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Negative Thinking Linked To Dementia In Later Life, But You Can Learn To Be More Positive

Are you a pessimist by nature, a “glass half empty” sort of person? That’s not good for your brain.

A new study found that repetitive negative thinking in later life was linked to cognitive decline and greater deposits of two harmful proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s disease.

“We propose that repetitive negative thinking may be a new risk factor for dementia,” said lead author Dr. Natalie Marchant, a psychologist and senior research fellow in the department of mental health at University College London, in a statement.

Negative thinking behaviors such as rumination about the past and worry about the future were measured in over 350 people over the age of 55 over a two-year period. About a third of the participants also underwent a PET (positron emission tomography) brain scan to measure deposits of tau and beta amyloid, two proteins which cause Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia.

The scans showed that people who spent more time thinking negatively had more tau and beta amyloid buildup, worse memory and greater cognitive decline over a four-year period compared to people who were not pessimists.

The study also tested for levels of anxiety and depression and found greater cognitive decline in depressed and anxious people, which echos prior research.

But deposits of tau and amyloid did not increase in the already depressed and anxious people, leading researchers to suspect repeated negative thinking may be the main reason why depression and anxiety contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

“Taken alongside other studies, which link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, we expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia,” Marchant said.

“This is the first study showing a biological relationship between repetitive negative thinking and Alzheimer’s pathology, and gives physicians a more precise way to assess risk and offer more personally-tailored interventions,” said neurologist Dr. Richard Isaacson, founder of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at NYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical Center, who was not involved in the study.

“Many people at risk are unaware about the specific negative impact of worry and rumination directly on the brain,” said Isaacson, who is also a trustee of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, which funds research to better understand and alleviate age-related cognitive decline.

“This study is important and will change the way I care for my patients at risk.”

smile

More study needed

It is “important to point out that this isn’t saying a short-term period of negative thinking will cause Alzheimer’s disease,” said Fiona Carragher, who is chief policy and research officer at the Alzheimer’s Society in London. “We need further investigation to understand this better.”

“Most of the people in the study were already identified as being at higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, so we would need to see if these results are echoed within the general population,” she said, “and if repeated negative thinking increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease itself.”

The researchers suggest that mental training practices such as meditation might help promoting positive thinking while reducing negative thoughts, and they plan future studies to test their hypothesis.

“Our thoughts can have a biological impact on our physical health, which might be positive or negative, said coauthor Dr. Gael Chételat of Inserm/ Université de Caen-Normandie.

“Looking after your mental health is important, and it should be a major public health priority, as it’s not only important for people’s health and well-being in the short term, but it could also impact your eventual risk of dementia,” Chételat said.

Looking on the bright side

Previous research supports their hypothesis. People who look at life from a positive perspective have a much better shot at avoiding death from any type of cardiovascular risk than pessimistic people, according to a 2019 study. In fact, the more positive the person, the greater the protection from heart attacks, stroke and any cause of death.

It’s not just your heart that’s protected by a positive outlook. Prior research has found a direct link between optimism and other positive health attributes, such as healthier diet and exercise behaviors, a stronger immune system and better lung function, among others.

That’s probably because optimists tend to have better health habits, said cardiologist Dr. Alan Rozanski, a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who studies optimism’s health impacts. They’re more likely to exercise, have better diets and are less likely to smoke.

“Optimists also tend to have better coping skills and are better problem-solvers,” Rozanski told CNN in a prior interview. “They are better at what we call proactive coping, or anticipating problems and then proactively taking steps to fix them.”

Train to be an optimist

You can tell where you stand on the glass half-full or empty concept by answering a series of statements called the “life orientation test.”

The test includes statements such as, “I’m a believer in the idea that ‘every cloud has a silver lining,'” and, “If something can go wrong for me, it will.” You rate the statements on a scale from highly agree to highly disagree, and the results can be added up to determine your level of optimism or pessimism.

Prior research has shown it’s possible to “train the brain” to be more optimistic, sort of like training a muscle. Using direct measures of brain function and structure, one study found it only took 30 minutes a day of meditation practice over the course of two weeks to produce a measurable change in the brain.

One of the most effective ways to increase optimism, according to a meta-analysis of existing studies, is called the “Best Possible Self” method, where you imagine or journal about yourself in a future in which you have achieved all your life goals and all of your problems have been resolved.

Another technique is to practice gratefulness. Just taking a few minutes each day to write down what makes you thankful can improve your outlook on life. And while you’re at it, list the positive experiences you had that day, which can also raise your optimism.

“And then finally, we know that cognitive behavioral therapies are very effective treatments for depression; pessimism is on the road toward depression,” Rozanski said.

“You can apply the same principles as we do for depression, such as reframing. You teach there is an alternative way to think or reframe negative thoughts, and you can make great progress with a pessimist that way.”

By Sandee LaMotte, CNN     Sun June 7, 2020

source: www.cnn.com

Want to live longer? Be an optimist, study says


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How To Ease Some Of The Vicarious Trauma You May Be Feeling Right Now

It’s normal to feel anxious as you follow what’s unfolding in Ukraine. Here’s how to stay informed while protecting your mental health.

Thanks to social media, news reports and violent images that bombard us at all hours, we often experience what experts call vicarious trauma when a horrific event occurs ― like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which as of Thursday morning had reportedly resulted in at least 40 deaths. It’s in our physiological nature as human beings to feel some amount of empathy and sorrow for others dealing with a traumatic event. Even though we’re not physically present, we still feel the mental health effects of what’s going on.

This is applicable to any grim situation. An impending war, a relentless virus, a devastating mass shooting ― you don’t have to be immersed in the crisis to be affected by it. If you are dealing with feelings of unrest, anxiety or doom right now, know that it’s completely normal. And while you may not be able to abate it entirely, there are ways to make it more manageable.

Here’s some advice on how to handle the emotions associated with vicarious trauma right now:

Follow trusted sources.

Disinformation spreads like wildfire during times of crisis. Make sure you’re following credible sources and engaging with confirmed reports, tweets and other content. (And remember that just because a Twitter account is verified doesn’t mean it’s legitimate.) If possible, try to find multiple sources confirming the same information before you share or even necessarily believe a report. Spreading and buying into inaccurate stories, photos and videos only contributes to your own panic and anxiety, and the panic and anxiety of others.

Set a few boundaries to prevent excessive doomscrolling.

It’s unrealistic to suggest logging off entirely, but it’s vital to set some boundaries when it comes to social media. Stay informed, then give your brain a break.

For example, try setting aside a block of time to check in on the news. If you find yourself reaching for your phone at night when you can’t sleep, try directing your attention to a lighter part of the internet instead of scrolling through headlines.

“Social media is a gift and a curse, but I’ve begun using it to find someone or something new,” Racine Henry, a therapist and owner of Sankofa Marriage and Family Therapy in New York, told me in December. “I limit myself to the explore page of either Instagram or Twitter and click around until something piques my interest. Or I watch random videos on Facebook of people making an extravagant cake or applying a complicated makeup look. I will never do any of the things I watch, but it’s entertaining and there are endless videos available.”

Turn to mental health experts on social media.

During tumultuous times, I personally find it soothing to read quotes and hear takes from mental health professionals, whether on Twitter, Instagram or even TikTok.

There are tons of great therapists who offer soothing words of wisdom on social media (here are a few of my favorite follows). Whatever they post online shouldn’t be taken as direct mental health advice, but it can serve as a calming voice when your brain is otherwise racing.

Try to keep a normal routine.

Speaking of scrolling late into the night, do everything within your power to stick to your normal schedule. That includes bedtimes, wake times, working if you’re able to handle it, and any other regular aspects of your routine.

When tragic events happen, “we feel a loss of control in our lives and everything going on around us,” Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, previously told me. “The more we can stick to our normal routines, the more our brains and our bodies feel like we’re back in control.”

It can be hard to shake the emotions that arise when following the news.

Move your body in some way.

Our emotions need a physical outlet. To relieve some of that anxiety and tension, try gently moving your body. This could mean going for a walk, doing some light stretching, taking a home boxing class, or whatever it is that helps you feel good. The idea is less about exercise per se and more about finding a tangible way to get out your feelings. And speaking of which…

Cry if you need to.

It’s not frivolous to feel affected by what’s happening in the world right now. Suppressing anything you might be feeling only contributes to poor mental health. Experts emphasize that it’s vital to acknowledge how you’re feeling, instead of dismissing it in the hopes of gaining some sense of ease. That might include crying (and research shows that crying can be a therapeutic release).

Be mindful of your other coping mechanisms.

I’ve certainly defaulted to grabbing drinks with friends in the midst of a stressful situation or pouring a glass of wine as I park myself in front of the TV. In moderation, that’s a normal part of our culture as long as you’re not living with a substance use issue. But you should definitely be aware of these habits and be mindful of when they might turn into something more insidious.

If you’re turning to alcohol or other unhealthy coping mechanisms as a crutch, you should reach out to a professional or someone who can help you process what’s happening in a healthier way. Experts stress that these behaviors often worsen your mental health if they turn into a reliance.

Reach out for extra support.

This could be to your therapist, your loved ones, your co-workers or anyone you trust when it comes to sharing your feelings. Support systems are crucial during periods of unrest and trauma.

“When we are distressed by something, the more we talk about it, the better off we are going to be,” Reidenberg previously advised. “There’s only so much ‘yuck’ we can handle before it begins to come out in unhealthy ways … so if you are feeling distress, say so.”

Pay attention to how you feel and behave in the coming days. If you notice you’re withdrawing from others, not keeping up with a standard routine, or feeling intense emotions that make it difficult to function, it’s time to seek professional mental health advice. (The same applies if you notice this happening with loved ones.) This type of reaction is a completely normal response to what’s going on in the world; a therapist can give you the tools to make it more manageable.

By Lindsay Holmes   02/24/2022 

Source: Huffington Post

fine

 As Russia Invades Ukraine,
Tips to Manage ‘Headline Anxiety’

By Damian McNamara, MA

Turn to any news channel, news site, or social media platform, and you’re bound to see continuous updates on the situation in Ukraine, the individual and public health toll from the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing political and racial divisiveness in the United States, and more.

So how can someone who wants to keep up on developments protect themselves from stress, anxiety, and dysfunction when such negative news seems to be everywhere?

Today’s news will induce even more anxiety than usual. The sight of plants & gentle colour gradation alleviates stress. 15 mins walking in a green space dials down blood pressure, pulse rate, stress hormone levels (cortisol) & lifts mood but if that’s tricky my photos may help. pic.twitter.com/3ktiVe4APB

— Emma Mitchell 💙 (@silverpebble) February 24, 2022

“I think everyone’s experiencing some degree of anxiety about what’s happening in the world,” says Michael Ziffra, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago.

It’s a matter of severity; being anxious is a normal human reaction, he says. But watching the news becomes a problem if it “makes it hard for you to do what you need to do and just sort of enjoy life.”

Different people will react differently, but in general, “the sign that it’s getting a bit too much is if you cannot stop or pull yourself away from it,” he says.

It also can be a problem if someone spends a lot of time obsessing or ruminating about negative news while off screen, to the point that it disrupts their work or home life, Ziffra says.

When Stressors Stack Up

A cumulative effect is also possible when negative news updates come close together.

“Clearly, what we’re experiencing right now is unprecedented — all this happening at once — prolonged pandemic, the political turmoil, the war, climate change,” Ziffra says.

Long-term exposure to stressors generally worsens anxiety, he says.

Although the effects of chronic stress vary from person to person, many have feelings of depression, anxiousness, sleep disruption, and fatigue.

Uncertainty Can Up the Anxiety

A stressful event generally has a beginning and end, which can help people manage their reactions to it. In contrast, some of the current stressful situations carry more uncertainty.

“Look at what’s going on in the world right now. We still don’t know how things are going to play out with the pandemic or with the Russia and Ukraine conflict,” Ziffra says.

I stopped watching the news after Jan 6 bc the fixation was so unhealthy. For the first time ever something really snapped and I said you know what, I can’t do this to my anxiety anymore.

— Angela (@TheKitchenista) February 24, 2022

If someone has a relative or friends in Ukraine, keeping up on developments is normal, he says. But “people need to be mindful of the fact that they’re going to be very sensitive to the latest developments.”

Avoid looking at photos or watching videos coming out of Ukraine, he says, because they can be graphic. Instead, restrict your exposure to written news updates.

In addition, Ziffra suggests anyone feeling more stress or anxiety than usual seek out their friends and other social contacts. Because most of the country is not in a COVID-19 lockdown, it is easier to reach out to friends and family now for support.

