Stressing Less and Living Healthier in the New Year

With the holidays behind us and the New Year ahead, now is the perfect time to learn new techniques to keep stress at bay and enjoy a healthier lifestyle. Since it is impossible to avoid stress completely, the following tips will help you cope with your stress and welcome in a peaceful 2019.

1   Breathe Deeply

  • Develop an awareness of your breath.
  • Are you holding your breath? Is your breath shallow? Where is the breath traveling within your body?
  • Inflate the belly slowly as if expanding a balloon inside of it.
  • Slow down your exhalation as you deflate this “balloon.” This is the key to becoming more relaxed and calming your nervous system.

2   Start Your Day with an Intention

  • State what you want to achieve or accomplish when you wake up each morning. You may do this silently or say it out loud!
  • Replace any negative, worrisome thoughts with this positive statement.
  • For example, “I am calm, relaxed, and my life is in balance.” Remember, whatever we think becomes our reality so state what you want in a positive way.

3   Visualize a Positive Outcome

  • Like an athlete visualizes his golf shot or free throw before approaching the ball, picture a positive outcome of what you want to happen when faced with a challenge.
  • Imagine yourself overcoming the obstacle and paint a picture in your mind of how it will look and feel in your life when it manifests.

4   Embrace an Attitude of Gratitude

  • Research shows that expressing our gratitude each day has a positive effect on our health and well-being.
  • Take a moment to think about what you are grateful for in your life as each day begins.
  • Experience the healing, de-stressing benefits of gratitude as you practice this technique. Families can benefit by individually expressing gratitude at shared meals together.

5   Lavender Up

  • Research has shown that scents can dramatically alter our mood, and lavender is known to be one of the most calming and soothing scents.
  • Lavender comes in all forms- soap, bubble bath, candles, etc. I highly recommend purchasing a quality grade of pure lavender essential oil.
  • Inhale the scent as you open the bottle.
  • Place a few drops on your wrist and/or neck. You can also place lavender on the bottoms of your feet to aid with sleep.

6   Get Movin’!

  • Walk, dance, swim, run, bike, do yoga… just get moving.
  • Exercise has been proven to increase endorphins and people who exercise benefit greatly from a more positive mood and lower rate of depression.

  Laugh a Little… or A LOT!

  • Read a funny book or watch your favorite sitcom or comedy. Not only is laughing enjoyable, but it also has aerobic benefits.
  • When we laugh, we release stress-relieving hormones and balance our immune system.

8   Collect a Good Tribe

  • Surround yourself with people who make you feel good.
  • Distance yourself from individuals who drain your energy and feel obligatory in nature.

~These tips and techniques will equip you with a healthy arsenal of tools to use when you are faced with stressors. The breath, in particular, is one of the most immediate ways to calm yourself down in the face of immediate stress. Learning to breathe deeply will help you cope with stress and facilitate better health and well-being in your life. Take a deep breath and say hello to a healthy 2019!

Here’s to a Happy and Healthy New Year!

-S&B

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

 

 

 

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

 

January~ 10 Tips to a Stress-Free New Year!

I am excited to begin the new year with a monthly blog for my readers and website visitors! I look forward to sharing my tips each month with you to help you lead a more balanced, stress-free (or at least stress-managed!) life. With the holidays behind us and the new year ahead a blank slate, now is the time to learn new techniques to keep stress at bay and adapt a healthier lifestyle. Since it is impossible to avoid stress, these tips will help you cope with the stressors you face and live a more peaceful life.

1. Check Your Breath

  • Check in with your breathing and take note.
  • Are you holding your breath? Is your breath shallow? Where do you feel the breath traveling within your body?
  • Start by simply developing an awareness of how your breath feels.

2. Balloon Belly

  • Inflate the belly slowly as if you were expanding a balloon inside of it.
  • SLOW down your exhalation as you deflate this ‘balloon’. This is the key to getting more deeply relaxed and immediately calming the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • After a few deep, even belly breaths, you should begin to feel more relaxed.

3. Tense/Relax

  • Hold tension in your fists and all the way up your arms for a few moments.
  • Slowly release the tension gradually until there is no tightness being held.
  • Do the same thing with your feet, legs, and then your buttocks. Feel the muscles contract and then release.
  • Scrunch all of the facial muscles inward and hold. Then release.

4. Lavender Up!

  • The essential oil lavender is one of the most calming scents and several studies demonstrate how our sense of smell can have an effect on our moods.
  • Dab a few drops of this relaxing scent to your pulse points on your wrist and on the sides and back of your neck. Rub it between your hands and inhale this calming, soothing scent. Or place on the bottoms of your feet if you are having trouble falling asleep.

5. Make a Statement

  • Inwardly state what you want to achieve whenever you feel stressed, tense, or overwhelmed. In a sense, you are replacing a negative thought with a positive one.
  • For example, if a defeating, overwhelming thought creeps up, replace it with ‘I am calm, relaxed, and my life is in balance.’ Remember, what we think becomes our reality so state what you want positively and work towards that goal.

6. Visualize Your Outcome

  • Like an athlete who visualizes the perfect golf shot, free throw, or home run before they even approach the ball, visualize a positive outcome of what you want in to occur when faced with an immediate stressor.
  • See the obstacle being overcome and how it would look and feel in your life when that happens.

7. Have an Attitude of Gratitude

  • Research has been shown demonstrating the positive effects of having gratitude and thankfulness in one’s life. Even in the face of the most difficult moments, there is ALWAYS something to be thankful for.
  • Experience the healing, de-stressing benefits of gratitude as you practice this technique. Gratitude doesn’t only have to be practiced once a year at Thanksgiving anymore! Families can also benefit by individually expressing gratitude at every shared meal together.

8. Get Moving!

  • Walk, dance, swim, run, bike ride, do yoga… just MOVE! Exercise is a proven way to increase the endorphins in our brain and people who exercise regularly benefit from a more positive mood and a lower rate of depression.

9. Laughter Therapy

  • Read a funny book, watch a funny TV show or movie, or even engage in spontaneous laughter. Seek a Laughter Yoga class for this type of laughter. Not only is it enjoyable, but it also has aerobic benefits.
  • When we laugh, we release stress-relieving hormones and bring balance to the immune system, as well.

10. Pocket Journal

  • Keep a small notepad with you and pull it out if your thoughts are overwhelming you and you are experiencing tension.
  • Without deciding in advance what you will write, write whatever comes to you at the moment in a freestyle way.

All of these tips and techniques can be a healthy arsenal of tools to use when we face challenging moments in our lives and experience stress, tension, worry, anxiety. Use the ones that work best for you. The breath, however, is on one of the most immediate ways to calm us down in the face of immediate stress. It has been said that it is virtually impossible to have an anxiety/panic attack when one breathes in this way. Learning to breathe in an optimal way can help us cope with stress and facilitate greater health and well-being within our lives.

–S&B