ALONE TIME WITHOUT THE GUILT

Women have come a long way in the workforce and family life, but Pew Research shows that women are still more likely to adjust their careers and work schedule to meet the needs of family and children. While men’s involvement at home has gone up significantly since the 60s, research reports that women are still giving more time to housework and childcare on average. As a result, it’s no surprise that women appear to receive less leisure time.

Leisure Isn’t A Luxury

Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. When the To Do List grows longer, our downtime gets shorter. In fact, it’s the first thing to go, as if it’s not a priority, but rather a luxury. What really is leisure? It’s freedom from “coerced” or obligatory tasks. It’s time to enjoy something for yourself.

Leisure, also known as “Me Time,” is necessary to one’s emotional and physical well-being. Lack of time to rest and relax directly affects one’s ability to cope and thrive in life. It’s the whole, “take care of yourself in order to take care of others” thing. Chronic stress eventually becomes a symptom of no downtime, as do other conditions, such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, digestive disorders, and sleep problems. Think about it. Someone who is sleep deprived, depressed, anxious, and stressed isn’t going to function optimally for their family, boss, friends, or spouse, are they?

Nope. But we’re expected to.

As women, we are much less likely to take time to nurture ourselves or partake in hobbies. In fact, some of us lose sight of what we even love to do, between helping others do what they love to do and helping them survive. Putting family first is great, but what happens when we over-function for them? As a result, we start to under-function for ourselves, which will eventually affect our quality of life, relationships, and the very ones we love.

Socializing is Great But…

…It doesn’t have to mean “Me Time.” Sure, you may not see your friends very often, and when you get a minute, it could be the best opportunity for it. After all, socializing with friends and family is one key to a happy and healthy life. All I ask is that you look inward at these rare moments. When was the last time you did nothing? When was the last time you painted or watched a movie just on your own? If there’s a craving in you for an emotional and social breather, do it. Don’t feel obligated to fill every minute of your time with an action, like finally getting to the gym or running that errand. You’ll drain yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Alone Time Feels Guilty

Feeling selfish about taking some alone time for yourself results from unearned guilt. Many of us believe that, if we have any free time, it should be spent doing things for others. It’s important at these times to remind ourselves that simply taking a moment to ourselves isn’t narcissistic; it’s necessary. Cherilynn Veland, MSW, author of Stop Giving It Away: How to Stop Self-Sacrificing and Start Claiming Your Space, Power and Happiness suggests that we tell ourselves this phrase: “Life isn’t all about me, but it is about me too.”

Make Time for Alone Time

Alone time allows personal reflection, an opportunity to unwind, increases productivity, allows self-discovery, encourages deep thinking, and improves relationships. There are a lot of ways you can spend your “Me Time,” whether it’s watching a movie, buying something nice you wouldn’t otherwise buy, reading a book, or just taking a nap. It’s easier said than done, though.
To help you prioritize time for yourself, make a list of things you love (or used to love) to do and use it next time you have a free hour. In fact, schedule your free time before setting any other appointments or events for the week. Then, set alarms for the Day Of to remind you to stop, unwind, and reboot. Try for twice a week, at least. Ultimately, shift your view of your downtime from being “disposable” to being “valuable,” and make sure to keep whatever activity you choose positive. That way, you’re more likely to associate healthy feelings with your “Me Time,” instead of guilt or restlessness.
It’s high time we start making alone time, even if it’s in small amounts, to heal ourselves and maintain our personal health and happiness. It doesn’t mean we don’t love others; it just means we love ourselves too.

Grief Happens in the Brain: Healing After Loss

The human condition is complicated and sometimes painful. In times of loss, in particular, it is especially hard to cope and work one’s way through the stages of what we know as grief. In technical terms, grief is “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.”

In essence, grief is your brain trying to recover from the shock and disorientation that comes with loss and extreme change; in other words, your brain is trying to look out for you. Your body begins to experience deep biological responses to the painful circumstances, physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Just as chemicals and hormones are released in times of joy and excitement, so are chemicals and hormones released and bodily systems shifted in times of sorrow.

