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Training for a Half Marathon: What NOT To Do

Completing the 2019 Philadelphia Half Marathon is one of my greatest accomplishments. The race took place on a chilly November morning, but the bike ride from my apartment to the event site filled my body with warmth. At the starting line, I observed the nervous, excited energy of myself and the other runners as we absorbed the crowd’s encouragements. When the horns went off and the movement began, I felt unstoppable.

I had spent two days perfecting a playlist full of songs that would help propel me to the finish line, but I soon found that I didn’t need music to keep me focused. The cheers from the crowd fueled me, and there was a motivating sense of community among the runners as we moved together toward the finish line. There were countless spectators lining the course with hilarious signs showcasing pun-filled motivational phrases like, “Run like Kanye is gonna give your medal to Beyonce,” and “Always give 100% …. Except when giving blood.”

The unstoppable feeling lasted until around mile 7. At that point, I had already ripped off several layers of warmer clothing and flung them into the sea of onlookers, never to be seen again (luckily large clothing donation boxes were scattered along the race route). The finish line grew closer, but my miles eventually grew slower. Each mile brought a new set of aches, and I’m sure my hips, knees, and feet were plotting ways to detach themselves from the rest of my body. As I struggled through next few miles, a harsh realization came over me: I had not adequately prepared for this.

Don’t get me wrong, I had been preparing to run the Philadelphia Half Marathon for about 8 months. I had researched methods of building endurance and how to avoid injury and created a weekly training schedule. As I progressed in training, I even posted weekly training updates to share how I trained for the race that you can read here. However, my adherence to my pre-determined schedule lasted about 4 weeks before I began to run off the tracks and train to the beat of my own drum.

In retrospect, sticking to my intended schedule would have been more of a priority. Training properly is necessary in allowing the body to adjust to performing at a greater intensity. A good training routine should include long rungs, rest days, cross training, and tapering miles. Although, I adhered to an appropriate regimen in the beginning, I royally failed at overall time management during my training. I made excuses and let things interfere of my training time. Instead of running several times per week, I performed just one long run once weekly. I didn’t adequately stretch, I failed to cross train effectively, and I didn’t pay attention to my diet. Needless to say, my training was lackluster.

Not properly training for my half marathon caused many challenges when it finally came to race day. During my long trek, the biggest problem was a pulled muscle in my groin area that had been taking a while to heal. It was the first thing that started to ache as I pounded the pavement. Eventually, my knees and my feet joined in the hurting. Although I gave my body a few brief rests at the hydration stations, eventually pausing to rest was no longer worth it to me. I couldn’t prolong finishing the race for longer than necessary. I forced myself to run, even at a snail’s pace. I no longer cared about my time or my form- I just knew that the sooner I crossed the finish line, the sooner I could sit down.

I was moving at a pace similar to a 104-year-old woman’s shuffle by the time the finish line entered my site. I bee-lined for the tiny woman dangling the slew of finisher medals from her arm. My gait resembling Frankenstein, I reached my claws forward to claim my shiny prize. I hobbled along and exited through a tent lined with mountains of snacks that I dove into gleefully. I ravenously gorged on bananas and granola bars as I basked in the glory of my achievement.

Despite the challenges I faced, I felt proud that I didn’t give up. I pushed myself, and it taught me that I am capable of so much more than I think I am. My adrenaline had me floating on Cloud Seventy while I navigated through the other exhausted runners. When I collected my bike from the lot, I realized that it was a miserable idea to use biking as my mode of transportation to a half marathon. After running over 13 miles, I now needed to ride another two miles back home. I gathered up the adrenaline I had left and pedaled like my life depended on it. That evening I celebrated my success with my family, but it didn’t take long for the physical and mental exertion to catch up with me.

My experience post-race can be likened to the “Lucky Penny” episode of How I met Your Mother. In the episode, Marshall is upset when a broken toe prevents him from running the New York Marathon, and his friend Barney mocks him by stating that running a marathon is easy even without training. When Marshall bets that Barney cannot finish the marathon, the gambling addict accepts. To everyone’s surprise, Barney finishes the race, adamant that it took little energy. Barney boasts confidently as he dons his medal, and then leaves after learning that marathon runners get to ride the subway for free that day. The scene flashes forward to Barney seemingly enjoying his free subway ride, but the audience quickly sees that Barney is unable to move his legs and, therefore, is stuck on the train.

Similarly, that evening my legs functioned so sorely that going down the stairs in my sister’s home was only bearable if I did it in slow motion, one step at a time. It seemed like each and every single muscle in my body ached, and the arches of my feet were so tight that it hurt to walk. I felt like I could have slept for a million years, which was an absolute outrage to my two-year-old nephew, who fully expected me to have enough energy to perform my auntly duties.

After putting my nephew to bed, I finally seized the opportunity to care for my body. My sister had given me epsom salt and bath bombs as a congratulatory gift, and her deep bath tub with high pressure jets was calling my name. As I prepared to sink in, I reflected on my journey.

There are many things I would have done differently. My body was counting on me to have its best interest, and in some ways I let it down. I had challenges focusing on my training, and I struggled to truly listen to my body. I think those held me back from performing to the fullest potential. Nevertheless, I learned so much about the sport of running and about myself. I learned that running is not easy, and it takes hard work and special care of the body to do it successfully. I also learned be confident and to trust that I can achieve my goals.

As the bathtub filled, my body vibrated with excitement like my muscles knew they were in for a treat. My body had worked hard, probably a little harder than it would have needed if I had trained properly. I made a promise to myself that if I wanted to continue running, I had to put honest work into training so I didn’t inadvertently kill myself in the process. I was already picturing google search phrases that might lead me to the rabbit holes of running how-to articles. I closed my eyes, stepped into the bath, and felt the heat of the water soothe my muscles. I sank down into the warm bath, and my body began to recover.

TLDR; train properly.

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Suicide Prevention: Fact or Fiction

Each year, September brings a slight chill to Pennsylvania, generating anticipation for changing leaves, crisp air, bulky sweaters, and hot apple cider. It also brings a deeper sense of purpose and passion to those acknowledging September as National Suicide Prevention Month. All month, individuals around the world work together to spread suicide prevention awareness.

