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10 Ways To Change Your Holiday Outlook And Fend Off Stress

By drawing on great information available in the latest research, you can change your holiday outlook.

The most wonderful time of the year can become anything but: the pressure to find that perfect gift, financial stress and poor health habits all contribute to why the vast majority of people cite the holidays as a very stressful time. By drawing on great information available in the latest research, you can change your holiday outlook. Even better, you can begin to create habits that transform an entire lifetime. Here are some little changes that can make a big difference in managing holiday stress — a little “New Year’s intention” you can begin before Christmas.

Manage expectations
Expecting that picture-perfect holiday can lead to deep disappointment when reality doesn’t line up. The holidays become an amplified expression of the struggles we face during the rest of the year; the desire to repair a fractured family relationship, a struggle for perfectionism or feeling responsible for others’ happiness can all lead to unreasonable hopes. Instead, work with your holiday mindset and try to see others from a present-time lens. Back away from hot button conversations, and tap into your ability to emotionally roll with whatever challenge happens to show up.

Breathe deeply
It sounds so obvious: “just breathe.” It’s well established that taking deep breaths is the fast track to feeling relaxed and present, but how often do you fully expand your lungs, flushing out all those toxins, activating your relaxation response? Schedule in deep breathing several times per day, well before the holidays become chaotic, to minimize your stress response. How do you know when you’ve hit that therapeutic threshold? Aim for six to eight breathing cycles per minute, depending on what’s comfortable for you.

Focus on experiences, not stuff
While the excitement of opening presents may lead to a surge in the feel-good neurochemical dopamine, research tells us that sharing in new experiences bolsters real happiness long term. The suggestion is that while we can easily tire of objects, memories become internalized, and are a resource we draw on again and again.

Unplug
The more time we spend on social media, the greater the likelihood of low mood or even depression, the latest research suggests. While it may be tempting to check and re-check responses to your posts about your holiday moments, chances are you may be inhibiting happiness. Instead, opt for black out periods throughout the day or putting technology aside altogether. It’s a powerful way to clear the way for authentic connection, real time.

Buy time
The endless gift buying and holiday errands are, for most people, downright stressful. Some researchers would suggest that spending your money on timesaving services might be the answer to becoming stress-free; in fact, participants who did were far happier. But in the age of technology, it isn’t necessary to throw money at the problem. Instead, try purchasing gifts and groceries online, pull back on unreasonable expectations and challenge the perfectionism that can become your holiday mindset.

Lean into your routines and rituals
A review by the American Psychological Association reports that routines and rituals are powerful protective factors, providing a deeply rooted stability to family life. The benefits include stronger marital satisfaction, fewer health problems in children, and increased positive identity in adolescents’, greater academic achievement, and better family relationships overall. Use the routines you’ve already established to maintain a sense of well-being throughout the holidays, and consider the kinds of rituals you’d like to put into practice for years to come.

Exercise
The positive effects of exercise are undeniable; they’re shown to be even more powerful than antidepressants when it comes to the long-term treatment of depression. Fitting in exercise over the holidays will not only counteract holiday blues. It can also provide you with a surge of endorphins, the body’s natural pain reliever.

Pay attention to health symptoms
The latest research reveals a worrisome, if not unnerving, holiday fact: the risk of death on Christmas, Christmas Eve and New Years Day increases by a whopping 5 per cent. The good news is there are ways to protect you against this holiday effect.Pay attention to atypical health symptoms, know where the closest medical facility is and don’t hesitate to forego holiday celebrating to put your health at the forefront.

Smile, for real
Smiling is shown to have both physiological and psychological benefits according to a study on it’s effects. The simple act of putting a pencil in one’s mouth is likely to bolster stress recovery and leave you feeling more positive. The study revealed that the pencil in mouth technique was beneficial regardless of whether the participant was asked to smile or not, but there were slight benefits to intentional smiling.

Last, but not least, count your blessings
We’ve all heard about it. Re-connecting to the core intention of the holidays happens seamlessly when you commit to a practice of gratitude. According to studies by the Grandfather of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, the simple practice of writing down three things that went well each day for one week, can lead to greater happiness for up to six months.

So, if you’re looking to make this holiday the most meaningful yet, reflect on and generously share the true “gifts” you’ve been given. Extend the habit beyond the holidays, and it has the potential to change the emotional tone of your life. And that is, truly, a blessing.

 12/21/2017 
 
Michele Kambolis Clinical Therapist, Author, Parenting Expert, Mind-Body Health Specialist and National Columnist
 
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Does Christmas music turn you into the Grinch?

Does Christmas music put you in the spirit of giving or turn your heart two sizes too small?