These responses begin in the brain.

Emotional Pain in the Brain

When the brain is going through grief, it experiences increased activity in the regions responsible for processing physical pain and emotions: the insula, anterior cingulate cortex, amygdala, posterior cingulate cortex, and prefrontal cortex. In the case of prolonged grief, pain actually accompanies the brain’s reward-process centers, meaning it reinforces (in a sense) the yearning for the lost loved one, almost creating an “addiction.” This is seen when grief persists and even disrupts everyday life.

The effects of grief can also be seen in increased cortisol levels, a hormone mainly released in times of stress–a major part of the grief response as a whole. As a result of excessive cortisol, the prefrontal cortex, which regulates emotions and memories, appears to shrink. This typically affects one’s ability to concentrate, recall things, and articulate or express feelings. Instead, expressing one’s feelings or desires in times of mourning can actually become difficult or even exhausting. Maintaining a normal level of this hormone is essential to human health, but if it remains high, it can take grief to a more prolonged or serious condition, like depression or anxiety.

That’s why it’s very important to be aware of all of the above as it relates to grief’s impact on the human body and mental state. It’s even more important that we treat ourselves kindly through the grieving process.

Appetite and Exercise in Mourning

While grief has its place in the brain, it also has its place in the body and mind. It all comes down to stress. Stress responses require attention in order to aid in healthy healing. Through the grieving process, make your physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual healths top priorities.

During the grieving process, it’s common to lose one’s appetite, overeat in pursuit of comfort, or even experience gastrointestinal issues as a result of grief’s major stressors. In this time, it’s very important to help yourself eat healthy foods that will not only comfort you but also keep your energy up, strengthening communication between brain cells.

Accompanied with eating right (occasional pizza and ice cream are acceptable, of course), exercise (even if mild) is a major help in healing from grief. Being active in some way, especially out in nature, can release neurotransmitters such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and more, which are central to mood control and may help you fight feelings of depression. Meanwhile, it also helps relieve other symptoms of grief, such as anxiety, pain, lack of sleep, fatigue, and more. This can come in the form of a brief 10-minute walk, if that’s all a person can manage–any bit of movement helps.

Grief: The Sleep Thief

Sleep disorders may crop up in certain stages of grief. Try to take measures that will make you adequately restful by bedtime. That might mean setting some daytime or bedtime practices for yourself, such as no napping in the late afternoon or evening; developing a bedtime routine, in which you read a book or wind down with a bath; keep your bedroom at the right temperature, not too hot or cold; try to avoid electronic devices right before bed; use low lighting in the evenings; exercise at regular times each day (again, even if it’s a 15-minute stroll); stay away from caffeine late in the day; and try to avoid alcohol, for it may actually make it more difficult to stay asleep and can also destroy brain cells (you really need those).

Social Support As You Grieve

Because we are emotionally exhausted during this time, it’s difficult to express our needs. This is when social interaction and support crucially comes in to play. Having those around you who know you best and love you will encourage your healing and provide you the support you need to take it one step at a time. This doesn’t mean forcing yourself to be social; it means simply having loved ones nearby who understand and are there for you.

Be Patient. Healing Takes Time.

Ultimately, take it easy on yourself. Healing from loss takes time, and that’s all you can do: wait and treat yourself kindly. Remember that those around you should also understand that this grieving process takes time; that way, you don’t feel needy or rushed in the stages, which can lead to unearned guilt. Allow yourself to move through all of this organically.

Never feel selfish for grieving. As mentioned, grief is your body and brain’s natural approach to healing from something incredibly painful; let them do their job for you. Then, do your job in aiding your body and brain to heal by loving yourself, getting the sleep you need, eating as well as you can, and seeking support from others around you to combat any feelings of loneliness or ruminating thoughts.

In the end, you are not alone. Everyone in the world experiences grief at some point; let us all support each other through it and let ourselves grow from it.

This article was originally authored by Leigh Richardson and posted on Prime Women. Read the article here.