Prescient Advice

In March 2020, ahead of the divisive federal elections and the beginning of the pandemic, Ziffra wrote “5 Ways to Cope with the News” on the Northwestern Medicine website. His suggestions on ways to avoid triggers and manage stress still apply today, he says.

Okay so it’s bad domestic and world news time, you wanna be in the know but you don’t want to make your anxiety worse. Here’s some tips:

– Rather than “hearing every side” prioritize news sources with some kind of journalistic integrity.

— jupitarian decadence as praxis 🍋 (@praxisastrology) February 24, 2022

He warned at the time that “developing obsessive habits of consuming news and information can be dangerous to your mental health.” In addition, social media can intensify the effects of news overload.

Also recognize that obsessing over the news is very common. Ziffra wrote, “We’re in very uncertain times, and times of uncertainty tend to be very anxiety-provoking for people.”

Michael Ziffra, MD,
associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences,
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Feb. 24, 2022

source:  WebMD


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How To Manage Fear Around COVID While Still Staying Safe

There’s a delicate balance between vigilance and prioritizing other parts of our physical and mental health. Here’s what to know.

At this point in the pandemic, many people are struggling to make decisions about how to behave.

Since the start of the pandemic, the bulk of messaging about COVID has been extremely fear-based. We’ve read scary headline after scary headline as we have kept tabs on record-high case counts, death rates and hospitalization rates. We have consumed stories of people’s life-threatening battles with COVID and long COVID.

As a result, many of us have become exceedingly fearful about navigating life in the pandemic. And for a valid reason: This has been a scary 22 months. The coronavirus is new and ubiquitous, and, for a long time, we didn’t have ways to effectively mitigate the risk, said Dr. Lucy McBride, a practicing internal medicine physician in Washington, D.C. There absolutely has been a reason to be afraid — to a degree.

Fear has a very important role in our lives: It keeps us safe by teaching our brains to avoid dangers and threats. In a way, it also helps people understand the risks associated with COVID so they can make informed decisions about what is and isn’t safe.

But hitting people with too much fear can backfire. Excessive fear can reduce our tolerance for risk, it can make us hyperalert and hypervigilant, and it can cause us to make decisions that don’t optimally serve our mental and physical health. The key is finding the delicate equilibrium.

How fear influences our behaviors

Our brains are devoted to learning about the world, said Dr. Greg Siegle, a professor of psychiatry, psychology and translational sciences at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. If we are rewarded for a good thing, our brains continue to seek out the good thing. If we are punished for a bad thing, our brains become fearful of the bad thing so that we learn to avoid it.

“Fear is very good at creating avoidance,” Siegle said. “If you want somebody to avoid something, you make them afraid of it.”

Of course, for many people — especially certain immunocompromised individuals — it makes sense to be fearful of COVID. The risk isn’t zero, and it probably never will be. Vaccines have significantly improved outcomes in immunocompromised individuals who get COVID, but those with weakened immune systems are experiencing higher rates of breakthrough infections, and some of those can turn severe. Their vulnerability greatly depends on what local transmission is like, and whether the people around them are vaccinated ― two things that are largely out of their control.

But when we become absorbed by fear, our brains prioritize that fear and we start constantly scanning for threats with wide eyes. When this happens, we stop processing other important healthy behaviors that might seem more optional — things like digesting food, sleeping and connecting with loved ones.

“Particularly, at this moment, with a ubiquitous virus that is highly transmissible, fear isn’t shielding us from coronavirus,” McBride said. “It’s actually, for many people, limiting their ability to meet their broader human needs.”

When our fear systems are chronically over-activated, our physical and mental health can deteriorate. That’s why it’s important to walk the right line when it comes to fear, particularly fear-based thoughts that are within our control. Previous research has found that when people are overwhelmed with fear, they become anxious and engage in more destructive behaviors like smoking, drinking and unhealthy eating. Being overwhelmed with fear can even demotivate us to seek out the rewarding things in life, according to Siegle. Plus, when it comes to public health messaging, too much fear erodes trust in public heath.

It’s crucial to be intentional and nuanced when communicating the risks associated with COVID so that people don’t dismiss what’s going on or become overly afraid. (It’s worth noting that how much fear we can tolerate is also very individual and cultural. Some people, and cultures, can handle and comfortably live with more fear and arousal than others.)

“Fear is natural and important — but maybe it shouldn’t take us over and be the primary ruling thing in our lives,” Siegle said.

“Fear is very good at creating avoidance. If you want somebody to avoid something, you make them afraid of it.”  – DR. GREG SIEGLE

How to manage fear while still being responsible and safe

If you want to develop a more rational and less fear-based approach, Siegle said you’ll want to look at your risk assessment in a nuanced, evidence-based way. Be intentional about where you get your news and information: Avoid sensationalist headlines, look for the facts, and try not to solely read articles that reinforce your fear.

Siegle also recommended using the microCOVID risk calculator, which helps people estimate their personal risk for various activities in a specific, nuanced way. You punch in your location, vaccination status, and the activity you’re interested in doing ― including with whom and for how long. Then, you determine how much risk you’re willing to assume (some, none or a lot) and the calculator provides you with an idea of what living with that risk level looks like.

Similarly, McBride’s biggest piece of advice was to find a trusted doctor who can translate all of the information about COVID and apply it to your unique situation.

Ultimately, you want to find meaningful activities you can engage in, with modifications when necessary, that can bring you comfort, joy and solace, said Nathaniel Ivers, an associate professor in the department of counseling at Wake Forest University who specializes in terror management theory.

It’s important to stay connected to others, Ivers said, and COVID has created so much isolation that has left us alone with our thoughts.

“Try not to sit in the thoughts and the emotions by yourself ― really try to bounce them off of other people because, in so doing, you’ll receive feedback on how reasonable and rational those ideas are,” he said.

Mindfulness can also be extremely helpful in bringing us back to the present moment. When we are fearful, we’re oftentimes future-oriented and thinking about all the things that could happen.

“Mindfulness requires us to be present-focused, non-reactive and non-judgmental about the things that are happening around us and within us,” Ivers said. It helps us focus on what’s actually happening, rather than worrying about what could.

Finally, if your fear has led to debilitating depression and anxiety, ask for help and find a good therapist or psychiatrist. Living with fear — especially in the time of COVID — is natural and normal, but there are helpful therapies and medications available if fear has become overwhelming and is negatively interfering with the quality of your life.

“Fear is human, and fear is important,” Siegle said. “We can respect it and we live with it, but we don’t have to be ruled by it only.”

By Julia Ries        01/29/2022

pandemic

 

Coronavirus Anxiety:

Coping with Stress, Fear, and Worry

Fears about COVID-19 can take an emotional toll, especially if you’re already living with an anxiety disorder. But you’re not powerless. These tips can help you get through this stressful time.
Understanding your anxiety
It’s a frightening time. We’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, with many places at least partially shut down, others struggling to reopen safely. Some of us are in areas where the coronavirus infection rates are getting worse. Others are bracing for what may come next. And all of us are watching the headlines and wondering, “When is this going to end?”
For many people, the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is the hardest thing to handle. We still don’t know exactly how we’ll be impacted, how long this will last, or how bad things might get. And that makes it all too easy to catastrophize and spiral out into overwhelming dread and panic. But there are many things you can do—even in the face of this unique crisis—to manage your anxiety and fears.
Stay informed—but don’t obsessively check the news
It’s vital to stay informed, particularly about what’s happening in your community, so you can follow advised safety precautions and do your part to slow the spread of coronavirus. But there’s a lot of misinformation going around, as well as sensationalistic coverage that only feeds into fear. It’s important to be discerning about what you read and watch.
  • Stick to trustworthy sources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization, and your local public health authorities.
  • Limit how often you check for updates. Constant monitoring of news and social media feeds can quickly turn compulsive and counterproductive—fueling anxiety rather than easing it. The limit is different for everyone, so pay attention to how you’re feeling and adjust accordingly.
  • Step away from media if you start feeling overwhelmed. If anxiety is an ongoing issue, consider limiting your media consumption to a specific time frame and time of day (e.g. thirty minutes each evening at 6 pm).
  • Ask someone reliable to share important updates. If you’d feel better avoiding media entirely, ask someone you trust to pass along any major updates you need to know about.
  • Be careful what you share. Do your best to verify information before passing it on. Snopes’ Coronavirus Collection is one place to start. We all need to do our part to avoid spreading rumors and creating unnecessary panic.
Focus on the things you can control
We’re in a time of massive upheaval. There are so many things outside of our control, including how long the pandemic lasts, how other people behave, and what’s going to happen in our communities. That’s a tough thing to accept, and so many of us respond by endlessly searching the Internet for answers and thinking over all the different scenarios that might happen. But as long as we’re focusing on questions with unknowable answers and circumstances outside of our personal control, this strategy will get us nowhere—aside from feeling drained, anxious, and overwhelmed.
When you feel yourself getting caught up in fear of what might happen, try to shift your focus to things you can control. For example, you can’t control how severe the coronavirus outbreak is in your city or town, but you can take steps to reduce your own personal risk (and the risk you’ll unknowingly spread it to others), such as:
  • washing your hands frequently (for at least 20 seconds) with soap and water or a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • avoiding touching your face (particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth).
  • staying home as much as possible, even if you don’t feel sick.
  • avoiding crowds and gatherings of 10 or more people.
  • avoiding all non-essential shopping and travel.
  • keeping 6 feet of distance between yourself and others when out.
  • getting plenty of sleep, which helps support your immune system.
  • following all recommendations from health authorities.
Plan for what you can
It’s natural to be concerned about what may happen if your workplace closes, your children have to stay home from school, you or someone you love gets sick, or you have to self-quarantine. While these possibilities can be scary to think about, being proactive can help relieve at least some of the anxiety.
  • Write down specific worries you have about how coronavirus may disrupt your life. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a break.
  • Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of. Try not to get too hung up on “perfect” options. Include whatever comes to mind that could help you get by.
  • Focus on concrete things you can problem solve or change, rather than circumstances beyond your control.
  • After you’ve evaluated your options, draw up a plan of action. When you’re done, set it aside and resist the urge to go back to it until you need it or your circumstances significantly change.
How to stop “what-ifs” from spiraling
Relinquishing our desire for certainty and control is easier said than done. If you feel yourself start to spin out into negativity or panic, grounding yourself in the present moment can stop the negative spiral and allow your rational brain to come back online.
 
The technique is simple yet effective: Bring your attention to your breath and your body. Focus all of your attention on the here and now: noticing the sights, sounds, and smells around you and what you’re feeling in your body. Continue to breath slowly in and out—gently bringing your mind back to your body and breath every time it drifts—until you feel more calm.
 
