Gifts of Health and Happiness

Trying to decide what to buy for your friends and family? I compiled a list of items all oriented to help your loved ones live healthier and happier lives. This guide is intended for the holiday season, but you can use it any time of year when shopping for birthdays, client gifts, a housewarming, or other occasions, too! 

As always, I only recommend products and services that I’ve personally tried. So, if you have any questions or need clarification on anything, please feel free to ask. Happy Holidays and wishing everyone a wonderful year ahead.

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Kitchen Gadgets + Healthy Swaps:

Many people know to avoid plastic water bottles (they ALL leech chemicals into your water), but they don’t feel like spending money to upgrade their own. Glass or stainless steel are both great options. For a commuter, I’d go with the steel as it’s lighter.

Two of my favorites: BKR Bottle (glass) and Steel Vacuum Insulated Bottle – keeps it hot for 12 hours or cold liquids cold for 24 hours.

A reusable bottle can save coffee and tea drinkers time and money as well. Kleen Kanteen comes in different sizes, colors, and lid styles.

Coffee is one of the most heavily pesticide sprayed crops, so if you’re looking to put together a gift bundle, add some organic coffee to the mix. I like to shop locally, and my favorite coffee shop in Boston is Polcari’s Coffee in the North End (their Organic Mexican blend is fantastic, and they do online orders too).

Opting for organic tea is beneficial as well. My favorite brand is Traditional Medicinals (try green tea with ginger). Whole Foods has a huge selection or if you’re local to Boston, Cambridge Naturals has a lot as well (along with gift boxes that are great ideas too!). For the Type A gift recipient, a tea organizer will be a big hit.

Or, buy some loose tea and get a French Press which can be used for either coffee or tea. Espro is pricier but is the BEST press I’ve found (no rogue coffee grinds in your cup because of the double filter), comes in a few sizes, and looks nice on your countertop.

Lastly, get an electric kettle to speed up the brewing process. It heats water in seconds and is our most frequently used kitchen appliance (we drink hot water with lemon each morning, and after big meals).

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Cookbooks:

Maybe I’m just a health nerd, but I love a good cookbook! Having recipes in your hands vs. spending more time staring at screens (and then forgetting where the recipe is next time) makes cooking more relaxing. Some of my faves:

  • For the kitchen newbie: Minimalist Baker only has recipes that are either 30-minutes or less, use one bowl, or use less than 10 ingredients (sometimes all three!). They’re all plant-based and mostly gluten-free. Try the taquitos!
  • For the meat lover: NomNom Paleo has incredibly flavorful meals and a fun personality. Try the slow cooker chicken or cauliflower rice.    
  • For the vegan with some cooking skills: Oh She Glows has gorgeous photography and delicious meals, but some are more involved. Try the tomato soup!

Add an extra touch by including a cookbook holder so you don’t have to touch the pages with dirty hands – this is a game changer! They have some styles with a splashguard so if your person is extra messy I’d recommend one of those 😊

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Additional Kitchen Staples:

For leftovers, help your loved ones avoid plastic again by upgrading them to glass Tupperware. We got this Pyrex set as a wedding gift and had to buy a second set because we loved them so much. For smaller leftovers (and a lighter option), these Stasher bags are fun, plastic free, and better for the environment.

Life is all about balance, so here’s something for the wine lovers! I wrote about what’s in your wine glass, and highly recommend gifting Dry Farm Wines for a bigger gift. You can get a bottle for a penny to start! Opting for organic or “paleo” wine decreases the headaches, hangovers, and interrupted sleep that can come with wines filled with additives. We’ve gotten deliveries of both red and white over the last 6+ months and have really enjoyed it.

Want to stock up on healthy pantry staples while giving back to those in need? A Thrive Market subscription is $59.95 and grants you access to products at 25-50% off retail prices (!!) and your first order has an additional discount. When you become a member, you’re also sponsoring a free membership for a low-income family. Win win.

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Self-Care Supplies:

For the Mind:

Headspace is an amazing meditation app and offers everything from quick 2-minute sessions to thematic packs/sequences (such as stress, sleep, pregnancy, cancer, and more). It makes meditating accessible and approachable… and it’s like a gym membership for your mind. A subscription is a great way to give someone the gift of greater physical, mental, and emotional health.

For the Soul:

Encourage self-reflection and/or a gratitude practice through the gift of “The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes A Day” or grab another of the many journals out there. If he/she is thinking about changing jobs/careers, you can purchase my 20-Page Self-Assessment Guide to help them learn more about themselves and how their values, interests, personality, and skills align with career paths (on sale until 2018).

For the Body:

An example of using blocks in a stress-reducing pose. Want other stretching tips for the office and home? Grab my free guide here.

An example of using blocks in a stress-reducing pose. Want other stretching tips for the office and home? Grab my free guide here.

A simple yoga strap or yoga blocks are gifts that keep on giving. There’s a set with both on sale (as of this post) here, too. To note: pay attention to the strap length when purchasing for taller people. Choose between cork and foam for the blocks – I prefer cork since it’s more natural and then you have the option to do abs with them but both are excellent for overall use.

Did you know that beeswax candles purify the air? Upgrade from toxic candles to these beauties, or achieve a similar purifying effect through a Himalayan salt lamp. (I have two of these in our bedroom + one from Thrive Market in my office as they help protect you from EMF radiation).

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Want to keep the clean home vibe going? Essential oils can be diffused to purify the air too. If your gift receiver already has an oils collection, you can purchase a diffuser (one can never have too many diffusers – I keep one in my bedroom, one in the living room, and one in the office… and am eying a car diffuser! #byeroadrage). The most effective one I have is this one from doTERRA (get 25% off retail price when ordering through me!).

Essential oils can also be used for countless other self-care purposes (including stress, sleep, energy). You can purchase a single oil or an entire kit, depending on how much you’re looking to gift. In addition to 25% off, as a bonus for ordering through me, I’m throwing in a free wild orange oil with any purchase before 2018 (email me with questions or to let me know you’ve ordered and I’ll mail you your freebie!).

If you’re feeling energetic, and you have oils yourself, you can DIY some gifts for cheap! I’ve made this body scrub and given it to friends before.

Or, buy some bath salts with essential oils already in them to keep it simple. My favorites are these Sleep Salts rose hips and eucalyptus soaks. Most people are magnesium deficient so this is a really multi-purpose gift!

Need to go bigger? Combine a bunch of these into a spa basket – a few essential oils, bath salts, bubbles, and candles!

Experiences:

A cooking class could be a fun way to both get to enjoy your gift! It’s been on my list for some time (hint hint, hubby) but I haven’t done any yet so I can’t share a specific recommendation.

A fitness class package or yoga classes can be another creative idea, especially if your person has been meaning to try somewhere or has run out of classes themselves. I can’t recommend Exhale Spa in Boston enough!

…Speaking of spa, most people I know wouldn’t complain about a spa gift certificate either. Buy yourself a treatment too and make it a shared activity.

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Last but certainly not least, did you know that Aspire with Aileen gift certificates are available?

Give the gift of holistic career or health coaching to help your loved one achieve their personal and professional goals. You can throw in one of my (free) guides with it to get him/her started on the right track before we even meet. A 90-minute career coaching session (+ free 30-minute consultation) is only $95! Reach out to get yours today.

Happy Holidays! 

 

This page contains affiliate links. I may receive some small monetary compensation for some of the products or services here. I strictly only recommend/endorse products and services that I personally have experience with, believe in, and stand behind. Thank you for supporting my small business!

6 Ways Yoga Can Help You Reach Your Career Goals

Pure Style Photography

Pure Style Photography

What does yoga have to do with your performance at work? Can nailing a headstand get you that promotion? It may sound strange at first listen, but there are a few ways yoga may help you excel on the job.

1)  Mental Clarity

Every time you step on your mat, your practice is different, even if you’re moving through the same sequence. From frequent mindset shifts to our bodies feeling differently every day, our perspective is never exactly the same.

We have to learn to meet ourselves where we are, and to check in with what’s real and what we truly need versus what we expect or think we “should” need/feel. Once we’re more in tune with this skill, it can be applied to life off of the mat. We can use this as a tool to decipher what we really want in our work – if it’s a promotion, what are we craving? If it’s a change in paths, what are the sources of dissatisfaction?

The more deliberate way of harnessing/developing this self-understanding is through the meditation within a practice (or that you do on your own). Asana, or the physical movement of yoga, was traditionally created to prepare the body for meditation, enabling you to be more comfortable sitting in stillness. Meditation teaches us how to notice when we may be stuck in a cycle of self-limiting thoughts. In some forms of meditation, we’re encouraged to notice our thoughts as they arise and redirect our attention elsewhere. When we do that, we take some of the power away from those thoughts.

We learn how to change the channel, and can recognize when we’re being unkind to ourselves or starting to believe our thoughts instead of experience. We can redirect our energy to something more productive. For example, imagine consistently telling yourself you’re “not as good as ________” (insert colleague name) or underserving of being rewarded and praised for your work, when those thoughts have no basis in reality. By building awareness of when these thoughts arise, you can then shift the energy away from feeding them, perhaps to a positive, empowering mantra like: “I am worthy. I am skilled. I am enough.”

