Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Who is the Author of Your Thoughts?

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Habit-making is simply what our brains do. They’re designed to create specific pathways that provide the best results. So, when a desire triggers a reaction that in turn satisfies that initial urge, the brain takes note. The next time that desire arises, the brain calls up that same train of thought that got the job done before.
When an urge is satisfied—whether for soothing, attention, or any other response—we experience a rush of dopamine, the neurochemical associated with feeling good. After a few blasts of dopamine, we start to crave more, which then drives us to indulge in the triggering behavior, be it eating fast food, checking your phone, or lighting up a cigarette.  Surprise! You have a habit.
When we understand how a habit forms, we have a greater chance of catching it in the act, and take steps to make a more considered choice, says addiction psychiatrist Judson Brewer. Think about a nagging habit. Next time you feel moved to act it out, see if you can trace each step.
Will. Want. Won’t. 
Recognizing the patterns of our habits—the trigger, the impulse, the brain’s learned way to satisfy that need—is just part of the process of unwinding them. There also needs to be an intention to do things differently, tied to something that deeply matters to you. Or as Stanford University health psychologist and author of The Willpower Instinct Kelly McGonigal says, it means identifying the “I want” power that will reinforce your “I won’t” power.
“Willpower is the ability to align yourself with the brain system that is thinking about long-term goals— that is, thinking about big values rather than short-term needs or desires,” McGonigal says. “So, I can feel the emotion, I can feel the craving, and at the very same time, I just make my awareness big enough to hold my commitment to make a different choice. Your ability to hold those opposites is what gives [you] willpower over time.”
Habit-making is what our brains do.
Remember HALT
When you clarify your want—the deeply personal reason for wanting to make a habit change (hint: “I should” isn’t one of them)—then begins the work of strengthening your ability to choose differently (aka, willpower). But as anyone who has tried to diet or commit to exercise knows, we tend to sabotage our efforts. This is when psychologist Christopher Willard recommends employing the acronym HALT.
When you feel willpower slipping, Willard suggests, ask yourself if you’re feeling any of the following:
Hungry: Impulse control involves a complex dance between the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, with a little help from other parts of the brain also involved in foresight and decision-making. Any shortage of calories will short-circuit this hub of activity, making it difficult to activate your willpower.
Angry/Anxious: When we feel angry or anxious our bodies can slip into fight-or-flight mode. In this mode, some of the rational parts of our brain shut down, decreasing our ability to think and reason through things, or even consider the long-term consequences of our actions. When your emotions are running high, take a few slow, mindful breaths to quiet the nerves and activate the part of your brain that’s more rational.
Lonely: When we tell other people about a commitment to change a habit, we’re far more likely to follow through because we’re held accountable. Introvert or extrovert, we all need to strike a balance between solitude and socializing. Consider what is the best balance for you, and share your goals with those you’re comfortable with.
Tired: When we’re tired, our self-control and willpower slips away, an effect known as “ego-depletion.” (A poor night’s sleep can even knock you down a few IQ points.) Establishing healthy sleep habits is not only integral to your self-care, it’s also essential for your deeper goals.
Try compassion
Research shows that when we criticize ourselves, it actually short-circuits the brainpower we need to unwind old habits and adopt new ones. Criticism (from within or external) causes the same fight-or-flight impulse, limiting access to the higher functions of the brain, like being able to see the bigger picture. If you regularly tell yourself you “can’t” or that you’re not enough in some way, try using a more compassionate and understanding tone instead. Once we can be compassionate in our thinking, we can figure out the next best step to take toward the change we want.
Seeing IS Believing
Mindfulness helps build the resilience to resist giving in to urges that promotes unhealthy habits. Visualize the circumstances that typically trigger an urge. Notice what thoughts and feelings arise in the body. See if you can identify where you feel that urge physically, but don’t engage it. Instead, relax the body and tune in to your breath. Staying with the breath, watch how the feeling grows, peaks, and eventually falls away. In doing this you’re training your brain not to engage the craving and to recognize the urge as temporary. Start off with this visualization, and then bring it into other areas of your life.
What is the story you’re telling yourself and who said it?  If you often lose your temper, you might tell yourself, “I’m an angry person.” If you smoke, you might say, “I can’t quit.”  But internalizing habits only perpetuates the behavior and limits your ability to see a different possibility. The next time one of your habits pops up, challenge it. Ask yourself, Is this really true? Is it true that “I’m an angry person” or “I don’t have the willpower to quit”? Or is this a belief or story telling I’ve developed that isn’t solid, is not “me,” and can be let go of?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Let It Go

