Category Archives: Stress Management

How Baby Boomers Can Control Stress Eating

As I’ve shared with you before in my blog, the last few years were stressful ones for me. I’m not alone. Many baby boomers are facing various trials in their “golden years.”

As a result, for the first time in my life, I got into the habit of stress eating.

junk-foodI’m referring to the routine of emotional, mindless eating and snacking. Stuffing myself with junk food, not to fill my stomach, but because I’m bored, stressed from everyday life, overwhelmed, or exhausted.

To make matters worse, sometimes I’m eating without paying attention to the food or really enjoying it. Suddenly, I crave chocolate or chips or pizza and nothing else sounds good. So, I woof it down while watching TV, reading a book, or playing on my iPad. The need to eat isn’t coming from my stomach but from inside my head. I don’t eat until I’m full but until I’m uncomfortable.

Sometimes I start off with good intentions and eat something healthy like veggies but I still can’t get those darn chips off my brain. Not satisfied, I eat a huge bowl of popcorn thinking that will do the trick. I’m full, but I can’t quit thinking about those nachos I wanted in the first place. So I end up eating the veggies, popcorn, AND the nachos. My stomach is so full and bloated, I end up feeling downright miserable. In my twisted mind, I convince myself I should just go for the nachos next time instead of all those extra calories I ate before eating what I really craved. So that’s what I do.

Briefly, I feel better, but then I feel disgusted with myself.

Sound familiar?

If you’re 50-plus like me, you’re particularly susceptible to emotional eating since during this time of life we’re often facing stressful events and changes in our lives. Empty nest syndrome, aging parents, death of a loved one, menopause, worrying about retirement, or declining health may be troubling us. Since weight gain is often related to aging and menopause, stress eating is the last thing we need!

As I’ve shared with you in a previous blog, I found a diet that works for me and lost seven out of the 10 pounds I needed to lose. But because of stress eating, I’ve already gained a few pounds back.

So what can we all do to stop stress eating and avoid the dreaded unwanted weight gain that usually results? Here are some simple tips I plan on using:

Identify Emotions and Triggers

junk-food-pizzaTake comfort, stress eating isn’t all your fault and actually has a logical reason behind it.

When you feel stressed out, your body produces high levels of the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol increases your appetite and triggers cravings for salty, high-carb, sweet, and high-fat foods. These foods give you a burst of energy and pleasure by increasing the brain’s feel-good dopamine response. Over time, your brain may start to rely on these comfort foods to calm down and feel better.

In addition, if you’re not sleeping at night because you’re anxious, that only makes the problem worse. And if your life feels unfulfilled and empty, food may fill a void.

So, the first step is to figure out what is making you reach for that bag of chips. Does your life feel out of control? Are you frustrated? Overwhelmed? Mad? Anxious?

Focus on the real issues at hand and you’ll be ready for the next step.

Learn to Accept Your Feelings

Often we eat to avoid feelings that make us uncomfortable. Food is a nice distraction sometimes.

If you’re stressed out about your job or financial pressures, worried about an upcoming event, or stewing over an argument you had with a loved one, it’s usually easier to focus on eating comfort foods instead of dealing with the painful situation.

The emotions won’t go away, however. If you stress eat, you’ll also add the burden of guilt for sabotaging your weight loss goals. This starts a whole cycle – and not a good one. Your emotions trigger you to overeat, you beat yourself up for ruining your diet , you gain weight, feel even more guilty, and then overeat again to try and make yourself feel better.

So, give yourself permission to feel angry, fearful, anxious, guilty, or exhausted. Invite those negative feelings in and accept them with kindness. Eventually, your body will come to understand that it no longer needs to comfort itself with food to protect you from your own emotions.

The truth is when you don’t try and suppress your feelings – even if they are painful – it will help you quit obsessing over your negative emotions. Your feelings will lose their power over you. You’ll learn to control your anxiety and deal with emotional problems in more constructive ways.

When you listen to and accept your feelings, you’ll discover what it is you truly need and then make necessary changes in your life.

Pause for a Moment

Take a moment to stop and reflect on why you want to eat. Tell yourself that you’ll put off eating for just five minutes. During that time, you’ll give yourself an opportunity to make a different choice than reaching for that bowl of ice cream.

