Avoid Becoming Stressed And Apply These Methods To Your Life.


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Nothing prepared me for the stress of being a Case Manager in the mental health field. In my twenties, a long night out would alleviate much of my discomfort from work. Even then, I was working as a Paramedic on an Ambulance, and this produced an enormous level of stress. But it was my relatively young age that allowed me this ability to decompress. As time went on, I began noticing that my mind had grown fragile, as though it would slip into a tremble when external stressors effected it, and my physical health also lacked resiliency.

The job of Case Manager involves a lot of administrative time, appeasing the gods of Medi-Cal through paperwork, justifying our services. This job depended on superior organizational skills and time management, as our success at the end of the month relied on our productivity. My stress levels went through the roof after six months! To add to this, I’ve never been good with caffeine, not knowing when is enough until it is too late and my heart beats on like a drum. In this state, problems with obvious solutions become magnified due to anxiety. I even remember once, sitting at my desk trying to begin my paperwork and feeling so stressed out that I couldn’t raise my hand up to the keyboard.

So whats wrong with a little stress on our life?

Well, nothing; When it’s minimal and enough to motivate you, I suppose. But similar to my physical symptoms, stress can, and often will effect your mind and your body in the sense that it forces your body to react. Your Cardiovascular, Nervous, and immune system are all activated in the moments of high-level stress. This will cause an acute rise in blood pressure, heart rate, and cause long-term disorders like arrhythmias, sleep disorder, chronic headaches and backaches, and anxiety. Sounds fun right?

I decided this didn’t have to be my life. 

I found ways to deal with the symptoms I had been experiencing, and much of it is common sense. For example, taking breaks during the day (aside from your lunch break). Not working is, frankly, un-American. We value relentless work effort and positive results. Our greatest leaders, CEOs, Entrepreneurs, etc have always had exceptional work habits. Steve Jobs, for example, woke up at 6am, worked for 3 hours at home, and then headed to work. He also had a list odd habits he would later change that I won’t touch on.  But these ARE characteristics of people we revere as successful. Others include Margret Thatcher who was rumored to only sleep four hours a night. President Trump also, four-five hours per night.

We lend credibility to these habits and cobble them with personal work ethic. But as a society, we don’t value the ability to regulate stress. How would you feel running on four hours of sleep five days a week? Would you be at your optimal level of focus, active listening, and personal happiness? Maybe you fall into that category of person who can do it. But if you’re like me, you’d be having a nervous break down at this point. It’s wise, I think, to dismiss these extreme habits as relative to the person and not a guide for anyone desiring success in life.

Which brings me back to alleviating stress. In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D. points out that “human beings are actually remarkably resilient to stress. One way or another we manage to persevere, to survive, and to have our moments of pleasure.” I think this is most notable for me and has worked to change the pattern of stress in my life; to have moments of pleasure.

TAKE BREAKS!

As I mentioned above, we value relentless work effort but neglect one’s ability to take care of him/herself. Imagine being in the gym. For anyone who is active, you would understand that your body needs ample time to recover from the stress you’ve placed on it. Whether it be squats, deadlifts, or running, you need to give your body time to heal itself. This was proven thousands of years ago that athletes require a period of rest for optimal performance.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz point out in their book The Power of Full Engagement, “Energy is simply the capacity to do work. Our most fundamental need as human beings is to spend and recover energy.” Whether you’re in the office or out handling manual labor, remember to give yourself a moment or two for a stretch, a glass of water etc. my goal during the day is to stand from my chair and walk down the hall for 5-10 minutes followed by two glasses of water. Another good recommendation would be to bring a canteen of water, typically a half-gallon to be kept by your desk. The reason for this (the breaks I mean) is to conserve energy.

Deep Breathing 

I’ve mentioned in other posts that mindfulness can keep you focused. Using the same techniques of deep breathing can reduce stress as well. Take ten minutes, find a quiet space, even if it’s at work, sit comfortably, and begin by breathing in deeply through your nose, noticing your belly and chest rising. Exhale through your nose and follow your belly and chest as they fall. I perform these exercises at home, so its more comfortable for me to lie on my back. Although, I can understand that you wouldn’t want to scare a colleague at work!! So sitting is perfectly fine. This technique has been proven to reduce stress, and there are several videos available on the internet for guided breathing. Give it a shot!

Hit the Gym!

