December~ Dread-Free and Joy-ful Holiday Parties

Holiday parties, whether shared with family or co-workers, can be a great time to celebrate the holiday season with the people closest to us. It can also be a time of great dread for many people who have challenging family dynamics or work environments. I asked a few people questions about what their concerns are when they think about attending a holiday party, and decided to write this month’s blog in a Question and Answer format with the 3 biggest concerns- food, family, and frolicking- being the focus.

Q: What should I do if I am trying to cut back on calories and I know that I will be tempted to eat and drink more indulgent foods?

A: This is a huge concern to many people who admit to packing on the pounds during the holiday season. A few suggestions are to not arrive at the party hungry, but have a light, healthy snack first. Another idea is to watch your alcohol consumption. Whereas it feels festive and even a bit relaxing to hold a glass of wine or a cocktail while meandering around the room, drinking too many too quickly is a recipe for disaster both for your waistline and for your behavior! Try to have a large glass of water in between alcoholic drinks. Enjoy a spritzer with lime instead- far less sugary calories. When choosing food at the buffet, go for the healthier options if they exist- and avoid carbs, sugars, and dairy if possible. If asked to bring something to eat to add to the mix, instead of baking your favorite brownies, opt for a healthy salad or veggies and dip platter so that you know at least one thing there will be healthy! Our local Bunco group got into the Whole 30 Diet plan. For the past few months, we all have been bringing healthier options to our ordinarily unhealthy spreads. We all have realized we enjoy the food so much and it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, so we have made this a permanent plan.

Q: I have a family member (or co-worker) who I know will be at the party and is very toxic to me. I can’t avoid them, but I get stressed just realizing I will be in the same room as them. What can I do?

A: Unfortunately, not every guest at the party will evoke a wonderful, positive vibe, though it would be fantastic if that were the case! Almost everyone experiences this dynamic with both work and family gatherings. The pre-party ritual is key. Before leaving the house, take a few deep breaths, center yourself, and imagine a light of protection around you. Have an inner mantra of ‘I am going to fully enjoy this gathering with all the wonderful people in my life’. Young Living Oils makes a wonderful essential oils blend called White Angelica. It is a combination of 10 essential oils said to create a positive atmosphere, inspire feelings of security, and shield us from negative energies. I make a ritual to dab a few drops of this soothing and protective oil on myself while inwardly centering myself and protecting my own energies before walking into a more challenging situation. Instead of focusing on the 1 or 2 potential energy drainers, try and focus on the other wonderful friends and family that will be there.

Q: I have social anxiety and I am not good with small talk.

A: Not everyone can be the life of the party and talk effortlessly with others. It is important to be honest with yourself in admitting this. Most people love a great listener and many people enjoy talking about themselves, so that makes it a great idea to ask people questions. Think of some conversation starters in advance, but it’s probably wise to avoid the social taboo topics of politics and religion, as that can be divisive. Less controversial would be asking about upcoming vacation destinations or holiday plans. When stuck in the dreaded ‘dead-end conversation’ where you are running out of things to talk about, try and bring someone else into the conversation. Taking breaks and walking to a quiet place, if possible, can help recharge you, also. My husband and I talk about this dynamic often, as I typically am more comfortable making small talk and I am fine with large gatherings, where he prefers intimate 1:1 conversations. We try to support each other and not have unrealistic expectations for the other person.

~Hopefully these tips will ease your stress level when faced with your annual holiday party and allow you to sail into the holiday season with a renewed sense of excitement and joy… AND your favorite jeans will still fit after New Year’s!

Happy and Healthy Holiday Wishes From my Family to Yours.

-S&B

 

 

 

November~ Giving Thanks… on Thanksgiving and Every Day

 Giving Thanks… on Thanksgiving and Every Day 

Thanksgiving is upon us this month, and many of us will be working hard in the kitchen preparing a delicious meal of turkey and its supporting cast of delicious side dishes. Our focus may be on that fantastic meal and getting it all done just right, but sometimes the inner meaning of the holiday becomes a footnote. It’s important to remember the true meaning of this holiday- Giving Thanks. But what does that really mean? Let’s explore some of this and also consider creating a new family tradition to do so.

History books portrayed the first Thanksgiving as a time when the Pilgrims of Plymouth and the Native Americans of Wampanoag came together in 1621 to celebrate with a feast to give thanks for the first harvest since the drought. Many have since debunked this, calling it pure fiction and propaganda. Others, like myself, choose to see the symbolism in this holiday of giving thanks and reflect upon our lives what we truly are grateful for.

For years, our family had a tradition of going around the table on Thanksgiving and saying what we all were grateful for. One year, I wrote the word ‘gratitude’ on a rock and brought it to the host of our family holiday, my sister. We each held the rock in our hands and thought about the past year and what things we truly were grateful for and passed this rock around the table. Some proclamations were funny such as my one younger niece saying ‘ice cream’ nearly every year, and some were tear-provoking, such as the gratitude we all felt having a family member present at the table after a major health scare.

