My husband, Sean and I have gone through a pretty significant evolution and optimization the past few years. Equally competitive personalities and professionals, we teamed up in 2005 ready to take the world by storm personally and professionally and by most intents and purposes, our quest was successful. But about 4 years ago that relentless drive started to take its toll on us both individually and as a couple. We recognized that changes needed to be made to continue to take our individual career paths to the next level and discovered that the missing link was taking care of our mental and physical bodies as a means of professional development…and it’s proven to be a winning strategy. Increased energy, mental clarity, career advancement, improved happiness and positive health markers have all been points of measurement to which we have seen tremendous growth. It suggests that wellness practices should be the new approach to ongoing “job training” for any ambitious executive.
Now, we all have what’s called “bio-individuality” – our individual physical make-up in which certain diet, exercise and other wellness approaches work for one, but not another – and Sean and I are no different. We have slightly different approaches at our executive health and wellness, but there are certainly common themes and a strong accountability partnership between us that helps drive positive results. Here are those common denominators in our executive wellness approach that you might explore, experiment with, and practice for yourself:
- Nutrients: There are a lot of ways at proper nutrition to maximize function of your body and mind for those busy, stressful work days – ignore the hype of one diet over another as everyone’s body handles food differently based on a number of factors. But, of course, there are some consistent rules of thumb that may improve your mental and physical performance regardless of your individual chemistry: Eat real, preferably organic, foods leaning towards a colorful plant-based diet (like 5-6 servings a day), cut processed foods – they have icky shelf-stabilizers and emulsifiers that affect your body in numerous ways, watch your salt, sugar and dairy, eat healthy fats, focus on quality protein sources, and drink plenty of clean water ideally in glass. I believe the best way to think about your nutrition is a crowding-out approach: focus on getting your proper nourishment first and foremost and see if you’re still hungry for those less beneficial choices. We all know that feeling deprived is never a sustainable approach, but mindfully eating delicious and nutritious foods should leave your feeling quite satisfied and firing on all cylinders.
- Vitamins: For me, nutrition from food alone wasn’t getting me the full energy boost I needed to get through my hectic days. Changes in the soil that our food is grown in, loss of nutrients in early crop-picking and food transport, and the normal challenge with getting a wide variety of fresh organic foods in your system can leave your body short on fuel. As such, I found that getting my vitamins right through the help of testing from a physician was a game-changer. A good probiotic to boost your microbiome, a quality multivitamin, vitamin C supplement, zinc, and B12 was the ticket for me to see my energy levels soar and, in turn, my mental and physical productivity measurably increase. Do some research and experiment with your own physical needs in this category.
- Alcohol: Sean can often be an all-or-nothing kind of guy, in the best of ways. As such, he quit drinking cold turkey 4 years ago as a matter of personal choice. And for the record, drinking has always been a huge part of our business climate and social life so it wasn’t necessarily an easy transition. But, once the new habit was established, Sean noticed such an incredible improvement in his sleep, an increase in his overall productivity, and a physical benefit of significantly less bloat and inflammation from the dramatic cut in sugar consumption (another byproduct of wine) and there’s been no turning back. For me, I’m pretty disciplined with moderation and as a mom, don’t have time for hangovers anyway. My rule of thumb is no more than 1-2 drinks total per week and that works just fine for me. Whatever path you consider, from where we sit, there’s not a lot of downside to curbing your alcohol but tremendous upside in your physical and professional fitness. Let’s meet for a crisp glass of Pellegrino with lime!
I think sleep is the holy grail of wellness. I know that in my first year of motherhood, a significant lack of sleep nearly brought me to my knees. It’s in the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for a reason. And to those that say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” are accelerating the latter by cutting down on this important priority. Here are some of my favorite ways at a good night’s sleep:
- Reduce EMF: Keep your mobile phone away from head at night (even if you’re using it as an alarm) and put it in airplane mode – wouldn’t hurt to cut down on those EMFs.
- Embrace the darkness: Get your room as dark as possible covering up any random light sources like blue cable box lights and such. Light can still be detected through your closed eyelids and inhibit your body’s secretion of melatonin.
- Get cozy: Try a weighted blanket which I personally find very calming. This one is my favorite and you can customize with whatever cover you prefer.
- Breathe deep: I suffer from dust mite and dog dander allergies – not to mention furniture off-gassing that’s happening in most homes all the time – and I find that having fresh, filtered air in my bedroom has significantly enhanced my quality of sleep. I close my bedroom door during the day and leave it on blast to clear out the irritants then turn it down to low during the night for some lovely white noise. Having tested many, Austin Air Machines are my recommendation.
- Honor routine: Find your bedtime sweet spot and keep to your routine as much as possible. For me, 9-10pm is where it’s at for truly restorative sleep, fitting in all those 90-min sleep cycles you need to wake refreshed in the morning.