Image result for Let it goFrom the backstabbing co-worker to the meddling sister-in-law, you are in charge of how you react to the people and events in your life. You can either give negativity power over your life or you can choose happiness instead. Take control and choose to focus on what is important in your life. Those who cannot live fully often become destroyers of life.   ~Anais Nin

A toxic relationship is any relationship that is unfavorable to you or others. The foundations of any relationship, healthy or not, are most commonly established upon mutual admiration and respect, but can, in time, become remarkably unhealthy. It is the poisonous atmosphere that distinguishes a merely bad or troublesome relationship from a toxic relationship. Toxic relationships can prevent those involved from living a productive and healthy life.
Toxic relationships can be caused by two polar opposite personality types. The toxicity is caused by the incompatibility of the persons involved in the relationship. In some cases, there is no one necessarily to blame for the toxicity; instead, the toxicity is caused by the inability to connect and establish healthy boundaries, conversations, and communication.
Not all toxic relationships are caused by two unhealthy people. In some cases, unhealthy individuals target and prey upon others for their own personal needs and gratification. It is a slanted desire for a relationship. The individual who is preying is seeking to emotionally and psychologically drain others, removing whatever is possible for their own greedy benefits. Those mentioned have a manipulative style, and will frequently finesse their way into any relationship that they sense is beneficial.
People who are toxic are rarely aware of their own toxicity. They are too self-absorbed and preoccupied with their own emotions, interests, needs, and goals to be aware of the needs, goals, interests, and emotions of others.
Making friends is tough. It takes time, trust, and a little bit of luck (who knew that the girl you sat next to on your first day of university would still be your best-friend, all these years later?), but the right friend can be life-changing. 
Philosopher and author Alain de Botton shares six ways you can tell your friendship is the real deal.
1. They trust you
True friendship is about trusting one another. While acquaintances or work colleagues may hide their shortcomings from you, a friend confides in you.
A friend gives you the gift of vulnerability, which allows you to be vulnerable in return.
2. They like you for the real you
Whatever your thing is, a true friend likes you not despite it—but because that’s what makes you, you.
“They’re not judgemental – they don’t come down harshly and critically on our weaknesses,” de Botton says.
3. They allow space for your freak-outs
When you get flustered, frustrated and can’t keep it together, a friend is there for you.
“They don’t just flatter; they understand how easily we lose perspective, panic and underestimate our own ability to cope,” de Botton explains.
4. They’re a beacon during moments when you lose your way
On days or weeks when you’re not sure about anything in your life, the right friend listens.
You might not able to make sense of yourself, but your friend knows who you are and is there to support you.
5.  They remind you what you’re capable of
Sometimes, your self-confidence crashes. You may doubt your ability to run the marathon you’ve been training for; or you may feel you’ll never get that job promotion, and don’t even want to apply.
When that happens, a friend is there with the tough love and support to push you to do what they know you’re capable of.
“They see the potential in what we’re saying, when we can’t,” de Botton says.
6. They believe in you
The truth is, we’re often not very good friends to ourselves: we focus on our flaws, beat ourselves up for our mistakes, and grow anxious that we aren’t doing enough with our lives.
Our friends trust us, like us, comfort us, understand us, and strengthen us, even—and especially—when we can’t do any of those things for ourselves. It is their belief in us that keeps us going, even when they aren’t right there to comfort us.
“They continue to inhabit our brain, even when we haven’t been in touch for a while, or when they are far away,” de Btton says. “They are always with us.”

