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!

The Whole30

A post about the Whole30 diet with the tag line, “Let Us Change Your Life” appeared in my Facebook feed in late January. I was intrigued. While I don’t have a problem with getting enough exercise, my diet was another story. Too much sugar and not enough of the good stuff. And besides, who doesn’t want to change their life? I checked the calendar and did not have any trips or major social events scheduled which would make it difficult to stay on the program. So I decided that the Whole30 would provide a perfect distraction for the cold month of February (plus two days) with potentially positive results.


Whole 30 is designed to be reboot of your metabolism, reduce inflammation and balance your digestive and immune systems. Beyond weight loss and more energy, many participants report life changing results including improvements and even cures for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, allergies, migraines, depression, heartburn, arthritis, thyroid dysfunction and more.


It is restrictive but straightforward. You know what you have to do and it’s for 30 days which is long enough but not forever. Rules include:


  • No added real sugar or artificial sweeteners
  • No alcohol
  • No grains including pseudo grains like quinoa
  • No legumes
  • No dairy


This meant that I needed to cut out major food groups including popcorn, chocolate, peanuts/peanut butter not to mention chocolate with peanuts and chocolate with peanut butter, as well as my breakfast oatmeal. My focus was reducing my sugar intake, and I realized that in addition to the sweet treats that seem to be everywhere, so many foods have added sugar. The program also forced me to eat more vegetables and fruits, always a good thing.


I recruited Chris (son) and Emily (daughter-in-law) to join me in the challenge because unlike the first rule of Fight Club, it really helps to talk about the Whole30—to discuss food options, to keep one another on track and motivated and to commiserate.


So what happened after 30 days? I continue to eat more vegetables and fruits and have traded in peanuts for almonds and still have chocolate but just not as often. I did lose a few pounds and it cured my mild psoriasis. Maybe not life-changing but definitely an improvement.


Check out the Whole30 website for more information.

By Jean Zanoni (

Life’s Juggling Act-Finding Balance

Checks & Balances

As the academic year is coming to a close for some faculty and staff, it is important to take time to reflect on your personal occupational wellness. I found two definitions of occupational wellness that I believe encompass the idea of fulfilling a healthy work life.

UNC Charlotte describes occupational wellness as, “The ability to achieve a balance between work and leisure time, addressing workplace stress and building relationships with co-workers. It focuses on our search for a calling and involves exploring various career options and finding where you fit.”

The University of New Hampshire describes it in a slight variation stating, “Occupational wellness is seeking for and having a career that is interesting, enjoyable, meaningful and contributes to the larger society.”

From these various descriptions, we see that occupational wellness can be viewed in a number of ways. Some call for a job that promotes the well being of others while achieving personal success for someone. It is a motivating, meaningful position that makes one feel happy, interested, and focused. The ability to attain a stability of wellness in the work place and at home is about taking the time to form checks and balances.

Finding a happy medium can be challenging, so it is essential to take time to meditate on what makes you truly happy. This time of year can be taken for an introspective look at your relationships at work, contentment in life, and emotional control of your spiritual, intellectual, and social wellness.

If you are not feeling a balance or are at a loss with what exactly to reflect on, here are some helpful tips or topics to think about. First, as uncomfortable as some of us are with it, communication is the start of every great problem resolution. You must start inwardly and be honest with yourself. Whether you feel unhappy, unloved, or unworthy, being true to you is a main pathway that will lead to telling others. Once you have a handle on the truth, you must confide in someone. A partner, spouse, coworker, boss, close friend, or even a priest is always at your disposal, and they may not realize your trepidations until you voice them.

Other helpful tips include what you can do at home when the workday is over. Do not forget your hobbies amid all the chaos. Read a book, go to a yoga class, and watch that episode of House Hunters. Remembering that there is life outside of work should be a priority. Have a glass of wine with dinner and give yourself a break.

Your occupation is a main part of your life, but it is not the only part. If you are feeling lost or unhappy in it, that is completely normal and something that should and could be worked out. We work our whole lives, but if you do not feel you are fulfilling something for yourself in the process, then now is time to find out how to better your occupational wellness.


Swapping Strides for Strokes

Running, biking, and spinning are great forms of exercise, however, if you are getting weary of these workouts, you are in luck! As the weather is getting nicer, it is time to embrace the true hidden gem of exercise: swimming. Your initial motivation to jump into a freezing body of water may be low, but after reading just how amazing this sport is, you will hopefully think twice.