- Eat dinner light and early: Finally, there’s an old saying “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” and it’s sage advice. Eating dinner too heavy and too late affects your sleep patterns in addition to some other negative side-effects. Besides, we find that we can always get into the best restaurants in town on short notice between 5-6pm! 😉
Self-Care & Stress Management
We all know that busy brain, work anxiety, late-night emails, and other stressors affect our sleep – no newsflashes there. So it’s time to stop this vicious cycle and make self-care and stress reduction as great a priority as your job itself.
- Set time boundaries.
- Write those stressful thoughts out of your head and onto paper before bed.
- Try even a 20 minute restorative yoga session with an online yoga or meditation resource.
- Check out “Insight Timer” in the App Store.
- Take a hot, steamy shower with calming music in the background.
Find whatever relaxation strategy works for you and make it a regular habit.
The bar for being a business professional and finding time in your already-hectic schedule for beneficial exercise doesn’t have to be excessively high. Better mood, immunity, creativity, and sleep are just a few benefits of walking even 30 minutes a day if the gym isn’t going to fit into your already-hectic agenda or overly-taxed energy level. I will tell you that this blog and my wellness coaching were born out of a year of daily walks. It removed my mental blockages, helped me find gratitude, and uncover a renewed sense of purpose I realize that all sounds a little hippy-dippy, but really, there’s some legit research here.
In fact, I find the information around the Blue Zones incredibly fascinating – it has uncovered proof that longevity and improved quality of life is more than just specific diet or inherited genes. It’s the whole practice of wellness, and in fact, the lessons that can be learned around the residents of Loma Linda, California – one of the Blue Zones – where daily walks and time in nature is part of their lifestyle and has obvious connectivity to this point.
Exposure to a variety of toxins in the work environment – be that in questionable recycled air quality with closed high-rise buildings, toxic cleaners, or the plastics in your water bottles and to-go lunch containers you often get physically barraged by junk in your environment throughout each workday. Do what you can do limit that exposure with glass food storage containers and perhaps some air-filtering plants.
Positive Communication & Community
A healthy work environment isn’t just physical but emotional. You may often hear, “let’s take the emotion out of this”, but the fact is that mood and communication are a part of business. How that manifests can change by organizational culture, by day, or by hour. And often in service-based businesses especially, the persona you bring to meetings can make or break the deal. To that end, investing in positive work culture, community and communication can be the key to your organizations success or failure. It’s easy to bring the positive emotion when you’re winning, but when you’re in a down market or a bad quarter – how do you handle things? Rising pressures and personalities can crush motivation, performance, and your overall wellness can go down the tubes to boot.
There are a few techniques here to consider:
- DiSC: Being mindful of the emotional states and needs of others can greatly help foster positive communication in high pressure situations. DiSC training can help you read the room to shift those fence-sitters and close the deal.
- Myers-Briggs: Having self-awareness of your own personality tendencies identified through Myers-Briggs may also help you communicate better, build stronger relationships and manage your stress. I had taken this test at a job in my late-20s and it had profound impact in my communication approach but I recently took it again with another 15 years under my belt and interestingly found that my results shifted a bit.
- Find your Moai: Back to the Blue Zones, the Okinawan people of Japan have a tradition of “Moai” which is a social group of lifelong friends that support each other in social, financial, health and spiritual interests. These groups are assigned in childhood and extend into the 100s – simply amazing! Finding your partner resources for support and respect inside or outside of work may be a benefit to your mental wellness and corporate longevity. In the digital age of Facebook groups, Slack and WhatsApp, in addition to the usual in-person school, religious, neighborhood, or volunteer groups, seek and find your support tribe(s) to boost your feelings of connection and community!
Purpose & Perspective
Life and work naturally has its ups and downs. I’m sure no “Sally Sunshine” all the time (at least I’m self-aware, right?) But what’s always kept me driven through the twists and turns is my “why” – and naturally that has evolved through seasons of life. I enjoy work. I keep the perspective that I choose to work. The idea of accomplishing something with a combination of my innate gifts, interests, and curiosity gets me up and excited in the morning. In Japanese the word is “ikigai” which encompasses joy, a sense of purpose, meaning and well-being. It protects you from stress and burnout, helping you be more motivated and resilient.
[photo credit: Wikimedia]
Maybe it’s not your day job but the life’s work that happens around it. Or, maybe you’re lucky enough that your career IS your fulfilling dream job. In either case, remember to find gratitude in your daily life to spark joy and if you’re not sure of your purpose especially in a time of transition when it can feel lost, spend some time reading or journaling to help uncover it. With ikigai, there’s no such thing as retirement – it’s your lifelong driving force. What’s yours?
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Danielle is Founder of The Well-Intended® and a mid-certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach/Executive Wellness Coach. She’s passionate about improving workplace dynamics and employees’ quality of life. If you’d like to learn more about how The Well-Intended can help your organization, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[header photo credit: iStock/airdone]