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5 Failproof Ways to Fall Asleep Fast

sleepingPhoto courtesy of Bonbon

Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I’m a life-long insomniac. I’ve been trying to find the secret to successful snoozing for many years, and I’ve actually learned some really effective ways to get the rest my body needs.

I still struggle with it – don’t get me wrong. If you’re a chronic insomniac, you’re among the 10-15% of adults who’ve had trouble sleeping for more than a month. Most sufferers of chronic insomnia say their symptoms tend to wax and wane, meaning that they’re able to get sleep a night here or there in between bouts of sleeplessness.

Insomnia has a bunch of potential causes, the most important of which is an underlying disorder or disease.  It’s important to rule these out before beginning to treat your lack of zzzzzzz’s. As you surely know, disordered sleep leaves a person fatigued during the day, with a lowered ability to function well. This can have a deep impact on every aspect of life, including work responsibilities, personal relationships, and physical as well as mental well-being.

While you may not be able to kick your night owl habits entirely, there are some things you can do that have been proven to help people just like us get into a more acceptable sleep pattern. Try them one at a time to see what works in your life.

  1. Write about it. This may seem far-fetched, but stay with me here, because this really worked for me. Start writing down some basic daily habits, like caffeine intake, what kind of food you ate, activity level, medications you took.  In the morning, write down how your sleep was that night. After a few weeks, you’ll be able to discern some patterns that may be keeping you awake. I discovered that even one cup of coffee after noon would keep me awake almost all night.
  2. Touch and be touched. The simple act of laying skin-to-skin with your mate, or falling asleep holding hands can actually make a difference in the quality of your sleep. Touching and being touched releases oxytocin, which makes us feel good and can lead to a feeling of well-being. Physical touching also lowers the body’s production of cortisol, slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure - making sleep much more likely. If you’re single, hugging your kids or friends close to bedtime can help, too.
  3. Get moving. (During the day, of course!) I’d heard this tip for years, but realized its efficacy a few months ago after a long bout of low physical exercise. When I joined the local gym and took up swimming, the difference in my sleep quality was remarkable. Not only does exercising release feel-good endorphins – it also just plain wears you out! I’m still swimming 3 to 4 times a week, and I can testify that getting physical really does help me sleep better at night.
  4. Stay put. (At night, of course!) Many troubled sleepers grow weary of “trying” to fall asleep, so they throw off the covers and get out of bed. Since there’s zero chance of you getting any sleep if you’re upright, try getting comfortable and staying in a sleep-inducing position. At the very least, you’re resting your muscles, and you will probably fall asleep eventually, especially if you try #5.
  5. Breathe. Focusing on your breathing is really effective in inducing relaxation. Try to slow your breathing down, and breathe from the stomach instead of the diaphragm. Use progressive muscle relaxation until your entire body is feeling good and relaxed.

The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone, and that more help is available if you need it. If these tips don’t help, a trip to your physician may be in order. Sleep aids or supplements might offer you temporary relief, but continue to use self-help techniques as well. Your brain will (hopefully) thank you in the morning.

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8 Ways to De-Stress at the End of the Day


Photo courtesy of Janet Ramsden

Whether you work in an office building, a home office, or chasing toddlers around all day, it’s imperative that you regularly find time for yourself. Ideally, you should set aside at least 45 minutes to an hour every day and dedicate that time to an activity that relaxes you. If you’re able to – tag team your partner (if you have kids or other responsibilities), so that both of you have adequate down time in order to recharge and face each day feeling refreshed.

On the other hand, if you shoulder a lot of responsibilities yourself with little family nearby to help, consider asking a friend or neighbor who might be willing to offer a hand now and then so you can take a short breather. Another option (if you’re a parent) is to take time for yourself after the little ones are in bed for the night, or in the early morning hours, while the house is still quiet.

