Give Yourself A Break

My last post, No Sleep is No Joke, I invited you to join me as I give myself permission to be still and rest well in the new year. While everyone hustles off to the gym, makes ambitious to-do lists, tries to fit in that new hobby, I challenge us to question our motives and rest as hard as we plan to play. This post builds on my invitation and unpacks replicable steps you might take to improve your quality of rest.

“Activity and rest are two vital aspects of life. To find a balance in them is a skill in itself. Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have. Finding them in each other – activity in rest and rest in activity – is the ultimate freedom.”-Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Science Says, Rest (Take a Break)

Lack of adequate rest can lead to high levels of stress and fatigue. In addition, inflammation rises, mental capacity decreases, immunity drops, and metabolism and mood suffer. The distracted, moody monster we become desperately reaches for sugar and caffeine rather than taking the break required. Sound like 10am or 3pm, anyone?

The Living Experiment, a must-listen podcast, features an episode called “Pause.” In this episode, hosts, Dallas and Pilar, explain how to recognize the body’s signals for when a break is needed. Our bodies respond to circadian rhythms– patterns related to 24-hour, night-and-day cycles and they also respond to ultradian rhythms– patterns that occur many times throughout the day.  The hosts reveal, “the science is clear: taking brief, periodic … breaks improves not just your health and happiness, but also your productivity, creativity, energy and mood.”

Put simply, our bodies and minds require quiet time to repair and re-energize. Stephen Covey, best known for his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, discusses “sharpening the saw” as the last habit, suggesting that a consistent, continuous dedication to self-renewal (i.e. rest, play, exercise, personal exploration) can empower us to maintain sharp mental and physical edge. Covey notes, “…you can renew and better yourself through appropriate rest and relaxation or you can totally burn yourself out by overdoing everything”. (

So how do we build more rest into our day? And what benefits can we expect if we do invest energy into powering down, chilling out, and most importantly having a little fun?

3 Forms of Rest: Total, Active and Passive

Total rest: Complete, utter, thorough, absolute, out-and-out rest! This form is exactly what it sounds like. It means eliminating everyday stressors (i.e. work, working out, errands) for an entire 24 hours. Periods of total rest are the very foundation of the recovery and repair cycles. There should be one day of total rest built into each week.

Active rest: is a reduction in workload. Active rest may include putting effort towards daily engagements, but at a less intense level. By decreasing our workload intensity, we give our mind and body the chance to re-energize itself so that we are re-focused and recovered when we return to full involvement.

Passive rest: is a short-term break from the work tasks or projects. There are all sorts of ways to get passive rest including: meditation (Headspace –a favorite app!), light reading, listening to music, a short walk (sans technology), restorative yoga, or have a healthy snack with a cup of tea or water.

Plan your rest, just as you would plan any other appointment. Your body and mind will thank you for it and you’ll work, perform and play more efficiently.

Now, Let’s Improve Your Sleep!

Light Exposure: Preparing for good sleep starts first thing in the morning. Bright, natural light exposure, direct to the eyes is needed. This exposure creates balanced rhythms between the hormones that put you to sleep and those which wake you. To follow this rhythm, dim the lights in your home after dark and maybe even get yourself a pair of blue blocking glasses.

Eat!: Start with a protein rich breakfast and continue to meet the nutritional demands of your body throughout each day. Research suggests sleep deprivation interferes with hunger and satiety hormones crucial to regulating appetite. Inadequate and inconsistent food intake can make or break quality of sleep. Getting ample sleep and nourishing thoroughly go hand in hand.

Unplug: Eliminate exposure to all technology for 30-60 minutes before bed. Create headspace to fall asleep more easily with meditation, deep breathing, or light reading (avoid heavy or intense content).

Wind Down Routine: Take a bath, get into pajamas, brush your teeth, read a book and lights out—sound familiar? For some, this was the consistent childhood bedtime routine. Our brain would recognize the habitual series of events and signal that it’s time to rest. We need to borrow this old habit and recreate it as adults, or invent it, if it was never instilled. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time consistently (even on weekends!) will get our brain and body in healthy rhythm.

Magnesium: Essential for more than 300 enzymatic processes in your body, magnesium calms the central nervous system helping to quiet a racing mind and relax muscles. My favorite kind is PurePharma M3.

