Samantha’s Perfectly Normal, Perfectly Unhealthy Day
For the most part, Sam has good intentions. She’s conscientious, ambitious and wants to do well by herself and others. But she doesn’t always get things right, and she has traits and habits which undermine her wellbeing. How many things can you count that Sam might do differently in her ‘perfectly normal day’?
Me and my alarm don’t get along.
Every morning, at 6.15am, it starts its incessant beeping. And every morning, at 6.15am, I’m forced to slap the snooze button to shut it up.
For 6 whole rounds. One hour. Me versus machine. And I lose, just like I always do.
Wearily, I haul myself out of bed, all too aware that I’m running late. I give my partner – Phil – a prod to get him moving, jump into the shower, apply my makeup, throw on a dress, and run down the stairs. I need to hit the road, but I know it’s important not to skip breakfast. So I pour myself a bowl of Choc-O-Bombs and wash it down with a glass of orange juice.
Breakfast done. Time to get to work.
Sadly, I’m not the only one on the road. It’s peak hour and I’m crammed alongside a zillion other cars, all of them moving about as quick as a group of snails walking off a very long lunch. It’s making me later by the minute, but I try not to get too frustrated. Instead, I crank the radio up and sing along, enjoying myself right up to the moment the guy in the red Toyota pulls out in front of me, without so much as a flicker of his indicator light. It’s a terrible piece of driving, it really is, so I lean on my horn and tailgate him for a while, just to let him know how much his driving sucks. I’m not sure he notices me – I’m pretty sure he regards the rear view mirror as a conceptual idea – but at least I make my point.
In the end, the drive to work takes me 50 minutes, twice as long as it would have, had I left the house when I intended to. I need to be at my desk, but I can’t do without a coffee, so I stop at my local, the Blue Lagoon Café, to get my morning fix. While I’m waiting, I take the chance to grab a 500ml, plastic bottle of water and a large bag of nuts (they’re part of my recent resolution to eat healthy) so that I’ve got something to snack on while I’m at my desk.
And so to work. I’ve got more emails to clear than there are grains of sand on your average beach and my boss has set me a 5pm deadline for a PowerPoint presentation he wants to show some clients. It all adds up to a hell of a day and for the next 3 hours – minus a sortie to the Blue Lagoon to pick up another cup of coffee – I’m strapped to my desk, my eyes glued to my computer screen.
It’s hard going, but by the time lunch rolls around, I’m starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. I figure that if I crack on through, I might just about get everything done, but I have to ring my best friend, Clare, and reschedule our appointment to meet up. Instead of the picnic in the park I’d planned with her, I grab a takeaway burger for lunch and a cup of coffee to go, both of which I bolt down while I’m sitting at my desk.
Come mid-afternoon, I’m feeling confident I’ll meet my deadline and decide to take a quick break. I’ve got one more coffee in me, so I sidle down to the Blue Lagoon, where I bump into Juliet, our head of HR. I’ve been carrying an idea around for weeks now, about how we might improve our training structures, and I’ve been waiting for the right time to talk to her about it. But… now isn’t the time. She’s got frown lines as deep as the Grand Canyon running across her brow and I figure I’ll wait for another day to share my idea with her.
So. Back to my desk. Back to work. In the end, I finish the PowerPoint a tick before 5, just in time to send it through to my boss. I’m happy, but exhausted, and my mind turns to the jogging group I’ve said I’ll meet up with at 6. It’s a new activity for me, part of my promise to myself that I’ll not only get healthy but try new things. I’m sooooo tired though. Worse, the little voice in my head is telling me that I’m going to embarrass myself. There’s no way I’ll keep up with the other runners. Best I put it off for now. I’ll join up with them next week, that’s what I’ll do.
Instead, I decide to treat myself by going to the tanning salon. It’s something I do once a week, just to keep my skin healthy and glowing, and it helps me put the day behind me.
By the time I get home, I’m starting to relax. Phil’s got dinner on – it’s his night to cook – and I crack open a bottle of wine, before settling on the couch in front of the TV. Phil joins me there and we spend the next few hours sitting close, eating dinner, drinking our wine (just 3 glasses each), and watching back-to-back episodes of First Dates, a show we really enjoy. I round the night off by sneaking outside for a quick cigarette. I know I shouldn’t, but it’s only one, way down on the 20 cigarettes I used to smoke every day.
By 10.30, we’re ready for bed. I haul myself upstairs and climb under the sheets, only to realize I’ve forgotten to take my makeup off. I think about getting up, but I don’t have the energy and besides it’s our ‘special’ night – time for me and Phil to get close. I turn to him, ready for a cuddle, only to discover he’s already snoring. Which is okay, it really is. We’re both tired. We’ll get round to it next week.
I close my eyes and try to relax. But my mind starts circling, fixing on my failure to talk to Juliet when I had the chance earlier in the day. I need to be more assertive, otherwise I’m never going to get anywhere. Why didn’t I talk to her? I blew it. I blew it.
I can’t let it go. Which means that even though I’m tired, I can’t sleep. With a sigh, I turn on my bedside light and grab my iPad, spend some time cruising the internet. Those Kardashians are all sorts of mixed-up, but they sure do have an interesting life.