Seriously! Get off the couch! People have a tendency of doing what is comfortable. The last thing anyone wants is to move faster and harder for an hour in a gym after work. But its been shown that regular exercise can decrease levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.

 

 

 

How to Stay Centered, How to stay focused.

By Jason Kaefer


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A friend once mentioned that I seemed unable to focus. Much of this was made worse by caffeine during the day, lack of sleep, and worrying about things out of my control. I also read provoking material that cranked me up late at night and kept me awake. Simple tasks like interacting with others seemed impossible when my mind was being pulled everywhere at once. My friend mentioned that meditation could allow me to center myself and increase happiness and focus. Like many people, I dismissed the claim and assumed it was too good to be true. The idea seemed too Hollywoodized and overused when referencing some far eastern thing about energy and flow.

I was wrong.

The benefits of meditation are immense. Trust me! But like many people, I was faced with the difficulty of learning the technique and of course, staying with it. Meditation is a learned skill and requires discipline. In the beginning, the concept remained abstract and I didn’t understand much of what I was doing. I even experienced anxiety during my first session in a Tibetan monastery in San Jose, CA.  But as I stuck with it over time, I began to notice an increase in focus and the ability to remain in the moment when my mind wanted to scatter in a thousand directions.

Does it actually do anything? 

Yes. The mind is an exhausting thing to comprehend. When dealing with physical exercise, it’s far more understandable that you would break down a muscle and allow it to build back up. You then give yourself time to recover, then have at it again. This would also involve measurable goals, and with this comes quicker satisfaction, as you would see yourself making progress in a mirror. Although, with the perfection of our physical selves should come to the strengthening of our minds. Meditation scientifically works. Numerous studies have shown that people who have used meditation for years have literally preserved their brain as shown in higher levels of gray matter. Other benefits of this method include;

*Lower heart rate

*Reduces Anxiety

*Happier state of mind

*Less stress

It gets you outside your own head!

The best way to explain the effect I experience is that it allows me to step outside my own head and remain in the moment and stay focused, even when a song comes on the radio or a flashy car whizzes by. Our mind produces thousands of thoughts a day and the vast majority of those words are negative, the mind doesn’t always make perfect sense. This could also be called the inner critic, much of it is subconscious. The key is to turn off the voice altogether. So how do you do it?

Give yourself 10 to 20 minutes a day to practice. I would recommend first thing in the morning, as its quieter and you won’t be interrupted. It also sets the tone for the rest of your day. Sit in a comfortable position, either in a chair with feet flat on the floor, arms in your lap, or sit on the floor with your legs crossed and your arms resting on your knees. The key is to be as comfortable as possible. Avoid laying on your bed; I’ve fallen asleep doing this. Close your eyes and breath deeply in and out. Count your breaths as you inhale, 1-2-3-4, and then repeat. Here’s where it gets tricky, your mind is going to wander. Thoughts will pop back into your head and distract you. When this happens, pull your attention back to your breathing, count 1-2-3-4 and repeat. As you do this, you strengthen your ability to focus, which subsequently allows you to push away distracting thoughts during the day.

Other methods of mindfulness 

Find a method that works for you. With your eyes closed, try bringing your attention to the sensation of your feet on the ground. Notice your the way you are sitting, do you feel any discomfort on your back? How about your legs? Where are you feeling the tension, if any? Examine all sensation, and once you’ve reached your neck, noticing tension, calmness etc. bring your attention back to your breathing and count again 1-2-3-4.

As you focus on your breathing, allow your attention to shine on the thoughts that come into your mind, but don’t analyze them, don’t think about them, or question them. Simply observe them as thoughts and nothing else, like a conveyer-belt of thoughts. When negative thoughts roll by, grab them and throw it in the trash can. This method of meditation increases self-awareness. Being aware of your thoughts helps you to control emotion. For example, you arrive home after a long day and you’re tired. Your spouse is angry with you for being late and forgetting to text before you arrived. If you’re like me, you would feel defensive and unappreciated.

Your immediate reaction would be to fire back and scream how you feel, likely destroying the next 48 hours of your relationship. Being aware of your thoughts and emotions helps you to regulate yourself (keep yourself in check) because you’re calm now and know how to handle yourself when being accused. You slow yourself down and ask, “has her day been as bad as mine?” As you look around the room you notice how clean it is, and on the stove boils a crock-pot of chili. “Maybe he/she had a hard day with the kid?” The point is, this method will help you remain aware of yourself in moments when most people would snap.

