Archive for the ‘self-care’ Category

A Plug for EWG, and the Stepwise Approach to Less Toxic Products   Leave a comment

This year’s summer eco-audit was exposure. For the audit I’ve focussed on personal care products, and this year also looked at cleaning products. Previously it has been a bit of a challenge to do this audit as it was hard to find information about safety of the various ingredients in the products I was using. And what resources I did find didn’t really help with the questions “how much should I be concerned about this?”, or “what’s in this product that doesn’t list ingredients?”. But thanks to Environmental Working Group, I was actually able to do a comprehensive audit of every personal care product that Conan and I use this year because if the product itself isn’t in their Skin Deep database, I could search by ingredients. (I only had one bottle from a gift set that didn’t have ingredients listed, and I ended up tossing it anyway because the rest of the set turned out to be unacceptable.) Since Skin Deep includes a 0 to 10 ranking for each product and ingredient, as well as an indication of how much data there was on which to base the ranking, it is a great tool for getting a sense of where to focus my concerns. The Guide to Healthy Cleaning isn’t as comprehensive, but I still found the rankings to be really helpful since I otherwise have no idea if some complicated chemical name is something inert or harmful.

Overall I found that my products are generally pretty well ranked (it helped that I just tossed all my conventional makeup when Conan became tall enough to reach into that drawer, and tossed a couple other things that I had laying around when I found out the ingredients). That made me realize that my “stepwise” approach to reducing exposure to potentially harmful compounds in personal care products works better than I had expected. When I first did this I was completely overwhelmed by the list of compounds that “they” say are “bad” and not to use. Most of those compounds are also things that I would never be able to keep in my mind between shopping trips and I’m not willing to keep a bunch of wallet cards. So I focussed on a couple things at a time. Turns out you reach a point where the products that don’t contain the easy-to-remember chemicals-to-avoid, also don’t contain many of the hard-to-remember chemicals! (It might also help that I’ve all but stopped shopping for personal care products at conventional grocery stores and drug stores.)

My personal path started back in college when I decided that I wanted to avoid mineral oil and petrolatum (aka petroleum jelly) as they are petroleum products not plant products. As time went on I started to avoid D&C and FD&C colors (not necessarily an exposure thing but based on the desire to avoid compounds derived from coal tar), BHT, parabens, and “fragrance” (which is an issue because it can include anything and often includes some very toxic compounds). Lots of “natural” brands do still use the term “fragrance” on their ingredient lists, but for some of those brands I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since they do explicitly say that they don’t use any toxic compounds (like Aveda, Dr. Bronner’s, and Toms of Maine).

My next step? Aside from “fragrance” in a handful of my products, most of which are companies that I’ll take the gamble with, the only red-flag compound in my list was retinol (vitamin A). Since I need to go to the dermatologist soon anyway, I’ll talk with her about Vitamin A. Apparently, it’s a cancer hazard when exposed to sunlight, and can bioaccumulate to the point of being a developmental toxin. I sort of knew this already from a dietary standpoint: too much vitamin A is bad since it can build up in the body, but eat all the beta carotene that you want (it won’t build up but is easily converted into vitamin A). I’m guessing that the little amount in my lipstick and under-eye concealer isn’t really a concern but I’ll follow up anyway.

I will also add that this is why we need a Safe Chemicals Act! No one should have to worry about whether the personal care products they are using contain carcinogenic or toxic compounds, and we shouldn’t be the guinea pigs used to find out.

Time to Take Care of the Nestee   Leave a comment

Upon reaching the unfortunate “1 year of trying to conceive without success” milestone (it’s closer to 1.5 years on the calendar but interruptions like gallbladder surgery messed with the schedule), I started doing some self-evaluation in addition to testing. One of the things that I realized was that I had gotten distracted in this process and had been neglecting myself. I suppose this is in general a problem for many people, and mothers especially, but when trying to get pregnant I’d guess it is counter productive. I’ve been so focussed on house stuff and financial matters, and the intellectual side of trying to become a good baby-host, that I kept procrastinating the stuff that was just for me. After years of being pretty good about monthly massages, I got ONE massage in 2011. After a few years of being good about monthly clothing purchases I bought a pair of jeans and some socks in the first 10 months of 2011, and both of those were almost-emergency purchases (translation: I had 7 pairs of socks left, and jeans with an impending hole). I don’t remember if I did any home facials all year, most weekends involved fairly extensive to-do lists and attempts at productivity, and I can’t remember the last time I cuddled up with a good book. It’s not that I didn’t do anything fun, or that I wasn’t taking care of myself in the basic sense, but that I wasn’t taking care of my emotional/mental self.