Sleep Environment: Sleep in a dark, cool room. Being too hot or too cold can disrupt sleep. Conceal light that may beam from your digital devices (i.e. alarm clock, TV) and minimize extra noise with earplugs or a white noise machine. Leave electronics out and save your bedroom for two things. (Hint: one of them is sleep).

Ditch caffeine and alcohol: Research reveals that any significant amount of alcohol or caffeine within a couple hours of going to bed negatively impacts sleep. This results in abnormal sleeping patterns. Being asleep is not the same as being in a deep sleep. Caffeine is expert at interrupting, and alcohol is pro at destroying our quality of sleep. You might ditch caffeine after noon, and experiment with ditching alcohol completely.

Train smarter, not harder: High intensity training, especially in the evening, can interfere with sleep. If you prefer to get in some pre-bedtime movement, try yoga or simple stretching– both can help you unwind and relax into a restful night.  Continuing to think about our health as a bank account, we need to manage withdrawals so we don’t end up bankrupt– overtrained, under recovered and sleep deprived.

Clear the Commotion: Save the intense TV dramas, work emails, heavy reading material, or bone-to-pick for daytime. All of the above stimulate the stress response and make it harder to wind down.

Bottom Line: Adequate rest and sleep are essential to our health. Both improve the quality of our life and allow us to operate at our best. Rest is a skill and an artform. It’s vital to our wellbeing. Give yourself a break!


The Power of Rest, Matthew Edlund, MD

No Sleep Is No Joke! Why Adequate Sleep Matters for Health & Performance

In my last post, “An Invitation to Stillness,” I wrote about the power of stillness in a culture that champions activity and productivity above all. Stillness for many means mindlessly browsing the internet, incessantly checking the news and social media, watching TV, or engaging in other forms of distraction that offer no rest for the brain and body.

Sometimes we make rest negotiable and other times we forget how to do it. Many of us underestimate the body’s need for sleep, especially since we’re committed to staying “busy.” Turn the phrase “don’t just sit there, do something” on it’s head to embrace “don’t just do something, sit there.” With the perception that we need to accomplish so much work while also balancing career, family, and personal obligations, we feel pressure to “get it all done” in a day. Too often we compromise our sleep to fit more in, but what are we actually accomplishing? If we learn how to properly rest, we can do less while becoming healthier, more productive, and live more fulfilling lives. Without adequate rest and sleep, we cannot be healthy.

“Sleep, and enough of it, is the prime necessity. Enough exercise, and good food are other necessities. But sleep—good sleep, and enough of it—this is a necessity without which you cannot have the exercise of use, nor the food.” ~Edward Everett Hale, “How to Get the Best of It,” c.1892

Adequate rest and sleep are essential for basic function of the neurological, digestive, endocrine and immune systems. Ever wonder why you get sick after not sleeping well for a few nights? How about why you’re drinking bottomless cups of coffee throughout the day and reaching for sweet and savory snacks in the afternoon? Or perhaps you’ve questioned why you’re not able to fully recover from workouts?

Life is rhythmic; everything we do follows cycles of activity and rest, of which sleep is the most critical part. When we chronically short-change ourselves of sleep, it shows up in our health in many ways. Studies show that the average adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep per night, teens need nine hours and adolescents need ten hours. Consider, how much sleep are you getting? Is inconsistent and inadequate sleep hindering the quality of your life and exercise results?

Well Rested
– Improves memory, creativity and focus
– Curbs inflammation
– Maintains healthy immune system
– Healthy blood sugar regulation and weight control
– Improves recovery and performance
– Increases energy and overall mood
– Reduces stress
– Clearer, healthier skin

Sleep Deprived
– Cognitive decline, memory loss, inability to make decisions
– Systemic inflammation (the root of all modern disease)
– Weakens immune system
– Increases hunger and cravings, weight gain
– Decreases physical performance
– Negatively affects mood and mental health (including depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, and bipolar disorder)
– Inability to manage stress, impulsivity
– Acne, breakouts

I invite you to join me in bravely facing our struggle to gain thorough rest. Stay tuned for next steps that you can take along with me as we take back our health and raise our quality of life. After all, no vitamins or quick-fix can replace good sleep. No sleep is no joke!

