So, how did Week 1 Go?

Well, not so good, and not so bad. Which is good, too, because I can talk about the bad and the good.

There were some goals I met, some that I downright didn’t, and others that need a little tweaking. So let’s look at what my goals were:

  • Write in my journal for at least 15 minutes for 5 days this week at the beginning of the day
  • Meditate for at least 15 minutes each day
  • Attend the gym at least 5 days this week for 30 minutes (150 minutes of moderate activity)
  • Use my click counter to count positive things each day
  • Eat at least 2 cups of vegetables and 1 cup of fruit for 6 days this week

Write in my journal for at least 15 minutes for 5 days this week at the beginning of the day/Meditate for 15 minutes each day

I kind of made that goal, but my writing is getting shorter. I did miss Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On all those days, I had to be places at times when no one should have to be places. Getting up on time and wearing pants took priority. I do need to find a way to make sure that if I can’t journal first thing, that I do so some time during the day. It does help to keep me from going off the rails a little.

Attend the gym for at least 5 days this week for 30 minutes

This one was totally meh. I found myself “rescheduling” gym time because of grading and other things. This tells me that I’m seeing the gym as less of a priority than grading, reading, and even journaling and sleeping. My health issues made weight training and some of the circuit training a challenge. Having to admit being a beginner again was also not fun. This is something I need to explore – how can I make physical activity as important as the other areas of my life? It may also be that I set too ambitious of a goal to begin with. Since I am coming back, perhaps it would have been more realistic to say that I would do three gym sessions with at least one strength training session. This is my goal for this week.

Use my click counter to record positive things this week.

So I found a really cool and very nerdy app to graph my clicks called AimStar Lite. If you are not familiar with Celeration Charting, it is a standardized, semi-logarithmic chart used to track progress over time and make predictions about data. Because it is standardized, you can compare all kinds of data and be sure your interpretation of trends is valid. My chart had a little bit of “bounce,” or variability. There is a way that you can calculate it specifically, but I have been using visual analysis only. I dipped during the week, but hopefully will see an upward trend this week.

Eat at least 2 cups of vegetables and 1 cup of fruit for 6 days this week

I think I was pretty good at this – I’m now subscribing to a dinner delivery service that increases my intake. But I was not very good at recording what I ate. The only exception were the three days I had to record my intake during my nutrition class. We did an in-depth analysis of our diet. I’m deficient in a few minerals that can explain why I have been so sluggish during the week and not eager to go to the gym. I’m doing OK on my macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs) but could consider decreasing my sugar and saturated fat intake.

So for this week, I am adjusting my expectations a bit. I have decided that recording my food intake is a little much right now, as I am trying to finish out a course. Meditation and journaling are my best friends, so those I’ll keep, as well as counting good things. I’ll lower my goal of attending the gym to 3 days/week for at least 30 minutes per session. It’s amazing what data will do for your life!

A voyage into the coaching experience

Physician, heal thyself. Or coach, be a Coachy McCoacherson.

Rather than tell you what the coaching experience is like, I’m going to semi-have you experience it from my vantage point. You see, I could use a little self-coaching right now.

Here’s the backstory – around Thanksgiving, I caught a cold. That cold turned into a cough. That cough lingered, and I found myself short of breath (see, even the medical people could call me SOB now). Given that both my parents died of things related to lungs and breathing, I was a little more than terrified. It turns out that not getting enough oxygen to the brain mimics panic and anxiety symptoms, so I had that going for me as well. Two chest x-rays, an inhaler, many medications, and a nebulizer later, and we still had no answers. Nothing seemed to make things better, and asthma wasn’t the right diagnosis.

We are ending February now, and still looking for answers, but getting closer. Looks like the bronchitis exacerbated my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. My lungs are stretched out and are functioning at about 65% of what they should. So far, every test is coming back in the clear. More tests at the end of this week will tell me if I, who hasn’t smoked in 20 years, have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD.

My doctor did not put any restrictions on my activities, but I did do a fair amount of feeling sorry for myself. Eating my feelings. When you aren’t breathing well, it’s hard to get the motivation to exercise. Then I got the mother of all head colds, and that was enough to just send me over the edge. My two go-to health tools, exercise and breath work, were pretty much a wash.