Once you’ve found the time, here are some things to do that will help you breathe easier and make it through the rest of your week:

  1. Get your blood flowing. Most likely, you’ve been sitting at a desk for a big portion of the day. Take at least 10 minutes to stretch our your muscles so they don’t grown stagnant from lack of attention.
  2. Gain perspective. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your problems, read some news articles. Suddenly, your life issues won’t seem so bad after all.
  3. Be with others. Socializing during your downtime is a fantastic plan – if it’s realistic. Being around friends, sharing stories and laughing is one of the best ways to loosen up. Pass on the alcohol, though – it will only leave you with a headache in the morning, defeating the purpose of re-energizing yourself.
  4. Look at photos. Sometimes when I’m trying to get myself into a better frame of mind, I set my laptop photos folder onto slideshow and watch as my life scrolls before my eyes. All of those happy memories instantly put me in a good place mentally.
  5. Use humor. A great piece of advice a friend once gave me was to watch videos of cute animals when I was feeling stressed. At the time I thought it was silly, but one day I clicked over to YouTube and watched a bunch of kittens doing funny things. You know what? IT WORKED.
  6. Turn on some tunes. The connection between music and mood has long been established, so play your favorite songs and sing along!
  7. Bathe. Add a few drops of lavender oil and some rose scented bubbles to a bath, and soak your troubles away. Combine this with some soothing music and you’ve got a two-fer!
  8. Hug it out. Research shows us that hugging for just 2 minutes a day does amazing things for our mental state. So, open your arms to your partner, your kids or your friends. Physical contact with someone you love releases oxytocin – the “feel-good” hormone.

Less important than the actual activity is just making the effort to set aside a block of time for yourself. During your “Me” time, shift the focus away from all of the stressors in your life and onto You. Slow down your actions, your intentions and your thoughts throughout your relaxation time. Be mindful of everything around you and within you, and you’ll become more centered and better equipped to handle anything.

“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”  ~Lily Tomlin

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Lies: Why We Tell Them and When to Stop

Photo courtesy of Katie Tegtmeyer
Ask anyone how they feel about lying, and the vast majority of adults and even children would respond that it is wrong. They might also tell you that they don’t do it.

They’d be lying.

While we’ve all been conditioned to strive for honesty, truth and honor - the fact remains that most of us tell “half-truths” on a semi-regular basis. In fact, the act of lying is  a natural human trait. When questioned, most of us would say we fight against that trait, but in reality, we just can’t help ourselves.

But why do we do it?

Psychologists have been scratching their heads over this very question for a long time. Since the mere concept of lying has such a negative connotation, being dishonest is not something that many people like to admit to, making it a complicated phenomenon that is difficult to study and therefore, understand.

The fact remains that lying has interested psychologists for years precisely because of its complexity. Thus, many studies have been completed with the goal of discovering the motivation behind lies and what types of people tell the biggest whoppers.

One thing’s for certain: the ability to lie effectively is actually a sign of intellect and high cognitive ability. For me, that information conjured up a mental image of playing Truth or Dare with the likes of Hannibal Lector, but you don’t have to be an evil genius to tell a tall tale. Here’s what researchers know about the why behind the lie:

  • Saving our butts – The vast majority of lies happen when we’re attempting to stay out (or get out) of trouble. Yeah, sure, we know that honesty’s always the best policy, but we want to look good, even if we have to lie to make that happen.
  • Keeping the peace – What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her, right?
  • Flattery – We bring out these little white lies to make other people feel good about themselves. Who knew distorting the truth could be so altruistic?
  • Power imbalance – There’s a power dynamic in every relationship – it may shift in different situations – but in general, the person with less power often resorts to lying to the person in control because it just seems easier.
  • Societal rules – As was demonstrated in the movie “The Invention of Lying,” life would be a very different experience if we blurted out truths 24/7. Imagine admitting to your boss that you think she’s ugly, or telling everyone that you were late to the party because you had an episode of explosive diarrhea.  Societal norms keep us at arms’ length from people we don’t intimately know, thus making it necessary to be less than honest, or risk embarrassment nearly constantly.

What I found interesting is the fact that even animals have the ability to lie to each other! Disappointingly, however, humans are the only species who have ability to lie to ourselves (and not even realize it.)

The truth is, as humans, we’re primarily motivated by maintaining our sense of self and maintaining successful relationships. These two gigantic motivating factors are at play every time we interact with other people. Thus, we stay mum about the negative parts of ourselves, and put a little “twist” on our accomplishments and merits. As long as you aren’t harboring a huge, life changing secret (like the fact that you’re having an affair), sticking to little white lies is probably not going to get you into any trouble.

I said probably.

