Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


Leave a comment

Are You Living Well?: 10 Questions to Answer

I know from my own experience and behavior, and that of my clients, that it’s very easy to forget which behaviors are good for me. This is particularly true when I’m stressed, tired, excited, or out of my usual environment. At times like these, good habits are forgotten and beneficial behaviors go by the wayside.

I strongly suspect this is the case for most people, so I’ve created a well-being checklist to help you get back on track and support yourself. By practicing some of these behaviors you can lessen your stress and stop yourself from becoming burnt out or exhausted. As a result, you’ll feel more relaxed and able to enjoy your leisure time.

What’s my sleep like?

Most people need six to seven hours of good quality sleep. (There are exceptions, but not many.) Make sure you are not overstimulated before bed, and don’t eat a heavy meal, exercise, or use electronic devices within two hours of going to sleep.

What’s my digestion like?

Eating too much fat and sugar, having too much caffeine, and eating a high-carbohydrate diet depletes our energy, even if we get an initial boost from it. Small amounts of good protein, fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts all support our system. Try to nurture your gut by chewing your food well and not eating in a hurry. And follow the 80/20 rule by eating well 80 percent of the time and pleasing yourself 20 percent of the time.

How much do I drink?

First, are you hydrated? Make sure you get enough liquids on hot days and busy days, preferably water. Second, how much alcohol do you drink? Alcohol is a depressant that slows down your immune function and can damage your liver and cells. Try to have three or four days when you don’t drink, and keep an eye on quantity. Also, alcohol disrupts your sleep pattern.

How do I feel about myself? How’s my self-esteem?

Do you like yourself and think you are doing a good job in or out of the home? You can improve your well-being by recognizing when you do well: Finish the laundry, then sit and have a cup of coffee. Got that project done on time? Treat yourself to your favorite sandwich. When things don’t go so well, be your own cheerleader. What can I learn from this? Maybe I need to ask for help. Make your self-talk positive.

patience_with_yourself

How fast am I going?

Speeding up is a natural response when we are under stress. Unfortunately it tells our body and brain that there is a threat. Initially you will be able to respond faster, but soon you will exhaust yourself and become anxious. Slow down and assess the situation. Maybe you need more help, maybe the tasks you have to complete in one day are too numerous, or maybe your expectations are unrealistic.  Whatever the case, driving yourself forward is not the answer. Learn to prioritize and be realistic and let the rest go.

Do I regularly multitask?

Constantly doing two or three things at the same time means you do none of them to the best of your ability, and you fail to get the most out of what you are doing. If you’re at your child’s school play and you’re texting, where’s your focus? How much are you enjoying yourself? Juggling is not a good thing to do every day unless you work for the circus. There’s a reason we don’t ask surgeons to re-wire our houses or plumbers to teach physics or professors to cook restaurant meals. I’m sure there are people who are multi-talented but specializing is better for us (and usually better for those around us).

Do I have one or two really good friends I can count on, and do I keep in touch with them?

Social contact with people who know and understand us is supportive and relaxing. Humans are social animals who need nurture, contact, and approval. Make sure you’re getting this. We need to be with people with whom we can just be ourselves and be appreciated for who and how we are. If your family doesn’t fit the bill, seek out friends who do and make sure you nurture these relationships; they can keep you afloat when something goes seriously wrong and support you and engender resilience in everyday life. (see: Weiss, R.S. (1974), The Provisions of Social Relationships)

How much of my day do I spend interacting with electronics instead of people?

This is fine, up to a point. You may be an IT specialist and that’s your job. However, humans need human contact for support, self-worth, and fun. Make sure that you put away your phone and turn off the computer and TV now and again and have an “electronics holiday.” We are not designed to have relationships long distance. Contact and interaction support our humanness and well-being. Make sure you get your share.

What do I do on a daily basis that gives me leisure and/or pleasure?