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

What Happened to All the Feels from the Holidays?

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The holidays are a time for celebration. They bring out the best in us — gratitude, love, family, friendship, reconnecting with love ones, savoring traditional favorites around the table, and, of course, exchanging gifts!
After hustling around decorating your home, sending out cards in a timely manner, traveling, the pressure of wrapping presents, baking goodies, attending family gatherings while managing family dynamics, and making sure everyone is having a magical time, the holiday season can be a true whirlwind–and before you know it, the new year is here!
Feeling run-down and spread a bit too thin can be expected this time of year. However, if you’re one of the many people who continues living a hectic lifestyle and eating an imbalanced diet long after the last decorations have been stowed away, your health can quickly spiral downward. You may even be setting yourself up for more serious issues down the road, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, adrenal fatigue, hormonal and mood imbalances, thyroid problems, and autoimmune conditions. This year, put yourself on your list of holiday activities. Watch out for signs that you’re getting overwhelmed, and use these eight holiday self-care tips to stay happy and healthy all holiday season.
Watch for these physical and mental symptoms of stress
Stress and emotions can be subtle, to the point where it’s tough to realize how stressed you are until it overwhelms you. Be on the lookout for the following symptoms; they’re a good indicator that you’re more stressed than you might think.
Stress is held in your body, and your first response to stress can include any of the following muscular symptoms:
TMJ. Tightening your jaw muscles and clenching or grinding your teeth. When you’re really stressed, you can do this to the point where you get headaches or your jaw hurts.
Neck and shoulder pain. Your neck and shoulders often tense up when you’re stressed, which, again, can trigger headaches and make it hard to focus.
Leg cramps. These painful cramps can flare with stress.
Eye twitching. Stress can makes your eyes twitch as well.
Nerve tingling. You may feel radiating numbness or tingling down your hands or legs. I often see this flare with chronic stress.
Stress also triggers anxiety and depression, with symptoms that can include any of the following:
pounding heartbeat, chest pain, racing thoughts, crying episodes, insomnia, emotional eating, wanting to isolate yourself or turn down events, irritability or angry, digestive problems, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) flares, trouble focusing, exhaustion, decreased productivity.
Do you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself?
If so, don’t worry. You can tackle your stress by making a sustainable routine for yourself – a structure and rhythm to your day that nobody can interrupt, even during the holidays. Here are eight great ways to reset your body and mind and build a sustainable structure for your life.
1. Exercise
Don’t let exercise go during the holidays. It’s one of the best ways to manage stress and boost your mood – the scientific evidence is overwhelming. Schedule a workout first thing in the morning, or squeeze a little physical activity into the cracks of your day. Walk around the block, do jumping jacks, jump rope, do some pushups, or pick a few of your favorite yoga poses or dance around your house as your cleaning up the mess from the holidays. Just get your body moving. Even ten minutes of movement makes you surprisingly more resilient to stress.
2. Journal
Dump all that stuff out of your brain and onto a page. Take a few minutes in the morning or evening to write out all your thoughts as they come to you. Journaling helps you declutter your mind and lower stress and anxiety. It also gives you an objective look at the things that have been bothering you — you are quite literally getting your problems outside you and onto a piece of paper, where you can consider them. You may find that a lot of them are much smaller than they seemed when they were in your head. With the insignificant ones gone, you can prioritize the things you really do need to do, and address them one by one.
3. Set a sleep routine
Good sleep makes you much, much more resilient to stress and anxiety. When your mind and body are rested you can look at the world through clear eyes and you have the energy to take on the day.
Consistency is important for good sleep, so choose a time to wake up and stick to it. It might be challenging for the first few days, but once your body settles into a daily rhythm, you’ll be able to wake up without that feeling that you want to stay in bed in longer. Then you can start to build a daily routine around your wakeup time.
4. Schedule a massage
Stress causes physical tension — a tight neck and shoulders, back and hip tension, and jaw clenching are all common — and a massage can go a long way toward loosening you up so you feel like yourself again. Research shows that massages give you large and immediate stress relief.
5. Try sound or vibration therapy
Sound is a powerful stress-relieving tool. The rhythm of healing tones or sounds can pull your body and mind into relaxation. I recently got a pair of Bose Sleepbuds which would wonderful with their app of sound therapy options.
6. Do yoga
Yoga is my favorite way to merge your mind and body, giving you both emotional and physical release in one go. Studies have found that yoga eases anxiety, depression, and stress. Plus, yoga stretches out tight muscles and counts as exercise 😊
7. Give yourself a warm oil scalp massage
Studies have shown women who got a 15-minute scalp massage saw immediate drops in stress hormones, blood pressure, and heart rate. The nice thing about scalp massages is that you can give them to yourself, and that even a few short minutes can immediately relax you.
To make a scalp massage even more rejuvenating, gently warm your favorite oil (jojoba oil is a good option) and drop it onto your scalp, massaging into your forehead and crown. You can add a couple drops of your favorite essential oils for some aromatherapy as well.
8. Get outside
This is my least favorite season because It’s usually cold during the holidays, which can make it tempting to bundle up and avoid the great outdoors. But nature is one of the best stress relievers around: stressed women who went outside daily saw a significant boost in happiness and were more resilient to stress.
You can benefit from the winter weather, too. Gentle cold exposure (a brisk winter walk or a cold shower) improves mood, to the point where cold exposure is effective in treating mild to moderate depression. So take a walk outside when possible during the holidays and get your blood flowing.
Practice a little self-care this holiday season. It’ll go a long way toward helping you get through the holidays feeling like yourself.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

