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Tips for coping with holiday stress

By Dr. Katy Kamkar

Do you feel more stressed during the holiday season? Though, the holiday season is a time of joy, family gatherings and celebrations, for many people, it can also be a stressful time because of the numerous demands placed on them.

Various factors could contribute to more stress during the holiday season:

  • The number of social obligations such as family gatherings, friend gatherings, and holiday parties that people at times have to attend to could lead to anxiety and stress and feeling exhausted.
  • Tensions or conflicts occasionally arise during social gatherings.
  • At times, certain family members or close friends have not seen one another for several months or more, which could lead to some stress at the gatherings, in particular if strains in relationships exist.
  • Upsetting or traumatic events that have occurred during a holiday season could bring upsetting memories and in turn, feelings of sadness and isolation.
  • The death of a loved one or the inability to be with loved ones during the holiday season can contribute to feelings of loneliness and unhappiness.
  • Financial expenses and pressures can lead to financial strains and for some into financial debts.
  • Traveling, including booking for a flight and uncertainties in regards to weather conditions and delays, can be stressful. Traveling could also increase financial expenses.
  • Gift shopping, preparing holiday meals, and home decorations can contribute to more stress and fatigue.
  • The expectations and pressures we put on ourselves, including for instance wanting to have the “perfect gift, perfect meal or perfect home decorations” could contribute to unrealistic expectations, and, in turn, to feelings of disappointment.
  • The tendency of overindulge on sweets, food, alcohol or caffeine during holiday seasons could also take physical toll.

Some of the signs of stress include:

  • Feeling more irritable or moody
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Becoming more negative
  • Headaches, muscle tension or stomach problems
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty sleeping

Some tips for coping with holiday stress:

  • Time management: Plan things ahead of time. Make a list and prioritize your activities (e.g., shopping, gifts, meals, number of social gatherings).
  • Setting realistic goals and expectations. Reminding ourselves that things do not have to be “perfect” in order to be good. This also entails accepting the things we can do versus the things we cannot do. For example, accepting that there might not be enough time to attend all the social gatherings and that there might be a need to limit the number of social gatherings. Accepting that some of the desired gifts cannot not be purchased because of the financial expenses.
  • Setting up a budget and sticking with it. Planning and budgeting and keeping track of holiday spending can help prevent financial strains and feeling increased stress post holidays.
  • Sharing and delegating tasks and responsibilities, including holiday meals, home decorations and shopping and gifts. Asking for help, dividing responsibilities, sharing some activities or responsibilities can help alleviate stress, feelings of being overwhelmed with all the demands, and also create a sense of togetherness.
  • If you feel lonely or sad during the holiday seasons, seek social support among friends or family. Some groups or religious organizations can provide you with great opportunity to meet people and not being alone.
  • Taking care of self. Setting up proper sleep hygiene; reducing negativity; engaging in a regular pleasurable activity (e.g., taking a walk; listening to music; reading a book); eating healthy diet; limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption and sweets; and doing regular physical exercise.
  • If suffering from a substance use problem, holiday season can be difficult due to the social gatherings and the use of alcohol during those times. An online guide from CAMH called “Low Risk Drinking Guidelines” helps to reduce the harms related to alcohol use. Here are some more helpful tips from CAMH to lower your risks as a host when having a party.
  • Helping those in need can provide a good feeling. You can help out at a food bank or other organizations or donate clothes or toys to those in need.
  • Seeking professional help, family doctor or a mental health professional, if you need it. If the signs of stress last for some period of time, increasing your overall distress level or interfering with your day to day functioning, then it might be important to consult a health care professional.

Remind yourself to enjoy the moment and the present time and the experiences that holiday seasons bring.

November 30, 2009 source: CTV News


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The 8 germiest places in the mall

By Cari Wira Dineen, Health.com
November 26, 2011

(Health.com) — During the craziness of the holidays, the last thing you want is to get sidelined with a cold, flu, stomach bug — or worse. But while you’re checking items off your shopping list, you may be exposing yourself to germs — like flu viruses, E. coli, and staph — that can make you sick.

