Reducing stress with breath

Stress management and reduction have become a big part of health management in current times. Stress is a huge complaint in multiple work places, and it makes sense that on an academic campus it would be a big concern. The deadlines, exams, and fast paced style of the setting add stress and pressure where we may not even expect it. There are many ways to reduce stress including exercise, listening to music, drinking tea, laughter, however, one that may not immediately come to mind is breathing. This may sound like the beginning of a yogi rant about cleansing the lungs of toxins, but before you make that judgement, there is a little bit of truth to that idea. When we are stressed our heart rate and breathing rate increases. Despite that we are breathing more, we have to take shallower breaths so less oxygen gets into the body when breathing rapidly. If less oxygen is going in, less carbon dioxide can leave, and in a sense we are retaining more “toxins” in our blood stream.

The most important part about this change in the body is that if you take control of this system, you can “trick” your body out of the stress response. Our bodies are programed for fight or flight, but the kinds of stress we encounter during our work day cannot be fought or run from. By slowing this breathing rate, the other stress responses and feelings of anxiety can be reduced and calmed. This is why long term stress can be concerning, it keeps the body on high alarm and results in health concerns like high blood pressure. The lungs like any unused organ can become lazy. Hunched postures or lack of exercise can allow the lungs to expand little and still meet the body’s needs. If we stretch and use those lung tissues they will be more available to us when we need them.

Deep breathing, abdominal breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing are all synonymous and translate to stopping those shallow breaths and allowing full deep breaths in. This could be a simple practice to do before beginning work again after your lunch break. Taking a few deep breaths could help clear your mind, and relax your breathing rate. Yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates are all exercise forms that encourage this deep breathing in their practice, and it is part of the reason why they are recommended to reduce stress.

There are multiple health benefits to deep breathing practices. Some are outlined in this article found in Yoga Journal. Happiness and emotional stability are listed first. I find this fitting because if we are able to lower stress levels and reduce tension we really can find ourselves more calm in our desk or on a yoga mat. Allowing the release of the tense day or a few minutes to just focus on something other than the building work pressures is a practice that could allow the composure we need to remain productive on a busy day.

For more information on how to perform these breathing techniques read here and here. There are a few different methods to try and finding one that fits you and your schedule could save you anxiety down the road.

Breathe easy!

Shannon Gambon

Employee Wellness Intern

One way to get off the couch this summer

This weekend I came down with a stomach bug, I was feeling miserable and had a “woe is me” attitude. Looking through my Facebook feed on Saturday I saw multiple friends had run their first triathlon, one her first marathon, and many half marathons. Even though I was too sick to get off the couch, I was happy for my friends and their big successes. Sometimes, I wonder where their determination comes from.  I know I’m not cut out for those long distances (they sound like injuries to me!), however, I should be taking better advantage of these beautiful running conditions we have been having. Whether planning long distances or on a shorter 5k, it is important to know what you’re getting into. Here are some ideas for starting a running or walking program if you are interested in participating in some fun runs this summer.

This running program is a couch to 5k design meant for those of us who haven’t been getting any miles in. It has a great gradual build up and some great ideas to keep the runner enjoying it. They have a few points I really like: First, a lot of people get turned off to running because they start out too fast or too far. Easing the body up to longer distances will make you feel stronger during your workouts and to avoid injury for us beginners. Second, I liked that the program is set up with 3 runs per week and all are only 20-30 minutes. This is manageable amount of time to dedicate, but enough to create some results. Third, it is great that this article gives time or distance as a goal. Some of us won’t be sure of the distance our run is, so time is a good alternative. One thing I really didn’t like is that it is a 9 week program. That may be too long for some people, however, the gradual increase in distance/ time is great, I feel that it could be a little more accelerated.