If you find yourself relating to a hairy, green, holiday-hating beast known as the Grinch when your ears are filled with the sounds of the season, you’re in good company.

A 2011 Consumer Reports poll found that almost 25% of Americans picked seasonal music as one of the most dreaded aspects of the holiday season, ranking just behind “seeing certain relatives.”

A survey this fall of 2,000 people in the US and Britain by Soundtrack Your Brand, a Spotify-backed company that says it’s on a mission “to kill bad background music,” found that 17% of US shoppers and 25% of British shoppers “actively” dislike Christmas music. Bah! Humbug!

Health benefits of music

When it comes to your health, science says music is good for you. Studies show that music can treat insomnia; lessen the experience of pain (even during dental procedures); reduce your heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety; boost your mood and reduce depression; alter brainwaves and reduce stress; help you slow down and eat less during a meal; help your body recover faster; and engage the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, remembering and making predictions. Many studies say the best type of music for health is classical in nature, full of rich, soothing sounds.

With all those positives, what’s the problem with Christmas tunes?

One reason you might find yourself cringing is oversaturation. Due to “Christmas creep,” music and decorations seem to go up earlier each year, much closer to Halloween than Thanksgiving. That gives you ample time to hear Mariah Carey’s hit “All I Want for Christmas is You” for what seems like the googolplex time before you get far on your shopping list.

It makes sense that too much of anything can cause annoyance, even stress, and put a damper on your holiday spirit, much like a certain famous “nasty, wasty skunk”: “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch … you have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile … ”

That’s certainly the case for retail workers who are forced to listen to holiday tunes on a seemingly endless loop in the workplace. Soundtrack Your Brand’s survey found that one in six employees believe Christmas music repetition negatively affects “their emotional well-being,” while a full 25% said they felt less festive.

Or … more Grinchy?

Putting aside the auditory attack on holiday retail workers, there’s another way to look at survey statistics: About 75% of us enjoy listening to Christmas music. And it’s not just baby boomer nostalgia that fuels those facts. According to Nielsen’s 2017 Music 360 report, millennials are the biggest holiday music fans (36%), closely followed by Generation X (31%) and then the baby boomers (25%).

Stores use music against you

Retailers are quite aware of those statistics and have learned how best to use our emotions to tap into our wallets.

Studies show that Christmas music, combined with festive scents, can increase the amount of time shoppers spend in stores, as well as their intentions to purchase. It turns out that the tempo of Christmas music plays a role as well.

Faster-paced pieces like “Jingle Bells” will energize shoppers and move them more quickly through a store than retailers might like. That’s why many rely on slower-tempo tunes, like Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song,” to relax shoppers and entice them to spend more time and money.

That makes sense to University of Cambridge music psychologist David Greenberg, who studies the relationship between our cognitive styles and musical preferences. He believes that how you think is an excellent predictor of what music you will like.

According to Greenberg, if you like to analyze rules and patterns in the world, like those that apply to technology, car engines and the weather, you’re probably a “systemizer.” If instead you enjoy focusing on understanding and reacting to the feelings and thoughts of others, you’re likely an “empathizer.”

Want to know your personal thinking/musical style? Take Greenberg’s in-depth quiz 

If you found yourself scoring somewhere in the middle, Greenberg says you’re a “balanced” thinker, and your musical choices will probably contain a mixture of high- and low-energy pieces.

“About a third of us fall into each grouping: systemizer, empathizer and balanced,” Greenberg explained. “But it also depends on gender. Females score higher on empathizing and males on systemizing.”

Just how does that apply to holiday music?

“Empathizers prefer mellow styles of music, soft rock, R&B and soul, music that is slower,” Greenberg said. “It can be sad or nostalgic and certainly has an emotional depth to it. That profile that matches many Christmas songs such as ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,’ songs with features that get you in the Christmas mood.”

A “systemizer,” he says, will like more complex, high-energy music. Examples include hard rock and heavy metal, such as Metallica, The Sex Pistols and Guns N’ Roses. It’s safe to say that most holiday tunes don’t fit into that category.

It’s possible, says Greenberg, that those of us who don’t like Christmas music from the start of the season might fall into the “systemizer” category. Or that you might prefer listening to the more upbeat hits on Billboard’s Holiday 100, such as this year’s No. 2, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee, or No. 4, “A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives.

So the next time the sounds and smells of the holiday season start to overwhelm you at your favorite retail store, relax. Understand that it’s all about personal style. Take a tip from the Grinch and let your heart grow – three sizes, perhaps?

