(Im)powered

Finding the power within yourself.

Something nobody talks about

Unknown

This week in my global public health class, a shocking statistic was presented to me. Since 2014, the leading cause of death in female’s aged 15-19 worldwide is suicide (WHO, 2014). Just let that sink it. Young adult women are more likely to take their own life than die from HIV/AIDS, malaria, cancer, road-accidents, and complications with childbirth or any other things we might think of. This says a lot about the huge worldwide improvement in basic public health resources such as sanitation and safe sex practices. But also highlights the huge “elephant in the room” that is mental health and care facilities.

Many organizations such as suicide hotlines, free counseling and mental health services have been put in place over the past 20 years. But we are still behind in impactful treatment of mental health disorders, especially in less medically advanced countries. Millions of sufferers are not able to access the mental health treatment they need which results in the rates of suicide climbing.

The severity of mental illness is extremely minimized in many cultures and I believe that one way we can start to mitigate this by talking about our struggles more openly. I also think it is very important that people are educated about the issues. Parents often worry about their children drinking alcohol, driving in cars, taking risks and sharing water bottles when they should spend more time ensuring their child’s mental health is intact. Teenage girls are twice as likely to die from suicide than from a drug overdose, yet we have drug education in high school but no mental health programs.

group_hug

Now for a little bit of story time:

I am thankful everyday that I am lucky enough to be an American Citizen and have insurance that covers the health care I need, and resources put in place so that I can access the best care possible. I really realized how privileged I was during recovery from my eating disorder. The US has many areas for improvement but I believe they are the leaders in the treatment of severe mental health disorders. When it became evident that I would need inpatient 24-hour structured physical and mental care in order to recover I had many treatment facility’s to choose from. Luckily, I had great insurance that covered the $1000’s a day treatment costs. Sadly many Americas do not have sufficient medical insurance, and are not able to afford the extreme costs out-of-pocket, meaning that they do not receive adequate mental health care.

Even in New Zealand, a developed country, this is not the case. In New Zealand you will be admitted to hospital and re-fed until you are physically stable and then released with very little assistance in fixing the root of the problem within the brain. Its like they almost forget that anorexia is a mental disorder and just treat the physical symptoms which is like putting a Band-Aid on an amputation. There are a few privet facilities’, but they only take a small amount of patients and are extremely expensive. I have a few friends back home that are still struggling and I would do anything to give them access to the recovery program that I had.

I made some mazing connections while in treatment - hear we are practicing mindful crocheting.

I made some mazing connections while in treatment – hear we are practicing mindful crocheting.

What we can do about this problem:

 Talk more: I am a firm believer that personal problems weighing you down feel much lighter when they are shared. I want to encourage all people to speak more openly about mental health issues, as I think the real killer is silence. Mental illness is a lot more prominent than you probably realize. 18% of the adult population is currently diagnosed with anxiety or depression disorders, while many more struggle without clinical diagnoses (NIMH, 2015). I bet that if you start opening up to the people around you, you will find that many of your peers have experienced some sort of mental health episode. The more you talk about it now, the more likely a friend will be to reach out to you if they are feeling low.

Take a break: Depression is also the leading cause of disability in adults ages 18-54, meaning that more productive work years are lost due to depression than any other illness (NIMH, 2015) Due to this, it needs to be more socially accepted in the work place to take “mental health days”. I’ve experienced a bad flu and a bad bout of mental health; both make it equally impossible to get out of bed. I encourage parents to let their kids take days off in order to improve their mental health. I also think its extremely important to let the weekends be relaxing, do some self care and restore mental health for the week ahead.

suicide

I urge you and those you love to spend a little time this week thinking about mental health. How are you feeling? Are you taking actions to increase the quality of your daily life? Send a thoughtful message to someone you haven’t seen in a while or make time to get coffee with a friend. Be aware of subtle indications that people around you are struggling and send out a helping hand. We are all on this crazy ride of life together; sometimes we just need to have a big group hug.