Now, what are we striving for? Road races can be a really fun summer activity, and many are for a good cause. There are some more competitive races, but most are not very competitive, some untimed, some with a prize each mile. There are beer runs, cupcake runs, chocolate races, color runs, and glow runs for a non-competitive start up runner. If you start the couch to 5k program this week you will be ready in time for end of August and early September runs. It always helps motivate me when I am registered for an event. Sometimes I need that extra push when I am getting started, a deadline. This is a helpful site to find some fun runs near you. Some of the neat ones include: a bacon and beer run in Racine, the race ends with an after party with bacon-y snacks. The Milwaukee Color Run, runners are sprayed with colorful chalk as they race, wear glasses and put the hose out before you leave, but it is a great time. The Glo Run, runners receive glow sticks along the path often lit up with holiday lights or luminaries.

I hope to see you out on the trails this summer! The couch to 5k program is designed so that almost anyone can do it. If you are having any doubts about starting the program, talk to your doctor so that they can clear up any concerns you may have. Running and walking is not for everyone, but it is great exercise. If you are looking for an exercise outlet and haven’t given them a try; it’s a great time of year for it!

Shannon Gambon

Employee Wellness Intern

Marquette University

Fit Families on Fathers Day!

Father’s Day is right around the corner so let me begin by saying Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there.
I myself am lucky to be a Dad three times over to healthy and smart kids, now ages 14, 12 and 8. They are among the fittest people I know: my son plays ice and roller hockey, runs cross country, and swims during summer, and my younger two girls swim competitively year-round with Shorewood Swim Club. My youngest daughter also plays ice and roller hockey.  In this age of rising obesity levels among children, I’m thrilled that my kids have found a love of the water – both frozen and not – that will hopefully last their whole lives.
What have I learned as a father in the past 14 years- and is there a correlation between parenthood and my fitness routine? Without question. For me it’s about learning, trying to lead by example and striving to be my best every day.     
I swim with the Whitefish Bay Masters team five days a week from 5 a.m.-6:30 a.m. Many of my 25 teammates are also parents. A few rarely miss practice and they’re always supportive of my efforts. I figure if they can find time to get to the pool and train for meets and races in light of raising their young families- including newborns- I should have no excuse to make it. They also regularly ask if they’ll see me the next day at practice. We count on each other and it’s a great reminder that we’re a team. 
As for the 5 a.m. start time, do I consider myself an early morning person? Not really, but It seems like the only way to squeeze in a practice is when the rest of my family is asleep. After my workout- which averages 4,000 yards- I find I’m more productive the rest of the day knowing that I’ve swam a full workout by 6:30 a.m. When I get home, I stir the kids, help make breakfast, pack the lunches, feed the dogs and am out the door at 7:30 to drop off the kids at school.
Like many families, we rarely eat dinner together during the week. My wife is the chef in the house and she does a great job of aiming for healthy meals in between runs to the pool and rink. Like many of you, this is the new normal for family life. If I tried to get in a workout during the evening, I would simply miss too much of these fun years that are going by at warp speed already.
So that’s what my normal day is like… but I have to say one of my favorite parts is around 8 p.m. at the kitchen table. I’m drinking chocolate milk with my 12-year-old daughter who has just gotten home from her 30-minute dry land and 90-minute swim practice. She is eating everything in sight and we are reviewing our workouts from the day, talking about our sets and rep times, what our coaches made us do, and what’s new with our teammates. It’s a language only a swimmer understands, I’m told.
So tonight I will raise my glass of chocolate milk to all you Dads out there who are setting the example of a balanced, athletic life. We are raising the next generation with healthy minds and bodies. We’re teaching them how to be good teammates and how to be a well-rounded person.
And, we’re teaching them to take care of themselves for a lifetime. As the years go by, it’s how we can stay relevant and be a part of their lives, even though they’ll be blowing by us in the pool in the future. Who’s to say we can’t try to keep up, though?