Suicide is a 10th leading cause of death in the Unite States, and it is the 2nd leading cause of death among people ages 15-24. Although suicide is preventable, it is a serious public health issue. In 2018, 48,344 Americans died by suicide, and there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts.

Talking about suicide can be scary and uncomfortable, but it is also a critical to engage in conversations surrounding suicide prevention awareness in order to save lives. We can prevent suicide by openly discussing mental health and understanding warning signs and risk factors. Knowledge is power. Check out these myths and facts to learn more about suicide

Taking to someone about suicide will make them more suicidal.

MYTH. Research shows that people who are experiencing suicidal ideation feel a sense of relief when someone asks them about it in a caring way. Encouraging others to openly share their thoughts and feelings can actually help them to feel better.

This being said, it is important to recognize that those who talk about suicide are still at risk of experiencing a suicide attempt. It is important to ask if the person has a plan with intent to act and encourage them to seek appropriate counseling assistance.

Suicide rates are highest among adolescents.

MYTH. Elderly males experience the highest suicide rates in the United States. Researchers theorize that this relates to the high frequency of undiagnosed or untreated depression, as depressive symptoms are common toward end of life. Older individuals are more likely to lose their spouse or develop chronic illnesses, which can be incredibly stressful and traumatic. Additionally, elderly adults often experience loneliness due to infrequent socialization, which can exacerbate depressive symptoms. Although suicide rates have actually decreased among this population, it still remains the age group that experiences the highest rate of completed suicide.

Knowing warning signs can help to prevent suicide.

TRUE. Individual, relationship, and environmental factors are some elements that may influence the risk of suicide. Individuals who have suffered through traumatic experiences, such as abuse or exposure to violence, are more at risk of suicide.

Warning signs may include:

  • isolation from others
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • low mood
  • low energy
  • talking about wanting to die
  • increased substance use
  • feeling trapped or like a burden
  • feeling hopeless and/or helpless
  • giving away prized possessions
  • attempting to access lethal means

Males experience higher rates of suicide attempts.

MYTH. Although males complete suicide at a higher rate than women, women actually experience high rates of suicide attempts.

You may be wondering: If women have more suicide attempts, how can men have higher completed suicide rates? Men often choose more lethal, immediate methods of attempting suicide, such as using firearms, whereas women tend to choose methods, such as poisoning or suffocation, that are more likely to respond to medical intervention.

Once someone attempts suicide, they are less likely to attempt again.

MYTH. An individual who attempts suicide is actually more at risk of experiencing a future attempt. Once someone experiences a suicide attempts, it is critical for them to receive immediate mental health support to lower the risk of future attempts and the risk possible completion. Suicidal ideation can be a fatal symptom and should always be taken seriously.

Most suicide victims suffer with depression.

TRUE. Depression is the most common mental health condition. Although most people with depression do not die by suicide, experiencing depression does put someone at greater risk of experiencing suicidal ideation. An estimated 60% of individuals who complete suicide suffer with mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, etc.). Many of them experience co-occurring disorders, such as substance use disorders.

Do you have any questions about suicide? Write in and let me know. Let’s all strive to learn how to help ourselves and how to help each other.

Much love,

Kel

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Conquering Your Inner Critic: 7 Ways to Overcome Negative Thinking

I’m not worth it. There’s no use. I can’t do it. I’ll never follow through. People won’t like me. Others are better than I am. I am not enough. I must be perfect. I am a failure. The world is evil. All people are bad.

If these phrases sound similar to your thoughts, you may struggle with unhelpful thinking patterns. Often unhelpful thoughts stem from negative perceptions of ourselves and the world around us. Negative perceptions can directly influence our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and reactions to life events. It is unrealistic to expect that we can think happy thoughts all the time. However, we can train our brain to adopt a more realistic and healthy mindset. After all, spiraling into unhelpful thought patterns may increase feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

For more detailed explanation of unhelpful thought patterns, check out this psychoeducational worksheet that describes commonly used thinking errors.

After learning more about common thinking errors, keep scrolling to check out some useful tips for conquering your inner critic and decreasing negative thinking habits.

Catch Your Thoughts

Our thought patterns can eventually become habitual. This means that we can experience unhelpful thought styles without being aware of it. The first step in gaining control over our thoughts is to notice them. I encourage my Wellness Warriors out there to pay attention to your thoughts and attempt to label them. Learning about your negative thought patterns (triggers, related emotions, etc.) can give you the power to overcome them.

As a therapist, I love teaching clients to utilize an automatic thought record. This simple worksheet begins by allowing one to identify negative thoughts while encouraging further exploration and processing. To take catching your thoughts a step further, you can practice categorizing your thoughts using labels from the commonly used thinking errors worksheet.

Play out the Narrative

Often times, unhelpful thoughts can present in the form of chronic worries and “what if” statements. What if I fail? What if I get sick? What if my partner gets angry with me? Chronic worrying can send us into a negative thought spiral.

To combat this, consider what would happen if your worry came true. Ask yourself what you would do to address the situation. Developing a plan of action can be incredibly useful; if we have a plan, we naturally tend to stress less.

Practice Thought Stopping

If I tell you to think of a pink elephant, what do you think of? Most often, it is, indeed, a pink elephant.

After you catch your unhelpful thought, utilizing thought stopping techniques can help you break the cycle of negative thinking.

Common thought stopping techniques include finding a replacement thought or visual image, such as counting to ten or visualizing a scene from your favorite movie. One can also simply yell or think “Stop!” and find an alternate activity for a distraction.

Check the Evidence

There is no better way to challenge an unhelpful thought than to examine it. Remember, we are not attempting to exclude all negative thoughts. Instead, we are training our brains to think more realistically. We can achieve this by putting our thoughts on trial and exploring the evidence.

I often use this example: Imagine you are about to take a test. Your thought is, “I am going to fail.” Naturally, we may identify this thought as negative and engage in thought challenging and ask, “What evidence do I have that supports the thought that I am going to fail?” List all of the reasons why that thought might come true. Did you prepare for the test? Did you study for an adequate amount of time? Did you pay attention in class? Did you take notes? Did you study in a way that is effective for you? Do you feel focused?

