No one today would argue with me that most Americans are overly stressed. Technology, feeling the need to immediately return text and emails, and the pace at which we live today has created an epidemic of chronic stress and mental fatigue. In fact, between 60 percent and 80 percent of doctor visits today are a result of this chronic stress. And of course, when we are stressed we make poor lifestyle choices. Which means we eat on the run, make unhealthy food choices, and take too little, if any, time to exercise, rest and do the things that bring us joy. The cumulative effect of all this stress? Burnout and chronic disease.
We all have stress, but one of the best ways to manage it is to first become aware of it. To help build your awareness of stress and its impact on your life, try the practice of “mindfulness.”
Have a healthy Valentine’s Day!
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the day that most of us pause to think about who we love and who loves us. It’s a day to reach out to others to let them know we care. Expressing your love is also good for your health.
Each time you give of yourself to those you love, you grow and flourish. But even though we grow when we give love, we must also be able to receive love. I’m not talking about Valentine’s candy here. It’s about your ability to give love and receive it — unconditionally.
That loving relationship may be with your spouse, significant other, close friend or family member. Someone who you give love to by telling them often how much you appreciate them for solely for who they are, not what they give or do for you.
So, starting today, let’s take some time from our very busy days and listen to others who are close to us. No need to give advice, just listen without judgment. Allowing others to know that you are listening and that you care is healthy for all involved.
Once we learn how to nurture those close to us in a loving way, then we can go out and make a difference in the world through our children, our communities and nation. The price of giving unconditional love to others nurtures us and fulfills our purpose in life. Supportive relationships with your family, friends, co-workers and colleagues that are based on open, respectful communication can have a dramatically beneficial effect on your health.
If you want to live at your optimal health level, pay attention to the health of your social relationships. An important factor of keeping a relationship operating at its highest levels is effective communication. As a health coach, I ask my clients to think about their relationships and assess their communication style, patterns and skills. We talk and brainstorm ideas on how you can improve communications.
So what better day than Valentine’s Day to nurture others, improve your health and make a difference toward making today’s world a kinder and more loving place.
It’s OK to eat chocolate, but do so BEFORE you get uptight. Also, check the label to make sure it’s not loaded with milk and sugar.
Research has shown that obese women have higher levels of cortisol than those who maintain a healthy weight. Cortisol triggers the accumulation of fat, especially around organs and the abdomen, which can contribute to depression, heart disease and stroke. Yet a 2009 study found that people who ate 40 grams (1 ounce) of dark chocolate every day for two weeks saw a decrease in their cortisol levels. Another study in 2010 found that people who ate chocolate over the course of 30 days lowered their levels of anxiety.
But, timing is everything. Be sure to eat the right kind of chocolate before — not after — the onset of anxiety or stress. Those who ate chocolate in response to stress generally felt just as depressed after their chocolate fix as they did before. Their depressed feelings lasted approximately three minutes, which was long enough for them to reach for more chocolate.
Eating chocolate regularly in small amounts at the right time allows your body to slowly build up levels of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that regulate stress hormones. So, remember to slow down when consuming chocolate, and savor it is small doses for the best results.
Also remember to choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate because milk blocks your body’s ability to absorb the antidepressant antioxidants (polyphenols). So to make chocolate healthy food, you should eat it with at least 70% cocoa. The higher the percentage, the better it is for you. If the percentage it not clearly labeled on the wrapper, you should probably stay away from it.
It’s best to limit yourself to 40 grams of “good” chocolate a day. Divide the bars into servings about the size of the end joint of your thumb for best results. Eating more than 40 grams has no added benefit.
Eat the right kind of chocolate (70 percent and up) “mindfully,” as I like to say. Don’t’ chew or suck on it. Let it sit on your tongue and melt slowly. This causes the flavor to linger and tricks your brain into thinking you are eating the entire time. Mindful eaters are far less likely to overindulge.
If you don’t like the taste of low-sugar, dark chocolate, try adding cocoa powder (not Dutch chocolate, which has been heavily processed) to your foods. Add a few tablespoons to your morning oatmeal or other low-sugar cereals. Hot chocolate is good too, but make sure you use almond milk or soymilk, thus avoiding dairy fat. But limit yourself to eight tablespoons of cocoa powder a day.
Now that we are in the holiday season, many of us resign ourselves to the weight gain that typically follows. Indeed, it is very hard to pass up holiday sweets that seem to be everywhere as well as extra servings of a traditional family dish. That’s why so many weight loss books are published at this time promising a “New Year, New You.”
So it’s no surprise that the No. 1 New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. But this year consider a broader approach to resolving the problem for more lasting success. Here are 10 points that my health-coaching clients have incorporated into their weight-management programs that you may want to consider:
It’s almost Thanksgiving — a time to reflect on the many things you are grateful for, on this day and always. I’m especially grateful for girlfriends. I’ve always had girlfriends. My mother did too and like many things, she set a good example.