2) Goal Setting

Many yoga classes start off by encouraging students to set an intention for the practice. This serves as a guiding framework for your thoughts and energy; it’s a simple focal point. This intention setting, working to keep it front of mind, and directing your energy towards it is analogous to goal setting in your career. Many people only set career-related goals 1-2 times/year (January 1st and during performance reviews, perhaps?!). Developing a way of checking in with yourself, or breaking large goals down into smaller intentions, can set you up for greater success and increase your motivation to keep this front of mind.

Pure Style Photography

Pure Style Photography

3) Keeping Calm

I once read that “Yoga without breathing is just stretching” and think it’s important to point this out. “Awareness of breath and synchronizing breath and movement is what makes yoga, yoga; and not gymnastics or any other physical practice.” (source) That resource describes how this breathing has physical, emotional, and biological impacts. To focus on one, deep belly breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system. Simply put, it helps our bodies relax and stop operating in a state of stress. As you can imagine, having the ability to remain calm can be incredibly useful in the workplace!

Managing difficult coworkers or clients, dealing with a stressful situation or approaching a deadline can all feel a bit differently when you tap into the power of your breath. In a culture where many outwardly exude high stress, you can stand out from your peers.

4) Developing Self-Awareness

There’s an assumption that if you’re flexible, you’re automatically skilled at yoga… but that’s not what it’s about and even bendy people need to be mindful. If not, they can hyperextend, injure themselves, and/or lose the mind-body connection which is integral to the practice. The movement requires both self-reflection and, perhaps most importantly, self-compassion. From cold weather to travel to stress, your body can show up differently each time regardless of your skill level, and you have to be comfortable listening to what you need in that exact moment and not pushing yourself beyond your limitations. Not all bodies can do all poses, just as at work, very few (if any) individuals are a master of all skills. In both situations, we must pause, notice our strengths, and build upon those instead of forcing it where we’re less gifted. Just as forcing a pose can lead to injury, forcing a skill you just don’t enjoy can lead to burnout.

5) Feeling Energized  

A big focus on my work is to help clients restore their energy through making changes to their work and/or lifestyle habits. I’ve discussed other ways to increase productivity, and touched on movement in that post, but it deserves another shout out. When doing inversions, you’re literally shifting your perspective. You can also achieve a similar mindset shift by taking a break and just moving your body. If you’re frustrated on the job, this physical practice helps you release endorphins, your “feel good” chemicals, so you can clear your brain and approach your work with new energy.

“It is confidence in our bodies, minds and spirits that allows us to keep looking for new adventures, new directions to grow in, and new lessons to learn — which is what life is all about.” Oprah Winfrey

6) Building Confidence

Doing yoga poses all around Boston in front of people definitely required confidence! (Photo by Pure Style Photography)

Doing yoga poses all around Boston in front of people definitely required confidence! (Photo by Pure Style Photography)

Lastly, when we’re consistent with a yoga practice, we notice progress. Maybe we can do more chaturanga push-ups without taking a break. Perhaps that elusive arm balance that once seemed impossible is now in your arsenal. Or it may simply be the ability to stop running through your to-do list and focus on your breathing (easier said than done!). Whatever the change, this growth can help you build confidence in yourself. That confidence can be contagious and spread to other areas of your life, including at work. From asking for a raise to deciding to change careers, believing in yourself is key. Keeping your spirits high and having faith in yourself is particularly useful if you don’t feel valued at your company or if you’re not hearing back from employers when job searching.

Not a yogi? You can reap some of these benefits through other forms of movement. From spinning to weight lifting, this same sensation of accomplishment and pride can be present.

Whether it’s through yoga or not, how can you create more space in your life to do more of what will propel you forward towards reaching your personal and professional goals?

Never Send A Hangry Email

The age old professional saying is “Never send an angry email.” This is sound advice (this article shares some good tips), but an equally important precaution is to avoid sending hangry emails too.

First things first: what is hanger?

Hanger is defined as “bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.” (source) For some, the feeling can come on quickly or they may not even realize they’re acting hangry, but others notice a shorter, less patient tone. Others feel physiological sensations such as weakness or shakiness.  

boston health coach hangry

The majority of clients I’ve worked with admit that they have personal experience with this emotion (I do, too!). This playful name and all of the marketing around it is normalizing a symptom instead of helping people know they can make changes to prevent it.

I mentioned this same notion in my “4 Reasons You're So Tired (and what to do about it)” post. Just because something is commonplace doesn’t mean it’s right or has to be this way. It’s the same principle when people reference that the majority of people are dissatisfied in their jobs – just because other people dread going to work doesn’t mean you have to, too. 

So, if you’re a hangry person, what can you do?

There are a handful of ways to both prevent and address hanger. As with most wellness topics, prevention is ideal instead of dealing with the symptoms, but we’ll cover both!

Hangry Influences

To understand how to try to avoid hanger in the first place, let’s discuss the main catalyst – low blood sugar. When it’s been a while since you last ate, or if you ate food that causes a blood sugar rollercoaster, your body thinks the glucose levels are too low and sees it as an emergency situation. This sends your body into a “fight or flight” response:

This image was taken from a fantastic article: http://bit.ly/2gXoNav

What’s interesting is the connection between food and emotions:

“Another reason hunger is linked to anger is that both are controlled by common genes. The product of one such gene is neuropeptide Y, a natural brain chemical released into the brain when you are hungry. It stimulates voracious feeding behaviours by acting on a variety of receptors in the brain, including one called the Y1 receptor. Besides acting in the brain to control hunger, neuropeptide Y and the Y1 receptor also regulate anger or aggression…

Hanger is undoubtedly a survival mechanism that has served humans and other animals well. Think about it like this: if hungry organisms stood back and graciously let others eat before them, their species could die out.” (source)

Prevention and Hanger Management

What You Eat

When we eat simple carbohydrates, or simple sugars, on their own, our body breaks them down too quickly and that sets us off on the blood sugar spike then crash cycle. When you’re already feeling hangry, you’ll be tempted to grab that donut or bagel, because your body wants the fastest way to increase blood sugar possible. Those options will perpetuate the cycle when you inevitably come crashing down.  

Pairing your carbohydrates with protein and fat will slow the process of breaking them down, thus keeping you full longer and avoiding the rapid changes in glucose levels.

For examples to make this clearer for you, I found this Pinterest page with a TON of meal ideas.

When You Eat

Other ways to prevent hanger are to eat breakfast (one with protein, fat, and carbs vs that donut or bagel on the go!) as you’ll likely have not eaten for at least 8+ hours, and when you skip it your body starts to get distressed. I’m a believer in listening to your body and many people think they don’t feel hungry for breakfast, but I invite you to try an experiment of having something small within the first hour of waking and then examine your energy levels through to lunch. I’ve had many clients notice a HUGE shift in their energy based on this tiny tweak alone.

The topic of snacking it hotly debated in the wellness world, but for some people (especially those who are super active), it’s a necessary step to manage blood sugar levels. Have healthy snacks in your desk drawer, in your bag, or know where there are healthy options near your office so you’re not stuck with the vending machine or office party leftovers (aka sugar and carbs!).

When In Doubt - Breathe!

If food isn’t in sight, take deep belly breaths to help mitigate that “fight or flight” mode (this activates your parasympathetic nervous system). I’d especially recommend this if you’re at work and trying to avoid being reactive to whatever you’re managing at the time! If you know you can get hangry, and notice certain trends or times of day when it happens, try to keep the more sensitive and important tasks and emails away from this danger zone as you make these shifts in your eating habits. This may be just what you need to avoid sending that hangry email!

  • Do you get hangry often?
  • Do you notice it impacting your performance at work?
  • Is it interfering with personal or professional relationships?
  • How can you pick one of the tips in this post and try to incorporate it into your life to start your hanger management protocol?

4 Essential Steps to Find Work You Love (+ exciting announcement!)

If you get my newsletter, this isn't new information for you (Want to hear news first and get access to freebies? The form is at the bottom of the page!). For the rest of the world, I have an exciting announcement. Last week, I ran a webinar "4 Essential Steps to Find Work You Love" and officially opened registration for something big! 

I've just launched a new online course "A Holistic and Strategic Approach to Finding Work You Love"

It's comprised of five modules (delivered over four weeks) of videos, assessments, workbooks, expert guides, and activities. The self-paced model lets people fit this process into their busy lives when it works for them, while still having access to one-on-one support from me. I have over 10 years of career coaching experience and compiled the most critical tools and skills I’ve used during this decade into this program.

The content covers everything from clarifying what you want to pursue in your career to the tactical side of getting there. One module focuses on how to take care of yourself, so you can have the energy and mindset needed to manage any additional stress that can come with this work. Full details and a program schedule can be found here.

Registration closes on Halloween (10.31.17). If you'd like to get a sense of my style and this topic, listen to the webinar while it's still available or reach out for a free consultation to decide if it’s the right fit for you.

I hope to see you there! 

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How Do You Address Your Cover Letter?

Read more about the benefits of writing letters here.

Read more about the benefits of writing letters here.

A common question that arises when writing cover letters is which person should be addressed in the opening of the letter. Here are some options, along with the pros/cons for each of them:

To Whom It May Concern

This is your worst-case scenario option. It’s fine, it gets the job done, but it’s cold and doesn’t show much effort to get more personalized information.

