The New Year brings about many hopes and dreams for people trying to improve their lives and wellbeing. As with any self-improvement it takes time and effort. Most New Year’s resolutions fail because people do not understand the process of creating a healthy new habit. Most behaviors and activities take years to develop and so it is true that most unhealthy behaviors have been developing for many years and so it is just that much more difficult to overcome. So if you are trying to have a good year in 2019 then, do just that, have a good year. Stop trying to accomplish more than is possible by the end of February and do not give up if you have set backs. Most New Year’s resolutions are done by Valentine’s Day. The year is 365 days long and if you succeed in reaching your goals for the day 200 times you will be killing it in 2019. So how do we accomplish this? Keep it simple. The first thing that successful people do is they set GOALS and they set them in writing. This minimizes the chance that you will change your goals or give up on them completely. Second, place the goals in a visible spot and let others know what you are trying to accomplish so they can support you and even encourage your successes. Third, don’t give up!! Expect setbacks. No one is perfect and when trying to overcome a life time of bad habits it will take time and practice to create healthy new behaviors. If, for instance you are trying not drink at all then you may want to consult some alcoholics in recovery to see how they are doing it. If you are trying to lose a few pounds or slow down on shopping or gambling then you may want to start a new hobby that will help you reach your goal. There is nothing new to the idea of self-improvement and today I would like to share some simple goal setting ideas to help you make 2019 the best year yet.
First, learn the art of setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals and don’t be discouraged when you have a setback.
Remember that every journey starts with just one step. When setting goals be sure to make them incremental so that you can get a sense of accomplishment. Self-esteem and confidence will build throughout the year as you track your successes and build confidence for the long journey ahead. A wise man ounce said;
“Don’t wish in a year from now,
You had started something today.”
If you hope to develop a self-directed program of recovery and want to set goals about substance use or your drinking habits then that is ok too. Just remember that with alcohol and other drug relapses can be dangerous but they don’t have to be an all or nothing situation. It is ok to stop immediately and to get back “on track” with your goals and desires. Reach out by phone or in person and avoid keeping secrets. Rigorous honesty in addressing your hopes and dreams will be visible through your well placed and displayed goals. One day at a time you can accomplish greatness.
Five tips to keep the holidays from ruining your Recovery, or your use from ruining the holidays. Many people dealing with substance use disorder, historically referred to as Alcoholism and Addiction, find the holiday season extremely difficult, often causing isolation and loneliness, which can lead to relapse. Some people not yet in recovery are interested in controlling use to avoid “ruining” the holidays with family fights and belligerence. If either of these issues are of interest to you, there might be help in utilizing a few healthy recovery techniques to step-up-your-game during the holiday season.
1. Have a Plan – Although there are no specific requirements for a plan, and individual plans vary greatly, the benefit of being prepared mentally can help avoid impulsivity and help make healthy decisions. Some things to consider: What days do I have off? Where am I spending the holidays? Who might be drinking? Bring my own none alcoholic beverages! Who is driving?
2. Meetings – Utilizing self-help support and/or the 12-step programs can increase strength and hope during the holiday season. Also a fellowship of like minded people searching for a common solution can share face-to-face gifts of hope.
3. Telephone – Many people call, text or email others in recovery, sharing one-on-one to help with the hard to handle highs and lows.
4. Reading/Writing – Having an outlet for one’s internal thoughts and being able to put ideas down on paper and finding solutions through the literature of recovery can further reinforce how to live through the 12-step or other spiritual programs of recovery.
5. Service – The holiday season is a perfect time to help others. Doing service and reaching out to others is a great way to add to the quality of one’s own recovery. There are many ways to give back for what we have so generously been given.
As a friendly reminder, many of the local spiritual and 12-step programs increase their availability during the holiday season. If you are concerned about the problems that might arise during the holiday season do not hesitate to reach out and find additional support.
A sober holiday is a happy holiday.