As my friend also pointed out, I usually approach everything in life with a rather spiritual/emotional perspective, but so far have been largely intellectual on the trying to conceive front. I’ve focussed on reducing external stressors, eating right, maintaining my exercise routine, charting, taking supplements, and house-projects (nesting). Yes, I was doing some visualization, and trying to deal with internal stressors, but entirely unsuccessfully.

It is time for that to change. I am re-committing to myself. One of my personal golden rules is that I am the most important person in my life, and I need to live by my own rule. February has been a good month to get that started with two massages (courtesy of a gift certificate), a hair cut so that I like the person in the mirror for the first time in over  a year, and a consistent visualization practice. I created a daily invitation/prayer to my future child, and am doing myofascial release treatments in the pelvic region to release stored tension (the pelvic region is the seat of the second chakra, which deals with relationships and sexual function among other things). Maybe the most important thing is mentally putting my foot down on the recent habit of putting the house first, and the inclination to be busy. It’s hard since there’s so much I’d like to do, and I enjoy doing it; but it creates internal stress and pressure to do-do-do-go-go-go. Internal psychological pressures are a bear! Especially for those who could be described as planners, or people who love to have multiple “projects” going on at any given time.

Some of this stuff is considered luxury by many even if it isn’t: like monthly massages, hair cuts, or clothing purchases. On a spiritual/emotional level taking that sabbath-time for a massage, even just one hour a month, has a huge effect. No, your muscles will not stay loose, but the benefits of a release of surface tension, break from mental stressors, and possible release of stored tension will last longer when it is a regular practice. And believe me, not liking what you see in the mirror or dreading getting dressed in the morning because your clothes are worn out or you have to wear the same things every week, has an incredibly negative effect on a persons psyche.

Computer Gaming Problem   Leave a comment

One of my goals set back in August was to cut my TV watching down to 2 hours during the week and 2 hours on weekends. That was the explicit goal. The implicit goal was to read more, and get to sleep on time easier. Well, I made the explicit goal easily; but missed the implicit goal by a long shot. How’s that? Well I gave in to a computer game itch. I have a somewhat addictive roleplaying game on my computer that I’ve been playing for the last 10 years. I found version 2 way back when and pretty much spent ALL my free time playing it. At the time I had an absolutely horrible job and was depressed, so the escapism it offered was a relief. Even playing it for hours every day, it still takes several weeks (months?) to finish a game. Version 3 came out and I played that for a while, but then I met Mike and life got busy. Eventually I found out that version 4 had come out, read the description and caved in to get it (these are cheap shareware games). I played it a couple of times and then set up a couple challenging scenarios that out-challenged/bored me so I stopped playing for a while (we also started househunting, which might have factored into the stoppage). The files were all still on my computer, but I was effectively ignoring them. Then this past summer I found out they are now on version 6. The itch started, and eventually I gave in a revisited those two challenging scenarios that I had given up on. One of them turned out to be pretty easy, but still has sucked up all my free time and not-so-free time since October. I only just finished the game.

Now I am faced with a dilemma. I cannot let myself get sucked into this game again after we start a family. It is not possible to play for 10 or 15 minutes, I’ve tried many a time, the minimum sitting is more like 30 minutes. And I know myself and my history: I get sucked in and neglect other things in my life. The obvious solution is to delete all the files from my computer, right? But what if I get the itch to play a game like this again? Can I trust myself to be strong enough for a couple decades to not give in? Or would it be better to leave the game on my computer with all my hints, guides, and notes so that I don’t risk starting something new from scratch? I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of days and I’m going back and forth. I could honestly use third-party perspective on this.

But while I decide what to do about the time-suck that took my free time after cutting back on TV, I will enjoy playing with my reward for cutting back on TV anyway: a small electric chipper/shredder. After all, I did meet the explicit goal, and implicit goals only count if the explicit goal failed.

