Relax And Be Cheerful This Holiday

The approaching holiday season invariably fills us with feelings of warmth and joyful anticipation. We can spend more time with family and friends, go on a vacation, take time away from work, relax and get refreshed. That said, unless we welcome the holidays with the right mindset, they can turn into sources of stress and anxiety.

The words “holiday stress” have in fact become part of popular jargon these days and for good reasons. We work all year long and when the holidays are approaching, it is only natural that we will try to make the best of them. However, the problem seems to lie in the fact that often in our eagerness to get the most out of the holidays or the festive season, we sometime end up overdoing things a little and this may often lead to stress, frustrations, disappointments, etc.

Don’t run after a “perfect holiday.” Quit trying to make the perfect holiday. This should be your basic guideline for cutting off the stress factor from your holidays. No matter what we are doing during the holiday season, visiting or preparing special dinners with family members and the friends, we always set certain expectations. And that is only natural. However, as it is with everything in life, things often don’t turn out exactly as we had planned. No matter how diligently you’ve planned your activities some slight disasters may still ensue. Kids may break out in tears when you were least expecting it, or you may get into arguments with your spouse. It is all how you look at it. Don’t see these things as spoiling your vacation. Take them in stride and do your best to make light of them and everyone will be happier for that.

Do not pander to other’s expectations. We often put unnecessary stress on ourselves by putting undue emphasis on other’s opinions and expectations. Giving and receiving gifts, for example, often acts as a common source of anxiety and stress during the holiday season. Have we chosen the proper gifts for such and such a person? Will he/she be happy with the gifts? Don’t fret too much over these things. Gifts do not make the holidays. It is the mutual sense of joy and camaraderie that does. As long as you’ve chosen your gifts with care and thought that must suffice since that is the best you can do after all.

Sometimes, even your kids may feel not happy with their gifts and that may feel bad for you. Nevertheless, don’t let that spoil your mood. Instead, try to reason with them. Kids are kids after all, and we cannot expect them to be all rational all the time, right?

How much money do you have to spend? Closely associated with the problem of gifts is the question of money, especially if money is a bit tight during holiday season. It is common to let the lack of money get in your way of enjoying the holidays to the fullest.

However, it needn’t be so. Come up with some creative ideas. For adults, a White Elephant gift exchange is a good idea. You may also consider some non-material gifts such as framed family pictures or notes or drawings from your kids are good options. Work within your means and those who really care for you will appreciate receiving such thoughtful gifts.

The same goes for decorations and other holiday preparations. Again, do not strive for perfection. The Christmas tree does not have to be the most spectacular in your neighborhood. Instead, try as much as possible to engage family and friends in the process. So, for instance, assign certain responsibilities for decorations to the kids alone. And you can be certain that the kids will be happy and proud of their handiwork and so will you and your guests.

Look back on your year and feel grateful. Finally, take some time to reflect on the past year and dwell on the good things that it has brought you. Of course, there will be a few things that didn’t turn out quite according to expectations. That is only natural (and expected, right?). So, don’t dwell on the negative but reflect on the good things and feel sincerely grateful that they have happened to you. We now know that feeling truly grateful gives us a natural high as these feelings release in our brains compounds such as serotonin and dopamine — responsible for immediately lifting our mood and making us feel happy and serene from inside.

On a final note, the most important thing is to be able to relax and feel joyful. If you can achieve that, the holidays will turn out to be a ‘perfect’ one for you.

A Fox News Radio contributor, Richardson has spent her educational and professional career learning human behavior. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling from the University of North Texas and is working to integrate cognitive behavioral therapy into the treatment programs for many clients. In April 2009, Richardson opened The Brain Performance Center.

 

 

7 TIPS TO GET YOUR BRAIN TO SAY NO TO HOLIDAY SWEETS

Sugar is all around us. We want to fit in and celebrate with our family, friends, and co-workers, yet we know that an over-abundance of sweets has its repercussions. While it may not be as easy as pie, you can say no to the extra goodies that love saying your name. Use these strategies to help your brain say no to holiday cookies and sweets, and make this your most enjoyable holiday season ever.

1. Think About The Side Effects

Think of how you felt when you last ate a box of candy. Sure, it felt great while you were chewing, but did you feel wonderful afterward? Probably not. If your stomach was as hard as a rock, you most likely got sick and wanted to eat a nice meal but was too stuffed to enjoy it.

Eating many sweets daily robs you of eating more of the nutritious food. What’s more, sugar contains empty calories. For example, for the same number of calories, you can possibly eat three or four pieces of favorite fruit instead of one cupcake. This means that you need more sweets to feel full, yet you may not feel satisfied in the end.

