9 Relax Apps - use your smart phone for well-being

It’s ironic that the very device that has the ability to bring stress right to us – our smart phone – can also be used to calm us down.

With a growing number of apps devoted to de-stressing the uptight and anxious, you can use technology to help not harm.

Here a few options for go-to apps when you want to let go, relax and improve your ability to withstand high pressure environments.

Calm: Meditation to Relax, Focus & Sleep Better

Featured in the New York Times, this app offers guided or unstructured meditations designed to reduce anxiety and stress, improve your quality of life, and help you sleep better. Seven days of calm teaches you the basics of mindfulness meditation and then you can sign up for $7.49 a month for a year, or $499,99 for a lifetime to unlock other programs such as 7 days of focus, 7 days of calming anxiety, 7 days of gratitude and more. Feel uber-tension from the cut and thrust of today’s merger melt away with soothing sounds and scenery. 

Rain, Rain

It’s 3am and you’re awake, your brain endlessly processing the day’s stressful events. No problem. Tap into any one of 25 free, high quality, sounds, from a thunderstorm to the sound of the seaside, to lull you into a peaceful sleep. More than three million people have used this app to help them overcome stress-related insomnia. There’s even a sleep timer to fade out sound after a set time. Or why not try Sheep Counter (free) or Sleepbot (99c)? The latter features time-lapse photography of Earth captured by NASA astronauts set to New Age music.

Happify

Negative thinking can ramp stress, pain and anxiety so emotional wellbeing is crucial to health and relaxation. This app helps you practice positive qualities such as kindness and mindfulness with specific tips, games, or visualisations. Think of it as training for your brain that will ultimately relate in being more stress-resistant. You can even track your progress with an overall happiness score. Free.

Breathe2Relax

Even medical experts agree that proper breathing is at the centre of all relaxation practices. This app, developed by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology in the United States, offers diaphragmatic, belly breathing exercises designed to decrease the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ (stress) response and help you reduce anxiety and anger. Ideal therapy when you want to kill the boss. One, two, three, breathe! Free.

Pacifica

Get serious about being a more relaxed corporate player. Cognitive behavioural therapy is the gold standard for therapy that helps change your thinking and reframe negative perceptions. It’s also the basis for this free app that lets you choose a goal – e.g reduce anxiety – and then sign up to get access to a mood tracker, mindfulness and therapy-based activities such as meditation (for fear of public speaking, intense emotions and more) and muscle relaxation and connect with others. You can also track healthy habits like sleep and exercise that, ultimately, lead to stress reduction. A terrific, free, all-rounder.

Fabulous

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Developed by Duke University, this is an easy game-changer that trains you to adopt healthier habits - from drinking more water to meditating or practicing gratitude - with user friendly reminders and pep talks. It is based on research about how long it takes to change a habit and what simple every day routines can increase wellness. Free unless you want to upgrade to "Sphere". 

The Worry Box

Redundancy, falling profits, cost-cutting measures … put your worries in a box and leave them there. Worry Box is a virtual box where you can record all the things you're stressing about. You then have a choice to let it go or get help. If it’s help you’re after, you can select from a list of coping statements to help you approach whatever’s making you uptight from a different angle. There’s even a statistical graph that you can buy and look backwards to you see how many of your worries did or didn’t happen.  Free. 

Acupressure: Heal Yourself

Acupressure is an ancient healing art where you use your fingers to press on pressure points on the surface of your skin to stimulate the body's natural, healing ability. The app itself helps you locate the pressure points that'll help alleviate specific symptoms. Use it to release tension from the body to get into a more relaxed frame of mind. $1.99.

Down Dog

No matter what level yogi you are, this free app will let you find your om and release your inner uptightness by creating new vinyasa yoga sequences each time you want to exercise. You choose the pace and time of the workout and each sequence comes with clear instructions and accompanying music.

This story originally appeared in Life & Leisure at The Australian Financial Review.

How I quit a toxic job (and you can too)

A bullying management, sexual harassment, poor financial rewards, or an office that spews pollutants from cheap furnishings or air conditioning units ...  in these challenging economic times, it's all too easy to end up working for a toxic company or in a toxic office.