Dear Hiring Manager or Dear Selection Committee

Still not ideal in terms of personalization, but it's a bit warmer and a better option if you truly can’t find any information regarding the person/people in charge of hiring.

Dear Mr./Ms. _________ (insert last name)

Best-case scenario! But indeed, not always possible. This would be the name of the person in charge of the department/office/team you’re applying to, and there are a few ways to dig in to try to find this information. Start by looking on the website of the organization, as some have tons of information including names, emails, and an organizational chart.

If you strike out there, you can do an advanced search on LinkedIn. Try the name of the organization in the “company” section and input the division you’re applying to in the “keyword” section. If that doesn’t work, play around with other keywords or try your luck with Google to see if there may be clues in publications/news.

This little step can help demonstrate your attention to detail and enthusiasm for the opportunity. Bonus tip: if you’ve done an informational interview with someone before applying, ask them for a name and/or include their name in the body of your cover letter too!

NEED MORE SUPPORT? DOWNLOAD MY COVER LETTER WRITING GUIDE SO YOU CAN STOP STRESSING AND START WRITING LETTERS THAT CONVERT TO INTERVIEWS!

My Favorite Resume Loophole

Need more resume support? Click here for my top tips, or reach out for a free consultation!

Need more resume support? Click here for my top tips, or reach out for a free consultation!

Writing a resume can be challenging. My clients often come to me with these three common concerns:

  • Is it too long? If I delete something that’s less relevant to save space, will employers think there’s a gap?
  • I do have an employment gap. How do I make it less noticeable?
  • I’m changing roles/fields and something from years ago is now more relevant than my most recent work experience. How do I get that to stand out more?

There is, amazingly, ONE solution for all three of these. The answer, and my favorite resume loophole, is this:

Divide your experience into multiple sections, so you can work around the rule that everything has to be in reverse chronological order.

For example, imagine you’re applying for a research role and want to highlight the job you held two positions prior to your current role. You could have “Research Experience” and “Additional Experience” as your two sections, include the older role in “Research Experience” and your current role in “Additional Experience” (research is just one example, but you can put whatever field/industry you’re targeting in the title).

Side note: the word “additional” reads better than “other” as the latter implies the experience is not really relevant.  

This brings the more related experience up the page on the resume, helping it be seen by employers during their first quick glance. It also changes around the order of the dates, so the employer would have to spend more time looking at each date to check for a gap.

Try this simple yet effective trick and you’ll notice how much more creative you can be on your resume!

4 Reasons You’re So Tired (and what to do about it)

Do you hit the snooze button four times before peeling yourself out of bed? Daydream about stealing a quick nap under the conference table during that afternoon meeting? Don’t feel like a real human until you’ve have a certain number of cups of coffee?

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These trending images and messages of the sentiment “but first coffee” are cute, but they point to the bigger question at hand… why are we all so tired?!

There’s a multitude of reasons, and as with many things related to our wellness it’s dependent on the person, but here’s what I see come up most consistently with my clients.

1- You’re eating foods that perpetuate the cycle… and/or not chewing your foods enough

The Refined Sugar Rollercoaster

We’ve all been there- in the office it may be grabbing something from the candy bowl at the front desk or having “just one tiny piece” of cake for your coworker’s birthday (only to cut an extra sliver and then another sliver…). You may also have some sweets stashed in your desk drawer or pantry for times when you just need a little jolt.

Refined sugar (defined) is everywhere (including in sauces and salad dressings). While it gives you that temporary energy and mood boost, it comes with a crash AND an impact on your brain. Studies show sugar activates the same areas of your brain as addictive drugs and floods it with too much dopamine, which is why the “once you start you can’t stop” feeling (like that “just one bite” of cake!) is so common.

I'm a former sugar fiend and after ditching it while doing the Whole30 in 2014 I noticed my energy was incredibly more stable (no more afternoon slump!), I was sleeping better (and I already thought I was a good sleeper!), and when eating it after a month away from it I really noticed the effects on my body. What used to taste normal tasted too sweet and I’d get the shakes/a headache afterwards. I still notice these effects when I do choose to have something high in refined sugar these days. Here are 6 signs you’re eating too much sugar.

Think you’re hooked? Try having absolutely no refined sugar (foods with natural sugar like fruit is fine but enjoy them in moderation while you do this experiment) for one week and observe the effects. It’s normal to experience withdrawal like symptoms such as headaches, which is a sign that cutting back is much needed!

Crazed for Caffeine

This substance is SO debated – for every article against coffee you’ll find another advocating for it (like this). Some argue it’s an emotional intelligence killer. My approach, as with most things, is that it’s all about balance and, most importantly, knowing how your individual body responds to it. It’s essential to note that if you’re tired, more caffeine isn’t a sustainable answer.

The facts are the facts though: caffeine triggers the same fight or flight response system in our bodies that happens when we perceive a threat or feel stressed. Caffeine has a six hour half life, so when you have that 3pm coffee meeting to get over your slump, 50% is still in your system at night which can interfere with your sleep (I used to say “I can drink a cup of coffee and then go right to sleep” which may be true, but is it really optimal for health?). The most common experience that caffeine, coupled with a stressful lifestyle, has on people is this feeling of being “tired but wired.”

If this sounds like you, or you have a ton of caffeine every day, explore the idea of reducing the quantity slowly and watch the impact on your stress and sleep levels. I’ve noticed many of my clients just like the ritual of coffee – the smell, the experience – more so than the actual drink itself.

No matter what, I encourage you to think about the quality of your beverage. Coffee is one of the most heavily pesticide sprayed crops, so go organic or consider switching to organic green tea for a gentler boost as it has less caffeine and L-theanine.

Also try drinking water first thing in the morning and when you’re tired in the afternoon (dehydration slows cell function down). You may be surprised how much it can energize you!  

Fueling Too Fast

Raise your hand if you any of these sound like you. You…

  • eat lunch at your desk (and potentially breakfast on your commute, if you remember it)
  • have dinner while watching TV (and/or graze so much while prepping dinner you’re basically full by the time it’s ready)
  • often look around when eating with others and wonder how your food disappeared so quickly because they’re all still eating
  • feel bloated after meals or realize that you’re SUPER full only after putting down your fork

If these resonate with you, you’re likely not chewing your food properly. “Your stomach doesn’t have teeth” (Kris Carr) and when shoveling meals down quickly, we skip a lot of the digestive process. The enzymes in our saliva (and our teeth) are supposed to do a lot of the work. Our body then needs to exert a LOT of energy to process the food, which steals energy needed for other things… like being alert in the meeting you have after lunch. When your eyes get heavy, you grab likely a cup of coffee, and then the cycle is perpetuated again.

I work with my clients on this concept of “mindful eating” a lot. These are some ways to encourage slowing down and chewing more: put your fork down after every bite, use your non-dominant hand, try to chew every bite at least 10 times, observe your food with your senses before jumping in, and avoid the TV/computer/phone for at least half of your meal.

Watch the way these impact when you feel full, how well you digest your food, and your energy post-meals (buh-bye food coma!).

2- You’re chronically stressed

Stress steals our energy and, as you likely know, has a major impact on our overall health (get my guide 4 free stress reduction activities). Many of us don’t have a handle on some unsuspecting stressors. We look to TV and Youtube videos to relax, but we’re still “on” when entertaining ourselves in these ways. In particular, the blue light that emits from our devices interferes with our body’s production of melatonin, so we don’t get sleepy (hello, tired but wired).

There’s also the concept of perceived stress, which is the idea that some stress is based on a subjective response and we can rewire our brains to be more resilient in how we respond to stimuli. This article goes into it in more depth, and has fantastic information and tools for combating stress. Chris Kresser also has the option to assess perceived stress in your life.

How much are you actively combatting stress in your life? Are you doing restorative activities?

Explore ways you can take care of your body (mitigate the impact of stress on it) and mind (reduce the amount of stress perceived, and feel more in control when you do experience it).  

boston health coach

3- You’re dissatisfied with something major in your life

One major source of stress and energy depletion comes from living out of alignment with your true self. Ask yourself if any of these common disconnects apply to you:

  • Are you happy in your career? Every job includes some annoying tasks, but do you enjoy how you spend your time overall?
  • How are your relationships (professional and personal, and both platonic and romantic)? Do you feel like you’re settling or keeping negative people around you?
  • Other than feeling tired, are you unhappy with how you feel in your body? What’s your internal dialogue to yourself sound like? Do you struggle with wanting to feel differently but don’t know how to get there (and often just feel too tired to put in the work)?

If you want to work on making a change in your career or lifestyle habits, let’s have a free consultation.

If you’re already working on any of these (nice job!), change takes time, so be sure to still take good care of yourself to mitigate the impact of this misalignment on other areas of your life.

4- You’re not getting enough quality sleep (duh!)

We can’t have a discussion about feeling tired without talking about sleep. We all know we need sleep to not only survive but also to thrive… but is it as simple as needing to pause the Netflix and prioritize it more?