Ask yourself how you’re feeling emotionally. Understand what is driving your need to eat and see if there is a better way to address your feelings. (See the section below for some ideas on positive ways to deal with negative emotions.)

However, if you still really, really want that bowl of ice cream, it may be better to indulge in moderation. As I learned from my experience as related in the beginning of this article, eating a bunch of veggies and rice cakes when you really want some chips or chocolate won’t work in the long run.

“Reach for something you don’t really want, and you’re likely to eat more of it because it isn’t satisfying,” explains Michelle May, MD, author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. So, go ahead and indulge, but step away from that laptop, TV, or iPad, so you can focus fully on the treat you want to eat. Why? If you don’t take a moment to enjoy everything about it, “then the real reason you’re eating it won’t be served,” she says, and you’ll be more likely to give in to other high-calorie foods—not to mention more of them.

Even if you give into temptation and eat more than you should, you’ll understand better why you are turning to food and perhaps can respond differently the next time cravings hit.

Find Alternatives

junk-food-refuseOnce you understand the cycle of stress eating and some of your triggers, find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally.

If you’re stressed out, turn on some favorite music and dance around the house. Take a brisk walk. Write in a journal. Do something creative like painting or scrapbooking. Practice deep breathing until you feel calm. Get outside and enjoy nature.

If you’re feeling depressed or lonely, call a good friend or family member, pet your dog or cat, or look through an old photo album. If you’re angry, practice the healing art of forgiveness. If you’re bored, plan your next trip or start filling your calendar with exciting events. If you’re exhausted, treat yourself to a soothing cup of tea or a long bath with scented candles.

It also helps to take positive steps to tackle issues that may be bothering you. For example, if financial problems are weighing you down, start implementing constructive strategies toward paying down debt or saving for retirement.

Keep in mind, negative emotions don’t typically last forever. Just because you are unhappy today doesn’t mean you’ll be unhappy tomorrow. But in the meantime, find alternative healthy and positive ways to deal with your feelings.

Pay Attention to What You Eat

Stay away from mindless eating and really appreciate your food.

In the grocery store, keep in mind the nutritional value of the food you’re buying and how it can help your body. Try some new healthy recipes. On Facebook, I discovered Skinnytaste and have been admiring all the great looking videos this woman posts. I definitely plan on trying out some of her recipes.

When you’re cooking, use all your senses to appreciate the aroma, texture, color, and even different sounds of the food as you cook them.

And when it’s time to eat, take time to enjoy your food fully. Take small bites, chew slowly and thoroughly, and appreciate all the ingredients and seasonings. You’ll be surprised at all the flavors that are released when you do so.

Start Each Day Anew

Finally, be kind to yourself. If you have a setback and indulge in emotional eating, start fresh the next day. Learn from your experience and plan on how you can prevent it from happening again. Focus on the constructive changes you’re making in your eating habits that will lead to better health.

And go ahead and indulge every once in a while. Just take the time to truly savor it.

So, there you go. Next time, I get the urge to stress eat, I’m following the steps I’ve outlined above. I’ll let you know how it goes. Today, I’m cleaning out my refrigerator and going to the grocery store for some satisfying healthy foods as a first step.

How about you? Join me and we can combat stress eating together!

Images courtesy of (in order of appearance) stockimages, Witthaya Phonsawat, and iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Election Stress: Faith Soothes the Soul

As I write my blog this morning after the election results, many people are anxious, confused, in an uproar, fearful of the future, and more divided than ever. The stock market is jumping around, people are protesting and venting all over social media, and the non-stop coverage is overwhelming.

As the Washington Post pointed out, “By now it has been well documented that this presidential election cycle has had a particularly negative effect on Americans’ mental health.” Feelings of discontent are consistent regardless of political party affiliation or ideology, the article added. Heated arguments between family and friends continue as people debate, celebrate, or mourn the election results.

Which makes this the perfect time to embrace your spiritual side.

believeAll the turmoil from this election year makes me more grateful than ever for my faith. I am thankful that my hope and trust rests – not on politics or election results – but on God and his wonderful promises for the future.

While others are suffering from “election stress disorder,” I am at peace.

As I wrote in a previous blog, the vast majority of studies show that spiritual people report higher levels of happiness and mental well-being. Why is that the case?