Women and Migraines: Causes, Coping and Cures

There’s nothing worse than having to force yourself to function in everyday life while dealing with something as hindering as a migraine or headache. There you are, sitting at your desk, staring at your screen, when you wonder, “hmm…what’s that?” as you notice a strange visual disturbance in your peripheral eyesight. Ah, yes. That’s called “aura,” and you know this because it has often led to a migraine or headache. If this is true for you, you are part of the one-third of affected individuals who experience “aura.”

Headaches and migraines come in all shapes and forms (unfortunately). First, there’s migraine with aura, which is a classic migraine, and second, migraine without aura, which is a common migraine. As for headaches, there are many more types: tension, cluster, allergy or sinus, hormone, caffeine, exertion, hypertension, rebound, and post-traumatic. The most common among these are tension headaches, which stem from physical and emotional stress, lack of rest, stressful work or other factors such as skipping meals, bad posture, and more.

Migraines Give Me the Feels—Not the Good Kind

Migraines and some headaches in general can be described as “intense pulsing or throbbing pain” in an area of the head. Migraines, however, can take it further toward nausea and/or vomiting, or severe sensitivity to light and sound. It can also last between 4 and 72 hours if untreated. While “aura” may sound as if it’s a nice warning of an incoming headache, it’s actually very unpleasant and sometimes frightening. Many describe “aura” as “zigzagging lines,” flashing lights, or seeing stars. It causes temporary blind spots, colored spots, or blurred vision—or even tunnel vision, where you’re only able to see close to the center of the field of view.

Just know, ladies, you’re not alone. It’s happening to other people too—other women.

Women, Stress and Migraines

Let’s go back to stress because it’s is a huge contributor to health issues, and it’s a major women’s health issue. Not only can it lead to depression, anxiety, heart problems, stomach problems, and obesity, but it also increases the likelihood of headaches and migraines. After all, when under stress, muscles tense up, and when this tension lasts a while, it leads to a migraine or headache or body aches.

Stress, however, seems to affect women on a greater scale, as women are more likely than men to report symptoms of stress, including headaches. It should not come as a surprise then that migraine is three times more common in women than in men, affecting 10 percent of people worldwide. Women also get tension headaches more often than men, typically beginning in the teen years and peaking in their 30s. Reasons are thought to relate to genetics, hormone changes in women during menstrual cycle, and are linked to the dilation and constriction of blood vessels in the head.

Other common triggers of a migraine or headache attack include: caffeine withdrawal, drinking alcohol, changes in sleep patterns, loud noises, bright lights, diet changes, odors or perfumes, smoking or exposure to smoke, and others. Some food triggers include all the things we love most (life isn’t fair): chocolate, dairy (especially certain cheeses), foods with tyramine (red wine, aged cheese, smoked meat, and certain beans), fruits (avocado, banana, citrus), peanuts and other nuts and seeds.

Luckily, it’s Not Forever

Research shows that older people tend to have fewer headaches and migraines than younger people. At age 70, only 10 percent of women and 5 percent of men experience them. So while we struggle now, these issues should fade with age. Regardless, always tell your doctor what you’re going through.

Coping and Curing Migraine

A healthy diet, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep are all great ways to avoid a migraine or headache. If you think about it, they’re great ways to manage stress, so naturally they’ll help with headaches. Other healthy habits like meditation, relaxation training, or yoga are also effective approaches. In my field, we do a combination of things to help prevent recurring tension headaches: meditation, relaxation training, EMG biofeedback, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Research also supports that cortical hyperarousal of fast wave activity is found in many people with migraines and supports neurofeedback as an effective treatment for the symptoms of a migraine.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Headaches or Migraines

Many people misunderstand the struggles behind migraines and headaches. It causes people to miss out on social activities and sometimes even work. Migraines are the 3rd most prevalent illness in the world; it’s serious business. The most we can do for ourselves is to rest and recover, and when others are dealing with the same, go easy on them too. It’s not always preventable, so we must react healthily both emotionally and physically.