For audio meditations that can help you relieve anxiety and regain inner calm, click here.
Stay connected—even when physically isolated
Evidence shows that many people with coronavirus—particularly young, seemingly healthy people—don’t have symptoms but can still spread the virus. That’s why the biggest thing that most people can do right now to make a positive difference is to practice social distancing.
But social distancing comes with its own risks. Humans are social animals. We’re hardwired for connection. Isolation and loneliness can exacerbate anxiety and depression, and even impact our physical health. That’s why it’s important to stay connected as best we can and reach out for support when we need it, even as we cut back on in-person socializing.
  • Make it a priority to stay in touch with friends and family. If you tend to withdraw when depressed or anxious, think about scheduling regular phone, chat, or Zoom dates to counteract that tendency.
  • While in-person visits are limited, substitute video chatting if you’re able. Face-to-face contact is like a “vitamin” for your mental health, reducing your risk of depression and helping ease stress and anxiety.
  • Social media can be a powerful tool—not only for connecting with friends, family, and acquaintances—but for feeling connected in a greater sense to our communities, country, and the world. It reminds us we’re not alone.
  • That said, be mindful of how social media is making you feel. Don’t hesitate to mute keywords or people who are exacerbating your anxiety. And log off if it’s making you feel worse.
  • Don’t let coronavirus dominate every conversation. It’s important to take breaks from stressful thoughts about the pandemic to simply enjoy each other’s company—to laugh, share stories, and focus on other things going on in our lives.
Emotions are contagious, so be wise about who you turn to for support
Most of us need reassurance, advice, or a sympathetic ear during this difficult time. But be careful who you choose as a sounding board. The coronavirus is not the only thing that’s contagious. So are emotions! Avoid talking about the virus with people who tend to be negative or who reinforce and ramp up your fears. Turn to the people in your life who are thoughtful, level-headed, and good listeners.
Take care of your body and spirit
This is an extraordinarily trying time, and all the tried-and-true stress management strategies apply, such as eating healthy meals, getting plenty of sleep, and meditating. Beyond that, here are some tips for practicing self-care in the face of the unique disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
  • Be kind to yourself. Go easy on yourself if you’re experiencing more depression or anxiety than usual. You’re not alone in your struggles.
  • Maintain a routine as best you can. Even if you’re stuck at home, try to stick to your regular sleep, school, meal, or work schedule. This can help you maintain a sense of normalcy.
  • Take time out for activities you enjoy. Read a good book, watch a comedy, play a fun board or video game, make something—whether it’s a new recipe, a craft, or a piece of art. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it takes you out of your worries.
  • Get out in nature, if possible. Sunshine and fresh air will do you good. Even a walk around your neighborhood can make you feel better. Just be sure to avoid crowds, keep your distance from people you encounter, and obey restrictions in your area.
  • Find ways to exercise. Staying active will help you release anxiety, relieve stress, and manage your mood. While gym and group classes may be out, you can still cycle, hike, or walk. Or if you’re stuck at home, look online for exercise videos you can follow. There are many things you can do even without equipment, such as yoga and exercises that use your own bodyweight.
  • Avoid self-medicating. Be careful that you’re not using alcohol or other substances to deal with anxiety or depression. If you tend to overdo it in the best of times, it may be a good idea to avoid for now.
  • Take up a relaxation practice. When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can bring you back into a state of equilibrium. Regular practice delivers the greatest benefits, so see if you can set aside even a little time every day.
Help others (it will make you feel better)
At times like this, it’s easy to get caught up in your own fears and concerns. But amid all the stories of people fighting over wearing face masks or lining up outside gun stores to arm themselves, it’s important to take a breath and remember that we’re all in this together. As a quote circulating in Italy reminds us: “We’re standing far apart now so we can embrace each other later.”
It’s no coincidence that those who focus on others in need and support their communities, especially during times of crises, tend to be happier and healthier than those who act selfishly. Helping others not only makes a difference to your community—and even to the wider world at this time—it can also support your own mental health and well-being. Much of the anguish accompanying this pandemic stems from feeling powerless. Doing kind and helpful acts for others can help you regain a sense of control over your life—as well as adding meaning and purpose.

Even when you’re self-isolating or maintaining social distance,

there’s still plenty you can do to help others.

Follow guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus.
Even if you’re not in a high-risk group, staying at home, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding contact with others can help save the lives of the most vulnerable in your community and prevent overburdening the healthcare system.

Reach out to others in need. If you know people in your community who are isolated
—particularly the elderly or disabled—you can still offer support. Perhaps an older neighbor needs help with groceries or fulfilling a prescription? You can always leave packages on their doorstep to avoid direct contact. Or maybe they just need to hear a friendly, reassuring voice over the phone. Many local social media groups can help put you in touch with vulnerable people in your area

Donate to food banks.
Hoarding has reduced supplies to food banks in many areas, while unemployment and economic difficulties have greatly increased demand. You can help older adults, low-income families, and others in need by donating food or cash.

Be a calming influence.
If friends or loved ones are panicking, try to help them gain some perspective on the situation. Instead of scaremongering or giving credence to false rumors, refer them to reputable news sources. Being a positive, uplifting influence in these anxious times can help you feel better about your own situation too.

Be kind to others.
An infectious disease is not connected to any racial or ethnic group, so speak up if you hear negative stereotypes that only promote prejudice. With the right outlook and intentions, we can all ensure that kindness and charity spread throughout our communities even faster than this virus.

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A. and Lawrence Robinson                          October 2021
 
References
Pan, K.-Y., Kok, A. A. L., Eikelenboom, M., Horsfall, M., Jörg, F., Luteijn, R. A., Rhebergen, D., Oppen, P. van, Giltay, E. J., & Penninx, B. W. J. H. (2021). The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with and without depressive, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorders: A longitudinal study of three Dutch case-control cohorts. The Lancet Psychiatry, 8(2), 121–129. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30491-0
 
Mertens, G., Gerritsen, L., Duijndam, S., Salemink, E., & Engelhard, I. M. (2020). Fear of the coronavirus (COVID-19): Predictors in an online study conducted in March 2020. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 74, 102258. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102258
 
Millroth, P., & Frey, R. (2021). Fear and anxiety in the face of COVID-19: Negative dispositions towards risk and uncertainty as vulnerability factors. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 83, 102454. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2021.102454
 
Twenge, J. M., McAllister, C., & Joiner, T. E. (2021). Anxiety and depressive symptoms in U.S. Census Bureau assessments of adults: Trends from 2019 to fall 2020 across demographic groups. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 83, 102455. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2021.102455
 
Aylett, E., Small, N., & Bower, P. (2018). Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice – a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Health Services Research, 18(1), 559. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-018-3313-5
 
Kandola, A., Vancampfort, D., Herring, M., Rebar, A., Hallgren, M., Firth, J., & Stubbs, B. (2018). Moving to Beat Anxiety: Epidemiology and Therapeutic Issues with Physical Activity for Anxiety. Current Psychiatry Reports, 20(8), 63. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-018-0923-x


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8 Secrets of a Healthy Mind

We would – of course – like any encounter with mental illness to be as brief as possible

and, most importantly, to be isolated and singular. But the reality is that for many

of us, the illness will threaten to return for visits throughout our lives. It will be

a condition to which we will be permanently susceptible. So the challenge isn’t to learn

to survive only a one-off crisis; it’s to set in place a framework that can help us

to manage our fragility over the long-term. Some of the following moves, practical and

psychological, suggest themselves:

Acknowledgement

Being ready for a return of the illness will help us to calibrate our expectations and

render us appropriately patient and unfrightened in the face of relapses. We fell ill over

many years – our whole childhood might have been the incubating laboratory – and it will

therefore take us an age until we are impervious. We should expect to recover no more speedily

than someone who has damaged a limb and probably a good deal more arduously, given how complicated

a mind is next to a femur or a tendon.

Mental Management

We need to be rigorous with our patterns of thinking. We cannot afford to let our thoughts

wander into any old section of the mind. There are thoughts that we need to nurture – about

our worth, about our right to be, about the importance of keeping going, about self-forgiveness.

And there are thoughts we should be ruthless in chasing out – about how some people are

doing so much better than us, about how inadequate and pitiful we are, about what a disappointment

we have turned out to be. The latter aren’t even ‘thoughts,’ they have no content

to speak of, they cannot teach us anything new. They are really just instruments of torture

and symptoms of a difficult past.

A Support Network

A decent social life isn’t, for the mentally fragile, a luxury or piece of entertainment.

It is a resource to help us to stay alive. We need people to balance our minds when we

are slipping. We need friends who will be soothing with our fears and not accuse us

of self-indulgence or self-pity for the amount of time our illness has sequestered. It will

help immensely if they have struggles of their own and if we can therefore meet as equal

fellow ailing humans, as opposed to hierarchically separated doctors and patients.

We’ll need ruthlessness in expunging certain other people from our diaries, people who

harbour secret resentments against us, who are latently hostile to self-examination,

who are scared of their own minds and project their fears onto us. A few hours with such

types can throw a shadow over a whole day; their unsympathetic voices become lodged in

our minds and feed our own ample stores of self-doubt. We shouldn’t hesitate to socially

edit our lives in order to endure.

Vulnerability

The impulse, when things are darkening, is to hide ourselves away and reduce communication.

We are too ashamed to do anything else. We should fight the tendency and, precisely when

we cannot bear to admit what we are going through, we should dare to take someone into

our confidence. Silence is the primordial enemy. We have to fight a permanent feeling

that we are too despicable to be looked after. We have to take a gamble on an always implausible

idea: that we deserve kindness.

love

Love

Love is ultimately what will get us through, not romantic love but sympathy, toleranc

and patience. We’ll need to watch our tendencies to turn love down from an innate sense of

unworthiness. We wouldn’t have become ill if it were entirely easy for us to accept

the positive attention of others. We’ll have to thank those who are offering it and

make them feel appreciated in return – and most of all, accept that our illness was from

the outset rooted in a deficit of love and therefore that every encounter with the emotion

will strengthen our recovery and help to keep the darkness at bay.

Pills

We would – ideally – of course prefer not to keep adding foreign chemicals to our minds.

There are side effects and the eerie sense of not knowing exactly where our thoughts

end and alien neurochemistry begins. But the ongoing medicines set up guardrails around

the worst of our mental whirlpools. We may have to be protected on an ongoing basis from

forces inside us that would prefer we didn’t exist.

A Quiet Life

We should see the glory and the grandeur that is present in an apparently modest destiny.

We are good enough as we are. We don’t need huge sums of money or to be spoken of well

by strangers. We should take pride in our early nights and undramatic routines. These

aren’t signs of passivity or tedium. What looks like a normal life on the outside is

a singular achievement given what we are battling within.

Humour

There is no need for gravity. We can face down the illness by laughing heartily at its

evils. We are mad and cracked – but luckily so are many others with whom we can wryly

mock the absurdities of mental life. We shouldn’t, on top of everything else, accord our illness

too much portentous respect.

We should be proud of ourselves for making it this far. It may have looked – at times

– as if we never would. There might have been nights when we sincerely thought of taking

our own lives. Somehow we held on, we reached out for help, we dared to tell someone else

of our problems, we engaged our minds, we tried to piece together our histories and

to plot a more endurable future – and we started reading about what might be up with us.

We are still here, mentally ill no doubt at times, but more than ever committed to recovery,

appreciative of the light, grateful for love, hungry for insight and keen to help anyone

else whose plight we can recognise. We are not fully well, but we are on the mend and

that, for now, is very much good enough.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Su7S3hsnxuQ

The School of Life


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The Smell Of Lavender Reduces Anxiety

Lavender also has practically no side-effects in comparison to drugs like benzodiazepines and SSRI antidepressants.

The smell of lavender reduces anxiety, research confirms.

Lavender also has practically no side-effects in comparison to drugs like benzodiazepines and SSRI antidepressants.

Benzodiazepines, in particular, can cause headache, dizziness and an effect like being drunk.

Lavender, meanwhile, has a relatively quick relaxing influence and no other side-effects.

Dr Hideki Kashiwadani, study co-author, said:

“In folk medicine, it has long been believed that odorous compounds derived from plant extracts can relieve anxiety.”

The researchers tested linalool, which is a compound in lavender that has the relaxing effect.

Dr Kashiwadani explained:

“We observed the behavior of mice exposed to linalool vapor, to determine its anxiolytic [calming] effects.

As in previous studies, we found that linalool odor has an anxiolytic effect in normal mice.

Notably, this did not impair their movement.”

Lavender, though, must be smelt not absorbed into the lungs, to have its calming effect, the mouse study has found.

Mice that could not smell, though, were not relaxed by the linalool.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience (Harada et al., 2018).

source: PsyBlog  April 12, 2021

lavender

Study: 4 Herbs That Influence
Both Mood And Memory

Research finds the herbs that can improve mood, memory and induce calmness.
Chamomile, peppermint, rosemary and lavender can all affect mood and memory, new research finds.
Peppermint tea can improve alertness while chamomile does indeed provide a calming effect.
Smelling rosemary, meanwhile, improved the memories of people over 65 by an average of 15%.
Lavender, though, impaired their memory.
The conclusions come from a series of studies which compared memory and thinking skills before and after exposure to various  herbs.
Dr Mark Moss, one of the study’s authors, said:
“Peppermint has a reputation for being psychologically or mentally alerting.
It picks you up and makes you feel a little bit brighter, so we endeavoured to test this out by giving people peppermint tea, or chamomile tea, which is a more calming drink and then put them through some computerised tests.
We found that those people who had drunk the peppermint tea had better long-term memory.
They were able to remember more words and pictures that they had seen.”
Dr Moss continued:
“In contrast, the people who had the chamomile were slower in responding to tasks.
Rosemary meanwhile has a reputation about being associated with memory – even Shakespeare said ‘rosemary is for remembrance’ – and it’s also associated with being invigorating.
We have found that people are more alert after being in a room that has rosemary aroma in it.
We tested prospective memory – our ability to remember to remember to do something – on people over 65 years of age, to see if we could improve their ability and we found that rosemary could do that.
This is potentially very important because prospective memory, for example, enables you to remember to take your medication at certain times of the day.”
Dr Moss said the varied results for different herbs were interesting:
“It is interesting to see the contrasting effects that different herbs can have on both mood and memory, and our research suggests that that they could have beneficial effects, particularly in older age groups.
If you were otherwise healthy then this research suggests that there is an opportunity to have an improved memory.”
The findings were presented at the annual British Psychological Society Conference in Nottingham (26-28 April 2016).
source: PsyBlog     May 2, 2016