In the end, it’s about 12.30 before I finally nod off. As I drift off, I tell myself that if I sleep well, I’ll be ready for the alarm clock when it sets itself to beeping in a few hours’ time…
What Could Sam Have Done Differently?
Let’s start with the truth that no one can be perfect. Sam is trying her best, but like all of us, she doesn’t always get it right and she doesn’t always act in a way that’s optimal for her long-term health and her wellbeing. If she implemented just a few of the changes listed below, she’d be making strides in the right direction.
- Repeatedly hitting the snooze button and not sticking to schedule: Warring with the alarm is a bad idea. The quality of sleep Sam gets between each burst of the alarm is poor, she’s practicing procrastination (never a good idea), and she’s setting herself up badly for the day. When the alarm goes, she would do well to get up – first time, every time. It may take her a minute, but she’ll feel better for it and she’ll be on schedule, in a position to approach her day much more powerfully.
- Choice of breakfast: Sam’s spot on when she recognizes the importance of having breakfast to start off her day. Unfortunately, she undermines this with her choice of breakfast cereal, which is clearly full of sugar and empty calories, just like the vast majority of cereals we find on the shelves of our local supermarket. If she really wants to eat cereal, then she’d be much better off making her own, ensuring it contains the types of nutrients she needs. A muesli full of nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits would be a great place to start. Alternatively, she might simply like to boil an egg – one of the most nutritious foods on the planet – for her breakfast. Oh, and a glass of orange juice? It’s way too full of sugar. Sam would be better off making herself a green juice for breakfast, and maybe mixing in a little honey, banana, apple juice or orange juice for added sweetness.
- Road Rage: We all know how annoying mindless driving can be (even though we’ve all been guilty of it ourselves). But Sam achieves nothing by getting herself in a state about the driver in the red Toyota. He has no clue that he’s upset her and all she really succeeds in doing is increasing her stress levels. It may be a difficult thing to do, but Sam would be much better off taking a deep breath and putting the incident behind her, so she can enjoy the radio and her drive into work.
- Drinking water from a plastic water bottle: Water is a great choice for keeping Sam hydrated, but there are better options than drinking from a plastic bottle. Quite apart from the environmental considerations (for a better understanding of the terrible damage that plastic bottles are wreaking on our environment, read this – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/28/a-million-a-minute-worlds-plastic-bottle-binge-as-dangerous-as-climate-change), concerns also exist about our exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals are used in the manufacture of clear plastics and have been associated with a host of health problems including certain types of cancer, neurological difficulties, early puberty in girls, reduced fertility in women, premature labour, lower sperm counts in men, and defects in newborn babies. Sam would be much better off bringing water from home in a glass bottle, or – if her work has a properly fitted and effective filtration system – filling her glass from the tap.
- Unregulated snacking: Sam’s choice of snack – nuts – is a good one, much better than muesli bars or sweets, which are full of sugar, or crisps, which are full of unhealthy fats. But they are calorie rich, and it’s likely that Sam is getting too much of a good thing. Small snacks throughout the day can be beneficial, helping us keep our blood sugars stable and our energy levels on an even keel, but they need to be carefully thought out. It would be better if Sam ate only a handful of nuts over the course of her day, not the entire packet she is likely to mindlessly consume if she leaves it lying on her desk.
- Sitting at her desk for too long: Apart from a couple of short breaks, Sam spends her entire work day glued to her desk. Research is increasingly showing how bad this is for us, with prolonged sitting associated with increased risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity, and metabolic syndrome, as well as various back and postural problems. Significantly, a few hours a week at the gym doesn’t offset the dangers of sitting too long. Sam needs to stand regularly (at least for a couple of minutes every half hour), maybe get in the habit of walking while she’s on her phone, and even set up her work station so that she can work on her computer standing up.
- Staring at a computer screen for too long: Another unhealthy consequence of Sam being tied to her desk is that she stares at her computer screen for too long. This will not only lead to eye strain, but – over the medium to long term – there’s a very real possibility she will suffer retina damage. When she stands and walks around, Sam would do well to spend a minute or so taking in the view outside, giving her eyes a chance to focus on distant objects and easing the strain of constantly staring at a computer screen.
- Failing to catch up with a friend: Even though she feels pressed for time, Sam does herself no favours when she cancels her lunch with Clare. Quite apart from the opportunity to put the office behind her for a while, meeting with her friend would have done her a world of good. Friends are essential to our health. They’re great sounding boards, they validate us, they help to relieve stress, and they make us feel better. Taking 45-60 minutes out of her day to meet with Clare would likely have energised Sam, making her more productive when she returned to work after lunch.
- Takeaway lunch: After cancelling with Clare, Sam grabs a burger and coffee to go and eats at her desk. She’s denying herself the time out she needs and her stress levels will consequently remain high. There’s also the obvious problem of eating a takeaway lunch. Burgers are processed foods, high in unhealthy fats, and lacking the nutrients Sam needs to cope properly with her day. By eating it, she further undermines her resolution to be healthy.
