Tag Archives | mood

The #1 Reason to Get in Shape Will Surprise You

Photo courtesy of Ms. PhoenixEvery year around this time it’s very common to hear people getting down on themselves about not being in better shape. In fact, New Year’s resolutions have already begun in earnest, or at least the planning of them, giving everyone a chance to promise to do better in January. “Just two more over-indulgent weeks!”

Unfortunately, along with healthy eating habits, exercise routines often slow down or even come to an abrupt halt around the holidays. Once the diet goes out the window, the motivation to stay fit goes right along with it. As with many things in life these days, the common approach to living a “healthy lifestyle” means restrictive dieting that is impossible to maintain. Several small slip ups can lead to a feeling of failure, and with a shrug of the shoulders, pure gluttony ensues.

In order to keep your diet and exercise routine from slipping away from you, make it part of your ever-increasing healthy lifestyle. As Savor author Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, “We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”

Every moment presents us with the opportunity to make a good decision or one that might lead us away from the life we want to live. The foundations of living mindfully include paying attention to ourselves and living consciously in order to improve our satisfaction with life. If we are living by the ideals of mindfulness, we should try to be present and aware of our food and fitness choices and how they will help us or harm us.

By choosing to be mindfully aware of your body, you become more in tune with yourself. You’ll find that you crave foods that nourish your body and that physical exercise feels good.  It feels good to be so connected to yourself! Not only will you be more self-aware and balanced, but your physical being will display the results of your mindful approach to eating and moving.  You’ll look healthier. Excess weight will come off. Skin conditions often disappear. Insomnia usually improves dramatically.

I’ve adopted a mindful approach to life. In fact, you might say I’ve embraced it with a zealous fervor. I was highly motivated to change my lifestyle because I was not physically healthy. My decision to switch to eating mindfully and following a regular exercise regime has vastly improved my body’s ability to keep excess weight off. I also sleep better and feel less pain than I have in over twenty years.

However, the most surprising benefit of becoming more aware of what the body needs actually has nothing to do with the physical being at all! Adopting a mindful fitness plan has been proven to make impressive physical changes…to the brain. The brains of people practicing regular, mindful fitness plans (and eating healthy foods) have higher levels of tryptophan hydroxylase, which is the rate-limiting enzyme of serotonin biosynthesis. Essentially, that’s our brain’s self-made anti-depressant.

In short: if weight gain, and more importantly your overall physical health are bringing you down this year (or at any time, for that matter) – put the concept of mindfulness to the test. Tune in to your body and learn what it needs. It’s highly likely that you’ll watch the numbers on the scale get smaller and smaller, while your grin grows exponentially.

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Big Picture Healing: Beating Depression the Old Fashioned Way

Photo courtesy of Suzan Marie

Lifestyles have evolved dramatically in the past 12,000 years. During the Stone Age, everyone lived in a hunter-gatherer tribe, engaging in hard work  outdoors, eating nutritious diets, and getting constant social contact. Their physically active lives meant that they got an average of ten hours of quality sleep every night.

Fast forward to today’s Modern Age. Now millions of people lead sedentary lives, spending many hours each day inside windowless cubicles completing mind-numbingly endless tasks. Meals consist of fast food, which is low in nutrition and high in saturated fat.  Many people are living life at a frantic pace, yet don’t sleep nearly enough – getting an average of only six hours a night.

Although lifestyles have changed drastically, the human genome has remained the same, and the effects of our poorly nourished, inactive, isolated, demanding, and insomnia-ridden lives are proving to be quite catastrophic to our physical and mental health. In contrast, the few hunter-gatherer tribes still in existence are healthy, strong, fit, and most importantly, happy.

Because of the disconnect between our environment and our physical and emotional requirements, a huge number of people are now dealing with depression and anxiety. In fact, my own depression is what started me on my journey toward self-fulfillment. Luckily, it has been proven recently that the adult human brain is changeable, as opposed to the previously held belief that the brain became fixed somewhere in adolescence.