“Anywhere people gather is filled with bacteria and viruses, and a crowded shopping mall is a perfect example,” says Philip Tierno, Ph.D., director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center.

With that in mind, we asked a panel of experts to rank the worst germ hot spots at your local shopping center. Check out the ewww-inducing results — and tips for keeping yourself in the clear.

1. Restroom sinks
The filthiest area in a restroom (and therefore in the whole mall) isn’t the toilet handle or the doorknob — it’s the sink, our experts say. Bacteria, including E. coli, fester on the faucet and handles because people touch those surfaces right after using the toilet, explains panelist Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona.
“The sink area is a moist environment, so bacteria can survive longer there,” he adds.
Watch out for soap dispensers, too — not only are they handled by many dirty hands, but the soap itself may harbor germs. When Gerba’s team tested liquid soap from refillable dispensers in public bathrooms, they found that one in four contained unsafe levels of bacteria.
Protect yourself: Wash your hands thoroughly after using a public loo: Lather with soap for at least 20 seconds, then rinse well. Use a paper towel to turn off the water and open the door. If there’s no soap or paper towels, kill germs with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, using at least a tablespoon of product.
Gerba also advises avoiding refillable soap dispensers (usually made of clear plastic with a removable lid) and only using liquid soap that comes in a sealed refill; if that’s not an option or you’re not sure, follow up with hand sanitizer.

2. Food court tables
Even if you see the table being wiped down, that doesn’t mean it’s clean, says panelist Elaine Larson, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University: “The rags themselves can actually spread harmful bacteria such as E. coli if they are not changed and washed regularly.”
Protect yourself: Consider stashing a pack of hard-surface disinfecting wipes in your purse so you can swipe the table before you sit down. “Look for ones that contain alcohol or another disinfecting agent in order to make sure you’re killing germs, not just wiping away grime,” Tierno says.

3. Escalator handrails
“In our testing, we have found food, E. coli, urine, mucus, feces, and blood on escalator handrails,” says Gerba. “And where there is mucus, you may also find cold and flu viruses.” Tierno concurs: “We’ve found respiratory flora on handrails,” he says, “which makes sense because people cough into their hands, then touch the rails.”
Protect yourself: Play it safe: Avoid touching handrails altogether, recommends Gerba, unless you absolutely have to — in which case, give yourself a generous squirt of hand sanitizer afterward.

4. ATM keypads
After testing 38 ATMs in downtown Taipei, Chinese researchers found that each key contained an average of 1,200 germs, including illness-inducing microbes like E. coli and cold and flu viruses, Tierno says. The worst key of all? The “enter” button, because everyone has to touch it, Gerba points out.
Protect yourself: “Knuckle” ATM buttons — you’ll avoid getting germs on your fingertips, which are more likely to find their way to your nose and mouth than your knuckles. And be sure to wash your hands or use sanitizer afterward.

5. Toy stores
Toy stores can actually be germier than play areas, carousels, and other kid-friendly zones, Tierno says, simply because of the way little ones behave there. “Kids lick toys, roll them on their heads, and rub them on their faces, and all that leaves a plethora of germs on the toys,” he says. The goods their parents don’t buy end up back on the shelves, where your kid finds them.
Protect yourself: If you make a purchase, wipe down any toy that isn’t in a sealed box or package with soap and water, alcohol, or vinegar (which has antimicrobial properties) before giving it to your child. And, of course, reach for the hand sanitizer after you’ve been hands-on in the toy aisle.

6. Fitting rooms
You won’t pick up much from the hooks or the chair. The germ culprit? What you try on.
“After people try on clothing, skin cells and perspiration can accumulate on the inside,” says Tierno. “Both can serve as food for bacterial growth.” You can even pick up antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), just by trying on clothes, says Tierno.
Protect yourself: Always wear full-coverage underwear (no thongs!) when trying on clothes, especially pants, bathing suits, and any other garment that touches your genitals or rectum. Bandage cuts or scrapes before trying on clothes, as “open wounds can be a gateway to dangerous bacteria,” Tierno says. And be sure to wash new clothes before you wear them.