Luckily, I have a good support system who talked me back from the brink. I am recovering from the head cold and it’s time to get back into life. I’ve taken some time to review my personal values and maybe if I make the effort to get up, someone else will, too. Maybe that person getting up will inspire another person to get up, and so on.

If I were actually coaching someone, and this were the first meeting, I would be taking some time to go over my coaching agreement, fee schedule, and getting some information about where the individual is now with regard to their health and fitness. We would also talk about values and where the person wants to go. While I talk to myself a lot, I don’t typically enter into business agreements with myself. I’ve also already done a lot of values clarification, so I’m good to go there. So, we’ll skip that part.

As we have talked about before, there are considered to be 7 dimensions of personal wellness. At this point, the main focus is working on my stress levels, exercise, and diet to improve my physical health. I could use a tuneup in all 7, but that would be a lot to take on all at once. One thing I have a bad habit of doing with myself is deciding I’m going to do a complete life overhaul. That’s too much, as any behavior change person will tell you. Small changes make a bigger impact.

I’m deconditioned, so any exercise is really at the beginner level. Just getting to the gym and doing some varied activity is a win at this point. I’m stressed out from all the tests, among other things, and that is taking a toll on my physical health. Any type of activities that can reduce the impact of stress on my body are wins. I’m not eating well, and that is also not helping me. A few veggies and a fruit here or there would be better than I’m doing right now.

What are my SMART goals for this week?

  • Write in my journal for at least 15 minutes for 5 days this week at the beginning of the day
  • Meditate for at least 15 minutes each day
  • Attend the gym at least 5 days this week for 30 minutes (150 minutes of moderate activity)
  • Use my click counter to count positive things each day
  • Eat at least 2 cups of vegetables and 1 cup of fruit for 6 days this week

I also plan on looking at ways I can make my work more efficient and pleasant and spend some time decluttering my environment, but that is a bonus.

It’ll also be important to take some baseline measures in areas of movement, fitness, and wellness. We lose our conditioning pretty quickly, especially when we get older. It’s awfully humbling to be a beginner again in this regard, but I need to accept that fact. Gotta start somewhere, right?

Next week, I’ll give you some progress reports of Week 1. Wish me luck.

What is a Health Coach, anyway?

So, I realized I told you that I was available for coaching, but really didn’t tell you what a coach does. Important information, poor delivery on my part.

The truth is that there is no one, standard definition of a coach. Anyone can really hang a shingle and call themselves a Coach. Just like behavior analysis was 20 years ago, there isn’t any uniform certification or licensure.

So, as they say, buyer beware.

I’ll start with the scope of practice of a Health Coach. I’m certified with the American Council on Exercise (ACE), who sets forth this specific set of guidelines. Basically, a coach is a person who guides an individual to a set of self-identified health and fitness goals. They are there to provide structure and encouragement, much like an athletic coach would do.

It’s also important to state what is outside of the scope of practice of a Health Coach. They are not a replacement for a trainer, physical therapist, doctor, nutritionist, or most importantly, a licensed mental health professional. Some of the practices we use might overlap – for example, looking at the USDA Choose My Plate recommendations for healthy eating to evaluate whether someone’s choice of diet plan is a good idea. However, if you’re asking for a meal plan, that is outside of the scope of practice. I might use values-based interviewing to determine your priorities and goals, but I’m not qualified to counsel you should you disclose depression or anxiety. Ideally, I’m part of a bigger team who helps you be your best self.

As we’ve talked about before, there is a lot of snake oil out there, and Health Coaching is no exception. A good Health Coach stays on top of the peer-reviewed literature and makes sure their approaches and suggestions are all based upon the latest evidence. Be wary of someone who says, “I’m just a coach who has no time for all that research stuff.” I personally like the red flags from Seek Safely to evaluate any events or programs you might be considering.

What about credentials? A good coach has some sort of training and certification. Here, too, you have to be careful about what type. Anyone can go to a two-day workshop and say they are certified to be a coach. There are, however, some standards to look for that can increase your confidence in a coach.