Many therapists are now putting two and two together. People were happier in the Stone Age! With the new knowledge that the adult brain is malleable, many therapies to overcome depression and anxiety include incorporating some of these ancient habits in order to nudge the brain back toward a penchant for happiness:

  • Get plenty of restorative sleep.
  • Eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Alternatively, take 1,500mg of omega-3 daily (fish oil caps).
  • Get at least 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight each day.
  • Aim to spend 90 minutes a week moving your body physically.
  • Connect socially Although the brain thinks the pain of depression is similar to an infection and that we should isolate ourselves from others, what we really need when we’re feeling down is more human interaction.
  • Be cognizant of what those before us have had to overcome, and how small our problems seem in comparison.
  • Accept yourself as you are.

In addition to taking a page from the history books, also try to:

  • Find a healthy escape that will keep you busy on a regular basis.
  • Keep track of your mood. Try to identify triggers for your depressed times.
  • Repeat positive affirmations to bouy your self-confidence.
  • Avoid labeling yourself as “depressed.” Labels often stick and can be self-fulfilling. Constantly reminding yourself that you are a “depressed person” will likely only make you more depressed. Although depression is very real and serious, avoid getting bogged down by what can seem like a permanent sentence.
  • Remind yourself that “this too shall pass.” As it turns out, my grandma was right.
  • Take a look at the big picture. As evidenced when Voyager 1 took the now famous photograph Pale Blue Dot, everything seems much smaller and less significant with a little distance and perspective.

Once you’ve gained the appropriate perspective and shifted your lifestyle so that it fulfills your needs, your brain should start to react accordingly. Combining the above strategies with a visit to your doctor will get you back on the road to happiness.  In order to stay on the right path: continue to respect your body’s needs and always be mindful of the amazing things that do exist in your little speck of the universe.

 

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Sing Goodbye to the Blues: Why Music is Great for Your Mental State

Photo courtesy of JD Hancock

A great appreciation for music is something that many of my family members share – ranging from musical inclinations to having a general love of music. Throughout my life, I’ve often used specific songs to put me into the right frame of mind for certain situations, and I have a sibling who is veritably obsessed with the entire concept of music.

Of course, music has been used for thousands of years to enhance a variety of situations, so I realize that it’s not just my little family that has discovered the amazing benefits of song. Marching bands get fans into the spirit of football games, lullabies tend to soothe and calm fussy babies, and teachers use catchy tunes to help students learn. What I wanted to know was: why?

After doing a little research, I discovered that there appears to be a very real connection in the brain between music and mood. Congratulations to us for being onto something all of these years!

Recent research shows that even the anticipation of your favorite song will give you a rush, but for the full benefits, you’ll have to keep listening until you reach your peak emotional arousal. Sounds worth looking (or listening) into, no?

Dopamine, a neuro-transmitter, is released by nerve cells in response to the feeling of pleasure that we get from external (and usually tangible) rewards like food, money, drugs, sex, and some activities that may signal that one of these rewards is imminent, like falling in love.

However, since listening to music isn’t really thought of as a tangible reward, the brain’s dopamine response to music had not been studied until recently.

The results are impressive.

The levels of dopamine in the brain increased by up to 9% in people who were observed while listening to some of their favorite music.  This is exciting news, because it verifies that “we can release dopamine in anticipation of something abstract, complex and not concrete, such as an aesthetic stimulus,” according to Valorie Salimpoor, co-author of the study.

The study also cemeted the fact that the chills you get during your favorite part of a song are due to the levels of dopamine spiking in your brain.  This moment is also called a musical ‘frisson.’

This tells me that Gloria Estefan was right – eventually, the rhythm is gonna get you – to smile! People have been telling us for years to listen to more music when we’re feeling down. With scientific proof that it works, what’s stopping you?

 

 

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Tired of Being Tired? Overcome Disordered Sleep Today!

Photo courtesy of Alyssa L. Miller

As someone who’s been an insomniac for many years, I understand just how important sleep is to all of our body’s functions. My mother tells me that I never slept easily, and, in fact, that I didn’t even sleep through the night until I was four years old. I remember her sitting at my bedside until I fell asleep well into my older childhood years, and I awoke frequently at night, requiring her help to feel tired enough to sleep again. When I did sleep, I was (and still am, periodically) plagued by vivid and disturbing dreams.

When I began to experience some significant health disturbances as an adult, I started looking deeper into my lifelong struggle with sleep and how it was possibly causing some real, serious problems. Not only does disordered sleep exacerbate chronic physical medical conditions, but it can also unleash the dreadful duo of depression and anxiety.