2. Remind Yourself That Weight Management is All Year Round

If you treat yourself to dessert occasionally, say once a week, continue to do that around the holidays. Remember that having a routine to manage your weight doesn’t stop around the holidays. If you take a few months off, you might be tempted to go on a fad diet when the holidays are over. Fast weight loss is harder to keep off. Stick to your routine even during the holidays to help say no to excess sugar.

>READ: THE BEST PLAN FOR WEIGHT CONTROL AFTER 50 JUST GOT BETTER! 

3. Moderation is a Lifestyle

 

moderation is key to say no to holiday cookies

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that one sweet will ruin our diet. One cookie, one time, won’t ruin it. The repetition does. It’s the consecutive days of eating unhealthy snacks that influences our brain to say yes repeatedly to them. In order to eat sweets and office snacks in moderation, you’ll need to learn the realistic portions of food and how often you should eat them. When eating in moderation becomes a lifestyle, your brain can say no to many holiday temptations.

4. Stick With Your Exercise Routine

Exercise is a mood enhancer, depression buster, and excess weight eliminator. Our bodies are stronger, we stand up straighter and we smile more after an exercise session. It doesn’t have to be stringent or long. Studies show that as little as 5 minutes of daily running improves our health. If you’re one to exercise just enough, skip the excess holiday cookies and sweets. Tell yourself you don’t want to have to step up your exercise plan.

>READ: SECRETS OF OLDER ATHLETES ANYONE CAN ADOPT FOR A HEALTHIER LIFE

5. Say No to Outside Influence and Peer Pressure

 

say no to peer pressure when it comes to holiday cookies

Your family may have a history of diabetes, heart conditions, or other health problems that could have been derailed by maintaining better eating habits. Decide to break the cycle while you celebrate the joyous season. Practice responses before you attend a holiday party such as, “I’m watching my sugar intake today.” You might start a trend. Or simply say, “I’m full,” or “Thanks anyway, but I don’t have a taste for sweets right now. It looks delicious though.” Caring friends, family and co-workers should respect that.

6. Eat Regular Meals and Regular Meal Times

Skipping meals leads to overeating the wrong foods for a quick energy fix. Therefore, another way to get your brain to say no to the extra holiday cookies, cakes and office snacks is to plan a healthy and filling breakfast, lunch and dinner.

>READ: MINDLESS EATING AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

When you get used to filling up on nutritious food, you’ll look forward to preparing and eating it. On that note, there are so many options to select from in the variety of meats, fruits, vegetables, and grains, so only eat what you like. If you don’t prepare food at home that is both healthy and delicious, it’s easy for your brain to say yes to holiday sweets.

7. Bring a Healthy Dish to the Holiday Party

 

Whenever you’re invited to an office party or a family get-together, make a fruit salad, green salad, chicken salad or another type of dish that you can eat too. Look up recipes on how to reduce the calories of your favorite comfort foods. Don’t depend on others to cater to your dietary needs. Come to the event prepared.

The Holiday Festivities are Meant to be Enjoyed

You can be victorious in your efforts of how to get your brain to say no to the extra holiday cookies, cakes and office snacks. Focus more on the company of friends, relatives, and co-workers, and not so much on the food.  Also, keep in mind that the key jubilant months of the year are November and December. That’s only two months out of twelve. This leaves ten months out of the year where the pressure to eat sweets on a regular basis isn’t so high. Remain in control. You got this.

DEALING WITH POST 9/11 PTSD

Do you remember where you were or what you were doing in the early morning on September 11, 2001? I do. And, I will never forget. After dropping my boys off at school, I’d gone to the nearby gym and was running on a treadmill. I almost stumbled over my own two feet when I saw the first tower go down. I had no idea what had happened, but was in a state of disbelief. This was in Dallas, Texas.

The terrorist attacks that took place in New York City on September 11, 2001, dealt an unrecoverable blow to many. Commonly referred to as 9/11, the planes that flew into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon claimed thousands of lives, not to mention the aftermath victims of cancer or respiratory-disease that passed due to exposure to the area known as Ground Zero. Many people faced dealing with PTSD as a result of the September 11th attacks. PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, is a psychological disorder that can occur after someone is exposed to trauma.

People who lost a loved one, such as the family members who received a call from someone on the planes, often developed PTSD even though they weren’t at the actual event. First responders who were there to witness the chaos and tragedy first-hand also were susceptible to PTSD. Survivors of the attacks at the sites experienced the disorder through survivor’s guilt and the horror of losing friends and colleagues while witnessing what occurred.

What Exactly is PTSD?