- Eating too quick: Not only does Sam make an unhealthy choice for her lunch, but she ‘bolts’ the burger down. Speed eating is a common, but unhealthy habit. When we eat mindfully, and take the time to savour the food we’re eating, then not only will we enjoy it more, we’re also likely to eat less. We’ll also save ourselves from other, associated, health problems, such as reflux, indigestion, and even food poisoning.
- Failing to stand up for herself and face an issue head-on: When Sam runs into Juliet, her head of HR, at the café, she misses a golden chance to set up a meeting to talk about her ideas for improving training structures at her work. It’s also clear that Sam hasn’t emailed Juliet previously or come forward with her idea. That she hasn’t, is understandable (when we invest time and effort into formulating an idea we often find it hard to let it go, unsure whether it’s ready for a wider audience), but Sam allows fear and uncertainty to undermine herself here. Instead of waiting for the perfect moment – something which rarely, if ever, comes – she would have done well to take the opportunity which presented itself. Self-belief, perseverance, and a readiness to take opportunities are all useful traits Sam could learn.
- Too much coffee: When Sam grabs her 4th cup of coffee for the day, she’s right on the limit of what might be considered okay (and likely over the limit if she’s drinking double shots). The respected Mayo Clinic states that up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is generally okay for adults, but any more than that can lead to health issues. Besides, drinking 4 cups a day is expensive, not to mention the rising calorie count if Sam is drinking anything other than espressos.
- Missing exercise: After a long day at work, the idea of taking time to exercise can sometimes seem a bridge too far. But consistent exercise (at least 3-4 times a week) is important. It’s good for our heart, our waistlines, our bodies, and our minds. Sam would have felt better for joining her running group.
- Negative self-talk: As part of her reasoning for missing exercise, Sam tells herself that she’s not good enough; that she’ll never be able to keep up with the other runners in her group. Such self-talk can be destructive, stopping us from achieving what we want to. And besides, even if Sam is right, and she struggles, so what? Rather than dismiss her as useless, the other runners in her group will almost certainly look to support her. With consistent training, she’ll soon be able to keep up.
- Using a tanning bed: Sam might think that she’s achieving a healthy, glowing look by using a tan-bed, but in fact the opposite is true. Just like the sun’s rays, tanning lamps emit harmful UV radiation, which can cause premature skin aging, as well as skin cancer. Statistics show that people who use a tan bed before the age of 35 increase their risk of developing melanoma by 75%.
- 3 glasses of wine: How much is too much? Some doctors will tell you that no alcohol at all is the right amount. Others will concede that one or two drinks are okay and may even point to studies that show that drinking wine in limited amounts can be good for us. But 3 glasses of wine are almost certainly too much, especially if this is Sam’s pattern every night. She’ll sleep better if she limits herself to one glass of wine (or, occasionally, two small glasses), and be healthier for it. To help her liver and digestive system rest and refresh, she might also abstain from drinking alcohol on 2 nights each week.
- Sitting on the couch and eating dinner in front of the TV: This is similar in many ways to the problems associated with Sam eating lunch at her desk. Parking herself on the couch for hours on end is unhealthy, whilst studies have shown that when we eat in front of the TV we are likely to overeat (largely because we are distracted and not eating mindfully). There’s also the simple matter that Sam and Phil are likely to connect better if they take the time to eat at the dinner table.
- Smoking: No need to say too much about this. We all know that smoking is harmful to our health. Sam has done really well to cut back from 20 cigarettes a day, but she would be doing herself a real favour if she managed to give the habit up altogether.
- Wearing makeup to bed: It’s never a good idea to go to bed wearing makeup. Sam needs to give her skin the chance to relax and breathe, just like she needs to get a good night’s sleep.
- Putting off sex night: Regular sex can be good for us and our relationship. It helps with connection, it gets us out of our head, it can be creative, it’s intimate, there’s an element of exercise involved, and it helps us relax. In the midst of their busy, tiring lives, Sam and Phil have scheduled time for sex. Whenever they can, it would serve them well (in all sorts of ways) to stick to their schedule.
- Not living in the present: As soon as her head hits her pillow, Sam begins obsessing about her failure earlier in the day to talk to Juliet about her idea. There’s no benefit in this, it only serves to upset her. Sam would be much better off (and far more likely to enjoy a good night’s sleep) should she forgive herself, put the missed opportunity behind her, and live in the present.
- Electronics in bed: Electronics have no place in our bedroom. They are disruptive to our sleep patterns and indulging in them immediately before going to bed has been associated with a host of health problems, including insomnia, impaired cognition and learning, impaired memory, daytime fatigue, stress and obesity. By scrolling the internet, Sam is setting herself up for a bad night’s sleep.
- Insufficient sleep: Sam’s not only likely to sleep badly, she’s not getting enough of it (at best, she’ll get a little over five and a half hours sleep before her alarm goes off). Research shows that she should be aiming for between seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Any more or less will increase her risk for serious conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and even death. Getting sufficient quality sleep is a vital key in her search for a healthier lifestyle.