5 Natural Remedies to Bolster Your Immune System this Cold & Flu Season

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Winter is coming as I was reminded this weekend laying around my house with a cough, headache the sniffles and the aches that showed up in various places of my body.  There’s still no cure for the common cold, and in my experience flu vaccines are hit-or-miss and not really worth the additional impurities the vaccine puts into my system. But if you dread this time of year, I have hope: there’s plenty you can do to keep yourself healthy.
These five natural remedies bolster your immune system so you can thrive this cold and flu season.

Vitamin C
You often hear about taking vitamin C when you’re sick, and for good reason; it’s great for helping you get rid of a cold faster. People who took high doses of vitamin C (5 grams or more) recovered several days sooner than people who didn’t.
Vitamin C dose: 5000 mg, 1-3 times daily

And while Vitamin C doesn’t get as much attention, vitamin D is also amazing at supporting your immune system on many levels. One of vitamin D’s main jobs is to regulate immunity; it activates enzymes in your immune cells that help them respond to invaders faster.Your skin uses UV rays from sunlight to make virtually all of your vitamin D. That’s great during the summer, but when winter rolls around, it can be challenging to get enough sunlight. A good vitamin D supplement will keep your levels where you want them to be and help you stay healthy through cold and flu season.
Vitamin D dose: 1000 iu per 25 lbs. body weight, taken in the morning. 

Astragalus is an herb that’s been used for centuries in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine as a remedy for stress and illness. Recent research shows that astragalus is also good for immune system.  People who took astragalus extract saw a significant increase in immune cell activation within 24 hours.