This article was originally authored by Leigh Richardson and posted on Prime Women. Read the article here.

Keep Your Brain Forever Young

As we age physically, we also age mentally. Many things can expedite that process, like chemotherapy, emotional trauma, injury, medications, or other treatments. The one we all deal with, though, is time. At a certain point, we have to be a little more intentional about “working out” the brain as if it were a muscle in the body.

What Happens in the Brain, Changes the Brain

There are a lot of factors at play in the brain as we age. While we develop new neurons throughout our lives and reach our peak brain size in our 20s, the brain eventually experiences a decline in volume and decrease in blood flow. The miraculous thing about the brain, though, is that studies have shown it can regrow and is capable of learning and retaining new information. In other words, it is capable of neural reorganization.

When the brain changes, we tend to change. Mental tasks become a little more difficult, as do forming new long-term memories and performing certain mental operations. Our cognitive function becomes more of a challenge. Other parts of who we are, like our confidence, social life, or work life may also suffer.

That’s why, to help maintain the brain’s plasticity—its ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections—we have to put in more effort by creating our own mental stimulation and treatment. There are several ways you can do this.

Active Body, Active Brain

Woman CyclingWhen you work out your body, you work out your brain. While I don’t recommend going crazy and starting P90X or other high-intensity training, I do recommend some physical activity. Studies have shown that physical activity is a promising strategy that influences the brain to enhance cognitive function and emotional function, particularly in late adulthood. Exercising regularly is great for refreshing the immune system, which can improve cognitive function and information processing by increasing volume of the hippocampus(the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system). So, go for a “fast walk” or purchase a stationary exercise bike so you can “Netflix and cycle.”

Eat, Sleep, Think

By eating right, you’re doing your brain a favor. For years, scientists have suspected that the intake of specific nutrients can impact cognitive processes and emotions. A primary nutrient? Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be obtained from dietary fish. This nutrient can improve synaptic and cognitive functioning “by providing plasma membrane fluidity at synaptic regions.”

Also, give yourself a rest. Circulation and the brain is imperative to the proper nutrients and oxygen reaching the brain cells. To maintain that proper circulation and brain energy metabolism, we must receive the right amount of sleep. Think of it like this: it’s a great excuse to sleep in. But really, make your sleep a priority. Your brain will thank you 5 to 10 years from now. (And when the alarm goes off.)

Multi-Task

Autumn CandlesOkay, that’s a little misleading. Rather, let your senses multi-task. Some studies over time have shown that, if you can’t give your full attention to both activities, you’ll experience a deficit in cognitive function. But, if you allow your senses to multitask, you could be doing some wonders for your brain. (It’s fun, too.) Perform two sensory tasks at the same time, such as watching the rain and listening to jazz. Or, listening to jazz and smelling the Fresh Autumn candle you just lit. Stimulate to form new connections.

Get Artsy

Tap into the passionate part of you that has a soft spot for the arts. That could be music, visual art, drawing, painting, playing an instrument, reading. There are so many options, and they all stimulate the mind in unique, creative ways that help with abstract thinking. One in particular that has become incredibly popular in the last 5 years: coloring books for grown-ups.

Music, whether listening or learning to play it, is always a great choice, as it is complex and multisensory and has a positive influence on neuroplasticity in several regions of the brain. It’s the integration of audiovisual information as well as appreciation of abstract rules that has been shown to improve cognitive skills of attention, control, motor function, visual scanning, and executive functioning.

Change is Good

Making small adjustments or changes to your regular routine can stimulate your brain to create some new thinking pathways, new connections. That could mean just taking a new route to work, eating something new for lunch, changing your computer background, anything simple like that.

Stay Positive

Don’t let the ageist stereotypes about memory decline keep you from being hopeful about your brain’s future functioning. Confidence is hard to craft, but treat yourself kindly, take the measures needed to be healthy all around, and understand that the more positive you are about your memory, the more likely you are to improve it.

