Calm Commute
Create a healthy transition from work to home

By James Rouse, ND

Your intention is to be well; your goal, vitality and radiant health. But there you are in rush-hour traffic, each signal turning red as you approach, convinced that circumstances are conspiring against your hope for a relaxed, nutritious dinner. You're tired, you're hungry. And it seems more and more likely that your next meal will be something microwaved, or maybe a bowl of cereal followed by your favorite chaser. Chocolate anyone?

Most of us try to avoid this scenario, but given the lack of time for a proper transition from office to home, the dinner hour is often less about abundance than convenience. Once we finally make it to the kitchen, hunger and time constraints set us up for poor food choices. As a naturopathic physician, I often see how attaining health and well-being can be derailed by stress, poor diet, and lack of exercise.

In this column, I hope to impart practical "life tools" to help you create the healthy life you desire. The path to wellness takes motivation, compassion, and inspiration. But there are practical and specific routes that can be taken to speed the journey. Wellness is both extraordinary and quite ordinary; it is accessible to all.

Toolbox: The downward-dog pose—kitchen style—will help you relax before preparing a meal. Place your hands about a foot apart on the counter, step out three feet and gently drop your head between your elbows. Breathe. That brings us back to the evening's pilgrimage to a nurturing meal. Begin your practice of healthy living in this journey from work to home, during what I call the "cortisol commute." When stressed, your adrenal glands secrete a hormone called cortisol. Elevated cortisol can produce myriad physical challenges, from increased sugar cravings to depleted glucose in the brain, leading to confused thinking and lowered immunity. Don't beat yourself up about the compromises in times of overload. Stress hormones can overwhelm the purest of intentions.

Before you spend another moment in self-blame, make a commitment to making wise choices. You don't have to quit your job or hire a personal chef. Some simple yet empowering steps can bring healing and inspiration to your arrival home.

Plan ahead for your cortisol commute. Keep a cooler in the car stocked with "seat snacks," that is, food within arm's reach. Celery, almonds, smoked tofu, nitrate-free deli meat, string cheese and water are refreshing choices. These simple snacks may provide the sustenance you need to successfully sidestep the late-afternoon slump.

Just as important as nurturing your body is tending to your mind. Whether behind the wheel, carpooling, or riding the bus, practice deep breathing to bring calm and clarity to your thoughts. Deep inhalations that move your breath to the lower abdomen will restore a sense of peace and control.

Gratitude is an elixir that restores positive energy. Give thanks upon your safe arrival home. This moment can be both a transition and a catalyst for transformation. You bring closure to your workday and possibility to your evening. Feed your body, and your spirit. Nurture yourself.