7. Gadget shops
While you’re playing around on that new smartphone, you could be picking up germs from the thousand people who tested it out before you. “Most stores do clean their equipment,” says Tierno, “but they certainly don’t clean after each use.”

A study published last year in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that viruses easily transfer between glass surfaces (think iPad or smartphone faces) and fingertips. And a recent report found that of four iPads swabbed in two Apple stores located in New York City, one contained Staphylococcus aureus, the most common cause of staph infections, while another registered a bacteria associated with skin rash. That’s not even counting the cold and flu germs that might be lurking.

Protect yourself: Before you try out the latest gizmo, quickly wipe it down with a disinfecting wipe. And (yes, once again) use a hand sanitizer after you’re done.

8. Makeup samples
Heading to the makeup counter? You might end up picking up a staph infection right along with the latest lipstick shade. A 2005 study found that between 67% and 100% of makeup-counter testers were contaminated with bacteria, including staph, strep, and E. coli. “This study shows us that someone was sick or went to the bathroom, didn’t wash their hands, and then stuck their finger in the sample,” Tierno says.
Protect yourself: “Avoid using public makeup samples to apply cosmetics to your lips, eyes, or face,” says Tierno, who suggests asking for a single-use unit (you open it, try it, and throw it away). If that’s not available, use a tissue to wipe off the sample and then apply the product to the back of your hand.

The best line of defense: Buy then try. Returning stuff to the store may be a little more of a hassle, but it’s a heck of a lot better than bringing home a nasty bug.

Health Magazine 2011
source: CNN

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Apple or pear a day may keep stroke away

(CBS News)

It’s widely known that it’s important to have a lot of color in our diet when it comes to your fruits and vegetables. The deeper the color, the better the vegetable. But that pertains to the color on their outside.

A new study shows eating a lot of “white flesh” fruit – fruit that is white on the inside – could significantly reduce your risk of having a stroke – the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.

On “The Early Show” Friday, Prevention magazine Contributing Editor Dr. Holly Phillips said, “With strokes, the color on the inside matters more than the color on the outside. A new American Heart Association study … looked at more than 20,000 people over ten years. And they found that people who had diets high in fruits that on the inside were white had a 52 percent lower risk of stroke. It was actually primarily apples and pears — because they are white on the inside – (that were) linked with the lower risk of stroke.”

What is it about the white color that’s so pivotal?

“Two nutrients in particular,” Phillips said. “The first is fiber. Fiber has been shown to lower your blood pressure, probably the most important factor for reducing stroke risk. Another is a flavonoid that prevents plaque building up in the arteries, which also prevents heart disease.

“Both apples and pears, in particular, are high in those nutrients. Cauliflower, cucumbers, bananas – all of those things are high in those nutrients that prevent stroke.”

“The most important risk factors (for stroke), Phillips pointed out, “are high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Outside of that, if you cut out the smoking, you’re cutting your risk dramatically. Diabetes is a risk factor, and a previous history of heart disease or a family history of stroke, they matter also.

Phillips says, “One of the things I thought was so fantastic about this study it’s easy to do. An apple a day can really make a difference. Outside of that, controlling your weight, exercise, things that really cut down on heart disease in and of themselves. Eating an apple a day is easy.”

source: CBS News

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The economics of healthier choices

None of us have a money tree in the back yard. Many of us are feeling the pinch of tight economic times. Some of us are barely staying afloat …

Grocery shopping these days can be stressful, even more so if you are looking for healthier choices. Organic fruits and vegetables and hormone free / preservative free meat usually cost more than “traditional” foods. Trying to find foods low in sodium and sugar, free of artificial colours or msg can be a challenge.

The cost of eating healthy certainly can be high … but the price of not making an effort to make healthier choices could be pricier … people who choose not to invest in healthier options could be gambling with their well being.

