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Mind

A Gift To Yourself

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A Gift To Yourself

So here we are once again at the beginning of a new year with all the promise it holds for the upcoming year. Whether you write down goals with specific intentions, unconsciously think them through, or ignore them all together the truth is statistically 92% of us won’t win our battle.

When most of us set goals or intentions for the year they are often unrealistic and lack self-compassion. This lends itself to a fairly high probability of limited success. I am sure it comes as no surprise when you hear some one say “It’s the same every year. I want to loose weight, exercise more and sleep better. I just never seem to quite get there”. There is a reason it’s the same thing every year.

We have all made mistakes, tried and failed, done and said things that we weren’t proud of and at the end of the day usually don’t let ourselves off the hook easily. When we make a mistake or things don’t go the way we planned or in the time we allotted we often give ourselves negative messages such as I’ll never be able to do it, I don’t know why I bother, I have no will power, I’m such a looser and soon you just stop trying.

When we continually come up short in our endeavors we are usually left feeling defeated. Creating unrealistic goals such as working out 5 days a week, changing your diet and committing to sleeping at least 8 hours a night is an overwhelming amount of change. While the enthusiasm is to be admired, a total revamp of your life all at once is the perfect recipe for failure. Consider take incremental steps at whatever level of comfort seems right for you. Stretch yourself but with considerate mindfulness. It is equally important to acknowledge yourself for whatever steps you do take no matter how large or small.

Make friends with self-compassion as a companion in your desire to create something new in this year. Whether you want to loose weight, start a relationship, getting a new job, being a better parent or partner or whatever else you may want to change recognize that inherent in that will be opportunity for growth and inevitably some amount of discomfort and struggle. However, it doesn’t need to be a battle.

Supporting ourselves by reminding and equally acknowledging what we did well instead of tearing ourselves down with what we didn’t do is what self -compassion looks like. In all likelihood most of us will not make changes perfectly but that doesn’t mean we stop doing it. Assess what is working and give yourself a hand and carry on. For the things that aren’t going quite as planned have some patience and compassion for yourself and start again. You are much more likely to have success in whatever changes you are trying to make.

As you journey on the path to the newer year I ask you to consciously consider acknowledging as many things as you can that you are doing well. Consider grace and self-compassion as a gift to yourself.

With Gratitude,
Pat

Exercise and Your Brain

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Exercise and Your Brain

It turns out that exercise is good for more than just looking good in a bathing suit and fighting off heart disease. Research shows it is significantly important for our brain health. In an era where Alzheimer’s is growing at an alarming rate any thing that we can do to help our brain health is not only advisable but also essential.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association findings for 2017 more than 5.5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s and that number is growing rapidly. It is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and 1in 3 seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Since 2000 deaths from heart disease have decreased by 14 % while deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 89%! In addition it kills more than breast cancer and prostrate cancer combined.

So how does exercise help your brain? Initially we believed that our brains were static with little ability to change but now we know that the brain has neuroplasticity, which means that the brain has the ability to create new neurological patterns. It creates these new neurons and patterns through a process called neurogenesis. Dr. Gage at the Salk institute for Biological Studies along with a multitude of other studies has shown that through increased blood flow to the brain through exercise triggers biomechanical changes that spur neuroplasticity and generates new brain cells even in the aging brain.

The significance of this is that we have the ability to consciously and purposely have an effect on our brains ability to create these new neurons. Thus far the research has primarily been proven with aerobic exercises and to date it has been unclear whether anaerobic resistance training has the same effect. It turns out that as little as three hours of brisk walking a week has been shown to halt and even reverse the brain atrophy that starts somewhere in our forties. Aerobic exercise is especially helpful in the regions of the brain responsible for memory and higher cognition.

We all know that exercise is helpful in many other ways aside from creating neurogenesis in our brain. Exercise lowers blood pressure, maintains cardiovascular health, increases muscle mass and has been helpful in addressing depression as well as many other issues. My hope for each of us is to age gracefully and enjoy all of life we can. To that end I encourage you to get up, get moving and stay smart.