Lastly, Use Science

To scientifically assess and improve neuroplasticity and performance, you can always involve professionals and utilize neuromodulation, which can come in the form of neurofeedback, Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (pEMF), Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), and Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation (tACS). These stimulating neuro techniques use technology in a non-invasive way to increase blood flow and functional connectivity in the brain. In other words, our brains have taught us how to improve our brains.

This blog was previously posted in Prime Women magazine here.

Brain Health: The Things You Can Do to Make it Stronger

Getting older is something we all struggle with, from the thought of our increased age to the aging of our bodies. Some feel it in their joints and bones, while others notice their minds starting to slow. Aging causes many differences in not just our bodies but also in our brain. Fear not, there are some exercises that can help you stay sharp for many years to come.

As we get older, our cognitive abilities gradually deteriorate. A certain amount of cognitive decline is a normal part of ageing. When getting into your 50’s you can start to see your reasoning skills slow. According to research in the British Medical Journal, middle aged patients saw a 3.6 percent decline in reasoning skills over the past 10 years.

Woman Playing SudokuThere are things you can do to strengthen your cognitive abilities. Playing games that require logic, process of elimination, and reasoning skills such as Clue and Sudoku, can help strengthen those abilities by using parts of your brain that you may not use as much on a daily basis. Challenge your brain in your daily life. Try brushing your teeth with your non dominant hand. By doing this, you’ll be using the other side of your brain to perform the task which expands the part of the cortex that controls tactile information from the hand.

Though everyone is different, in a normal healthy brain, the major thing that happens as we get older is our neurons slow down a bit. According to the Journal of Nutritional Science, people whose diets consisted of fried foods didn’t score well on tests that measured brain function, memory, and learning. Researchers believed that having a poor diet of fried foods contributed to inflammation and a small brain size. Switching out battered and fried foods for grilled and baked items can help reduce this risk.

Other items bad for your brain’s health are high amounts of sugars and trans fats. Research has found that a high intake of trans fats, found in processed foods, like cakes and cookies, can increase your risk of cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s. This is due to the possible cause of plaque build up in your brain. To prevent this, ditch the processed sweets for dark chocolate and/or fruit. Brain health, just like your overall health, is greatly affected by sugar!

As you age, your brain will shrink. It’s unavoidable. According to researchers at the University of California, Davis, there are four factors that can speed up the decline in brain volume.

      • high blood pressure
      • diabetes
      • cigarette smoking
      • being overweight or obese

 

Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis can help to avoid this. Quitting smoking can always help with a healthier lifestyle and a healthier brain.

Though we have talked a lot about the effects of an aging brain, you might be confused where the line is between normal aging and a need for serious concern. Here are a few examples to ease your mind. Finding yourself searching for words is likely normal compared to using the wrong words, for example using the word stove when referring to your table. Driving a little slower than your used to is a normal thing among aging drivers, but if you start to react very slowly behind the wheel, or often miss stop signs and red lights, these could be signs of a bigger problem.

No matter how you age, the most important thing is to continue to live your best life. Here are a few things that can not only keep you active, but keep your brain active as well. Keep Learning! Instead of doing the same old thing, think outside the box and try something new. New experiences will build new pathways in your brain, keeping your mind healthy as you get older. You can also spend more time with friends and family. Being social can help keep your mind sharp as you age. The key to an active happy life and brain health is an active happy brain.

This blog was previously posted in Prime Women magazine here.

Think Happy, Be Happy

Our thoughts are central to our character. They determine our emotions, how we react to the world in tragedy or in celebration, and how we live mentally, physically, and spiritually. In other words, our deepest thoughts and outlook on the world can directly impact our well-being and our daily lives in a big way.

Positive Thinking Doesn’t Mean Never Feeling Sad

Woman BalancingPositive thinking is an attitude or mindset in which a person generally waits for or expects good or favorable outcomes, whether it’s about how you look at yourself, at others, or at situations you’re in. Keep in mind, though, that positive thinking doesn’t mean you never feel gloomy or pessimistic. It doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to be angry or sad. The key to having a positive outlook is balance–making sure you’re not leaning too heavily on the negative side to where it’s making you miserable.