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How Anxiety and Your Diet are Connected, According to Experts

The baseline existential dread of the pandemic has made me more attuned than ever to my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms. These days, I’m especially mindful about not only checking in with my therapist and refilling my medication on time, but also about my intake of caffeine, booze, and foods I have trouble digesting, all of which seem to worsen my anxiety.
For the past several years, researchers have also been interested in the connection between what we eat and how we feel. Along the way, anti-anxiety diets have emerged, along with lists of foods to eat and avoid to keep anxiety at bay. Ever the skeptical health journalist, though, I wonder whether we have enough evidence to conclude that certain foods can increase or decrease anxiety. Can you really manage your anxiety through diet?
According to the experts I interviewed, the general idea that what you eat can impact your anxiety levels is consistent with the research so far. But they caution that the effects of specific foods on anxiety aren’t entirely clear, and they remain wary of broad recommendations about what to eat and what to avoid in order manage anxiety. Last but certainly not least, remixing your diet can’t replace therapy or medication.
“Quite a bit of research” shows that staying hydrated and following a balanced diet, with minimal caffeine and alcohol, can affect mental health, says Sarah Adler, a clinical associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford Medicine. We know caffeine is a stimulant, while alcohol can cause a rebound in anxiety following the short-term relief it provides, and it disrupts sleep, which “really primes your body to be more anxious.” We also know your body metabolizes the complex carbs in whole foods slower than the simple sugars in processed foods, which helps stabilize your blood sugar, creating an overall sense of calm.
This is consistent with what we know about the trajectory anxiety tends to follow: it feeds on itself, growing until it plateaus, then resolves, says Petros Levounis, professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “If you sustain this curve, meaning, if you stay with the anxiety, and your body experiences the plateau and the resolution, it teaches your body little by little, there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” he explains. “Your anxiety gets a little better.”
Aborting your anxiety, though — not only by physically fleeing the source of it, but chemically, by consuming alcohol or processed sugar, for example — makes this lesson harder for your body to learn, worsening your anxiety in the long run. These ingredients have an immediate, satisfying effect on your central nervous system. Complex carbohydrates that take time to digest allow you to sit with your anxiety.
Beyond healthy eating guidelines, though, a vast amount of literature has surfaced about the gut-brain connection, Adler tells me. Your gut, a.k.a., your intestines, “has something like 100 million neurons, and those neurons help you produce neurotransmitters,” including “feel-good” neurotransmitters like serotonin. “Whether [the neurons are] firing properly is highly influenced by what’s inside your gut.” Specifically, the balance of the bacterial community that inhabits in your gut — your gut microbiome — “plays a really important role in the function of those neurons.”
And now, scientists are just beginning to understand how specific nutrients might directly affect anxiety. An analysis of human studies associated treatment with omega-3 fatty acid, found at high levels in fish and seafood, with reduced anxiety symptoms. Adler cites studies that have demonstrated, for example, that diets low in magnesium increase anxiety-related behaviors in mice, suggesting that magnesium-rich foods like chard, nuts, seeds, and whole grains “can potentially have an impact on anxiety.” Some foods with possibly anxiety-lowering properties have been shown to increase the release of “feel-good” neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. The results are preliminary but promising.
Some anti-anxiety diets are based partly on the theory that links anxiety to inflammation, and call for eliminating supposedly pro-inflammatory foods like sugar, while upping your intake of anti-inflammatory foods like turkey and turmeric, for a few weeks. Indeed, “anxiety is generally thought to be correlated with a lower inflammation state,” Adler says. But “I think I would be really mindful of telling to people to cut out things.” Anxiety is associated with disordered eating behaviors, so heavily restrictive diets might make you more susceptible to them if you already struggle with anxiety.
Levounis is also wary of recommendations of foods based on whether they increase or decrease inflammation. “I’m not sure we’re at the point where we can pinpoint foods and how they relate to pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects,” he says. Suggesting or advising against a pro- or anti-inflammatory food to manage anxiety requires first, proving it’s pro- or anti-inflammatory, and then, whether eating it even translates to alleviating or worsening anxiety. “It’s a two-step process. I’m not sure if we’ve crossed all our t’s and dotted all our i’s on it.”
Adler also cautions against making “blanket recommendations for everyone,” since responses to specific foods vary from person to person. Instead, she advises being mindful of how different foods make you feel, not just in the moment, but the next day, as well. Maybe cut out a category of food, like processed foods, for a period of time, with the intention of noting how you feel. Then, gradually reintroduce them, asking yourself if you feel any differently when doing so. This way, you can identify specific foods within a category that affect your anxiety.
Particularly if you have an anxiety disorder — anxiety that impairs your ability to function as opposed to a healthy response to a stressful situation — you don’t want to address it solely through diet. “It’s concerning to think that somebody may rely on choice of food to treat bona fide psychiatric disorders while we do have treatments that have been scientifically proven to help,” like medication and therapy, Levounis says. If you have an anxiety disorder and want to experiment with your diet, he suggests speaking to a nutritionist or primary care doctor, but without neglecting tried and true treatments.
She believes therapy would ideally include talking about other factors related to emotional well-being, such as diet and exercise. “Managing your diet is a part of managing your anxiety,” she says. After all, any self-sabotaging habits you engage in beyond therapy can undermine the hard work you do within it. Rather than directing you to change your diet in a certain way, it can give you an understanding of “all the levers you can pull to help you reduce your anxiety.”
The idea of diet as one of several tools to manage anxiety really resonates. Personally, I’ll stick to my healthy-ish diet, along with therapy and medication, without getting too caught up in whether I should be eating X or Y and focusing on what makes me feel good.
By Melissa Pandika      Jan. 21, 2021
source: www.mic.com

How To Help A Friend With Anxiety When You’re Struggling Yourself

If you’re not in the right frame of mind to assist a loved one with their mental health, that’s OK. Here’s what therapists recommend.
Anxiety levels are through the roof, which can only be expected in a pandemic – and sadly some friendships are feeling the strain as a result.
Friends are catching up on Zoom, messaging on Whatsapp and in some cases meeting one-on-one to chew the fat over the pandemic, subsequent lockdowns and the huge life – and therefore, mental – impact it’s having.
Anxiety levels appear to remain the same as they were back in April, according to a survey by the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), which is monitoring the social impacts of the coronavirus in Britain.
Its most recent survey revealed 76% of adults are now “very or somewhat” worried about the effect of the coronavirus on their life – this has increased gradually since the end of the summer.
It’s getting to the point where some friendships are feeling increasingly strained, and sometimes one-sided – people are playing host to their friends’ venting sessions while struggling to deal with their own anxieties – and finding it hard to juggle the two.
“My friend unloads her anxiety on me, and now I feel drained,” was the title of a Guardian advice column submission that had heads bobbing in agreement.
“It’s becoming less about having conversations and more about listening to an exhausting monologue,” the advice-seeker wrote of their relationship with an anxious friend in the pandemic. They just didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with all of that anxiety, in addition to their own.
So, how can you support an anxious friend?
It can be hard to know where to begin when supporting someone who is anxious – especially as we all experience anxiety differently, and at varying levels. Not everyone has lots of people they can rely on for support, either.
A good place to start is by stopping and specifically asking your friend (or loved one) what they might want or need, says psychotherapist and member of the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy, Rakhi Chand.
This could be a distraction – why not chat about something that doesn’t involve the timeframe for a coronavirus vaccine or the state of American politics? – or it could just be offering a listening ear.

Some of the best support you can offer is letting your friend know you’re there to support them, and you can understand and empathize with how they are feeling, says psychotherapist Lucy Fuller. But it can be “very difficult” to be in the presence of someone who is feeling really anxious when you yourself are feeling that way, she adds.

If this resonates with you, it might be helpful to ask yourself what you need in a given moment. Chand says, for example, that sometimes she knows she needs fresh air or exercise to take her mind off concerns, and at other times she needs to sit and dissect the issues with her loved one.
Don’t dismiss your own anxiety in the process, she adds. “I think many of us are good at subtly dismissing ourselves by ending sentences with things like ‘but I’m really lucky, lots of people have it much worse.’ Whilst perspective is good, notice where you are on a spectrum of dismissing yourself. Too much of dismissing your anxiety won’t help it ultimately.”
Be gentle on yourself if you know you just haven’t got the bandwidth at that time, on that particular day, to shoulder someone else’s concerns. And do feel free to let them know that – albeit kindly.
“I would suggest being honest and letting them know that you are sorry it is so difficult for them, but that you are also on a cliff edge and can’t cope with it all right now,” suggests Fuller. “Comfort might be gained from just being together, even not talking.”
One way of doing this might be taking a walk together in natural and beautiful surroundings (a forest perhaps, along the coast, or even around the block or park) so you’re both moving away from the biggest points of stress for an hour.
“Try to share the activity of taking in the surroundings and being in the moment,” says Fuller. “There can be comfort gained from being in the presence of someone you love or have great respect for, without sharing words, but experiencing a parallel sense of calm.”
It’s also worth noting that if you are regularly finding you simply can’t deal with a friend’s anxieties because you feel under a lot of strain, it may be a sign that you too should seek some help. “If you regularly haven’t got space to support or listen to them then maybe it’s time to speak to a professional,” says Chand.
anxiety
What not to do
Therapists generally advise against trying to fix the problem for your friend – unless they specifically ask for your advice. The listening is more important.
“Often the last thing people need when they are feeling wobbly is for someone they rely on to try to fix the problem, or tell them what they ‘should’ be doing in order to make themselves feel better,” says Fuller. “It isn’t always as simple as that, so by coming supportively ‘alongside’ someone who is experiencing emotional difficulties is a very comforting way of supporting them.”
Telling a friend that you know how they feel isn’t usually helpful either, adds Fuller, “as it takes away the seriousness of the emotional condition that they are experiencing”.
Similarly, she cautions against your friendship catch-ups turning into an “anxiety competition” – which can develop, consciously or subconsciously.
“To say or suggest to someone that they don’t feel as bad as you diminishes their experience and can shame them into thinking that it isn’t safe to share their feelings with you,” she says. So best not to go down that route.
While venting is a “very healthy and important way to alleviate stress and anxiety,” ultimately if either of you need to vent more and you’re feeling totally overwhelmed by everything, doing so to a professional in person or using a mental health helpline might be a good solution.
This story originally appeared in HuffPost UK.
By Natasha Hinde        11/12/2020

How To De-clutter Your Life
And Reduce Anxiety In 10 Steps

You don’t need Marie Kondo to save you.

Last summer, mere months after swearing that I wasn’t going to have a second baby, I found out I was having a second baby. Oh, universe.

Of all the varied emotions (most of them happy, for the record) I felt over “li’l surprise,” as we’ve come to call him, one of the most prevalent was panic over how to fit him in our two-bedroom, already overflowing, toddler-dominated townhouse. Like, actually, where is this baby going to go? A drawer? It might be a drawer.

This panic quickly morphed to full-fledged anxiety over the clutter I find myself surrounded by on a daily basis. Toys everywhere. An entirely unusable basement thanks to boxes we never unpacked from our last move. A shame-closet so stuffed with junk we can’t even open the door.

When I was about 12 weeks pregnant, I booked an appointment with my therapist to discuss my feelings about bringing another baby into the world. I spent $160/hour crying to her about the state of my basement.

It was time to to act. For the baby, who deserves more than a drawer to call his own, and for my own mental health.

Clutter really is linked to anxiety
Clutter and anxiety go together like boozy date nights and surprise pregnancies: kind of inevitable.

“Messy homes and work spaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed. Yet, rarely is clutter recognized as a significant source of stress in our lives,” psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter wrote in Psychology Today.

The negative effect of clutter is especially prevalent among women, the New York Times notes, citing a 2019 study that found a cluttered home is a stressful home. Another study from 2010 found that women who perceived their homes as messy or cluttered had increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) throughout the day.

But, as Carter explains in Psychology Today, clutter is actually one of the easiest sources of life stress to fix — much easier than fixing a stressful job or relationship issues, for instance. You just have to do it.

It took work. It took time. But I am pleased to say I have significantly reduced the clutter in my house and my mind over the last several months. Here’s how I did it, and how you can, too:

1. Pick one project at a time
It can be easy to get overwhelmed by de-cluttering your entire house, so break it up into bite-sized pieces. Pick one project, such as going through your closet and donating everything you never wear. Then bask in the glory of finishing something.

“This will give you a sense of accomplishment as you see your successes little by little,” Carter notes.

