one coaching, as well as group sessions. Message me if you’re struggling. I’m here to listen and support you on your journey to wholeness!

Nourishing Brain Bowls – the Non-Recipe You Need to Make Life Easier

It is hard to keep whole food nutrition in mind during stressful times. Often it seems easier to rely on takeout and pizza delivery than cooking, but I want to share my favorite method for stress-free cooking – Brain Bowls!

I could call it the “throw it in a bowl” method of cooking, but it doesn’t have quite the ring to it. I love a good acronym, so I’ve broken down the word BRAIN to help you build your own easy, nutrient-dense, brain-fueling bowl.

Easy Brain Bowls

B – base of greens or grains. I like quinoa, rice, or chickpea pasta. When I don’t want the heavier carb load, I use kale or arugula. Spinach is a great option for those who can tolerate it as well!

R – rainbow of veggies. Sauté, roast, air fry… throw on some avocado oil, your favorite seasonings, and cook them to your preferred texture. It can be a mix of raw or cooked veggies. I always aim for a minimum of three different colors or types. Frequent flyers are bell peppers, onion, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, white potatoes and sweet potatoes.

A – add your protein. Quality is important here to maximize nutrients. I love grass-fed ground beef, organic, pasture-raised chicken or eggs, or wild caught salmon or other fish.

I – include your favorite sauces, dressing, or spices. Stay away from any sauce/dressing that is made with vegetable, canola, or soybean oil. Those oxidize under high heat temps (like your digestive system), which sends free radical damage through your body – something your brain doesn’t need. I love Primal, Siete, Tessemae’s, and New Primal brands.

N – nuts or seeds for some crunch! I love throwing on pepitas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, slivered almonds, chia seeds, etc. Get creative!

The best part of this recipe is that you don’t need to be a chef or even follow a recipe. The more comfortable you are with throwing things together, the more you’ll sustain it – and the more you’ll get more creative as you go!

Want more food support? Registration is open for Feast 2 Fast Back-to-School Reboot, starting August 16. Feast 2 Fast is my four-week online coaching program that enables you to tune in to the needs of your body and learn to incorporate a wide variety of foods into your diet to optimize your metabolic health. No counting, tracking, or starving. Click here to learn more information and sign up.

How to Train Your Brain to Beat Depression, Anxiety, and Toxic Thoughts

The inner dialogue you engage matters for the health of your whole body. We have so much science to support that what you think affects the health of your entire body. Dr. Caroline Leaf is a pioneer in neuroscience research and she is changing the way we think about brain health.

In this episode, we explore her recent research and dig into neuroplasticity and why you aren’t stuck with the brain you have. Download here or download wherever you get podcasts.

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How Social Media Affects Our Mental Health

How can we manage our minds during the social media age? How can we best support our children and monitor their time on screens? How does “influencer culture” affect our kids’ mental health? Whether you’re using social media for entertainment, information, or to grow a business, excessive time on our devices can take a toll on our mental health.

Reena B. Patel is a renowned parenting expert, licensed educational psychologist, board-certified behavior analyst, and author of Winnie & Her Worries. For more than 20 years, Patel has had the privilege of working with families and children, supporting all aspects of education, mental health and positive wellness. She works extensively with typically developing children as well as children with exceptional needs, supporting their academic, behavioral and social/emotional development.

In this episode, we dig into all the hot topics in social media, and we discuss solutions and ways to use positive psychology work for your brain health. Download and listen here or find wherever you get podcasts!

Key Topics:

  • The way our brain has changed from social media
  • The negative impacts of social media on our mental health
  • The impact of influencer culture on adults and children
  • The use of positive psychology as a solution
  • The impact of gratitude
  • How help kids identify feelings and the physical symptoms of anxiety
  • The effect of screen time fatigue

To learn more about her books and services, visit her website here, and to get more parenting tips, follow her on Instagram @reenabpatel.

This episode is sponsored by Indeed. Get a free $75 credit on Indeed at indeed.com/spark.

More Stories from the Mental Illness Memory Vault – My Surprise Pregnancy

My baby graduated high school this weekend! It brought up so many emotions for me. I can’t help but feel weepy and nostalgic as I reflect on her life – and who I was when she entered my life.

In case you don’t know my story… I found out I was pregnant with her my senior year of college.

I was not stable mentally and taking a pretty heavy dose of Depakote at that time – something you definitely should not be on if you’re going to get pregnant, due to major risk of birth defects. I was encouraged to terminate the pregnancy.

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Top Brain Health Killers and How to Flip the Script

Five things will always sabotage your mental well-being:

  1. Lack of sleep.
  2. Lack of nutrients.
  3. Lack of sunshine.
  4. Lack of movement.
  5. Lack of community.

I could leave it at that. It’s a whole post in itself.

But I want to flip this, because most of us know these things on some level. However, during times of stress, we often forget to take care of ourselves. We forget that we humans are basically just plants, and plants left without care will wither and die.

We were not designed to stay inside all day, blinking back at a screen with artificial light, head and neck perpetually tilted downward while the rest of our body is unmoving, eating food that is filled with hard-to-digest chemicals and additives, with a schedule so packed we don’t make time for people who are important to us.

Yes, I know that was a massive run-on sentence. It was exhausting (and convicting) typing it out.

Times of brief stress and opposition can be helpful for the body, but when we are continuously stressed, doggy-paddling up to the surface of the water all day long, we will start to feel side effects. It will impact our physical body’s health, and it will most definitely affect our brain’s health. It will cause us to be unable to make clear decisions, show empathy, and connect well with others – because we are in survival mode.

Our bodies are amazing at survival – that’s why you’re here. You’re here because your ancestors survived during difficult times. You gain weight after you diet because your ancestors were able to store weight during famine and not die. Your digestive discomfort is physical evidence that your body knows how to respond to mental stress and anxiety. Your blood sugar fluctuates in order to adapt to emotional stressors and physical stressors on your body. Your hormones are wacky, because duh, it’s never optimal to reproduce when there is a famine or threat to your safety (remember – your body doesn’t know the difference between a stressful job or a T rex chasing you). Even your afternoon fatigue that hits you like a load is a sign that you are overflowing with stress chemicals, and your body’s response system is working properly.

Your body is doing all the right things it is supposed to do. Your body is on your side.

Continue reading “Top Brain Health Killers and How to Flip the Script”

Feast 2 Fast: Purpose of the Body

Summer is right around the corner and I’m here to remind you that the purpose of your body is NOT to get swimsuit ready.

The purpose of your body is to be “fit to serve” right where you are, with the body you have.

Here’s the thing, though – sometimes we get into a food rut, due to stress and factors outside of our control, and we find ourselves fueling on food sources that aren’t optimal for our unique bodies. It can lead to blood sugar instability, poor gut health, brain fog, fatigue, and overall blah.

Feast 2 Fast is a complete reset for nutrition, mindset and spiritual health! No calorie-counting, no macro-counting, no deprivation, no complications – just real food, the way God made it!

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