Faith consoles and comforts, promises positive outcomes during difficult times, and makes sense of a troubled world. By believing in something greater than themselves, spiritual people can stay positive in times of stress and foster resilience.

While I realize that not all of my readers may be Christian, for those of you searching for some soothing words during what has been a dismal year in politics, I would like to share a couple of my favorite Scriptures with those of you so inclined on this beautiful November morning:

“Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6,7

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be anxious, for I am your God. I will fortify you, yes, I will help you, I will really hold on to you with my right hand of righteousness.” Isaiah 41:10

If you are looking for answers along with comfort and hope, if you so choose, you can click here to view a brief video, Why Study the Bible? for food for thought.

In addition to embracing your spiritual side, meditating, and praying, take some time for yourself. Don’t let fears and uncertainties rule your life. Take a walk, spend time with loved ones, take a deep breath, focus on positive thoughts, do something kind for someone.

And, yes, have faith.

Image courtesy of BJWOK at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Five Uplifting Things Baby Boomers Should Tell Themselves Every Day

There is this quote I saw on Pinterest: “What you tell yourself every day will either lift you up or tear you down.”

Depressed ManLike that song, “You Had a Bad Day,” Monday was a terrible day for me. I’ll spare you the details, but no matter what I tried, I felt rattled, my feelings were hurt, and I felt sad and depressed. I cried a bucket of tears and blew my diet by eating tons of Doritos.

Oh, I’m sure you baby boomers been there at different times of your life and know what I’m talking about.

So I woke up the next morning asking myself what I needed to tell myself to turn things around. The following is a list I came up with after some thought. Not that these words were a cure-all, but they did help me to have a better day.

My hope is that you can tell yourself these words when you’re having a bad day – or on any day preferably first thing in the morning – and have a happier day as well.

Here’s my list:

#1 Today is a New Day

New DayWhen you’re feeling down, this is actually a great thought. I woke up the next morning and got a do-over. I resolved to lean on God for strength and gave him thanks for another day of life.

I enjoyed savoring some quiet time with my first cup of coffee, and reminded myself that each day is brimming with opportunities and possibilities. Every new day offers a chance to make necessary changes that will make us happier, nourish ourselves spiritually, be whoever we want to be, improve ourselves, learn something new, eat healthier, take steps to promote healing in our lives, or make someone else’s life better.

If you are looking for ways to start your day on a positive note, check out my blog, Ten Ways To Start Your Morning Right, for some inspiration.

As a famous quote wisely says: “It’s never too late. If you weren’t happy with yesterday, try something different today.”

#2 This Too Shall Pass

My Mom used this phrase a lot with us kids and I use it like a chant sometimes. Coincidentally, a friend who knew I was having a bad day, texted me this great reminder. As I wrote in a previous blog, when we’re in the middle of a crisis, loss, or setback, we may feel like the situation and the emotions that come with it will last forever, yet it inevitably passes.

You baby boomers have lived long enough to know that life goes on and takes us with it. With God’s help, our ability and infinite capacity to endure and bounce back is far greater than we think.

#3 Let It Go

ForgiveLike driving a car, we may glance behind us every once in a while, but we can’t move forward if we’re concentrating on the road behind us. Let go of the past and let go of all those angry feelings, bitterness, and resentment.

Don’t allow someone else’s actions to dominate your life. Choose to embrace forgiveness and move forward. It is only through forgiveness that we find peace, freedom, empowerment, and happiness.

#4 Do Not Allow Anxious Thoughts to Steal Away Joy

This is a hard one of me. I have a tendency to get stressed out, worry excessively, feel overwhelmed, and overthink problems. I’ve written quite a few blogs on this subject, and I’m still working on it.

Being anxious is more than just a waste of time. It makes us suffer, zaps our energy, damages our health, and accomplishes nothing.

So, I got up the next morning and told myself to stop. To use the power of prayer for the peace of God that excels all thought. To notice the small and ordinary things that can make my day special and savor moments with my loved ones. To exercise and breathe deeply whenever I needed to calm myself. To do something that brings me joy. And to replace negative thoughts with more productive ones.

With decades of experience under my belt, I know all this stuff, but I needed reminders. What can I say? It’s a work in progress.

