I started keeping a gratitude journal when I had a bout with breast cancer 10 years ago. It was a health wake-up call for me on a lot of levels. Journaling allowed me to see the good things that were going on in my life and a way to shift my attention to the more positive things. It was hard to do daily, and still is, because it can be a highly emotional experience. But as I keep at it, I find greater emotional peace and contentment with my life.
How many of you have ever practiced regular gratitude journaling? Are you currently keeping one? If yes, maybe you will learn a few new tips, and for those who have never tried or have tried it and not been able to stick with it, hopefully today’s blog will help you make this a new, lasting, healthy habit.
Gratitude, like most desirable traits, needs to be actively practiced for it to become something we do without thinking. Most of us look at gratitude as an admirable character trait, but practicing daily acts of gratitude can have a big impact on our health and happiness too. These effects become more evident in the practice of keeping a gratitude journal. It only takes a few minutes a day, but the lasting mood boost it gives you can take you from feeling ok to feeling great on a regular basis.
What is a gratitude journal?
Quite simply it is a tool to keep track of the good things in your life. No matter how difficult or hard life can get, there is always something to be grateful for. When you are going through a tough time, it may be hard to find something to be grateful about; however, if you do it, you can pull yourself out of a funk. Writing the good things down in a journal on a regular basis also helps prepare and strengthen you to deal with the difficult challenges in your life when they do pop up.
It’s very simple to start: Simply write or type the things you are grateful for on a regular basis. Some people say daily, but I have found three times a week is plenty. It gives you more of an appreciation, and you don’t take things for granted. You can use a journal or a notebook. If you find it easier to do things digitally, you can use one of the many gratitude apps or even a Word document to write down the good things present in your life. So once you decide how you want to keep your journal and you have it, simply start noticing and noting the things you are grateful for. Examples might be: You got a promotion; you won your tennis match, your morning cup of coffee.
Benefits of a Gratitude Journal
So what have people noticed when they keep a gratitude journal?
It lowers their stress levels by shifting focus away from what is stressing them right now. It can help you feel calmer, especially when you do your gratitude journal at night. It can give you a new perspective on what’s important to you and what you really appreciate in your life. It also helps give you clarity on what you want to have more of in your life and what you can do without. It can help you find out and then focus on what really matters to you. You learn more about yourself and as a result, become more self-aware. It can make you feel accomplished, even if it’s a small accomplishment, and therefore increase your self-esteem. It can make you be more giving and generous to others. Kindness and compassion grow when you give them away. One day when you are down in the dumps, you can read through your gratitude journal to re-adjust your attitude and remember the many good things you have in your life.
So, it appears, gratitude journaling has a lot of potential upsides and no downsides. But how does it differ from keeping a daily planner, diary or notebook?
The main difference is the focus of the action you are taking. For example: A gratitude journal finds things to be grateful for. It focuses on what you are grateful for. A planner plans and organizes you schedule. It focuses on what you need to do. A diary records the events of your day, both good and bad, as you reflect on what happened in your day. A notebook is something you use to take notes for work or class or as a personal development tool, like setting goals. It is for taking notes about present or future events to help you remember important points. Each one has a place in our lives, but they are not interchangeable. Granted, a planner may give you things to look forward to and be grateful for, but chances are there will be some events or responsibilities that you are not so grateful for. A diary focuses on both positive and negative events from your day and not necessarily on what is good and helpful in your life. And of course, a notebook includes things that do not necessarily have any value to you. So gratitude journals really are unique…their only purpose is to help you notice and appreciate the positive things in your life.
Ideas for Your Gratitude Journal
Your gratitude journal is unique to you and your life. It is for your eyes only so you can write anything you feel without worrying what others will think. Here are a few prompts to help you start writing about all of the things you are grateful for:
- Write about a person in your life that you are grateful for. For example, your mentor, your mother, your best friend.
- What skills or abilities do you have that you are thankful for? For example, if you are a good cook, a good listener or a good tennis player.
- How is where you are in your life today different than a year ago, and what positive changes are you thankful for? For example, I’ve learned to slow down, smile and say a kind word to the people I encounter throughout my day.
- What hobbies or activities would you miss if you were unable to do them? For example, I am thankful that my legs still allow me to run after 40 years.