If the evidence we identify supports the negative thought, it may just be that the thought is realistic. If the evidence contradicts our thought, consider that this thought is likely unrealistic and untrue.

Reframe Negative Thoughts

After we identify negative thoughts, we can reframe them to appear more balanced and realistic. Reframing simply means creating alternative, more helpful thoughts. By doing this, we begin to change our perceptions of events, experiences, or emotions.

In the earlier example, we established that the thought, “I am going to fail,” is likely true. It is important to recognize that we can still reframe negative thoughts if they appear to be true. Instead of thinking, “I am going to fail,” we might consider the reframe, “I will do the best I can.”

Take your own advice

It is so much easier to give advice than it is to take our own. Taking our own advice is challenging, but it is a critical step to overcoming unhelpful thinking habits. A helpful practice is pretending you are giving advice to your best friend. Consider the following: Would you try to get more information about what happened? Are you considering other’s perspectives? What are the different ways the situation might unfold? Finally, what advice would you give him or her?

Allowing yourself to step away from the experience and explore it objectively is amazingly simple, yet incredibly effective.

Find Gratitude

Gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness and contentment. Practicing gratitude increases our ability to see that there is good in the world. Check out this previous post where I practice gratitude after a series of hard events and negative thought spirals.

To incorporate gratitude into our daily routines, we can keep a gratitude journal, write gratitude letters, or use visual reminders (like sticky notes on your mirror).

Practice Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can help relieve stress, regulate emotions, and remain nonjudgmental. Mindfulness involves simply observing, not judging, our thoughts. Imagine your thoughts are like cars passing at a busy intersection. When cars arrive at the intersection, sometimes they just pass by and sometimes they stop for a while. If we get stuck on a negative thought, we can simply engage in deep breathing while focusing on the breath, not the thought. In time, just like the cars, our thoughts pass by.

Okay, Warriors, it’s your turn: What negative thoughts have you been struggling with? How have negative thinking patterns impacted your life? What have you done to overcome your inner critic?

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What Is Depression?

Depression is as prevalent as the common cold. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 264 million people around the world live with depression. Most people experience sadness, loneliness, or fear. These feelings are a normal part of life. However, depression involves clinical levels of low mood that impacts a persona’s ability to function within their daily lives.

Clinical depression is characterized by the following symptoms: persistent depressed mood, diminished pleasure or interest in activities, decrease or increase of appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation or slowing, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, diminished ability to focus or think, indecisiveness, and recurrent thoughts of death or recurrent suicidal ideation. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5)’s diagnostic criteria states that 5 or more of the above symptoms must be present within the same 2 week period.

How Is Depression Different From Sadness?

Most people experience intense sadness or grief. These feelings can impact a person’s ability to function, and they can also exist for at least 2 weeks. However, when we experience something difficult, sadness and grief are natural reactions. Sadness and grief share some characteristics with depression, but they are temporary and typically fade with time. Usually, sadness or grief involve moments of relief and have no significant impact in thought processes or behaviors.

Sadness is simply one symptom of depression. The DSM-5 indicates, “Responses to a significant loss (e.g. bereavement, financial ruin, losses from a natural disaster, a serious medical illness or disability) may include the feelings of intense sadness, rumination about the loss, insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss noted in Criterion A, which may resemble a depressive episode. Although such symptoms may be understandable or considered appropriate to the loss, the presence of a major depressive episode in addition to the normal response to a significant loss should also be carefully considered.”

Who Is At Risk For Depression?

Mental illness does not discriminate. Anyone can experience symptoms of depression at some point in their lives. However, there are some factors that put others at more risk of depression than others. Biochemistry is a well-known factor in determining whether or not someone will experience depression. Individuals with depression often experience a deficit in certain neurotransmitters in the brain. This explains the effectiveness of medications that help to balance chemicals in the brain.

Although it is commonly believed that depression is the result of a chemical imbalance, the condition is much more complex. Genetics can also play a role, meaning that individuals with a family history of depression are more likely to experience depression. Research shows that there is also a connection between personality and depression. Studies show that difficulty coping with stress, limited engagement in community and environment, and limited insight may increase risk of depression. Environmental factors, including exposure to community violence, traumatic experiences, or limited access to resources, can also be predictors of depression.

When Should Someone Get Help?

Sometimes the line between between depression and sadness is clear, but sometimes it is not. For example, you may feel nervous while giving a presentation, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate a mental health disorder. However, becoming so overwhelmed with nervousness that you cannot follow through with the presentation may indicate a need for help.

If symptoms interfere with your ability to function within your daily life, it may be time to seek help. Challenges maintaining relationships, engaging in social settings, or performing in work and school can indicate a mental health disorder. Mental health disorders can also be responsible for changes in personality, energy level, and mood. Typically, symptoms that last 2 weeks or longer should be evaluated by a professional to determine the appropriate care. However, these are not the only situations during which to seek help. Anyone can get help at any time. If you feel the desire for therapeutic support, explore it regardless of how your situation compares to others!

How Is Depression Treated?

There are many types of treatments for depression. Just as depression looks different for everyone, depression treatments may have different effects for each individual. The most effective treatment method for depression is a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Some common forms of psychotherapy that are effective in treating depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or psychodynamic therapy. One might also seek support groups, group therapies, or community engagement programs for added support.

Research shows that the relationship between the clinician and client is the most effective tool in treating mental health disorders. That being said, it is important to have an open mind and to remember that effective therapy requires the ability to trust the clinician. If you seek support and find limited connection with the clinician, don’t be afraid to explore other options. Read about alternative treatments here!

How Can Someone Find Help?

Especially during times of high need, finding help can unfortunately require time and patience. Psychology Today has a great Find a Therapist tool, where you can limit search based on insurance, areas of practice, or location. Most insurance plans also have a website where you may consult your provider directory. This is a good way to ensure that a clinician accepts your insurance. It is a good idea to look more closely at your insurance plan to determine if your plan limits the amount of sessions you can attend.