Even just taking a single night off from Netflix will give you two to three hours, which is plenty of time to tackle that junk drawer full of used batteries and dead pens.

2. Be ruthless
Adopt a stone-cold attitude. Now is not the time to weep over that genius essay you wrote in Grade 4. If you don’t use it, and there’s little sentimental value, give it away or toss it.

Here is a random sample of just some of the crap from my house I either threw out, recycled, or donated over the last few months:

  • About 300 books
  • Two bookshelves
  • Dozens of kitchen appliances I have never used, such as an egg steamer (??)
  • The elliptical machine, nicknamed “El Bastardo” that has doubled as a laundry hanger for at least five years
  • My ex’s guitar (sorry)
  • Dozens of giant photo frames or framed art we were never actually going to hang again.
  • All of my impractical shoes. I’m about to be a mom of two, so let’s get real
  • An entire cupboard full of bath and beauty products I’ve never or barely used
  • An antique steamer trunk from the foot of the bed that my husband tripped over every. single. night.

3. Join a ‘Buy Nothing’ group
As satisfying as it is to drop off car loads of stuff at the Salvation Army or Value Village, chances are your neighbourhood has a “Buy Nothing” group where people will come to your house and take your stuff away, no questions asked!

That antique steamer trunk I mentioned? A mom in my neighbourhood took it, gave it to her pirate-obsessed son, and now he has his own treasure trunk. YARR!

4. Donate books
Yeah, I know. This one can be controversial for book lovers. And I am one, so I get it.

If you have the space, and don’t consider books clutter, great. But if you have a basement overflowing with multiple copies of Memoirs of a Geisha and every psychology textbook from your undergrad, it might be time to let go.

And let go I did. I asked my husband to do the same and we parsed it down to a meaningful collection.

And you know what? It didn’t even hurt. I’m happy thinking about other people finding joy in the books that were just collecting dust in my basement.

5. Invest in furniture that doubles as storage
Out of sight, out of mind. Consider investing in a piece of furniture that doubles as storage. I got this storage ottoman from Ikea, and now all of my son’s toy trains and tracks have a place to live other than my living room floor.

You can also re-purpose existing furniture for storage. One of my (now-empty) square bookshelves is now a handy toy shelf in my son’s playroom.

6. Look critically at the space you do have and how it can be used better
This one was huge for me, and important for anyone living in a small space. Instead of pining for more room (we very nearly moved), look critically at how your current space can be better utilized. For me, that meant tackling the biggest stressor of all … my basement.

After, many, many trips to Value Village and weeks spent sorting, I morphed my previously unusable basement into a playroom for my toddler. This allowed us to move all of his toys cluttering my living room, thus creating usable space (for me!) upstairs.


Suddenly, I could breathe again.

I gave my bedroom a similar makeover. We don’t have a third bedroom to turn into a nursery for this little nugget, but we do have a pretty large master. After giving away the steamer trunk, half my clothes, and moving a few decorative lamps, the back end of our room is now the “nursery.”


We’re ready for you, li’l surprise!

7. Rotate toys
Did you know kids get overwhelmed by having too much “stuff,” too? A 2017 study found that kids with too many toys get easily distracted and have lower-quality playtime. Fewer toys lead to more, focused creative play.

Researchers suggest that parents pack away most of the children’s toys, and rotate them a few at a time.

8. De-clutter your schedule
Congrats, your house is looking more like a house and less like an emporium of crap! But there’s still more de-cluttering you could do.

If you’re anything like me, you spend your weekends shuttling your kids to museums, drop ins, classes … anything to keep busy! But now that I have a house I can actually stand to spend time in, we’ve started embracing slow weekends at home, and everyone is better for it.

Send your kid to the playroom. Do an art project. Make pancakes together. You’ll all feel calmer when you use your down-time to actually relax.

9. De-clutter your socials
While you’re bettering your life, how about cleaning up your social media? Unfollow any accounts you don’t really care about (like all those baby product accounts you followed just to enter free giveaways), so that you’re more likely to see updates from those you do care about.

Take stock of how many online parenting groups you’re in (I’m in about 37, no joke). Mute the ones you don’t really need nor care to see on a daily basis.

Finally, if you’re doing any hate follows (we’re all guilty of this, right?), consider letting go. You live your life, little miss perfect mommy blogger we only follow to hate, and we’ll live ours. Go in peace. Enjoy your home-grown, organic mung beans.

10. De-clutter your mind
Your house, schedule, and social media are all cleaned up. All that’s left to tackle now is your mind (oh, just that?). Embracing mindfulness is a great way to help you roll with the punches, be more present, and control your reactions, parenting expert Alyson Schafer notes.

Here are some great apps to get you started:

  • Dan Harris’s 10% Happier
  • Sam Harris’s Waking Up
  • Meditation Timer
  • Calm
By Natalie Stechyson         01/06/2020


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7 Little Ways To Feel A Sense Of Normalcy Right Now

Who isn’t stressed over all this uncertainty? Here’s how to find some stability during the COVID-19 pandemic and the election cycle.
 
Let’s just say what we all know is true: things are not “normal” right now and things won’t look remotely “normal” for months to come. The coronavirus pandemic shows no signs of slowing down as we inch toward a cold winter, and post-election stress is adding an additional layer of unrest to an already unrestful year.
 
Normal days are something that many took for granted before all of this. Lindsey McKernan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the constants in our world create a rhythm for our day and ultimately build normalcy around us. And right now, the constants that we once knew are gone.
 
“When things are normal … you don’t have to put as much cognitive energy into anticipating what’s next because it’s the rhythm of the day,” McKernan said. “We’re having to put so much additional cognitive effort into what’s going on throughout the day.”
 
This additional cognitive effort contributes to increased stress levels across society, McKernan said. Establishing a sense of normalcy can help reduce the cognitive burden of the day and allow us to feel more in control of our own days.
 
But how exactly can we do that right now? Below, experts offer some of their best advice for creating a sense of normalcy as we continue through this far from normal time.
 
1. Establish a routine for yourself.
“When we’re in a period of heightened stress, we are grounded by routine,” McKernan said.
 
That’s why, in “regular times,” you might feel off if you go to bed later than usual or if you skip your weekend run. This year has been one huge version of that. There are many changes altering our normal routines.
 
McKernan said fighting those limitations that are now part of our day-to-day lives only adds to the struggle. Instead, we should embrace our current reality so we can appropriately respond and plan.
 
“The first thing when thinking about establishing a routine right now is redefining what that means and accepting that our sense of normal isn’t necessarily where we want it to be ― and that’s OK. We have to work to intentionally re-establish a sense of routine,” she said.
 
McKernan recommended looking at four major things in order to adjust your routine: how you’re sleeping, how you’re eating, if you’re moving and to what extent you are able to socialize. Which of those areas could use some extra attention? (Maybe it’s all of them, which is understandable.) Start building your routine around those pillars.
 
That could look like going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. You may also want to try meal prepping as if you still needed to bring food into the office for lunch during the week. Maybe it’s calling your friend every Friday afternoon while you’re on a walk, or planning a cocktail night every weekend with your roommate. Whatever the case may be, build in small habits you can come to expect and make them something you can execute regularly.
 
2. Take part in rewarding activities.
 
In the early days of the pandemic, many of us were all about “bettering ourselves” ― whether that meant learning a new language or learning how to make sourdough. And while those activities were fun in the beginning, the practice of bread-baking and language-learning fizzled out for most. Now, we’re just trying to get through each day without losing it.
 
But there is something to taking on new activities as a way to create some normalcy ― as long as you’re genuinely connected to them, McKernan said.
 
“When you choose activities that connect to things that you value in your life, that actually gives you a sense of reward and meaning,” she said, adding that these activities could be attending a virtual spiritual service, online volunteering, cooking, reading or knitting. Choose something that gets you excited or pulls you away from your stress.
“We might not be able to capture all activities in the way that we’re used to ― for example, if you value fitness and you’re used to going to a hot yoga studio, that might not be safe to do right now,” McKernan said. “So, how can you recapture a little bit of that exercise in your life and in your day?”
 
These activities also lift your mood, which can be crucial as we move into winter, a time when many are faced with lower mood.
 
“One of the things that can happen when our mood starts to get low is that we lose the motivation to do things. And, a lot of the time, we feel like we need to magically have the motivation back in order to re-engage in things,” McKernan said. “But it can work in the opposite way, too, where if you choose … activities that are meaningful, you start to build back your sense of motivation and reward.”
 
3. Find creative ways to connect with loved ones.
 
A lot of the social aspects of our lives have been drastically altered in order to protect one another from the virus. McLean Pollock, assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University in North Carolina, noted that it’s hard to navigate how to socialize and feel close to loved ones without doing the things we’re used to, like handshaking, hugging and seeing people in person.
 
Pollock said that finding ways to connect with others is crucial in the search for normalcy. It will be hard to feel normal if one of our most basic needs ― social connection ― goes unmet throughout the remainder of this pandemic.
 
“This pandemic has led to some isolation. We can bridge that by making connections with other people because that is how we’re getting through this, together, even though it’s in a different way of being together,” she added.
 
But by now we’re used to scheduling Zoom calls and they can feel a little stale. Janine Dutcher, a research scientist at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, suggested finding more unique ways to connect with people. This encourages us to be creative, which can be rewarding in itself.
 
“I think that creativity can often be very difficult to engage in but it can be really rewarding too, because you found a way to beat the system, so to speak, and do something really fun and interesting,” she said.
 
Dutcher added that since the pandemic began, she has been writing loved ones letters and physically sending them in the mail. She has also conducted food exchanges with friends where she’ll order delivery dinner for a friend in another city from one of their favorite restaurants. The other friend will also return the favor for her.
 
4. Decorate your home for seasonal celebrations.
 
While we can’t control the whole world, we can control our own microcosm, specifically our own home, Pollack said.
 
Decorating your home for seasonal celebrations with either store-bought items or handmade décor can help create a mile-marker for time within your own life. And, conveniently, a number of ideal-for-decorating holidays are approaching.
 
“Our days are bleeding into one another because we don’t have variation, so having something that can distinguish this time as different from other times can be helpful in creating that sense of normalcy and creating memories,” Pollock said.
 
5. Plan things for the future.
 
Having something to look forward to adds excitement to our days. And while our plans may have to look different for a while, we still can make them — whether that means a virtual happy hour or a fun night at home with your family.
 
“When you have something to look forward to, each day passes a little bit faster, particularly as you get closer to it ― it’s one of those funny things about time perception. Looking forward to anything, even if it’s really simple, is very, very powerful,” Dutcher said.
 
Of course, this doesn’t give anyone permission to plan something that puts people at risk for contracting the virus.
 
“If you’re at home with family, you can plan for a fun movie night where you watch a movie, pop some popcorn and have some candy,” Dutcher suggested. She also added that, while spontaneous conversations with friends and family are nice, planned phone dates also hold their own type of power when it comes to generating some normalcy.
 
6. Accept that this is not a normal time.
 
Nothing about this period in our lives is regular. Our lives have been upended in many different ways and we are faced with uncertainty nearly every day.
 
“There is no magical solution, part of feeling a sense of normalcy is accepting that this is not normal and that these are really difficult and stressful times,” Pollock said. “Recognize that that’s the context of trying to create some normalcy, first of all.” (In other words, cut yourself some slack.)
 
She added that we are all facing different difficulties as the pandemic, the election and the rest of the year unfolds and we need to adjust our normalcy to fit our own situation.
 
7. If you’re still struggling, consider talking to a therapist.
 
Everyone’s mental health has been put through the wringer this year, and things like routine setting, socializing and planning activities may not be enough to feel “normal” ― and that is OK.
 
“If people are really struggling, it’s always worth reaching out to a professional to make sure that they are getting the care and support that they need,” Dutcher said.
 
Therapy can help you navigate our current reality and give you the coping skills to find a sense of normalcy among the chaos. Seeing a therapist can be incredibly expensive, but there are affordable resources available that may help.
 
If the uncertainty is stressing you out to the point where it has been severely affecting your daily life, you don’t have to manage it alone. You’re also not the only one who feels this way.
 
“I think a lot of people are probably experiencing a low-level or even clinical-level of depression right now. I think it is, unfortunately, very common and people should be mindful and make sure they’re taking care of their wellness.”
 
By  Jillian Wilson   11/06/2020 
 
 
 
 
normal setting
 
 

The Psychology Behind To-Do Lists and How They Can Make You Feel Less Anxious

1. Wake up.

2. Make coffee.

3. Write this story.
 
 
In a time when it seems like we may have less to do, a to-do list actually could be quite helpful.