PTSD is one of those terms we’ve all heard, but most of us have a vague idea of what it entails. The triggering traumatic event can include a number of circumstances in which the person affected has a hard time recovering from what they saw or experienced. PTSD can actually change the way a person’s mind functions and manifests itself with a number of symptoms.The Pentagon also has a memorial for 9/11 victims. PTSD is a common post-9/11 diagnosis for many Americans.

Every case of PTSD is different. A number of factors involving the individual impact the level of the disorder: age, pre-existing mental and physical health, event that caused the PTSD, support system and help received.

PTSD can last months to years or can affect a person for the rest of their lives. Depending on the severity of the event that triggered it and factors mentioned above, people’s ability to deal with the disorder in day-to-day life has a lot of variables.

Common symptoms of PTSD

People who suffer from PTSD describe it as a feeling of not being themselves.

  • Some who return to their regular existence, daily routines, family life and responsibilities after surviving or witnessing a traumatic event can find it challenging or even impossible to reintegrate.
  • PTSD sufferers describe the feeling of being uncomfortable in their own skin.
  • Loud noises can trigger flashbacks that heighten their fight-or-flight response, characterized by an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, difficulty breathing and a deep sense of panic.
  • Panic attacks are a common symptom of PTSD, as sufferers can suddenly become overwhelmed by anything that triggers their condition.

>READ: DO YOU HAVE POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS?

Post 9/11 PTSD

Due to the extremity of 9/11, the cases of PTSD that developed after were significant. Not only did the event impact individuals on a personal level, it had a catastrophic impact on a national level. Americans were dealt a huge blow. It threatened their feelings of safety and wellbeing.

People who developed PTSD because of losing a loved one in such a traumatic, senseless and tragic way had grief-related triggers. These people were commonly triggered by airplanes, phone calls that reminded them of the last call they received from their loved one, crashes and threats of terrorism. For these people, memories of their loved one could trigger panic attacks and anxiety.

For people who were at the scene as first responders or who survived the 9/11 attacks, they developed PTSD from what they witnessed or from survival guilt. Witnesses saw awful things: people dead, massive destruction, a national symbol toppled, people wounded and suffering, crying and screaming.

The survivors struggling to justify why they survived, while so many other people didn’t, often report the hardest thing to deal with is the feeling of overwhelming pressure to do something worthy with their lives.

Ways of Dealing with PTSD

One of the best known ways to combat the effects of PTSD is to prevent it from developing. Counseling immediately after a traumatic event is one of the best known ways to stave off the development of the disorder. When victims of trauma have a healthy outlet and place to voice their feelings and concerns, it helps preserve their mental health. Professional mental help is a necessity for many dealing with PTSD related to 9/11 or other traumatic events.

Therapists are finding a technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to be particularly helpful to move beyond the “stuck” phase of trauma’s impact.

Medication such as anti-depressants is the drug-related way of dealing with PTSD. For some, talking it through and leaning on a support system is not enough, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are needed to calm the mind and minimize the symptoms.

If you or someone you know is still struggling from 9/11 PTSD, please reach out for help.

>READ: THE STORY OF LEIGH RICHARDSON: FROM TRAUMA TO BADASS MAMA

>READ: GRIEF HAPPENS IN THE BRAIN: HEALING AFTER LOSS

 

Is There a Link between Depression, Anxiety and Minor Injuries?

One out of 10 U.S. adults goes to an emergency department every year for injury.  Most injuries are considered relatively minor and providers often don’t look beyond what’s initially required to help that person heal.  But what happens when a person arrives in the emergency department needing help for a minor injury and who also expresses symptoms of depression and anxiety?

Researchers wanted to find out how such patients fared long-term, something relatively well-studied for people with severe injury but uncharted for minor emergency treatment.  They turned to data they had collected from previous work about long-term recovery from minor injuries.

In that initial study, the researchers used standard criteria to identify 1,110 patients who had sustained minor injuries, after excluding those with head trauma, those with a previous psychiatric diagnosis and those hospitalized during the past year for another minor injury.  From this group, 275 men and women were randomly selected and interviewed at intake in the emergency room, as well as at three, six and 12 months after injury.

Along with the larger diagnostic exams that were given, they collected each patient’s symptoms of depression and anxiety using symptom-severity scales called the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale.

They learned that people with more symptoms of depression at the time of their injury still had trouble working a year later and more frequently required bed rest due to health problems. They found connections, though less substantial, for anxiety, too.

Although it’s unclear what’s driving the relationship between psychological symptoms at the time of injury and long-term recovery, they do know there is a range of symptoms which, if identified and evaluated, could change the way we allocate resources or suggest more intensive follow-up for certain people who might be at higher risk for poor recoveries.

It’s an important link between physical and mental well-being for these patients.