#5 I Can Create Any Feeling I Want

That’s such an empowering thought. While it’s true, we can’t control everything that happens to us and what other people do or say, we are not powerless over our emotions. Other people and situations do not determine our feelings. We do.

Feeling sad, frustrated, stressed, or angry are not our only choices. We can choose to feel peaceful, grateful, and content. Not always an easy process, but doable. (See my previous blog, Happiness is Easy as 1-2-3, for steps on how to do so).

The fact is that only we, and we alone, have the power to create any feeling we desire.

So that was my self-inflicted pep talk today. Please share what phrases you feel are “musts” for a happier day in the comments below!

Images courtesy of graur codrin, FrameAngel, and Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

 

Focusing on Myself

This is the year I’m hitting the pause button on what has been a stressful few years, taking a deep breath, and focusing on myself.

The future is looking brighter.

The future is looking brighter.

I’m done dwelling on what I can’t change or control. I refuse to let stress interfere with living life to the fullest.

That’s my pep talk to myself. And you know what? I’m making progress.

As I shared in a previous blog, I am taking time each and every day to do three things for myself during my year of healing. You can click on the link above to find out what those three things are.

Here are three more steps I’ve taken this week toward a happier me. I hope these tips will give all of you some inspiration to take time to focus on yourself as well.

Spend on Experiences

focusing me concertWe splurged on tickets to Desert Trip – a three-day music extravaganza in October held on the same polo grounds where Coachella Fest plays – nicknamed Oldchella.

Hahaha. Make fun of us, I don’t care. This is every baby boomer’s ultimate dream!

After all, we’re the generation that refuses to grow old or grow up. Okay, we are getting older. I got my first senior discounted breakfast at I-Hop last weekend. Of course, the restaurant knows better than to call it that – it is simply named “The 55+ Menu.” Hey, I saved four dollars even though it hurt my pride. But my point is, we’re young at heart.

And ready to relive the 60s. We are talking Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Bob Dylan performing. We’re in the lawn section and will need binoculars, but I’m still stoked. Can’t wait!

Do something that makes you excited. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. Science proves you’ll be happier spending money on experiences instead of things. New things make us happy, but only temporarily until we get used to having them. Then, the joy wears off.

However, the memories of experiences such as traveling, going to an art exhibit, learning a new skill – or rocking out to the Rolling Stones – will last forever. So forget that new iPhone or new pair of designer shoes. Cross something off your bucket list and live!

Take Care of Your Health

focusing me doctorOkay, this one isn’t as exciting, but nevertheless, it’s an important step. After caregiving for a few years, I had neglected to care for my own health. Confession time: it had been four years since I had a check-up. At 55, that’s not good.

So, off to the doctor I dutifully went. Unfortunately, I have been stress eating and weighed in at 170. The doctor informed me that I’ve gained 10 pounds since I last visited four years ago. Thank you very much for sharing that bit of depressing news. “Weight can sneak up on you after menopause and start adding up fast,” he advised.

Really? I never would have guessed. Actually, I wrote a whole blog, My Menopausal Middle, on this very subject.

But, all right, all right. So, I’m concentrating on eating healthy and have lost four pounds so far. Trying to focus on eating lots of veggies from the garden, fruit, lean proteins, whole wheat. I feel better already.

Also did my blood work and got a mammogram today – where I learned that my once dense breasts are deflated now that I’m post menopausal. More cheerful news. My ego deflated a bit along with my boobs, but that does mean it makes the mammogram easier to read and more accurate.

Even with all the humiliating news, I feel better that I’m taking care of my health.

You already know that if you remain healthy and physically strong, you’ll be happier, right? So quit procrastinating and get started today to a healthier you!

Get a Pet

Focusing me puppyWe got a new puppy. Technically, my son and his three kids got a new puppy, but while they are away, I’m puppy sitting.

Her name is Rey Anne ( the first name is Star Wars related since my son picked her up on May the Fourth be with You; the second name is for the girls’ favorite movie). She is a German Shepherd, seven weeks old, and we’re all in love.

Yes, puppies are a ton of work, but she makes me laugh with her awkward puppy clumsiness that causes her to slide across my wood floor. This morning, when I couldn’t find her, she was in the kids’ room snuggled up into my oldest granddaughter’s pajama top. That warmed my heart and made me smile.

