Beat the Heat: Hot Flash Relief

Some women suffer from embarrassing hot flashes that come on faster than a heat wave. They begin from inside your body and spread to your face, neck, and chest. They can strike at inopportune times like during a presentation at work or while having a glass of wine on a date. Or maybe you woke up drenched in sweat, interrupted by a hot flash in bed. You may wonder what’s happening. You feel like you’re losing control. The heat is so intense you want to jump in a pool or stand in front of the freezer.  Well, get ready for some hot flash relief.

 

Why is This Happening?

Hot flashes can be a symptom of menopause caused by decreased estrogen levels, blocked estrogen receptors, and changes in other hormone levels. There are different schools of thought about what causes hot flashes from a decrease in estrogen to a decrease in progesterone to the beginning of menopause.

According to Menopause.org, many doctors believe hot flashes can originate from hormonal changes and how they interact with the body’s thermostat, which is in a woman’s brain. The brain has an intricate way of regulating your body heat. The hypothalamus is the command center, coordinating your autonomic nervous system. It’s like a thermostat, controlling the release of chemicals and hormones related to temperature. When a hot flash comes on, it causes changes in your blood vessels that increase blood flow to your skin pores.

The process is called a vasomotor spasm. Rush University has found blood vessels constrict and expand quickly during a hot flash, which leads to flushing and a skin temperature change. Your skin turns red and blotchy, and you feel like you’re in an inferno. Because your brain thinks you’re too hot, that causes a sweating response, increasing your skin temperature five to seven degrees higher. Then, you can get a chilled feeling as a hot flash ends. All of this can make you feel dizzy, weak, and nauseous.

READ MENOPAUSE COLD FLASHES: WHY THEY HAPPEN AND WHAT TO DO

 

What to Expect

Hot flashes can come on suddenly, frustrating those already dealing with the many changes of aging and menopause, or changes after a hysterectomy. Menopause.org says they’re a common symptom of perimenopause and menopausein a woman’s forties and fifties. While most hot flashes are just a nuisance, they can raise your blood pressure and heart rate. Older women are already more vulnerable to osteoporosis, and the Mayo Clinic says there can be some bone loss as a result of hot flashes.

For some women, they can be mild, but for others, they can be intense and frequent. Healthline finds on average, hot flashes last four minutes, but they can be longer or shorter, lasting mere seconds. According to the North American Menopause Society, 75% of women will have hot flashes lasting about seven to ten years. A small percentage experience it for ten to fifteen years, and what’s known as Super Flashers, can have them for twenty years or more. The Mayo Clinic finds being obese is associated with a higher frequency.

 

Hot flash Relief Tips for an Onset

Being in the summer heat can trigger a hot flash, so make sure to keep hydrated.

  • Drink a glass of cold water as a hot flash comes on
  • Spray lavender oil on your skin to cool down
  • Wear layers so you can shed them as you get hotter and more uncomfortable
  • Keep a mobile fan in your purse
  • Avoid spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol and avoid smoking

 

For Better Sleep

It can be especially jarring when you wake up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat from hot flashes. Excessive sweating depletes your system of fluids and salt. Hot flashes can interrupt your sleep pattern, which can lead to chronic insomnia.

  • According to breastcancer.org a cool shower before sleeping can help
  • Try lowering the temperature in your bedroom and keeping an ice pack by your bed
  • Choose a mattress that lets you control the temperature

 

Avoiding Hot Flashes Medically

Beware: overwhelming hot flashes can lead to depression and anxiety. Some doctors prescribe hormone therapy or FDA approved antidepressants that are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to cope with the condition. If you’re concerned about estrogen drug side effect risks like heart attack or stroke, consult a doctor.

 

 

Nontraditional Ways to Avoid Hot Flashes

  • Yoga, meditation and other calming techniques can help because stress can bring hot flashes on
  • The Mayo Clinic says some women have turned to acupuncture
  • Black Cohosh is being taken with some success, but investigate drug interactions

You may need to try different approaches as you age. There is no cure for hot flashes, and not all hot flashes are caused by menopause. It could also be hypothyroidism so it’s important to talk to your doctor.

CBD Oil and the Effects on the Brain

As we get older we learn more about what our bodies need and how to heal our aching bones. Now many are turning to Cannabidoil, or CBD. It’s becoming so popular The New York Times even called it a “magical elixir, a cure-all now available in bath bombs, dog treats, and even pharmaceuticals.” And for those who have never tried and want to learn more, you’re not alone!