As the days blend together for many people living in lockdown, crossing things off a to-do list can feel even more satisfying. To-do lists can be great tools for decreasing anxiety, providing structure and giving us a record of everything we’ve accomplished in a day.

The trick is to reframe your to-do list as a set of miniature goals for the day and to think of your checklist items as steps in a plan.

Research on the psychology of goal-making has revealed that an unfinished goal causes interference with other tasks you’re trying to achieve. But simply making a plan to facilitate that goal, such as detailing steps on a to-do list, can help your mind set it aside to focus on other things.
 
“Goals are interesting as they are almost these autonomous agents that kind of live inside you and occupy space in your mind,” said E.J. Masicampo, an associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
 
“When a goal is unfinished it might be a weight on your mind in terms of anxiety or worry and it colors how you see the world, because it’s sort of tugging at the sleeve of your conscious attention,” Masicampo said. “It can be omnipresent whether you’re aware of it or not.”

People with unfinished short-term goals performed poorly on unrelated reading and comprehension tasks, reported a 2011 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Masicampo and research co-author Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology at The University of Queensland.
But when the 2011 study participants were allowed to formulate specific plans for their goals before moving onto the next task, those negative effects were eliminated.
 
“We were able to find that you don’t have to finish the goal to offload it – you really could just make a specific plan for how to attain it to get it to stop occupying that mental space,” Masicampo said.
 
But Masicampo cautioned that it won’t help to offload your mental burden by jotting it down on a list “without actually making a plan.”
 
“To-do lists often tend to be mental graveyards, but that said I think there’s some relief there,” Masicampo said, adding that sub-goals are important. “Something that’s been sitting there for too long is probably just stated in too big terms.”
 
With the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis and the difficulty of making concrete plans, he said it could make sense to have your initial plan be simply to make a plan at a later date.

Stuck in the middle

In order to work effectively, your to-do list’s mini-goals also need to be well defined and have short time frames. That’s because people also tend to give up in the middle of goals, according to psychologists.

The solution is to make the “middles” of your goals and to-do list tasks short.
One place people get stuck is exercise, but a goal to exercise half the days each week will be easier to stick to than exercising half the days each month. Even then, exercise will make it onto your to-do list more often at the beginning and end of the week — but it’s difficult to motivate yourself on Wednesday.
 
“We celebrate graduations at work and cheer when we finish big projects. But there is no celebration for middles. That’s when we both cut corners and we lose our motivation,” said Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago who is an expert on motivation and decision-making.
 
“We will still slack in that middle, and having long projects invites a long middle.”
 
To-do lists also need to be flexible. If your plans change or get interrupted by an endless flurry of Zoom calls, it’s important to recognize that’s not the end of the world.
 
“If we measure ourselves by how much we stick to the plan, that’s not good for motivation,” Fishbach said. “There’s a fine line between keeping structure and keeping your to-do list and also being very flexible. Because things change and they change on a daily basis.”

It’s not a wish list

For all the structure and stress reduction that to-do lists can provide, they can sometimes add to anxiety. That’s because tasks on your to-do list that linger for weeks or months are bad for mental health and motivation.

“To-do lists are interesting because they sometimes become commitments. Once you write an activity or goal down on a piece of paper, it’s work undone,” said Jordan Etkin, an associate professor of marketing at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and an expert on goals.
 
Do you want to complete extra work-related tasks aiming for a promotion and cook dinner for your family that night? Cue goal conflict.
 
“The more things people put on their lists, the more open they are to creating goal conflict and its sort of negative downstream effects,” Etkin said.
 
Conflicting goals can create stress and even that overwhelming feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day, according to Etkin’s 2015 study in the Journal of Marketing Research.

To-doing it right

To use a to-do list the right way, Etkin said people need to clearly define their goals and differentiate the tasks they definitely want to get done today versus tasks they want to do “maybe someday.”

Tasks need to be clearly ranked in terms of importance.

“To-do lists can be very helpful for informing how you should be directing your time and cognitive resources,” Etkin said. “I think where challenges emerge is when people treat to-do lists like wish lists, rather than the things they definitely want to do today.”

Having a productive to-do list shouldn’t make you feel like you can’t take a break, Etkin also stressed, even if you haven’t crossed all those items off your list yet.
 
“It’s also important for people to have protective time in their lives where they’re not striving towards any goal,” she said.
 
To-do lists can be great tools to keep us going during this time of coronavirus boredom, uncertainty, and pandemic anxiety, but it’s important to not fill up your leisure time with productivity. One of the most important tasks we can add to our daily list, Etkin said, is “rest.”
 
By Lauren Kent, CNN      Tue July 14, 2020.
 
source: cnn.com


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Using Food To Ward Off Anxiety

It’s normal to feel anxious or worried from time to time. Work deadlines, writing an exam or giving a presentation, for example, can trigger short-lived anxiety.

People with an anxiety disorder, however, experience persistent and intense anxiety, worry or fear that’s out of proportion to everyday occurrences. Symptoms interfere with daily life, impacting thoughts, emotions, behaviour and physical health. Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (excessive worry about ordinary, everyday situations). Anxiety often goes hand in hand with depression.

Growing scientific evidence suggests that the foods we eat – and the ones that we don’t – play a role in developing and treating anxiety.

The diet-anxiety connection

Components in whole foods can influence mood in a number of ways. Some nutrients are used to synthesize brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that regulate emotions, while others impact how the brain responds to stress.

An imbalance of omega-3 fats, which are essential for the integrity of brain cell membranes, may alter how brain cells communicate with one another. Certain nutrients may also dampen inflammation in the brain.

While diet can’t cure anxiety – nor can it take the place of medication – research suggests that the following strategies may help reduce symptoms.

Follow a healthy dietary pattern. Studies conducted in many different countries have found that healthy traditional diet patterns, including the Mediterranean diet and vegetarian diets, are associated with a lower risk of anxiety disorders.

In general, eating a diet that’s low in added sugars and emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts and beans and lentils guards against anxiety. In contrast, a “Western-style” diet consisting of refined grains, highly processed foods and sugary foods increases the risk.

Include omega-3′s, fatty fish. Observational studies have linked a higher intake of oily fish and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, to a lower risk of anxiety disorders in children, adults and pregnant women.

A randomized controlled trial published in 2013 found that medical students who received omega-3 supplements (2.5 grams a day) experienced a 20-per-cent reduction in anxiety compared with the placebo group. They also had lower blood levels of stress-induced inflammatory proteins.

Salmon, trout, sardines, herring, mackerel and anchovies are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids; these fish are also low in mercury. Include them in your diet at least twice a week. DHA supplements made from algae are available for people who eat a vegetarian diet.

Try fermented foods. Preliminary evidence suggests that a regular intake of fermented foods, a source of probiotic bacteria, may reduce the risk of social anxiety in women. Fermented foods include kefir, kombucha, kimchi, unpasteurized sauerkraut and yogurt.

Probiotics may also help ease anxiety symptoms. A review of 10 randomized controlled trials, published in 2017, concluded that probiotic supplements significantly improved anxiety. However, the strain of probiotic, the dose and the duration of treatment varied widely across studies.

Once consumed, probiotic bacteria take up residence in the gut, where they help to maintain a strong intestinal barrier. When the lining of the gut becomes more permeable than normal, toxins can escape into the bloodstream, triggering an inflammatory response that may interfere with neurotransmitters.

It’s also thought that probiotics in the gut increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates stress and emotions.

Increase magnesium, zinc. Findings from a number of studies have shown that a deficiency of these two minerals, needed for healthy brain cells, can lead to anxiety.

Excellent sources of magnesium include oat bran, brown rice, quinoa, spinach, Swiss chard, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, black beans, lentils, tofu and edamame.

You’ll find zinc in oysters, beef, crab, pork, chicken, pumpkin seeds, cashews, chickpeas, yogurt, milk and fortified breakfast cereals.

Avoid triggers. Eat at regular intervals during the day to prevent low blood sugar, which could precipitate feelings of anxiety. Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can also make you feel jittery and nervous.

Drink water throughout the day to prevent becoming dehydrated; even mild dehydration can worsen your mood.

LESLIE BECK         THE GLOBE AND MAIL         August 23, 2020

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan.

source: www.theglobeandmail.com

salmon

 

9 Foods That Calm Anxiety
(and 3 That Make It Worse)

Scientists are just beginning to recognize the connection between food and our brain. Eat these nutrients for a wave of calming feelings that keep worry away.

Omega-3 fatty acids make your brain happy

Doctors often know how to calm anxiety, or treat it, with therapy and medications, but the answer to calming the condition could be hiding in plain sight: the foods we eat. Doctors and nutritionists are starting to understand more about how certain nutrients, or lack of them, affect the brain. “Our brain has very high energy and nutrient requirements,” says clinical nutritionist and health coach Melissa Reagan Brunetti, CNC. “Nutritional deficiencies and dietary patterns can affect its function, and alter brain chemistry and the formulation of neurotransmitters—chemicals in the brain that can stimulate and calm.” These neurotransmitters influence our mood as well as our appetite, she says. A study from Ohio State University showed one nutrient that’s especially good for reducing anxious symptoms is omega 3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like wild salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, and chia seeds. “Our brains need fat from dietary sources to function properly,” Brunetti says. “If you are not eating a sufficient amount of beneficial fats, your brain will suffer.”

Probiotics are good for the gut

Surprisingly, another calming food source is probiotics. “Your gut bacteria is needed for production of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA [gamma-aminobutyric acid], which all play a role in mood,” Brunetti says. “The microbiome [gut bacteria] has a direct link to the brain and the immune system, so restoring balance in the gut of good and bad bacteria through use of probiotics can benefit the brain.” Recent research has found that probiotics may actually work to treat, or even prevent, anxious feelings. You can either take a probiotic supplement or eat foods that have been fermented, a process which encourages good bacteria to grow, and has been shown in studies as a way how to calm anxiety. “I like to see patients eat more fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir, as the kinds of bacteria in your gut influence anxiety,” says Drew Ramsey, MD, a psychiatrist who specializes in using dietary changes to help balance moods, and author of Eat Complete. Another fermented food you probably already have in your fridge? Pickles!

Caffeine makes you anxious

Although some of us feel like we’re miserable until we’ve had our morning cup of java, coffee and other caffeinated foods and drinks actually worsen anxious feelings. Because it’s a stimulant for the nervous system, it increases heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. According to the University of Michigan, coffee can lead to symptoms of worrying like nervousness, sweating, and shaking. A study from Brazil found that caffeine actually induced panic attacks in people with an anxious disorder. Another study, from Wake Forest University, found that caffeine reduced blood flow to the brain by 27 percent. Not to mention that it can mess with sleep, which is essential for brain health. “Limiting caffeine intake can help quell inflammation and contribute to improved brain function,” Brunetti says. Likewise, Dr. Ramsey suggests avoiding energy drinks with caffeine, as well as indulging in too much dark chocolate (stick to one or two squares a day).

Water keeps everything flowing smoothly

How to calm anxiety in one step? Drink good old fashioned water. “Staying hydrated with clean water is very important,” Brunetti says. A study from the University of Connecticut showed that even mild dehydration can cause mood problems. According to the study’s author, Lawrence E. Armstrong, PhD, by the time you feel thirsty it’s too late. “Our thirst sensation doesn’t really appear until we are one or two percent dehydrated,” he says. “By then dehydration is already setting in and starting to impact how our mind and body perform.” The connection behind dehydration and anxious symptoms is not totally known; but the UConn study authors think it may be part of an ancient warning system alerting us to find water for survival. So, you should be sure to consume water throughout the day.

Stay away from refined sugar and processed foods

Sweets and processed foods all are, not surprisingly, bad for your mental health. Sugar and refined carbs cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a sudden drop. A study from Columbia University found that the more refined carbs and sugar women ate, the higher their risk for mood changes and depression. Another study, from the United Kingdom, found that eating processed meat and fried foods had similar responses, possibly because of the link with heart disease and inflammation, which are also associated with mental health problems. “Skip highly processed foods, as these are mainly simple sugars and vegetable oils,” Dr. Ramsey suggests. Instead, try eating more complex carbs like whole grains, which were linked to fewer mental health issues in the Columbia study.

Alcohol brings you down

Alcohol is a depressant but it can also worsen anxiety symptoms. And unfortunately, the two often go hand-in-hand—in a study that took place over 14 years, researchers found that people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) were 4.5 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that 20 percent of people with SAD also suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. Drinking can seem like a good way to calm your nerves, but in reality, it causes spikes and dips in blood sugar, dehydrates you, and causes impaired brain function—all of which can lead to anxious feelings, which then make you want to drink more, creating a vicious cycle. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking a lot can cause changes in the brain’s neurotransmitters that may induce these symptoms. For this reason, Brunetti says it’s best to reduce or eliminate alcohol.