Of course the two can be separate but, often, they're combined. Companies who care about employees provide a healthy, enjoyable, motivating environment. See my story at https://www.intheblack.com/articles/2018/05/01/green-offices-boost-productivity

The problem arises when we accept poor conditions of work, for fear of financial loss or of loss of status when, in the long-term, we are jeopardising something even more important - our good mental and physical health.

Muscular pain, disturbed sleep and excess use of alcohol or painkillers are all early warning signs of burnout. There is always a tipping point at which no one can reasonably be expected to function.  Going against your values or beliefs, in both your work and how you should be compensated for it, ultimately causes unsustainable stress.  

Simply put, the crushing outcome of a range of detrimental workplace factors, from poor air quality or building design, to a management culture determined to grow profits at employee expense, can be physical and emotional breakdown.

In Toxic People: Decontaminating Difficult People At Work Without Using Weapons Or Duct Tape, Marsha Petrie Sue suggests the negative health consequences of absorbing toxic people's venom range from eczema and increased anxiety to insomnia and high blood pressure. https://www.amazon.com/Toxic-People-Decontaminate-Difficult-Without-ebook/dp/B000XU8DQA

The physical impact of 60 or 80 hour weeks, substandard office equipment or poor air quality, are more difficult to quantify but can range from mild annoyances - rashes, allergies, and frequent colds - to more serious health conditions including autoimmune diseases aggravated by stress.

So, if you work in an office toxic office, what should you do?

Unfortunately it's unlikely you can bring about changes to your employer's policies or practices, unless you are prepared to tackle illegalities or mistreatment through legal channels. If not, you're better to change yourself - and leave the company.

Preparation is key but not continuing to absorb more toxic treatment is just as vital.

- Research employment opportunities in your field, and if they are increasingly limited, think about retraining. It is estimated that, in 20 years, almost 50% of the jobs that exist now will be taken over by robots or computers. https://www.fastcompany.com/3067279/you-didnt-see-this-coming-10-jobs-that-will-be-replaced-by-robots

- Network, network, network. Tell everyone you know that you are looking to move on and use social media platforms to grow contacts and opportunities. 

- Have an F*** Off fund. Save at least three months salary to survive on. Consider backdating any claim you have against your employer. Or see if you are able to access some of your superannuation to make a fresh start.

- Limit your expenses and overheads as well as prepare a projection of your financial commitments for the next six months, or year, while you transition. 

- Trade up or scale down. Perhaps there's a job higher up the employee rank for you at another company and the only prerequisite is a commitment to upskilling while onboard. Or maybe your skills would be better suited to a freelance business where only you are the employee. If you’re having trouble finding the job that will provide your next best career move, consider a "bridge job"  that will get you out of that toxic environment while also affording you the time to search for a new job with more commitment.

- Make a leap of faith. You could wait until circumstances are perfect to leave a toxic company but that time is before the emotional, psychological and physical toll is too extreme to reverse. 

Need more reasons to call it quits? See https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/articles/2016-01-25/5-reasons-to-leave-your-toxic-job-right-now

 

10 easy ways to get healthier every day

1.       Add a fresh juice to your day. I love this easy, liver function-booster from Michael T.Murray’s Complete Book of Juicing: 2cm slice ginger, 3 apples cut into wedges, ½ teaspoon cinnamon. Juice the ginger, followed by the apples. Pour into a glass, add the cinnamon and stir.

2.       Spend 10 minutes morning or night doing active relaxation to move the nervous system from fight or flight to heal and repair mode. Try the free app Yoga Nidra Lite.

3.       Stretch every part of your body, after you have warmed up, to maintain lifelong flexibility. Try https://www.verywellfit.com/relaxing-total-body-stretches-1231150

4.      Take a high quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to boost nutritional status, unless you are a perfect eater under no stress! I like USANA’s Cellsentials.

5.       Filter your tap water – no plastic bottles, thanks – and drink more of it. Avanti's Fluid Vacuum Bottle in Rose Gold, from David Jones, fits the health and style bill.