What is CBD oil?

There are many questions about CBD oil: What is CBD? What is THC? Is it legal? Is it the same as marijuana?

molecular structure of CBD

In a recent interview with Dr. Russell Zwanka, a Siena College Food Marketing Researcher and a published author on CBD oil, he broke down exactly what CBD is and what you need to know. According to Dr. Zwanka, inside the cannabis plant is more than a hundred of what are called “cannabinoids.” CBD is a one of the cannabinoids inside the plant with less than 0.3 percent THC. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is another cannabinoid inside the cannabis plant.

Both CBD and THC have effects on the body and especially the brain receptors associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination, and time perception, but in very different ways. THC is a psychoactive substance and causes the “high” feeling whereas CBD is not a psychoactive cannabinoid.

What are the effects of CBD oil on your brain?

CBD has been known to provide relief for ailments such as inflammation, arthritis, help with sleep, bone growth, bone disease, seizures, anxiety, and certain types of cancer. With millions of these claims, it begs the question, what is it doing to our brains and our bodies?

According to Leafly, when a substance reaches the brain after hitting the bloodstream, it will “influence brain activity by interacting with receptors and neurons.”

Neaurons Comminicating with Neurotransmitters

When it reacts with a receptor such as dopamine, it can help the body produce more cannabinoids and regulate behavior and cognition. One of the main reasons CBD has gained notoriety is its ability to target the serotonin receptors, which can help with disorders involving pain, depression, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, schizophrenia, and more.

Dr. Zwanka says your body already naturally produces cannabinoids, but taking CBD can help to restore the body and brain to maintain “normalcy.”

On top of that, when CBD reacts with opioid receptors, it can immensely reduce drug cravings or withdraw symptoms, which can be an organic way to heal your body rather than prescribing opioids. But the question comes into play of whether or not this is approved by the FDA and “legal.” That answer depends on what form the CBD oil comes in.

What form does CBD oil come in?

CBD oil comes in a number of forms from tinctures to salve, capsules, gummies and vaping. When using a tincture, you put it under the tongue and avoid the digestive system so it’s a quick reaction, going straight into the bloodstream. Meanwhile CVS and Walgreens will offer a salve over the counter.

The form with the most controversy is CBD oil vaping. Dr. Zwanka says while there may be a stigma on pulling from a pen, the smoke form has an almost immediate effect that lasts longer. It’s one of the most controlled ways to take CBD oil.

Is CBD oil legal?

The answer is yes and no. Different forms of CBD oil are different in legality.

If it’s hemp derived, Dr. Zwanka says it is a federally legal product as long as it has 0.3. That remains true unless the state wants to enforce its own rules. Anything derived from the marijuana plant and has more than 0.3 THC, then has to follow the state CBD regulations.

According to the Federal Drug Administration, companies cannot claim CBD oil as a treatment for many ailments people say they use it for, but you can say it has shown “relief” for or helps with symptoms from these ailments. The FDA has not allowed sales of CBD infused foods at this time since they believe more research needs to be done. A hearing is expected to take place in May regarding these regulations.

How much CBD oil should you take and how often?

Most experts say it’s difficult to truly give a dosage. Each body and brain is different when it comes to chemical balances, sizes, and needs. As always, when it comes to taking a new substance to help your body, speak with your doctor or physician if you have any questions.

GRATITUDE IS GOOD FOR YOU

With Thanksgiving this week, I thought it’d be appropriate to dive into thankfulness and gratitude a little more than usual. You see, there is a brain health aspect to practicing gratitude, as suggested by research, which links gratitude to personal well being. It’s also understandable that in actual practice gratitude can be hard to come by — or rather, hard to force. But perhaps knowing what little moments of thankfulness can do for you and your health will allow you to tap into that part of you, even in the toughest of times, without having to force it.

“Gratitude” and “Well Being”

Grateful CoupleAlthough gratitude is defined in several ways it is overall defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Well being is defined as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.” Surely, it’s no surprise that feeling gratitude would cultivate positive feelings, which then would naturally contribute to feelings of contentment and happiness. Thus, a heightened well being.

But what if gratitude is hard to practice? How can we try to practice gratitude for our own good?