Studies show pet owners tend to be less depressed, lonely, and stressed. They exhibit greater self-esteem and are usually more physically fit. If you’re a baby boomer like me, you may want to skip the puppy part and adopt a grown dog – it is exhausting! However, let’s face it, these furry creatures make us happier.

So there you go. Those are my three steps towards happiness I took this last week.

What did you do this week to bring more joy into your life? I’d love to hear! Please share in the comments below.

Images courtesy of graur razvan, ionut ponsuwan, and photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Three Simple Things You Should Do Every Single Day

As readers of my blog know, I have deemed this as my year of healing after a tumultuous few years. Last week I made a deal with myself. I listed three non-negotiable things I must do every day to help me along this path.

Make a list of three non-negotiable things you must do every single day.

Make a list of three non-negotiable things you must do every single day.

And you know what? So far, it’s working. I feel calmer, more centered, and yes, happier. I encourage every one of you to do the same thing.

My sister, Joanie, sold her house recently and is staying with me while she looks for new digs. She saw me writing this blog and asked what the subject was going to be.

When I told her, she said, “Just three things?”

Yup, just three. It’s tempting to list 10 things you should do every day, but so as not to put pressure on yourself, I suggest you start with just three as well. Everyone’s list will be different.

For example, Jim Valvano, the passionate and committed former basketball coach Jim Valvano who in the fight of his life against cancer, stated: “To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think — spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

I like that list.

There’s nothing revolutionary or new on my list, just three simple things that provide an anchor for me. Three things that help me focus on myself, which often gets lost in the hustle and bustle and stresses of life. Three basic needs that help me get through a bad day.

Mind you, I was doing all three of these things before, but not every single day. What are the three? Not in order of importance, but for me they are:

exerciseExercise.

Yes, I was exercising, but not every single day. Even if it’s only 15 minutes – I do something. I’m not talking running a marathon or deep squats. I get bored easily, so I rotate activities. Some days I go to the park and walk. Afterwards, I lift weights at the city gym (I joined for $25 a year – what a deal!). Other days, I do a 20-minute Windsor Pilates routine that relaxes me from YouTube. Most days, my dog sits by my shoes in the closet begging me with his sad eyes and guilts me into taking him for a walk.

Read something spiritual and inspirational.

Once again, I am a regular Bible reader. The religion I belong to provides a daily text with a scriptural thought that I read in the mornings, a suggested Bible reading each week which we review at a midweek meeting, and a convenient online Bible and library I can access on all my mobile devices. Even so, admittedly I’d become sidetracked with work and the business of life and a day or two would slip by without any spiritual fortification. Because of the challenges I recently faced and still am facing, my reliance on God and need for spiritual food requires more deep reading and meditation – yes, every single day. Of course, praying each and every day is also a worthy goal.

read a bookDo something I love.

Yes, I promised myself that every single day I would take the time to refuel and refresh myself so my tank is not depleted. Many days that means lounging on the couch with popcorn and reading a bestseller which feels luxurious. Other days that means sitting on the patio with a glass of wine, relaxing music, and watching the sunset with hubby. Or it could mean snuggling with one of my grandchildren, writing in a journal, gardening, taking a nap, or doing some deep breathing or relaxation exercises. But at the end of the day, I make sure I’ve done something that is just for me.

That’s my list. There are tons of other things you could include on your list to do every single day (with links I’ve written blogs about) such as:

It’s entirely up to you what you choose to do every single day. But make that list and start living!

I’d love to hear what you would include on your list. If you are so inclined, please share in the comment section below!

Images courtesy of nuttakit, everydayplus, and apolonia at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

How to Savor Solitude

This year I have learned to savor solitude.

Being a full-time caregiver for my mother before she passed away in June certainly made me appreciate solitude.

Last Saturday, my mother-in-law’s “celebration of life” after her brave battle with ovarian cancer was attended by over 400 people. The service and gathering afterwards were lovely, but after weeks of being with people, my soul craved an escape to a quiet haven where I could peacefully be alone with my own thoughts.

As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

SolitudeThe Definition of Solitude

The word solitude is defined as the state of being alone. However, that can mean different things to different people. The word ‘solitude’ can take on a negative connotation and be paired with words like loneliness and isolation.