Try these techniques and see what works for you! meditation is something I’ve learned to do over years and couldn’t live without!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Morning Routine

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What if I told you that waking up in the morning could be something to look forward to and less like a chore? On a good day, I used to throw off the blankets, roll un-gracefully to a sitting position, lumber my body to the shower, turn on the heater,  and let the water wake me up. This would be followed by a mug of coffee, a carb-loaded breakfast, and out the door to a heavy commute. Trust me, the above mentioned is how many Americans spend their morning lives, and this goes on for many years, adding stress from work, relationship problems, and possible substance use to take off the edge. I’ve found a successful day starts the SECOND you open your eyes. Stick to a healthy regime aimed at reducing sluggishness, and you will increase happiness and energy. It all starts with healthy sleep;

1. Sleep

7-8 hours of sleep is essential for a healthy start the next morning. It’s also beneficial for a healthy long-term life. All too often, we are pulled backward by work and family, and we skip that extra 2 hours of sleep. Some people, celebrities, and politicians alike have made a living sleeping 3-4 hours a night. However, the is the exception, not the rule. There are multiple benefits to a 7-8 hour sleep. You’ve probably heard that sleep repairs your immune system; this is true. People who have deprived themselves of sleep often experience changes in judgment and inability to recall recent information. You also make yourself more prone to sickness due to the sudden dip in your immune system. Lack of sleep can also be attributed to fatigue, mental break down, and mood swings. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine at least 4-5 hours before sleep as these interrupt your circadian rhythm and change the production of chemicals in your brain. 

2. Water 

Consider that you go 7-8 hours without fluid. This is the state your body wakes up in. The best idea and the first task of the morning are to consume fluid to replenish what you’ve lost. Be sure to hydrate your body when you wake up; not after a cup of coffee and a shower, but immediately after you stand from your bed. Drink at least three glasses of water. By doing this you may hydrate your body and flush out toxins. A rule for anyone active in the gym, especially runners, your urine should be a pale yellow (not clear) for optimal hydration. Hydrating in the morning will also help energize you as well as kickstart your metabolism and promote strong immunity. 

3. Blood Flow

Once you’ve gotten 2-3 glasses of water in you, move on to a light exercise. This will depend on the person. If you’re a stronger individual, try push-ups 10-15 reps followed by deep stretching and breathing. I prefer cardio as it tends to energize better than resistance training. Stretching is also a great way to start the day. Spinal decompression can be accomplished with a simple stretch that involves placing your body on all fours, bringing your chest to the ground and your arms stretched forward. You might feel a pop or two in your back. This will help to alleviate any pain you may have acquired during sleep and allow you to sit, stand, and move more fluidly during the day. 

4. Cold shower

Taking a cold shower has been proven to reduce stress and improve your well being. It also has shown to aid your body’s recovery after an intense workout by increasing blood flow throughout. The energizing effect of a cold shower is what I personally enjoy most because you get a similar effect as a cup of coffee. And this energy lasts for several hours, plenty of time to get through a slow morning. Although beneficial, this isn’t easy to do and requires you to step outside your comfort zone.  But after a while, you will develop a tolerance to this icy displeasure, and the energizing effect will be instantaneous. 

Swensen’s Ice Cream

 

Under the surface of tech money and development, one SF landmark still remains intact and is well worth visiting for the Sweet Tooth. Located at Hyde and Union Street, Swensen’s Ice Cream has been scooping its own tasty brand Ice Cream since 1948. We first discovered this spot only recently. What I like is that it’s the original site where Earle Swensen established his parlor and famously lives up to its saying “Just like Dad used to Make” as it carries with it, as pictured below, the decadent, glamours feeling of the 1940s.

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Swensen’s offers every flavor from Toasted Almond to Green Mint Chocolate Chip. But I would recommend the Green Tea Pictured below.  The location is perfect for tourists ( if you happen to be one) as it’s one of many establishments along the iconic SF Cable Car line. Even if you’ve lived in SF for a while, you may not have heard of it, but it lives up to its reputation.

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The Marina District, San Francisco

By Jason Kaefer

The upscale Marina District of San Francisco captivates tourists in a blend of old-school meets new money, and it’s located at the northern tip of the city within walking distance of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Parking is a challenge any day of the week in SF so I would recommend the side streets near the Palace of fine arts (pictured below).