Sign up for The Road to Wellness Program this Summer

The Road to Wellness program is offering employees an outlet for often forgotten practices. Pondering our purpose or our life balance can be deep concepts that are missed in the quick moving world around us. One thing that can change perspective for us is stopping to ponder the beauty around us. When life is scheduled to the minute, tunnel vision developed puts us in a constant rushing state. When we are done hurrying at the end of the day we collapse into bed exhausted from a day of fast-paced check an email here, walk to a meeting there, rush across campus for this, and back for that. When we stop and appreciate how gorgeous the city is in summer, a delicious lunch, or that despite how hectic our lives are there people are in them that matter, we are becoming more in touch and healthy individuals. The Road to Wellness Program will offer insight on who we are and where we want to go, and is designed to help you work on many aspects of well-being. This program is self-paced and free to Marquette Employees. We hope that this will be an outlet for you to do a little soul searching this summer and find some healthy practices along the way.

MU Employee Wellness Intern

Shannon Gambon

Stress Relief for Busy Days

With so much going on in our daily lives, the number one reason I hear from people about why they are not exercising, eating right, or working on some aspect of wellness is because they are too busy. When we are busy, adding one more thing to our to-do list seems like a hassle. BUT….Self-care is important and cannot be put to the wayside, and good habits help give you more energy to tackle all the craziness and help you to bounce back faster when “life happens.” Here are some quick tips for stress management that you can try to incorporate into your day.

1)      Take a break while at work to do a quick 5-10 minute meditation. All you need is a quiet space and a comfortable position. Try just focusing on a word or phrase that you can say over and over or listen to an audio. There are even free apps available for your phone to help you with meditation. Regular meditation can help you feel more relaxed, improve your mood and focus, and even increase your patience!

2)      Perform some deep breathing. First place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Breathe in deeply, trying to make your exhalation last a few seconds longer than your inhalation. Focus on your breath and the feel of your hands rising and falling. Do this about five times or least a minute.

3)      Go for a quick 20 minute walk during your lunch hour or take part in onsite fitness classes, recreational leagues or just hit the gym during lunch or after work. Exercise is great for stress-relief. Taking a quick walk to clear your head or working out some frustrations by going the gym can help.

4)      Get a 30 minute massage or maybe a quick chair massage if available.

5)      If you don’t like to exercise during the day, why not have lunch with friends. Social connections are important and whether you need to vent to a close friend or just have a good laugh, this can help you reduce your stress.

6)      According to Duke’s Integrative Medicine website “In 60 seconds—or even less–you can practice yoga and gain significant and lasting benefits. By integrating quick, simple “micro-practices” into your busy day, you can create relaxing, transformative moments. And these practices are accessible to virtually anyone—regardless of age or fitness level.” Carol Krucoff’s book called Yoga Sparks: 108 Easy Practices for Stress Relief in a Minute or Less can detail how you can do this.

7)      Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) has also been shown to help reduce stress. This is done by deliberately tensing your muscles in different areas on your body, one at a time, and then letting go of the tension and relaxing. This helps you focus on difference between what it feels like to have tension and what it feel like to relax. You can do this from any comfortable seated position or laying down, and it also incorporates breath work. A variety of scripts and videos are available online.

8)     Stretching can help with all the muscle tension that results from stressful situations. Stored up tension can lead to muscle pain, and this can be alleviated with some simple stretching exercises that you can do in less than 5 minutes. A lot of us hold tension in our upper back and neck area so these are good areas to start with. Try performing your stretches with some deep breathing for an added benefit.

9)      Visualization or guided imagery has been used to help with stress relief. Professional athletes sometimes use this to help them play better and people with health problems have even used it to help them overcome cancer! Try imagining something very relaxing. A picture of your favorite place in nature or maybe even your favorite vacation spot. Take 5 minutes to explore this place. Close your eyes and imagine the sounds you would hear, the aromas you would smell, and anything you would feel (like a gentle breeze, the sand between your toes, the sun on your face etc.)

10)   Acupuncture can also help with stress relief. Although this isn’t something you’d do every day, it can be done over your lunch hour once or twice a month, and it can have great benefits. Not only can acupuncture help relieve muscle tension, but just lying on the table in a comfortable position for 30 minutes or more can give you a sense of peace and quiet where you can meditate, do some guided imagery, or even some deep breathing.