Thanks for reading :) 

Robin

 

National Institute of Mental Health, Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry. 2015 Jun;62(6):593-602.

World Health Organisation. “Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative.” WHO (2014): n. pag. Preventing Suicide. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

What’s up with adult coloring books??

timthumb.php

As some of you may have noticed, numerous, shiny black and white coloring books for adults have been popping up in bookstores around the world. I can’t even tell you how many of my friends received one of these trendy, self-help books for Christmas, myself included. Are they a gimmick, and what are they even supposed to ‘do’ to you?

The main idea behind the coloring book is learning to engage in mindfulness. Basically, by letting your mind focus on keeping your brightly colored pencil within the lines, you are less likely let your mind drift to topics that may be worrisome or cause stress. The therapeutic properties of art have also been realized as often emotions can be expressed through art that cannot be said aloud. Dr. Joel Pearson, a brain scientist at the University of New South Wales in Australia said, “Concentrating on coloring an image may facilitate the replacement of negative thoughts and images with pleasant ones”.

During our hectic, crazy, wonderful lives it is increasingly important to have some relaxation time, or as I like to call it our RE-CREATION time. I often find myself rushing through the day from class, to meetings, to the gym without feeling like I have even had time to breathe. By taking time to sit down and focus on a menial task like coloring, I find that I can feel my physical and emotional batteries recharging – allowing for emotional space that enables me to recreate myself into the person I want to be.

My morning oatmeal, coffee and coloring

My morning oatmeal, coffee and coloring

Have you ever been engaged in a conversation with someone but you can’t take in anything they are saying because your internal monologue is running haywire? I often suffer from this and feel horrible because I am not giving that person the attention they deserve. By focusing my mind through an activity like coloring or meditation I am able to take more control over my inner voice and allow it to be quiet while I am interacting with others.

This all sounds well and good but stopping for 15 minutes during the day is hard. I always feel like I could, or should, be doing something more. But it helps me to remember that without a break, I will not be able to be fully present in the moment and that I will be so much more productive in the long run if I don’t run myself dry.

Overall, I do believe that adults coloring books can have huge benefits toward our mental health and wellbeing but they are definitely not for everyone. They are expensive, a little bit heavy and awkward to carry around, and would make me feel like a 5-year-old if I were to whip one out in class. BUT, creating space for mental recreation during the day is hugely important and should be as essential a part of our daily lives as going to the bathroom.

qgsaykg3cf22v3agzewv

That being said, there are many different ways in which you can calm your mind. Here are a few with which I have been successful…

  • Mindful walking – go for a 15 minute stroll and try to notice things stimulating all of your different senses. Do not check your cell phone or social media. You can try setting a timer too so that you can resist the urge to check your watch.
  • Crocheting – I know it sounds like an activity for grandmothers but its very cheep and requires little attention so that your brain can rest.
  • Slowly sipping a hot drink – I often take myself out for a cuppa during a busy day. Putting down all of the work in front of me and simply just enjoy the feeling of the hot liquid filling my belly is very satisfying.
  • Reading a novel – there is something so magical about getting lost in a book. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good educational self-improvement book as well, but sometimes I think it is important to delve into a fantasy world for a few minutes.
  • If you are interested in coloring but aren’t ready to invest in a book, here are some free images online you can print off and color in to try it out.

I hope you all have a beautiful week,

Robin

Developing a healthy relationship with exercise

Racing elite women in the tour of southland

 

In this article I will share how my relationship with exercise has changed over the years and how I work to reduce the unhealthy aspects of exercise in my life and strengthen the positives.