What Affects Your Brain Also Affects Your Life

Our thoughts are released as brain signals, and thoughts that are positive cause the generation and reinforcement of new synapses in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of cognition, and the amygdala, which regulates emotion, work together in a framework to mediate emotional influences on cognitive processes. As a result, we experience increased brain functioning.

On the other hand, a heavier focus on the negative can slow your brain down, hindering one’s emotional wellness. Things like rumination on the past and situations you can’t change, or constant fear and worrying about the future can dim your brain’s functioning, as it leaves no space for pleasurable thoughts. Again, balance is key for your emotional wellness.

Signs of emotional wellness can be seen in one’s degree of resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from difficult situations. Another sign, according to studies, is the ability to hold onto positive emotions longer and appreciate joyous times. Having self-purpose and meaning, as well as knowing what is important to you, are also contributing factors to your emotional wellness.

Positive Thinking and Your Health

Happy WomanHaving that balance between positive and negative thoughts not only makes you emotionally healthy, but it’s also believed to improve physical health. Studies have shown that an “upbeat mental state” might be linked to “improved health, including lower blood pressure, reduced risk for heart disease, healthier weight, better blood sugar levels, and longer life.”

Similarly, negative thoughts can lead to stress responses, which can hinder your emotional wellness. Positive thinking in various forms, including those with relaxation techniques, can help with stress management and improve one’s health.

When Positive Thinking Doesn’t Come Easy

Identify the Negative

Start noticing your negative thought patterns. Are you blaming yourself every time something goes wrong? Do you let one thing ruin the rest of your day? Throughout the day, notice the areas of your life you’re negative about. That way, you can try approaching those areas differently.

Humor It

Sometimes, not-so-pleasant situations can have humorous aspects to them. Try to notice those, and allow yourself a moment of laughter at the situation.

See “Failures” as Opportunities

Everything we “fail” at, we can learn from. Try to view it as a learning opportunity.

Be Healthy

Having a healthy diet and exercise schedule positively impacts all areas of health. This sets you up for easier, more natural positive thinking throughout your days.

Surround Yourself with Positive People

Negativity breeds negativity. Try to surround yourself with positive mentors and friends who are realistic, but try to magnify the good, allowing it to outweigh the bad.

Practice Positive Self-Talk

This also means overcoming negative self-talk. It may feel unnatural and uncomfortable at first, but its long term effects are valuable. Here’s the best rule: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else. If you do think something negative, look at it rationally and respond with positive things about yourself, as well as gratitude.

Start Off Positive

While waking up is hard early in the morning, try to start your day with a positive affirmation, whether it’s reading quotes or self meditation.

Live in the Present

It’s true; the present is a gift. Allow yourself to really dwell and live in the here and now, as it’s everything that was and will be. As you enjoy the moment, you’re freeing yourself from past ones and protecting yourself from future ones.

With that, I will leave you with this popular and meaningful affirmation:

Albus Dumbledore Quote

 

Note: This blog was previously posted in Prime Women here.

How Winter Affects Your Brain

Studies new and old have shown that, in fact, moods and behaviors do change depending on seasons, and similarly, brain activity also changes. Here’s what you should know about our brains as the seasons change.

The Season of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Cloudy DayI’m sure you’ve heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression that varies with the seasons, often being triggered in late fall and early winter, and subsiding in spring and summer. It is said the lack of light, more clouds, and shorter days in winter are the contributors to seasonal affective disorder, but the causes aren’t concrete. Researchers have found people with seasonal affective disorder may have an imbalance of serotonin, which is a chemical that affects your mood. A person with this disorder could also make too much melatonin (a hormone that regulates sleep) and not enough vitamin D. There are ways to combat the symptoms: through light therapy, exercise, eating right, and setting a healthy sleep schedule.