Building Resilience to Improve Well-Being

I was recently at an educational session where we discussed how to help change behavior by building resilience. The presenters defined resilience as “being realistically optimistic, flexible, motivated and determined” and they identified four key components, all of which are dimensions of wellness: 1) Physical, 2) Mental, 3) Emotional and 4) Social. We discussed how to build resilience in these four areas to help improve well-being. Jane McGonigal’s 2013 TED Talk promotes building resilience through these four areas and states that we can add 7.68245837 minutes to our lives each day if we did just one thing in each of these areas. Watch her TED Talk here and read on to find out more.

Building your physical resilience requires that you move your body! This helps your body to withstand more stress and heal faster. Physical resilience helps you to live longer and decrease your likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers as well. So take those 5-10 minute walking and stretch breaks throughout the day or go out and enjoy a 30 minute walk during your lunch!

Research shows that lifelong learning positively affects wellbeing, recovery from mental health difficulties and coping with stress. Building your mental resilience can be fun. Do you like to play Sudoku or do crossword puzzles? Math problems, puzzles, and scrabble are also great ways to build your mental wellness. Being curious and daydreaming can also have a positive effect, and by working on your mental resilience you’ll gain more focus, more determination, more willpower, and more clarity.

Emotional resilience is built by provoking positive emotions. These positive emotions have been shown to improve your health and well-being and are linked to a longer life. Pay attention to any negative emotions you have during the day and each time you have one try to experience three positive ones. Here’s how. You can smile or find humor in something by thinking of something funny or watching a funny video. You can also think of three things in which you are grateful for, optimistic about, or things you are looking forward to.

Social resilience can decrease the negative effects of stress and can also increase the likelihood of survival by 50% according to the presenters. Fostering social relationships in your day to day life is simple. Make a point to talk to someone and get to know them. Try to learn one new thing about them. Reach out to an old friend via phone, email or text. Smiling and making eye contact are also very effective!

So how do we build resilience here in the work place? Here are a few ideas:

  • Put out a happiness or gratitude jar on your desk and having employees in your area fill it with things that make them happy or that they are grateful for. You could also do this on a whiteboard so it is more visible.
  • Perform a random act of kindness for someone and then encourage them to pass it on.
  • Lay out the pieces of a 1000 piece puzzle on a large table and have employees try to complete this together. Every time you walk by you can try to do a piece or two!
  • Form walking groups or recreational sports leagues with other colleagues at work or make sure to get up from your desk every hour.
  • Take a stretching break and play a Sudoku puzzle on your phone or write a quick note to a friend.

Share your ideas via the comments section or let us know about what you are already doing in your area to help build resilience!

Climbing Mountains and Walking Across America with Raynor Memorial Libraries Staff

“Looking for a new challenge to kick off your New Year’s health and fitness resolutions?  Consider one of these two, or both if you really want to show off.” With this simple e-mail the Raynor Memorial Libraries began two group challenges in mid-January. Together, any interested staff or student employees would combine their physical activity to virtually climb mountains and/or walk across the United States in sixteen weeks. Individuals could join the group for however long they wished, some remained for the entire sixteen week challenge, others came for a week or two, throughout the challenge.

The first challenge was called the “Climb Every Mountain Challenge,” based on Richard Bass’ achievement on April 30, 1985 of reaching the summits of the seven highest peaks on each of the seven continents. Thirteen staff members took part in this challenge