  • They hold a license or some sort of certification in behavior change (e.g., licensed psychologist or social worker, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, etc…). This is good, but not necessary.
  • They hold a license or some sort of certification in health and wellness (e.g., Personal Trainer, Registered Nutritionist/Dietician, M.D., R.N., etc….). Again good, but not necessary. In some cases, such as in trainer and nutritionist, you might want to dig further into those credentials to make sure they are also legit.
  • Their certification is from a reputable source. OK, how do I know that? Here are some things to look for: 1) The organization is established and recognized in the field of health and wellness. Some examples include, but aren’t limited to, the American Council on Exercise, Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine. 2) The certification is itself credentialed. There are two approvals to look for: National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) approval, or accreditation from the International Coach Federation (ICF). Coaches can also be credentialed directly through ICF, which is considered a high honor.

There is also always just general fit with your goals and values. Each coach has a way of interacting with their clients based upon their values and personality. Just because you don’t “click” with one coach doesn’t mean that another won’t be the perfect fit. As with any big life decision, do your homework, and pick the coach that is best for you. In my next post, I’ll talk a bit about what to expect from a coaching experience.

Learning How to Rest

Oh, give me a break.

No, really, give me a break.

I’ve realized that I have NO IDEA how to rest. I picked up this month’s issue of Yoga Journal, which happens to be about resting. In this issue, one of the authors suggested that many of us have two states – tense and asleep. They argue that we never really rest. My guess is that there are a lot of us academics who can relate.

Ever try to sit around and really just take it easy? What happens?

  1. Maybe I have to use the bathroom.
  2. OK, now I have to get a tissue.
  3. The remote is over there.
  4. My iPad needs charging.
  5. I should probably get off Facebook.
  6. Crap, I should answer that email.
  7. And that one.
  8. It’s just a few papers. I’ll feel better if I get them done.
  9. I need a coffee.
  10. I should probably get off Facebook.
  11. Oh! Puppy videos!
  12. Crap, I should answer that email….

Resting is one of the harder things we are asked to do. Even when we are sitting in meetings and not really moving, we aren’t resting. We’re just not productive. When we are at our computers at work or at home, we’re concentrating on some sort of task. Our brains are engaged, and if you really stop to look at yourself, I bet you’ll see that your muscles are super tense.

Did you ever leave a meeting or a really intense writing or grading session and have no idea why you were sore and drained? It was probably because your muscles were in an isometric contraction most of the time. You were working way harder than you thought you were!

We didn’t get where we are by being good at resting, right? I get the impression among my colleagues that they think rest and relaxation and health behavior are woo-woo things. I’ll start spouting off about yoga and getting in touch with your inner child or something.

Plot Twist: Waldo Finds Himself.
No new-agery here! Nothing woo-woo or weird about it – sometimes you need to disengage.

Being able to rest and relax, especially when things get really stressful and tense, might be the key to our longevity in academia. Remember that book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff? There might be a lot of truth in that! Small changes can have big effects.

At the last meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis International, I took a workshop in Behavioral Relaxation Training. Created by Roger Poppen in the late 1980s, it is a set of 10 simple behaviors that signal that the body is relaxed and the autonomic nervous system has taken over. I tried to find a video of BRT, but can’t find any that show the technique as I was taught it.

Here is another nice article about ways to incorporate small pauses into your day. In my travels and in my research, I’ve learned a few things about resting:

  • It doesn’t have to be mystical or yogic or anything like that.
  • A short amount of time here and there throughout the day is enough for most people, but your mileage may vary.
  • Anything that resets your brain and body can be considered rest. For some, it’s sitting on the couch with a good book. For others, it’s a nice long run. Today, my rest came in the form of a spin class. I totally got lost in the playlist and hope I didn’t start singing along (sorry not sorry if I did).
  • Rest needs to be something that causes your muscles to relax and give your brain that “ahhh…” – if you don’t get that, it isn’t rest.
  • It shouldn’t be something you feel like you’re going to pay for later (e.g., alcohol, binge eating)
  • If you’re walking around fuming about something that happened earlier or prepping for something you’re dreading, sorry, it isn’t rest. Even if you are in yoga or meditating.

Share your ideas for how you rest! Can’t wait to hear the ways you detach and unwind from your busy lives.

It’s been a while, but I am back!

Hi everyone! It has been quite a while since I have blogged here or posted on Facebook, but I promise there were very good reasons why!