Pay Attention in Summer, Remember in Fall

In a 2016 Belgian study, researchers found that participants’ abilities to perform different tasks remained relatively the same over the year. However, the responses of their brains to the tasks were different depending on the season. For tasks that required sustained attention, brain activity peaked in summer and “bottomed out” in winter. It was nearly the opposite for brain activity in response to tasks that required working memory, as it peaked around autumn and “bottomed out” around spring. So, while neither is necessarily better than the other, they’re certainly different.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Seasonal Affective Disorder LightIt’s also possible the colder months are good for our decision-making abilities. Researchers, as reported by the Scientific American, tested this link and had results suggesting simple cognitive tasks, like decision-making, can be somewhat affected by “excessive ambient warmth.” They figured, as our bodies work hard to maintain a healthy internal temperature, they use up resources that would otherwise be available for mental processing. These findings, however, are not to say that those who live in hotter climates are more prone to poor decision-making; humans are incredibly adaptive to their environments, especially when exposed long term.

If You Have the Winter Blues…

While these are interesting findings, it doesn’t change the fact that some of us love winter and some of us hate it. Here’s how to embrace the colder months if you have the winter blues.

  • Use early morning or midday to your advantage and take a walk while the sun is still out. Get that vitamin D on your lunch break. Also, eat good sources of vitamin D when the skies are gray.
  • Soothe the soul with warm beverages and foods like herbal teas, coffee, and soups.
  • Keep your house and your toes warm, and if you need that extra kick of warmth, get a space heater and some of these thermal socks. This is also the perfect excuse to have mounds of comfortable throw blankets on every couch, chair, and bed.
  • Wear bright colors or just colors that make you happy. Often, red is associated with high energy and power. Orange is warm and inviting, and yellow is often associated with optimism and cheeriness.
  • Work on a project that will help you stay mentally active and will be a fun way to get you through the winter months.
  • Spend your time with optimistic people.

Don’t Let Winter Give You the Cold Shoulder

Ultimately, try not to let your spirit drop as the temperatures do. If winter gives you the cold shoulder, start focusing on self-care and the other coping mechanisms above. Your brain will thank you for it!

 

Note: This blog was previously posted in Prime Women here.

Leigh Richardson: One Third of Students Say They Were Bullied Last School Year

A new survey says that as much as a third of high school students were bullied last school year. Leigh Richardson recently discussed this phenomenon and what parents can do about it.

Some people say that confronting or fighting your bully is the answer.

That might work for some people but I think the real question is what about the kid who’s doing the bullying or what about the kid who’s being bullied and then goes on to bully others. That’s what we really need to address.

How much of bullying behavior is in the hands of parents?

A lot of it is actually, when kids don’t know how to play with other kids it’s up to the parents to intervene and explain to their children what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. The most important thing is that if bullying is happening to your child that you talk with them and work with them to find solutions.

Listen To The Full Interview

Your Brain and Back-to-School Anxiety (For Kids and Adults)

It Happens to the Best of Us.

Whether you’re a parent, teacher, coach, or student, the new school year can bring up some anxiety. For parents, it might be sympathetic anxiety for their kids. For teachers, it could be anxiety to get everything done, get the classroom set up, being in front of kids all day, the list goes on. To prepare yourself and your kids for the new school year in a healthy way, here are some tips.

 

Mentally Prepare

Mental preparation for almost anything starts with acknowledging it and the worries it brings you. So, for yourself, communicate your concerns or worries to someone who loves you, like your partner, a spouse, a friend. Next, allow your kids to also communicate their concerns. Give them the platform and open space to do so by setting them up in a healthy, productive conversation.

When they present a fear that you can’t really prevent from happening, avoid coddling and using false hope as a mechanism. Instead, be realistic and teach them how to problem solve. By doing this, you naturally work through the issue, providing some potential solutions and preparations that will likely put their minds at ease.  

When the summer ends, a lot of kids feel like the fun does too, and thus, are less enthusiastic for the school year to start. Show your kids that, while summer vacation is over, the fun isn’t. There are plenty of things to look forward to in the upcoming year: game nights, weekend activities, sleepovers, blanket forts, ball games, etc. Keep that positive energy flowing into the fall.   