Try Out Some Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to moments of experience with an accepting and friendly attitude so as to observe with all the senses what is happening in each moment.” A lot easier said than done, practicing mindfulness can be very beneficial to one’s mental health and makes it a little easier to feel gratitude in that particular moment (with no pressure) and others going forward. Take a few minutes to nurture and nourish your mind, as it can help free up space for whatever life may throw at you.

Write It Down

Woman JournalingFor years, writing down one’s thoughts and feelings has been used in all types of therapy. Whether it’s writing a letter to someone and not sending it, keeping a dream journal, or perhaps just writing in a journal for contemplation, writing has long been a medium for healthy expression. In this way, it can also be used to practice gratitude. Even if it’s just a sentence, “I’m thankful for the blue birds outside my window this morning,” it’s the small moments that make up the big positive picture.

Say It Out Loud

Sometimes, it’s nice to be able to say how we feel, especially when we’re unhappy or going through something. How about when things are good? Or even when things are not good, what if we take a moment to think of something positive and express it out loud as we normally would, had it been something negative? Hearing that positive thing out loud could very well plant a positive seed in others’ minds as well as yours — a reminder that there are good small moments that, again, make up that bigger picture.

Spin the Negative

Again, easier said than done. And some things may be so difficult or so painful that you simply can’t “spin” it into “good,” or even find something good in it. That’s understandable. But for those moments when something feels like it’s just not going right, like maybe a family member unable to make it to Thanksgiving, try looking at it like this: “At least [insert other family member] will be able to make it this year,” or “at least they’re able to see their other family members this year,” or “this just means they will likely be with us next year.”

Helping Others Increases Gratitude

It’s true. Over the years, research has shown many documented examples of when volunteering or performing acts of kindness can be good for your mental health, increasing one’s sense of well being and lowering symptoms of depression. Even if it’s a small act, like making it a point to tell someone something positive about themselves, or holding the door, or even thanking them for helping you in a particular way in the past — it’s all good ways to practice gratitude.

Thanksgiving Resolution

I want to encourage you this Thanksgiving to start your resolutions a little early, and add to the list “Practice Gratitude,” as it can only be good for you and good for others. In hard times, seeing any little bit of good will help you stay afloat and will encourage others to try similar practices.

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.

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.

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.

It’s Spring! Get outside and open your mind!

This time of year seems to bring out our loosey-goosey side. Polish people have a spring tradition of dousing each other with water and chasing each other around with Pussywillow switches. South Asians pelt each other with colored powered as a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. And then there’s Mardi Gras – ‘nuff said. We tend to go a little wild.

This kind of behavior can be cathartic after a winter’s worth of suffering, but there’s evidence that it might be good for you, too.

It’s a given that cold weather can dampen spirits. Depression that returns during the winter months each year—seasonal affective disorder—goes by the extremely apt acronym “SAD.”

Warm weather doesn’t really have the opposite effect, though. A number of studies, including one based on 20,818 observations in Dallas, Texas, found that there was no significant correlation between mood and temperature.

So, if it’s not just the warmer weather that affects us, then what is it?

In a study published in 2005 by Psychological Science, researchers put volunteers through a series of tests to gauge how the weather and the amount of time they spent outside affected their mood, their memory, and how receptive they were to new information.

In the first test, researchers measured the temperature and barometric pressure (high pressure is typically associated with clear, sunny weather) on several days when 97 people reported their mood and how much time they spent outside. Then, the participants were asked to remember a series of numbers. They were also given a short, favorable description of a fake employee, and then given additional, unfavorable information about that same person, and then asked to assess the employee’s competence and performance. The more open-minded among them, the researchers thought, would be able to update their initial impressions with the new information before passing judgment.

All three metrics hinged on the weather and how much time the participants had spent outside. On days with high pressure—the clear, sunny ones—people who spent more than 30 minutes outside saw an increase in memory, mood, and flexible thinking styles. Those who spent the time indoors, though, saw a decrease.

In a second experiment, the researchers asked 121 subjects to either spend time inside or outside on a warm, clear day. Among participants who spent more than 30 minutes outside, higher temperature and pressure were associated with higher moods, but among those who spent 30 minutes or less outside, this relationship was reversed.

A third test was done to determine whether the first two tests were tainted by the fact that they took place in the spring in a northern climate. Data was collected through a website from 387 respondents who lived in various climates, and they correlated the submissions with the weather in each city for that day. They found that the participants who spent more time outside during the spring, but not during other seasons, had better moods.