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Do You Have an Exercise Addiction?

bodybuilderPhoto courtesy of Jeremy Brooks

While emotional eating is something we’ve all heard of (and probably participated in, truth be told), how many of you have heard the term ‘emotional exercising?’ As I mentioned last week, I’m on a journey to get fit and I’m struggling with motivation.  As I pay more attention to the people exercising around me, I’ve started wondering about the opposite end of the spectrum.  How much is too much?

At first, the concept of working out your tension in the weight room or going for a celebratory run seems like a pretty decent idea, and one that many doctors and psychologists recommend to their patients.

Many of the physical health benefits associated with regular exercise are obvious: stronger muscles, healthier body weight, better cardiovascular and pulmonary systems, lowered chance of diabetes, improved sleep and increased energy. Although the psychological benefits you can reap from regular exercise are a lot harder to monitor, staying fit has indeed been proven to ease depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.

I’ve read several studies that even showed improvements in brain function after cardio workouts, including better memory, attention and learning abilities. One recent and particularly large study that took place at King’s College in London, summed up their results as such: “Healthy body; healthy mind.”

Like all good things, exercising can become addictive.  Because of its awesome ability to activate the brain’s pleasure center, some people take exercising to the extreme, wanting more and more of the feel-good hormones that working out releases.

Take Jeff Tweedy, for example.  Jeff is the lead singer of the band Wilco, and he developed a nasty combination of drug and alcohol addictions due to the rock and roll lifestyle and a lifelong affliction with migraines (for which he took prescription pain killers).  Several years ago, Jeff went to rehab, got clean, and has been sober ever since. After rehab, he took up running.

In fact, he ran so much, he broke both of his legs doing it. When interviewed, Jeff had this to say: “Just because I found something good to do doesn’t mean I’m not going to hurt myself doing it.”

Because exercising activates the brain’s pleasure circuit so well, it can indeed become a problem – especially for those people who are more prone to addiction in general.

If you’re putting important life events and people on the back burner in order to work out, it may be time to take a look at your attitude toward exercise. Outwardly, it can be difficult to differentiate between a healthy athlete and an exercise addict. What I’ve learned is it’s the attitude that matters.

People who become addicted to exercising will lose perspective and balance in their lives. Just like a drug, working out becomes their first priority, regardless of who or what it replaces. Increased miles on the pavement, extra hours in the gym, multiple workouts every day. More is always better to the addict.

Exercise is an amazing tool for many reasons, and most of us should be doing more of it. However, if you had an ‘a-ha’ moment while reading about exercise addiction, your next move should be to find a good therapist. Leading a healthier, happier, and more balanced life will come when you are able to separate your emotions from exercise. And a little Ellen DeGeneres can’t hurt, either: “I really don’t think I need buns of steel.  I’d be happy with buns of cinnamon.”

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8 Workout Mistakes to Avoid

workoutPhoto courtesy of Whologwhy

As someone who has recently committed to adding fitness back into my life, I was definitely a little rusty at first.  I had been without a solid workout routine in over two years, and, although my lapse was justified with some pretty legitimate reasons, some extra weight had crept ont. Thus, I made the decision to go forth once again into the fray.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a similar situation – slowing metabolism, physical limitations, or “life got in the way.” Whatever your particular reason may have been, if now is the right time to start exercising again, you surely want to get the most out of your workouts. As you work to hone your internal self-awareness, don’t forget to acknowledge your physical self, too. Your physical body must be in good condition so you can make the most out of all of life’s opportunities. Optimal physical health and fitness will only serve to enhance enjoyment of the world around us.

As I jumped feet first into exercising again (literally – I took up swimming), I wasn’t seeing the results I had anticipated. I needed a refresher on how to get the most out of my workouts, because I was doing a few things wrong. Here are several mistakes many newbie athletes make, and how to avoid them:

  1. Refueling on Gatorade: On my way through my gym to get to the pool, I see bottle after bottle of brightly colored Gatorade or other similar drinks. Unless you’re training for a marathon – downing such a sugar-laden drink isn’t only unnecessary – it’s self-sabotage. Ditch the sugary electrolyte replacement for good ol’ H2O.
  2. Spending hours at the gym: If your idea of exercising is long, slow workouts, you’re probably not getting the results you want. Working at too low of an intensity won’t burn enough calories. If a low energy level is to blame, add more protein to your diet and avoid processed carbs. The most effective fat burning workouts are “in and out in 30 minutes.”  Short, intense workouts have been shown to burn more calories than the long, leisurely social calls that so many people call “exercising.”
  3. Reading on the treadmill: My own personal experience is this: If you have enough focus left to read, you’re not working out hard enough.  Leave the book at home and pop some ear buds in. The music will be much more inspiring than any reading material.
  4. Doing the same workout week after week: Many people (women especially) fear bulking up, so they stick to the same, repetitive cardio workouts for months or even years at a time, preventing their bodies from ever making any changes. Your muscles get as bored as your brain does, and you’ll never get over that plateau unless you switch things up.
  5. ENERGY bars: Sometimes I know I have to eat something before a workout or I’ll probably pass out while doing it. However, inhaling an ”Energy” bar is definitely not the wisest choice. Loaded with fiber, they sap your energy as your body works hard to digest them, cramping your workout (and possibly your stomach). The better selection? A banana – “nature’s Power Bar” – it has easily digestible carbs (fuel) and high levels of potassium, which helps nerve and muscle function.
  6. Avoiding the scale: Obsessing over your weight isn’t a good habit to get into, but stepping on the scale once a week has been proven to aid in weight loss. It is motivational and also keeps you from straying.
  7. Skipping weight training: For those who fear weight training because they don’t want huge muscles or are afraid of injury: rest assured. Resistance training is the key to increase lean muscles and get rid of stubborn fat areas. Switch out your cardio for some weights at least twice a week.
  8. Hating your workout: If you dread your exercise routine, you’ll probably end up skipping it more often than not, leading to stored calories and pounds gained. Workouts don’t have to include a gym! Play outside with your friends or your children, explore some nature trails or do lunges and stair runs in your own house.

The key to making your workouts successful is doing something you enjoy (at least most of the time), following a few simple rules, and committing to an active lifestyle for the rest of your (healthier) life!

To that end, tune back in to TinyShift on Monday to check out our latest giveaway – it’s bound to get your asana in gear!

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How to Do Something When You Really Don’t Want to

unmotivatedPhoto courtesy of Jamelah

You know the feeling: you’ve got an endless To-do list and you’re drowning in deadlines, but you just cannot seem to find the right motivation. Regardless of what particular goal(s) you’re trying to reach, dealing with a lack of motivation can really slow down your progress. In fact, allowing your slump to continue can cause a hefty set-back, undoing some of your hard-earned progress you have already made.

I am presently lacking the motivation to get my butt in gear and get in shape. I’m well aware of the health benefits I will enjoy after my body drops a few pounds, and I see my skinny clothes beckoning me from my closet every day. I’m also cognizant that regular exercise and healthy eating are the key to getting fit. The problem? How to overcome the “I don’t wanna”:

  1. Question your motives. The first step in finding your way past a roadblock is to reassess why you set that particular goal in the first place. Make sure that the goal in question is attainable, necessary, and will lead you to a happier and better place than where you are currently. Evaluate whether or not you really need/want to make the changes required to reach this goal. It’s possible that your goals have changed since you set out to change your life, which is why you should reevaluate frequently. If, however,  you discover that you’re on the right track, renew your confidence in the idea by imagining a future in which you have accomplished this goal. Come back to that visualization of yourself succeeding anytime you struggle.
  2. Rename your goal. Sometimes, word association can get the better of us.  For me, “exercising” brings up thoughts of sweat and exhaustion. What I really need in my life is to improve my physical endurance to overcome some of the hurdles that a connective tissue disorder throws at me. From now on, I’m going to tell myself, “Let’s go get stronger!” It may seem too simple to work, but I know that it is possible to mind-trick your own mind.
  3. Forgive yourself. One of the worst things you can do when you’re already in an uninspired frame of mind is to berate yourself to an even lower place. I know this to be true, and I’m working on being nicer to myself when I slip.
  4. Make a tiny shift. After all, that’s how we came up with our name! Most often, people feel unmotivated to do tasks that seem overwhelming. To avoid this, make your tasks as easy and simple as possible. Want to get more fit? Walk for 3-5 minutes every day. Cutting caffeine out of your life? Drop one caffeinated beverage out of your meal plan every week, or move to half-caff.  Trying to get better at keeping your house clean? Organize one room at a time, or set a timer and clean for only 30 minutes. Doing a little every day may not seem like a big deal, but what you’re actually doing is creating habits.
  5. Try to have fun. I hate reading self-help articles that say “It’ll all work out!  Just do it!” While they may be right, that doesn’t solve my problem – not wanting to do it in the first place! There’s a reason we struggle to do some of the things that will improve our lives – they’re hard! So, instead of forcing yourself to do something you hate - change it up a little bit first. Find some way to add even the tiniest pleasure to the task at hand – like adding fresh mint into your decaf tea, or buying new cleaning supplies. For me, it meant finding fun ways to get exercise with other people, like playing kickball with my kids, having a nature walk with my best friend, and taking a swim with my husband.