By Nasreen Shah, LMHC
With our busy schedules, it is no surprise many Americans feel behind on sleep. It can be difficult to find time for rest and relaxation as it is not part of our daily activities. In other countries, such as Finland, and Canada, breaks are scheduled during the work day. In Spain, India, Italy, and China, workers come home from work in the middle of the day for a 1-2 hour break. People use this time to eat a meal with the family and to take an afternoon nap, offering more opportunities for resting and self-care. Unlike other countries which engage in fewer work hours and create routines prioritizing rest, for most Americans, the evening hours offer the only window of opportunity for sleep in a 24 hour day.
With fewer opportunities for rest, we need to be mindful and intentional with how we use our time in the evenings and create routines that help us have our best sleep. Lack of sleep is associated with poor concentration, low energy, and difficulty with alertness and memory. Many people experience disruptive sleep, however, you can develop habits to increase your quality of sleep.
Tips for getting to sleep:
1. Set up the routine: One of the best things you can do to improve sleep is to set a consistent sleep and waking time. Waking up at the same time, within 30 minutes or so of your regular time, helps your body regulate to a schedule. Upon waking, get outside, or stand in front of a window for natural light. Turning on the lights, and moving first thing in the morning, helps your body adjust to waking early. You might consider doing light stretches or a short walk in the morning.
2. During the day, strive for 10- 15 minutes (or more if you can) of movement. Exercise greatly improves quality of sleep. Cardio can be effective in decreasing anxiety and allowing the body to be tired enough to sleep. Additionally, weight training utilizes energy, allowing you to be tired enough to fall asleep at night. The more movement you can incorporate in your day, the more likely you will be tired enough to sleep at night.
3. Prepare for sleep: Our brains and bodies respond well to consistency and healthy sleep habits. Once you have set a ‘going to bed time’ keep in mind the following:
1. Waking up in the middle of the night can be due to a variety of factors. Here are some common reasons:
Finding proactive ways to deal with worried feelings
By: Rachel Ehmke
Anxiety over school shootings has become a common fear in America. When something that once seemed unthinkable happens with some regularity, added to our feeling of horror that it’s happened (again!) is another kind of alarm: Could this happen at my child’s school?
And many parents have begun to worry whether the news of school shootings, along with the active-shooter drills most schools are now conducting, are frightening children in a damaging way.
Responding to this concern, Jamie Howard, PhD, director of the Trauma and Resilience Service at the Child Mind Institute, says that parents tend to worry about school shootings more than their children do. “Even though they’re the ones going into school every day, I just don’t hear a lot of kids worrying about it,” she says. “When children are younger they’re more egocentric. As they get to become teenagers this changes.” This developmental selfishness is a quality that often protects younger children from the kind of anxiety that the adults around them are experiencing.
This is good news for parents who worry about their children feeling afraid. But kids are very good at picking up on the fears of their parents, and if they sense that Mom or Dad is afraid, they will take notice.
Psychologists sometimes describe anxiety as the body’s internal alarm system. You want your alarm system to go off if there is a threat nearby. But sometimes the alarm is triggered too easily and you are alerted when there isn’t any danger at all. Or maybe there is a threat, but it doesn’t actually warrant a full-fledged alarm response.
The way school shootings are covered on television and discussed on social media is intense. We can hear about the tragedy throughout our day, often for several days, whenever we look at a screen. Besides making us feel upset and frustrated, it can also make us feel less safe. “Because it’s so horrific and scary and important it dominates the media and therefore our minds, and we think of it as a much bigger threat than it is, explains Dr. Howard. “The more you watch, the more it tricks your mind into thinking it’s an increased probability of occurring.”
School shootings actually are not very common, so while they are a threat, the likelihood that one will personally affect you is slim. In Dr. Howard’s words, “some anxiety is warranted, debilitating anxiety is not.” If you feel that you are more anxious than you should be, a good first step is always to take a break from any media that might be focusing your attention in an unhealthy direction.
