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Self care for troubling times

A few simple hacks for your daily life that’ll help boost your body’s physiological resiliency to stress

This work was originally prepared for HumTechFest 2016. You can download the printable zine here. It’s been cross-posted on our Medium blog at medium.com/good-good-work.

We know we should take better care of ourselves, but…

We bust our asses for our work. We believe in it. So we stay up late, take on too much responsibility, chug coffee from dusk ’til dawn, and ignore our bodies when they start to break down.

No one has to justify the existence of burnout or mental health and mood disorders in this community. That shit is real.

Could it be physiological?

If you’ve been sick more than once in the last year, have digestive problems, allergies, an immune disorder, or suffer from headaches, depression, low self esteem, fatigue, sleep problems, or anxiety you’ve likely got an imbalance in your gut.

Wait. What? Gut?

It’s true. The good news is that 90% of serotonin and 80% of your immune system originate in your gut. Fix that and you’re well on your way to wellness, my friend.

Okay. Who cares?

Umm…the people you’re helping. They care a lot. And probably some friends and family and your betta fish, too.

The truth is that — above and beyond simply being happy, fulfilled in life and a generally good person — we don’t do good work when we’re not well.

The gut/brain connection

You can’t get well if your gut doesn’t work. There’s a whole field of emerging science linking the gut and its resident “bugs” to your hormones, nervous system function, immunity, and diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. We’ll talk more about it later. That shit is also real.

Let’s be leaders in the work we do, and let’s also be leaders in caring for our bodies and our minds.

Game on!

Here I present to you 6 simple challenges (hacks) that will help your body build up physiological resiliency to the world out there. If you want to take it to the next level, there are extra challenges you can add on as you like. Maybe try just one challenge at a time, slowly incorporating them into your life and adapting them to your body’s needs.

If you download and print the original zine version there’s some extra space for you to jot down your thoughts and feelings (physical and emotional) as you’re working through these challenges. Making time for mindful notes helps us notice and remember what’s really going on on the inside.

1. No screens before bed

Targets: retinas, hypothalamus/pineal gland, circadian rhythms, adrenals

What’s going on in there?

An unfortunate downside to inhabiting a human body is that it requires high-quality sleep on a regular basis…like an everyday basis. The good news is that deep, restful sleep prioritizes tissue repair and memory consolidation. Yes to feeling better and being smarter! Retinal exposure to the blue glow from screens inhibits melatonin production, throwing your circadian rhythms out of whack and preventing restorative rest.

The hack

Treat yourself to some non-screen time before bed. Ideally, give yourself 2 hours without screens before your head hits the pillow, 1 will do to start.

Bonus points

Get some amber-tinted glasses to wear at night and/or install flux on your computer. Trust me, you’ll look super cool at the coffee shop.

2. Food before coffee

Targets: cortisol, small intestine, “leaky gut” syndrome, substance dependency

What’s going on in there?

Downing a cup of coffee before eating breakfast is a double whammy to the gut, spiking cortisol (when it’s already high in the morning) and forcing your pancreas to excrete more digestive enzymes to combat that acidic slurry as it hits your small intestine. Sizzle. Without some food in the system, you’re putting yourself at risk for leaky gut syndrome. And you might just find that breakfast gives you the same amount of energy as a shot of espresso.

The hack

Eat breakfast — or at least half of your breakfast — before you drink coffee. That’s it.

Bonus points

Get more out of your breakfast and have some healthy protein first thing in the morning: eggs, smoked fish, steel-cut oats, or those leftover rice and beans from yesterday.

3. Device-free lunch

Targets: parasympathetic nervous system, AKA “rest & digest”

What’s going on in there?

It takes a lot of work for that meat sack you live in to break down your food into useable energy. At meal time try to slow down and eat without distraction. Your body is moving a lot of blood around, making all kinds of enzymes and acids, changing up hormones, and it can’t do that if you’re walking around, responding to stressful phone calls and emails. Plus, preparing and sharing meals is an amazing way to connect with those around you!

The hack

Get urgent screen time taken care of before eating and set aside at least 20 minutes for each meal. Make a plate, have a seat, take a few deep breaths, and smile. Now dig in.

Bonus points

Chew, chew, chew your food. More saliva means less drinking less fluid means more concentrated acids and enzymes means better digestion means happy poo. Yay, poo!

4. Screen-free morning routine

Targets: mood disorders, immune system, long-term health

What’s going on in there?

In the morning, your body is surging with “get your ass out of bed” hormones like cortisol and needs some time to process the delicate transition from sleeping to waking. It’s a great opportunity for stress reduction. It’s no secret that all that swiping, sorting, and clicking is taxing on our brains and thus, our mental health. Giving yourself some space from it will help long-term with your digestion, immune system, mental health…and libido. Aww yeah.

The hack

Instead of scrolling through your feed when your alarm goes off, sit up, take a few deep breaths, and start the first 20 minutes of your normal daily routine screen-free.

Bonus points

Try waking up without an alarm. Over time you’ll figure out how much you need to sleep, and when to hit the hay so that you can get your day started at the time that works for you.

5. Mid-afternoon coffee swap

Targets: blood sugar, prefrontal cortex, energy

What’s going on in there?

It’s 2:30pm and there’s a good chance you’ve been sitting most of the day — maybe at the computer — running your prefrontal cortex through a mental obstacle course it hasn’t yet evolved to conquer. All that computation eats up a lot of glucose. As a result, you’re left feeling tired and craving quick sugar. So you reach for some pre-packaged baked good *smacks pumpkin bread out of hand*. What you really need is a break and some oxygen!

The hack

Swap that afternoon coffee and sugary pastry (I’m lookin at you, cranberry scone) for a walk outside and a cup of plain green tea. The vitamin D from the sun is a nice perk, too.

Bonus points

Try a 10–20 minute mid-day meditation to boost your relaxation and mental clarity. You can test-run a free guided meditation program at headspace.com. Andy is really great.

6.Get your ass to bed

Targets: detoxification, hormone balance, liver

What’s going on in there?

One of the many magical things that our body does after dark is detox. You know all that crap you’ve been putting into your face hole all day? This is when the liver and the gallbladder switch on to scrub your system of it. Specifically, your liver likes to get started around 11pm. All those times when you thought you were getting a second wind? Yeah, that was your liver kicking in. Let it do its job and get into deep sleep before it wakes up.

The hack

Get to bed by 10:30pm. Doing all the other hacks here will help your hormones get prepped for bed earlier. Dimming the lights 2 hours before bed can help if you feel restless at night.

Bonus points

Calming a brilliant mind like yours can be quite a chore. Try picking up a journaling or yin yoga practice in exchange for late-night screen time entertainment.

Additional resources & references

I’ve been reading work from these people for years in my own personal quest for wellness in the face of chronic illness. Please let me know if you have any resources to share!

This book was lovingly prepared for you by yours truly. May you eat well, be well, and do well.


A big thanks to Katy Hoogerwerf and Willow Brugh for being epic allies in wellness and inspiring this work.

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