Some common symptoms connected to each of these 4 sources of feeling tired

Some common symptoms connected to each of these 4 sources of feeling tired

Ariana Huffington talks about the culture of rewarding sleeplessness and working nonstop, and I agree that we have devalued sleep as a society. Her book about needing a sleep revolution is on my list to read. On a related note, did you know that when you’re tired, it interferes with your hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin? “Science now shows that when people sleep for 4 hours or less, they may end up consuming over 22 percent more calories than if they’d had the requisite 8 hours of shut-eye. The average sleepy overeating results in an extra 550 calories. That adds up to one pound of fat per week or 52 pounds per year” (source). The foods we typically gravitate towards when tired are those high sugar items, bringing us back into the cycle yet again.

I believe that of the estimated 40%+ of Americans who are sleep-deprived, many have the ability to improve through their own actions. I've created a free guide about this titled "Holistic Sleep Strategies: 10 tips to get a good night’s rest and wake up feeling more like your true self." 

There are many other influences on our energy levels, but focusing on these along often gives people plenty of action to take to improve how they feel. Remember to start small, so you can create new habits that are sustainable.

Let me know which area you focus on and how you feel after making some changes!

Slow Down to Up Your Productivity

Do you ever notice that some of your clearest or most creative thinking happens in the moments you least expect it? Perhaps in the shower or right as you’re falling asleep?

In our society, we’re taught to “suck it up” or “power through” to get to these thoughts. If you’re stumped on a problem or have writer’s block, the common solution that’s encouraged is chugging coffee or chaining yourself to your desk until all hours of the night until something changes.

This is completely counterintuitive and science shows it’s actually the most inefficient way to achieve your objectives.

Here’s the scoop:

To begin, it’s important to know that our brains can’t actually multi-task well (a select handful of us do have the capacity, but it’s certainly not the majority).

Many of us think we’re too busy, but research proves that we need breaks to boost productivity. Here’s one of the most interesting aspects of the science behind this:

Our brains have two modes: the “focused mode,” which we use when we’re doing things like learning something new, writing or working) and “diffuse mode,” which is our more relaxed, daydreamy mode when we’re not thinking so hard… Some studies have shown that the mind solves its stickiest problems while daydreaming… Breakthroughs that seem to come out of nowhere are often the product of diffuse mode thinking.

That’s because the relaxation associated with daydream mode “can allow the brain to hook up and return valuable insights,” engineering professor Barbara Oakley explained. “When you’re focusing, you’re actually blocking your access to the diffuse mode. And the diffuse mode, it turns out, is what you often need to be able to solve a very difficult, new problem. (source)

Who knew Buster was actually helping my productivity?! Photo by Pure Style Photography

Who knew Buster was actually helping my productivity?! Photo by Pure Style Photography

So, if you grab a glimpse of puppies on Instagram or sneak a few seconds of that funny video your friends sent in a group text, you’re actually doing your brain a favor! Now that you know the science behind it, here are some ideas for how to break up your day in a realistic way.  

Ideas for action:

Look at your calendar the night before (if your schedule is more predictable, you can book these breaks out farther in advance).

Assess where there’s room for some time away from work or time to do something that feels like a break but is still work. Some ideas:

  • Take a workout class or if time is limited a quick walk (I’ve had clients go to the stairwell and just do a few flights!). You can also move and stretch in the office with these tips.

  • Have lunch outside of the office (even if this means bringing your lunch and simply eating somewhere that’s not your desk).

  • Walk somewhere a bit farther than the office kitchen/cafe to grab coffee/tea/kombucha/a snack (good brain foods).

  • Simply move to a different space such as a conference room or a coffee shop to change the scenery.

  • Set an alarm on your phone, a reminder on your calendar, or have Fitbit nudge you to take breaks and to breathe! Speaking of, deep breathing can be a break in and of itself (and easily accessible to all). There are a handful of techniques here and more on the 4-7-8 breath style for productivity here.  

  • Do a quick 2-minute meditation, or just sit in stillness as an easy option. If you’d rather move, I shared some gentle stretches you can do in your office to counteract computer/phone use.

Time Management Tips:

If you’re rewarding yourself with social media during a break, I recommend setting an alarm. It’s easy for it to be a “time-suck” so I typically set my phone alarm for 10 minutes and I’m always amazed how quickly that goes by!

Some research shows we have more capacity for creative thinking and productivity in the morning before decision fatigue sets in. The more you can automate your mornings (have clothes picked out, breakfast decided upon, lunch packed, train times picked, etc.) the more energy you’ll have later. There’s also an activity called “morning pages” if you want to do some thoughtful self-exploration. This can be especially useful if you’re thinking of making a big change, or are in the midst of change already.

Now that you know more of the science behind it, can you be kinder to yourself for craving these pauses in your work day?

How can you incorporate some of these productivity practices?

If you’re already doing them, what are your favorite ways to take a break when you’re feeling stumped or stuck? I’d love to know!

Flow + All About Aspire

I'm working on something REALLY exciting that I'm planning to launch this fall, and because of that I'll be doing a few blog posts per month instead of a weekly edition.

When I started to put pen to paper on this new idea for Aspire with Aileen, I found I was completely enthralled and in a total state of flow (and I'm not talking about a "yoga flow" in this case!).

If you've never heard of this concept, here are two great articles to get you up to speed:

Do you experience this in your career? In your personal life? How can you make changes, personally or professionally, if not?

Photo from article linked above

Photo from article linked above

Finally, I recently realized I never shared an interview I did with Just Us Gals Boston. If you're new to this page or want to better understand why I focus on helping clients with both personal and professional goals, click here to read the full articleAnd if you already know you're going to be working on a career goal, here are 4 ways to work towards it without sacrificing your physical or mental health

Want to stay informed about this upcoming announcement? Members of my monthly newsletter will be the first to know and you can sign up here

What's In Your Wine Glass?

One of the assumptions I’ve noticed people have when I tell them I’m a health coach is that they assume I never drink. While my habits have certainly changed since my college days (phew!), I still enjoy the sound of the cork popping when opening a wine bottle and the after dinner lingering and conversation that ensues with friends and family.

Many of my clients have constant work events where wine is served, and they’d like to have a glass, but they’re not sure if “it’s okay” (we also talk about how to manage the multitude of not-so-nutritious food choices at those things!).

When it comes to “indulging,” for most things I’m an advocate of moderation, not restriction, as long as people are making their decision mindfully.

health coach boston aileen

When it comes to wine in particular, as you may know, there’s been a lot of research surrounding the benefits of the polyphenols/resveratrol (such as here and here) but there’s still a lot of debate, and the studies that claim it’s “healthy” refer to drinking in moderation.

Back in the day, most of my decision-making around which bottles to buy was based on price and pretty labels. But I found out you do get what you pay for when reading this article (similar information here)  -

It disclosed the names of 30 brands of California wines with arsenic in them.

This got my attention. It made me finally start to think about what’s in my glass, and not just what’s on my plate.

Some things I learned in my research:

  • There are over 76 additives approved for US winemaking (and 38 of them are “GRAS” or generally regarded as safe)
  • Over 20 million pounds of pesticides are used on commercial vineyards in California every year (!!!!)
  • Monsanto’s synthetic herbicide RoundUp (“glyphosate”) is so commonly used in the US that organic wines frequently test positive
  • Farming practices can result in conventional wines having fungicides and phthalate contamination (phthalates are hormone disruptors, like those found in our personal care products).  

I share my findings not as a scare tactic, but because I've rarely seen any of this discussed in the wellness world even though many coaches and clients enjoy their fruit of the vine. While I still have plenty of research to do on this topic, and much to learn about wine in general, I’d rather do what I can to avoid these chemicals when enjoying a glass or two and to help others do the same.

A fellow health coach pointed me to Dry Farm Wines as an option, and here’s what made me give them a whirl. Their wines are all:

  • Organic or Biodynamic, and Dry-Farmed
  • Sugar Free (<1g/L), Mycotoxin/Mold Free, Additive Free, and Low in Sulfites (<75ppm)
  • Lab tested to ensure each wine meets all of these standards (and the others I didn’t list!)

I didn’t like that you can’t pick out your own wines, but this gave me reassurance: “each wine shipment is protected by a 100% satisfaction guarantee, no questions asked. If you ever receive a wine you don't like, let us know and we'll send you a replacement immediately. Still don't like it? We'll refund your entire purchase, and you get to keep all the bottles!”

I placed my first order because of that, along with the positive reviews, a recommendation from someone I knew, and the glimmer of hope that this would help alleviate the newly acquired allergic response my husband would get from red wines (his nose would get very stuffy and he’d have a MAJOR headache even after just one glass – tragic!). I’m glad that I did!

We’ve received 3 different shipments (for the sake of research!) and I can now officially say that their wines are delicious.

My husband is able to drink red wine without the negative reactions he used to have, and I can feel more comfortable with the drinks I’m offering when hosting people at our home. All of the FAQ’s and information can be found on their website if you want to learn more. Shipping is free and if you order through that link, you can add a bottle of wine to your first order for a penny. 

What’s your perspective when it comes to alcohol and your health goals? Do you notice any reactions to red wine in particular?  

If you choose to imbibe and are trying to keep your glass as clean as your plate, I hope this helps you find an option that works for you. If you try Dry Farm Wines, let me know what you think. 

Cheers!

boston health coach

This post contains affiliate links. I only promote products I use and love. If you buy through my link I will earn a small percentage at no extra cost to you (thanks for helping a small biz owner out!).