- What are you taking for granted that you can be thankful for? For example, your phone, your coffee machine, the clean, fresh sheets you slipped into last night on your bed.
- What materialistic items are you grateful for? For example, your home or the new Kate Spade handbag you found on sale.
- Who has done something this week to help you or make your life easier and how can you thank them? For example, my college intern who posted and sent out my blog this week.
- What foods or meals are you most thankful for? For example, the delicious dish you had last night at your favorite restaurant or the tasty, crunchy apple you had at lunch today.
- What elements of nature are you grateful for and why? What about living in Charleston are you grateful for? For example, the sunrise on your early morning walk or run. Or the walk you took after work the other day in downtown Charleston.
- What part of your morning routine are you thankful for? For example, your morning cup of coffee or waking up without an alarm.
- What aspects of your work environment are you thankful for? For example, flexible hours or supportive co-workers.
Plan to write in your gratitude journal at least three nights a week for 15 minutes before bed. Set an alarm reminder and schedule it in your calendar. Keep your gratitude journal by your bed or on your nightstand, so you will see it before going to bed. Writing in it at night helps to put you in a relaxed mood and therefore sleep better. I like to pick a pretty gratitude journal so every time I look at it, it reminds me to be appreciative. Write as many things as you want to, but 3-5 is a good number to aim for each day.
Remember it’s for your eyes only, so it doesn’t have to be “deep.” You can be thankful for your family, a new book or movie you recently enjoyed, or what you ate for breakfast this morning. Don’t just go through the motions, but be conscious about your “attitude of gratitude.” You don’t have to set a minimum number, just celebrate a few things you were grateful for that day. Sometimes if you are struggling to even start, come up with only one thing. Try to focus on people and experiences rather than things. Yes, it’s okay to be thankful for your phone or new pocketbook, but the joy you receive from important relationships and experiences probably impacts you more than a fondness for your things. Try to savor and think about each thing you write down instead of hurrying to write a quick list. Note surprises in your day and the emotional response they generate for you…things you didn’t plan. For example, an old friend you have been thinking about lately reaches out by text or a phone call.
Sometimes a picture conveys what you are feeling better than a sentence or two. Add a picture to your gratitude journal. Decorate it; get creative with it because this can help you stay motivated to use it. Last but not least, give your gratitude journal a chance. Do it for at least a month before you make any judgment about if it’s making you happier and if you are enjoying the process. If you have fun with it, I think you will find you look forward to writing in it. Whether your gratitude journal is something you write in or use on one of the many apps, how you do it is up to you.
As September ends I can’t say I’m disappointed. It’s the beginning of fall and the end of the hurricane season. And even though some Septembers are calm, this was a year that Mother Nature lashed out with a fury.
Luckily for us here in Charleston, all we suffered was a lot of anxiety and only a little physical damage. But as my thoughts and prayers continue to go out for our friends in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, I began to reflect again on what I have left to do in my life for the remainder of 2017. What do I need to re- focus on? And I start thinking about what I want to accomplish next year …Are there things I need to be doing now to make it happen?
Even though we no longer seem to have four distinct seasons here anymore, we do have the remainder of our lives to look forward to with good health and happiness. Seasons allow us to enjoy a variety of clothes to wear and a bounty of healthy choices at farmer’s markets. They also heighten our appreciation of nature and allow us to savor what is given to us naturally.
We can flourish and blossom in any season if choose to do so. We understand the power of rest, paired with diligent and consistent effort to reach our goals. But what we know and understand to enhance our lives is not always what we do.
Many Americans don’t take annual vacations or even unwind with a long weekend even though they know that doing so is a healthy investment. Others choose the other extreme which is to ignore anything that looks or feels like “work” when it comes to improving their health and quality of life.
There are excellent ways to schedule your hectic and overscheduled lives that allow downtime to balance, unwind and improve your health. First set goals around what you what to achieve, make them measurable and timed. By taking the initiative and following through to your desired goal, it will provide you with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment crucial to living a good life.
Take an objective look at your life. Are you stuck in the same routine? Have you scheduled your vacation or even a long weekend getaway? What have you accomplished and enjoyed in the past 12 months? Did you take time to celebrate the things that you achieved?
