Preparing for the unexpected

I know this subject might seem like a contradiction – how can we prepare for something we are not expecting? I have been thinking about this topic since the tragic accident that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the seven other individuals who were flying with them to a basketball game. None of them woke up that morning thinking it would be their last day on Earth. Most of us don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about our death, especially if we feel like we are in the prime of our life. But as this and other similar tragedies demonstrate, it behooves us to take some time to plan for the unthinkable, so that our loved ones are not left blind-sided if our lives are cut short by unexpected events.

Are your affairs in order?

No matter how young or old you are, if you are an adult, you will help your loved ones immensely if you have a few key legal documents and other critical pieces of information in place. Let’s take a quick look at some of these:

A living will (or advance directive) – This document is key if you are incapacitated before your death, as it spells out medical treatments you would and would not want to be used to keep you alive, as well as your preferences for other medical decisions, such as pain management or organ donation. By planning ahead, you can hopefully avoid unnecessary suffering and help reduce confusion or disagreement among your caregivers about the choices you want them to make on your behalf. Click here to learn more about living wills and advance directives.

A will – Your family will need the most recent version of your will along with contact information for the attorney who drew it up and any executor named in the document. Anyone who is married/partnered and/or has children should definitely have a will, but even if you are young and single, you want to be sure that whatever possessions/treasures/assets you own are distributed according to your wishes. Perhaps you have a beloved pet – who would you want caring for him/her after you are gone? Click here for some helpful information about writing a will.

Financial accounts – Your heirs will need a list of your financial accounts – everything from utility bills to tax returns – as well as any insurance policies. And if you do most of your banking and financial transactions online, they will need passwords and other security information to access your accounts. Some people choose to compile this information in an electronic file, whereas others may go old-school and just put hard copies of everything in a cardboard box. Click here for more information about what to organize and compile for those left behind who will need to settle your estate.

Funeral/memorial plans – This may be the most difficult document to pull together as it forces us to face our own mortality and to think about how we want to leave this Earth and be remembered when we are gone – whether we are 18 or 88 when it happens. Several years ago, a member of my church passed away suddenly and unexpectedly and apparently had not shared any of her wishes with family. The leaders at the fellowship shared this form, “Who Will Speak for Me?” and asked all of us to fill it out and share a copy with them. Confession: I meant to do so at the time and kept putting it off – I think part of it was not wanting to confront the reality that I won’t be around forever. I never did complete it, but Kobe’s accident and premature death have prompted me to put it at the top of my to do list. I encourage all of you to do the same and share it with those who will be responsible for your estate when you pass (note: you can use the form I shared as a guide or ask your church/religious organization, if they have something similar).

I saw the quote below on a friend’s Instagram account shortly after the news of the crash that took the lives of Kobe and eight others. It is a gentle reminder that life is short and should not be taken for granted as none of us know when we may take our last breath in this life. So, when you finish reading this, go tell your family members that you love them. Give your child(ren) a hug and a kiss for no reason. Call that friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with for ages. Don’t wait, as there is no guarantee you can do to it “tomorrow.”

Alkaline Water – What’s all the fuss?

I recently had a client ask me about alkaline water and whether it was better than drinking plain water. I thought others might be curious as well so let’s take a look to see if there are any health benefits to drinking alkaline water.

I was first introduced to alkaline water a few years ago when I participated in a mindful “triathlon” (5k walk/run, then yoga and group meditation). They had vendors as part of the event and one of them was giving away free samples of alkaline water. I took a couple samples home and tried them shortly after. Personally, I did not like the taste of the alkaline water – I recall it being slightly bitter or metallic compared to the filtered water from our refrigerator. I also did not notice any difference in how I felt, although admittedly, I only had one or two glasses – probably not enough to make a true comparison.

What is the difference?

Let’s start by looking at the difference between regular water and alkaline water. You may recall from your high school science days that water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. Water’s pH level determines how acidic or basic (alkaline) it is and ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is considered neutral, or balanced, between acidic and alkaline. If water has a pH below 7, it’s “acidic.” If it’s higher than 7, it’s “alkaline.”

The pH of tap water is typically close to neutral but may fall anywhere between 6.5 and 8.5 depending on where you live. Bottled alkaline water has a pH level above 7, usually closer to 8 or 9. Alkaline compounds are salts and metals that, when added to water, make it more basic. Some alkaline waters are from springs or artesian wells and are naturally alkaline because of dissolved minerals. Others are made with an ionizing process, and water ionizing machines are also marketed for home use.

What are the health claims around alkaline water?

Manufacturers and other proponents of alkaline water have made several claims about the health benefits of their product. For example, alkaline water enthusiasts contend that its increased hydrogen provides greater hydration than regular water, especially after a hard workout. Others tout its ability to supposedly reduce acid in the bloodstream, which they allege can improve metabolism and digestion as well as reduce bone loss and slow the aging process. Some have gone so far as to say that it can prevent or even treat cancer by starving cancer cells.

So, what is the truth behind these claims? Unfortunately, there is little evidence from the research to support them. First, much of the research on alkaline water has been animal-based, meaning the possible effects on humans are not yet supported by science. Several small studies – which were funded by companies that sell alkaline water – suggest that it could improve hydration in athletes, but any potential benefits were modest. Most nutrition experts agree that an easier way to improve hydration is just to drink more regular water. Finally, a 2016 review of research studies found no evidence that alkaline water could treat or prevent cancer.

Is there any harm in drinking alkaline water?