Look for ways to be proactive
Because anxiety is meant to prepare us for action, it makes sense to channel the worries you are feeling into something proactive you can do. One of the things Dr. Howard recommends is forming a parent group at the school. Assessing what the school needs, getting involved in the planning process for drills, and having ongoing conversations about keeping the school safe can make worried parents feel better.
Likewise, participating in political activism or efforts to support mental health and wellness in your community can make you feel like you are making a difference. It also sets a good example for your children, who may want to get involved, too. Many of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School began lobbying lawmakers after the tragic shooting at their school, and they inspired students across the country to think about ways they might make their own voices heard. Participating in a school walkout or even just getting their opinion across in a conversation with a parent can make kids feel like their thoughts and values matter, which will feel reassuring.
Talk to your children
Parents are sometimes afraid to bring up school shootings with their children, because they don’t want to scare them. But children will have often heard about a school shooting that is getting a lot of attention in the media, and bring it up can actually alleviate any anxiety they might be feeling. Avoiding potentially scary topics can make them scarier to children.
These discussions are a chance for you to answer questions that they might have and provide some reassurance. While you can’t promise that their school will never have a shooting, you can in good faith tell them that school shootings are actually very rare and remind them that they practice drills at school to keep them safe.
If you aren’t sure what to say, you can always ask your kids if they have any questions. Use common sense about how much detail to go into, and try not to use euphemisms or fuzzy language, which can make a young child’s imagination run wild.
You can also take this opportunity to share important messages that you want to communicate. For example, Dr. Howard suggests saying, “If a classmate of yours is struggling, we don’t do nothing. We don’t gossip about them. We tell a grownup so they can get help.” Or if your child is a teenager, and another student says or writes something scary, the same advice holds: they should let an adult know.
Active shooter drills
Most schools today practice active shooter drills. The goal of these drills should never be to scare children. Just as we don’t use fake smoke in fire drills, schools don’t need to use fake guns during active shooter drills. Schools who try to make the drills as realistic as possible risk scaring students (and teachers), and miss the point of these drills in the first place.
Schools have active shooter drills to get everyone used to their safety plan. “The more you practice something, the more you rehearse it, you lay the mental tracks so that you decrease the tendency to freeze in the case of a real emergency and you can go quickly into action,” explains Dr. Howard. “In the military you do realistic drills because you really will be in combat, but this is a low-probability event. You just need to lay the tracks so you decrease those few seconds of reaction time.”
When teachers (and parents) talk about the drills, they should do it with a lot of confidence. They should make it clear that school shootings, just like fires, are unlikely, but, says Dr. Howard, “We are going to be ready if it happens. This is what we’re going to do to stay safe.”
Photo Credit: Josh Sorenson, Pexels
November is officially here, which means people are amping up for the holiday season. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are the busiest travel periods of the year in the United States. People head to airports and bus and train stations or pack up their cars for road trips to visit relatives, enjoy a getaway with their partner, or indulge in a solo trip. Regardless of where you’re headed, taking some travel and planning tips into consideration can help ensure you have a relaxing, stress-free holiday vacation.
When choosing a time of day to travel, opt for early or late in the day when airports and roads are less crowded and delays are less likely. Also, avoid peak travel dates to stay away from crowds and save money. For example, the day before and the Sunday following Thanksgiving are the most crowded and expensive travel days. Traveling on Thanksgiving Day is typically more affordable. The peak days for Christmas and New Year’s depend on which day of the week the holidays fall. The most expensive and crowded dates are generally the days that allow people to maximize long weekends while avoiding taking time off from work. Note that smaller airports have fewer flights and typically experience fewer delays.
Comparison shopping is easy, provides more options for travel times, and saves you money. Whether you use booking sites like Orbitz or search sites such as Kayak, you can save money on everything from hotels to car rentals to activities. Many sites allow you to search nearby airports or adjacent dates to discover even more options and savings. Consider choosing a package deal if you need a combination of air travel, car rental, and lodging. The bundled pricing can be highly competitive during the holiday season.