Give yourself permission to ebb and flow with the seasons, and within each, you’ll find something to savor and enjoy. If you do, you’ll always have something good to look forward to no matter what time of the year.
Need some accountability to help create lasting healthy habits? Let’s talk…
Where were you last Monday afternoon? Like pretty much everyone else I was outside watching the total solar eclipse, a once-in-a- lifetime event here in Charleston. More specifically, I chose to watch it with 1,500 College of Charleston students, faculty, staff and “friends” who gathered on Rivers Green, behind Addlestone Library, to watch the heavens put on this astronomical show.
The college’s viewing party was the backdrop for NASA TV’s national eclipse broadcast. NASA anchored its eclipse coverage from the campus as it tracked the celestial event across the United States from Oregon, to Charleston, the last city on the path of totality. My late father worked for NASA alongside Werner Von Braun as part of his executive staff to send a man to the moon by the end of the 1960s; I didn’t hesitate to get a photo of me as an “astronaut” while on the college campus.
And while the image captured above was taken before the total eclipse, the temperature had started to drop and darkness was descending upon us. At approximately 2:46 pm (EDT) 99.6% of the sun was covered in the Charleston area.
But most important was the lesson it brought to the forefront.
While, yes, the 2017 Solar Eclipse was a natural phenomenon, it serves the purpose to remind us all that beauty is everywhere every single day if only we choose to slow down and observe it, absorb it, and be present.
Due to the heightened media attention, preparations by city and government officials as well as residents and travelers, the event was well known by all to be significant. But do we need to be told when something is significant? Do we need to be witnessing the beauty with millions of people for it to be an event worth slowing down for and savoring?
What Monday’s event, which lasted 1 min, 33 seconds at its longest duration, reminded me to look for was the beauty in every moment, every day, whether directed by media, the community, family or friends. Because we can’t wait 99 years for about two minutes of awe. We should recognize the awe that exists around us all the time.
Ultimately, it is a shift in each of our minds. A belief followed by conscious actions, ways of living, thinking and being, that enable us to cultivate what, to some, may seem impossible. The good news is, it is entirely possible. Take, for example, the following seemingly ordinary moments I observed Monday outside of the eclipse’s occurrence that, when fully appreciated, reminded me of how sweet and beautiful life is:
— Awakening up from a deep restful sleep.
— Having the opportunity to sit in the quiet of early morning and enjoy a cup of coffee before everyone wakes up.
— Having close friends at my house enjoying a wonderful lasagna lunch, leftover from the night before, before we set out to experience the eclipse, adding more memorable moments to a lifetime of many together.
Indeed, being in the present moment, and being mindful, remind us that we don’t need an ecliptic event to savor and appreciate the “small things” that add richness to our lives every day.
I am a health coach, not a business coach, but in the process of working with people to help them achieve whole-person wellbeing, I’ve learned the importance of knowing clients’ personal and professional goals — especially at times of transition in their lives. Looking at work-life balance, financial goals and personal growth is an important part in helping people succeed in improving their health.
Most of them want success more than anything else in their life. And will work very hard to get it. However, once they achieve the goal, sustaining it usually is even more challenging. Why is this?
Oftentimes, once someone succeeds or has great privileges, their focus shifts. Rather than continuing to work on the goal, one indulges in the benefits. This, unfortunately, hinders further growth and continued happiness.
Take exercise for instance with a client. She typically can achieve an exercise program five times a week for few months, but then life gets busy and she quits. She can no longer find the time. That certainly is not the way to go about losing weight. And she is discouraged that brisk walking for 30 minutes burns only 100 calories. She decides the effort is not worth the gain on a long-term basis even though it initially increased her energy and helped make her feel better about herself. Or she may decide that the pressure she puts on herself to maintain success is too stressful. The effort seems to be more like punishment than enjoyment.
Lasting success comes from consistency. When you are consistently aware of your “why,” you will continue to be motivated to maintain then further your success. You will say “no” to all temptations and distractions no matter how enticing they may be. Your “life vision” becomes far more important than a short-lived gratification. It’s like eating ice cream even though you know it’s not good for you. Yet you eat it anyway because you think it will ease your stress or help you get over a tiring day at work. It’s a sad irony.