To find help, it can be helpful to ask someone your trust. A referral from a friend, colleague, or medical professional is a good way to find a clinician who may be a good fit for you. Additionally, online resources, such as Anxiety and Depression Association of America, are a helpful way to navigate the mental healthcare system. It can also be a good resource to learn more about types of depression treatments to determine the modality that may be most helpful. Make sure you check out this page with information on support groups and additional resources for navigating the mental health system during a pandemic!

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16 Effortless Ways to Exercise

People exercise for a variety of reasons, such as stress reduction, physical fitness, or recreation. The Center for Disease Control states that individuals should strive for 150 minutes of exercise per week using a combination of aerobic activity and muscle strengthening.

Traditionally, we think of exercise as an intense session filled with blood, sweat, and tears. Don’t let this stereotype scare you away from finding joy in movement. After all, exercise can include anything that gets the body moving, and our legs don’t have to feel like jello in order for an exercise to have health benefits.

Check out these creative ways to find movement, and you might not even realize you’re exercising.

Garden

Climb Stairs Two At A Time

Play With Your Children (or Babysit)

Wash Your Car by Hand

Clean

Complete a Home Improvement Project

Have a Dance Party

Play Active Video Games

Park at the Far End of the Parking Lot

Give More Piggy Back Rides

Use a Standing Desk

Play Yard Games

Get Off Public Transportation a Stop Early and Walk the Rest of the Way to Your Destination

Use a Basket Instead of a Cart While Grocery Shopping

Give Your Partner a Massage

Get Freaky

Rake Leaves (suggested by reader, micahlegare1)

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Can Yoga Help Depression?

Yoga students may present with a variety of physical health concerns, such as chronic pain or injury. As a yoga instructor, it is important to become familiar with student histories so that the teacher can ensure the yoga studio remains a safe space for students. Overall, engagement in yoga practice has been consistently increasing in frequency across the United States. To accommodate the growing practice, yoga sequences can be specifically adapted to serve various populations, such as older individuals, children, or those with physical ailments. This makes it critical that a yoga teacher learn about students in order to provide them with the safest and most inclusive practice (Stephens, 309).

The practice of yoga can be utilized to address and treat many ailments, such as physical health concerns. While some individuals use yoga to treat physical conditions, some find that yoga is a positive tool in treatment emotional and mental health conditions (Stephens, 324). The physical and mindful components of yoga are thought to be meaningful practices for those experiencing emotional disturbances. Students of yoga can utilize the mind-body connection to address mental health concerns, such as anxiety and stress. Breathing techniques and mindfulness can assist in decreasing anxiety. Most commonly among mental health conditions, Americans utilize yoga practice to manage symptoms of depression.

Depression is one of the most common psychological disorders and involves symptoms such as changes in mood, low energy and motivation, loss of interest in preferred activities, increased irritability, physical aches and pains, and changes in sleep and appetite. These symptoms can be acute and can severely impact one’s ability to manage areas of daily life, such as nutrition and sleep. Though depression is incredibly is incredibly common, the causes of depression vary among an array of environmental, biological, or psychological factors. Traditional, evidence-based treatments for depression include medication management and/or psychotherapy. However, there are some barriers that individuals may face when seeking to participate in traditional mental health treatments. Many individuals never receive formal treatment for depression due to various limitations, such as limited access to resources, stigma associated with mental health treatment, or experiencing unwanted side effects of medication (Bridges & Sharma). Additionally, lack of follow through with treatment may be due to financial stressors or poor connection with treatment teams (Prathikanti, et. al.).

Depression that is left untreated may result in worsening chronic symptoms, such as suicidality or psychosis. These symptoms can impact career, education, family life, or interpersonal life, which can cause an individual intense distress. On average, a depressive episode can last from 6-12 months, with some individuals experiencing symptoms of chronic depression lasting several years. Although patterns of depression vary between each person, most individuals who experience one depressive episode in their lives will eventually experience a recurrent episode (Prathikanti, et. al.). The high relapse rate among those who experience depressive symptoms may also contribute to the lack of follow through with traditional treatments.

It is well known that yoga promotes a variety of physical health benefits. Regular yoga practice can improve flexibility, lower heart rate, decrease stress and anxiety, and reduce aches and pains (Bridges $ Sharma). It can also assist in digestion and other areas of physical wellness. However, yoga can also be beneficial in promoting emotional wellness. Where traditional mental health therapies focus on teaching mindfulness, deep breathing techniques, and relaxation skills, these are also important foundational aspects of yoga (Prathikanti, et. al.). This similarity in techniques means that yoga involves many of the skills taught among traditional therapies that treat depression. For example, mindfulness-based therapy focuses on deep breathing, relaxation skills, and mindfulness toward the present moment. These are also factors that are of focus in yoga practice.

The goal of yoga in minimizing symptoms of depression is to assist students in reaching santosa, or contentment. Traditional yoga views depression as a result of an individual experiencing either a rajastic state or a tamasic state. A rajastic state is one in which an individual experiences anxiety and restlessness. An individual experiencing a rajastic state may benefit from yoga practice that includes a slower flow with long holds. Meditation and calming breaths utilized in these types of sequences can assist in alleivating troublesome feelings of anxiety and restlessness. A tamasic state is one in which an individual experiences low energy and hopelessness, which are symptoms most commonly reported among individuals experiencing a depressive episode. An individual experiencing a tamasic state may benefit from a yoga practice that involves more active and stimulating poses, along with encouragement to keep the eyes open and awake (Stephens, 324). This appears to counteract the low energy experienced by individuals struggling with symptoms of depression.

With the growing rate of public interest in yoga, research related to the efficacy of yoga in promoting health and wellness has dramatically increased. According to Pathikanti, et. al., yoga may be a valuable alternative treatment in addressing depression. During a study of the efficacy of treating clinical depression using yoga, 38 individuals were screened to participate in an 8-week Hatha yoga program. These individuals were those who met the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder and were not currently receiving any treatment for the condition. Individuals were randomly divided into two groups: a yoga practice group and a yoga education group.