Using the average U.S. stair height of about seven inches, the height of each mountain was converted to inches and then determined about how many seven inch high stairs it would take to reach the top. [Everest, 49,764 stairs, Aconcagua 39,156 stairs, McKinley/Denali 34, 837 stairs, Kilimanjaro 33,156 stairs, Elbrus 31,731 stairs, Vinson 27,514 stairs, and Kusciuszko 12,531 stairs]. Each individual interested in taking part of the challenge would tally the number of stairs they climbed during a week, then submit their numbers each Monday. A simple Excel table was used to track the numbers. Some people used their Fitbit, while others kept track by counting the number of stairs in their most commonly used staircases and used hash marks to tally their climbs. The fitness levels and challenges of each group member varied. There were some individuals who could run from the lower level of Memorial Library to the fifth floor with an arm full of books and fully loaded backpack and not break a sweat, while others found it difficult to make a full flight of stairs. Those who needed to work on their stamina would use the 4 stair rise between Memorial Library and the Raynor Bridge to increase their strength and stamina, or concentrate on rarely used stairs and work on going part way up then adding to that each week. Other group members were not able to climb stairs at all. For those there were substitutes, four standing or seated “marching steps” would count as one stair step. Not able to move their legs? Then four straight arm lifts counted as one step. The important goal was to move more, not follow a precise, measured stair climb.

Each Tuesday morning, any individual interested in seeing the results would get a summary email. These emails might also include “fun facts” on the climb, such as the first recorded successful summiting of the peak, or the temperature at the peak compared to the temperature in Milwaukee that day. There would also be a challenge for the upcoming week, such as try to climb one extra flight of stairs each day of the week, or a hyperlink to the most challenging staircases in Milwaukee, and individuals were challenged to try an outdoor stair climb. A search of MARQCAT would also alert group members of any books or videos related to the mountain we were climbing, in case they needed a bit more encouragement. Every time the group finished an individual mountain challenge anyone who participated in that mountain climb received an email certificate of accomplishment.   We averaged anywhere from a group low of 8,000 stairs for a week, to a group high of 18,500+ stairs. And yes, the climbers did complete the Seven Summit Challenge with 1,913 steps to spare!

The second challenge was called the Walk across America Challenge, a total of sixteen staff and student employees took part in this challenge. We began our walk determined to reach New Orleans by Tuesday February 17, Mardi Gras! And why not? Milwaukee recorded a high of 22 and a low of -3 on the first day of the challenge, New Orleans 49 and 37, which some in Milwaukee consider shorts and flip flop weather! Googling the walking distance between points the group set out for our first mini goal – Chicago, and of course listed some fun activities and sites walkers could visit. We reached New Orleans in time to celebrate and imagined where we would could go, and as a reward each challenge member received a string of beads to get in the mood. Because it was a virtual activity we had the best places to view the festivities and best restaurants with standing reservations. The group next decided to head over to Arizona to watch the Brewers Spring training. But for a state to count the group had to take a walk through the state capital. So we took a meandering route for our walks, with an ultimate goal in mind, but we didn’t mind taking a side trip to see fun places, even if the state didn’t count because we didn’t go to the capital. Among the places we visited: Chicago; Memphis, to see Graceland of course; Jackson, MS, Baton Rouge, LA, Austin, TX, Roswell and Santa Fe, NM, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Napa Valley, CA [we were so close after all] to name a few. We finished our walk through Seattle, WA with enough miles left to go stick our heads over the Canada/US border to say hello, and wound up just 32 miles from Boise, ID, completing nine states total.

As with the climbing challenge, group members submitted their numbers on Monday and then received the group results and new challenges on Tuesday. Again there were hyperlinks to unusual sites, or books or videos the library owned related to our walking goals for encouragement. The lowest mileage for a week 182 miles, the highest 356. In all the group walked a total of 4951.1 miles over the sixteen week challenge.

For both challenges the challenge was against your own numbers. No member of the challenge ever knew what the other members climbed or walked, unless they shared those statistics.

The results of both challenges? A lot of fun places “visited,” and challenges met. But there were health improvements. One member was able to stop taking blood pressure meds, a few lost weight, others improved their stamina, such as being able to climb to the 5th floor of Memorial without running out of breath, and others improved their balance. Everyone had a lot of fun. So much fun, in fact, that there has been a request for more challenges in July, where we will: 1. Climb the highest point in every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia, 2. Walk the perimeter of the United States or 11,279.4 miles, and 3. The new challenge of a bike ride following the Great Lakes Circle Tour, that’s about 6,500+ miles!

Why not make your own challenge and join us? Because with just a few extra steps or stairs each week you can climb mountains!


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