I’ve been in a funk lately. I’ve been grumpy and short-fused with people I care a lot about. I’ve been even worse to people I don’t care for. The reason for this is simple, and it’s something that I’ve seen coming every year right around this time. I’m not going to go into details of what happened — because suicide is taboo in my culture, don’t you know? — but I will tell you how I plan to deal with it.
Step 1: Get better sleep
My allergies have been killing me. Because we didn’t really have a winter this year, a lot plants started shedding their pollen early and often. There have been a few days when my eyes are very swollen and I can’t breathe at all through my nose. Last week, my nose ran so much that I thought something was seriously wrong. Then there are the sinus pressure headaches.
All of this gets in the way of sleeping, of course. A stuffed nose drains on the side you’re sleeping on and then you shift in your sleep in order to drain the other side. This makes you restless at night and you don’t fall into deep sleep for long, certainly not long enough to feel refreshed in the morning.
I went out to the drug store and got some allergy eye drops, some allergy medication with pseudoephedrine, and some nasal spray. After a hot shower that opened up my breathing passages, I threw in the nasal spray, took the medication, and added the eye drops. Man, I got some really good sleep last night… Finally.
Step 2: Get a workout in, even if you don’t feel like it
The evidence is clear that exercise helps with mood. (Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting a workout regimen.) When I started a regimen of at least one hour a day of running, biking, or swimming, I managed to lose 25 pounds. Then winter came (and I went to Puerto Rico), and I lost the habit of doing something active for an hour a day. Instead, I fell into a habit of sleeping in late when I could, popping open the laptop on the couch, and eating. Of those 25 pounds, I’ve gained back 7.
I’ve started getting back into the habit of working out at least one hour a day this week. If it’s not a walk or a jog around the neighborhood, it’s an hour in the pool. (I can swim now, me!) Or it’s an hour on the bicycle around the neighborhood. The key is to continue this trend for a few weeks so that it becomes a habit. The other key is to do it in the morning, so that the rest of the day can go better.
Even if I don’t get to do it in the morning, though, the goal is still to keep moving for an hour… Get that heart rate going and burn some calories while producing some good brain chemicals. In the long run, this also helps with sleep.
Step 3: Enjoy becoming a dad
In case you didn’t know, my wife is pregnant. Baby Ren is due to arrive this summer, and I’m going to need to be in a good mood and rested to handle that huge responsibility. My wife has been having a little bit of trouble with
morning all-day sickness and other issues associated with getting pregnant, so it’s up to me to be there for her to help her through. For that, I need to be in good physical and emotional shape. For that, I need sleep and exercise… And…
Step 4: Eat better
My problem with eating dates back to when mom used to settle me down with promises of fast and/or high-calorie food. Instead of an apple or a carrot, I was rewarded with candy or cake, or some other deliciousness. As an adult, my problem is not a food desert, per se. It’s an over-abundance of cheap, high-calorie food that is available to me on my way to and from school/work or anywhere else I go. It is very easy to give in and buy a combo meal. A little too easy.
So I’m taking a deep breath and thinking twice as to whether or not I’m hungry and/or whether or not I should stop and eat fast food. If I’m hungry, is there anything else nearby, something fresher with vegetables? If I’m not hungry, what can I do to stop the craving? Drink more water? Chew some gum? Think happy thoughts.
Step 5: Stop worrying
It may come as a surprise to you — as it did to me — but I’m not the end-all, be-all of all things. I’m not in as much control as I thought I was. Things, lots of them, happen all around me, and there is nothing that I can do about it. I’m learning to be okay with that. This is key to the other steps as it helps me to just learn to let go of things.
This also includes focusing less on the news of the day and more on the personal, real-life relationships that I have with multiple people. So what if a Kardashian had a bad day? So what if Orange 45 said this or that? 99% of what goes on out there in the world doesn’t affect me, and I can’t affect it. So why worry?
Putting it all together
As I continue to work on my doctoral dissertation/thesis/oh-dear-God-what-have-I-done, I need to keep my mind and body in good shape to sail through whatever may come. The Baby Ren is going to take up a lot of time come summer, and I’ll need stamina for that. Doing research and writing the dissertation will require mental clarity and good mood. And growing older — with older limbs and joints — will require less excess weight.
Here’s hoping I succeed.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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