Posted January 31, 2012 by mayakey in goals, musings, self-care

Tagged with , ,

Can Something Be Unknowingly Stressful?   Leave a comment

Alternative title: When other people insist that something is stressful, but you don’t think so.

This past week we went to the doctor for a fertility consult and are starting to do some testing since we’ve passed 15 months of trying (technically 12 months + 3 months off due to gallstones/gallbladder surgery) to get pregnant. In addition to discussing testing options, the doctor suggested that while it has been very helpful that I’ve been charting so that I know I’m ovulating, I should stop because it is stressing me out. Apparently it happens all the time that people stop charting and then get pregnant because the charting is “stressful”. When we walked out of the office, though, I told Mike that I have no intention of stopping charting. I think it would be WAY more stressful to not chart than it is to chart. In fact, the month that we moved into our current house I didn’t chart and it was incredibly stressful for me because I felt lost in my own body. It was like someone had taken away one of my senses, and I didn’t like that experience. Am I missing something here?

I got introduced to Natural Family Planning/Fertility Awareness Method by my friend, and started charting more than a year before we started trying to get pregnant. I was immediately hooked! The self-knowledge and self-understanding that comes with observing fertility signs is an incredibly wonderful experience to me, and I intend to continue charting through menopause. So observing my fertile signs and charting is just as much a part of my day as brushing my teeth, and occupies about as much of my mental state. Taking my temperature in the morning doesn’t require any more thought than to roll over and stick the thermometer in my mouth when my alarm clock first goes off. (It’s a zen alarm clock, with chimes at increasing frequencies following the golden ratio). Checking cervical fluid is just a matter of observation throughout the day. Sure, there’s a little bit of stress related to timing sex during the fertile phase. However it seems to me like it would be more stressful to do so without  observing fertile signs and having no idea when your body is at its most fertile. And I also question the idea that I experience more stress around the time when I might get my period than someone who’s not charting. It seems like we’d be going through the same emotions regardless since most women have a sense of how long they usually go between periods.

This is probably partially a personality thing, after all I am definitely an engineer and someone who wants to be intimately knowledgeable about/involved with myself and my health and wellness. Maybe there’s also a difference that I didn’t start charting when we started trying to get pregnant for the purpose of trying to get pregnant. This doctor was not the first doctor to suggest that charting may stress me out as my naturopath suggested the same thing about a year ago. Unless I’m in total denial or completely missing something, though, I do not feel that observing my fertile signs and charting is causing stress in my life and interfering with my ability to get pregnant. Is it possible to have other people tell you that something is stressful for you and yet not experience that thing as stressful? I think so, obviously, but I’d love feedback.

Posted January 15, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, health, pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, self-care

Tagged with , ,

Sleep Takes Precendence   1 comment

Do you have a bad habit that is persistent despite repeated attempts to change? Mine is getting to bed late. For pretty much two decades now I have not been able to go to bed before midnight, no matter how tired I am. I’ve tried several times to do something as simple as go to bed when I become tired, and I always fall back into resisting going to bed. The extra baffling thing is that I love lounging in bed, so why I can’t make myself do something that my body and mind both enjoy is a mystery. When trying to live a conscious life, aware of the self and its needs, not being able to follow up on such a fundamental need and desire is a big failing. And in anticipation of being pregnant, when I will NEED more sleep, and being a parent, when I will have even more to do, I think I’ve reached my breaking point.

For the last month I have set a strict bedtime of 11pm, with a punitive punishment that I don’t get to do the puzzles in the paper the next day if I don’t make bedtime. So far it is working, probably helped by the fact that I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t get over this failing. I do not want to fall into the trap of trying to be superwoman; and staying up late to “get things done” is one big step on that road. The crazy thing is that I’m actually more stressed now that I’m getting to bed earlier because all of a sudden my evening got an hour shorter. This blog suffers the most because it is at the bottom of the priority list.