Most companies who supply the foods in grocery stores are not concerned with keeping you healthy, they are more concerned about making a profit. To do this, they will take short cuts to increase productivity, they will add colours, sugar, salt and preservatives to make more money. The popularity of their products and their financial gains are priority one to them, not producing healthy foods.

Over the years many of the fruits and vegetables grown for us have changed. Companies have changed them intentionally … to look better, shinier and with less flaws. They have been altered to be more resistant to disease and pests. Unfortunately, these genetically modified foods have also lost some of their nutrition. The big conglomerates who changed the genes of these foods did so with the intention of increasing their profits, with little consideration for anything else.

Companies also spend millions of dollars advertising their processed food and beverages … and we are often brainwashed into buying their not so good goods. Often they taste yummy … many unhealthy edibles are full of creamy fats or packed with sugar … unfortunately they pollute our bodies, making us overweight, susceptible to high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, and several other health issues.

Discounted food items in the stores are most often lacking in nutrition and usually not very healthy. It’s not surprising that people in less fortunate financial situations have poorer health. They most often can’t afford healthier foods, and are forced to purchase less expensive (and less healthy) foods.

Even eating out usually involves having to spend a little more to help create a healthier meal. There can often be an additional charge to substitute a salad or an extra slice of tomato. Don’t kid yourself – you are worth it!

Every month I see more healthy options in the grocery stores, and as time goes on I believe more people will come to realize the importance of making healthier food choices … supply and demand will help make healthy food more affordable.

Investing in your health now is a much wiser choice than paying with your health later. The higher priced food items you choose now can help you avoid ugly health issues down the road. The sooner you start, the greater the benefits.

~ Pete Szekely

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Smiling Makes You Look Younger

Study Shows That People Think Those With Happy Faces Look Younger

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD By Jennifer Warner WebMD Health News

Nov. 11, 2011 – Go ahead and smile. It may be Mother Nature’s way of giving you a youthful appearance.

A new study showed that when people looked at photos of happy faces, they guessed the age of the person in the photo as younger than in photos of the same person with a neutral or angry expression.

Researchers say it’s the first study to show that facial expressions have a major impact on the accuracy and bias of age estimates.

The study is published in Psychology and Aging.

“Although age estimates can often be based on multiple cues, there are many situations in which a picture of a person’s face is the only information that is immediately available,” researcher Manuel C. Voelkle of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, and colleagues write.

“In particular, with the rise of private- or business-related social networks like Facebook, flickr, LinkedIn, and many others, it has become common practice to share pictures, often without additional background information,” they write.

Researchers say pictures of happy faces may be misleading because smiling or laughing creates temporary wrinkles around the eyes and mouth. In a picture, it is harder to tell the difference between temporary wrinkles and real ones.

In addition, smiling has been shown to make people look more attractive, which may make them appear younger.

Guessing Age in Photos

In the study, 154 young, middle-aged, and older adults guessed the age of 171 faces of young, middle-aged, and older men and women with various expressions portrayed on a total of 2,052 photographs. Each face displayed either an angry, fearful, disgusted, happy, sad, and neutral expression.

The results showed facial expressions had a big effect on the accuracy of age estimates.

Compared with other facial expressions, the age of neutral faces was estimated most accurately.

Meanwhile, the age of happy or smiling faces was most likely to be underestimated by an average of about two years.

Researchers say the age of the person guessing also played a role.

Overall, people found it harder to guess the age of older faces than younger faces. And the older people were, the worse they were at correctly guessing someone’s age.

But older and younger adults were better at guessing the age of people their own age compared with other age groups.

SOURCE: Voelkle, M. Psychology and Aging, online, Sept. 5, 2011 WebMD


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Contrast of food, dinnerware affects eating habits: Study

If you want to reduce the amount of unhealthy food you eat, you want to choose a plate that really contrasts with it; if you plan to eat healthy food and want to eat more, you want to choose a plate with a lower contrast says van Ittersum, an associate professor of marketing at Georgia Institute of Technology. Photograph by: iStockphoto, Thinkstock

Researchers have long known that large dinnerware can sabotage people’s diets. But a groundbreaking new study suggests the contrast of a plate or bowl with what’s placed inside it can also make us fat.