Load up on antioxidants

Here’s another reason antioxidants are superfoods: They can help quell anxious moods. “Antioxidants protect the brain against oxidative stress [free radicals],” Brunetti says. “Oxidative stress leads to inflammation, which can impair neurotransmitter production.” Research by the State University of New York found that anxious symptoms are linked with a lower antioxidant state, and that antioxidants could actually help treat mood issues as well. So which nutrients are antioxidants, and which foods contain them? “Diets rich in beta-carotene like carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, and kale; vitamin C like citrus fruits, red peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and strawberries; and vitamin E like almonds, avocado, spinach, sunflower seeds, spinach, and sweet potatoes, are essential for supporting optimal brain function,” Brunetti says. Another powerful antioxidant Brunetti says is shown to combat anxious feelings is the trace mineral selenium, found in Brazil nuts, halibut, grass-fed beef, turkey, chicken, and eggs. Also, studies have shown that upping your zinc, which has antioxidant properties, leads to fewer anxious feelings. Cashews are a great source of zinc.

Magnesium is calming

Another nutrient that might stave off anxious symptoms is magnesium. “Magnesium is a calming mineral that has been found to induce relaxation,” Brunetti says. In an Austrian study with mice, diets low in magnesium increased anxious behaviors. Research has shown that magnesium may also help treat mental health issues in humans. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, inadequate magnesium reduces levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and antidepressants have been shown to increase magnesium in the brain—evidence of a positive link. “Magnesium can act at the blood brain barrier to prevent the entrance of stress hormones into the brain,” psychiatrist Emily Deans, MD, writes on Psychology Today. “All these reasons are why I call magnesium ‘the original chill pill.’” Dr. Ramsey suggests eating eggs and greens, like spinach and Swiss chard, for magnesium. Other sources include legumes, nuts, seeds, and avocado.

Try tryptophan

We usually think of tryptophan as the nutrient in turkey that puts us to sleep after Thanksgiving—and in fact, tryptophan is an amino acid that the body needs to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate sleep and moods. According to the University of Michigan, tryptophan may help reduce anxious feelings. In one small study, participants who ate a food bar rich in tryptophan reported fewer symptoms than those who ate a bar without tryptophan. More research is needed, but it seems likely that there is a connection. Tryptophan is in most protein-rich foods like turkey and other meats, nuts, seeds, beans, and eggs. (Incidentally, protein is also important for the production on the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can benefit mood as well.)

B vitamins bump up good feelings

Harvard Medical School advises eating foods rich in B vitamins, like beef, avocado, and almonds, to help ward off anxious feelings. “B vitamins have positive effects on the nervous system, and deficiencies have been linked to anxious disorders,” Brunetti says. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, vitamin B6 helps the body make several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which influence mood. A study from Australia found that stressed-out workers who were given a high dose of B vitamins felt less strained and in a better mood after 12 weeks. Another study, from the University of Miami, found that depressed adults who took a vitamin B complex had fewer depressive and anxious symptoms after two months. “Another nutrient that seems to matter is choline, found in eggs, which is a cousin of B vitamins,” Dr. Ramsey says. More research is needed, but these results are promising.

Cozy up with herbal teas

So you might not want to indulge in too much coffee, but you can relax with a mug of herbal tea in order to feel less anxious. “Great options for herbal teas are chamomile, skullcap, and kava kava to start,” Dr. Ramsey says. A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that participants who took chamomile for eight weeks experienced fewer anxious symptoms than those that didn’t. However, be aware that kava can interact with anti-anxiety and antidepressant meds, so talk to your doctor first if you’re on them. Plus, it’s so relaxing that high doses of it could impair your ability to drive, according to one study. If you’re using herbs for anxiety, steer clear of ones that are stimulating, such as ginseng, cautions Dr. Ramsey, because they might actually make anxious feelings worse.

It’s not just what you eat, but how

How to calm anxiety? Pay attention to how and when you eat. Bad habits can have a negative effect on anxious moods, which “get worse when people have low blood sugar,” Dr. Ramsey says. “A simple step people often forget is to eat regularly.” Brunetti says if low blood sugar is an issue for you (in other words, if you get “hangry”), eating smaller, frequent meals throughout the day can help. According to Harvard Medical School, there is evidence that our Western diet, with its focus on refined carbs and processed foods, might not be great for anxious moods; instead, Mediterranean or Japanese diets, which include a lot of veggies and fish, may be the way to go. But, be careful of fad diets that eliminate entire food groups. “Diets that are too low in [complex] carbohydrates can also be detrimental” for anxious feelings, Brunetti says. “Include a variety of foods in your diet to ensure you are getting a wide range of nutrients needed to calm the mind.”

Tina Donvito      November 21, 2018

source: www.rd.com


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Long-Term Social Distancing May Be Traumatic. Here Is What To Expect And What To Do

Passover, Easter and Ramadan are occasions that typically bring families together to pray, reflect and celebrate – fellowship needed, perhaps, now more than ever – will look different this year as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The loss of those traditions is added to a growing list of losses that North Americans are facing as they endure at least another month of social distancing and with it an extended departure from routines, habits, social circles and normalcy.

The protracted disruption to life as it was, mental health experts say, could bring feelings of anger, depression, anxiety and even grief.

“There is literal grief like losing loved ones,” said Dr. Vaile Wright, the American Psychology Association’s director of clinical research. “But there is a grief of experiences that we are losing right now. There can feel like there is a lot of loss right now, a loss of freedom, a lot of things we took for granted.”

The next few months may take a toll on the nation’s mental health, experts say, but it is possible to mitigate the stress.

North Americans’ collective trauma

Extended isolation and stress from the pandemic can affect everyone differently, said Dr. Dana Garfin, a health psychologist.

It could put strain on families, send children home to abusive situations, make those living alone feel isolated and threaten people’s sense of purpose by keeping them from work, Garfin said.

And those experiencing financial insecurity in the midst of the pandemic have an added stress that is difficult to resolve, said Dr. Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University.

Despite those differences, the experience of staying home together through a pandemic can be considered a collective trauma, said Garfin, who studies collective traumas such as hurricanes, terrorist attacks and earthquakes.

Collective traumas start at some point of impact and then ripple out to loved ones of the afflicted, witnesses to the devastation and people whose lives are disrupted.

In this case, many Americans fall into one or more of those categories. People in quarantine show signs of confusion, depression and anger, Garfin said.

“We necessarily run much of our lives by habit,” said Fischhoff. “We know what we have for breakfast, we know how to prepare the kids for school, and that enables us to get through the day reasonably well.”

But now that many North Americans aren’t waking up and going to school and work, it can be difficult to know how to restructure even the most rote daily habits that won’t be coming back for weeks yet.

What life might look like on the other side of coronavirus

How long the pandemic and the isolation continue will dictate how severe the effects are on people’s mental health, Garfin said.

Prolonged exposure to the traumas of coronavirus can activate the fight or flight response, which over time can cause cardiovascular problems, anxiety, depression and PTSD, Garfin said. And the extended isolation can contribute to fear, anxiety, headaches, muscle tension and difficulty concentrating, said Wright.

For some groups, like health care workers, those in the media and people in newly deemed “essential jobs,” the end result may be guilt, grief and PTSD, said Wright.

But, Wright and Garfin agreed, humans are resilient.

Some may forget everything they just went through and go back to their daily lives when it is all over, Wright said, but many can come out of this with stronger relationships and a better perspective on what is important.

How to get through it

The future is uncertain, but life will be different for at least the next month and that knowledge can be the first step to making this new, temporary reality as good as it can be.

Now that it is clear the change is for more than a couple of weeks, it is important to create a new routine – one that includes showering, getting dressed and maintaining family meals — not treating the time as an extended snow day or spring vacation, Wright said.

There is an opportunity for people to develop new habits around the disruption, which can relieve the stress of feeling like starting from scratch every day, Fischhoff said.

And all three say it is important to use social media to be social, not to feed the anxiety that conflicting coronavirus information on the platform stokes.

They also agree that this experience is difficult, and it is important to acknowledge that and not be too critical of what one could have done before or could be doing now.

“I think that we need to recognize that this is totally unprecedented, and we really are just doing the best we can – and that’s OK,” Wright said. And for people doing the best they can but struggling to work, study or care for their families, virtual mental health resources may be a crucial next step.

And for those who are lonely and isolated, Garfin suggests reframing for a feeling of community within that experience.

“We aren’t in our houses alone, we are doing something for each other for our community,” Garfin said. “It’s a shared effort, something that we are all a part of and something we are all contributing to.”
“It’s going to be difficult, but it’s not permanent.”

 

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN       Thu April 9, 2020
source: www.cnn.com
plan

Take A Breath:
How The Simple Act Of Meditative Breathing
Helps Us Cope

A global pandemic causes so much worry, concern and fear. There’s the pressure of suddenly being a homeschooling parent and trying to create structure around newfound chaos in your home.

A lot of us are adjusting to working from home, all while tending to worries about the state of the world. Maybe you fret over the health of aging parents or feel anxious over the ever-changing news cycle.

Psychological stress can damper your overall health, affecting your ability to remain resilient in the face of challenges. It can also thwart a strong immune system, which is needed to keep from getting sick.

“Living through a pandemic can be scary,” said CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the March 18 episode of CNN’s “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction” podcast.

The good news: Meditation is one tool that can help our immune systems functioning optimally, according to a recent study.

One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is by simply focusing your attention on your breath, according to Harvard Medical School, since it’s a form of beginner level meditation that anyone can do.

Alternative medicine advocate Dr. Deepak Chopra, in Dr. Gupta’s podcast episode titled “Pandemic Panic,” walks us through how to do a breathing meditation to ease our stress, thus calming our minds.

Breathing through the stress of a pandemic

According to Harvard Medical School, breathing meditation requires either sitting comfortably, standing or walking in a setting with minimal distractions. Many people prefer to sit.

If you’re sitting, focus first on your posture: You should sit with your spine erect.

As you become aware of the space you’re in and sit comfortably, observe your breath without manipulating it for a few seconds, Chopra suggests.

Then, slow your breath down by inhaling deeply to the count of six.

Pause for two seconds.

Exhale to the count of four. Then repeat this six-two-four breathing method for two minutes.

“Then, when you’re done with that, bring your awareness into your body and wherever there seems to be any discomfort, just bring the awareness there without manipulating it,” Chopra said. “Awareness by itself heals. Awareness without conceptual intervention restores self-regulation.”

“The goal is really to breathe from your diaphragm,” as opposed to shallow breaths from your chest, said Vaile Wright, a psychologist and director of clinical research and quality at the American Psychological Association.

“And the way to know whether you’re doing that or not, or a trick at least, is to place your hand just below your ribs on your stomach.” When you inhale you should feel your body expanding, then contracting when you inhale.

If the initial peace is interrupted by your thoughts, the meditation isn’t a failure. Though breathing meditations are simple to begin with, they can take practice before you’re able to maintain focus for an extended period of time, Wright said. Just acknowledge the thought and try to let it go.

You don’t have to concentrate on any format, but some people find that adding some sort of mantra or visualization to it helps, Wright said.

“For example, when you’re breathing in, telling yourself [in your head that] you’re breathing in love. When you’re exhaling, telling yourself you’re exhaling anxiety. Or, breathing in positive energy, exhaling negative energy or visualizing negative energy coming out of your mouth and out of your body.”

Chopra starts his day with three or four intentions: “I’m going to maintain a joyful, energetic body today; a loving and compassionate heart today; a reflective and quiet and creative and centered mind today; and lightness of being and laughter today, whatever it takes.”

By doing these intentions, you can start to feel better, he said.

Modern technology offers up apps and smart watches that can help guide you through a meditation if you have trouble staying focused.

“Slow your breath, your thoughts will slow down as well,” Chopra said.

breathe
try this for 2 – 5 minutes

Benefits for your overall health

Breathing meditations can contribute to a state of mindfulness by bringing your focus to one thing and only thing only – your breath, Wright said.

“The goal of that is to draw your attention away from maybe worry thoughts you’re having or sort of the catastrophic thoughts or maybe depressing thoughts about feeling alone,” she added. When you’re focusing, those thoughts can be pushed aside, helping you to control your emotions.

Mindfulness has been found to influence two stress pathways in the brain, altering brain structure and activity in regions that regulate attention and emotion, according to the American Psychological Association.