There are a lot of health benefits to maintaining and making new girlfriends. I never take them for granted, and try to get together with them as often as possible. I’m convinced that there is a strong correlation between having them and my health and well- being.
Girlfriends increase my sense of belonging, boost my happiness and reduce my stress. No surprise there. However, a strong social network also reduces the risk of depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass, or BMI. And since women tend to live longer than men, the girlfriends you make and maintain today can add quality of life now and down the road.
But it’s not always easy to develop or maintain friendships as we get older. Life is busy with work, spouses, caring for children, grandchildren and aging parents. You may have grown apart with longtime friends due to changes in your lives, interests and lack of time. Or perhaps you have moved to a new town and haven’t found a good way to meet people that can turn into friendships.
Yes, like a lot of things, developing and maintaining friendships take effort. However, the enjoyment and comfort girlfriends provide are worth it. And while you want to have a network of diverse friends, the quality of a few close friends who are there for you through thick and thin are critical for a happy and healthy life.
So if you’ve been busy and lost touch with a longtime friend, reach out to her soon and schedule coffee or a meal. If someone has reached out to you, be sure to reach back and reconnect. If you are looking to make new friends, attend community events, volunteer, or take up a new interest.
Research suggests that using social media is a good way to maintain connections and relieve loneliness. However, it does not translate into closer relationships. It seems as though there is no substitute for voice-to-voice and face-to-face contact to improve the quality of a friendship that leads to better health.
So, what better time to reach out by phone and let a girlfriend know you have been thinking about her or set a date to get together than during the holiday season?
Last week’s post noted that using what is known as “the happiness advantage” is a great way to improve both your personal and professional lives. One of the ways I mentioned to raise your level of happiness is to briefly note on a regular basis those things for which you are grateful. A helpful internet application (“app”) which allows you to record your “gratitudes” is Gratitude Journal 365.
I enjoy keeping a daily journal in which, among other things, I write down three things for which I am grateful. I suggest that one of your happiness-advantage techniques is to give it a try to do this at least three times a week. Simply write down three things for which you are appreciative. Don’t simply do this in your head. Write them down.
Start out simple with things like “my morning cup of coffee” or “the sound of rain on the roof,” then go on to bigger things like “my daughter gave birth to a healthy baby boy” or “I’ve paid off the credit card and cut it to pieces.” The goal of the exercise is to remember the good things in your life and savor the happiness that goes with them.
As your write, here are some important tips:
1. Be as specific as possible. Specificity is the key to fostering gratitude. “I am grateful that my husband cooked supper for us when I had to work late on Tuesday.”
2. Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular person, thing or event for which you are grateful carries more benefits than listing superficial things.
3. Get personal. Focus on people to whom you are grateful. This has far more impact than those things for which you alone are grateful.
4. Consider what your life would be like without certain people or things, rather than just tallying up all the good stuff. Be grateful for the negatives outcomes you avoided, escaped, prevented or turned into something positive. In other words, try not to take good fortune for granted.
5. See good things as “gifts.” Doing so guards against taking things for granted. Relish the gifts you have and received.
6. Savor surprises. I love the word “savor” because it allows you to linger on gifts that are unexpected. Savoring is a stronger level of gratitude.
7. Revise if you repeat. In other words, writing about the same people and things over and over again is OK, but writing about a different aspect of each person in greater detail is even better.
8. Write regularly. Whether you chose to write every day or three times a week, commit to a regular time of day to journal and honor your commitment.
9. Don’t overdo it. This is supposed to be enjoyable. No one savors a routine chore.
10. And remember, it only takes minutes to unleash everything great in your life.
If you observe and talk with people around you, you will find that most follow a formula for life that goes something like this…. if you work hard, you will become successful and once you become successful, then you’ll be happy. This pattern of belief is what motivates most of us in life. We think if we lose 10 pounds, we’ll be happy. If I can get into a regular exercise routine, I’ll be happy. In other words, success first, happiness second.
However, in the last decade groundbreaking research in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience have proven that the relationship between success and happiness is just the opposite. Thanks to this new science, we now know that happiness is the precursor to success, not the result. Happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement. Waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success whereas cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive.
So what is positive psychology? It is the belief that people actively seek and inherently desire happiness. And while happiness is influenced by genetics, happiness is a choice. People can learn to be happier by developing optimism, gratitude and altruism.
There is no single meaning for happiness. Happiness is relative to the person experiencing it; based on how we each feel about our lives.
Some proven ways to raise your level of happiness are: Mediation, Three gratitudes a day, Journaling, Finding something to look forward to, Committing conscious acts of kindness, Infusing positivity into your surroundings, exercising, spending money-but not on “stuff,” and exercising a signature strength. What are some things you do to raise your level of happiness?
Do you need to feel more in control of your happiness and health? If so, give me a call or send me an email. I offer a free, 20-minute discovery session to help you discover what happiness and good health look like to you.