For the most part, the answer is no. Unless you have a kidney disease, alkaline water doesn’t pose any serious health risks. (Note: If you have chronic kidney disease or are taking a medication that affects your kidney function, elements in alkaline water could possibly have negative side effects on the kidneys. Please discuss with your doctor before consuming.) Experts say the high pH in alkaline water could make your skin dry and itchy or cause an upset stomach, but that’s about it.

The bottom line

At the present time, there isn’t enough scientific proof to say alkaline water is better than drinking regular bottled water or tap water. Most of the experts agree that alkaline water is just the latest trend that people think is going to make them healthier, feel better, or have more energy. However, most of us can reap those benefits by just drinking enough regular water. Thus, it’s up to you to decide if you want to spend the money on a product that may or may not provide any additional health benefits.

Time Well Spent

As I shared in my last post, my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary this fall with a lovely trip to Exuma in the Bahamas. What I did not share was the eye-opening lesson I learned on this trip about my dependence on – or should I be so bold as to admit – my addiction to technology.

We had a bit of downtime on our trip as there were not a ton of things to do on the island other than hang out on the beach or a boat. Despite having ample reading material with me, what was the first thing I found myself doing when we weren’t busy? Jumping on my phone, mindlessly scrolling through the same social media and news apps over and over. Yikes. It hit me: I had forgotten how to be bored – or more precisely, how to be comfortable with being bored.

I have had concerns in the past year or so with the amount of screen time I log, whether it be on my phone, tablet or computer. I had taken a “tech health” survey back in May 2018 and was rather pleased that I scored Very Good (considering that my family had been harassing me about the time I spent on my phone). I let my guard down a bit after that, thinking I was doing better than the average person. Like many people, I have mixed feelings about technology. On the one hand, it is super convenient to have just about everything I need to run my daily life in a device that fits in my pocket. But as I have often learned the hard way, it also makes it too easy to use this technology inappropriately (phubbing, anyone?) and ineffectively (somehow wasting 15 minutes browsing through my Twitter feed when my intention was to look at the weather forecast!)

For these reasons and more, I have decided one of my personal health goals in 2020 will be to improve my digital wellness. I have been doing some research about ways to monitor and reduce screen time, as well as how to take control over my technology rather than let it control me. By now, most of you have probably heard the news that the creators of smartphone apps intentionally design them to make us addicted. Therefore, it will take intentional strategies to counteract this “programming.”

Below are some of the resources I have found quite helpful as I embark on this journey:

Determining Your Tech Health

The first step is really about establishing a baseline – figuring out how healthy or unhealthy your tech habits are, so that you can identify areas for improvement. I recommend Amy Blankson’s Tech Health survey as a starting point. She also has some cool resources on her website including free downloadable wallpapers for your phone that prompt you to think about use of your phone as you pick it up.

The other strategy is utilizing the Screen Time function on your iPhone (or iPad), which was released with the iOS 12 update. (I believe Android phones have a similar feature called Digital Wellbeing.) This function provides you with a weekly report of how much time you spent on your phone, how many times per hour you picked it up, what apps you were using, etc. It may help to just start reviewing your report week to week to get a sense of your current usage. Then you can take advantage of the options such as setting time limits on certain apps, and scheduling downtime (think of it as “nap time” for your devices). Click here to learn more about Apple Screen Time settings and here for Google’s Digital Wellbeing features. One caveat: these limits are self-policed; for example, you have the option to ignore the time limits on apps once they have been met. So, it may take some discipline and willpower to stay on track if you are tempted to bypass the soft stop.

Developing Healthy Habits

I have found two tools that I plan to utilize to develop healthier habits around my use of technology. The first is a 10-day online course called Develop Digital Health Habits by Robert Plotkin that I have accessed through my premium subscription to Insight Timer, my go-to meditation app. (Note: If you are not a premium subscriber, I believe you can purchase the individual course for about $10). I’ve already listened to the entire course and picked up a few good tips, such as turning off all but the most necessary notifications from various apps. However, I plan to listen to the course again and take notes this time, as there were numerous helpful suggestions that I would like to take advantage of that I didn’t quite grasp the first time through. The beauty of this course is that each lesson is approximately 10 minutes long, so it is not a huge time investment.

More recently, I read an article that referred to the Time Well Spent movement led by Tristan Harris, a former Google employee who expressed concern about smartphone addiction and questioned how his company and other teach giants could build systems that gave people time back. He wound up leaving Google to start a non-profit organization called the Center for Humane Technology. It’s vision: “…a world where technology supports our shared well-being, sense-making, democracy, and ability to tackle complex global challenges.”

I was very excited to find a section of their website called “Take Control” that outlines several manageable steps to help fight the addiction to our devices. My two favorites that I am going to start with:

  • Turning off all notifications except those from actual people (e.g., from text messages or other messaging apps). That little dot in the corner of apps is red for a reason – it is a trigger color that instantly draws our attention. This strategy makes perfect sense as we have been trained to think that every notification is urgent, when in reality most of them are just a waste of our time.
  • Changing the color filter to grayscale. This one blew my mind as I did not even know it was an option! Choosing grayscale helps many people check their phone less as it is not as appealing as all those shiny, happy colors. True confession – I just switched on this mode and it really makes a difference. (The cool part though is you can easily toggle it on and off so that color is available when you need it, for example, showing off pictures from your latest vacation.)

I know that this journey to digital wellness may not be an easy one – many of my habits around technology and smart devices are well engrained in my brain. However, I am up for the challenge as I know that it will lead to more intentional use of my time…which will lead to more peace of mind.