Those who participated in the Hatha yoga practive group participated in a 90-minute yoga practice two times per week for eight weeks. This practice group included breathing techniques and poses that promoted relaxation and mindfulness, with the same yoga sequence being used for each session. The yoga sequence used featured chest-opening poses, which are traditionally incorporated into yoga practice to decrease feelings of depression. The group who participated in the education group completed modules related to yoga history and practice for 90 minutes two times per week. Depression was assessed every two weeks throughout the research study using evidence-based depression scales (Prathikanti, et. al.).

Results indicated that depression decreased among the group that participated in yoga practice when compared to those who participated in the education group. However, researchers noted that the differences in rates did not change until the eighth week of practice, suggesting that consistent and prolonged yoga practice is most effective in promoting positive mood changes. The delay in results also suggests that one requires time to adequately learn and practice yoga poses and skills in order for their practice to be effective in alleviating depressive symptoms (Prathikanti, et. al.).

In another study of the efficacy of yoga in treating depression, a literature review was completed to compare outcomes among several research studies that explored the use of yoga in depression treatment. Eighteen published studies, all of which took place in various yoga studios, were assessed. The most common of these schools were ones that primarily taught from the school of Hatha yoga. In this literature review, interventions that were over the course of 6 weeks or more on average were studied, and measuring tools were used to monitor depression over the course of practice.

These schools utilized different structures of practice over the course of the research. Most schools encouraged participants to practice yoga at least once per week for a duration of time ranging from 12 minutes to 90 minutes (Bridges & Sharma). Although numerous differing yoga methods were used in these studies, results showed that all methods, even those in shorter duration, included participants who reported reductions in depression levels. Although, there was no evidence that showed that one method might be more effective than the others in reducing depression symptoms the study could suggest that regular practice of yoga and meditative skills may relate to decreased depressive symptoms. These results indicate a growing need for more research into the efficacy of mind-body interventions in treating clinical depression (Bridges & Sharma).

More specifically, the literature review found that a study by Marafet, et. al., researched an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group participated in three 60-minute yoga sessions, which included breathing exercises, meditation, relaxation, and physical exercise, while the control group participated in assessments only. The results of the study showed that those who participated in the yoga group experienced markedly decreased depressive symptoms. The outcome determined that yoga interventions were effective in decreasing depressive symptoms. Therefore, while traditional therapies and interventions are recommended, mind-body interventions appear to be an effective complementary interventions (Bridges & Sharma).

Depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition. Although many individuals struggle with symptoms of depression, many do not receive traditional evidence-based treatments to assist with alleviating symptoms. However, studies show that regular practice of yoga and meditation may assist in minimizing symptoms of depression. This may broaden access to mental health treatment among those who experience barriers in accessing traditional therapies. Several research studies show that regular yoga practice has been effective in alleviating depressive symptoms.

References:

Bridges, Ledetra and Manoj Sharma. “The Efficacy of Yoga as a Form of Treatment for Depression. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 30 June 2017.

Prathikanti, Sudha, et. al. “Treating Major Depression With Yoga: A Prospective Randomized, Controlled Pilot Trial.” PLoS One, 16 Mar 2017.

Stephens, Mark. Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations and Techniques. North Atlantic, 2010.

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Superfoods: What They Are and Why You Should Add Them To Your Diet

It can be easy to dismiss the impact that food has on our bodies, but mindful eating has taught me that unbalanced eating can lead to my feeling sluggish, tired, and unmotivated. When I eat balanced meals, I find that my tummy suffers less bloating and discomfort, my skin becomes clearer, and I have enough energy to maintain my active lifestyle.

I knew that healthy eating is linked to incredible health benefits and disease prevention, but I had no idea that healthy eating would have such a great impact on my daily living. This realization inspired me to research foods that provide optimal health benefits, which led me to “Superfoods.”

What are Superfoods?

Superfoods include mostly plant-based foods with some fish and dairy that are thought to promote health. First and foremost, let’s not be fooled by the marketing gurus of the food industry. There are no set criteria for determining what is a superfood. “Superfood” is a marketing term used to influence food sales, and the term itself has no root in academic research. Foods labeled as “super” are those that provide rich nutrients wrapped up in nice little minimal-calorie packages.

Why are Superfoods important?

Superfoods are dense with health-promoting nutrients, such as antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals. These nutrients and lower risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses, improve energy, decrease inflammation, regulating and improving digestion, and supporting weight management.

So…. What’s the catch with Superfoods?

Superfoods have been highly criticized for many reasons, most significantly due to the use of media and marketing to influence public opinion and boost sales. While foods labeled as “Superfoods” are healthy, the way they are processed may not be. For example, natural green tea is high in antioxidants, where commercially manufactured green tea often contains large amounts of added sugar and is cut with other teas. Long story short: always read the nutrition label, and remember that everything is better in moderation- even so-called superfoods.

Although there is no specific food that acts as the key to optimal health, there are some foods that appear to be worthy of the “superfood” label. Let’s take a look at some of these nutrient-abundant foods and dive into the associated health benefits.

Berries

While blueberries are rated high on several lists of superfoods, it is important to recognize that just about any edible berry is worthy of the “superfood” label. Some include raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and cranberries.

Why they’re super:

Berries are high in antioxidants, which is associated with reduced risk of heart disease and other inflammatory conditions. Berries can also be effective in maximizing the ability to cope with various digestive and immune-related disorders alongside traditional treatment (with routine consultation of one’s medical treatment team, of course).

How to incorporate them into diet:

Every morning I eat a bagel with cream cheese with blueberries sprinkled on top. It is my favorite. However, one can also use berries as added flavor in oatmeal, as a topping for healthy pancakes or waffles or deserts, to compliment a salad or smoothie, or simply for a snack!

Dark Leafy Greens

Not everyone finds pleasure eating dark leafy greens because of their sometimes bitter taste, but finding creative ways to enjoy these beauties is the bulk of the battle in reaping the benefits of these foods. Dark leafy greens may include:

  • Kale
  • Microgreens (immature greens produced from seeds of veggies and herbs)
  • Collard Greens
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Beet Greens (the leaves of beets)
  • Arugula
  • Bok Choy (a type of Chinese cabbage)
  • Turnip Greens

Why they’re super:

Dark leafy greens contain nutrients including folate, sinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin C, and fiber. They contain potential to decrease risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. They are also helpful in acting as an anti-inflammatory.