Have you struggled with a mood disorder on your road to happiness?  If so, take a look at your sleep patterns.

For years, psychologists have debated the insomnia/depression connection.  No one argued that they were related, but, much like the chicken or the egg, they couldn’t agree on which came first. Recent research points to the conclusion that disordered sleep eventually damages the nervous system, leading to a mix of behaviors and body chemistry that causes depression.

In a bizarre twist, insomnia is thought to be the body’s last ditch attempt at staving off an attack of depression that you aren’t even aware is approaching. Staying awake too long overstimulates the brain and releases a rush of serotonin and dopamine.  Eventually, however, the brain reaches its capacity for self-stimulation, and this is when we crash and burn.

Being overly tired will suck the happiness right out of anyone and can cause problems with memory, thought processing, negotiating, and making good decisions. These are all skills that are crucial for our overall success and happiness in life!

If you have a messed up sleep clock like I do, it’s not something that you can magically cure, but since your happiness is your responsibility, take charge of your disordered sleep as much as you can. I now make a valiant effort to go to bed at the same time every night, even if I don’t want to, and I don’t allow myself to sleep in (too often) on the weekends. This helps keep my circadian rhythm more balanced.

At night, turn the temperature in your bedroom down further than you normally do, because an overheated body will wake up. Many sleep experts will tell you not to eat anything too close to bedtime, but I find that being hungry keeps me awake too. A healthy dinner and a small snack a few hours before bed usually works well.

If you haven’t already begun practicing mindfulness, now is the time. Progressive relaxation, a component of mindfulness, is a fantastic way to drift into sleep. In fact, being mindful in all areas of your life will lead to more restful sleep because you won’t be plagued by the worries you used to have.

Some other things that have helped me sleep better are: white noise, investing in a high quality mattress and pillow, room darkening shades, aromatherapy, wearing unrestrictive clothing, regular exercise, and reading.

If all else fails, remember that you have every right to see a doctor. As we’ve learned, insomnia is a serious matter if left unattended, and if professional help is what you need to get back on track, don’t hesitate to get it. Remember that taking charge of your journey to happiness sometimes means asking for help along the way.

Until next time - happy dreams, everyone.

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How to Kick Life’s Buzzkills to the Curb

Photo courtesy of DaveAustria.com

Early in my third decade of life, I really started ‘coming into my own,’ as they say. In my twenties, I scoffed if someone suggested that I wouldn’t be fully self-aware and self-confident for another ten years. I thought I knew everything back then, but it’s true that a powerful shift begins right around the age of thirty. It’s mostly common sense, though, and can be chalked up to simply getting wiser with experience.

Regardless of the reason, as the years continue to fly by, my tolerance level for nonsense continues to drop. I believe the young people today would define my attitude as living “drama-free.”

I suppose the definition of ‘drama’ is different for everyone, but as we used to say in the 90s, it’s basically when someone puts a ‘major buzz kill’ on your mood.  Now that you are starting to find a direct path to being high on life, don’t let the following undesirable personality-types kill your mojo any longer:

  1.  The Cray Cray – This person is constantly full of wildly swinging emotions and usually has a dangerous potential for big blowouts. They may seem delusional and irrational.
  2.  The Negative Nancy – If you have a friend who is a constant whiner and always harps on the bad points of everything, maybe it’s time to tell them to cry a river somewhere else.
  3.  The Busybody - This is someone who appears to have no life of her own, giving her an excess amount of time to monitor and judge your every move.
  4.  The Emotional Drunk - All hell breaks loose when this person has one too many  drinks.  Sensibilities are lost right along with inhibitions, leading to ’dramatic’ professions, confessions, and sober tension the next day.
  5.  The Time Suck – Body language and social cues mean nothing to a time vampire. They show little consideration for anyone else’s time but their own, and if they get you cornered, or stuck on the phone, you can wave bye-bye to your productivity.
  6.  The Truthfully Challenged – Getting caught in a web of lies is what these people do religiously. For some, compulsive lying can be a very real mental disorder.
  7.  The Bitter Pill – Someone who’s perpetually in a bad mood due to what they consider a series of negative life events aimed at them personally can be a bit tough to swallow.
  8.  The Jealous Janet – They may display their envy in a variety of ways, like downplaying your successes, spreading rumors, or making snarky comments like, “Must be nice.”
  9.  The Braggart -With a constant need to impress, these name-droppers will never end up impressing anyone until they stop trying so hard.
  10.  The Absentee – Known in the 90s as a ‘flake’, this person often commits to things but doesn’t show up or follow through. This group also includes those who constantly ‘Tardy for the Party.”
  11.  The Close-Minded Fool- Completely unreceptive to new or different ideas and opinions, this person is very ‘un-fun’ to have a meaningful conversation with.
  12.  The Control Freak – Wanting to dominate every situation, a control freak will try to manipulate you until you relinquish all power in the relationship.
  13.  The Two-Face – Someone who expends all extra energy discussing the faults of others will not only have a negative effect on your mood, but is guaranteed to be talking behind your back, too.