By Sandee LaMotte, CNN     Fri December 15, 2017
source: www.cnn.com


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This Year, Consider Giving Presence Instead Of Presents

During the holiday season, many of us feel pressure to find our loved ones the “perfect” gift. Why? Because gift-giving has long been considered a prime way to express love. However, recent research suggests that gestures don’t need to be large or have a hefty price tag to feel meaningful. The study, published this summer in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests that small acts of kindness, not grand overtures, make people feel most loved and supported.

“Our research found that micro-moments of positivity, like a kind word, cuddling with a child, or receiving compassion make people feel most loved,” says Dr. Zita Oravecz, a professor in human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University and one of the study’s researchers.

In the study, 495 men and women between the ages of 18 and 93 completed a questionnaire evaluating 60 possible ways that people can feel love. Each question began with, “Most people feel loved when…” The scenarios included situations like spending time with friends, receiving gifts, and spending time in nature. The survey also included negative interactions, like being controlled and criticized by others. Oravecz says the findings highlight the psychological benefits that intimate relationships can offer. In fact, study participants ranked human interaction as a more significant expression of love than receiving material items, like presents. Connecting with others was also rated more highly than getting positive feedback on the internet, indicating that people derive the most support from personal human contact. In fact, other studies suggest more time on social media leads to increased feelings of isolation. Yet despite the findings that spending time with friends and family makes us feel good, during hectic times like the holidays, these social interactions can feel burdensome instead of fulfilling. Fatigued from an overload of shopping, spending, and travel, most Americans describe this time of year as stressful instead of magical. In fact, a telephone survey conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that compared to other times of the year, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men (out of 786 individuals polled) feel more stress during the holidays. In addition, 51 percent of women and 42 percent of men said purchasing and giving gifts added to their distress.

Esther Lui for NPR

Small acts of kindness are what make us feel loved.
 

Any kind of stress can strain relationships and cause us to withdraw from others, but small stressors can be just as trying as larger burdens. A 2015 research study found that daily hassles like working, running errands, and money troubles negatively impact romantic unions, causing people to feel less satisfied and more alone in their relationships. When we’re anxious and fatigued, it can also be more challenging to see someone else’s point of view, which might explain why family feuds seem more likely to arise during the holidays. While prioritizing one’s self-care during the months of November and December may be difficult, adopting a mindset of being present in the moment may help lessen the stress of the season.

“During the holidays, anxiety rises, making it harder to remain present with ourselves and others. However, the power of spending time with another person is a gift we can give at any moment,” says Dr. Carla Naumburg, a mindfulness coach and social worker in Newton, Mass.

While we may associate presence with mindfulness meditation, we don’t need to be Zen masters to create a calmer holiday. Naumburg says we can cultivate presence by cutting back on social media (which helps limit distractions), getting plenty of rest, and taking a pause (and remembering to breathe).

“For everyone, breathing is a small but powerful act that can keep us connected to ourselves by shifting our awareness to the present moment,” she says.

According to The American Institute of Stress, focused breathing elicits the body’s “relaxation response,” slowing one’s heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and helping muscles relax. This physical process aids in repairing an overactive nervous system, helping us to enter a calmer physical and emotional state. Although it can be challenging to forgo doing extra errands during the holidays, Naumburg suggests balancing party planning and online shopping with moments of human connection. Activities like reading to a child, meeting a friend for a walk, or taking a moment to call a family member, are ways to express love and care and can keep us emotionally grounded. While the idea of offering loved ones the gift of our time may pale in comparison to giving them a lavish present, recent empathy research shows shared human experiences can tighten social bonds. Oravecz and her colleagues also found that despite personality differences, most people agree on what makes us feel loved — the presence of our loved ones.

Juli Fraga is a psychologist and writer in San Francisco. You can find her on Twitter @dr_fraga.
December 9, 2017    JULI FRAGA
 
source: www.npr.org


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Owning A Dog Is Good For Your Heart — Study Says What We All Knew

It seems unconditional love from a fluffy, drooling canine is one key to a healthier life — as many people already expected.

A study of more than 3.4-million people revealed that having a dog in the house is linked to living a longer life. The research, published in Scientific Reports by Uppsala University in Sweden, reviewed a national registry of people aged 40 to 80 for up to 12 years. Just over 13 per cent were dog owners.

By evaluating health records, it found that registered dog owners had a lower risk of having heart attacks and other life-threatening conditions. It said owning a dog cuts down the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 36 per cent for people that live alone.

There is a slightly lower benefit to owning a canine for those who don’t live alone — the risk was cut by only 15 per cent. Researchers even considered other factors such as smoking and body weight to make sure the results were as accurate as possible.