  • I, a Ph.D. Assistant Professor at an R1 institution, proudly enrolled in my local community college for a certificate in Personal Training. And proceeded to get my BUTT KICKED by an online anatomy and physiology course. More about that in a later blog.
  • I did finish the Soldier Field 10-Mile. I was one of the last people, but I got a medal. And I wasn’t the very last. As I tried to pass out by the medal stand, a security guard told me I had to move on. They were trying to break down the stand and I was in their way. I would have to collapse somewhere else, I guess.
  • I passed my ACE Personal Training Certificate test on the first try!
  • I am also a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional and a Certified Compassion Fatigue Professional through the International Association of Trauma Professionals.
  • I’m currently working on my Health Coach Certification.
  • Oh, and I went to Sweden, and I got to have dinner where they give out the Nobel Prize.

So, I’ve been busy. I thought I wanted to go up for promotion this summer but decided to defer another year – it all seemed too rushed, and I wanted to be in a better place to take my time and do it right. Isn’t that what I have been preaching to all of you in this blog?

I have lots of ideas planned for the coming year. Some of the topics I plan to cover include:

  • Defining compassion fatigue from a behavioral perspective
  • Self-care for practical people
  • Sleep and the academic
  • Delegating – going from being the assistant to having assistants
  • Paying attention to your body’s warning signals
  • Keeping complaints and negative feedback from stressing you out

As always, if you have anything you would like me to cover, please drop me a line! Look for a new blog once a week. See you soon!

I’m not so sure I’m gonna make it….

Two Debbie Downer posts in a row – promise not to make this a habit!

I’m starting to doubt myself with this 10-Miler. Always knew that I was just a little crazy to want to try it, but now I’m pretty sure I’ve lost my ever-loving mind.

My foot pins and needles has gotten steadily worse, and even happened on the Treadclimber (i.e., the thing I almost fell off more than once during my workout). Link is for visuals and not for endorsement. I’m becoming more and more convinced it is sciatica. The pattern my doctor described is pretty much what I am experiencing.

Now, here is the irony. Running (cardio in general) reduces most of my back pain. This is not uncommon when the cause is disk degeneration and arthritis. But it also irritates my back. I’m trying to find peer-reviewed articles on running and sciatica and coming up sadly short. It looks like that is because sciatica is treated the same way other lower back pain is – through movement. Therefore, there is very little research about how it might be different from other types of back pain.

This makes it quite hard to stay positive.

I have been looking for articles that talk about evidence-based ways to stay positive when having chronic health issues. I found one article about mindfulness, but nothing else when I use the term resilience. Turns out spelling matters in a Google Scholar Search. Mom was right. I found one qualitative study by Kralik, van Loon, and Visentin (2006) that suggested it is more about bouncing back from depression and setbacks. Not letting your issues or reactions to it define you. This sounds like Acceptance and Commitment Training, doesn’t it?

Griffith (2018) suggests that cultivating hope might be the antidote. He describes hope as a set of behaviors, rather than an emotion or thought, that will help counteract feelings of loneliness and a reduced sense of agency. So far, so behavioral. Some suggestions are:

  • Stress reduction activities
  • Goals and action plans
  • Defining yourself as something other than just “sick”
  • Finding friends to advise you and that you can confide in
  • Finding a good mentor

Huh…does this sound like things academics do all the time? So, if I apply the model I used to get my last grant, publish my book, and finish my dissertation, I should be ready to take on this 10-miler. Worth a try!

Handling the Bad Days

It’s been a while, I know…that is because I have been struggling a little.

Yesterday was the pièce de résistance of all days. In my top ten of bad days. Minor things got major and fit hit the shan. What are some of the things that are contributing to bad days in academia?

We live in interesting times right now. Just reading the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed can make one fearful of how things are going. Learning about takeovers of for-profit institutions, questions about the transparency of central administrations, Federal funding for higher education questions, and other issues abound in their (electronic) pages. Maybe you are feeling the pinch in your institution.

Maybe your concerns are more of the local type. Things like student issues, holdups at the bookstore, and tech issues can be just as much of a pain, if not more so, than the big things that hit the national news. It’s now not unusual to have students experiencing homelessness. Dealing with issues such as acute mental illness in the classroom can really sap your reserves.