You Are What Your Skin Eats, Too

To be completely honest (as always), what I’m about to share is information I sometimes wish I’d never learned. It’d be much easier to trust that if something is sold that it’s been tested and proven to be safe.

I was shocked and disappointed when I found out that this isn’t the case. As I learned more, I’ve moved from disappointed to angry. I share this not to scare you or judge you if you use any of these products. I also don’t want to sound like the crazy crunchy girl in the corner, but I’m willing to risk that to raise awareness because of my mission: to help exhausted professionals restore their energy, feel like their best selves, and do what they love.

These toxins in our personal care products that we’re exposed to on a daily basis steal our health, and the health of those we love.

I’ll walk you through the most important facts, and then just as importantly, how to make changes in your life without losing your sanity or your entire paycheck!

health coaching boston

The scary facts:

  • The American government doesn’t require health studies or pre-market testing of the chemicals in personal care products (!!). Over the past two decades, the EU has banned more than 1,300 chemicals in the product formulas of personal care products and restricted the levels of over 250 more in such products. The US has only partially banned 30 to date.
  • There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today. Many don’t have any safety data. This is particularly true of those used in the skin care and beauty industry.
  • While there still needs to be even more research done, these chemicals can cause a host of health issues from weight gain to cancer (you may have seen this recent Johnson and Johnson lawsuit).
  • New analysis released just this month showed that male sperm count in Western countries has decreased almost 60% in the last 40 years. 60%!! They name these toxins, often endocrine disruptors, as one of the influences. Here is more about what endocrine disrupters do to the body.
  • Studies have found an average of 200 industrial chemicals, pollutants, and pesticides in the umbilical cords of babies. Personal care products are only one source (we’ll get to the others in a future blog post!) but this is heartbreaking given the vulnerability of that population.

Two of the areas I focus on with my clients are stress and energy, and this sums up how both are impacted by these toxins:

“Toxic overload is a condition that I consider to be one of the most frequent, yet least diagnosed, causes of fatigue. We are bombarded with environmental toxins on a daily basis (including pesticides, poor air quality, artificial chemicals, and foods with added hormones) that accumulate to create a toxic burden in our bodies. If that burden is allowed to remain in the body, it can become an ever-growing drain on many of our energy resources.

You may be surprised to find that your energy levels are tied into your gastrointestinal tract and that clearing toxins out of your body can help rejuvenate your entire system. Today, more than 75% of the population suffers from some type of gastrointestinal distress that can usually be traced back to food sensitivities or low enzyme activity inhibiting digestion. The foods you eat and your lifestyle in general can be causing your body a great deal of stress.”  Dr Eva Cwynar, MD

We’ll save the food conversation for a later date, too. For now, I ask you this:

How many products do you put on your body in a given day?

The Environmental Working Group did a survey of 2300 people and on average, respondents use nine products daily. These contain 126 unique ingredients. One man in 100 and 25 percent of women surveyed apply 15 or more products each day.

Do an experiment and write down a list focusing just on your morning and evening routines. You’ll likely be surprised by your number (hand soap, face wash, lotion, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, makeup… it adds up!).

boston health coaching

What do we need to avoid? How do we know what’s toxic or not?

Since it’s not feasible for me to list all of the chemicals, here’s a cheat sheet of what to steer clear of based on the type of product (here’s another good one too). When in doubt, stay away from “fragrance” since that can be an umbrella for a lot of undisclosed chemicals, and anything that has ingredients ending in “paraben.”

The fastest, easiest way to assess products is by using the incredible EWG database. You can also scan items or look them up with apps including SkinDeep or Think Dirty. You’ve been warned: once you start looking up a few items you may become addicted and start looking up everything in your home!

What do we do now? Live in a bubble?

Learning this information can be overwhelming, to say the least. I remember wanting to throw out every single thing I owned, but knew that researching safe options and spending money to replace them all at once would be overwhelming too.

Fortunately, the days of me being judged when speaking about the dangers of aluminum deodorant are (mostly) gone. There’s a growing awareness of these issues, consumers are pushing back, and the market is responding by providing more non-toxic options. Beware of false advertising, however, as companies use phrases like “all natural” to attract consumers but the phrase means nothing.

The best advice I’ve gleaned from reading COUNTLESS articles in this space has been the following:

1) Start with the basics.

If you did the exercise above, you now have a list of the products you're exposing yourself to most often. Narrow these down: What do you use multiple times per day? What’s “on” your skin the most/longest? Which of your products are most poorly rated? Replace those first.

2) Replace other items as you run out of them.

Save your receipts, too, as many places like Whole Foods (amazing selection of personal care products!) will let you return an item if it doesn’t work for you. I put together a list of some of my favorite items here.

3) If you get really into it, you can make a lot of your own products.

It’s often as simple as combining essential oils (let me know if you would like to order some!) with just a few common household ingredients. Instead of going full speed ahead then losing interest, only spend energy making items you use often. I adore Body Unburdened for her passion for this topic and recipes. Skin Cleanse is also a fantastic resource for learning more about the beauty industry and the importance of non-toxic products and healthy foods for clear skin (she graduated from the same nutrition school as me!). There are tons of DIY recipes in there too. When I switched to non-toxic products years ago, I actually noticed my skin was MUCH clearer when using fewer but cleaner products.

4) Spread the word.

Share this post with your friends and family and help them protect their health. The first step is awareness, then action, and our collective actions can ignite broader change.

 

Sources/More Information:

 

Around Negative People? 6 Strategies to Protect Your Energy

A reader recently asked me to write a post about dealing with negative people. If there are topics you’d like to see, you can always reach out and let me know! 

Regardless of the setting, whether it’s a colleague, friend, or family member, being around people who have a consistent negative disposition is a challenge. There are many types of negative people, and many ways they can behave that are challenging. Some common examples include: glass half empty mindset, passive aggressiveness, constant drama or gossiping, perpetual worrying, complaining, or guilt tripping… and there are plenty of other ways this can manifest.

If you haven't seen any "Debbie Downer" skits from SNL I recommend you take a look!

If you haven't seen any "Debbie Downer" skits from SNL I recommend you take a look!

Some playfully call these individuals “Debbie Downers.”

Others call these individuals “energy vampires” and for good reason. As you may have noticed, it's really hard to be around negative people without it impacting your own energy. If it's someone you care about and you’re invested in wanting them to be happier, it can be even more draining.

So, what do you do?

Give Them a Reality Check

It’s a delicate conversation, but in certain situations you can have a candid conversation about the energy they're projecting. Looking honestly at ourselves can be a hard practice, and some individuals may not have any idea how they’re coming across and would appreciate knowing. If they don’t know this about themselves, they won’t have any motivation to change! Since it’s such a delicate conversation, and not everyone takes constructive feedback well, this approach is most appropriate if it’s a close friend or family member rather than a supervisor or boss (see below for tips on managing a negative work environment).

Give Yourself a Reality Check

Sometimes, the best option is to accept them as they are and do what you need to do to protect your energy. We all have a biological predisposition to think this way, and happiness researchers like Gretchen Rubin believe 50% of happiness is genetically determined and other research shows similar findings. Some people are content with this default way of thinking, or are in a place where they’re not ready or able to make a change.

No matter the circumstance, how do you protect your energy?

Shift your Mindset. As discussed above, letting go of the idea that you can change others is a simple shift of perspective that can create more space in your life. You may realize that letting go of the relationship is actually the right answer, but if that isn’t as feasible, a mental shift can be a realistic place to start.

Create Boundaries. This can be managing the amount of time you spend with this person and/or steering the conversation away from topic areas you know are extra challenging.  

Refill your Tank.  If you know you’re going to be spending time with him/her, can you plan to counteract that energy drain with something restorative afterwards? This doesn’t have to mean getting a massage after each interaction (though that sounds lovely!) but little mindful decisions such as avoiding overscheduling yourself or activities that require a lot of energy can be helpful. Here are some other tips to counter stress that take less than five minutes per day.

What about at work?

You may have less control over creating boundaries in the office, particularly if it’s your boss or direct teammate who’s always negative, or worse, if it’s the culture of the organization at large. If this is the scenario you’re in, the same self-care and stress management tips above apply. Furthermore, you’ll want to assess whether or not that environment is really right for you and what toll it’s taking on both your personal and professional development.

Many of my clients use their dissatisfaction with work to fuel their efforts to make a change. Tough day at work? Use it as more motivation to spend time reaching out to connect with others who will reaffirm that things can look differently elsewhere.

As always, if you want support in making changes in your personal or professional life, reach out for a free 30-minute consult!

How have you managed these kinds of relationships in your life?  What strategies have helped you protect or restore your energy? Is there currently a toxic environment in your personal or professional life that can be better managed using some of these strategies? 

Job Search Resilience

Other than balancing a job search with everything else going on in your life, one of the hardest parts of looking for a new position is keeping your spirits up throughout the duration of the often-tedious process.

Whether it’s deafening silence from employers or making it to the final round of interviews only to not be selected, the experience can certainly take a toll on your confidence.