However, in this article I am referring to a few hours of peaceful, quiet solitude. As a quote by Paul Tillich so accurately describes, “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.”

Well said!

Benefits of Solitude

Solitude can help you re-energize, reflect, and relax. When I force myself to be social all the time or when life gets too demanding, I feel all my energy, perspective, and joy draining out of me. All the hectic noise obscures my inner voice and thoughts. That’s why as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to embrace my need for quiet time and solitude.

Like most writers, I’m a bit of an introvert and must have time to meditate on spiritual matters, take quiet walks alone, write, and reflect quietly on the day’s events, I don’t consider it a guilty pleasure or selfish. When I honor my need for solitude, I become recharged and better able to help those around me,. I actually become a better person.

Even if you’re an extrovert, you can benefit from the simple pleasure of solitude, stillness, and quiet time.

A bit of solitude will give you an opportunity to connect with your spirituality, meditate, pray, and count your blessings. Being alone with your thoughts provides time to get to know yourself better, to reflect on your life, what you’ve learned along the way, and how those life lessons can help you going forward. You will have time to consider what you still want to accomplish. Quiet time will help you find your own voice and be more creative. Solitude gives you the chance to unwind and enjoy peace and tranquility.

As Albert Einstein wisely said, “Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature,”

Finding Solitude

Solitude 2Before you can find the peace that comes with solitude, you’ll need to let go of your worries, anxieties, and to-do lists. Be assured that the world can get along without you for a short period of time.

Find a place where you can escape the frenzy and hubbub of life. Disconnect from your phone, technology, and social media. You may have to schedule and create time for solitude, but it’s worth the effort. 

Take a walk alone, find a shady spot under a tree and read a book, indulge in a cup of tea on your patio, or write in your journal in a comfy chair by a fire. It may be as simple as turning off your radio during your commute to work and simply letting your mind wander. Or sitting on a park bench during your lunch break where you can allow nature to sooth your soul.

Savor solitude, silence, and serenity. Never feel like it’s selfish or frivolous to indulge in some quiet time. Honor your need for solitude in this fast-paced and noisy world knowing that is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and your loved ones.

Images courtesy of razvan ionut and anankkml at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Hiking and Happiness

I didn’t think that I would get any sort of a vacation this year, but it turns out that we are going to squeeze in a quick last minute trip to Yosemite and Kings Canyon. I plan to do some hiking while I’m there and, evidently, I’m going to feel happier for it.

HikingNo big surprise, a new study shows that walking or hiking in nature can bring us inner peace, joy, and happiness.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with depression.

“These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world,” said co-author Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

More than half of the world’s population lives in urban settings and that is forecast to jump to a whopping 70 percent within a few decades. It’s no coincidence that just as urbanization and disconnection from nature have grown dramatically, so have mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. In fact, those who live in the city have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas. People born and raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.

Me in the middle with my son (left) and daughter-in-law (right) hiking in Ladder Canyon.

Me in the middle with my son (left) and daughter-in-law (right) hiking in Ladder Canyon.

Yikes! However, if you happen to live in a city, don’t feel discouraged. A simple stroll in Central Park or any nearby hiking area will help.  As I wrote previously in my blog, Finding Serenity in Nature, studies show that even a limited dose of nature like a short walk or even looking outside through a window is good for us. Although I live in the desert – nowhere near a forest – my husband and I have had fun exploring some of the local nature trails. This last winter we hiked the Ladder Canyon Trail/Painted Canyon in Mecca.

It’s worth the effort. Nature can improve your mental state, lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone), and increase your energy. The great outdoors can even provide a surge of creative energy. That’s why you’ll often see people in scenic spots with their easels or writing poems.

People have long known that natural environments are good for us. Clear back in 1857, S.H. Hammond wrote in the book, Wild Northern Scenes; Sporting Adventures with the Rifle and the Rod:

“Hurrah! hurrah! We are in the country, the glorious country! Outside of the thronged streets…away from the heated atmosphere of the city, loaded with the smoke and dust, and gasses of furnaces, and the ten thousand manufacturies of villainous smells. We are beyond even the meadows and green fields. We are here alone with nature, surrounded by old primeval things. Tall forest trees, mountain and valley are on the right hand and on the left. Before us, stretching away for miles, is a beautiful lake, its waters calm and placid, giving back the bright heavens, the old woods, the fleecy clouds that drift across the sky, from away down in its quiet depths.”

