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Danielle Richardson

Daily Habits that Kill Productivity

These four things will obliterate your focus.

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DISTRACTIONS. DISTRACTIONS. DISTRACTIONS. In a perfect world, there would be none. We’d wake up, have our coffee, and head to work for a productive day crossing everything off our to-do lists. I’d love to visit this dream optometry land but realistically, on any given workday, there seems to be 100 things vying for our attention. It’s super easy to get off course and lose focus.

We can’t control everything that pops up to disrupt our flow, but we can control our actions. Many of us have pesky habits that kill productivity and make it hard to focus. Identifying and making modifications in our habits can help the day run more smoothly. Do you suffer from these productivity killers?

Social Media Breaks. Raise your hand if you’re guilty of checking social media during the workday. We all are! Punctuating the day with social media is the easiest way to kill productivity. You don’t need to post a status ranting about your complicated contact lens fit. It’s estimated the average person will spend about five years, or 116 minutes per day, on social media in their lifetime. Reclaim those minutes spent mindlessly scrolling and focus on the task at hand.

Multitasking. By far this is the worst habit we all have. Being a clinician requires us to do multiple things at once, but multitasking can have the opposite effect of the one we seek. The more we try to juggle, the more we stretch ourselves thin; in fact, studies have shown multitasking can reduce productivity as much as 40 percent. As a yoga teacher, I often invoke the principle of “be here now.” Be present to what you are doing at the moment.

Not Sleeping Enough. It’s counterintuitive, but you cannot be your best self without those 8 hours of rest. Arianna Huffington is trying to create a sleep revolution for good reason. We live in a society that praises entrepreneurs who run on three hours of sleep, but have we asked ourselves why? Sleep deprived people are more at risk for high blood pressure, obesity, and other adverse health conditions. Instead of picking up an extra cup of coffee to improve your focus, try heading to bed earlier.

Stressing About Things You Can’t Control. Stress is an emotional drain that depletes us of the energy necessary for focus and productivity. You don’t have to be a Zen monk to understand the philosophy of letting go of what is outside of your control. Anxiety and worry are the background chatter running through most of our heads and, when left unchecked, they can affect our behavior, making it hard to focus on the present. Nix this negative habit by picking up a mindfulness practice to help de-stress and refocus on your internal locus of control.

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Dr. Danielle Richardson practices in Houston with Texas State Optical and runs a holistic wellness company, Fierce Clarity. She is a registered yoga teacher and hosts wellness retreats, yoga classes, and pop-up events for busy, professional women to help manage stress and avoid burnout. Follow her on Instagram at @fierceclarity

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Danielle Richardson

How to Be Healthier Now

4 easy tips you can implement today to start living a healthier lifestyle.

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BEING HEALTHY” IS ONE of those oversized goals we often leave to next week, next month, or next year. In celebration of this issue’s “How To” theme, I want to share easy swaps you can make to center your health now.

Most Americans live a sedentary lifestyle, with six in 10 adults suffering from a chronic disease like heart disease or diabetes. Beyond the physical, we know healthcare workers experience above-average rates of anxiety, depression and burnout. As busy clinicians and optical professionals, it can be challenging to find the time to think about our health and wellbeing in practical terms because we don’t always make the best patients.

We’re largely marketed an image of health that is a two-hour morning routine complete with a workout, meditation and balanced breakfast. But real health is not about how complicated you can make your mornings, it’s about creating habits and behaviors that help you feel well.

Below are some easy tips you can implement to start living a healthier lifestyle now.

Clearly Define Health Goals

Health, when left as an abstract concept, can be difficult to define. Instead, focus on your health goals and the intention behind them. Stress reduction? Lose weight? Gain muscle? Lower blood pressure? Spending some time clearly defining your health goals allows you to better focus your limited energy on the activities that will help you achieve them.

Track Key Metrics

Taking the stairs is the oldest health advice in the book, but have you thought about tracking the steps using your smartphone? Using technology as a tool to track your health metrics can help keep you on track. Goal setting is key, but tracking your progress is equally important and provides a positive psychological impact to keep you motivated. You can use pre-installed health applications on your smartphone or download apps specific to tracking your movement. No matter what metric you use, monitoring progress through a health app can encourage you to make better choices throughout the day.

Choose the Healthier Side Item

When eating out, aim to order the healthier side 80 percent of the time. Think sautéed vegetables instead of fries, salad instead of garlic bread, grilled shrimp instead of fried. These small changes accumulate over time to create a new habit. Choosing a healthier option isn’t about deprivation, it’s about creating a strong foundation that allows you to indulge occasionally without hindering progress towards your goals.

Focus on Nutrition

While there are agreed upon vitamins and minerals that every person needs, the amount and types vary based on the individual. Consult with your primary care doctor or nutritionist to explore the resources available to help you learn about optimal nutritional requirements based on your specific health goals. Nutritional testing can provide insight and information about deficiencies you may have and what supplementation is most effective. In addition to personal consultations, many new health tech companies offer in-home nutritional testing and coaching. Individualized nutrition is the future of health and wellness because nutrition is the missing component for many in their journey to creating a healthier life.

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Danielle Richardson

It’s Time to Take the Mind-Body Connection Seriously

No longer just a fringe New Age theory, science supports the positive benefits of mind-body therapies to minimize suffering and enhance wellbeing.

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THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION, once fringe New Age theory, has emerged as a bonafide medical phenomenon with evidence-based science to support it. Understanding the interconnectedness between our mental and physical states is especially useful for stress modulation.