Finally – even the best of us have moments when all we feel like doing nothing. Give yourself permission to do nothing for a bit, because it’s your mind’s way of telling you to slow down and take a break. When you’re finished doing nothing, get back up and try again - because as the old saying goes:

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese Proverb

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Turn Your Frown Upside Down: Can You Decide to be Happy?


Photo courtesy of Lauren

As I wander through the world each day, I regularly find myself face-to-face with someone who radiates negative energy.

With each encounter, I walk away from the situation mystified at how much energy these people are simply throwing away. Energy that could be used so much more effectively toward making life better.

It’s not that I never get upset or mad. There are things that irritate me, and (although infrequent), I do have some conflicts in my life. As a matter of fact, I think a life completely void of struggle would be quite yawn-inducing.

However, there’s huge difference between having some conflict in your life and having some life in between all of your conflicts. Although I wouldn’t say I was ever a totally negative person, I can definitely tell you that I used to be a lot more cynical than I am these days.

Those people who seem to be absolutely brimming with negativity are generally unhappy or unfulfilled in their own lives, so they squash happiness, ambition and success wherever they can. If they’re miserable – you should be too. Innovative ideas thought up by others are picked apart and insulted. Jealous of the good things happening to those around them, they display obvious resentment of those who have what they want.

Eventually, putting out constant negative energy will push friends and family away from someone as they seek relief from the continual complaining and general air of discontent.

Does someone close to you display this type of behavior? Is it possible that you’re the Negative Nancy? Luckily, negativity doesn’t have to be a permanent state of being. After a period of pretty intense self-reflection and a great deal of research on the habits of unhappy people, I learned how much better it felt to be positive.  Some helpful advice to nix negativity from your life:

  • Force it (at first):  Refraining from making negative comments or engaging in unnecessary conflicts and debates won’t come naturally for someone who’s been practicing a whole lot of negativity for (possibly) years. The most effective way to shift into positive gear is to purposely set out to do so. Fastidiously police your behavior and set increments of time in which you are prohibited from saying anything negative at all. Start with small time segments to ensure success.
  • Reinforce positivity:  When you are able to avoid being contrary for your goal time period, you’ll immediately feel good about yourself. The simple fact that you were able to go against your natural instinct toward negativity will give you a feeling of peace and accomplishment. Sit with those feelings, and reward yourself accordingly.  This will make it even more desirable for you to continue on your journey toward positivity.
  • Smile Therapy:  Even when you don’t necessarily feel like smiling, do it anyway. Many studies, including one performed at the University of Cardiff in Wales, have reinforced Charles Darwin’s idea that “the free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensi­fies it.” We typically smile because we’re happy – but as it turns out, the reverse is true, too. You can feel more happiness because you’re smiling.
  • Observe and Repeat:  As you begin to realize the exorbitant amount of energy you’d been wasting on negative thoughts and actions, it will become much easier for you to observe and analyze your thoughts and why you’re having them. You’ll gain the ability to stop negative thoughts before they become spoken words.

Over time, these practices will become habit, and may even become a natural part of your new outlook on life. In your efforts to live a more positive life, try not to be too hard on yourself if you stumble at first. You’re making a valiant effort to use your energy for good instead of evil! Forgive yourself for your imperfections, and pride yourself on your desire to improve.

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How to Comfort Yourself Without Food

icecream2Photo courtesy of Robert S. Donovan

Food, glorious food.

