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Finding wellness in a pandemic: Letson

Mary Letson charts her path back to healthy habits
Mary Letson sitting on a couch
Letson is a wellness coach, personal trainer and owner of Positively Fit. But even the health and wellness professionals have had trouble with self care during this pandemic.

Just in case you think health and wellness professionals have it all together all the time with their self-care, I’m here to tell you that we can get it wrong too. I recently described to my Zoomed group strength class the pitfalls I’ve experienced balancing my health and wellness over the course of the pandemic. There were smiles and nods followed by a general sense of relief that I too was vulnerable to the vagaries of stress. I have found myself getting it wrong more often than not since the world shut down last March. When the pandemic hit I slid into some habits that were not necessarily healthy – like pouring a gin and tonic at 6 p.m. and turning on CBC radio to soak up all the bad news. Every night. The evening drink was then more regularly than not accompanied by perhaps a glass of wine along with a more caloric main course, and more often than not topped off with some devilish, homemade dessert. Like profiteroles. Choux pastry (so fun to make) filled with whip cream. Other people made sourdough. I made profiteroles.    

Predictably, the shift in alcohol intake combined with a richer evening meal played havoc with my sleep (and waistline). As any menopausal woman will attest, bagging a solid uninterrupted sleep is a bit of an art form. Mess around with this balancing act and you are guaranteed to wake up at 4 a.m. staring at your clock, debating whether to just get up and start the day. The trajectory from here is predictable: the following day is sluggish as my system works harder to process the interrupted sleep, the whip cream and other accumulated no-nos.  By 3 p.m., my energy dips and I’m craving a sweet with my cup of tea (a childhood family ritual that worked just fine when I was a carefree eight-year-old sprinting around all day). A sweet is the last thing my body needs but I have it anyway. 6 p.m. arrives and the whole process starts again. Fortunately, through all this my drive to embrace fitness for both my business and my personal enjoyment has maintained its fervour throughout the pandemic. Everything else however was fraying at the edges and was messing with my overall sense of wellness.

I realized enough was enough. It was time to turn this ship around and focus the same coaching techniques I’ve used with great success over the years in my professional life on myself. I took a step back and sketched out what was working and what was not. I looked at the selfcare triptych of rest (sleep, restorative activities), fuel (nutrition) and expenditure (exercise) and penciled out a plan of how I could better support each of these areas throughout my day. I pegged small, manageable changes. I used an app to start tracking my fuel for accountability. I loaded the fridge with healthy snacks (hard-boiled eggs, homemade hummus and bean dip, washed and cut carrots and celery) and tweaked my fuel intake. There was an immediate impact on my sleep quality, which in turn made for better energy the next day, reduced my coffee intake and reduced the 3 p.m. dip. The overall magic was a brighter headspace, which in turn gave me a leg up on feeling in charge of my wellness. To support my restorative activities, I took up guitar lessons with Ellen MacIntosh and now have swapped out a gin and the 6 p.m. bad news cycle with the joy and focus of singing and practising guitar.

All of these small changes add up to a big wonderful shift and how I feel. The pre-pandemic Mary has resurfaced happier, healthier and better equipped to soldier on through this crazy world!