How to incorporate them into diet:

Any of these greens are great additions to salads, soups, or sandwiches. Lately, I have been eating spinach in stir fries and breakfast scrambles.

Eggs

Eggs have a high cholesterol content, causing debate about whether or not they are actually healthy (which makes this another opportunity to mention that moderation is key with ALL foods). However, eggs are still considered one of the healthiest foods.

Why they’re super:

Despite their cholesterol content, eggs contain many essential vitamins, such as vitamin B’s, choline, selenium, vitamin A, iron, and phosphorous. They are also an excellent source of protein and contain antioxidants that can promote vision and eye health.

How to incorporate them into diet:

Eggs are incredibly versatile. Make them scrambled, fried, dippy, hard boiled, soft boiled, sunny side up, over easy/medium/hard, poached, baked, or basted. Eat them on their own or add them to a salad, sandwich, wrap, or stir fry. I love making over medium eggs over a bed of fresh spinach with a teeeeeeeny bit of sriracha drizzled on top for some spice, but the possibilities are endless!

Green Tea

Green tea is a caffeinated tea with a variety of health benefits. However, examining the processing of any green tea is critical. Green tea that is overly processed, such as bottled green teas (I see you, Lipton), may contain high levels of sugar and chemicals that strip green tea of its nutrients. Commercial green tea may also be cut with other teas, minimizing the health benefits even further. A gentle reminder? Scan the label before consuming. Your body will thank you for it.

Why it’s super:

Organically processed, natural green tea is chalk full of antioxidants and micronutrients (AKA polyphenols), acting as a strong anti-inflammatory. Anti-inflammatory agents in green tea is the key ingredient to preventing chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

How to incorporate it into diet:

Drink it! Drink it cold, drink it hot, or drink it lukewarm. I like to brew green tea in bulk and chill it in the refrigerator to grab for a tasty, refreshing beverage at any time in the day.

Legumes

Legumes are essentially plants that produce fruits or veggies in pods. Some common types of legumes include kidney beans, cannellini beans, cranberry beans, black beans, pinto beans, soy beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, and lentils.

Why they’re super:

Legumes are an excellent source of fiber, carbohydrates, B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorous. They are naturally low in fat, cholesterol free, and incredibly filling.

How to incorporate them into diet:

One can utilize legumes by adding them to soups, stews, or casseroles. Pureed beans are also a great base for dips and spreads. I like to add chickpeas to salads or add cooked beans to breakfast scrambles or burgers. I also recently discovered a great recipe for Buffalo Chickpea Sweet Potatoes that is delicious and so filling!

Nuts

Awhhhh, nuts! A personal favorite pre-workout snack. Some of the healthiest nuts include almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, pecans, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts.

Why they’re super:

Nuts are a good source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Although they do contain some saturated fats, nuts are also packed with vitamins and minerals. Eating nuts on a regular basis may reduce risk of diabetes and heart disease.

How to incorporate them into diet:

Nuts are a great snack raw or roasted. They can also be chopped or sliced and added to stir fries, salads, or yogurt. I love making nuts the key ingredient when I make homemade granola bars! I also add sliced walnuts to my healthy banana bread.

Seeds

Seeds are way underrated! Some great seeds include flax, chia, hemp, sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower.

Why they’re super:

Seeds contain essential amino acids and minerals, including calcium, zinc, copper, and magnesium. They also include essential fiber and vitamins.

How to incorporate them into diet:

Seeds are another versatile ingredient. I love adding seeds to oatmeal, salads, yogurt or breakfast bowls. They add a great texture to smoothies and can even be ground to a power to add to flour. (Pro Tip: If you hate drinking water, add some chia seeds and fresh fruit to your water for some awesome flavor and texture.)

Yogurt

Here’s another category that stresses the importance of reading the label. Some yogurts are better than others, and generally one might avoid yogurts with heavy processing, artificial sweeteners and added sugar.

Why it’s super:

Yogurt contains protein and calcium, and it provides important vitamins and probiotics. These are helpful in maintaining gut health, aiding in weight loss, and possibly even preventing diabetes.

How to incorporate it into diet:

Yogurt is a great snack all by itself, but it can also be added to smoothies and smoothie bowls. I love adding some granola and fresh berries for a small breakfast bowl or simple snack.

Garlic

Garlic is considered a nutritional superstar, which may be why it has been long used in alternative and natural medicines. It may be small, but the list of health benefits associated with eating garlic is large.

Why it’s super:

Garlic is loaded with vitamins B and C, selenium, iron, copper, and potassium. Allicin, an oily compound produced when garlic is crushed or chopped, offers antioxidant benefits and reduces inflammation. some benefits of garlic include promoting heart health, playing a role in preventing cancer, acting as a natural antibiotic, and reducing swelling and inflammation of various skin conditions (including acne!).

How to incorporate it into diet:

Garlic is another versatile food. I typically add garlic to as many dishes as I can, including veggies, stir fries, salads, and soups. The possibilities are pretty endless with garlic.

Ginger and Turmeric

Ginger and turmeric are other foods that have a long history of use in alternative medicine. They are among the healthiest spices and are loaded with nutrients.

Why they’re super:

Ginger’s main compound is gingerol, which acts as a powerful anti–inflammatory and antioxidant. Curcumin, found in turmeric, is also a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. This means that both ginger and turmeric have the ability to help fight infections, treat chronic indigestion, manage osteoarthritis, and treating nausea. They also may help in reducing menstrual pain, managing muscle pain and soreness, lowering blood sugar, lowering risk of heart disease, and lowering cholesterol. Some research also identifies ginger and turmeric as having the potential to prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease.

How to incorporate it into diet:

Ginger and turmeric can be ground into a fine powder to use as a spice, as traditionally used in Asian recipes such as curries or stews. Ginger and turmeric can also be peeled, grated, and added to sauces, glazes, and marinades. There are a number of possibilities. They can even be used to create ginger or turmeric water.