Success versus Achievement
There is a subtle difference between success and achievement. Success is a feeling you have about how you are doing at something and why you are doing it. Achievement is a positive, objective measure about what you have accomplished.
Success is more important than achievement. You can win an award and yet still not “feel” successful. I was a top producer as a real estate agent. I received all the trimmings for my success. But inwardly I did not feel successful. I lost the “why” regarding my life vision. Now I’m fulfilled in my work. And you can be too!
Another example: Your doctor says you must lose 15-25 pounds for your health. (Note: Obesity is the second largest contributor behind tobacco use to developing chronic diseases so prevalent today, including diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune deficiency). Your health-care provider might say it’s important to lose weight, but it really doesn’t sink in if you don’t understand why. So find your “why,” and allow it to help you work towards success. Once there, remember what it took to reach the goal and never back away.
Learning how to focus on what’s right for success in your health and well-being is easier than you think. Would you like to have a wellness breakthrough session with me? There you will learn the five things that may be getting in your way of achieving lasting success in your life, business and health.
So what is important to you in your life? Are you living in a way that fulfills your purpose? And what does this have to do with being happier and healthier? The answer may be as simple as understanding your spirituality and how it benefits your health.
For many people spirituality — which does not necessarily mean religious belief — is at the core of their being. It is the lens through which they experience life and see the world. Understanding spirituality in the context of optimal health is extremely important.
For many people spirituality gets at the heart of what is important to them. Some may want to be healthy for health’s sake or to feel more alive and happy. But for many people, achieving optimal health is important because it ties in to their deepest values and beliefs and it brings them overriding joy and happiness in the present moment and throughout their lives. Understanding this and refocusing on it daily often leads to sustaining healthy behaviors for a lifetime.
For others, spirituality provides a sense of strength and healing during times of adversity, illness or death. Through the healing process people often draw on their spirituality to make more sense of the adversity.
There has been a great deal of interest in recent decades in understanding the impact spiritualty has on one’s health. Research has shown the positive relationship between health and religious practice as well as meditation, an understanding of humanism and living according to tenets of a well-defined morality.
It is unquestionable now that when people live their lives with a sense of meaning and higher purpose, their health improves. They have lower inflammation and increased immunity and therefore less heart disease, strokes and other complications from chronic diseases. Which by the way, has now been determined to be the No. 1 killer in society today.
Having a good sense of purpose makes you more resilient and better able to deal with the stress and demands of life. Living with a sense of purpose and meaning doesn’t merely help you get through an adverse time, but also improves your health.
So how does one determine what his or her purpose in life is? It can come from knowing you are helping others, serving a greater purpose or excelling at a skill or craft that is meaningful to you. So regularly ask yourself these questions to explore the role of spiritually in your vision of obtaining optimal health.
- What does it look like when I am spirituality centered and devoting my time and energy to the things that reflect my deepest values?
- What would need to happen for me to feel “successful”?
- Am I cultivating a daily practice of present awareness so I live my life in a more spiritually focused way?
- Once you define your sense of purpose and have cultivated an awareness of that purpose on a regular basis, you need to sustain that awareness so it further impacts your life and health. Do you believe and trust in yourself to be able to reach these goals over the long haul?
Of course you can with the proper attitude and accountability. You can bring yourself joy, live longer and be happier in the process.
We are in an exciting time in life. Just as we had the beginning of the digital revolution at the end of the last century, we are now experiencing a personal transformation revolution. It’s about becoming healthier, happier and living your own life with purpose. But better health and positive change won’t come unless you know what you’re doing.
Here are five steps to help you begin your own journey on the road to personal development:
- Set goals: The first step to living the way you want is to set goals for each part of your life. Those would be your health, career, finances, spirituality and family, but not necessary in that order. Setting separate goals in each area of your life allows you to prioritize what you want to achieve so you can increase your chances of doing so.
However, if you are like most people, you set goals but fail to achieve them because they are too vague. When I work with my health coaching clients, one of the things we work on is setting SMART goals. So what is a SMART goal?
S — Specific: If you want to lose weight, for example, you need to specify how much.
M — Measurable: The easier it is to track your progress, the better your chance of attaining it. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it,” said Lord Kelvin. Tracking your food intake is one way to do this and makes it less difficult to determine if extra efforts are in order in case you experience a setback or come up short on the progress you desire.