Another way to save is to travel by charter bus instead of flying. Charter bus travel is a great and affordable option if you’re traveling with a large group. It’s also a much less stressful experience than dealing with a crowded airport and risking delay. And since you won’t be in a packed plane, you won’t have to concern yourself with how much luggage you can bring. You also won’t have to worry about baggage claim, or even worse, that the airline lost your luggage.
If nonstop options are available, select them. Connecting flights increase your chance of delays, which will create unnecessary stress, especially if it’s in a location where you have no home, friends, or family to which to retreat. If layovers are unavoidable, allot some extra time for flight delays and weather troubles. “Avoiding really tight connections might save you a sprint through the terminal or a missed flight,” says SmarterTravel.com. Also, choose connections in places that are less likely to experience delays, like airports in warmer climates or smaller airports.
Make sure you follow all TSA rules to speed up the security process, but you should still be prepared for increased wait times at security. Save time at the airport by printing boarding passes at home or having them pulled up on your smartphone. Because overstuffed bags that are opened for a security check are difficult to repack, just avoid overpacking from the get-go. Also, most airlines charge travelers a fee for checking any bags on domestic flights, so try to trim your luggage load.
Consider having your gifts shipped directly to your destination to cut down on your luggage load and remove the chance of them getting lost or damaged. If you do bring them on the flight, skip wrapping as they may be unwrapped for inspection. Or you can use gift bags instead of wrapping paper if you won’t have time for last-minute wrapping when you arrive to your destination.
To ease your mind while you’re away, hire a pet sitter for any pets that you’re leaving behind. If you’re bringing your pets along, be sure to brush up on proper etiquette for traveling with pets. Taking home-security measures can also ease your mind while you’re away. While you should obviously lock all of your doors and windows, don’t forget to secure the garage, remove valuables from your yard, and pick up hidden keys. Also, keeping up with lawn care, setting up light timers, or hiring a house sitter can make your home look occupied.
Before heading out, ensure you have phone numbers for everything, including the hotel, car rental agency, airline, etc. Also, download your airline’s app so that you receive alerts about delays or gate changes. Lastly, remember to stay calm and considerate. The amount of people traveling is drastically increased during the holidays, but everyone has the same goal of getting to their destination safely to enjoy the holidays. With a little planning and a good attitude, you can experience a relaxing and stress-free vacation.
With SpiritFinder, Ms. Scott offers a forum where those living with anxiety and depression can discuss their experiences
Help yourself, and them, by learning techniques to manage stress in a healthy way
By Brigit Katz
On a recent afternoon, JD Bailey was trying to get her two young daughters to their dance class. A work assignment delayed her attempts to leave the house, and when Bailey was finally ready to go, she realized that her girls still didn’t have their dance clothes on. She began to feel overwhelmed and frustrated, and in the car ride on the way to the class, she shouted at her daughters for not being ready on time. “Suddenly I was like, ‘What am I doing?'” she recalls, filled with anxiety. “‘This isn’t their fault. This is me.’ ”
Bailey has dealt with anxiety for as long as she can remember, but it has become more acute since the birth of her second daughter, when she began to experience postpartum depression. She knows that her anxiety occasionally causes her to lash out at her daughters when she doesn’t really mean to, and she can see that it affects them. “You see it in your kids’ face,” Bailey says. “Not that they’re scared, but just the negativity: ‘Oh my God, my mommy’s upset.’ You’re their rock. They don’t want to see you upset.”
Witnessing a parent in a state of anxiety can be more than just momentarily unsettling for children. Kids look to their parents for information about how to interpret ambiguous situations; if a parent seems consistently anxious and fearful, the child will determine that a variety of scenarios are unsafe. And there is evidence that children of anxious parents are more likely to exhibit anxiety themselves, a probable combination of genetic risk factors and learned behaviors.