Salmon

It’s hard to find a list of healthy foods that doesn’t include salmon. It’s no wonder these fish are strong enough to swim against the heavy current. Salmon, incredibly tasty and versatile, is loaded with important nutrients.

Why it’s super:

Salmon contains B vitamins, potassium, and selenium. It is also a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids and protein. This means that salmon can help fight inflammation, control weight, reduce risk of heart disease, and may even protect brain health.

How to incorporate it into diet:

Baking is one of the most common ways to consume salmon, due to the ability to preserve the vitamin D content in fish. Salmon can also be prepared by grilling or frying. It can be added to curry, salads, or wraps.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes may not sound healthy due to their name, but the nutritional benefits of this root veggie are abundant. Sweet potatoes, considered a healthy carbohydrate, are incredibly filling and contain some important nutrients.

Why they’re super:

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins C, B, and A. It is also high in the mineral manganese, which helps produce collagen and promote skin and bone health. They are a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It is also helpful in regulating blood pressure and supporting weight loss.

How to incorporate them into diet:

I love combining sweet potatoes, eggs, and spinach together to make one awesome breakfast bowl. Other ways to eat sweet potatoes include baking, mashing, or folding sweet potatoes into overnight oats. Another favorite? Slice these babies up and make some sweet potato fries!!

Avocados

Avocados are another personal favorite and considered one of the healthiest fruits. With the rise in popularity of diets such as keto, it is no surprise that avocados have claimed a spot as one of the most popular items to add to your grocery basket.

Why they’re super:

Avocados are a healthy source of monounsaturated fatty acids that contain numerous vitamins, such as A, E, and K. They are also filled with dietary fiber, magnesium, and potassium. Avocados assist in promoting heart health, reducing blood pressure, and minimizing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

How to incorporate them into diet:

I have a habit of cracking these babies open and scooping out the insides with a spoon to eat as a mid-morning snack. However, avocados are also great additions to scrambled eggs, breakfast bowls, salads, or soups. Additionally, many folks find avocados to be a wonderful topping to toast or as a substitute for mayo. I also use mashed avocado as a replacement for sour cream when I make burritos, enchiladas, or tacos.

Chocolate

Last, but certainly not least, chocolate doesn’t just satisfy my insatiable sweet tooth. Dark chocolate is the healthiest sweet treat. Made from the seed of a cocoa tree, dark chocolate is packed with powerful nutrients. But again, moderation is key.

Why it’s super:

Studies show that dark chocolate is one of the best sources of antioxidants. Chocolate with a high cocoa content contains copious amounts of fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. Of course, there is a moderate amount of sugar, which reinforces the fact that dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation.

How to incorporate it into diet:

If you don’t feel like eating a simply dark chocolate bar, one can experiment with adding dark chocolate to baked goods or as a topping to fruit and other snacks. However, ensuring that dark chocolate contain at least 70% cocoa is the trick to guaranteeing it contains the nutrients that make it super.

What’s the conclusion?

Are “superfoods” a real thing? Who knows, really. The idea that these foods have “super” quality seems rooted in the food industry’s marketing. Regardless of any nicknames or labels, these foods remain high in nutrients and appear to be a welcome addition to our healthy mealtime routines.

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7 Ways To Be Kind To Yourself

Like any reasonable human, I enjoy when things go my way. Gliding through life with ease brings me a sense of peace in knowing that it is all comfortable and smooth sailing. It also impacts the way I view myself and my experiences. During easygoing times, the sun feels brighter, I feel lighter, and it seems that no rainclouds could possibly wipe away my shine. Realistically, I know that life does not always go as expected, and I know that obstacles are a painful, necessary, part of life. As Khalil Gibran eloquently said, “If I accept the sunshine and warmth, then I must also accept the thunder and lightning.” If we had no troubles, would we even recognize our successes?

Although we know that setbacks are an expected aspect of life, it can be difficult to leave room for error and allow opportunity for growth. A vivid memory from my childhood involves opening up a McDonald’s Happy Meal to find a small, plush Ernie doll. My 10-year-old self lit up with excitement and immediately decided that Tiny Ernie needed a Tiny House. I set my workshop up at my family’s dining room table and went to work- hot glue gun in one hand, popsicle sticks in the other.

I spent what seemed like forever at the table, piecing together popsicle sticks with layers of hot, sticky glue, occasionally hearing my mother’s redirections each time I burned myself. When Ernie’s house was finally in one piece, I very carefully took it in my hands. As I attempted to stand it up, it crumpled to pieces. I took a deep breath and dived back in with the hot glue, adding more this time, and pressing the popsicle sticks even harder together. Again, as soon as Ernie’s house was standing, it fell to pieces. Time and time again, with each fall my body heated up and tears of frustration rolled down my face.

My mother attempted to console me. “Kelly, take a break. Try again later,” she said. “Just relax, there is no need to get upset over this.” Her words were useless- I was not giving up. This was for Ernie. Tiny Ernie NEEDED a Tiny house, and I had to be the person to build it. I took another deep breath, tears still rolling. I channeled my inner builder. I was a contractor. I was a sculptor. I was Ustad Ahmad Lahouri and Ernie’s house was the Taj Mahal. After even more glue and more popsicle sticks, I stood my project up for the final time. When it tumbled down yet again, I gathered up my popsicle sticks and dumped them in the trash.

When we experience setbacks, it can cause negative thoughts to swirl around in our heads. “You can’t do this,” they might say. “You’re not good enough.” We might sit with feelings of failure or worthlessness, or we might become depressed or anxious. Maybe we think, “I’m just not trying hard enough.”

I still cry when I’m frustrated, but I’ve learned that entertaining unhelpful thoughts is… not helpful. Giving attention to the thoughts that beat us down may even impact the way we view ourselves and our abilities. Instead of being hard on ourselves during times of struggle, what if we accepted our circumstances? After all, Buddha said if there is good, there must also be bad, right? Here are some tips that can help us be a little gentler with ourselves.