While the study stops short of determining a direct “causal effect” between dog ownership and lower heart disease, it indicates that dog owners may have better health because they stay active by walking their pets, even in bad weather.

A new study says owning a dog can lower chances of developing heart problems.

It adds that having a fluffy friend could also help ease feelings of isolation, depression and stress.

“Dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in single households and with a reduced risk of cardiovascular and all-cause death in the general population,” the study concludes.

And it’s just one of many studies that have come to a similar conclusion about the health benefits of owning a dog.

Earlier this year, a study found that seniors who own a dog spend an average of 22 more minutes per day staying active and take an additional 2,760 steps per day.

Dogs have also been found to improve mental health in children, and help soothe stress for travellers nervous about their flight and students during exams.

— With files from Global News reporter Tania Kohut

By Maham Abedi   National Online Journalist, Breaking News    November 17, 2017
source: Global News


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Fun Fact Friday

  • Stressed men tend to find heavier women more attractive.

  • Whitening toothpaste does not whiten more than regular toothpaste.

 

  • Cuddling strengthens the frontal lobe of the human brain, the region of the brain responsible for how you react to emotional stress.

  • You are about 1 centimeter taller in the morning than in the evening!

source: @faccccct


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Scheduling In Some Personal Time Is Essential To Individual And Marital Health

The fact that men still get more personal time than women is just one reason Dave McGinn thinks we all need to take leisure more seriously

The fighting between Gillian Rowinski and her husband went on for years. It was always the same fight, time after time.

“I would be doing too many things because I’d be either overcommitted or trying to do too much stuff. He would be relaxing playing a video game or reading a book or having a beer. I would look at him and get super resentful,” says Rowinski, who lives in Vancouver and has three children. “I would just blow up. ‘You never help me! I do everything around here! You do nothing.'”

Her husband would point out that he had, in fact, done a number of chores, it was just that she hadn’t noticed. “And then we would have this big argument and I would probably cry,” said Rowinski, who works in human resources.

What Rowinski eventually realized was that she wasn’t upset that her husband hadn’t done the dishes – she was upset that he had figured out a way to find time to relax, and she hadn’t. She needed her own free time.

It’s a familiar story to most couples raising young children. Between work and kids and taking care of the house, it is hard enough to deal with all the responsibilities bearing down, let alone find the time to take a walk or go out for dinner with friends.

Family therapists say a lack of individual free time is one of the most prominent complaints they encounter, and couples who ignore the problem for too long risk seeing their marriages end over it. But even small changes can vastly improve each person’s happiness and the overall quality of a marriage.

“It’s likely to surface quite at the beginning, at the outset of our sessions,” says Michal Regev, a Vancouver-based marriage and family therapist. It’s a ubiquitous struggle for her clients, one that can cause frustration, resentment and anger.

“We all need to recharge, especially when we are giving a lot to others in our family, at work and to others outside of our family who need our help,” Regev says. “Many people complain about feeling exhausted and depleted. The high-paced, high-speed lifestyle of today’s world may leave little room for individual time.”

That seems to hold true particularly for Canadians. Last month, Canada was ranked the fourth-worst country out of 37 around the world for work-life balance in a report released by Expert Market, a British-based company that compares business products and products. The report, which analyzed OECD and World Bank data, based its rankings on average annual hours worked by parents, the number of paid leave days in each country and the total paid leave available to mothers and fathers.

Not that Canadian parents needed evidence: Everyone knows that e-mail and other pressures make it much harder to leave work behind at the office than it was for earlier generations. And, according to Statistics Canada, 58 per cent of couples with young children were employed outside the home in 2015, which squeezes personal time even more.

“After having our son, everything changed,” says Agatha Smykot, who lives in Calgary with her husband and their one-year-old. “No more free time. It basically became non-existent.”

Regev says that women complain about the lack of free time more than men, which isn’t surprising, since the most recent data from Statistics Canada shows that women continue to do more childcare and housework than men.

In 2010, women spent an average of 50.1 hours a week caring for children, compared with 24.4 hours spent by men. And while men put in an average of 8.3 hours a week on domestic work, that is still much less than the 13.8 hours women put in taking care of the house.

“Sometimes I hear spouses say, ‘I was playing soccer five times a week when we met, so what do you expect? I love playing soccer. I need it for my mental health,'” Regev says. “Well, good. But what about your spouse?” As Smykot and her husband began arguing constantly, she even went out looking for her own apartment.

Like so many problems in a marriage, the lack of free time can only be solved through open and honest communication, says Dr. Jane Greer, author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. The New York-based psychotherapist and radio host advises people to first figure out how much free time they need to feel sane, then talk to their partners about what’s realistic for both of them.