With Gratitude,
Pat

Take A Mini-Vacation Every Day

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Take A Mini-Vacation Every Day

Despite the continued warm temperatures the summer is beginning to wind down, students are slowly making their way back to the classrooms and others will be heading back to college soon. There is a different kind of energy in the summer that lends itself to a more relaxed atmosphere. Traffic is lighter, schedules are a little freer, kids stay up later but underlying that the continual stresses of life remain the same.

With any luck you have had an opportunity to take a break from work and go away on a vacation somewhere or have had some time off to have a “staycation” at home. Typically vacations involve a lot of time and energy to plan, sometimes we create expectations, the day finally comes, we get there, have a great time, come back relaxed and rejuvenated and then its effects vanish by the second or third day back at work.

We all have some kind of stress but how we manage the stress is the critical difference that determines whether stress is in control of us or we are in control of it. Vacations are wonderful but whatever positive effects we receive rarely lasts long so developing a way to incorporate consistent daily down time is critical. To help with this I often recommend that people intentionally create time to take a mini-vacation everyday. Developing a pattern of taking a daily mini-vacation is a choice we make and a gift we give ourselves and essential to creating balance in our life.

So what does a daily vacation look like? Consider the following:

  • Take a walk at lunch
  • Shut your door, shut your eyes and just breath for five minutes
  • Take a bath
  • Take an hour break from all electronics
  • Read or listen to a book
  • Download a meditation app and plug your headphones in an meditate for 10 or 15 minutes
  • Sit on a bench or at a coffee shop and people watch
  • Spend ten minutes actively relaxing you body starting with your feet and working up. (Don’t forget to relax your eyes)

It doesn’t matter what activity you choose and I encourage you to mix it up and be creative in finding ways that work best for you. This can sometimes be difficult especially for those who feel guilty “wasting time”. The only requirement is that it works as a time out for you. Taking time out for your self every day is critical. Not just a week or two out of the year but everyday. It has been shown to be a significant factor in increasing creativity, deeper sleep, increased immunity, lower blood pressure and increased presence and clarity just to name a few.

I encourage you to give it a try in whatever way works for you. I am confident you won’t be disappointed.

With Gratitude,
Pat

A Breath of Fresh Air

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A Breath of Fresh Air

There is nothing more relaxing than a good deep breath. It is one of the most highly utilized techniques employed in any setting to assist you to calm down, relax and get focused. So why write a newsletter about your breath? I am sure you have been successfully breathing for as long as you can remember. Interestingly, however, you may be surprised to find that a large number of people don’t breath correctly and this can actually create more stress than relaxation. Justifiably most people rarely pay attention to their breath but with a slight modification you can optimize your breathing to significantly produce increased relaxation for your mind and body.

Take a second and take a good deep breath. Did you find that as you inhaled deeply your chest and shoulders lifted filling your lungs with air? This actually creates what I refer to as an “anxiety breath”. It makes sense if you think about it. When you get startled or taken by surprise you breath in the same way by inhaling a large amount of air as your chest rises.

Creating a calming breath still involves inhaling through your nose and mouth, however instead of filling your lungs by lifting your shoulders and ribcage as you breath in push out your lower abdomen with as little movement in the upper body as possible. Try practicing this by placing a hand on your stomach and as you inhale attempt to push on your hand as you fill the lower abdomen. As you exhale passively allow your belly to relax. Although it may feel awkward at first with just a few practice breaths it becomes more natural.

Breath is one of the only conscious connections between the mind and the body and can be valuable not only to relieve stress but also to calm and center you before a test, a big meeting, working on a project or to be in the moment and enjoy the day. If you have children I encourage you to share this techniques with them. We often overlook the stress they are under and teaching them techniques such as this at an early age will serve them for years to come.

Practicing proper breaths will assist you to stay calm especially in more stressful moments. When you are calm you think better and make clearer decisions. As trivial as it may sound consider evaluating your breathing and measure how effectively it is working for you. You won’t be disappointed.

With Gratitude,
Pat

Practicing Presence

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Practicing Presence

At a recent dinner party I was hosting for some friends I listened to one of my besties as she related her experience of walking on the Camino trail for 8 weeks 2 years ago. I have heard her talk about this many times but this time something she said really triggered me. She was explaining that with all the incessant input from the world with everything from cell phones, TV, movies, emails, news, employees etc. that she initially found it extremely difficult to turn off her brain and just walk. She said, “It felt almost as if she was withdrawing from a drug.” She related that at times she even found herself making up conversations in her head just to feel the stimulation.