Scientists agree that getting regular exercise is a great thing for the mind and body. Regular exercise can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, aid in recovery from illness and even make your daily life more efficient. Most of us can also agree that the average person in western society could probably benefit from getting a little MORE exercise. Due to this we are bombarded with media telling us to work out more this season, get flat abs, and present fitness models as #goals. While this could potentially be good motivation for some, I believe many more people than we realize actually suffer from these messages, myself included. When skipping a gym session to get lunch with a friend makes you feel extremely guilty, or when you have to do exactly 60 sit-ups (or any other set number) in order to feel like you’ve had a good work out, you might want to think about your relationship with exercise.

Final Sprint to win the U19 NZ Criterium Championships

Final Sprint to win the U19 NZ Criterium Championships

 

My relationship with exercise:

Between the ages of 13 and 19 I was a competitive road cyclist. I competed internationally on the New Zealand Junior Team and earned 10 national titles along the way. During this time in my life my athletic training and performance loomed very large in my emotional psyche. So much of my energy was bound up in whether or not I was doing the right training, if I was going to peak for the important races or if the selectors could see my potential. A small cold during racing season would be a catastrophe and I would feel that all of my hard work would be wasted. My whole life was consumed by cycling, not only the time spent actually on the bike. I would eat well (for cycling), build my classes around my training schedule (for cycling), miss birthday parties (for cycling) and go to bed early (for cycling). At the time this strict rigidity around my lifestyle was important for my performance but once I stopped cycling this mindset stuck with me even though I wasn’t training for anything anymore.

U13 Track Champs racing with the boys - Regan Gough next to me is now world champion!

U13 Track Champs racing with the boys – Regan Gough next to me is now World Champion!

Working out was often a private thing for me after then. I went to the gym most days and went on runs alone so that I could push myself extremely hard. If a friend asked to go together I would get nervous that I wouldn’t get a “good enough” workout. This continued for about a year after I stopped cycling competitively. Then one day I went to the gym with a friend, and about halfway through my workout she walked over to me and said “Robin, what exactly are you training for?” I was on the spin bike doing intervals that I had previously done in order to prepare for Oceanic Time Trial Championships. I was dripping in sweat and was taking my workout extremely seriously. I snapped at her because she had interrupted my threshold interval but then began to realize that she actually did have a point.

I think that having an elite athlete mindset from a young age can cause us to become very intense and competitive with our sporting endeavors. This may not necessarily be a bad thing but if exercise continues to take up as much emotional energy in your life as it used to when you were competing, but without giving any return in the form of results, it can be incredibly draining. Not to mention the added media influence also causes a lot of people to have a huge amount of unnecessary emotions surrounded with getting regular exercise.

New Zealand U19 Girls Team

New Zealand U19 Girls Team

I was (and still probably still am) addicted to the endorphins that pushing your body extremely hard give you. But I needed to remember that killing myself in a morning workout, when I wasn’t even training for anything, did seem a bit silly. These workouts left me tired all day and not present during my classes. My workouts had become very rigid; I did the exact same amount of cardio with the machine set on the exact same level followed by the exact same number of strengthening exercises with no easy days and no change in intensity. I began dreading the thing that once gave me so much pleasure. I would feel empty and anxious if I didn’t exercise. Working out is supposed to help reduce stress but it shouldn’t be the only tool in your stress reduction tool-box.

After doing some research and speaking with a sports psychologist I decided that I needed to change my behaviors around exercise to enjoy working out again in order to heal my body, not burn it to the ground.

Mindful Exercise - Paddle-boarding with Sam

Mindful Exercise – Paddle-boarding with Sam

Steps I took towards mindful exercise:

  • – I started referring to working out as “getting my blood flowing” or “moving my body” in order to remind myself that this was the ultimate goal of getting exercise. Also as an added bonus it sounds super new-age-hippy when you tell your friends your going to the Rec Center to “move your body” after class.
  • I made a list of different workouts I could do and put them in a jar so that I could pull one out whenever I wanted to exercise in order to mix up my super rigid routine. I included some of my old workouts but also added some such as a 90 min hike with a friend or simply taking my dog for a jog around the neighborhood. Believe me, the first time I pulled out one of these ‘not so serious’ workouts it was extremely hard for me to not race to the gym to do intervals but over time I learned that I didn’t lose any physical progress and that I actually really enjoyed these fun workouts.
  • I also altered small things about my workouts in order to move away from the rigidity. For example, instead of running for 45 minutes at level 6, I had to get off at 43 minutes and walk away. This was impossibly hard the first time. In my mind I just kept saying “its ok, ill just run home to make up for it”, but that’s not what I did. I pushed through the uncomfortable feeling of changing my routine and after doing this a few times I learned that nothing catastrophic happened.
  • I put a piece of paper over the cardio machine screens in the gym so that I could practice listening to my body rather than the numbers.
Mindful exercise - Hiking in Zion

Mindful Exercise – Hiking in Zion

So there you have it, my personal experience with an unhealthy relationship with exercise and some steps that helped me be able to mindfully enjoy getting my blow flowing again. Keep in mind that this is only my personal experience and that although these techniques worked for me, they may not be as effective for everyone. The goal of this article, was to start a conversation about the possibility that too much intense exercise can actually be harmful and that working out shouldn’t be a dreaded, stress-inducing activity. As with everything in life, they key to success is moderation.

If you have any opinions or questions please leave a comment down below and let me know what you think!

 

Much love,

Robin

5 Reasons why the New Year is Awesome

Yoga on the beach over Christmas

 

Many people think of New Years resolutions as being superficial, hard to stick too, goals about weight loss and self-improvement. And, that if you actually want to see change in your life you can do it at anytime. It’s true that there is no magical power in the date of “January 1st” and that you can successfully start new habits anytime, but I also believe that a new fresh year could be just the thing you need to boost your personal journey in living the life you want to live. Here’s why…

 

1 – A New Planner: I always look forward to the start of a new year when I can turn in the old rumpled diary full of old dates and occasions, pick out a new one, and start fresh. The pages are crisp and clean and the future days are just waiting to be filled with fun activities. So much hope and promise are set out in those pages. I use my planner to remind myself of projects, due dates, appointment and work hours but also to plan the fun things too. I make sure to schedule time for self-care activities (highlighted in pink), lunch dates with friends, skyping with my dad back home and going to the gym. I find that being able to see my week laid out ahead of me allows me to make sure that I am finding balance in my day-to-day life and have a mixture of work and play.

 

2 – New special offers at local attractions: The start of the year is a great time to get involved in a new activity in your town such as a gym, yoga studios, arts centers or dance lessons. These establishments often have specials at the beginning of the year in order to get new people on board. Yoga studios often have a free week of classes, gyms offer special deals and 8-week night classes (such as swing dancing or pottery) usually start up a new sequence in January. I don’t know about you, but if I’ve never tried something before and am a little bit apprehensive, the fact that it’s free could be the winning deal. Another great thing about starting up a new hobby at the beginning of the year is that you wont be the only new person! It’s much easier to try something new when your not the only one whose never done yoga in a class full of tie-dyed people standing on their heads.

pottery

3 – New Class Material: I love looking at a fresh syllabus. This might seem weird and overwhelming to some but I try to look at it as a blank slate with so much new knowledge to absorb. It’s easier to make a change in your academic attitude at the beginning of a semester and start new good habits. Have you ever found yourself stuck at the back of a lecture for the entire semester because that is your unofficial assigned seat that you gave yourself the fist day of class? Now’s the chance to make a change! You can always move back later on, but trust me; if you don’t start at the front of the class those eager beavers will definitely mark their territory.

 

4 – Holiday hassles are over: Time to get back into your routine! It is very common for our schedules to be disrupted over the holiday season. Family, friends, travel and celebrations can often leave me feeling exhausted towards the beginning of January. It’s like an overseas vacation – you’re so excited to be there at the time, but equally as happy when you get home to your own bed. Pretend January is that bed. Time to do your laundry, have a shower, go to the gym and reflect on the fun times you had over the holidays. If you weren’t able to stick to your diet or lifestyle “goals” over the break, don’t be discouraged. It’s great for your body and mind to have a break, because now your mind will be full of new experiences and feel refreshed.