Those examples are (unfortunately!) a normal part of looking for a job whether you’re highly qualified for what you’re applying to or not. From political hiring decisions, technical interference causing your application to never be seen by a human, or simply an extremely competitive market, there are a handful of challenging layers that have nothing to do with your competency levels (let that sink in!)… yet, the longer you spend applying, the more likely you are to start to doubt yourself.

So, how do you keep your spirits up?

I heard this definition from Jennifer Racioppi while listening to a webinar on emotional resilience

I heard this definition from Jennifer Racioppi while listening to a webinar on emotional resilience

As with many challenges in life, it comes back to resilience. There are countless definitions and studies about this concept, but two of my favorites include: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness” and meeting life exactly as it is and being able to thrive anyway. Some believe that “more than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.”

Below are a few of the strategies I’ve found help job seekers recover from the challenges and setbacks that come with the territory.

Talk to people.

This will sound like the last thing you want to do when your confidence is tanking or you’re doubting yourself, but trust me on this. Networking not only increases your likelihood of landing a position, it also can do a myriad of things to get you out of the job search rut. For example, people in your field can:

  • Validate that your background is impressive/you do have valuable and relevant skills. You can get this information through asking questions such as “What skills do you think make someone stand out in this field/role?” or “What qualities make someone most successful in this position?”  
  • Help you see your blind spots and where you may be lacking competitiveness. That may sound like bad news, but this insight can show you where to seek out development and growth to proactively increase your ability to compete.
  • Give you ideas about other companies, job titles, or openings to look at that you may not know about.

Any of these outcomes can serve to reinvigorate you and the energy you need to keep plugging away.

boston career coach

Look in your happy-face-folder 

This may sound weird if you don’t have one, so let me explain. Every time I get a thoughtful thank you email or positive feedback after an event, I file them into a folder aptly titled “😊.” If I have a really challenging day or am doubting myself (in the life of an entrepreneur it happens often!), I skim through and am reminded of my skills, value-add, and the positive impact I’ve had on other people’s lives. If you don’t save these types of emails, I recommend that you start!

If you don’t have these emails, you can still seek out this kind of info from other sources. Old performance reviews are a good place to look. Chatting with any colleagues you’ve let in on your search, checking in with your references, and reviewing former letters of recommendation can all raise your spirits too.

Take Care of Yourself

When in doubt, taking extra care of yourself is always a good idea. It may sound counterintuitive to step away from applications, but restoring your energy and mindset will ultimately make you much more productive. That renewed confidence will translate in your application materials. You have permission to take this space. Often a short stint away, or coming back to an application after a restorative activity is all you need to reframe your perspective.

boston career coach

This comes back to stress and the impact it can have on our personal and professional well-being. Clinical psychologist George Bonanno has been studying resilience for over 25 years and he says the following: “All of us possess the same fundamental stress-response system, which has evolved over millions of years and which we share with other animals. The vast majority of people are pretty good at using that system to deal with stress. When it comes to resilience, the question is: Why do some people use the system so much more frequently or effectively than others? One of the central elements of resilience, Bonanno has found, is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow?”

Taking time to take care of yourself and counter job search stressors can make it easier to view whatever challenges have come up in your process as opportunities to grow, and you can use this resilience to handle other life hurtles with more grace and ease.  

  • What are some examples of challenges you’ve faced in your life that you see as teaching moments or times of great personal growth?
  • How can you reframe your perspective of your job search to meet it where it is and yet thrive anyway?
  • Where can you apply these mindset shifts to other areas of your life to restore your energy and get back to feeling like your best self?

 

Answering Negative Interview Questions

Interviewing can be stressful enough, let alone when a prospective employer asks you a question that brings up some negative emotions.

Common interview questions where this may happen include:

  • Why are you leaving your current position?
  • What did you like least about your most recent role/company?
  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a colleague/client/customer.
  • Tell me about a time when you failed.
  • What’s a weakness of yours?

Fun list of topics, eh?

career coaching boston

The basic strategy for these questions is this: provide an adequate and truthful answer without sharing too many dramatic details and while keeping a professional, calm tone.

Sounds manageable, but if you’re caught off guard by a negative question or you’re describing a situation that involved particularly high emotions, it can be quite challenging. When I do mock interviews with clients, I point out how even just one word choice can make a difference in how polarizing an example can sound (for example: That made me so furious vs That made me so frustrated. One word, big difference!).

So, what do you do?

Use the PAR approach.

This strategy works when answering any behavioral interview question because it gives you a framework for what information is most critical to include, along with how to organize it. People tend to be most long-winded when answering this style of question, and this method can help to weed out extraneous details. PAR stands for problem, action, result – a similar acronym is STAR which stands for situation, task, action, result. In short, you want to assess what problem or situation you’re going to describe, what action YOU took, and the conclusion (or the goal of your action if you didn’t see the conclusion/get the result you anticipated).

Practice out loud.

This aligns with previous interview prep tips I’ve shared, and it’s because I can’t emphasize it enough. You’ll notice how delicate the word choice is, and it’s better to stumble over it on your own than in front of the employer. Ideally, have a friend or career coach listen to your answer and give you feedback as to how it translated.

Choose your examples carefully.

If you get feedback that your answer is still a little bit touchy, or you’re continuously struggling with getting it to a place where you feel like it's a strong answer, choose a new example if possible. Those are signs that the situation was too complicated to describe easily or that you’re still feeling too strongly about it to share it with an employer in an interview.

a simple (and silly) example to help illustrate these practices

...fun fact, this is a true story from the job I held at Super Kmart at 16 years old!

Question: Can you tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult person (client/customer/colleague)?

Answer: While working as a cashier at Super Kmart, a middle-aged gentleman tried to purchase cigarettes from me. The strict store policy required employees to ask for ID from everyone, even if they appeared to be well over the legal purchasing age. The gentleman forgot his ID so I politely informed him that unfortunately I couldn’t complete the sale. He became extremely agitated and began yelling. I calmly replied that I’d be happy to refer him to my manager if he’d like to continue the discussion, as there was nothing I could do to change the policy. He agreed, I brought in my manager, and they sorted out a solution together so I could move on to serve the next customer.

In reality, I thought this man was completely inappropriate and rude, and that the policy was a bit extreme, but those stronger feelings aren't present in this response.  

Use these tips and you’ll feel more confident when answering negative questions during your next interview!

Want a deeper dive into the strategies behind answering the two most dreaded interview questions (including the infamous weakness question)? Download my guide which includes a bonus: the simple but often forgotten tactic to nailing an interview.

Stress: Why it Matters and What to Do About It

Never-ending inbox have you on edge? 

Never-ending inbox have you on edge? 

I recently led a yoga workshop called "From Stressed to Savasana." When preparing the content for the post-yoga flow discussion, I took a step back to examine the importance of managing this common emotion. 

We all know that constantly feeling stressed doesn’t feel good. But other than not enjoying the way it feels, why is it so important to address?

Because the majority of disease is linked to stress. Over 80% of visits to doctors are stress related, yet only 3% of the time is stress management covered (source). 

Stress leads to inflammation in your body, and chronic inflammation leads to disease. When we’re not well (dis-ease) that can make us feel stressed, which then perpetuates the whole cycle (source).

Some stress is good— such as starting a new job that’s a great fit –  and the body’s process for managing real threats (like a potential life-threatening situation) is a critical. Unfortunately, we often perceive everyday stressors the same way in the body (video – start at 3:20 and source).

This perpetual stress response increases the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline (source). Imagine you’re being chased by a lion. All of your body’s energy and resources will be spent on preparing you to fight or take flight, leaving minimal energy to be spent on other bodily functions like digesting food. Your body decides that running from the lion takes precedence over digesting that sandwich, and rightfully so!

So, when this same stress response happens daily, you can imagine how much it interferes with your ability to perform normal tasks and feel like your best self.

It inhibits proper digestion and nutrient absorption, clouds thinking, causes anxiety, can bring upon a feeling of being “tired but wired,” increases sugar cravings, weight gain, high blood pressure and more.

So… what do we do?!

Just like the Sympathetic Nervous System is turned “on” – we can turn it “off” by activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS is nicknamed the “rest and digest” system for a reason). There are countless ways to do this, and many are free and fast, making them easy to integrate into our busy lives!   

Three of these tips take less than five minutes daily! Use them to start restoring your energy today. Have other simple stress relief activities that are working for you? Let me know in the comments! Your input may be just what someone else needs to hear.

Gratitude

Photo by Pure Style Photography

Photo by Pure Style Photography

We have a biological predisposition to think negatively- it's a protective device our ancestors used to avoid threats. This default mode of thinking doesn't serve us as well these days in either our personal or professional lives. It leads us to think poorly of ourselves, doubt our abilities, and expect the worst of others. This energy can be toxic to ourselves (both physical and mental health) and those around us.

The good news is research shows we can rewire ourselves to default to positive thoughts- we just have to train our brains.

The concept of Pratipaksha Bhavana emphasizes first building awareness of this negativity bias, then counteracting it by cultivating opposing thoughts. The more you do this, the more you disarm the power and force behind negative thinking even when it comes back.

Instead of flipping upside down to shift your perspective- try a gratitude experiment.


Think of 3 things you're grateful for every day this week.

They can be as simple as the fact that the sun is out. Write them down or say them out loud (or both!).