Reporting in the Journal of Consumer Research, investigators found that low colour-contrast between dinnerware and food — say, vanilla ice cream heaped into a white dish — significantly increases the likelihood of people over-serving themselves, while a higher contrast minimizes such behaviour.

Researchers say it’s all because of an optical illusion discovered more than 150 years ago — one that, until now, has been considered “of little practical use.”

The Delboeuf illusion finds that if two identical circles are placed side by side, one surrounded by a much larger circle and the other by only a slightly larger circle, people falsely perceive the inner circles as dissimilar in size.

Researchers Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum say this curious phenomenon helps explain why people — including nutritionists, who know better — consistently over-serve themselves when given larger dinnerware: they perceive the middle space on the dish as larger than it really is.

“It’s not simply that the bowl holds more,” says van Ittersum, the study’s lead author. “Even when you give people a specific target amount, they’ll pour more than the target into a big bowl, and less into a small bowl, because of this illusion.”

And because it’s the inner and outer circles that power the visual trick, the colour contrast between the two has a significant effect on serving behaviour. For example, study participants placing white pasta into a white dish served themselves significantly more than those placing red pasta into a white dish.

“If you want to reduce the amount of unhealthy food you eat, you want to choose a plate that really contrasts with it; if you plan to eat healthy food and want to eat more, you want to choose a plate with a lower contrast,” says van Ittersum, an associate professor of marketing at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Importantly, the researchers found that a table or tablecloth similar in colour to the dinnerware significantly diminished over-serving tendencies. This, again, comes back to the Delboeuf illusion.

“If you put a white plate on a white tablecloth, the illusion kind of disappears because you eliminate the outside circle and just focus on the inside circle,” explains van Ittersum.

Laughing, he says it’s “all very technical.” But the bottom line is that choosing dinnerware based on its size and contrast with the food or table is a much more effective strategy than education.

“Even when we tell people, ‘Listen, this illusion takes place, so please be careful when you serve yourself food,’ they still mess up,” says van Ittersum. “So at home, it’s especially important to take these preventive measures.”

As the journal article puts it, it’s easier to change our personal environment than to change our mind.


source: Times Colonist

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Don’t let others stress you out

Editor’s note: CNN contributor Amanda Enayati ponders the theme of seeking serenity – the quest for well-being and life balance in stressful times.

When I tell Pam, my stressed-out lawyer friend, that stress is contagious, she seems unimpressed.

“I have always kind of suspected that,” she says, “ever since in ‘Ghostbusters II,’ when the guys discover that people’s nonstop negativity has created an evil slime that threatens humanity. Then they find out the slime reacts to both positive and negative emotions, so they have a bunch of New Yorkers hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ to it in Central Park or something. And boom! The slime dissolves.”

I’m sort of speechless, though the comparison is oddly compelling.

It may seem more science fiction than science, but emotional contagion – though not the slime part – is a well-researched phenomenon.

“We pass emotions back and forth all the time, as part of every interaction we have with another person,” notes Daniel Goleman, author of “Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence.” “It’s usually subtle, but sometimes all too obvious.”

As it turns out, we humans are an empathetic bunch. According to Elaine Hatfield, professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii and author of “Emotional Contagion,” we can “catch other people’s anxiety, depression or stress. Whatever they’re feeling, we feel the same way.”

Studies show that even newborns may be capable of vocal and movement mimicry. In one classic study, 2- to 4-day-olds responded to the emotional distress of other newborns by crying as well. They did not respond similarly when they heard a synthetic cry.

And some are “spongier” than others – that is, they may be more prone to soaking up the emotional mood in the room. (I must be really spongy. I can get hives from a particularly acrimonious episode of “Real Housewives of New Jersey.”)

So how does contagious stress work in an era that seems particularly stressful – from the very real anxiety about economic troubles, environmental disasters, political discord, wars and terrorism, to the engineered frenzy whipped up by the-sky-is-falling politicians and talk show hosts? How toxic and far-reaching is contagious stress? Can it infect entire cities? Countries? Can our whole world be stressed out?