Where else to trim so that evenings/nights are both not stressful and providing sufficient sleep? That’s the next hurdle to figure out to make this a long term change. And I’m stumped. I have a 10-item weekday to do list that is a good reminder that there’s no room for anything else on my plate during the week:

  1. Work
  2. Zero-sum (basically: pick up after myself)
  3. Downtime (cuddling with my husband, mostly)
  4. Dinner (cooking, which is split with my husband, and eating)
  5. Exercise
  6. Shower
  7. Meditation
  8. Fun (newspaper, comics, TV, puzzles)
  9. Bills etc.
  10. Prayer group/choir practice/blogging (depending on the night)

I’m not willing to stop exercising, I don’t think skipping dinner would be healthy, my husband and co-workers might not appreciate me not showering, bills aren’t optional, and neither is a little me- and fun-time. The prayer group and choir are both things that I really longed for before they were an option, and I really enjoy them now. I cannot for the life of me figure out how anyone else in the world gets all this stuff done.

Posted April 5, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, goals, self-care

Spring Detox – Time To Check Up On Good Health Habits   Leave a comment

Spring detox isn’t just about diet and supplements, although they are a major part, but it’s also about making sure that the body’s natural detoxification systems are supported normally. The plan that I follow/have developed over the years includes several things that are good everyday health habits that get taken for granted or left in the background much of the time. By this I mean habits like getting enough sleep, breathing deeply, and drinking enough water. These are all habits that go right along with being conscious of my body and its needs, but it is also really easy to get caught up in distractions and drift from an established habit. For me being really busy at work makes it harder for me to drink enough water since I get sucked into my computer, being busy at home makes it hard to get enough sleep, and any form of stress or anxiety can restrict breathing. Taking a few days to make sure I am actually DOING what I think I’m doing (although to be honest I don’t think I get enough sleep regularly) is really valuable for me in the context of living a conscious life.

These are all habits that support the body’s natural ability to detoxify. Sleep is when many organs recharge themselves, especially the liver and the skin, which are two major parts of the body’s detoxification system. Exhaling rids the body of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and any other gaseous contaminants. Water is obviously a major part of the body’s detoxification system since it is the vehicle the kidneys use to get rid of waste (urine).

Posted April 1, 2011 by mayakey in breathing, conscious living, health, self-care

Tagged with , , ,

Junk Reward   Leave a comment

“Everything in moderation, even moderation.” That’s one of my personal mantras. So this weekend, in reward for meeting my goal to no longer eat in front of the TV, I am splurging in a junk food weekend. Truthfully, I didn’t completely manage to stop eating in front of the TV. Just meals and a significant reduction in snacks. And there’s nothing better to celebrate not eating meals in front of the TV than to spend a weekend eating junk food and having no to-do list or commitments. I used to do this one weekend every year or two, but haven’t  in several years. In fact, I think the last time I did this was when my husband and I were still dating and he was going to be gone one weekend. So it was an entirely new experience for him to put “junk food for Maya” on the shopping list. Not that we don’t ever buy junk food in small quantities. Coming home with Double Stuff Oreos, mint Oreos, shortbread, Chessmen, frosted cookies, dried cherries, crackers, Boursin, potato chips, and Terra chips was a new experience for him. (And I can say that my eating habits have improved because I found that I can’t eat as many Oreos in one sitting as I used to; I might not be up for the challenge of the junk food.)

The goal to stop eating in front of the TV is a goal with many roots. The first is that TV just sucks up too much of my time and makes my head spin. Even though the vast majority of the programming holds no interest for me, there is just enough to keep me drawn in. Time gets lost that I could be using to read, or work on any of the many projects always in progress. Theoretically, not eating dinner in front of the TV means I’m less likely to lose an hour or two in an evening to the magic box. Realistically it means some nights the TV stays off and some nights I need a fix.

The second reason is because I’d like to eat healthier and lighter, which is easier to do when eating without distraction. Food is more satisfying when you are actually paying attention to it. Plus, when one pays attention to one’s food, one is likely to eat it slower and fill up on less. Of course, unappetizing food is best consumed with distraction and in a hurry; but who likes to eat food that doesn’t taste good?

The third reason is that, like many people in decades past, I grew up eating dinner with my family around the dinner table every day. That’s one of the best ways for a family to bond, and I have to say those family meals are very fond memories. I want to be able to do that with my future family. Shutting off the TV and sitting myself down in the dining room is the first step.

Posted February 12, 2011 by mayakey in goals, self-care

Tagged with , , ,