What she realized was the thing that was uncomfortable was that all she had was the present. She was completely present to everything around her because that is all there was. Most of us spend a very small percentage of our day being completely present and you could understand how this would take some getting used to.

As I listened I found myself longing for what it would be like to totally turn my brain off and just be so totally immersed in the present. I am a regular meditator and meditation does indeed help to turn down this noise but this seemed like so much more. My current life situation isn’t conducive to a 2-month absence so I started thinking about how I could create that feeling on a smaller daily scale.

I began practicing and devoting minutes and then hours to being 100 percent present to everything I could pay attention to without external influences. After practicing a bit and getting more efficient at it I decided I would have a “practicing presence day”. I picked a beautiful sunny Sunday that was 75 sunny and a light breeze and a Sunday and it was a rare day that I just happened to have all to myself. Since it was my trial run I wanted to set myself up for success as much as I could.

It wasn’t about sitting in meditation for a day but living 100 percent in the world in presence while I moved through it. Instead of taking my dog for a walk with headphones and listening to a podcast I went technology free and focused on a much as I could take in at once to all the things going on around me. I felt the wind on my face, heard the birds, appreciated the movement in my body, heard kids squealing in the background and was filled with gratitude for my goofy, happy love muffin of a dog.

I had to run a few errands and instead of driving I got on my bike and again drank in everything around me. With my intention focused on the present I was more attentive to the people around me, had great conversations and in general was a whole lot happier. Choosing to focus on what was happening or who was in front of me made me more productive and sensitive. It was creating more space for me to live in what I call my loving supportive brain instead of my fear based limiting brain.

I found as the day went on I was feeling really relaxed and present despite getting so much done. I had thoughts and ideas about how to work differently with a client. I got clear on solutions to problems I had avoided dealing with and most of all I felt deeply connected to the people around me.

I don’t want to imply this was easy. I constantly had to reel myself in but that too got easier as the day went on. Presence is truly a muscle that needs to be developed but it is more than worth it. I encourage you to take a day or an hour or even a minute and enjoy the beauty of presence. In my experience it will be more than worth the effort.

With Gratitude,
Pat

I Can’t Meditate

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I Can't Meditate

As humans we are wired for mastery and generally don’t like to fail. For some, when they have tried something new and have limited success they often give up and move on to something else. Meditation frequently falls into this category.

At least every other day someone tells me, “I can’t meditate! I want to and I’ve tried but I‘m just no good at it!” What I have discovered is that there is frequently a misunderstanding of what mediation is, accompanied by a belief that the only way to meditate is to sit in an incredibly uncomfortable cross-legged position, be really quiet and still then clear your mind. Meditation is not about clearing your mind; it is about being in charge of it. It is learning how to control and manage the incessant mindless chatter that goes on all day long.

During a workshop I taught a few years ago I had a room full of people who believed they couldn’t meditate. I had to be creatively instructive to get them to recognize that they could easily meditate if they chose to so I deceived them into meditating by first discussing that as we age we loose the acuity of our hearing especially in the low and high registers. Then I asked if they wanted to try an experiment to help improve their hearing and all readily agreed.

I asked everyone in the room to raise one hand and instructed them to put their hand down only when they could no longer hear the sound I was going to make. I then struck a metal meditation bowl with a wood dowel. As the pleasant ringing sound emanated forth each participant listened with intense focus and one by one after about 1 1/2 minutes all the hands were down. I looked at my non-meditators and asked, “How was that meditation?”. The surprised looks of confusion were priceless. “Yes”, that is a form of meditation. By focusing on the sound they were controlling their mind and their ability to stay present. Try meditating yourself by listening to the hum of your refrigerator, a clock ticking or simply the breath going in and out of your lungs. As your mind wanders gently bring your focus back to the present.

Getting better at meditation just takes practice. There are many ways to meditate and I suggest you explore different methods to discover what works best for you. One thing you can count on is your mind will wander especially initially. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It is normal for this to occur. When you find you have drifted a little, don’t judge it. Just bring yourself back to the present and start over.