12498708_10153802474373389_985148444_n

5 – It’s a nice chance to assess progress: Okay this one is a biggie for me. For some reason my memories around Christmas and New Years are always very vivid. I can remember exactly what I was doing, feeling and thinking at this time over the past few years. This gives me a great opportunity to look back, reflect and really realize how far I have come.

I remember last Christmas very clearly. I didn’t eat Christmas dinner with my family because I wasn’t ready to stray away from my carefully calculated meal plan made by my treatment team. At this time in my life it was important for me to hold onto the rigidity of the meal plan in order to minimize Eating Disorder voices. My glorious “safe food” Christmas dinner consisted of a grilled cheese, apple and yoghurt – But at least I was eating a complete meal and was able to enjoy Christmas, even though I did feel a little isolated.

This year however, I made many delicious vegan dishes (goodbye grilled cheese) to share with the family, didn’t measure any of my food, went back for seconds and was not overwhelmed by the whole experience in any way. I’m honestly amazed when I see these two Christmases juxtaposed. Its amazing how much can change in a year. I know this is cliché but I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings; I surly hope it includes a vegan feast for Christmas.

12512094_10153802473928389_1590893136_n

I hope you all had a beautiful New Years and are ready to embrace 2016!!

Much Love,

Robin

My First Blog Post

12511852_10153802483508389_1421952629_n

 

Wow, I can’t believe I am finally sitting down to write my first post, an insight into my inner being. First of all I just want to say that this is something I have been thinking about doing for a while. The fear of imperfection slowed my progress for a long time, I wanted to share so much with the world but was always left feeling like it would never be enough. After reading many blogs, listening to podcasts and talking to friends I have finally mustered the courage to make my own blog. So here it is.

 

So who am I exactly? I’m a junior in college studying Integrative Physiology with a certificate of Public Health at the University of Colorado-Boulder. 12,002km away from where I grew up in New Zealand (the land of the long white cloud). In my spare time I practice yoga, do some cycling and running to keep me sane, and am one of the leaders of the CU chapter of Global Public Health Brigades. I am also a newfound vegan, recovered anorexic and was an elite junior road cyclist.

 

I am a daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend and auntie but most importantly I am a curious girl on a journey to finding my authentic self and what it really means to be alive. Over the past 20 years, and most importantly over the last few years, I have learned many valuable lessons about empowering myself, finding passions, overcoming setbacks, reducing negativity in the world and surviving college as a conscious earthling. Through this blog I hope to teach, share and learn about these experiences and ultimately inspire people to start an internal conversation about how to be the best version of themselves.

 

I am hopeful that this blog will inspire you, the reader, to absorb some of what I write about and use it as fuel for the fire in your everyday life. Now that I have a greater understanding of human physiology and health through my degree I hope to incorporate these aspects as well. I feel like I have so much to teach the world, especially to those struggling with many of the same things I have been through. I wish I had had a mentor at the time to help me along my way. That is what I hope to be to you. I want to know what you care about, what you want to learn, and how I can help you towards a sense of peace and satisfaction in your life.

 

I am excited and dedicated to bringing you weekly content. Please contact me at impowered.ask@gmail.com and tell me what you want to hear about! I would love to receive as much feedback as possible so that I can make this website an extremely useful and impactful platform.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read this, I truly feel blessed.

 

Best,

Robin

 

Get excited about some topics for the future…

  • 10 things I’ve learned about myself since going vegan.
  • What morning pages are and how they can change your life.
  • The many things I am still working on.
  • Why quitting cycling was the right decision for me at the time.
  • What recovering from an eating disorder feels like on the inside.