We all need downtime. Do you have a hobby? Do you read? Do you play a sport? Humans are designed to play, so try to find time for something that you enjoy that gives you a break from your normal tasks. Additionally, do you take pleasure in small everyday things? This can be as simple as a cup of coffee on your way to work, enjoying the view from your office window, or appreciating the man who always says hello to you. Don’t take these things for granted—everyday small pleasures improve our life. You can join in by smiling at people and saying thank you for small courtesies.

How grateful am I?

A sense of gratitude can boost your well-being and even alleviate depression. I suggest that at the end of every day you find at least three things to be thankful for. They can be basic, simple things, such as “the roof over my head” or “legs that take me wherever I want.” This brings into your awareness how fortunate you are. Not everyone has these things. Don’t forget to thank your family, partner, and friends, too. People who feel fortunate and express gratitude are more optimistic and resilient. If you do this every day for a month, the list of positive things you notice will grow exponentially and the list of things that are wrong in your life will shrink and lose their ability to affect you.
Remember, this is my list, compiled from working with clients and monitoring my own bad habits, so not everything on it may resonate with you. We are designed to pick up when things aren’t right for us, so trust your instincts and start to support yourself both physically and mentally—you’ll see your well-being soar.

Posted Sep 16, 2016         Atalanta Beaumont        Handy Hints for Humans
 
Advertisements


Leave a comment

Doing This ONE Thing Reduces Stress and Improves Brain Performance

There’s a reason that they call it ‘paying’ attention, and doing this one thing can help you reduce stress and help your brain perform better, rather than making you pay for your effort.

Mentally, it can be exhausting to not even get much done in a work day or a day at home when you hoped to get more done than you accomplished. But you just can’t keep pushing forward when your brain stops working as well as it should.

This lack of mental clarity and the stress that not being able to finish a simple task as you should is something we’ve covered in previous articles.

Negative emotions, old ways of thinking, fears about our abilities, and too much going on in the place that we are trying to think can all interfere with our performance and mental ability. Let’s look at the one thing you need to be doing to reduce the stress and improve your mental performance.

DOING THIS ONE THING REDUCES STRESS AND IMPROVES YOUR BRAIN PERFORMANCE

Spending more time, energy and effort on a project until it is complete may seem like it will get things done faster, but it’s a bad idea to go full steam. Unless a deadline is looming, use this one thing to reduce stress and improve performance; slow down.

The more time you can devote to whatever it is you are working on, the better you will perform, in both quality and accuracy. Deliberate movement, thought and being open to receiving all of the sensory information that is coming in will help you feel calm and mentally clear.

Slowing down our movements and speech is the easiest way to start using this technique to reduce stress. By slowing your physical movement, even by a small fraction of your normal speed, you are more deliberate.

You avoid making mistakes like neglecting to notice hazards around you. You will notice yourself making fewer fumbling missteps that could end up the next viral video.

When you slow down your movements, you will then have more time to think. What is really happening is that by slowing your physical body, you give yourself more time to process incoming sensory information. Things that you didn’t pay attention to before become part of your awareness.

breathing

 

LEARN MORE EASILY AND HELP IMPROVE MENTAL PERFORMANCE

In a study of classroom teacher interactions in the Journal of Teacher Education, researchers found that teachers typically only wait one second after asking a question before providing an answer. When a student finishes speaking, the teacher also typically ask another question within less than one second.

The scientists were able to prove that extending the wait time between the teacher asking a student a question and expecting an answer gave several measurable benefits for students:

* Length of the responses increased between 300-700%

* Students had time to remember the facts that back up their answers

* Students made more guesses

* Students asked more questions

* Students proposed experiments to test theories

* Students discussed topics with each other

* There were fewer times when no one answered

* There was less need for discipline

* Students who never participated before began contributing

* Unsolicited participation increased

* Students reduced inflection, which is the rising vocal tone used when asking a question, in their answers, indicating increased confidence

Clearly the students felt like they would be listened to so they were more likely to speak up when the teacher slowed down to wait for answers.