“There are documented cases of mass hysteria,” says Daniel Rempala, also a professor at the University of Hawaii. “For example, in a town where people think there’s been an outbreak and begin reacting with similar symptoms, even though it’s later found out there was no outbreak.”

If you can have that kind of contagion within a city or town, it’s conceivable that it could affect a larger population as well.

“We also know that following 9/11, even some people who didn’t experience the actual events were affected by post-traumatic stress. It appeared to correlate to how much television they watched,” he says.

And how quickly can contagious stress spread?

“The research is varied, but it can happen with amazing rapidity,” says Hatfield. “We can respond to people’s faces faster than we can have a thought. That suggests it’s so primitive, it’s probably going through the brain stem.”

Primitive! Faster than a speeding thought! This is bad, I think. There must be a way to protect ourselves from contagious stress during what must surely be one of the most trying times in history.

I reach out to Stanford’s James Gross who, I’m told, is the top expert on emotional modulation. Surely he’ll know what to do.

Says Gross: “We do see ourselves as living in more stressful times. But it is also true that in many historical periods people seemed to think they were in the most stressful times ever. It’s actually a very common experience to see yourself as living in a particularly stressful period.”

What are you saying?

“I guess I’m questioning the premise that we are living in necessarily more stressful times.”

I feel oddly deflated.

And maybe Gross picks up on that – all spongy-like – and decides to throw me a bone: “Having said that, I would certainly agree that lots of people are stressed, and there are many polarizing and upsetting things happening in the world. We are now much more aware on a day-to-day basis of world events than ever before. We have unprecedented daily access through a variety of media. And our nervous systems are built to seek out information all around us in an adaptive way because by knowing about bad things, you try to prevent those bad things from happening to you.”

So not only are we getting bombarded by the negative information, which we tend to seek out, but it’s also packing a much greater, multi-platform punch.

How do we go about regulating our emotions in the face of what may feel like a tsunami of stress?

“There are two key ideas here,” Gross tells me. “One is that the source of most of this stress is that we are much more rarely turned off. In the old days, people got upset and were able to go for a walk and get away. Now, with our various communication devices, we are never far from all sorts of bad news.”

The other key idea is that even though we feel that negative emotions may be entirely out of our control, we have considerable control over the emotions and stress that we feel. According to Gross, you can exert emotional control and regulation in a few extremely effective ways.

The first is to change the world – or at least the parts of the world you expose yourself to. You can do this by, say, turning off the television, not seeking out the goriest movies, staying away from the divisive forces in your life.

The second is to change your mind – that is, change your mental activity, either through attention or thinking. You can be exposed to something nasty, but you can shift your attention in a very rapid way so that you think of other things that are more positive or neutral. Say you’re stuck in a meeting with people who are very toxic. You can develop the capacity to shift or modify your emotional focus, and that can be immensely powerful.

The third is to change your body and how your body is responding. Gross suggests trying deep breathing or relaxation techniques to keep your body calm.

“We find in our work that people can use each of these strategies and it really changes the emotion and stress response – both the physiological and brain response and the brain areas associated with emotion generation.”

Goleman echoes this recommendation: “We are masters of our inner world. We can intentionally practice methods for relaxation that will counter the stress of negativity. The more we practice, the better it works as an inoculation against toxic environments. Find a relaxation method that works for you and practice it daily – the same way you would an exercise routine.”

And then there’s the flip side of contagious stress: contagious joy, happiness, bliss. Emotional contagion applies to positive emotions as well.

“Happily so,” observes Goleman. “When we’re with an upbeat person, we’re likely to catch their mood too.”

It reminds me of something Oprah once said she learned from Jill Bolte Taylor, the brain scientist who wrote “My Stroke of Insight”: “You are responsible for the energy that you create for yourself, and you’re responsible for the energy that you bring to others.”

I’ll sing a chorus of “Kumbaya” to that.

Post by: Amanda Enayati – Special to CNN
source: CNN Health