I’m looking at you, Ben. You too, Jerry. And your little multi-colored friends that beg me to find out if they melt in my mouth.

I tend to eat when happy, or in celebration. Because I’m so blissed out about my life, this means I’ve been eating a lot, and finding reasons to “celebrate” entirely too often. While I can’t complain about my happiness level being off the charts, I realized that I do need to get my food to activity ratio back in balance, or risk never being able to zip a pair of jeans ever again.

I didn’t think there was any psychology behind why I eat what I do, unless Deliciology has become an official line of study. I know it’s within my power to eat less, but I decided to look for some tips that would help me make the right choices. As usual, what I found was so interesting that I thought you guys might like to know what I learned.

As I suspected, certain foods definitely do have the ability to enhance our feelings of joy when we’re already happy. What is interesting is that there appears to be an actual, physiological reaction that occurs when we eat foods high in saturated fats, that explains why we crave what we do. Additionally, one study in particular discovered that the simple presence of saturated fat in the stomach not only enhanced positive emotions, but also cheered up those participants who were depressed. Participants who ingested saturated fat also handled difficult situations much better than the participants whose stomachs were filled with saline solution.

Here’s the kicker: the participants weren’t exposed to the smell, sight or taste of fat-laden food – they simply had saturated fat or saline solution tube-fed directly into their stomachs and were then asked to perform certain tasks. Those with bellies full of fat experienced a much easier time dealing with negative feelings like loss, guilt and sadness.

Though the study was relatively small, the physicians and psychologists conducting it have ascertained that ingesting saturated fat triggers the release of hormones that positively stimulate the brain.

It’s not just the yummy-deliciousness that makes us feel better, then! If saturated fats make us able to handle stress better, we should give our bodies what they want!

Except, no.

It’s true that a huge bowl of creamy macaroni and cheese may send out some signals to your brain, telling it that everything’s A-ok, but what happens after you digest that mac-n-cheese? Do you reach for the peanut butter cup ice cream sundae?

You could, and many certainly do, but eventually you’ll end up unhealthy and unhappy. Perhaps there are some people who are overweight and legitimately happy about it, but their hearts are still working extra hard to carry that extra weight around, happy or not.

Instead of feeding your sorrows or making up fake reasons to justify buying another irresistible sheet cake from Costco, turn to your inner senses, like smell, sound, and sight. In  50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Susan Albers, PsyD., teaches how to tell the difference between “emotional hunger” and actual hunger by focusing on real world mindfulness techniques that will help you relax and enjoy life to the fullest without depending on food.

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How I Put an End to Worrying for Good

worriedPhoto courtesy of spaceodissey

I used to be a chronic worrier.

In fact, I spent the better part of three decades intensely worried about a plethora of highly unlikely disasters.

If you’re a worrier, you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting about 18% of the population. However, just because it’s so prevalent doesn’t mean that it’s ok to ignore your chronic anxiety. Studies show that regular, unsubstantiated worrying will eventually catch up with you, leading to progressive physical and psychological problems as well as interpersonal difficulties.

When worrying began to manifest itself in the form of physical damage to my body, I put my foot down and called a therapist. Getting a handle on my anxiety was something I had to do before I could move toward the life I really wanted.

The first thing you should know about what feels like uncontrollable worrying is that there’s a scientific explanation for it.  While observing their patients’ PET scans, physicians have noted that the orbital cortex of the brain goes into overdrive during periods of anxiety.

The orbital cortex is the underside of the front of the brain. Feelings of worry stem from a slight abnormality in this area, leading it to “overheat” or simply overwork itself.  In other words, your orbital cortex is easily aroused, which sounds a lot more fun in theory.

Suppose a thought enters your mind, such as, “Why do I have such a headache?” For the chronic worrier, faulty beliefs about this thought will quickly take over. “My headache is worse than normal. I probably have a brain tumor. I should see a doctor at once.”

Anxious people have an extremely tough time letting go of these thoughts because their orbital cortex becomes aroused so easily. It lights up quickly, generating heat and energy, causing the worrier to become stuck in the worry cycle without being able to move forward past the feelings of anxiety. The non-anxious patient may experience the same thought process, even fleetingly pondering that the headache may be a brain tumor, but is able to recognize the thought as irrational, letting go of it before it becomes a worry.