Of course, nobody’s perfect, and maybe someone from the above list is on the same journey toward happiness that you are.  If that’s the case, they’ll be receptive to making changes in their behavior that are good for them and you.  Otherwise, it is most definitely time to move forward and ’kick them to the curb.’

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How to Wake Up on the Right Side of the Bed

Is there anything more painful than waking up on the wrong side of the bed?  I can think of a couple, but they all involve the dentist.  We wake up every day, but few of us know the right way to wake up.  How we wake up sets the tone for the next 12+ hours and determines whether we accomplish anything, so you want to be sure you do this right!

This is easy when you’ve spent the night dreaming that you’re touring with your favorite band and are looking forward to a day at the beach … but what do you do when you wake up with a stiff back and a temper?

First, know that even successful people wake up grumpy, so don’t let a temporary state of being ruin your day.  Second, an alarm clock is useless when you’re half-dead.  Historically, I’ve relied on 2 alarm clocks, not because they work but out of a desperate hope that they would.  I’ve since learned that even a cattle prod can’t get me moving unless I’m in the right frame of mind.

Here are some tricks for overcoming this small but important hurdle in your day:

1. What are you grateful for?  Before you leave the bed, pump yourself up.  Tell yourself why you and your life rock.  Don’t overlook the small things – if having sushi for lunch will make your day, mention it.  If you’re dreading something, spin it in a positive light: “I have that project due today, but I have great coworkers who will help me, and then after work I’m going for a walk.”

2. Welcome your body back to the waking world.  Invest in nice sheets.  When you wake up, really touch and feel them, and as you do so, become more and more aware of your body, especially your feet and hands.  This helps energize your body and is more soothing than an alarm clock.  The wall next to my bed has a very pebbly texture, so I’ll press my hand against it to feel it.  It’s a gentle way of reminding my body that I’m waking up.

3. Movement is key.  If you’re feeling grumpy, trick your body by jumping out of bed and dancing across the room, or at least changing up your footsteps.  Do something unexpected to shock yourself out of lethargy, even if it’s a little hopping motion.  If you like music, sing or hum.  Your first steps out of bed can determine your mood for the rest of the day, so make sure they’re good ones.

4. If you can’t change your mood, stay in bed.  It may sound counter intuitive, but if you can’t change how you’re feeling, don’t get up until it shifts.  This may take a while, but it’s better than a bad day.

5. Resist the temptation to invest in a cat.  When it comes to waking you up in the morning, cats are actually more unforgiving than cattle prods.

Remember, waking up well is not done through willpower but a system that supports you and your mood.  Use these cheat codes to build that system for yourself, or create your own.

Today’s post was written by DailyPath reader Carolynn Ananian. Carolynn is an energy healer and teacher of metaphysics.  Based in New Jersey, she travels internationally helping people feel better so they can follow their dreams and leave their mark on the world.

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Why the Crazy Cat Lady Might be Saner Than You Think

Photo courtesy of Adrienne McGuire
Last month, our family bid goodbye to our beloved 12-year-old pug, Bruno. That’s him in the picture. He was quite an amazing dog, full of personality and attitude. He demanded attention and would howl in sadness anytime we left the house without him. My children never knew a life without a fluffy, pug-nosed friend following them around. He lived a good life, but last month his health quickly deteriorated. Losing our two-foot tall faithful companion was extremely sad, indeed.