First, as summer is rearing its beautiful head, there is no better excuse to beat some summer heat than cooling off after a long workday. Second, you do not have to be an Olympic athlete to have a great workout. Swimming is advantageous to everyone from novice starters to aged professionals. Not only will practice help to strengthen every muscle in one’s body, it can also help you reduce stress and learn to control your breathing patterns. Although some adults are apprehensive or intimidated by swimming, it is never too late to learn.

Swimming has multiple physical health benefits. It boosts the cardiovascular system and keeps up a steady heart rate while loosening muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time. In addition, one’s arms and legs gain muscle while building endurance. The resistance of the water forces the body to produce a greater momentum, which, in turn, creates a more toned physique. Whether you decide to go long or short distance, swimming can help to develop flexibility, coordination, and better posture. The pool is also a great place to heal other physical ailments and injuries! Being in the water can relax sore joints and tendons as well as ease the pain of some diseases like arthritis. Because of this, diving into swimming especially as an adult could be a better workout move than running or jogging as it usually does not bring on further muscle or ligament issues.

Swimming is a hands-on exercise in that you can create times and workouts that can challenge you but also keep you engaged. By varying the intervals and stroke types, a heart pumping, calorie-burning session is a great way to blow off steam. However, a lighter, more relaxing swim can still burn off an immense amount of calories and assist in maintaining a healthy weight. Furthermore, swimming releases endorphins, which are chemicals in the body that help one emit naturally happy emotions. Not only are your muscles soothed after a workout, but also, your mental wellness is inadvertently improved.

Lastly, this form of exercise can be beneficial to the whole family. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that, “Water-based exercise can improve the health of mothers and their unborn children and has a positive effect on the mothers’ mental health. Parents of children with developmental disabilities find that recreational activities, such as swimming, improve family connections.” This is a workout that has positive long and short-term effects that help a myriad of people for its plentiful physical and emotional reliefs, and it should definitely be added to your summer bucket list!

Stress Management

Endless Eating

It is quite easy to get distracted by the stresses of life, and this can lead to a negative effect of being distracted in other areas of wellness. In today’s blog, this distraction is stress eating. Staying on track with dieting and exercise is sometimes thwarted by mindless eating during or after a long day. Although it is not always avoidable, stress eating can be curbed or modified.

CNN News recently found an article from titled, “Stress eating helps, when they’re these super foods.” The article goes on to highlight how, when tension rises at work, grabbing for the greens or more nutritious fiber options can make a large difference on one’s daily outlook.

Power foods such as cashews, seeds, and pistachios may be caloric, however, they contain many essentials. Pistachios promote circulatory healthiness by lowering blood pressure and the heart rate. CNN writer Lindsay Funston reports, “Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are all great sources of magnesium (as are leafy greens, yogurt, nuts, and fish). Loading up on the mineral may help regulate emotions. “Magnesium has been shown to help alleviate depression, fatigue, and irritability.”

To hold the mid morning hunger at a minimum, try keeping the breakfast going with foods like oatmeal, yogurt, or blueberries. These foods are not only filling, but also they contain trusty nutrients and proteins that may help to reduce symptoms of stress. The probiotics in the yogurt target the brain chemicals that emit positive activity in the emotional region, the research suggests. To up the nutrition value, try eating Greek yogurt with blueberries, as Greek yogurt is fewer calories and more filling due to its higher protein content.

For better lunch snacking, try ditching the greasy cafeteria options and packing your own healthy and sustaining power foods instead. Such examples would include turkey, chicken, and salmon. Even if you are distracted, these high protein snacks will nourish and keep you focused on hourly tasks. For more veggie-friendly options, try munching on kale chips, Edamame beans, or celery.

To satisfy that sweet tooth and keep the energy up, other options the article suggests are milk and dark chocolate. Milk is loaded with Vitamin D, protein, and calcium, while dark chocolate works wonders on stress levels. Sass reports, “…the antioxidants in cocoa trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation. And finally, dark chocolate contains unique natural substances that create a sense of euphoria similar to the feeling of being in love!”

While stress eating can be inevitable, choosing smart foods can help boost your mental and physical wellness while keeping your stomach full.

If you want to read the entire article from CNN, follow the link here!


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