Many worriers develop techniques to ease their anxieties, which may sound like a good thing, but these “neutralizing rituals” are typically quite disruptive to the worrier’s lifestyle, and can cause problems in relationships and at work.

Luckily, it is possible to cool down your orbital cortex and get your worries under control. The technique that worked best for me, and the treatment that is most widely-used for anxiety disorders is called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

During this type of self-therapy, you’ll examine your thoughts (cognitions) and take back control over your reactions (behaviors) to the thoughts. Some basic steps include:

1. Cognitive Restructuring -  This involves identifying your specific fears that are the most irrational and most destructive and then persistently asking yourself for evidence that your fears are legitimate.

2. Fear Facing - Sometimes referred to as ‘exposure therapy,’ this component of CBT is necessary because avoidance of your fears will prevent you from ever overcoming them.

3. Thought Replacement - Some therapists advise their anxious patients to come up with more accurate thoughts or relaxing mantras after specific fears are identified. I experienced the most success when I turned my anxious thoughts into cartoons, amplifying their absurdity. My therapist also suggested speaking irrational thoughts aloud, or singing them to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell” or another familiar children’s song. For me, this works every time.

For many people, obsessing about irrational fears is a habit that they’ve been developing for years and years.  It may take quite some time to break out of the worry cycle, but it can be done with some practice and a lot of dedication. Anyone who is willing and ready to make an effort can get control of their worries. Nobel Prize winner Winston Churchill suffered from anxiety, but went on to lead an extremely successful life. To quote him, ”When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life — most of which had never happened.”

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The Secret to Aging Gracefully


winePhoto courtesy of Robert S. Donovan

At any given moment in my life, I am busy perpetuating a lie, and many of you are, too.

We’ve been conditioned to associate getting older with negativity in many aspects, but particularly how we appeal to others. Consequently, middle age incites a mild panic as we furtively participate in rituals that promise to make us look and seem younger than we really are.

As our predicted life spans have now passed the three-quarter-century mark, many of us are faced with the reality of old age. Thus, we spend excessive amounts of money and time on cosmetics, treatments and procedures in order to maintain the illusion (delusion?) of youth. To go out into the world armed with nothing but our True Faces is akin to a triple-dog-dare, and definitely NOT something that I am up for.

However, on my journey toward complete self-acceptance and unconditional self-love, I asked myself if there was a way to age more gracefully.

And as it turns out, there is.

I was introduced to just the motivation I didn’t even know I needed in Phyllis Sues, a woman with an earnest life motto: “To look good and feel good is work. To look great and feel great is a full-time job. The reward is liking myself and living a creative life.”

Before you chalk her up to just another life coach with nothing behind her words but a high price tag, hear this: Phyllis is 53 (years older than me). Can you do the math if I tell you I’m 37?

Phyllis’ zest for life and determination to have her mind and body live as one spurred me on to learn more about the science of aging. Armed with knowledge, maybe we could all be more like Phyllis. I was intrigued by what I learned.

While there’s no denying that muscle mass starts to decrease and reaction time slows down, some areas of our brains actually start to improve in our 60s, 70s and 80s. Contrary to popular belief, neuroscientists now know that the brain’s dendrites grow longer and increase in number in our later years. Dendrites are the branches that brain cells need in order for neurotransmitters to create synapses.

This information tells us that, not only is it possible to age gracefully, but our brains are actually wired to allow us to do so! Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Gene D. Cohen, MD confirmed that our ability to coordinate both hemispheres of the brain improve in the last third of our lives, making us better at solving emotional problems and paying attention to our life experiences. There is great potential for complete fulfillment in our later years.

Naturally, in order to take advantage of those longer, more proliferate dendrites, we’ve got to keep our bodies alive and healthy long enough to reach that stage of life in good shape. This means putting concerted efforts into moving, learning and listening to your body and mind. As the saying goes: “A dog walking through a field of cotton doesn’t come out wearing a suit.”

It’s important to have a good handle on what happiness looks like to you, but no plan is worth a damn unless it’s put into action. As Phyllis says, “There is a way to beat the clock. Stay fit and enjoy the journey. Accept the challenge and go for it!”

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