Turmeric and black pepper
Turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound that also turns on immunity. To quote one researcher, curcumin “resurrects the immune system” by activating T cells, some of your body’s most important defensive cells.Turmeric is one of the most treasured spices in Ayurveda, where it’s traditionally paired with black pepper. That’s interesting, because it turns out black pepper contains a compound, piperine, that increases curcumin’s bioavailability by 2,000%. If you’re taking curcumin in supplement form, check the label; the best brands will include black pepper extract.You can take turmeric or curcumin as a supplement, or you can make one of my favorite immune-boosting hot drinks: golden milk. This delicious drink combines creamy coconut milk with turmeric and warm spices like ginger and clove. Add a grind of fresh black pepper to boost its immune-enhancing benefits. Here’s my favorite golden milk recipe.

Ginger’s spicy, warm flavor is attributed to sesquiterpenes, aromatic compounds found in fresh ginger root. The sesquiterpenes in ginger are ant rhinoviral — in other words, they kill rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold.
I like making apple-ginger tea to ease cold and flu symptoms. You can add a few slices of ginger to your favorite soup, or, if you want to follow Ayurvedic tradition, you can chew on a bit of fresh ginger root.
Use as many of these remedies as you want whenever you feel a cold or the flu coming on. They’ll help you stay healthy and breathe easy through the entire season.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Renewed Perspective on Gratitude

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Sometimes we all need a little motivation to spark feelings of gratitude. For me, it came today when in the midst an unraveling to-do list, I made the choice to “stop doing” and got myself to yoga – with 3 minutes to spare.
I had an even-more-than-usual difficult time quieting the internal chatter inside my mind.
You know, go to the grocery store, call mom, compare prices for a specific Christmas gift, write a blog post, clean all the bathrooms, floors, oh, but first make non-toxic cleaner, make a vet appointment for the dog, start laundry, set up next week’s meeting, hug my husband, prep for lunches tomorrow! Oh yeah….and breathe, breathe!
As usual, yoga has a way of dialing down the internal and external noise, even if it’s just a few notches.
It’s as if the thoughts literally begin to topple right out of your head when you’re holding downward facing dog for the seventh time. Your once focus on never ending chores now becomes the imperative objective of breathing through an arched spine.
Nontoxic cleaners are the least of your problems. For an hour and fifteen minutes anyway... And everyone deserves an hour and fifteen-minute break, especially during the holidays!
Our meditation was fittingly on gratitude, since we are coming off of Thanksgiving. My teacher brought us through three stages: our past, present, and future selves. We sent love and gratitude to each one and obviously focused on gratitude of positive experiences.
But here was my favorite part: we focused on practicing gratitude for the negative events in our life as well as positive.
Gratitude towards the people in our life, who may have been difficult for us to be around; perhaps they taught us resilience.
Gratitude for negative choices we’ve made; maybe they’ve made us wiser.
Gratitude for negative circumstances that have been in our lives; loss, heartache, confusion, could it have made us stronger?
After I left class, I could not stop thinking about the exercise.
I started thinking about perspective. What if we all adjusted our perspective for one day? What if we spent 5 minutes, quietly breathing in gratitude and sending it towards the negativity in our lives?
Would we become more empathetic? Would we feel a deeper sense of gratitude for the people and experiences that make up our lives, even when they’re negative? Or maybe we would have clarity on a situation that has been difficult for a while, realizing the strength we need to break free has been growing inside of us? Is it possible, we’d be set free?
So while I had stopped into yoga class to get some tension relief and quiet time, I left with a completely new perspective.
For that, I am extremely grateful.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Meditation for Anxiety