Centuries later, don’t you feel some of those same emotions when you’re hiking in the forest or camping under the stars? You can feel all that negativity, anxiety, and stress just drain away.

I realize that not everyone can take a week-long vacation to camp in the woods and explore nature trails. Maybe it’s not financially possible or you have physical limitations that prevent you from hiking. However, everyone can insert a little nature into their lives.

If you need a few ideas, here are a few simple and easy ways to incorporate nature into your life as shared in the blog I mentioned above:

BirdFeederStargaze and watch the heavens light up.

Spread a blanket over the grass and take normal activities such as reading, eating a meal, or simply discussing how your day went with hubby outdoors.

Build or buy a bird feeder or a fountain and watch the birds splash, play, and frolic.

Visit a Farmer’s Market.

Watch a sunrise or sunset.

Or if you are healthy and able, take it from nature writers and explorers like John Muir who have known this secret for centuries.

Go take a hike! Of course, I mean that in the nicest way possible!

Images courtesy of marcolm and Paul Brentnall at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

 

Five Foods That Make You Happy

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own.  Amen sister!

Eating HappyWhen we feel low, it is natural to reach for food to comfort us. When life gets tough the tough get eating.

Can certain kinds of food really make us feel better? Yes, experts say.

“Foods are chemicals,” explains Gary Wenk, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State University and author of Your Brain on Food. “Because these chemicals resemble the ones found in our brains, they have a powerful impact on our mindset.”

What kinds of food make us happy? Before you reach for junk food like doughnuts or potato chips – hang on a minute. “Comfort” foods may make you feel better for the short term but later can make you feel downright cranky. According to research by the Public Health Nutrition, people who indulge in junk food often are 51% more likely to develop depression than those who rarely or never eat it.

So that got me to wondering which foods make us want to jump for joy. Here’s a list of five foods to get you munching down and singing zippity do da in no time:

Seeds and Nuts

Tryptophan helps produce serotonin, which makes us feel relaxed. Food that has tryptophan can help fight depression, insomnia, and anxiety. Most people know that milk, bananas, and avocados contain tryptophan, but so do protein-rich nuts such as cashews, pistachios, and almonds as well as sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

Coffee

Enjoy that cup of Joe. Drinking four or more cups of coffee a day was associated with a 20% lower risk of depression in women, according to 2011 research in the Archives of Internal Medicine. That’s because caffeine activates serotonin and dopamine release in the brain.

Seafood

Want to be happy as a clam? Eat them. Even canned clams such as those used in clam chowder provide plenty of vitamin B12 which help produce feel-good dopamine and serotonin. In fact, a deficiency of this important vitamin can lead to depression. Other seafood, including trout and salmon, as well as beef, chicken, dairy products, and fortified cereals also contain a good dose B12.

Foods That Make You HappyFruits and Veggies

Eat three servings of fruits and vegetables a day for a bit of that Pollyanna attitude. According to a 2013 study in Psychosomatic Medicine, optimistic people had 13% higher carotenoid levels in their blood (an antioxidant particularly abundant in sweet potatoes and carrots) than those with a more negative outlook. Folate helps produce that good ol’ serotonin that regulates mood and can be found in spinach, brussels sprout, broccoli, avocado, asparagus, and kale. Fruits like blueberries and oranges contain high amounts of antioxidants and vitamin C which both help reduce stress.

Chocolate

I wrote a whole blog about how chocolate makes us happy. That’s because chocolate contains a variety of chemicals, some of which make us feel good by boosting our endorphins (the feel-good hormones).  Tryptophan is also found in chocolate which, as I mentioned earlier, is used by the brain to make serotonin and can help us feel relaxed and happy. Caffeine gives us an extra boost of energy.  Scientists at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego even suggested that chocolate contained substances that produce a cannabis-like effect on the brain. Who doesn’t want a bit of happy high?

So next time you’re feeling a little down in the dumps, go ahead and chomp on one of these five foods and you just might find yourself singing, “My oh my, what a wonderful day!”

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic and stock images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Why Dancing Makes You Happy

I love to dance. When I was younger and my husband and I were dating, we took ballroom dance lessons and had an absolute blast.