6.       Switch the sugar in your tea or coffee to organic Stevia.

7.       Watch a funny show or youtube video. Laughter creates nitric oxide in the body that relaxes blood vessel walls for heart health and sets off a chain of feelgood chemicals.

8.       Switch from dairy milk in your latte to coconut, almond, or organic soy. Approximately 65 per cent of people have a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy.

9.       Use your bath or shower to de-stress and detox. Add chemical-free washes or organic oils that contain pure lavender, ylang ylang, frankincense or other appealing scents. Throw some Epsom salts in the bath to increase the body’s supply of magnesium, essential for the health of bones and muscles.

10.    Forgive the angry driver, the obnoxious colleague, or the demanding boss. An increasing cascade of research shows that anger, resentment and frustration produce health-destructive chemicals.

 

 

How bad news hurts your health - and what you can do about it

Mass redundancies, anti-humanitarian international policies, school shootings and celebrity suicides … it seems the supply of bad news is never-ending. Add to that the fact that we are tuned in 24/7 thanks to social media and you have the perfect equation for stress-related ill health.

As early as the 1970s, it was neuroscientist and pharmacologist Candace Pert, author of Molecules of Emotion, who showed that emotions create chemicals in the body that influence cells and even genetic response – now part of the new science known as epigenetics

Simply put, a constant supply of bad news can not only depress your mood but your immune system, making you more prone to acute and chronic diseases. In contrast, an optimistic attitude or a regular connection to bliss, can literally change not only your daily life but your long-term health outcomes.  

In a study of Optimism and Cause-Specific Mortality Harvard researchers have found that optimism had a significant association with a decreased risk of death from cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and infections. Even after controlling for other health factors those in the quarter with the highest optimism scores had a nearly 40 percent lower risk for heart disease and stroke than those in the lowest quarter.

In 2004, University of California researchers found that the genes of people with high levels of eudemonic happiness, a form of bliss based on meaning or self-realisation, function better by keeping inflammatory gene expression low and antiviral and antibody expression high.

 Another study, Optimistic Attitudes Protect Against Progression of Carotid Atherosclerosis in Healthy Middle-Aged Women, published in the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, observed that in the three years following menopause, heart disease tended to progress more slowly in optimistic women compared with their pessimistic peers.

As the current priestess of holistic medicine and author of Making Life Easy, medical practitioner Dr Christiane Northrup, affirms: your beliefs are your biology, with positive thoughts accompanied by positive changes in your body’s biochemistry and negative thoughts tending to depress both your mood and your immunity.

Northrup suggests a positive attitude needs to be practiced because repetitive thoughts create faster and larger neural pathways in the brain. Saturate the brain with constant bad news, however and the pathways you build will eventually go straight to ill health

Health boosters in a bad news era

1.       Regularly turn off bad news media. For example, catch up with the news you need to once a day, perhaps, don’t saturate your life with it.

2.       Surrounding yourself with things you love – art, furniture, luxury linens and the trappings of a sophisticated lifestyle can help boost the feelgood factor but no more so than simply having good music, photos of loved ones, or fresh flowers, within your immediate environment.

3.       Meditation may cheat a pessimistic or stressed brain of its misery fix: MRI scans taken for an American study funded by the National Institute of Health and the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Opportunity Fund  found that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” centre, the amygdala, appears to shrink. The result: pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker and disappointing or calamitous events, such as losing a crucial business deal, have less impact on your emotional state.

4.       Avoid pessimistic people, particularly in business.

5.       Feel that you can make a difference, in your business, or in your community.  Volunteer for projects that assist not just your goals but others. Altruism can protect you from extreme stress and boost your health in many ways, including allowing you to feel more powerful to effect change.

6.       Make a conscious effort to see your glass as half full, not half empty.

7.       Rather than totalling problems, total blessings. A daily dose of gratitude can help shore up your immune system.

 

 

 

 

Reduce the cost of obesity to your company

 

Obesity results in a loss of productivity of $3.6 billion a year* with the total loss of wellbeing costing $49.9 billion a year*.

With around 68% of Australians currently overweight or obese, and this figure expected to pass 70% by 2025, the cost to employers is rising as fast as the numbers on the scales.

Sick days, and diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoarthritis, impact the bottom line through redundancies and staff loss as well as poor performance.

Here's a few easy action plans to maximise health and productivity.

1. Encourage or compel staff to take regular breaks to stretch, walk, or have a healthy drink or snack and not remain at their desks eight hours a day, including during their lunch break. Research shows the brain requires these time-outs to function more efficiently and that the body also suffers from lack of movement. Yes, long periods sitting at the desk is the new health hazard that medical researchers warn can lead not just to obesity but to other disease. For ideas about how to stay fit in your lunch hour, go to http://www.afr.com/lifestyle/get-fit-and-fabulous-in-your-lunch-hour-20160112-gm42cm

2. Make healthy refreshments easily available to employees. This may include filtered water, herbal teas and decaffeinated drinks as well as fresh fruit. Ditch the junk food machine and discourage reliance on caffeine for a pep up rather that high fibre, low-GI foods that will sustain energy and wellness. Check out services such as www.fruitatwork.com.au

3. Give your building a health check. Successful companies like Google and Landlease are already reaping the benefits of a workplace that is environmentally superior.  www.intheblack.com/articles/2018/05/01/green-offices-boost-productivity Does your building have good ventilation and light as well as greenery to help purify the air, or do employees work in poor quality air conditioning under artificial lighting with machines such as printers clustered around the office? Have natural materials been used in both construction and office furniture or are employees subjected to off-gassing from low quality materials?

4. Care for mental health as well as physical health as the two are inextricably linked. Are employees supported in their work by a management that proactively supports and encourages workers, to reduce toxic stress levels, or is it every man, or woman, for themselves? https://www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/about-our-work/workplace-mental-health

5. Offer perks or benefits such as a gymnasium membership, or discounted massages, to help employees practice self-care. https://www.careerattraction.com/got-millennials-workplace-perks-attract-next-generation-bright-workers/

*Access Economics 2008

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Get health smart about smart devices

I'm guessing that a mobile, tablet and wi-fi service are an essential part of your work life.

But international researchers and health practitioners have growing concern about exposure to electromagnetic radiation. No concrete evidence doesn't equal no risk, they say. It may simply be too early to document effects.

Meanwhile, play it smart with these simple ways to minimise exposure.

1. Turn wi fi off at night.
2. Keep wires or routers as far away from you as possible when they are on or, especially, when you are sleeping!
3. Keep devices as far away as you can, i.e. use them on speaker, or with headphones.
4. Dont carry smart devices right next to your body.
5. Have at least an hour before bedtime when you don't use screens, or buy orange glasses that protect you from the blue light that affects melatonin, a hormone necessary for sleep and a potent anti-cancer agent.

Having time when all devices are actually turned off too, will help save your sanity, as well as your health.

Five "bad" things that may actually be good for you

 

IF YOU want to live past 90, make sure you have a drink and a cappuccino.

Researchers at the University of California have found that those who drink moderate amounts of beer or wine, along with two cups of coffee, increase their chances to live a long life

The study, called "The 90+ Study," started in 2003 and examined "the oldest-old" age group - about 1,700 nonagenarians.

The study has found, among other things, that people "who drank moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee lived longer than those who abstained”.

The research found that subjects who drank two glasses of beer or wine every day decreased their chances at a premature death by 18%, and those who drank two cups of coffee a day decreased their chances by 10%. (Note that coffee and alcohol are not so great for people who suffer from nervous disorders.)

So, besides coffee, and a glass of your favourite tipple, what else might actually be good for you, that we think is bad.

Well, being a little bit chubby when you are older is also good. The same researchers found that "people who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than normal or underweight people did." Or as romance writer Dame Barbara Cartland famously said, ‘After 40 a woman has to choose between her face and her figure. My advice is, keep a lovely, plump pretty face, and stay sitting down.’

Previous research has found that a little stress can actually make you stronger and more able to manage stress. We also know that getting some sunshine, much maligned as a cause of  skin cancer, is also important to boost our supplies of vitamin D, which helps keep our bones and immune system healthy.

Sadly, there is no good news, yet, on ice-cream, chocolate cake, cocktails and tv bingeing.

