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Danielle Richardson

Not a Morning Person? Here’s How to Boost Your Early Energy

Give one of the hacks below a try to increase both your energy and focus in the A.M.

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I LOVE COFFEE, SO SKIP this article if you’re expecting advice on giving up your beloved morning Starbucks. You can keep your coffee, but it’s time to discuss a common morning struggle — our lack of energy! Many of us enjoy the taste of coffee or tea, but we’re really using caffeine to solve the underlying issue of not having enough energy for the day.
Low energy can be caused by a lack of rest, systemic disease or chronic stress. To make matters worse, we often compound this with poor choices throughout the day that further deplete our reserves. If you suffer from a lack of energy, simple changes to your daily habits could have profound positive effects. Give one of the hacks below a try to increase both your energy and focus.

Lighten Up at Breakfast. Working in downtown Houston, I observed many busy professionals grabbing breakfasts that consist of pastries, bread, cheeses and other heavy foods. It’s difficult to have enough energy for the day when the first meal is not nutrient dense and difficult for the body to digest. An easy change is swapping heavy options for something lighter like eggs, a smoothie or fruit. Making healthier dietary choices is a quick and effective way to increase both energy and clarity.

Do Not Disturb. I’m a big proponent of unplugging, but I’m also a realist and understand the necessity of staying connected. Make it a morning habit to only briefly check your phone for any pressing matters, then turn off your notifications or place your device on its “Do Not Disturb” setting. Distractions in the form of emails, texts and social media updates decrease your productivity while draining your mental energy. A study at George Mason University by cognitive scientist Dr. Cyrus K. Foroughi and colleagues found even small distractions cause a significant decrease in overall production and quality of work. Changing your phone settings allows you to create boundaries around your time and prioritize important tasks for the day.

Move Your Body. Don’t overcomplicate it. Be active and add simple movement to your day like push-ups, dancing, a few yoga poses, or a short walk during your lunch. Movement, or exercise, gets you out of your brain and into your body while shifting stagnant physical energy. It circulates oxygen, improves your mood, and allows you to feel more present and focused. Not just reserved for the morning, short bursts of movement throughout the day can recharge your batteries and get you over the 2 p.m. slump without a second coffee.

Minimize Decisions With Routine. Last but not least, create a routine to decrease the number of decisions you make each morning. Wake up at the same time and find practices that help you clear your mind and start the day on a positive note. This does not have to be an elaborate 60-minute event. Your routine can be as short and simple as you’d like, but the key is to be consistent. Successful people take control of their mornings with routines to cultivate positive energy and allow a break from the decision-making process, which often depletes energy. Keep your energy high and bring your A game by setting notification boundaries to maintain your focus.

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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

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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Danielle Richardson

Mindful Meditation for You and Your Patients

Studies show it can cure many chronic pain and anxiety conditions … even treat glaucoma!

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MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION ARE two words whose meanings depend on who you ask. So what is mindfulness meditation? Is it sitting still on a yoga mat? Is it repeating mantras in the Himalayan Mountains? Is it something totally different?

The answer is (drum roll please) … Yes! It is all those things and more. It is the practice of intentional, nonjudgmental awareness of moment-to-moment experiences, as defined by Dr. Dan Siegel, founding co-director of UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.

While this type of practice seems like a way of improving your mental health, the benefits extend to your physical self as well. The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) technique was created in the 1970s by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Since then, the Center for Mindfulness at the UMass Medical School has found success curing many chronic pain and anxiety conditions with mindfulness meditation.

More recently, a study published in the Journal of Glaucoma revealed this same MBSR meditation technique as an effective treatment for primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) when used over a 21-day period. The randomized study included 90 POAG patients and found the patients who meditated not only had lower intraocular pressure, but also significantly lower levels of the stress hormone Cortisol when compared to the control group. It’s time to consider beginning a mindfulness meditation practice of your own and perhaps making the recommendation to your patients.

I wholeheartedly believe in the power of meditation but don’t take my word for it, give it a try for yourself via one of the methods below.

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Video-Based Guided Meditation

A quick search for the keywords ‘guided meditation’ will yield a treasure trove of resources and online videos. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all the results, I recommend starting with Dr. Dan Siegel’s guided mindfulness meditation.

App-Based Guided Meditation

Mobile applications like Headspace, Calm, and Omvana put the power of meditation in your pocket. You’re able to turn idle time into a chance to reconnect with yourself. Oprah and Deepak Chopra also have a “21-Day Meditation Experience” app focused on helping beginners develop a foundation.

IRL (In Real Life) Options

Many local yoga studios or healing centers offer meditation classes. Although these classes may lean towards the spiritual elements of meditation, they often provide an opportunity to receive in-person guided meditation in a space that’s welcoming and inviting. Additionally, mindful awareness practices like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong are effective in helping you achieve many of the same awareness benefits with a bit more movement.

Whether you choose to attend a yoga class, download an app, or watch a YouTube video — building a regular meditation practice can help you become mindful, improve focus, reduce stress, and achieve greater well-being. Happy meditating!

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Danielle Richardson

Stop Trying to Be Perfect

It’s just making us sick.

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PERFECTIONISM IS THE SISTER of failure, and she keeps many of us stuck and unhappy. Perfectionism takes different forms but is generally defined as a personality trait marked by a person’s striving for perfection, creating unreasonably high standards, and engaging in harsh self-critical analysis. This will sound familiar if you’re an overachieving personality type; perfectionism runs deep in many of us.

Thomas Curran Ph.D., a personality psychologist, and physiologist Andrew Hill published a study showing how perfectionism has increased over time. Their study of over 40,000 American, Canadian, and British college students between 1989 and 2016 showed an increase in levels of perfectionism, affecting males and females equally. They correlate this increase with Western society’s “emphasized competitive individualism” that began en masse in the 1980s.

A 2017 World Health Organization report also showed a record number of young people are suffering from serious depression or anxiety disorders. Curran and Hill postulate this rise is not related to a coddled, emotionally weak generation, but “may stem from the excessive standards that they hold for themselves and the harsh self-punishment they routinely engage in.” In short — perfectionism is making us sick.

The links between modern society and perfectionism are inextricable. Living in the digital age, where everyone and everything has become a “brand,” there is an immense amount of pressure to maintain a perfect appearance. As doctors, we are always striving to appear competent, knowledgeable, and like we have it all together. To overcome perfectionism, we have to be willing to release our rigid ideas of how things are “supposed” to be. We can still strive for excellence while extending ourselves grace to not be perfect. Below are two techniques to help you get started.

Make Peace With Failure

Failure is not a dirty 7-letter word, but rather an opportunity to learn and grow. Failure as a learning exercise is being taken seriously at Columbia University’s Teachers College where a center dedicated to studying failure’s educational purpose, the Education for Persistence and Innovation Center, was recently created. Failure is also a fundamental cornerstone of science, for there are many failed attempts for every successful experiment. This should encourage you to know that it’s OK to fail. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so don’t be discouraged — get out and shoot!

Try Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, defines it as being kind and understanding instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies and/or personal failings. As a yoga teacher, this is a quality I and my students work to cultivate. It may seem counterintuitive, but treating yourself as you would treat a friend in need is a simple way to exercise self-compassion.
You don’t have to be perfect. Embrace the ups-and-downs and be kind to yourself. Your journey will be far more enjoyable!

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