Dancing HappyAlthough we’ve forgotten how to do some of the dances like the rumba and cha cha, we still remember the steps to the swing. At weddings, we’re the couple who rush out every time they play Rock This Town by Stray Cats or Glenn Miller Orchestra’s  In The Mood. And at parties we still get out there and boogie down.

You too should shake your booty as often as possible. Why?

Whether you choose to do ballet, salsa, ballroom, Zumba, tap, or simply rock it out to some fun music, dancing is one of the often overlooked tickets to happiness and good for your health to boot.

Studies show that dancing can help you:

  • Lose weight
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve flexibility
  • Make friends and increase social skills
  • Improve heart and lung health
  • Reduce depression
  • Increase muscle tone and strength
  • Improve balance and posture
  • Increase energy levels
  • Lift your spirits

Need more motivation? For baby boomers like me reading this, according to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, dancing may boost your memory and prevent you from developing dementia as you get older.

Hooray for dancing!

Of course, you should see your doctor for a check-up if you’re older, overweight, or have a medical condition before proceeding.

Once that’s done, what are you waiting for? Even though it’s winter right now, that’s no excuse since dancing is usually performed indoors. So join a dance school or check out what your community offers. Most fitness clubs offer dance classes. Go line dancing. Check out an instructional or fitness dancing DVD at your library or simply dance around the house. Get your heart pumping and keep your body moving. Your butt will thank you later!

If you need a few songs to inspire you, here are five dance songs I can’t resist:

“Shout” by The Isley Brothers

“Happy” by Pharrell Williams

“Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift

“1999” by Prince

MC Hammer, “U Can’t Touch This”

Okay, it’s your turn. What kind of dancing do you enjoy and what have you found to be the benefits? What dance songs make you get up out of your chair and start moving? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to Quit Feeling Overwhelmed

I’m feeling the big “O.” No, not that Big O. Get your mind out of the gutter. The other one. I’m talking about OVERWHELMED. Without going into detail, my life has pretty much been turned upside down these past few months.

OverwhelmedAre you in the same boat?

Do you feel like you’re being pulled in too many directions at once? Does it seem like there is never enough time to get things done? Do you have people that suck the energy right out of you?  Do you feel like you are drowning?

If the answer to any of those question is yes, you are no doubt feeling overwhelmed just like me.

Synonyms for the word “overwhelm” include crushed, defeated, buried, overcome, and flooded. No one wants those negative feelings, but what can you do if you’re feeling this way?

Doing a bit of research on this subject, many of the articles I came across gave advice I’ve previously dispensed in this blog to overcome stress including:

  • Do things that physically calm you like taking a walk, writing in a journal, listening to calm music, or practicing relaxation exercises and deep breathing.
  • Replace negative thoughts with thoughts that are more productive.
  • Learn to accept your feelings without being controlled by them.
  • If you’re stressed about getting something done, often the simple step of taking action can help alleviate some of the anxiety.
  • Delegate responsibilities whenever possible.

All good ideas. What else can you do?

Something in an article, Five Ways to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed, written by Marcus Buckingham, author of Find Your Strongest Life, and published on the Best Health Magazine site, struck a chord with me.

“Your feelings of being overwhelmed don’t spring from having too much on your plate, but from having too little of what strengthens you,” he wrote.

Yes!

That statement led me to examine what strengthens me. Prayer, meditating on the Bible, and attending religious services. My marriage. My children and grandchildren. Making a positive difference in other people’s lives. Exercising and being physically fit. Writing.

The article suggests listing the activities you love and look forward to the most and make sure they are at the top of your list of things to do. Then celebrate the activities afterwards.

This made sense to me. Although we don’t have the freedom to travel now, my husband and I were fortunate to have traveled extensively in the past. These trips gave us something to look forward to for weeks or months. Then, after we got home and sorted through all the photos, we relived all the great moments. In fact, the vacation provided wonderful memories for years to come.

Why not apply that to smaller activities that give you joy and strength? Look forward to, celebrate, and cherish the memories of special moments such as a night out with a loved one, making someone smile, a day at the park with the grandchildren, a hug from a friend, or a beautiful sunset.

As the article so aptly put: “Cradling these activities will give you strength and resilience to get through everything else.”

Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net