From here, you and/or your family can walk to a number of places – one being the impressive Palace of Fine Arts.

One of the most beautiful sights in San Francisco located at 3601 Lyon Street, the Palace of Fine Arts is like something out of Ancient Rome as its built around a small, artificial lagoon (pictured below). In fact, this was the idea behind the architecture, to give the feeling of classical Europe, and few would disagree.

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Upward view of the Rotunda lining the interior of the monumental dome.
The Lagoon
Around the lagoon, there are turtles, swans, and ducks basking and gliding the surface.

Originally constructed in 1915, the Palace was at the heart of the Panama Pacific Exhibition, and was designed by Bernard Maybeck, who was influenced by Roman and Ancient Greek. Over the years, the palace has undergone dramatic changes.  For example, during WW2, it was used for storage of military artillery and in the early 1960’s, the palace was torn almost completely down, leaving only the steel structure of the exhibit hall.

You’ll get the feeling of standing somewhere in Italy, with its domed structure and reflective lagoon surface, echoing a rich European past. And did I mention the history? Check out the old-school photo below.

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As I mentioned above, you are within walking distance of several recommended locations. One of which is the Wave Organ, a giant concrete structure designed to catch the melody of the tides. Each concrete tube (pictured below), works like an organ pipe, amplifying the sound of the water in a gentle whistle. Once there, you get a panoramic view of the SF Bay. The feeling here is peaceful and quiet while the soft sounds of the bay travel through the Organ.

An example of a sound station and two pipe mouths built into stone projecting hisses and sloshing and whistling.

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Advice for parents, pack light and warm. San Francisco is notorious for its wind and the wave organ is no exception, especially considering its location on the Bay, fully exposed, no shade. Hoodies and sweatshirt are a must, and I would recommend sunscreen in the summer months, sunburns will sneak up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharp Park, Pacifica

By Jason Kaefer 

My family and I moved to Daly City (The Gateway to the Peninsula) and nestled into the hills beside the 280 Freeway. From this location, San Francisco is a 10-minute drive North and San Jose – 40 minutes South. Between these two regions are a great amount of Bay Area hot spots. One city glossed over by the noise of San Francisco is Pacifica.

My wife and I experienced Pacifica our third day living in North County. Ironically, I’ve lived in the Bay my entire life and traveled to Pacifica only twice. A Bonfire (first occasion) and a girl dragging me along (second occasion). I never thought this out-of-the-way spot held any hidden gems. But to my surprise, Pacifica has a beaming charm.

In case you aren’t familiar with the region, let me give you a brief background. The city spreads over six miles of coastal beaches and is popular in the region among surfers and fisherman. It also offers local hiking (good for bikers) around the green, winding trails encompassing the city. Local restaurants are a must for anyone looking to dine near the calming waves (I’ll review some top choice restaurants in a later post.) For now, check out below the uniqueness of Sharp Park, Pacifica.

 If you were thinking of white sand, think again…..

Sharp Park is one of the few beaches in California with black sand.

Don’t be turned off by it, it’s perfectly clean and enjoyable. This dark color comes from a high concentration of iron oxide magnetite. In the summer, Sharp Park feels almost like Southern California as you stroll down the levee’s promenade ( pictured below) which separates the beach from the protected marshland, or as you dig your bare feet into the warm, charcoal sand.

Sharp Park Promenade Northbound

 

Sharp Park Promenade, heading South down the charcoal beach.

The Pacifica Pier is a popular fishing spot in San Mateo County. The pier stretches several hundred feet where, on a good day, one catches Salmon, Striped Bass, and Crab. The summer months are best for Salmon and Striped Bass, while the Winter brings in Dungeness Crab. But try and avoid the pier during storm season. TRUST ME. The waves pictured below are nothing compared to what goes down in a wind storm.

Pacifica Pier

I would recommend heading to Sharp Part at dusk to the promenade mentioned above when the sun burns into the clouds in a melting of red and pink and orange. My advice, dress warm, particularly between August and January. Remember, its Northern California, and just South of the State of Oregon, so don’t expect to jump head first into turquoise waves and swim with dolphins when you arrive.

Sunset at Sharp Park

Dress warm, as pictured below. If you have a toddler, sweatshirt with a hood and a warm vest. Parents, consider the wind. The hoodie blocks the cold from your toddler’s ears and the vest keeps them insulated. Our little guy loves the ocean.

Jack and Julia