 

Physically Prepare

This one may overlap a little with mental preparation, but let’s try to focus on some healthy physical practices that can improve mental preparation. For parents or teachers, before the school year starts, treat yourself a little more than usual. That could mean taking a few long baths, getting a massage, or practicing some great relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga–anything that can make the heart calm and bring your concentration back in a productive way. Teach the same to your kids before the year starts, and teachers, teach them to your students, possibly on their first day. This will really help set the tone of the classroom: positivity.

Next, eat well. Energy is important for the upcoming school year, which will include events that require lots of high functioning. Plus, when you have a healthy stomach, it directly impacts the brain in a positive way. Similarly, sleep well and on a routine. If that means practicing those relaxation techniques at night, reading something “boring” before bed, or drinking some non-caffeinated chamomile tea, then go for it. The same goes for the kids. Mental rest is a must for a good first day, a fresh start. You don’t want them to be falling asleep in their first class of the new school year.

 

Get Organized, Stay Focused

Getting organized is easier said than done, especially when you have so much to GET done, as a parent, teacher, or student. Try some new approaches to getting organized. Studies have shown that there is a positive impact on productivity when writing things down, physically–To Do lists. It demonstrated, in those studies, that planning activities via lists reduced the “burden” on the brain, allowing the brain to sort through other things easier, leading to completed tasks.

Get back to a routine. The brain can form habits through repetition, both good and “bad.” That means, over the summer, your kids may have developed the routine of sleeping in. Try to get them to kick the habit by starting over with repeating a new routine, one that is more accustomed to the school year.

Other research shows that multitasking can lower your productivity. Try your best to give focus to just one thing at a time. Again, much easier said than done. But if you can manage to practice this, you’ll notice an increase in productivity. In fact, it has been estimated that multitasking can reduce productivity up to 40%. Remember: slow is fast, and fast is slow. Ever notice how the faster you try to do something, the more mistakes you make and have to take extra time to fix them? Most of us do. So, just take a minute, do the task, and move on to the next.

 

Be “In It” Together

When getting ready for the school year, go school supplies shopping together. Let them choose their backpacks and take some joy in the process. Read with them, or oversee their summer projects with them. Eat dinner together and encourage open conversation, as mentioned previously. Make the back-to-school process as fun, low-key, and low-pressure as you can. Show them that, while you’re separated throughout the day, you’re still on their team. And you’ll be there at the end of the day, too. Show them you care enough to be involved and make these decisions together, while still giving them freedom to make some of their own.

 

Have a great school year!

Leigh Richardson, Prime Women Magazine: “Living Alone Doesn’t Mean Living Lonely.”

More and more older women are living alone, whether due to divorce, widowhood, or by choice. While many may think this is a lonely affair, it’s actually proving a positive experience for many women.

“While there are drawbacks to living alone, such as financial strain and the need to make more effort socially, a positive finding from this data shows that older women who live alone are more likely than men to say they spend more time on their hobbies,” Leigh Richardson writes in Prime Women Magazine. “Fully 65% of women who live alone say they spend more time on their hobbies and interests as they age, compared with 49% of men.”

It’s turning out to be a valuable time of self-reflection, solitude, and healthy personal meditating and spending time on hobbies — something most women find scarce in their lives, as they sacrifice so much for family and work. It’s independence; it’s freedom.

“The independence, in the form of freedom to stock the fridge with what you want, wear what you want (even if that means wearing nothing), and manage your schedule around yourself provides a newfound flexibility we as women are not accustomed to,” Leigh writes. “Our lives are spent scheduling doctors appointments and making sure the people we love get to them, losing sleep or sacrificing a shower to get the lunches ready, or get homework done. When circumstances call for living alone, there are those benefits.”

So, if you’re an older woman living alone, try to focus on the many positives to the independence. If you’re struggling in being alone, there are ways to help yourself find joy in these moments.

To find out how you can both embrace and balance the challenges and perks of living alone, read the full article here.