Scientists noticed that teachers changed their actions with students in these ways:

* Teachers were more flexible with covering different discussion topics to encourage participation

* Teachers asked more and different questions

* Teachers had higher expectations for students

Although this study is about a classroom environment, you can imagine yourself as a student of the world slowing down to let your partner, coworkers, friends, and family think of their response to questions that you would ask them. You can also ask them to give you a moment before rushing ahead.

MULTI-TASKING MAKES YOUR BRAIN LESS CAPABLE

An Italian study at the University of Bologna found that mental resources are depleted or recovered depending on how much effort we spend making decisions on a project. We can’t keep working at maximum mental effort, because we use up the total amount of mental energy that we have.

The researchers showed that mental fatigue is real, and it is worse when we are under pressure to go fast. They say that multitasking, which is multi-decision-making, results in lower performance as well as reaching the threshold of mental fatigue ‘beyond which the worker cannot avoid being exhausted.’ They recommend taking a break or leaving the workspace until you can recover your mental energy.


1 Comment

Singletasking: 6 Keys To A Peaceful, Productive and Prosperous Life

Do you attempt to accomplish more by doing several things at once? In our culture of multitaskers, you’re unquestionably not alone.

But here’s a news flash if you haven’t already heard: Multitasking doesn’t work. In fact, it decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. Additionally, it lowers your IQ and shrinks your brain — reducing density in the region responsible for cognitive and emotional control.

Singletask your way to success.

Skeptical? Don’t be. Acclaimed researchers and neuroscientists around the world, including those at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of London, have plenty of proof.

Likewise, consider the personal, economic, and social toll of distracted driving. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31% of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 report they had read or sent text or email messages while driving within the last 30 days. Worse, a whopping 69% report they had talked on their cellphone.

So what’s our stressed-out society to do? Simple: singletask.

By singletasking you’ll be more productive and present. Plus like any other skill, singletasking can be learned or relearned over time. Soon enough you’ll be singletasking your way to success and sanity in your life, career, and relationships.

Here are six ways to get started:

1. Recognize that multitasking doesn’t exist.

Your brain is incapable of simultaneously processing separate streams of information from multiple tasks. That’s because there’s “interference” between the two tasks, says MIT’s Dr. Earl Miller. So, in actuality, multitasking is a myth. What you’re really doing is task-switching — moving rapidly and ineffectively between tasks.

multitasking

2. Develop a disciplined brain.

How often do you meet someone and instantly forget her name? Your mind was distracted, preoccupied with something else entirely. The inability to concentrate on a name or conversation is evidence of what I deem SBS — Scattered Brain Syndrome.

Singletasking isn’t only about getting things done. It’s also about developing focus and discipline. Living in the present will affect the very essence of everything that matters to you.

3. Create a distraction-free zone.

It’s up to you to control your environment — to “build fences” to keep potential distractions, such as noise and pop-ups, at bay. Rather than blame your technology or family, take control of your space and gadgets. For example, before a call with a loved one, close the door to the room you’re in, and mute all notification pings on your text messages and social media messaging.

4. Pick a place to park extraneous thoughts.

Singletasking doesn’t require you to discard distracting thoughts. Instead, it provides simple systems to set them aside until you can redirect your mind. One technique is to “park” other ideas in a designated spot, such as a notes page on your smartphone, and then quickly return to the current endeavor.

5. Do related tasks in clusters.

Does reading and replying to texts, emails, and social media messages lure you away from bigger, more important projects? Then practice clustertasking — a technique whereby you bunch related tasks into specific segments during the day. At the office, for instance, you could cluster your emailing to three segments daily — into arrival, lunch, and departure times.

6. Carve out regular quiet time.

In a noisy world with 24/7 news, you’re bombarded by distractions as, unfortunately, your brain becomes trained to avoid quiet reflection.

So next time you’re “busy” surfing the Web, ask yourself if you’re really just sidestepping solitude or introspection. And if that’s the case, resist that avoidance, and carve out a little time each day to be left alone with your thoughts.

Finally, singletasking obliges you to do one thing at a time, excluding any other demands at that moment. You can manage your next task after working on the existing one. You don’t have to complete every task all at once, just the current period of time dedicated to it. In other words, choose one task — and commit!