The study further validates that health care providers can’t separate people into psych and physical because there’s an interplay between both that’s important to understand.  If the goal is to get patients back to their normal activities, psychological wellness must be incorporated to treatment after injury in order to meet that goal.

The researchers noted that future research should focus on building a better understanding of the pathways through which psychological symptoms influence long-term recovery.

Beating Social Anxiety With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Have you ever had someone tell you… “Wow, you’re a really shy person.” It can be incredibly embarrassing. It’s difficult enough having to deal with social anxiety on a daily basis, it’s even worse when people point it out. The normal reaction to a statement like that for someone with social anxiety is probably to turn red, dart the eyes to the floor pretend to be completely invisible.

Social anxiety may seem silly to those who don’t have it, but for those that do it’s serious business. Social anxiety transforms even the smallest bits of social awkwardness into big mountains of fear and insecurity.

Thankfully, we now have more information and knowledge from psychology research on how to better manage social anxiety and not let it completely ruin people’s lives.

We’re constantly learning more in psychology and neuroscience about how to improve our lives and overcome certain obstacles and mental disorders. Interestingly, a new study has just come out in the journal Transactional Psychiatry with some incredibly promising results for those who suffer from social anxiety and excessive shyness.

After just 9 weeks of  cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), patients showed a significant reduction in social anxiety symptoms. But most surprisingly, the study found that the “fear center” in people’s brains – the amygdala – actually decreased in size by the time they were done with the course.

The shrinking of this “fear center” is neurological evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy can absolutely make a drastic impact on how our brains work.

How To Train your Brain to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Ever wonder how some people are able to handle extremely hectic schedules and still seem calm, relaxed and having fun while at it?  The answer is: They have effectively learned to manage stress and anxiety. We all know that stress can cause us to perform our work poorly and therefore, be less productive. When we have too much on our plate, we often end up not accomplishing what we planned to at the start of each day. You can guess what happens then – this causes more stress and adds anxiety which further compounds the problem!

The good news is that there are ways that you can train your brain to handle the stress and anxiety positively, resulting in increased productivity and more joy in your life.

There is exciting new research and positive case studies about a new treatment that has been used  to help treat stress and anxiety disorders in the brain. This treatment is referred to as neurofeedback and has been touted to be the savior when it comes to real-time treatments. This is an exciting development since many people are either unresponsive to brain-enhancing supplements or are simply looking for a safer and healthier alternative to drugs such as antidepressants – especially when treating children.

The mechanism fronted by neurofeedback is aimed at being more precise than previously available therapies. As such, it goes to target the dysfunction in the cognitive and emotional processes in the brain. These are the areas that underlie psychiatric disorders. It is hoped that treatments can be personalized to address the various challenges in the brain, taking to account that each patient has their own unique set of problems. Neurofeedback also studies phobia, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, obsessive compulsive behavior, ADD/ADHD, autism, depression, sleep disorders, chronic pain, learning differences, memory loss and migraines.  The best feature of neurofeedback is that it is safe. It eliminates the need for brain enhancing supplements and medication.

There are other safe, natural and free ways to train the brain to release ‘feel-good’ hormones to help stay relaxed and calm. The most obvious is by engaging in relaxing activities. These help wire the brain to be calm and relaxed as opposed to the normal day to day demands that stress us out.

A great ‘calming exercise’ is meditation. Meditation allows us to slow down all the activities going on in and around ourselves and find peace and serenity within. In so doing, it becomes much easier to notice when your internal balance is off and to how to react accordingly. Focusing on the now allows us to be more present and be sharp at mind.

Another way to reduce stress is to ward off anxiety. In most cases, our bodies overreact to a given threat – causing a rush of anxiety. When threats are overestimated, we find ourselves worrying too much, thus causing more stress. A great tool to manage anxiety is to remember a time when you truly felt strong and could cope with just about anything that was thrown at you. Next, make a list of all the various resources that can help you deal with the uncertainties of life. Then, try to meditate on how good it feels to be strong and safe. This good feeling helps the body come out with renewed energy and focus going into the future.

And finally – and this is sometimes harder than it sounds-  you need to learn to ‘let it go.’ We tend to hang on to the negatives in life. Let go of resentment, regret, pain and unrealistic expectations that you may have had in the past. Letting go allows one to be strong and gives one renewed energy to move on to better. Letting go can start off from something simple as saying goodbye to a friend, taking out the trash, donating some of your old stuff to charity, or just plain sending that email you have been procrastinating. Letting go helps one appreciate the past for what it was and move forward to the future with renewed focus. A simple exercise in ’letting go’ is to write yourself a letter describing how you’re feeling, then reading it aloud.  This ‘literal’ release of negative feelings allows the body to move on to a positive state with renewed feelings of calm and focus.