And the struggle is even more real because you got into this – because you care. Grammar aside, right?

In helping professions such as counseling and social work, much time and effort are linked to the well-being of staff. Us, not as much. We are often more concerned about our students and fellow educators than we are about ourselves. So how can we make sure that the issues of our day-to-day don’t end up consuming our physical and mental health?

O’Halloran and Linton (2000) discuss something they call Secondary Traumatic Stress. When you empathize with someone experiencing stress, that stress often transfers to you. It causes symptoms very similar to PTSD, like nightmares, re-living the event, and exaggerated startle responses. It seems as if the very traits that make great teachers and administrators can be the things that cause us the most stress.

How can you get through this as unscathed as possible? One study by Newsome, et al., (2006) suggested that programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) resulted in reports of reduced stress and greater efficacy for students in counseling programs. MBSR involves meditation, mindfulness training (being in the present moment) and yoga to help individuals detach from stress. Trippany, Kress, & Wilcoxon (2004) suggest some protective behaviors that could be applied to the higher education environment. These include:

  • Building safe opportunities for collaboration and communities of practice
  • Education on how stress and trauma affect the teaching and learning environment
  • Including rest and leisure on a regular basis
  • Educating administration on how to spot stress and trauma, and how to respond
  • Keeping a journal and attending counseling sessions
  • Having some sort of spiritual connections

Do you have these in place at your workplace? Would it be possible to create space for them? Admin (I’m talking to me here), can you create these opportunities and find ways to educate yourself?

I’m off to journal a little bit…well, maybe I just did….

The Dreaded Chronic…Pain

The runs themselves are going great. I’m at a pace that I can sustain cardiovascularly, and I’m (gasp) actually enjoying them.

But yesterday the dreaded running monster reared its ugly head. My left leg goes numb when I run too much. It starts in the foot and I get major pins and needles that go up the calf, as if I were wearing a ski boot. My calves (gastroc and soleus) have also been super tight. I wake up in the morning like Frankenstein, stomping. Spousal Unit gets worried that I am upset and stomping around.

I’ve gone to the doctor to have this looked at. While I do have herniated disks and little spots on my spine and such, none of that explain the leg thing. I’ve been evaluated by a sports medicine PT. Gait is fine. No one can say for sure what is going on, so I’m kinda on my own.

Someone brought up Plantar Fasciitis or a neuroma (a thickening of the nerve), but no medical professional ever suggested it. So, I rejected it, too. Plus, I once had PF so bad I sprained my ankle. Dr. Google says yes, but as we know, Dr. Google also has a dubious medical degree. So, I’m going to ask my doctor when I see him on Friday.

For now, I’m gonna keep on keeping on.

Days 4-5

Yesterday was a cross-training day. Usually I reserve Sundays for my R&R but now that I am in training I guess that will have to wait.

I did a 30 minute kettlebell routine that was way more difficult than I thought, followed by a 10-minute yoga. The kettlebell routine was a free one on YouTube. It showed me that I really need to consider my upper body strength during this training. The yoga was nice, but I think I could have used an hour instead of just 10 minutes.

Today I barely made it to the gym. I woke up entirely too late and had to push myself to go. (Apparently I thrive on negative reinforcement – the avoidance of looking like a fool). I did a 45-minute run walk, with 3 minutes running and two minutes walking alternated. No stretch (what?). Faculty meeting instead. Today, again, I felt pretty good – even though that old turf toe injury is flaring.

The next few sentences are not for the squeamish. I was doing a burpee during a kickboxing class years ago. I kicked out, but my big toe got caught in the seam of the mat and went the opposite way. In this case, it seems that having Ehlers-Danlos was a good thing, because I had very little injury. The pain is just enough to be annoying and somewhat limiting.

Today I did have a mystery flare, though. For some reason no one can figure out, my left leg goes numb with pins and needles when I run. Only when I run. Nothing shows up on an MRI to explain the problem, and my gait analysis doesn’t show any issues. I just have to stop and walk on a regular basis to keep it from happening. That will be something I need to watch during my training.

Tomorrow is another run and Body Pump. Wish me luck!