Give Yourself Space to Process

Anyone who knows me in real life knows how uncomfortable I am showing heavy emotions. However, I recently experienced a pretty grueling event that led to some dark feelings. I tried to push the memories and emotions away, but the more I tried the more upset I became. I realized that I needed to confront these feelings and allow myself time and space for processing. Instead of judging my emotions, I observed them without judgment and allowed them to serve their purpose. By giving myself time and space to process that event, I gave myself an opportunity to learn and grow from it. I learned that my feelings were not negative at all- They were allowing me to grieve a situation that I needed to grieve.

Be Flexible

I am my father’s daughter, which means I am one of the most stubborn people I know. Picture doing a puzzle and trying to jam together mismatched pieces- that’s me sometimes. I try and fail and try again, which is not in itself a bad quality. The problem, though, comes with acting along with Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result.” Perseverance takes flexibility and the courage to adapt. When we face an obstacle, we can’t bulldoze through it- we have to find a creative way around it.

Change Your Words

It took me a long time to realize that our words matter, and the way we describe things directly relates to how we view them. Each moment, we have an opportunity to frame something in a positive manner and to strengthen our nonjudgmental minds. Consider the example of personal characteristics. Most of us can identify something that we would like to change about ourselves. Describing those things as “weaknesses” may suggest that they are bad. Instead, using the phrase “opportunities for growth” suggests a nonjudgmental stance that empowers us to move forward toward change. Alternatively, if “failure” became “opportunity for growth,” would we still view it so negatively?

Be Nice to Yourself

For those that may be unaware, I have struggled with depression for several years now. I noticed that sometimes my mood impacts how I treat myself. During my latest bout of increased depression, I found myself making statements such as, “I am such an idiot,” or “I’m such a crazy person.” I justified that by believing that I was making fun of myself, having a laugh, and keeping my humor. Eventually, I noticed that the comments I said in jest also stemmed from negative beliefs I had about myself. When I felt depressed, I truly did believe that I was an idiot, crazy or a bad person. The biggest lesson I have learned throughout my experience with depression is that how we treat ourselves matters, so let’s treat ourselves kindly.

Show Gratitude

It is almost human nature to quickly dismiss positive things and hyper-focus on negative things. Even the news focuses heavily on all of the seemingly bad things in the world and quickly gloss over the good news. Focusing intensely on negative things may cause us to view the world itself as negative. For example, I LOVE true crime, and I could listen to true crime podcasts all day every day. However, if I consume enough dark content, I start experiencing anxieties that tell me the world is not safe and that other people are twisted. I start to forget about the things that bring me joy in the world. By creating a gratitude list daily, I have brought more attention to the fact that good things happen in the world and good things happen to me.

Stop Comparing

Comparing ourselves to others is possibly one of the most unhelpful actions we can do. It places unrealistic expectations on ourselves and creates pressure and discomfort. When we compare our situations to others, we discount our unique personalities and experiences, and it minimizes our strengths and accomplishments. Aside from that, we glorify the lives of others while not recognizing the glories of our own. This may create feelings of anxiety, shame, and guilt. Furthermore, comparing ourselves to others can impact our confidence. Instead, we can recognize that people only let us see what they want us to see. No one is perfect, and we can use that knowledge to focus on growing into our true selves.

Take Your Own Advice

In school, I was taught that therapists do not give advice. Sometimes, though, a client will express their desire for concrete advice or feedback. To them, I say, “Imagine your best friend was going through this situation. What advice would you give to them? Would that advice be helpful to your situation as well?” Alternatively, I might request that the client identify a person whose opinion the hold in high regard, and then I would ask, “What advice do you think they would give you?” Often times we know the answers to our problems, but we feel stuck or discouraged in moving forward. By taking our own advice, we learn to support ourselves with the love and compassion that we do for others.

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HighOh Washable Cloth Pads: Are They Worth It?

High ho….. High ho…. It’s off to…….. making some great attempts to make my menstrual cycle more comfortable and an overall more enjoyable experience.

I love learning new ways to make my life healthier and easier. I have become increasingly passionate about everyday comfort, investing in reusable products, and educating myself on what I put in and on my body. I am slowly transitioning to using reusable, natural products. That’s why I was so excited to be connected with HighOh.

HighOh is a brand started by two sisters who wanted to save money by creating their very own washable cloth pads. These cloth pads are made from a natural bamboo charcoal fiber with a waterproof layer to prevent leakage. The bamboo fiber is eco-friendly and free from harmful chemicals or fabrics.

These washable pads come in different sizes and can be offered as a period kit on High Oh’s Amazon Page (or by searching “HighOh Period Starter Kit” on Amazon) or at ilovehighoh.com. They are shaped as a normal pad and easily placed. They use buttons to fasten around underwear for comfort and ease.

Washing these products is relatively simply. I soaked mine in hot water and laundry detergent overnight before washing regularly in the laundry. One can air dry or put in the dryer.

HighOh is based in Singapore and ship outside of the country to partner stores to ensure that items arrive safely. HighOh recently advertised a charity event during which each purchase will donate one free washable cloth pad to a person in need who menstruates, which makes this the perfect time to check out!

Now, let’s get down to the details about these washable cloth pads.

The Pros:

  • Comfortable
  • Breathable
  • Incredibly Absorbent
  • Easy to clean
  • Easy to use
  • Button stays snapped during wear
  • Period Kits come with a convenient waterproof bag
  • Made from all natural materials
  • This company advocates for a good mission and is charitable toward their cause
  • Quick and caring delivery
  • The stitching looks very well done
  • Excellent customer service and quick replies from the business itself

The Cons:

  • There is some slippage and moving around depending on your level of activity while using these washable pads, but I found that a little beauty tape was a wondering solution, as well as noting which underoos did a better job of keeping everything in place.
  • Sometimes these ads seemed a little bulky. If you are smaller, or have a lighter flow, I might suggest a smaller sized pad.

To answer my heading questions: are these worth it? Yes! After searching for a reusable product to add to my menstrual routine (right now I just alternate between menstrual cups), I am happy that I have these awesome pads to add into the mix!