Begin with smaller amounts of time initially. Trying to meditate for a half hour or more with no experience is a sure way to defeat yourself before you even get started. Try 5-10 minutes at first then gradually increase your time. Practice anywhere you have a few minutes. Car pool lines, waiting for the coffee to brew, waiting for an appointment or waiting for friends to arrive are just a few that come to mind.

If you have a brain you can meditate. Give it a try. The benefits are numerous and controlling your mind……priceless.

Offense or Defense

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Sports minded or not, most can discern the difference between offense and defense in the sports arena. However, the offense and defense I am referring to is more about how you run your life than how you play on the field. Consider the day-to-day interactions that you have with the people in your life. Ask yourself, are you someone who is prepared for the day or consistently trying to keep up? When having a conversation with someone, are you present and in the moment, or do you find yourself drifting, half listening, half thinking what you will respond with or what they might say next? When there is a problem, is your first response to figure out where the problem is, or to worry, hope and create that it’s not your fault? The answers to these questions can reveal a good bit about how you are running your life.

A while ago my coach had me fill out a questionnaire designed to help me assess how I was running my life. Aside from the intended outcome, that simple exercise revealed much more than I could have imagined. She gave me 8-10 provocative questions, most of which I answered fairly easily but the first, which theoretically should have been pretty easy, was the most significant. She asked me to name 10 things that I had wanted to do in the past year but hadn’t done. Initially, this stumped me because for the most part I pretty much do the things that I want to do, but wanting to be a good student I thought about it for days. Then, I walked into my office at home to get something, looked around and it dawned on me now here is something I have wanted to do for at least five years and haven’t…organize my office. Then I got on a roll answering the question…organize my home office, organize my office at work, clean the garage, go through the old clothes that no longer fit my daughter, organize my closet, etc. I am guessing this may be a common list for many of us.

Later she asked what I felt was the significance of this organizational issue was and after a few excuses I explained that every morning I thought about what absolutely had to be done and if I completed those tasks, I counted the day as a success. So, what kind of energy do you think that generates, she gently prodded. Then I got it! When you run your life by the seat of your pants, you are saying to the universe I am full with all I can handle. Don’t give me one more thing to deal with. Now for some, that may be fine but if you are someone who is trying to create your dreams, living your life on the defense leaves no room for creating what you want. You end up pedaling as fast as you can just to keep up. I was living my life on the defense and totally unaware of it. So, I went on an organizational binge- mostly on trust. The effects were so unusual that if I weren’t experiencing them, you would have had a hard time convincing me that they were happening. My life went from consistently worrying about what I was forgetting to having time to create, spend more time with my family and friends, and feeling a whole lot more peaceful despite the same hectic schedule that I have always had. It was like magic. Then something even better began to happen. I seemed that my whole world was on my team. I went on vacation and when I came back one of the women on my staff greeted me with having cleaned and organized the entire x-ray storage room (also one of those projects that was 5+ years overdue). The thing that was significant about that was that my staff had absolutely no idea that I was doing this “organize my life” project.

So, if it feels appropriate I would ask you to take some time and evaluate what side of the field you are on. Are you playing offense and at ease or defensively stressed? The rewards have been incredible for me and it has afforded me the time to write articles like this and a whole lot more.

Why Don’t You Sleep Well?

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Why don't You Sleep Well?Sleep is our most precious and often most over looked commodity. One question I ask my patients when doing nutritional consultations is how long and how well do you sleep? The reason for this is how well you sleep plays a significant role in how healthy and happy you are.

Statistics show that poor sleep plays a role in virtually every aspect of disease and disease related issues as well as performance. Despite the various mandates given on the amount of sleep that you need each of us has our own unique sleep requirement, which varies by age, sex, genetic and physiological factors. A good rule of thumb however is that a sufficient amount of sleep is that which allows for spontaneous awakening and leaves you with enough energy to feel refreshed and alert for the whole day.

There are many reasons why people don’t sleep well and with systematic evaluation the root cause can be uncovered and frequently resolved. Causes such as breathing problems, adrenal fatigue, drinking to much alcohol to late, shift work, worrying, hormonal changes, sleeping environment and even animals in your bed all play a role in how well you do or do not sleep.