 Everything in moderation, including moderation

Everything in moderation, including moderation

Losing the last five kilograms

If you've been on a diet, but you can't seem to lose those last five kilograms - as soon as they come off, they stack on again - I'm here to tell you it's not your fault.

When you eat more kilojoules than you need, your fat cells increase in number, size or both.  But here's the thing: when you go on a diet, the size of those fat cells may decrease but their number might not. In other words, those greedy little cells are just waiting to blow up again.

What's more, you may be battling against enzymes that want to store fat. In fact, your body may be producing more lipoprotein lipase that promotes fat storage than someone who is not overweight.

That's why people with extra fat cells tend to regain lost weight rapidly.  Not fair is it?

So what can you do?

* Watch portion size. Using a smaller plate is an easy way to fool your brain and stomach.

* Choose high nutrient, low kilojoule foods such as fruits and vegetables, legumes and wholegrains. Make sure your protein is lean too - cut off fat on meat and eat plenty of wild caught fish or non-GM tofu.

* Watch those alcohol kilojoules and just say no to the cheese plate or dessert.

* Most importantly, exercise! Even if it's just a 30 minute walk. Here's the good news: physically active people have less body fat than sedentary people do. Even without weight loss, exercise will help body fat decrease and lean mass increase. That means you'll increase your chance of slimming down and staying that way.

* See a food coach who can help you on your weight loss journey.

Fishy business

Fish is packed with important nutrients, including protein, vitamin D and omega 3s. But which type of fish is best?

For starters, go for fish that is wild caught. While salmon is very popular with many gourmets, it is not the best choice if it is farmed – typically the case with fresh salmon, especially from Tasmania. Tassal, Australia's biggest salmon company, quadrupled its use of antibiotics between 2012-13 and 2015-16. The World Health Organisation has raised alarm over the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals (including farmed fish) that it said was leading to the rise of drug-resistant superbugs – "the greatest and most urgent global risk".

Tuna is also a poor choice because it contains higher levels of mercury than smaller fish and should definitely be avoided by pregnant women.

Instead, try a delicious piece of locally caught bream, flathead, whiting or jewfish to get omega-3 fats and vitamin D for heart, brain and immune health. Studies show these nutrients not only lower risk of cardiovascular disease but help slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk of depression and macular degeneration. Fatty fish like sardines and mackerel pack an even greater nutritional punch.

If it’s prawns you love, check with your seafood outlet that they don’t dip them in a chemical called sodium metabisulphite to improve shelf life and colour. It can cause allergic reactions.

Tummy-soothing treats

You may have heard that oats can help you lower your cholesterol, because they are rich in soluble dietary fibre.

But oats are also good for calming a touchy tummy.

I love this delcious cookie recipe that means there's always time for a treat.

 

 Oat and Raisin Cookies from Delia's Cakes (Hodder & Stoughton)  75g butter  1 large egg, beaten  200g oatmeal  110g wholemeal flour  1/2 tsp baking soda  1/2 tsp salt  159g raisins  stevia to taste  Melt the butter.  When cool, add the egg.  Mix in dry ingredients.  Form into small balls.  PLACE ON GREASED BAKING TRAY.  Bake at 180 C for 16-18 minutes.   

Oat and Raisin Cookies from Delia's Cakes (Hodder & Stoughton)

75g butter

1 large egg, beaten

200g oatmeal

110g wholemeal flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

159g raisins

stevia to taste

Melt the butter.

When cool, add the egg.

Mix in dry ingredients.

Form into small balls.

PLACE ON GREASED BAKING TRAY.

Bake at 180 C for 16-18 minutes.

 

Give me sugar

If you're trying to lose weight, or get healthier, sugar is one of the first things that has to go.

But that doesn't mean you can't have a sweet treat.

Nature provides fruit but it also provides the herb stevia, which you can use in hot and cold drinks, or in cooking, to sweeten your favourite beverages and food.

The good news is that it's natural and a far better choice than artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which you should avoid. (Check the label of diet soft drinks and other "sugar-free" food for this nasty.

Sweet dreams.