In a 2015 review of studies on the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), researchers found that people who received this therapy were less likely to respond to stressful situations with negative thoughts or unhelpful emotional reactions.

Those participants were also more likely to focus on the present moment and less likely to experience ruminating thoughts.

Breathing meditations can also reduce muscle tension and your heart rate, which are signs of stress, Wright said.

Carrying yourself through a hard time

Breathing meditations are another tool you can add to your coping toolkit, which may also include journaling, baking or virtually connecting with others.

“What’s great about breathing is you can do it anywhere,” Wright said. “If music is your way of relaxing, what happens when you don’t have access to it? You always have access to your breathing, so in that sense [breathing meditations] are really portable and very accessible. We really need a variety of different coping skills in order to get through particularly unprecedented situations like this one.”

Mindfulness may not make everything go away, Wright said, but it can bring you to a “calmer state so that you’re better able to deal with all the stress that’s going on.”

By Kristen Rogers, CNN      Fri March 27, 2020
source: www.cnn.com


3 Comments

22 Simple Habits That Can Relieve Holiday Stress and Anxiety

Are the holidays the season of excitement or a time for anxiety and frustration? 
Here are expert tips to get you past the stress and into the festive spirit.

Get adequate sleep

It’s no secret that our bodies crave rest; fail to get enough, and you’ll have some nasty symptoms. Not only does adequate rest—at least seven to eight hours per night—recharge your body for the day ahead, it also gives your nervous system a chance to wind down and reset as well. For those who suffer from anxiety symptoms, a lack of sleep can make you much more anxious. No one wants that around the holidays, warns Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the co-author of Teenage As A Second Language. She tells Reader’s Digest, “We must all keep in mind that the holidays can be quite overwhelming as well as exciting. Because we are going to be expending a lot of energy during the holidays we must take care of ourselves. That way, we are less likely to become physically sick and emotionally overwhelmed during the holiday season.” Go ahead and go to bed early—chances are you’ll be better able to handle whatever comes your way in the morning.

Give your body the boosts it needs

The typical American diet can leave you short on nutrients your body needs to function at its fullest potential, and sometimes it needs a boost that food is not providing. During stressful times such as the holidays or busy seasons, it’s important to pay close attention to cues your body is sending about its status. Supplements such as magnesium (almost 80 percent of the population is deficient), zinc, and fish oil can deliver the nutrients your body needs to keep running efficiently. Magnesium helps to relax muscles and decrease anxiety. Zinc will help to boost your immune system during the colder months, and the omega-3 oils in fish oil are powerful anti-inflammatories that provide an overall sense of well-being.

Give yourself the gift of self-care

In the midst of the seasonal rush, it’s easy to forget about your own health. Make time for a daily routine—even if it’s just 15 minutes—of doing something relaxing. Whether that’s pulling out the yoga mat, steeping a cup of your favorite herbal tea, or simply reading a good book, the time you give yourself out of your busy day will make a huge difference in your outlook. Kim Fredrickson, a marriage and family therapist and author of the new book Give Your Kids A Break: Parenting With Compassion For You and Your Children, agrees. She advises, “Treat yourself with compassion. It’s important to treat yourself kindly regarding all the extra pressures and activities you’re dealing with.” She continues, “Come up with a plan to take care of yourself as you head into the holidays. Try getting enough sleep, eat as healthy as possible, take time for a daily walk, and set things aside that can wait until January or February.”

Accept what you can control and release the rest

If you struggle with anxious feelings, you may also have control issues. So when the to-do list becomes overwhelming, that’s the time to step back and assess what is reasonable and what you have to let go of. If you’re hosting a dinner and you know that gluten-free Aunt Martha will complain that she can’t have the stuffing, kindly suggest that she might want to bring a side she’ll be able to enjoy. Fredrickson recommends making a list of the things you feel are top priorities, to keep your focus on what matters most. She says, “What’s important? Think about what is really important as you approach the holidays. Make sure your list includes things that are important to you, rather than only focusing on creating good experiences for your family.”

Do what you can from the comfort of home

There’s never been a better time to get things done without getting out of your pajamas. Sure, the Internet has its drawbacks, but there’s no question it’s made life easier for shopping. Tap the wonders of the web to order your groceries and gifts online. Some grocery services will deliver to your door, while some require that you pick up your order; either way, the time you’ll save is priceless. With online gift-wrapping options, it’s never been easier to have gifts sent directly to the relatives. Consider yourself a tech genius this season and eliminate your to-do list worries.

Delegate the details

If you’re facing a panicked rush to get things done, why not hand off some of the to-do lists to your spouse? If you know you’ll never be able to wrap every gift on time or schedule the carpet cleaning you’ve been putting off, recruit help. The same goes for holiday meals. While it’s true that the host often provides much of the main meal, why not ask people on the guest list to provide a side or dessert? Dr. Greenberg advises, “There are no prizes for doing everything on your own. Delegate. Remember people should come together during the holidays and help each other, right?”

Know your limits and respect them

Do memories of holidays past leave you shuddering with a sense of dread? If so, it’s time to learn from past mistakes, and vow to do things differently this year. If hosting the holiday festivities is simply too much of a strain on you or your family, ask someone else to take it on this year. Stress and anxiety can make even the most well-intentioned hostess less than jolly, and chances are good that there’s someone in your family who would love the chance to show off their culinary skill. Dr. Greenberg tells Reader’s Digest, “Know your limits. If it is difficult to be with your family for too long before you start getting irritable with each other, then set a time limit in advance. Believe me, you will be grateful that you did this! Do not expect that this year your family will get along perfectly and that old grudges will be forgotten. Unfortunately, we tend to regress when we are with our families during the holidays and old issues from years ago rear their heads.”

Make time to move

While it might seem counter-intuitive to add exercise to your daily routine during a time of extra activity, it doesn’t have to be strenuous. Activity reduces blood pressure and stress, and a short walk around the block can really go the distance in making the holiday grind more bearable. If walking isn’t something you enjoy, why not try yoga, and let your breath carry you away from it all? Exercise doesn’t have to produce heavy breathing and sweat to count—so find something that gently allows your body to expend its extra energy, and go with it.

Prep your way to less stress

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Fail to plan? Plan to fail.” That’s a little harsh, but there’s no question that having a holiday-prep plan will help ensure the success of your season. Take a look at your seasonal to-do list and make notes about the things that can be taken care of in advance. Can you bake and freeze some dinner or dessert items now? How about sending out the invitations early, with your requests of what others should bring for the meal included? Some things don’t need to wait to be done until the week before the big day. Take advantage of the time you have, and take action now.

gingerbread

 

Maintain realistic expectations of yourself and others

Family relationships are complicated. Add in holiday pressures and heightened expectations for a perfect holiday, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Instead of expecting a perfect holiday staged by Hallmark, keep your vision of the day realistic. That one relative who really knows how to push your buttons will not magically become a joy to be around just because it’s a special day. Accept the likely reality for what it is, and make the best of it. Dr. Greenberg cautions that you should rein in your expectations—especially around the holidays. “It is crucial to keep expectations at a reasonable level. If we set the bar too high and expect family get-togethers or other celebrations to be perfect, then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.” Who needs the extra stress of having a perfect day?

Keep healthy boundaries in place

Some of your family or friends may see the holidays as an excuse for excess, indulgence, or rude behavior. Though more family time might lead you to have an extra glass of wine, Dr. Greenberg says this isn’t the best option to soothe frazzled nerves. She warns, “Keep the drinking of alcohol to a minimum. Too much alcohol leads to saying the wrong thing, behaving in a clumsy manner, and unintentionally bruising the feelings of others. It also leads to embarrassing yourself and your family.” Everyone wants an enjoyable day, but it shouldn’t cost you your sanity or healthy limitations.

Make a date with yourself

“The holidays can be a chaotic time with friends and family and it’s OK to schedule some alone time,” says Prakash Masand MD, a psychiatrist from Duke University and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence. “Ask your spouse to watch the kids for an hour and go to the spa, or go hit a bucket of golf balls. Seeking some solitude is both healthy and necessary to reduce stress.”

Hit “pause” on family arguments

Old tensions, political differences, blended families with ex-spouses and new loves—for a lot of people, getting together with extended family to celebrate holidays is a mixture of good and bad. If tensions and disagreements arise, consider pressing pause, at least for now. “Holidays are not the time to resolve family conflicts,” says Dr. Masand. “Many individuals use the family holidays to try to resolve longstanding conflicts with family members often with disastrous consequences, particularly when alcohol is involved. Leave addressing those issues to a later time in a one-to-one conversation.”

Do your shopping in short bursts

In an interesting 2016 study, researchers strapped emotion-tracking devices to 100 people and sent them holiday shopping for an hour. The findings? People’s heart rates increased by an average of 33 percent while shopping, about the same increase seen in someone who’s running a marathon. A majority became fatigued after just half an hour. “There’s so much to do: buying presents, cooking, decorating and more. Saving it all for the last minute will raise your stress,” says Dr. Masand. “Start a few weeks ahead of time and do a little at a time.”

Do less!

The number-one stressor during the holidays is time, a survey by the American Psychological Association found. A full two-thirds of people surveyed often or sometimes feel worried about having time to fit everything in, including family visits, cooking, shopping, decorating, and working. If you find yourself feeling stretched thin every holiday season, why not plan to do a little bit less this year? Jot down a quick list of all the parties, activities, and traditions you “need” to fit in and then prioritize. The ones that end up near the bottom? They’re optional.

Stick to a budget

Money is the second-biggest source of holiday stress (“time” is number one), according to the American Psychological Association. That’s why Dr. Masand suggests making a holiday budget and sticking to it. “Every parent wants to buy that perfect holiday gift for their child, but big-ticket items can take a toll on your wallet and your stress level,” he says. If you exchange gifts with extended friends and family, “consider a grab bag gift exchange where each person buys only one gift to alleviate the stress of having to get something for everyone.” Of course, gifts aren’t the only expenses of the season—there’s also food. “Let others help,” says Dr. Masand. “Don’t feel like you have to be the hero of the holiday season. Ask each person to bring a dish to dinner, make decorating a family activity where the kids help out.”

Go store-bought instead of homemade

Do you always bring the pie for the holiday meal, always homemade? If this year has you feeling overwhelmed or overworked, consider giving yourself the gift of time and buy one instead. Store-bought or cafe-bought desserts can be just as enjoyable, especially if you’re not stressed out and exhausted when you eat them! Try this top-pick frozen apple pie or check out this Chicago Tribune review of sweet potato, pecan, and apple pies from grocery stores like Walmart, Jewel, and Target.

Expect some bad along with the good

In a recent survey, 41 percent of Americans admitted to working too hard to have a “perfect” holiday season. “Expect things to go wrong,” says Dr. Masand. “Your son may hate his Christmas gift. Your daughter might get sick. You may overcook the ham. The point is things will go wrong. Appreciate the season for the time spent with loved ones and create new memories, and don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Draw firm boundaries between work and family

Many people have to work regular schedules in the days leading up to the holidays—those in the travel industry, retail, hospitality, and food services may have to work even more than usual. Other than requesting time off as far in advance as possible, those work schedules can’t necessarily be controlled. What can be are your boundaries when you’re not at work. Thirty-four percent of people in an American Psychological Association survey say they experience significant stress worrying that work obligations will impede on their holiday celebrations. So when you’re off the clock, stay there. Make it clear that you can’t respond to texts or emails on your days off, and don’t let yourself feel pressured into filling in for co-workers who ask to swap shifts.

Look out for the holiday blues

Those of us who have lost loved ones or are facing other difficult life situations may feel especially sad during this time of year when everyone is supposed to be jolly. Don’t ignore these feelings of grief or sadness, say the mental health experts at the Mayo Clinic. Not only is it OK to express these feelings during this time of “cheer,” it’s healthier to do that than to ignore or suppress them. Learn more about what to look out for when holiday blues go too far.

Remember that ultimately, a holiday is just a day

“The holidays are filled with both joy and stress,” says Ellen Braaten, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital. If you find yourself feeling extremely overwhelmed by emotions, pressures, or obligations this year, try to shift your perspective by deciding what’s most important and what you want the holidays to mean to you. “The holidays are just another time of year, certainly something to mark, but not the end-all, be-all,” she says.

Focus on the good

Yes, the holidays can be stressful and difficult. But they’re also full of joy for many of us. The American Psychological Association found that 78 percent of people report feeling happy, 75 percent feel love, and 60 percent report being in high spirits this time of year. So don’t lose sight of what you enjoy most about this time of year, whether it’s the twinkling lights, music, food, or fellowship.

Jen Babakhan       Sunny Sea Gold
 
source: www.rd.com