Temperature changes toward cooler weather in the fall did not predict higher mood. Rather, there appears to be something uniquely uplifting about warm days in the spring.

In summary, across the studies, spending more time outside on clear, sunny days, particularly in the spring, was found to increase mood, memory, and openness to new ideas. People who spent their time indoors, though, had the opposite effect, and one possible explanation for this result is that people consciously resent being cooped up indoors when the weather is pleasant in the spring.

People in industrialized nations spend 93 percent of their time inside, but researchers suggest that if you wish to reap the psychological benefits of good springtime weather, go outside!

This just might be the perfect time of year to turn off your computer and lay a Post-it note on your desk (with a copy of this article) that says “OUT OF OFFICE”. Catch an afternoon ballgame, go fishing or just frolic around a park. You’ll feel better, smarter and become more open-minded. If your boss asks ‘what’s up?’ – just say “I’m brain training!”

Stop Your Complaining!!

complainWe all complain.

Even if you are the happiest person in the world, you still complain sometimes.

So, why do we do it?

Most people don’t realize how often they complain because it has become a habit and, like all habits, it tends to be so familiar that it becomes invisible.  There is a basic desire in human beings to connect with one another.  People use  complaining as a conversation starter because it’s an easy way to find common ground. We use complaints as icebreakers. We often (and without even thinking about it as complaining) start a conversation with a negative observation because we feel that will help us connect with strangers.  For example, in a closed space like an elevator, we might say “It’s really hot out there today!”  When strangers complain about the weather in order to initiate a conversation, or when airline passengers complain about their flight delay, it helps build solidarity.

Despite having definite negative connotations, complaining can also be a feel-good factor for the complainer.  We sometimes complain to get acknowledgement and sympathy or to simply  vent and get something ‘off our chest’.

Research shows that most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation. Complaining is tempting because it feels good, but like many other things that are enjoyable –complaining isn’t good for you.

When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future — so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.  You can’t blame your brain.  Who’d want to build a temporary bridge every time you need to cross a river?  It makes a lot more sense to construct a permanent bridge.  So, your neurons grow closer together, and the connections between them become more permanent.  Scientists like to describe this process as, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely.  Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you.  Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.

Another reason we tend to complain is that it’s easier to complain than it is to solve the problem.

Research has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus — an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought.  Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.

Complaining is also bad for your health.

While it’s not an exaggeration to say that complaining leads to brain damage, it doesn’t stop there.  When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol shifts you into fight-or-flight mode, directing oxygen, blood and energy away from everything but the systems that are essential to immediate survival.  One effect of cortisol, for example, is to raise your blood pressure and blood sugar so that you’ll be prepared to either escape or defend yourself.

All the extra cortisol released by frequent complaining impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.  It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes.

It’s not just you…

Human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with. This process is called neuronal mirroring, and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy.

The down-side is you don’t have to do it yourself to suffer the ill effects of complaining. Be cautious about spending time with people who complain about everything.  Complainers want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves.  Think of it this way: If a person were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? You’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with complainers.

Tips to help you stop complaining:

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.  When you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something that you’re grateful for. This isn’t merely the right thing to do; it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%.  People who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels.  Any time you experience negative or pessimistic thoughts, use this as a cue to shift gears and to think about something positive.  In time, a positive attitude will become a way of life.

When you have something that is truly worth complaining about, use solution-oriented complaining.  Think of it as complaining with a purpose. Solution-oriented complaining should do the following:

  1. Have a clear purpose. Before complaining, know what outcome you’re looking for. If you can’t identify a purpose, there’s a good chance you just want to complain for its own sake, and that’s the kind of complaining you should nip in the bud.
  1. Start with something positive. This helps keep the other person from getting defensive. For example, before launching into a complaint about poor customer service, you could say something like, “I’ve been a customer for a very long time and have always been thrilled with your service…”
  1. Be specific. Address only the current situation and be specific. Instead of saying, “Your employee was rude to me,” describe specifically what the employee did that seemed rude.
  1. End on a positive. If you end your complaint with, “I’m never shopping here again,” the person who’s listening has no motivation to act on your complaint. In that case, you’re just venting, or complaining with no purpose other than to complain.  Instead, restate your purpose, as well as your hope that the desired result can be achieved, for example, “I’d like to work this out so that we can keep our business relationship intact.”
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