I admit that having a pet is a huge responsibility, but the rewards are definitely worth it. Pet owners put a lot of time and effort into ensuring that their pets are healthy, well cared for, and happy. What they might not realize is, that time and effort will be returned tenfold because of the positive effects of bonding with their pet. Spending only 15 minutes cuddling with a furry friend causes the level of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body to drop, and boosts serotonin (a happy hormone). Blood pressure and heart rates are lower in pet owners too.

I know that spending time with Bruno definitely helped me when I was feeling sad, because I always had a really good listener to talk to. Pets love us unconditionally, and will offer us emotional support no matter what life throws at us. Also, the act of caring for and walking our pets forces us to move around and stop brooding, and, in fact, studies have shown that dog owners actually have a much easier time recovering from both physically and emotionally traumatic events.

A dog who gets walked everyday undoubtedly has a healthier human holding the leash! And, cat owners have great circulation and fewer strokes than the rest of us. It seems that cat owners, while lavishing their kitty with love and attention, divert themselves from other stressful triggers. Additionally, pet owners usually enjoy talking with other pet owners. This leads to more healthy interaction with other people, which is essential for keeping a healthy mind and can lead to improvements in other areas of life as well, professionally and personally.

Since my children grew up with Bruno, they are less likely to develop allergies, and more likely to have a stronger immune system. This will ideally lead to less sick days for them when they reach adulthood, which, for at least one of my children, might entail working with animals! He says he would like to help sick animals or teach service dogs how to help sick humans. (Animal lover through and through.) Service dogs can be trained to pick up dropped items, open doors, and warn their owner about impending dangers.

It’s clear that adopting a pet benefits both animals and humans. They help us to stay physically active, mentally balanced and happier overall, which makes finding success in other areas of our lives that much easier. If you have ever considered bringing a pet into your home, maybe now is the time to go for it. I know Bruno and I were both much better off for having known each other.

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Does Measuring Mood Make Sense?

Synapse
Photo courtesy of Celia

Is it possible to improve your mood simply by observing it?

That’s the question sites like Moodscope have been attempting to answer. I decided to check out the daily mood-tracking site for myself after a friend told me about her experiences there. (Before I go on, I should mention that her feedback was highly positive, and she felt a real benefit from her ongoing participation). I was intrigued by the site’s claims that you could lift your mood simply by answering questions on a daily basis, and so I set out to see if it would work in my case.

Moodscope asks you to pop along once a day and answer a series of questions about how you’re feeling at that moment. Then it turns your answers into a number – your mood score. Over time, you’re supposed to see patterns in your mood emerging as your mood score changes, and you can then bring about personal improvements.

On my first visit, I was immediately surprised by the simplicity of the test. You’re given a 20-item list of emotions and you’re required to respond with how strongly you’re feeling them, with the options ranging from 0 for very slightly or not at all to 3 for extremely. Generally, I’m not a fan of this kind of test, which forces you to pick between a set of numbers completely unrelated to the question. If the question was “how many apples did you eat for breakfast?”, I’d be far more accepting of this line of answering, but saying that my current level of happiness is a 2 or that my hostility score is a 3 seems a little absurd to me.

After taking the test each day for a couple of weeks, I could see that I wasn’t really getting anywhere. The way the test is supposed to improve your mood over time is through the Hawthorne Effect – a reaction to testing whereby you make improvements simply in response to the fact that you’re being studied. There have been some arguments against the effectiveness of the Hawthorne Effect, while others have denied its existence entirely.

In any case, there is something to be said for the concept of quantified self – the act of regularly measuring various aspects of your life, such as heart rate, blood pressure, weight, calorie intake, and exercise, for the sake of improvement. I actually think it’s pretty neat to make positive changes in your behavior from these kinds of observations. But shouldn’t we draw the line at our moods? And if we don’t, what’s next? Measuring the human spirit? Or measuring all our emotions on a line between fear and love?

While I can appreciate Moodscope will work for a lot of people, I didn’t find any personal benefits in it. For me, it just doesn’t make sense to assign a number to something as complex as our moods. But please, if you’re interested, try it out and decide for yourself.

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