A — Achievable: Although you should aim high, make sure your goals are still achievable and action-oriented.
R — Realistic: While some goals are achievable, they might not be realistic for this moment in time. An example might be you have decided to do a marathon but you have not even run a mile yet. Running is realistic, but you might want to start by building up to running a marathon by completing a 5k (3.1 miles) or a 10k (6.2 miles) race first.
T — Time-based: Setting a deadline will help you remain focused and ensure you stay on track. Using the same example above, you might say, “starting June 1 I will begin jogging and complete a 5k race by Sept. 1, 2017.”
- Create an action plan: Once you’ve set your goals and have written them down, create an action plan on how to achieve them. What activities do you need to do to achieve your goals? If you have a long-term goal, break it down into small steps to make it manageable. Don’t forget to track your progress so you can look back and pat yourself on the back every time you move one step closer to your goal.
- Make time for growth activities: Even though life is very busy, it’s vital that you make time for yourself and your own personal growth. Take 15 minutes to read, learn, or listen to a podcast. Wake up 15 minutes earlier to read or write in your journal. If mornings are tough for you, block out 15 minutes during the day or before you go to bed at night. Whenever you chose is up to you but make sure to try and do it daily.
- Adopt a positive mindset: Optimists are more likely to enjoy and succeed in life than people who always see the negative in a situation. Fill your head with positive information and people. Before long you too will have a sunnier disposition and all the health benefits that come with it.
- Keep a journal: Journaling allows you to keep a record of your progress. It helps you learn from the challenges you face and your triumphs and everything in between. I personally like to have two journals going at all times, a gratitude and goal journal. Writing everything down gives me a chance to reflect on my journey, embrace the challenges and savor the joyful moments along the way to the destination.
If you have already set your goals and accomplished them you are in good shape. Give yourself a pat on the back. Even though there is no special prize, if you have managed to do it by yourself, you’ve learned it takes longer and with more mistakes.
However, have you tried to succeed alone and failed? Health coaching can help you dive a little deeper. I know the reason that people lose weight but never seem to keep it off. People THINK that the reason they give up exercise is that they’re lazy but there’s a surprising reason they don’t stick with it. Meditation is something one can use to relieve stress; I know what it takes to cultivate a daily practice with little effort. People feel they should be restricting calories and avoiding certain foods to eat a healthy diet and are shocked when that’s not the case. Would you like to have a wellness breakthrough session with me? You’ll discover the top 5 things that can get in the way of your health goals, and the #1 thing you need to move forward.
By: Guest Blogger Cassie from ehealthinformer.com
What Does Wellness Mean in Today’s Chaotic World?
It seems like today’s world is constantly in motion. Everything is instant, and it feels like attention spans get shorter every day. Amidst all this commotion, it can be hard to know when we’re okay and when we’re not. This confusion leads us to ask, what does wellness mean in today’s world?
Any time we talk about “today’s world” we must discuss the impacts of the digital revolution. Having so much technology in our lives has its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, accessing information and communicating with people can be done in the blink of an eye, but on the other hand, we now seem hooked to devices many of us lived without for many years. It shouldn’t be a secret that all this time spent in front of screens isn’t the best for our well-being.
So, how can we find wellness and peace of mind amongst this chaos? Can it be achieved, and if so, how? In today’s article, I’ll outline what wellness means to me in this crazy, connected world, and I will offer some strategies to help you remain calm, peaceful, active and, most importantly, well.
One of the consequences of such a high-tech, chaotic world is that work and leisure time can easily mix. You’ve probably noticed how many people like to discuss their work problems when they are supposed to be relaxing. This really isn’t a great idea; it only creates more stress.
So, in today’s world, wellness means having time for you to do what you want to do. Take the time to do things you enjoy with people who fill you with positive emotions, and try as best as you can to leave work and other stresses behind. You don’t want them ruining these precious “you” moments. Being able to truly disconnect is a great step towards achieving wellness in the hectic world we live in.
For as crazy and chaotic as the world is, it seems like we still spend a lot of time sitting down. Breaking out of this and moving around is a big part of achieving wellness. Engaging in active pastimes fills us with positive emotions, both during and after we do them.