Breathing: Sleep apnea is a condition in which you temporarily stop breathing while sleeping. It is more common than you would think and causes an individual to wake frequently through the night. Many times the individual isn’t even aware that this is occurring. More often it is the person that they sleep with who recognizes the irregularity in their breath or the fact that when they snore they sound as if they have temporarily stopped breathing. Diagnosis is relatively easy and involves doing a sleep study. If you require treatment for sleep apnea the results generally can and do make a significant difference. Aside from being more rested people report having more energy, getting sick less often and many even report weight loss.

Adrenal Fatigue: The adrenals are two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys and are responsible for multiple functions in the body but are especially helpful when responding to stress. They release what we call the “flight or fight” hormones. However, the adrenal glands do more than just release adrenaline when we get under stress. They control a whole host of other hormones. One hormone that the adrenal glands control is cortisol, which effects the sleep/wake cycle. When your cortisol rhythms are disrupted you cannot sleep well. Additionally, if you wake up between 1-3 AM your liver may be lacking the glycogen reserves needed by the body to keep blood glucose levels high enough through the night. So you literally wake up because you are hungry. This is easily remedied by eating a small high protein snack before bed such as peanut butter or cheese on a cracker.

Alcohol and Food: Many people use alcohol as their sedative to induce sleep. While it is true that alcohol may reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep, alcohol that is consumed close to bedtime has been shown to disrupt the second half of the sleep cycle. Eating and drinking late or too close to bedtime can cause heartburn and/or reflux, which disrupts sleep as acid backs up into the esophagus. If you have to eat late for whatever reason eat on the lighter side to avoid indigestion and disrupting your sleep patterns.

Worrying: Worrying about your relationship, money, your job and any big changes such as marriage, buying a house or starting a new job or even worrying about your sleep itself can all cause you to not sleep well. For some writing lists before the end of the day helps to organize them which let’s their brain take a rest. For others it is a matter of doing something calming such as taking a bath or meditating that redirects their mind. Some read and others watch TV. It’s helpful to remember that the old adage is still true, “Worrying never solved anything”.

Animals: Many sleep issues as well as back pains have been simply resolved by getting our beloved pets out of the bed. Don’t get me wrong I love my dog and she is the best snugger in the world, but if I ‘d let her she would have the whole king sized bed to herself before morning. Admittedly more than half of dog and cat owners sleep with their beloved pets. Whether it is dog, cat or whatever my experience is that people report they will constantly change their positions to accommodate their animals sacrificing their own comfort and disrupting their sleep.

Sleep Environment: Light in your bedroom can easily disrupt your sleep. Get rid of or cover ambient light such as alarm clocks, DVD players, cable boxes and using room darkening curtains and shades can significantly enhance your ability to sleep deeply.

According to leading sleep researchers the following are the top ten questions to ask yourself when trying to correct sleeping problems. Check out how your sleeping rates?

  1. Do you keep a regular sleep/wake cycle?
  2. Are you drinking or eating caffeine up to 6 hours before bedtime and are you mindful of your daytime consumption?
  3. Do you avoid smoking near bedtime or if you awaken in the night?
  4. Do you avoid alcohol and heavy meals later in the evening?
  5. Do you get regular exercise?
  6. Have you minimized noise, light and excessive hot or cold temperatures where you sleep?
  7. Do you go to bed at the same time each night?
  8. Can you awaken without an alarm clock?
  9. Do you sleep with animals in you bed?
  10. Do you have a successful method for dealing with excessive thoughts or worry while trying to go to sleep?

 

Forgiveness

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ForgivenessStop and think about it for a minute. Is there anyone in your life that you need to forgive? If so, holding on to it is one of the most destructive things you are doing to yourself. That’s right, to you. When we are in the position of needing to forgive it usually means, “someone has done us wrong”. For many of us, we hold on to that because it makes us right and them wrong. There is a misguided feeling of power that goes with this feeling. The problem is that we can become a slave to it and it can effect all areas of our lives without our even being consciously aware.

How many times have we held onto a grudge when the other person isn’t even aware of the fact that we are upset? They have long moved on but still we hold on to the feeling letting it churn inside. Sometimes we don’t forgive because we believe if we forgive them it will let them off the hook and it condones whatever they have done. Forgiving them does not let them off the hook; it lets us off the hook. What ever they did to you is something they have to live with. Sure it can be painful, but it is more painful to hang on to it and continue to give it life.