Moving to another state and having family scattered around the country has changed our Thanksgiving, and for the past few years, I have celebrated ‘Friendsgiving’- a modern twist combining friends and Thanksgiving, with the premise that friends can also come together to celebrate this meaningful holiday. I brought a new rock to my host the first year and will continue to write ‘gratitude’ on rocks wherever I may land for the holiday and further this meaningful tradition.

I encourage each of you to look beyond the turkey and the ‘fixins’ this year and add some meaning into your own family holiday tradition. You don’t have to go online to Amazon and search for your own gratitude rock; simply pick one up that you like, grab a sharpie marker, and write gratitude on it. As you hold it in your hands, take a moment to truly reflect and think about what you are grateful for and blessed with in your life. Speaking these words to those around you and listening to theirs as well has a tremendous impact on our lives- this act of appreciating all the blessings and gifts we all share. Not to mention, this gratitude practice is healthy for our minds and our bodies. A daily gratitude practice improves our sleep, our heart health, stress-coping skills, and even our inflammation markers in our body, not to mention leads to a more positive and optimistic lifestyle.

Have an ‘attitude of gratitude’ EVERY day, not just on Thanksgiving. I have a rock by my bedside and start each and every day giving thanks to the gifts I am blessed with in my life. You may even want to purchase a notebook and keep a gratitude journal, writing down 2 or 3 things each day that you are grateful for. I encourage you to consider starting your day in this way and also incorporating a gratitude rock-passing into your own family (or friends!) Thanksgiving meal.

~S&B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Fearful to Fearless– Conquering FEAR

We may be conditioned to believe that fear is a negative reaction, a weakness, or ‘in our heads’. In actuality, fear can be a good thing. It can be a natural response to a physical danger. We inherited this response from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Imagine if they had not reacted in fear when an animal was chasing them. Where would be today? Would we even BE here today?

Fear stimulates the hypothalamus in our brain, which leads to the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal cortex releasing the stress hormone cortisol to prepare our bodies for danger. This physical reaction in our bodies can lead to sweating, shaking, and many times feeling a tingly sensation in our limbs, which stems from the blood leaving them and pumping to our hearts. As our heart rate accelerates and our breathing becomes more rapid, like a hunter, our vision narrows as our body prepares for fight or flight. We are preparing for this fear sometimes before we even realize it. As much as we might sometimes like to rid ourselves from these unpleasant sensations, fear is part of our innate survival kit.

Fear can also be falsely created or highly exaggerated, such as fear of darkness, spiders, loneliness, or fear of leaving our house. When the threat is nonexistent or greatly exaggerated our fears can turn into phobias. For example, if you get sweaty palms and feel shaky before a shot, you are most likely fearful. However, if you choose not to get the shot, your fear now becomes a phobia. There is a great acronym of unknown origin about fear. F.E.A.R: False Evidence Appearing Real. Though the fear appears real, there may be no tangible fear present, though it may feel that way. This perceived fear creates anxiety, worry, phobias, and avoidance.

Since anxiety is the precursor to fear, one of the best ways to help curb our fears is to deal with the underlying anxiety surrounding it. Four key ways to alleviate anxiety and fear are:

1- Healthy Belly Breathing with a 2:1 Breathing Pattern.

Healthy breathing involves breathing deeply into your belly and not taking shallow breaths into your upper chest. The exhalation is the part of the breath that relaxes you; so adopting a 2:1 breathing pattern is tremendously helpful in a fearful situation.

In 2:1 breathing, you will exhale twice as long as you inhale. So if you normally inhale to the count of 3, exhale to the count of 6.

If you aren’t sure how to breathe in the healthiest way, my website has a great explanation of healthy breathing. http://www.stopandbreathe.org/healthy-breathing

2-  Progressive Relaxation

Relaxation of your entire body is one of the most beneficial stress and anxiety reducing practices. With practice, this can be done on your own, but initially it is beneficial to listen to a progressive relaxation guidance. My Deep Relaxation Series has 2 of these- Full Body Relaxation and 61-Points Relaxation. http://www.stopandbreathe.org/products. Both of these involve traveling throughout the body and relaxing the entire body from head to toe. This is also a great practice to use when trying to fall asleep.

3- Visualization Techniques

A helpful visualization technique to use involves becoming aware of all of your senses. This technique is often used in fear-of-flying classes. To practice this technique, you simply bring your focus to each of your five senses and ask yourself what each of them perceives. This allows you to completely focus on the present moment and not let your mind take you to a fearful place.

4- Rationalization Exercises

Approach your fear with curiosity. Try and be a passive observer of your own mind and body as you ask yourself:

-Is what I am feeling real?

-What am I really afraid of?

-When do I feel this the most?

-How does this make me feel?

-What is the worst possible outcome?

-What is the best possible outcome?

These above techniques will activate the relaxation response in your body, which triggers your brain to secrete hormones that calm your mind and body. You have a choice in a fearful situation; to either ‘Forget Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Recover’. Hopefully you will empower yourself to not let FEAR cripple your life and hold you back, but to propel you forward to live your best life.

-S&B