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You can get more energy

Wired and tired can become a continual state of being when you’re under pressure to perform, or the amount of time you have hardly equals your workload. Caffeine becomes a crutch, alcohol use soars, and you wake as tired as you were the night before. 

Worse, well-meaning friends or health food zealots may suggest the obvious – get more sleep and drink less – or the unpalatable – a wheatgrass shot first thing a.m.  

Yet, somewhere in between the two extremes is a solution to boosting energy and damping down draining stress.

Adrenal fatigue

If you’re struggling to get out of bed as the day begins, have diminished morning energy, need a cup of coffee to get going, suffer from light headedness, often associated with dizziness when you sit up and attempt to stand after lying down, chances are you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, says Dr Michael Elstein, a GP, author, international speaker and anti-ageing specialist. www.eternalhealth.org

“This condition can also lead to sugar and salt cravings, moodiness, irritability, poor frustration tolerance and moodiness and is a very common disorder often associated with long term unresolved stress,  insomnia  and  anxiety,” he says. 

“Some would say that the multi-tasking demands of 21st century living and our constant need to stay connected to our iPhones and social media, have overwhelmed our adrenal glands so that they can no longer provide us with sustainable energy.  Lethargy, lack of motivation and enthusiasm as well as fatigue are the consequence.”

Dr Elstein treats adrenal fatigue by assessing adrenal hormone status and suggesting a treatment strategy that involves diet, nutritional supplements, herbal remedies and meditation. He says as little as 12 minute of that latter a day can assist in lowering stress hormones that are part of a vicious fatigue cycle.

Lifestyle factors

Naturopath Stephen Eddey says that getting lifestyle right – restful sleep, good diet, reduced stress, regular exercise and sensible drinking – is the first step to improving fatigue.

Eddey is a convert to the Paleolithic diet and tells clients: “Get off refined grains, breads, pastas, rice – grain turns into sugar in the body - and get off dairy. Focus on vegetables, meats, fish and eggs but, basically, lots of plant food. Eat organic if you can.”

If you’ve witnessed the rise and rise of fermented foods – sauerkraut, kimchi and humble yoghurt – you may have also keyed into the fact that these, too, are linked with feeling good.

“Research indicates that our emotions, mental function and the regulation of our circadian rhythms which allow us to enjoy restful sleep hinge on the germs which reside in our gut,” says Dr Elstein.

Besides the obvious – eat more vegetables at every meal – consider taking a daily multivitamin and mineral from a premium brand such as Metagenics, www.metagenics.com.au, Lifestream www.mrvitamins.com.au or Usana www.healthnutritionals.com.au to boost fatigue-fighting zinc, iodine and vitamin B12. A blood test may be needed to identify what particular nutrients you are lacking in.

Eddey also suggests a daily supplement of ubiquinol, the active form of CoQ10, to assist with energy production.

Resolving stress

Beyond what you eat - and getting enough sleep and exercise - there is help for those who feel they can never get on top of a punishing schedule.

Adaptogens such as panax ginseng, withania, shisandra, turmeric and rhodiola can help the body resist the stress response, says Eddey, although you may want to check dosage with a professional practitioner.

But, let’s take a step backwards. Stress itself can pull the plug on vitality faster than just about any other poor lifestyle habit. In fact Eddey believes the impact of continual tension on the body, and on energy, is underestimated.

Being in a continual fight or flight mode not only drains vitality but can lead to increased risk of inflammation and disease. Anything you can do to relax, switch the nervous system into parasympathetic mode, and lower stress hormones, will pay dividends. Opt out of social media after work; but definitely avoid using smart devices before bed as there is some evidence they can disrupt sleep hormones; and schedule relaxation as you would any other commitment.

For a relaxation CD you can play even when you are sleeping go to www.thecalmzone.com.au

Surviving your return to the office

The first week back at work can be rough. Keep holidays in your routine, and keep the happiness in your life, by shaking up your schedule and inserting some fun or me time.
1. Put your swimmers in your bag and have a cool dip on the way home.
2. Listen to your favourite music, on headphones, if your work allows. Join Spotify and get a weekly mix, just for you.
3. Make sure you take an hour out for lunch NO MATTER what. Eating at your desk is bad for digestion and mental healt...

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