While you can do the exercise any time, starting your day from a place of positivity can really set the tone and influence the lens you view things from for the rest of it.

Perhaps one of the three things you write down and say today is something that you're grateful you DON'T have. Sometimes I'm filled with such relief when I reflect back on things that didn't go as I'd originally hoped. Relationships that didn't pan out or jobs I didn't get were so upsetting at the time, but in hindsight it's SO clear to see how misaligned they were with my true path.

Instead of being disappointed or frustrated you didn't see the lessons sooner, can you look at some of these plot twists in your own life and pull some appreciation from them?

"Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have."

Sometimes the wants creep in and cloud the haves. Try thinking about something you used to want and now have, like good health when you had a cold, or a few minutes to yourself in your busy schedule. The "things" we're grateful for don't have to be external "things" at all.

If you find your day gets away from you and your mind is clouded by the stress or challenges that come your way, pause, breathe, and come back to the three things on your gratitude list.

You have more control over your mindset and mood than you think.

How different would our moods be if we made these tiny tweaks more consistently? How much kinder might we be not only to ourselves but also to those around us? Have you noticed the benefits of this practice in your health or in the way you approach your work?

Below are some images from my seven day gratitude challenge on instagram. Feel free to follow me over there for more regular updates!

Smoothies: Simplified

Have you heard a lot about smoothies, but have yet to try making them yourself? Or maybe you jumped on the smoothie making train but you’re sick of making the same recipe over and over?

This post will go into why smoothies live up to all of the hype, as well as some simple ways to get into (or back into!) making them yourself.

health coaching boston

First things first…

The great debate: Smoothies vs Juice

Here’s a super short article explaining some of the differences, but the short answer is that a smoothie, particularly with lots of veggies in it instead of just fruit, is the better option.

Benefits of Smoothies

  • The biggest benefit, in my opinion, is that it’s one of THE easiest ways to ensure you’re getting more vegetables into your day. The majority of people either don’t eat enough of them, or could benefit from having more, particularly leafy greens. If you (or the people eating with you) don’t love veggies, smoothies mask the flavor in the quickest way. When traveling, its especially helpful since we typically decrease our greens on the go.
  • They’re easy on your digestive system – if you’re rushed in the morning, you eat on the go/at your desk, or you have digestive issues (such as bloating or IBS), your digestion could use a break and smoothies will give them that. Chewing your smoothie vs chugging it will help your body process it better, too!
  • They’re affordable, especially when you make them yourself.
  • They’re quick to make! Especially once you have the hang of it and if you pre-pack, wash, or chop ingredients in advance.

Use a Recipe?

If you’re new to making them, or you’re sick of the ones you make, definitely go to recipes for inspiration. When I first started out I overthought the whole thing.

Don’t make it so complicated that you never get started!

After a while, you’ll end up being able to eyeball measurements and use your intuition as to what will work well together. When in doubt, here are the barebone basics needed:

  • fruits/veggies (organic, especially if in the Dirty Dozen list)
  • organic greens (spinach has the least flavor, kale needs a bit more in the smoothie to hide the taste)
  • some liquid (a nut milk or water, and ice if you like them super cold/thicker)
  • a blender (again, no need to overcomplicate or overspend, I've used a Nutribullet for years and it's worked perfectly)

That’s truly it!

You can start there with no special potions added in. When you’re ready, some simple staples to begin to stock your pantry with are chia seeds or flaxseed (ground for best absorption), but you want to assess what your own body needs to know which items are most strategic/beneficial to add.

Extra Money Saving/Prep Tips

  • Stock up on organic fruits/veggies when they’re on sale (fresh or frozen - frozen produce has equal nutritional value since it's frozen immediately upon ripening) and freeze them
  • Do the same thing for any greens or nut milks (you can put the whole tub of greens in the freezer as is, or blend them up and freeze into ice cubes!)
  • Make your own nut milk (Want a demo or recipes on this? Let me know!)
  • If you have anything going bad in your kitchen, throw it in your smoothie or freeze it for a future one. You can do this with nut milk too- pour it into ice cube trays and freeze. These tips may sound so simple, but you’ll be surprised to see how much you can save and avoid wasting once you’re deliberate about this!

Recipe Inspiration

For ideas on different combinations, along with more creative nutritious additives, here are some of my go-to places to peek at:

What gets in the way of you making smoothies or breakfast? How might you use any of these tips to make more smoothies moving forward? Enjoy!

health coaching boston

PS

Do you eat breakfast or lunch at your desk often? You're likely not chewing your food too well, which can interfere with nutrient absorbtion and lead to digestive issues. Here are TWO upcoming chances to learn more about how to make tiny tweaks to your eating habits but see big changes in the way you feel! 

5 Simple Healthy Travel Tips

It’s almost summer! This upcoming season brings a lot of change in routines and mindsets. We may notice a slower pace at work with colleagues taking vacation or may be traveling more ourselves.

Many of my clients, trying to commit to healthier habits, get stressed when it comes to travel time. One client does a lot of driving on a weekly basis for his role in recruiting, and other than being concerned about sitting so much, he worries about finding nutritious meals on the go.

Whether you’re traveling for work conferences or family vacations, here are some tips to keep those healthy habits at the forefront of your mind!

health coaching boston aileen
The hotel we stayed at had this beautiful water stocked by the pool and in the lobby. Perfect way to keep sneaking in hydration on the run!

The hotel we stayed at had this beautiful water stocked by the pool and in the lobby. Perfect way to keep sneaking in hydration on the run!

BYO Water

Pack a reusable water bottle. Sounds simple, but doing this one thing alone can make a huge difference. The low humidity in an airplane can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can lead to sugar cravings, and when you’re surrounded by lots of sugary options in your travels, they’ll be that much more tempting. Aim to increase your water intake before you even leave for the airport, so you don’t have to go on the plane!

If you don’t have a water bottle, here are some of my favorites. If you don’t want to lug one around, buy a large bottle after going through security instead of being stuck with the tiny ones on the plane. Bonus- you can nap whenever you want since you won’t be waiting on the beverage cart!

BYO Snacks

Keeping hanger at bay is a simple way to avoid fast food or less nutritious options on-the-go. If possible, eating a real meal before you leave for your travel is a great place to start.

If the timing is off (a 6am flight, for example), the next best thing is bringing snacks! Fun fact: your taste buds can change on a plane, tricking you into wanting different foods than normal too. Hard fruit travels best (I’ve ended up with smashed and browned bananas in my purse before- lesson learned). Some of my favorite snacks I bring:

Previous travel hack photos of mine: chia pudding, fruits, asking for hot water and lemon at the breakfast buffet, and deviled eggs!

Previous travel hack photos of mine: chia pudding, fruits, asking for hot water and lemon at the breakfast buffet, and deviled eggs!

  • lemons (so you can have hot water with lemon in your hotel room! I use the coffee maker to brew just hot water)
  • nut butter pouches (an example)
  • an apple, clementine, or orange would all travel well, along with avocado, carrots, celery, or hardboiled pasture raised eggs
  • chia seeds (make your own chia pudding!) on the plane/train or in your hotel - these also help hydration 
  • seaweed snacks for that salty crunchy craving
  • make trail mix, bars or balls and bring them, or buy some with reliable ingredients in advance like RXBar 
  • Simple Mills crackers (bring the box!) - I typically buy mine cheaper through Thrive Market (save15% on your first order with that link)

BYO Potions

Flying can also disrupt your good gut bacteria, so bringing the probiotics or vitamins you may already be using is key!  On that same note, kombucha is more widely available these days so you can drink your probiotics that way, too.  

Make a Plan

Just as, if not more important, than any of those previous ideas is to be as informed as possible before arriving at your final destination. Doing some quick research in advance on restaurants that have nutritious food options, or even locating something like a Whole Foods nearby, can give you peace of mind and keep you well fueled.  

If the restaurants aren’t in your control, try to take a look at the menus in advance to see what foods will work for you. When you’re hungry, staring at a menu often leads to less strategic options because you want ALL of the things! One of my clients has found just looking at a menu before arriving helps her buffer in time to assess what she’s actually craving, removing her tendency to be overwhelmed by the options.

If you’re staying at a hotel… beware of the buffet.

Here's a deeper look into why we overeat at the buffet, but my biggest advice is to plate everything at once (after doing a lap to see what your options are) vs. getting up/down for multiple courses. You'll have a better perspective of how much you're eating. Also, start out with the most nutritious foods like greens and veggies so you're more likely to crowd out the others.

When in doubt, don't forget to chew! Give yourself time to realize you're full.

You can also research fitness options so you get some movement on your schedule. See what the hotel gym has to offer, or look up local studios (many will have first-time client specials!) for class options. One client of mine said this simple, quick research led to her actually going to a yoga class instead of just packing the clothes for it and leaving them in her suitcase!

At the end of my honeymoon after many celebratory meals and drinks, all I craved was real fruit and veggies (and a coconut for good measure) 

At the end of my honeymoon after many celebratory meals and drinks, all I craved was real fruit and veggies (and a coconut for good measure) 

Find Your Balance

Also know when it’s worth it to soak up the experience and enjoy things! For me, stale pastries at the breakfast buffet aren’t worth it (learned that one the hard way). A martini and a unique locally sourced or fresh and fun appetizer? A different story.