2 Comments

5 Non-Diet Ways to Trick Yourself into Losing Weight

June 8, 2015    By Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD

Convenient. Attractive. Normal. These three words (which are the basis for the even easier to remember acronym C.A.N.) may be the key to eating healthier without really trying, according to a new paper from Cornell University. The review of 112 studies concluded that eaters make good choices when healthy foods are visible and within reach; they’re displayed enticingly; and they’re set up as the most obvious choices compared to other food options. It just makes sense: When you place gorgeous pieces of fresh fruit in a pretty bowl on your counter, you’re more likely to take one than if they’re hidden away—especially if the chips or cookies are even easier to grab. Bottom line, make it handy to eat healthfully and you’ll follow through, no “diet” or willpower required.

In addition to remembering C.A.N., there are plenty of other research-backed strategies for not dieting, and still shedding pounds. Here, four more easy tactics you can adopt.

Plate your veggies artistically

In a University of Oxford study, subjects in one group received salads arranged to resemble an artistic painting; a second group was provided with salads featuring vegetables lined up in neat rows, and salads in a third group were served in a typical piled-up fashion. While all the salads contained identical ingredients, dressing, and condiments, the artistic salad was rated the best by subjects, by a nearly 20 percent margin. In fact, people reported that they’d be willing to pay twice as much for the painting-like versions. The takeaway: We eat with our eyes as well as our stomachs, so if you’re trying to reach for healthy foods more often, put some effort into how you present them. (I think this study demonstrates one reason why Mason jar salads—and the myriad of photos of them on social media—have become so popular.)

Nosh before you shop

You’ve heard this one before, but it’s worth repeating: A 2013 study, also from Cornell University, found that skipping meals before heading to the supermarket is a surefire way to sabotage healthy shopping. Volunteers were asked to fast for five hours, then either given nothing to eat or crackers, and asked to make purchases at a simulated food market. The fasting group bought 18.6% more food—including  a whopping 44.8% more calorie-packed items, like chips and ice cream—than the cracker eating crowd. In a follow-up study, researchers observed shoppers at an actual supermarket just after lunch and in the late afternoon. Compared to post-lunch shoppers, those who strolled the aisles in the late afternoon—when they were way more likely to be hungry—bought over a quarter fewer low-calorie foods like vegetables. To prevent hunger from keeping healthy food items out of your grocery cart, eat something to take the edge off pre-shopping. Stash a golf-ball sized portion of nuts or seeds in your bag, and try to finish them before you walk through the entrance of the supermarket.

shopping

 

Spend a little time in the morning sun

The timing, intensity, and length of your exposure to light during the day may significantly affect your weight. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at Northwestern University found that compared to people who got most of their light exposure later in the day, those who enjoyed even moderately bright light in the morning had significantly lower BMIs. In fact, the later the hour of light exposure, the higher a person’s BMI, and vice versa. The numbers held true independent of an individual’s exercise regime, calorie intake, sleep timing, and age. The powerful effect, researchers say, is due to how light influences our body’s circadian rhythms, which regulate metabolism and weight regulation. To keep those rhythms in sync and your weight in check, researchers advise getting 20 to 30 minutes of bright light exposure between 8:00 a.m. and noon. And no, you don’t have to be outdoors—a room brightened by natural sun (versus a room with no windows and only artificial light) will do.

Don’t dine while distracted

Bringing your lunch to work is a smart way to control your calories. But if you surf the Web while you eat, you may consume more than you would’ve if you’d focused on your meal, both during eating and later in the day. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who played a computer game while lunching felt less full, snacked more, and had more trouble recalling what they had eaten than those who’d eaten without distractions. So while it may feel weird to sit at your desk without checking email or doing anything but eating, that’s the best lunchtime strategy for your waistline. Bonus: You’ll actually enjoy your lunch.

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the New York Yankees MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Cynthia is a three time New York Times best selling author, and her brand new book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast.