Today it is time to take a trip down fantasy lane. We all have dreams of things we would like to do in our lifetime. Some might be achievable goals, while others are just wild ideas that roam in our imagination. For me, today’s list of mainly consists of the latter. It is a list of five dream jobs I fantasise about having, without having real plans to pursue any of these plans.View Post
In our culture, it is important to always do something useful. We have become afraid to be alone with our thoughts and social media has made it easier than ever to never be idle. Maybe you can relate to feeling guilty if your mind isn’t occupied with anything. For me, it feels uneasy, as if I am missing out on something. But by quickly turning to our phones to fill the void in our mind, we rob ourselves of something very valuable. We rob ourselves from the opportunity to let the mind wander. This is not just laziness. Doing nothing lets us empty our cups so that we can return to the participation of life with room in our minds. Neuroscientists think this ‘doing nothing’ also helps us to become more creative and improves our problem-solving skills.
As life grabs our hands and pulls them towards all different corners of the world, it is our job to retreat them back periodically and become centered again. Yet in a world where there are so many hand grabbers, this job has become a skillful art that requires practice, dedication, and patience. It is an art about saying no to the expectations, temptations, and distractions around us and just letting life be for a bit. We can practice the art of doing nothing with a few simple steps until we have become masters of ‘il dolce far niente’.
1. Make time
The first step is of course to schedule plenty of time for your doing nothing. It is important to give yourself enough time for the sweetness of ‘far niente’ to take full effect. This means that 30 minutes in between rushing to appointments won’t do. It also means that an hour before bed will probably not do either. You can still use this time to practice some mindfulness, stare into nothingness or take a hot bath. But for some serious ‘far niente’ you should give yourself at least 3-4 hours to ensure that doing nothing doesn’t turn into another item to tick off on your busy to-do list. A Sunday afternoon would work perfectly for your nothingness adventure.
2. Schedule absolutely nothing
During your doing nothingness, switch of all electronics and disconnect from the outside world. Do not schedule any tasks during your time of doing nothing. That means no cooking, cleaning or blogging. But it also means saying no to any relaxing ‘tasks’, such as meditation, yoga or reading. For many of us these mindfulness practices can feel like chores we need to accomplish, so do not commit to doing anything relaxing during ‘far niente’. Instead simply sit in a chair for a while and see what comes up.
3. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable
Doing nothing is likely going to be uncomfortable at first. You will want to do something useful or something distracting almost straight away. Resist the urge to do anything at all (including listening to music or taking a bath) for at least the first 30 minutes. Just sit there and let your thoughts pass by. Do not try to turn this into a meditation exercise either, but instead let your mind wander where it wants to. If you are struggling too much with just sitting with your thoughts, it is also fine to stare out of the window for a while. Initially, the thoughts might be hectic, but as time passes they will slow down and take a certain direction. Once you feel settled (again, you should sit for at least 30 minutes), you can start filling up the rest of ‘far niente’ time with some slow activities.
4. Get inspired
Once you have sat for a while, you can get a pen and paper and start writing down your thoughts. Don’t try to make the writing structured, but instead just write down what comes up. Then you can do some slow activities, such as stretching or moving your body to music. The movements again should not be following any rules (or turn into a strict asana yoga practice). Just move your body freely. Alternatively, you could simply listen to some soothing music, take a hot bath, talk to your partner or do something creative, such as painting or knitting. Remember that the activities should feel inspiring or soothing and not like a chore. The most important thing is to not consume any information, so reading, watching telly or engaging on social media doesn’t count as ‘far niente’.
Having a 4-step program for doing nothing might seem excessive, but in a world that thrives on busyness I know for myself that structuring my ‘far niente’ keeps me from getting distracted or bored. Over time the practice will feel more natural. Then, you can truly feel the sweetness of doing nothing running through your veins.
When I became chronically stressed a few years ago, I quickly looked at my diet to search for an answer. In the past, diet has always been able to help me overcome my health issues, from headaches to acne. Although chronic stress obviously needs to be solved by removing the source of stress, food can play an important role in aiding the body during stressful times. I have already written about the health benefits of magnesium and general diet tips when stressed, but today I want to turn the focus on the low-glycemic diet.
When I started experiencing stress symptoms, I started removing high sugar foods from my diet. It is well-known that sugar can increase stress. I sound like a broken record when I say that your adrenals produce a hormone called cortisol when you are stressed. Long-term, elevated levels of cortisol can lead to an array of health issues. What does this have to do with sugar? Well, eating simple sugars raises your blood sugar levels. Besides being a stress hormone, cortisol also lowers your blood sugar levels. So, when you eat sugar your body will pump even more cortisol through your body, which will leave you feeling anxious and worried. Cutting out sugary foods (including pasta, white rice, and sugary fruits) is thus very beneficial when stressed.
With this knowledge in mind, I started eating a low-carb, high-fat vegan diet. Of course, a vegan high-fat diet will still be higher in carbs than a proper paleo diet. But I swapped the fruit for nuts, legumes, and hummus. At first, this diet made me feel more relaxed and grounded. However, it wasn’t long until I started feeling anxious again. The reason for this is again hormonal. When your body doesn’t get enough carbs, it instead needs to burn fat and protein into glucose for energy. This process is called gluconeogenesis and cortisol again plays a pivotal role in this. When you are not stressed, your body should be able to handle the rise in cortisol (depending on your genetics). But when you are chronically stressed, the extra cortisol is not going to do you any favours.
A happy middle ground
The low-glycemic diet offers a happy middle ground. A low-glycemic diet focuses on eating carbohydrates that do not spike blood sugar and keep you full longer. Examples of low-glycemic foods would be legumes, whole grains, and fresh vegetables. The diet doesn’t spike your blood sugar yet doesn’t require the body to perform gluconeogenesis either. Bottom line, your cortisol levels won’t rise from your diet and your stress symptoms can decrease as a result. A low-glycemic diet also reduces inflammation. This is helpful during stressful times, as cortisol increases inflammation.
Low-glycemic index vs. load
There are two ways to measure the glycemic content of a food: the load and the index. The glycemic load (GL) is simply a ranking of the number of carbohydrates in a serving of food. Anything under GL 10 is considered low-glycemic and anything over GL 20 is considered high-glycemic. The glycemic index (GI) designates the speed with which the carbohydrates are digested and how quick they spike the blood sugar.
The glycemic index is a better indicator of what to eat, whereas the glycemic load tells you how much to eat of a certain food. A food might have a high GI, such as watermelon. But a serving of watermelon has a low GL because a single serving of watermelon contains little simple sugars. Sticking with both GI and GL foods is, of course, the most thorough option. This overview of common foods shows both the glycemic load and index, so it is a great way to see how these two measures can vary greatly. When in doubt though, stick to the glycemic load as a measure of the glycemic content of a food.
Some example meals
So, what do you eat on a low-glycemic diet? It is all pretty straightforward. Avoid processed foods and cereals, as they will always have both a high GI and GL. Avoid large portions of fruit as well, as again they will have both a high GI and GL. Some good low-glycemic meals options can be found below. Keep in mind these options are all vegan, but most animal products will automatically have low GI and GL.
- Breakfast: oats with almond milk and some berries, tofu scramble with veggies or a green smoothie with a minimum amount of fruit. Beware that highly processed foods (such as juices and smoothies) will always have a higher GI. So, skip smoothies altogether if you want to adhere to the diet strictly.
- Lunch: veggie salads or hearty soup
- Dinner: Bean stews and curries with some whole grain rice or quinoa would be great options. The main thing to remember is that the meals should be as unprocessed as possible (without resorting to an all raw veggie diet). They should also always contain loads of fiber, as well as some protein and healthy fats.
Eating a low-glycemic diet can be helpful for a variety of health issues. It certainly can help with keeping a cool head during stressful times. It is easy to maintain and offers great variety for different preferences (vegan, paleo, gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free etc.). There is no need to get religious about this. Just eat whole foods and stay away from obvious sugar spikers, such as large fruit meals or pasta. With this in mind, eating low-glycemic should be easy and fun, while offering an array of health benefits.
*Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor or nutritionist, so please consult an appropriate professional before making any changes to your diet or supplement routine.