Many years ago, I was betrayed by someone who had “done me wrong”. In reality, she had betrayed herself more than me but being a sensitive soul, it still effected me deeply. Little by little, I started not trusting people. I wasn’t even aware that I was doing it. It became a low-grade level of pervasive stress. I began to wonder in the back of my mind if others would do what they told me they would. I had never been like that before this and I really didn’t like the feeling. I chalked it up to getting older and needing to be more mindful. Periodically, the old hurt would run through my mind begging to be set free but I held on. I was never going to let myself be fooled like that again.

Then one morning, I was laying in bed, reviewing the day and I became aware that I was worried if an upcoming event would happen as planned; I worried if the plane would be on time; I wondered if the purchase I had paid extra for early delivery would get there on time. It suddenly dawned on me how much of this stress was about trust. When did I get this way! I never remembered feeling like that before and I recognized how much irritability I was feeling in that moment. Over the next few weeks, I began to really examine this behavior, and as time went on, I was able to trace it back to the betrayal that had happened to me. I was doubting and not trusting others in my life over what this one person had done. The only person who was suffering was me. Gratefully, over time I was able to get back to trusting fully again, but it would have never happened if I hadn’t experienced the power of forgiveness.

It’s important to realize that forgiveness isn’t something that always takes place in a moment. TRY THIS instead of the previous sentence: It’s important to realize that forgiveness is something that often takes time. Sometimes it takes a while to let go of what happened. That’s not to say that it can’t happen in a moment. If it is your intention to forgive, you will, whether it takes a moment or months.

The New Year is a time again when many of us begin to set goals and begin thinking about what we want to accomplish or complete. As you set your upcoming intentions for this year, check in and ask if your need to forgive is holding you back in any area of your life. It just may be the thing that sets you free to succeed in ways you hadn’t imagined.

Put Your Self in the Equation

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Put Yourself in the Equation

Where do you put yourself in your day? Seems like a funny question to ask. After all aren’t we all by the very nature of being alive in our day? The reality is that very few of us actually take time out to dedicate some portion of the day totally for ourselves. It seems we can always find some excuse that trumps our belief that it’s possible to have time for ourselves. The kids, the kids’ schedules, the project at work, phone calls that have to be returned, groceries bought, dogs walked, dinner guests or just about any other realistic reason. There is no disputing there is an endless supply of things that demand our attention daily.

For the most part, you can be pretty sure nobody will tell you to take time for yourself. They are usually consciously or unconsciously happy to have you slave away for them. Can you imagine your child saying to you” Mom/Dad you look tired; how about I mow the lawn, make dinner etc.?” Or how about your boss saying, “You have really been working hard; how about taking some extra time at lunch or better yet take the afternoon off?” I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, just unlikely.

Recently I was talking to a woman about where she puts herself in her day and she told me it was easier to not commit to something because she always felt bad when she didn’t live up to her commitment. For her, taking time for herself meant working out regularly. To take a long run or go to the gym was a luxury that she rarely afforded herself. I asked her if she realized that it wasn’t a commitment to working out but a commitment to herself. I pointed out how committed she is to getting all her kids’ needs met, volunteering at school, working a full time high powered job and running her household. She said, “It makes me exhausted when you say it like that.” The truth is she was exhausted. When we don’t put ourselves in the equation, we get worn out and eventually it affects not only our health but our mood as well.

Balance is essential to good health and feeling alive. Making time for you is essential to that balance. It can be as simple as taking time to sit down and read the paper, take a walk, a bath, mediate or exercise. It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters that you do it and know that you are doing it for you. Take a minute and assess how well you do at putting yourself in your day. Challenge yourself for a week to put yourself in your day everyday and see what a difference it makes. I am certain that once you realize it can be done without your world falling apart you will start claiming “me” time daily. It is also worth mentioning that by taking time for yourself you are teaching the kids and those around you that it is an important thing to do as well. When you take time for yourself, you will be happier, calmer and more at ease and I can promise this goes a long way to make your world run a whole lot smoother.