Try to give yourself some time and space to listen to your body and see what you actually want. Decide where you feel like certain foods are worth it, and when you eat that food, enjoy it instead of feeling a pang of guilt with every bite. It's all about balance, after all!

Where are you headed this summer? Safe travels!

 

 

 

Habit Change: How to Drink More Water

water health coaching aileen habit change

In case you missed it, I recently did a “7 Day Drink More Water Challenge” on my Instagram page.

With summer just around the corner, and research showing that over 75% of Americans are in a state of chronic dehydration, it makes sense to dig into this topic!

We all know that drinking water is not just beneficial, but life-and-death critical, for our health. It distributes nutrients to cells, regulates body temperatures, removes toxins and excess sodium from our systems and more. Yet so many of us fail to do it adequately.

When you stop to think about it, it’s truly interesting that people with access to clean drinking water struggle to meet this most basic and simple human need.

Why is this? What interferes with your adequate water intake?

For many, it’s the simple fact that it isn’t a habit, and when things aren’t a part of our normal routine or rituals they can be easily forgotten, regardless of their importance.

If you’ve been reading along on the blog, you’ve noticed I write a lot about mindfulness. This is yet another example of how we can incorporate this practice into our lives to make tiny shifts that have huge impacts.

First, let’s assess your current water drinking habits.

Did you know you're supposed to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water per day? So, if you weigh 200lbs that means 100oz of water or 12+ cups. Don’t shoot the messenger, but if you exercise heavily or drink lots of caffeine or alcohol (both diuretics) then you need to drink even more!

Do some math right now and look at how your daily consumption adds up.

For most of you, there’s at least a little room for improvement (myself included!). Below are some ideas for ways to make drinking water a habit.

I try to start every day with hot water and lemon - even when I travel!

I try to start every day with hot water and lemon - even when I travel!

Morning Routine

Imagine if I told you you're not allowed to drink ANY water for 8 hours today. Think about it… that's what happens when you sleep! It’s one reason among many why starting off the day with water (before anything else!) is so critical.

Leave a full mason jar or water bottle on your nightstand and drink it all first thing in the morning. For extra accountability, I like to pretend I'm not allowed to leave my room until I finish. I find it wakes me up and gets me on track right away without doing much work. If you have a long commute, I highly recommend doing this as a way to avoid chugging closer to your departure time and then needing to use the bathroom during your travels.

habit change health coaching aileen aspire

If you’re thinking “But Aileen, coffee is my morning ritual and I’m not giving that up (especially for boring water)!”

…I get it, and you don’t have to! But you can leverage that existing habit to build this new one.

Two of my health coaching clients have a ritual of making coffee first thing in the morning without any thought or effort (can you relate?). Each of them now leaves a water bottle/glass next to the coffee machine with a goal of drinking at least as much water as coffee before it brews, or before drinking it. If this is part of your routine, give this a try!

Office Routine

Often when we think we're hungry or craving certain foods, we're actually just dehydrated. When we're fatigued, or have trouble concentrating, it can be for the same reasons. Instead of drinking water, we reach for the mindless snack or grab another cup of coffee.

At work, when we’re in busy mode, we might go the whole day without really drinking any water (I’ve been there!). When that afternoon slump hits, and those stale donuts in the kitchen seem extra tempting, go to the water cooler instead and fill up. If you hydrated in the morning, your bathroom trips will help you move from your desk more during the day, which will actually help your productivity (fresh perspective!) and counteract so much sitting.

See how a little change can create a ripple effect?

Nag yourself

Until drinking water becomes such a ritual that you don’t even think about it, you need reminders. I’ve had clients set alarms or push reminders on their phones, leave sticky notes on their desks and in their kitchens, set up recurring calendar reminders, and drink from bottles that have the time of day on them for extra accountability.

Which of these might be useful for you?

Outside the glass

Eating foods that have high water content can be a nice life-hack if you don’t drink enough water simply because you think it’s boring. Some of these foods include pineapple, watermelon, lettuce, cucumber, strawberries, zucchini, and celery.

 

In addition to how much you're drinking, what you're drinking out of is also important. I’ll do a future post about water quality and filters but focus on the simple stuff for now.

Did you know plastic water bottles (even reusable ones that say BPA free) can leach phthalates into your water? These are hormone disrupters and linked to ADHD, breast cancer, male fertility issues, and more. You may not even notice how often you drink from plastic, but here and there at the gym, conferences/work events, summer BBQ’s and picnics adds up.

One simple solution: buy a reusable water bottle made from glass or stainless steel.

Luckily there are tons of affordable options on the market (see my wellness resources for my faves). You may even get motivated to drink more if you have a fun bottle – nerdy but true! Make a habit of leaving it by your keys or in your work bag, or even have one at work and one at home, so you have it on the ready.

These are some of many ideas to help you up your water intake, one of the simplest ways to address a myriad of health concerns. Simple "healthy habits" like drinking water aren't usually mind blowing new information, and I think it's the same for a lot of nutrition.

It's often not about the fancy new superfoods or trendy workouts, but the basics like drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, breathing, moving, and eating real food. I'm grateful to help people cut through the chaos of the wellness world to get back to the basics to find better health. 

Which of these can you put into practice, or what other ideas do you have to make new hydration habits? How can you make some tiny tweaks in time for summer? Cheers! 

health coaching habit change water aileen

Interviewing Tips

Helping people prepare for interviews is one of my FAVORITE things to do (yes, I realize how nerdy this makes me sound, but I’m okay with that).

interviewing help aspire aileen career coaching

There's so much anxiety and fear that comes along with the excitement of landing this precious time with an employer. One of the reasons why I love it so much is because it's so rewarding to use my holistic perspective and coaching skills to move people through those feelings to a place of confidence.

If you're battling a bout of the pre-interview scaries, read on to get moving!

The first thing to do is remember that there's a reason why you're being interviewed!

Really, that’s step one. It sounds simple, but my clients often get swept up in the overwhelm and overlook this critical information. Employers go through hundreds or thousands of applications before narrowing the pile down to a first round of interviews. They don't have the time or resources to interview you just for fun. Something in your application materials made them interested enough in you to connect.

Use that not only as a confidence building tool, but also as guidance on how to prepare. Go through all of your application materials and know them like the back of your hand. Assess what you think, from their perspective, is most attractive about you and practice speaking to those things.

This may sound obvious, but so many people have information on their resume that’s from a few years ago and when I ask them to tell me about it they fumble with remembering what they actually did.

Take a peek at your resume right now and skim to one of your oldest bullets – is that true for you, too?

Don’t let this happen with an employer. You may think the older information has nothing to do with the prospective job, and you may be right, but sometimes they’re intrigued to learn more for exactly that reason. It can break up the monotony for them when reading resumes of candidates with very similar backgrounds and experiences.

In summary: be able to speak to every single line on your resume.

The more you “overprepare” for an interview, the less anxiety surrounds it and the more you’ll be able to start off the conversation from a place of confidence.

Continue to use the clues you have in front of you to keep plugging away, instead of jumping over and Googling “interview questions.” If you followed my exercise for how to write a cover letter, you’ve already dissected the job description (if you haven’t, download my free guide to help make cover letter writing less painful while simultaneously setting yourself up to be ahead in your interviewing prep work). Based on the themes you’ve noticed in the post, you can anticipate what types of questions you’ll be asked, and then practice them out loud. You can also find sample interview questions on recruiting or career services sites, like these here.

It will likely be uncomfortable practicing out loud, but it’s always worth it.

The way you think you’ll answer something in your head often translates very differently when it comes out of your mouth. Notice what part of the job or skills you feel weakest in and spend extra energy practicing how you’ll approach those instead of just hoping they won’t ask you about them.

Next, scour the company website, Glassdoor, and the news to be as informed as possible about how they’re branding themselves and what information is widely known about them.

Lastly, ask for information if you don’t have it.

I’ve had clients get so excited to be asked to interview that only later do they realize they don’t have very important information. One extreme example is when a client of mine didn’t even have a job description! He’d done an informational interview and they asked him to come in and interview the next day for a position that hadn’t even been posted yet. He accepted the interview and then had no idea how to prepare. When I asked him if he asked them for the details he said no. It’s a completely reasonable thing to ask for, and after some encouragement he realized he had nothing to be afraid of and sure enough they sent it his way when he asked.

Consider: Who will you be meeting with? How many people and at what times (and if it's a full-day interview, what snacks will you bring?)? What are the details of the job? Can you confirm the location, especially if they have multiple locations?

I can go on, but these guidelines should get you off to a very comprehensive start.

One last thing... If you’re nervous, don’t forget to breathe!

Deep belly breaths will help trigger your relaxation response to counter that stress. There’s debate about some other more holistic approaches to your mindset and physiology, but breathing should definitely be on your to-do list.

I'll do future posts on how to answer two of the most dreaded questions – “Tell me about yourself” and “What’s your weakness?” Let me know if you'd like to also read about what to do if you have NO idea how to answer a question, thank you note etiquette, how to navigate the salary expectation conversation, or how to manage your energy when interviewing for hours or are introverted.

If you have questions in the meantime, feel free to reach out or send this along to a friend who is job searching!  Good luck!