It seems, though, nowadays a lot of us associate being active with an obligation. We need to go to the gym or have to go for a jog. Well, it doesn’t need to be this way, and finding ways to be active should go hand in hand with doing things you like. You could go for nature walks or strolls around your neighborhood and get the same benefits you would get from other types of exercise.
Being active allows stress to work its way out of the body. Tension is lessened through muscle movement—this is why activities such as yoga are great practice for self-improvement, as well as your physical health. So, in today’s world, wellness can be achieved by breaking up the routine and moving around. It’s not about reaching certain weight loss goals or looking a certain way, but rather about getting out there and experiencing joy and happiness with yourself and your loved ones.
Peace of Mind
Peace of mind is essential for letting go of nerves, worries or feelings of anxiety. In today’s “chaotic” world, achieving peace of mind can be a real challenge with all the different sources of stress. But what would wellness be without a calm and peaceful mind? Would it be worth pursuing?
These days the more peace of mind you can give yourself the better, and you can achieve it in a variety of different ways. For example, you can make to-do lists for the things you need to get done so that you don’t get overwhelmed with what you have on your plate. Or, you could keep a journal and write down what worries you—it’s like venting to a friend all the time. Another thing you could do is install a secure network
on your computer and other devices to not have to worry about things like identity theft or hackers. It seems like a small thing, but when it comes to peace of mind, everything counts. If it is something that could stress you out or worry you, find a solution, for achieving peace of mind and wellness in today’s world come hand-in-hand.
When thinking about wellness in today’s world, remember that the world you see on the outside is usually a reflection of how you feel on the inside. Therefore, making time for leisure, being active and working to achieve peace of mind will help make the world seem less chaotic, help you feel less stressed and make achieving wellness much easier.
Author bio: Cassie is a health and tech blogger who is passionate about wellness and well-being. She blogs for ehealthinformer.com.
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.”
Happy New Year! By now, everyone has been into 2017 for two days. That’s two days into the new goals, resolutions and intentions for yourself this year. One that has been on my list for a couple of years has resurfaced again…. a formal meditation practice. Most of us know nowadays that meditation is a good thing. But so far I have not been able to stick with it because I’ve allowed myself to become too busy too often. But this year will be different. I’ve decided to do the following:
- Start small, meditating only 3-5 minutes (or less if need be). Slowly take one deep breath in and think, “I receive life.” Exhale slowly and think, “Life is good.” Then repeat for at least two more rounds and you will be energized significantly because more oxygen has entered your blood stream than usual. The longer and slower you do this, the more alive you will feel.
- Understand that this simple breathing exercise reduces stress, calms anxiety, erases irritability and clears your mind. The process is called “mindfulness,” which at first seems contradictory. “Mindlessness” is more like it because your goal is to clear your head of all thoughts except for breathing and exhaling. This increases your resilience to stress and induces a calming effect on your nervous system, thus erasing anxiety.
This makes sense given that meditation allows you to focus on breathing in and breathing out while everything else that clouds your mind disappears. If you feel that your mind is drifting, simply go back to thinking only about breathing in and breathing out.
- Understand the principles of meditation. Beginning meditators often think the goal is to get to the point that they can focus without becoming distracted. That goal is difficult. Instead become aware that your mind has drifted, redirect your attention back to your point of focus without criticizing or judging yourself.
- Do meditation in your own way. It’s alright to do more while concentrating on your breathing. Some people find that a walking meditation is the way to go. This increases your heart rate and distributes more oxygen throughout your system. Jogging is even better. Just remember to stay focused on your breathing. If your attention drifts to past, future or evaluative thoughts, remind yourself that you’re breathing in life and exhaling the phrase, “life is good.”
- Do away with all-or-nothing thinking. If you can’t do 30 minutes of meditation, then do 15. The idea is to learn how to clear your mind and focus only on your breathing. On those days when you have more time, you can gradually build up to 30 minutes if that’s your preference.
Doing at least 15 minutes of a formal practice when you begin meditation will allow you to try different types of meditation. It will also increase your comfort and familiarity with meditation so you can restart a formal practice if you’re going through a period of stress or overthinking.
I am only one week into it right now, with a goal of continuing to do so at least three times a week throughout January. Won’t you join me?
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.