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In the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle, anxiety can often be at the heart of the season.  Mindfulness meditation programs have shown promise for the treatment of anxiety, one of the most common mental health disorders in the U.S. New research suggests people can begin to receive psychological and physiological benefits after a single introductory session.
The practice of meditation involves deep investigation into the causes of anxious feelings. Through this practice, you can discover the story lines that tend to trigger and drive your emotions. Although it may sometimes feel as though your anxiety comes out of nowhere, it usually has a source—typically some combination of conditioning, self-stories, memories, thoughts, and buried emotions.
That said, when you practice this meditation, don’t try to force yourself to find the source or meaning of your anxiety. The most important aspect of this meditation is progressing through your journey of discovery into yourself. Whatever you find inside, simply acknowledging it will help you live more peacefully. Then, rather than putting so much energy into fighting your anxiety, you can begin to change your relationship to it.
Because this practice involves intentionally exploring the experience of anxiety, it can be challenging. Before you do this practice, please take a little time to consider whether you’re feeling up to it, listening to your inner voice to determine whether it feels right for you at this time. Consider doing your first practice when you feel safe and secure and have the energy and time to explore your anxiety more deeply. If now is not the time, give some thought as to when you are willing to take it on.
Click here to follow a guided meditation for anxiety.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

9 Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds

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If you're reaching for a chewy snack that doubles as a phenomenal health food, look no further than pumpkin seeds. With a wide variety of nutrients ranging from magnesium and manganese to copper, protein and zinc, pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses wrapped up in a very small tasty package. They also contain plant compounds known as phytosterols and free-radical antioxidants, which can give your health an added boost.
Because these are high-fiber seeds, they’re able to boost your fiber intake, helping you reach the ideal amount of 50 grams per 1,000 calories consumed. Best of all, because pumpkin seeds are highly portable and require no refrigeration, they make an excellent snack to keep with you whenever you're on the go, or they can be used as a quick anytime snack at home, too.
Here are 9 Top Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds
1.       Zinc for Immune Support
Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc which is important to your body in many ways, including immunity, cell growth and division, sleep, mood, your senses of taste and smell, eye and skin health, insulin regulation, and male sexual function.
Many are deficient in zinc due to mineral-depleted soils, effects of drugs, plant-based diets, and other diets high in conventional grains. This deficiency is associated with increased colds and flu, chronic fatigue, depression, acne, low birth weight babies, learning problems and poor school performance in children, among others.
2.  Heart Healthy Magnesium
One-quarter cup of pumpkin seeds contains nearly half of the recommended daily amount of magnesium, which contributes in a wide range of  important physiological functions, in addition to the pumping of your heart, proper bone and tooth formation, relaxation of your blood vessels, and healthy bowel function.
Magnesium has also been shown to benefit your blood pressure and help prevent sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack, and stroke.
3.  Plant-Based Omega-3 Fats
Raw nuts and seeds, including pumpkin seeds, are one of the best sources of plant-based omega-3s (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA). We all need ALA, however, ALA has to be converted by your body into the far more essential omega-3 fats EPA and DHA -- by an enzyme in which the vast majority of us have impaired by high insulin levels. So, while pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of ALA, it is still important to get your Omega 3’s from additional sources. 
Pumpkin seeds have long been valued as an important natural food for men's health. This is in part because of their high zinc content, which is important for prostate health (where it is found in the highest concentrations in the body), and also because pumpkin seed extracts and oils may play a role in treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, or enlarged prostate). Research suggests that both pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin seeds may be particularly beneficial in supporting prostate health.
5.  Anti-Diabetic Effects
Research suggest that pumpkin seeds may help improve insulin regulation and help prevent diabetic complications by decreasing oxidative stress.
6.  Benefits for Postmenopausal Women
Pumpkin seed oil is rich in natural phytoestrogens and studies suggest it may lead to an increase in good "HDL" cholesterol accompanied by a  decrease in blood pressure, hot flashes, headaches, joint pains and other menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women.
7.  Liver and Heart Health
Pumpkin seeds, rich in healthy fats, antioxidants and fibers,  provide benefits for liver and heart health.
8.  Tryptophan for Restful Sleep
Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of tryptophan, an amino acid we often associate with turkey,  that your body converts into serotonin, which in turn is converted into melatonin, the "sleep hormone
9.  Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
Pumpkin seed oil has been found to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. Studies have found that the seed oil has been proven to reduce the effects of arthritis.