Healthy stress, or eustress, keeps us productive, alert and upbeat. Unfortunately, modern life exposes us to ever more stimuli, increasing our points of contact with physical, mental and emotional stressors, leading to an overabundance of negative stress, or distress.

We know stress has a physiological effect on biological functions, but science is revealing the mind’s role in how we experience it. Neuroscientists led by Dr. Peter L. Strick, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute uncovered neurological data to support the theory of Mind-Body Connection. In the study, published in the journal Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences (Pnas), Strick, et. al. discovered several key neural networks that connect the cerebral cortex — particularly areas responsible for motor function — to the adrenal medulla, which is the area of the brain that produces our stress (or “fight or flight”) hormones. This could explain how mental states like stress, anxiety, and depression affect our body via neurotransmitters and offers a clue as to why bodily movement and exercise are a useful counterbalance to stress.

Scientists at The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an NIH affiliate, are studying mind-body therapies including yoga, meditation, hypnosis, tai chi and electromyogram biofeedback. With science exploring the power of mind-body therapies to minimize suffering and enhance well-being, perhaps it’s time for you to strengthen your Mind-Body Connection. Here are a few ways to get started:

Move Your Body

Western science is discovering that moving the body can ease stress and psychosomatic illnesses. Mind-body movement includes practices like yoga and tai chi, but also walking or dancing. Find fun and easy ways to prioritize movement as a part of your healthy living routine.

Viva Las Vagus!

The Vagus nerve is our 10th cranial nerve and the primary controller of the parasympathetic nervous system — responsible for our rest and digest responses. It’s the longest cranial nerve and modulates the psychophysiological connection between the brain, gut and internal organs. Yogis know that slow, deep, mindful breathing stimulates a parasympathetic response via the vagus nerve causing increased relaxation and decreased stress. This was confirmed by a study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine which showed deep abdominal breathing reduced sympathetic activity while enhancing vagal activity. Consider a daily diaphragmatic breathing practice.

Remember Non-Physical Health

Health has mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Pay attention to the physical manifestation of mental experiences and emotions, such as “butterflies in the stomach” or “feeling hot headed.” Oftentimes, physical sensations are accompanied by mental and emotional fluctuations. Enlist a therapist, clergy person, meditation teacher or other trusted counselor to help you in this area.

MBSR Technique

If you want to go deeper, find a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in your area. Created in the 1970s by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, MBSR is an eight-week group course supported by peer reviewed, repeatable scientific evidence. Participants commit to 30-45 minutes of daily mindfulness meditation, mindful movement, and a weekly group class led by an MBSR certified instructor. The program has been shown to help participants better manage stress, anxiety, depression and chronic pain while improving general wellbeing.

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Danielle Richardson

Feel Like Your Wellness Routine Could Be Missing Something? It’s Probably Sleep

We spend nearly a third of our life sleeping, which makes getting quality sleep as essential as a healthy diet and regular exercise.

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WHEN YOU THINK OF your health and wellness, how often do you think of sleep? Chances are not often — but you should. Sleep is the newest frontier in wellness as public health consciousness continues to increase and we move to a more holistic idea of health. We spend nearly 1/3 of our life sleeping which makes getting quality sleep as essential as a healthy diet and regular exercise.

The National Sleep Foundation defines quality sleep as occurring when you’re asleep within 30 minutes of laying down, wake no more than once, and sleep for at least 85 percent of the night. Unfortunately, quality sleep is an uncommon occurrence as the CDC reports a third of American adults experience poor or inadequate sleep on a regular basis. An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep-related problems or disorders, such as sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, or restless leg syndrome. As a country, we need to get some rest!

Sleep deprivation increases the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and triples the risk for type 2 diabetes according to Johns Hopkins sleep researcher Patrick Finan, PhD. Those not getting adequate sleep suffer from a weakened immune system, irregular metabolism, and obesity secondary to increased levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. Not limited to just the physical body, sleep deprivation can also manifest as cognitive impairment and/or mental health changes including depression, irritability, anxiety, forgetfulness, and brain fog. Poor quality sleep is far less recuperative, which causes us to not feel rested when do we wake up.

Sleep depends on a number of factors, our body’s internal regulating system is chief among them. Our Circadian Rhythm functions as the body’s biological clock and regulates the experience of alertness vs. sleepiness. This rhythm is sensitive to fluctuations in hormone levels, particularly cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol peaks in the morning allowing us to be alert and focused throughout the day. The secretion of melatonin — which helps us sleep — is highest at night.

These days, our minds are moving a mile a minute and we’re constantly on light-producing digital devices even though increased high-energy blue light exposure from devices decreases melatonin production and causes insomnia or sleeplessness. The disrupting culprits aren’t limited to devices though; increased stress, irregular work schedules, frequent jet lag, and sleep disorders can also disrupt our cycles.

The CDC recommends 7-9 hours of quality sleep for adults and more for teens and children. Here are some easy ways you can get better sleep tonight:

Build Consistency. It’s important to wake and head to bed around the same time each day — even on the weekends.

Use Sleep Monitoring Technology. Smartphones and wearable tech devices can help monitor the duration and quality of your sleep through downloadable applications and Bluetooth technology.

Sleep Habits. Limit screen time and diminish light sources in the bedroom. Additionally, use the automatic setting on your phone to warm the screen at night.

Bonus — Zen Out! Use essential oils or pillow sprays in scents like lavender as aromatherapy to help you sleep. Also consider meditation, light music, or other soothing sounds as a relaxing way to send yourself to bed.

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