“Let your partner know this amount and emphasize how it’s important emotionally and physically. Go over the list of responsibilities so that each person knows what needs to get done in the meantime,” Greer says. “Make sure it’s balanced.”

A couple of months ago, Smykot and her husband sat down to talk. She told him she had had enough, and they decided to fit free time for both of them into their schedules.

“That means Tuesdays and Thursdays, he’s responsible for picking up our son from daycare and then starting dinner and getting him fed,” she says. They also alternate putting their son to bed and taking the dog out for a walk. And Smykot recently joined a neighbourhood association to engage herself socially.

“Since we’ve allocated free time for each one of us, things just got exponentially better,” she says.

Rowinksi had a similar conversation with her husband a year ago. Their solution meant changes for the entire family – including no working in the evenings, and trying not to overschedule their kids. Weekends are totally for family.

“If I’m not running from one thing to the next I’m happier, I’m more calm, I’m a better parent,” Rowinski says. She still doesn’t have endless amounts of free time, maybe an hour every other evening. But that’s an hour she spends doing something she enjoys – and reading a book is much more satisfying than arguing.

DAVE MCGINN   OCTOBER 11, 2017


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9 Secrets Of The World’s Longest Living People

What is the secret to longevity, and why do some people attain it while others don’t? Is it sheer luck, or are there some key factors at play here? Are we all born with the same potential to live a long and healthy life or is that determined solely by genetics?

Interestingly, it seems as though people living in specific regions of the world tend to live longer than those living elsewhere. So, what is it about these specific regions that offer people a chance to live a full life? This was the question that National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner wanted to answer.

Through his research, Buettner identified five geographic locations where people have been observed to live the longest. He has identified these regions as “Blue Zones,” and found that even though these zones differ widely geographically, the diets and lifestyles of their residents share much in common.

You don’t have to live in one of these areas to ensure longevity, however, and if you are looking to live a long and healthy life then you may want to consider the following observations.
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What Are the Most Effective Ways to Achieve Longevity?

In Western society, the idea of growing older is not necessarily celebrated or anticipated. It is actually often feared, as we associate old age with chronic pain and disease. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and with some awareness and vision, we too can have a long and purposeful life despite our geographical location.

In the following video, Dan Buettner reveals what he has discovered are the secrets to longevity and the habits and traits shared by those who live the longest. Some of them might shock you, but as Buettner says, “If you ask the average American what the optimal formula for longevity is, they probably couldn’t tell you.” This is a pretty telling statement — many of us are simply unaware of the key lifestyle factors that contribute to health and vitality.

Here are the nine things we can take away from this presentation.

1. Slow Down and Deal With Stress

Common amongst those living in blue zones was effectively dealing with stress when it arises, and in many cases living lifestyles that do not cause a lot of excess stress in the first place. Taking time to slow things down and enjoy life was a common theme throughout Buettner’s studies.

2. Have a Purpose

Having a reason to get out of bed every day, especially for seniors, was essential. Simply put, finding something to do on a regular basis keeps us happy and helps us live longer.

3. Eat Less

Buettner observed the eating habits of various cultures in these regions, and all ate sparingly. The eating habits of the Okinawans specifically demonstrated an aversion to excess. They know that the feeling of fullness comes after the meal is completed so, rather than stuffing themselves until they feel full, they stop eating before they feel full, knowing the feeling will come after. They also eat off small plates and prepare small portions.

4. Eat a Variety of Foods and Lots of Plants 

Common among all Blue Zones was the amount and variety of plant-based foods that were being consumed. Having a diet consisting of predominantly plant-based foods proves to be a key factor in longevity regardless of your geographical location.

5. Be Social

In America, elderly people are often put into care homes and lead very lonely and isolated lives. Something all of the Blue Zones have in common is a strong sense of community that includes the older people. Instead of shunned and forgotten, older people are celebrated and included.

6. Have Faith

A large percentage of those living in Blue Zones had faith. They believed in a higher purpose for life, be it religious or spiritual.

7. Drink in Moderation or Not At All

It seems this one was a bit of a toss up. People either enjoyed a glass of wine or two daily or didn’t drink at all. In either case, Buettner did not see people drinking to excess.

8. Move Naturally

People who live in Blue Zones tend to move a lot throughout the day, but they aren’t making a point to do it — it just comes naturally. Their daily activities include gardening, walking, and spending time outdoors.

9. Put Loved Ones First

People in Blue Zones tend to stay close to their family members. Parents and grandparents play a big role in the lives of their children and they stay connected and close by, remaining an integral part of each other’s lives.

 

ALANNA KETLERMAY 18, 2017