Look for Part II coming soon…

Resources & reading recommendations:
Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival – T.S. Wiley
The Power of Rest-Matthew Edlund
The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time- Arianna Huffington

Balancing Your Health Bank Account

Do You Balance Your (Health) Bank Account?

I’ll venture to say that any adult who earns an income is familiar with balancing a bank account. For most of us the goals are simple: Stay within your budget, don’t spend too much in any one area and of course, don’t end up in the red.

When I speak with my clients about their health and wellness, I often liken their overall health to a bank account. Our health is comprised of many components: In addition to our nutrition and wellness, it also includes how we move, think and interact with others. How we live greatly impacts our health.

The positive balance in our ‘health account’ depends on the lifestyle we’ve created for ourselves. ‘Withdrawals’ from our account often look like high stress, inadequate sleep, and inconsistent food and alcohol intake. Deposits are things that make us healthier, such as eating whole foods, moving our bodies, spending time outdoors, and taking time to rest. This concept extends to our spiritual wellness as well. Do our regular behaviors and habits bring us closer to God or further apart? Think of what we can begin incorporating into our life that will help us become the best version of ourselves.

This short list of intentional practices and insights can help ensure your account flourishes. I invite you to consider what you can ‘afford’, where you can cut back on your spending and how you can begin depositing more into your life:

  • Lifters vs. Drainers: Make a list of who in your circle lifts you up and who drains you dry. Do you feel yourself tense up when making plans with a certain friend? Are you spending too much time with those who don’t align with your beliefs and values? Do you leave feeling drained rather than lifted? These things can rob you of energy and peace. Invest in meaningful relationships.

  • Life Enhancing vs. Life Detracting: Identify your daily habits and activities and consider how they are enhancing or detracting from your life. While not showing up to your job may not be the responsible choice, aim to add in a fulfilling activity or practice to your schedule to offset some of life’s stressors. The seemingly small practices can make a huge difference. Consider unplugging from screens an hour before bed, dedicating time to connect with loved ones, or giving thanks before a meal. These easy rituals will pay off in dividends.

  • Gain clarity on your weekly budget: Choose a day of the week--I suggest Sundays--to analyze your budget for the week, month and near future. Take note of the busy weekend next month or the jam-packed work deadlines in the week ahead and strategize your lifestyle--nutrition, rest, movement, prayer--so that you set yourself up for success instead of overwhelm. Go into you day, week, vacation knowing how much you can spend results in less stress, clarity and empowerment.

  • Save up!: If you have a vacation on the horizon, remember that just as you had to save and prepare for a getaway, you’ll need to do the same thing with your health. Sleep more, eat clean before your trip (consider doing a mini reset leading up to and coming back from), so you can enjoy your time away without overdrawing on your account. If your stress is through the roof, you haven’t slept for days, and you’ve indulged more than you wanted to, your spending money is gone before you even arrive! Begin your vacation with an excess to spend instead of falling deeper into the red.

  • Redefine as you go: Don’t be too dogmatic in identifying what qualifies as a withdrawal vs. deposit. This can change depending on the context: Regular wine consumption may be a withdrawal, but enjoying a drink during a date night with your significant other may be a deposit.

  • Decide from a place of empowerment: Whether you’re out to dinner, on vacation, entering a holiday weekend, or trying to decide between taking a rest day or doing an intense workout, take the pressure off of yourself and stop relying on willpower. There is no ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Instead, use the facts to make a confident decision--what is your balance? Do you have enough to stay out late?

  • Hold a higher perspective: While balancing our health account is extremely important, our intentions and actions count for eternity. Kindness, love, forgiveness, generosity, empathy--these are the deposits that resonate in deeper ways that we can’t begin to imagine. Take stock of your heart and choose the footsteps that lead you closer to God and true wellness.

There are so many options, temptations and opportunities to indulge/celebrate/wallow/zone out. Rather than get trapped in the cycle of these options—such as overeat, feel horrible, overeat because you feel horrible—take control of your choices by re-framing them with this concept. Manage withdrawals so we don’t end up bankrupt—overtrained, under recovered and sleep deprived, but rather well rested, energized and aligned with the best we have to offer.

Lessons From Abroad & Above

In July and August, I spent an extended amount of time in two of the most well-known pilgrimage sites in Europe: Lourdes in southwestern France and Medjugorje in Bosnia. Lourdes sits at the foot of the Pyrenees, and this tiny rural town has welcomed millions of pilgrims to its shrine and grotto for more than 150 years. Lourdes is a place of healing; thousands of pilgrims come here each year to bathe in the holy waters and pray for healing of body, mind, and soul. I felt a deep spiritual and emotional connection from the moment I set foot in the shrine, not just with God and the pilgrims in my tour group, but also with the thousands of complete strangers who were there at the same time, and with those who had walked the same hilly roads to the famous Lourdes grotto for almost two centuries.

When we turn our focus outwards, whether that is in service, exploring new cultures, or pursuing intentional relationships, we can find beauty, goodness and fulfillment, even amidst a suffering and chaotic world. I was blessed to experience all three this summer while halfway across the world, traveling across Europe to some of the most beautiful and holy sites I’ve ever seen.

My pilgrimage to Medjugorje included celebrating Mass, praying the rosary, and adoring Christ in the Eucharist with over 500 priests and 300,000 people from 72 countries throughout a week long Youth Festival. One would think that such a large crowd of people would mean chaos and distraction. However, instead, I truly experienced one of the core messages of Medjugorje: “Peace, peace, peace!” In the midst of a crowd of thousands of people, I was able to find the one person we all came to seek: God, the Father, whose peace surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Being able to serve others and receive love and peace in return was, to put it lightly, a life-changing experience. Opening my heart to the Lord and the opportunities and people He placed in my path this summer allowed me to experience a peace and joy I didn’t know was possible. 

Here are 10 lessons I learned that humbled, uplifted, challenged, and fulfilled me: 

GATHER Europeans love to gather and enjoy long conversations over leisurely meals. The most meaningful exchanges I had during my travels came from down time spent with new and old friends as we set up picnics, prepared meals, or simply prayed together. Our time together was intentional, unplugged and relaxed. It gave us the opportunity to not only be fully present and engaged, but also to focus on exploring the depth of our friendship. Getting to know another person in this way was (and is!) so very fulfilling. The friendships I made on this trip were so fruitful, I believe, because they were rooted in faith; while getting to know each other, we were also pursuing, together, a relationship with God. We all crave community and our lives are meant to be lived with others. Let’s give it to ourselves each day by focusing on intentionality in our relationships. #gathertogether

REST Making time to rest is a habit that takes discipline to implement. Though it may feel impossible to ignore the phone, power down your laptop, or put up the out-of-office message, it isessentialto our well-being. Only when we eliminate distractions and embrace silence are we able to recharge our hearts and souls to prepare for what God is calling us to do and who He is calling us to be. This trip was the first time I fully unplugged for an extended time in years. Without constant distractions and interruptions, I felt more connected to God in prayer than ever before. The theme for all pilgrims visiting Lourdes this year is, “Do whatever He tells you,”an already challenging command becomes impossible for those of us who don’t make time to listen or are distracted by the world.

To apply this message to my daily life, I’m committing to a weekly Sabbath: one total rest day a week that is centered around God. In addition, I make space for a “mini Sabbath” each day — an allotted time every day for rest and prayer. Our worth is not based on productivity, but on the simple fact that we are human beings with an invaluable dignity. You don't have to do anything to have value; you just have to be.

QUALITY In our culture, particularly in Americanized Western culture, more is more. Whether we realize it or not, we are always feeling pressure to do, have, and be MORE. During my time away, I was able to fully appreciate choosing quality over quantity at every touch point: food, possessions, friendships, and experiences. Because I was able to eat the highest quality food, I didn’t suffer from digestive discomfort, even though I was eating food that most trendy American diets would consider “unhealthy”, such as bread and cheese. Because the quality of my activities was so rich and rewarding, I didn’t need to fill my calendar with tons of to-dos and busy work. Because I was walking everywhere all day, every day, exploring new places, functional movement was natural and enjoyable as opposed to another block in my schedule.

SERVE In Lourdes, I served alongside several fellow pilgrims from all over the world helping other pilgrims get in and out of the healing baths as they savored the deeply spiritual, peaceful experience of the healing waters.  It was the most humbling experience of my life. My then seemingly trivial worries melted away almost instantly. My first shift I was with mothers and babies from places I’ve never seen -- Africa, Japan, India, and more -- speaking languages I didn’t know. The only thing we shared in common was our faith. I helped them enter the baths, hugged them, prayed with and for them, carried them (physically and emotionally) and cried with them. Seeing the outpouring of God’s mercy upon these souls, observing their deep faith and desire for healing, and being able to serve them, was a pure gift, and I was so incredibly humbled and grateful to be a witness to it.

FOCUS Fix your gaze on what is most important. In the pews of some of the most beautiful churches in Europe-- in Paris, Lourdes, Lisieux, and others--I was able to fix my gaze upon the Lord without the distractions of daily life and work. It refreshed my soul and gave me a renewed focus on God that I’ve brought back home with me. With God at the center of our lives, we strive for an unbreakable faith. We can admit our brokenness and recognize our need for Him. Keep trying. If you fall, He will help you dust yourself off and try again. Fix your eyes on Him and everything else in your life will come into focus. #holygaze

IMITATE We are created in the image of God and we are called to imitate Him, not try to BE Him. We can only discover who we are by loving as God loves. Thomas a Kempis writes, “Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.” When we look at others, we are called to love their souls, as Christ loves their souls. We are not asked to judge, even if we think they are worthy of our judgement. We are asked to love them in truth, sincerity, welcome, mercy and humility, as God loves each one of us.

FORGIVE One day in Medjugorje, I saw a t-shirt that stopped me in my tracks. It read: “Forgiveness of others is the secret of peace.” Christ forgives us so readily; let us try to forgive those who wrong us in this way. In Lourdes, the Lord filled my heart with so much peace and love; I was then able to share the love of Christ with others as we served in the healing baths. God pours His mercy out upon us so that we can then share it with others, whether in forgiveness or in service, or both -- let’s keep the cycle going.

SMILE In France, I had the opportunity to visit the small town of Lisieux, home of St. Therese. St. Therese de Lisieux reminds us to smile no matter what... to be joyful even in suffering. In her young life, St. Therese suffered a great deal but loved even more -- and she reminds us that we don’t have to do huge things to show love. We can do so in small, everyday things like smiling at those around us, or bearing little wrongs patiently. Everything that happens to us, God allows; and when we remember this, we realize that even our sufferings are a gift because He knows what is best for us. Our small acts of love, your smile, can be a gift to someone else. Showing love in the small things, even in suffering can be a gift to yourself, and to others.

GLORIFY Glorify God in everything that you do. Every thought, every word, every action — let it be done in an effort to glorify Him. “Go in peace, glorifying God with your life” is something I hear almost every Mass, but on one particular day on my pilgrimage, it really struck me. I heard it. Glorifying God sounds like a grand concept, but the truth is that the opportunity to point to Him lives in the details of our everyday lives. As St. Therese of Lisieux writes, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

BALANCE A theme that came up continually throughout my trip and that I continue to reflect on is “both, and.” The center of the cross is where the world and holiness collide — where the horizontal and vertical meet, the place where we live. It’s the place we are given freedom and free will--and an invitation to live in the gray. Yes, I am black and white with my faith — firm in what I believe in and stand for — but outside of this foundation, I like to have “both, and.” I enjoy my personal growth journey AND helping others grow. I eat a salad for lunch AND occasionally like a piece of chocolate or three. I work really hard AND take off as much as possible. I can give to myself AND take care of others. I can allow myself to be vulnerable before God -- to be truly known -- AND be authentically loved. And so can you. #bothand

This summer, I truly found beauty in letting go of myself and embracing others in service, while forming incredible friendships rooted in faith. I received and accepted this unique invitation to prayer and evangelization that God has asked of me, with confidence. The best, and perhaps most challenging, part of it all is now putting what I learned into practice every single day when I’m at home or work -- not in a stunning European city. God is everywhere and though going to these places filled me with abundant grace, it is at home where it counts the most. We are here to love, to serve, to be faithful to what the Lord is calling us to do--right here, right now.