It can be painful to think that, despite your best intentions, you may find yourself transmitting your own stress to your child. But if you are dealing with anxiety and start to notice your child exhibiting anxious behaviors, the first important thing is not to get bogged down by guilt. “There’s no need to punish yourself,” says Dr. Jamie Howard, director of the Stress and Resilience Program at the Child Mind Institute. “It feels really bad to have anxiety, and it’s not easy to turn off.”
But the transmission of anxiety from parent to child is not inevitable. The second important thing to do is implement strategies to help ensure that you do not pass your anxiety on to your kids. That means managing your own stress as effectively as possible, and helping your kids manage theirs. “If a child is prone to anxiety,” Dr. Howard adds, “it’s helpful to know it sooner and to learn the strategies to manage sooner.”
Learn stress management techniques
It can be very difficult to communicate a sense of calm to your child when you are struggling to cope with your own anxiety. A mental health professional can help you work through methods of stress management that will suit your specific needs. As you learn to tolerate stress, you will in turn be teaching your child—who takes cues from your behavior—how to cope with situations of uncertainty or doubt.
“A big part of treatment for children with anxiety,” explains Dr. Laura Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist, “is actually teaching parents stress tolerance, It’s a simultaneous process—it’s both directing the parent’s anxiety, and then how they also support and scaffold the child’s development of stress tolerance.”
Model stress tolerance
You might find yourself learning strategies in therapy that you can then impart to your child when she is feeling anxious. If, for example, you are working on thinking rationally during times of stress, you can practice those same skills with your child. Say to her: “I understand that you are scared, but what are the chances something scary is actually going to happen?”
Try to maintain a calm, neutral demeanour in front of your child, even as you are working on managing your anxiety. Dr. Howard says, “Be aware of your facial expressions, the words you choose, and the intensity of the emotion you express, because kids are reading you. They’re little sponges and they pick up on everything.”
Explain your anxiety
While you don’t want your child to witness every anxious moment you experience, you do not have to constantly suppress your emotions. It’s okay—and even healthy—for children to see their parents cope with stress every now and then, but you want to explain why you reacted in the way that you did.
Let’s say, for example, you lost your temper because you were worried about getting your child to school on time. Later, when things are calm, say to her: “Do you remember when I got really frustrated in the morning? I was feeling anxious because you were late for school, and the way I managed my anxiety was by yelling. But there are other ways you can manage it too. Maybe we can come up with a better way of leaving the house each morning.”
Talking about anxiety in this way gives children permission to feel stress, explains Dr. Kirmayer, and sends the message that stress is manageable. “If we feel like we have to constantly protect our children from seeing us sad, or angry, or anxious, we’re subtly giving our children the message that they don’t have permission to feel those feelings, or express them, or manage them,” she adds. “Then we’re also, in a way, giving them an indication that there isn’t a way to manage them when they happen.”
After JD Bailey lost her temper at her daughters on their way to dance class, she made sure to explain her reaction, and then focused on moving forward. “I said, ‘I’m sorry. Mom is a little stressed out because I have a lot of work going on. Let’s listen to some music,’ ” Bailey recalls. “We cranked up the music in the car, and it changed our mood.”
Make a plan
Come up with strategies in advance for managing specific situations that trigger your stress. You may even involve your child in the plan. If, for example, you find yourself feeling anxious about getting your son ready for bed by a reasonable hour, talk to him about how you can work together to better handle this stressful transition in the future. Maybe you can come up with a plan wherein he earns points toward a privilege whenever he goes through his evening routine without protesting his bedtime.
These strategies should be used sparingly: You don’t want to put the responsibility on your child to manage your anxiety if it permeates many aspects of your life. But seeing you implement a plan to curb specific anxious moments lets him know that stress can be tolerated and managed.
Know when to disengage
If you know that a situation causes you undue stress, you might want to plan ahead to absent yourself from that situation so your children will not interpret it as unsafe. Let’s say, for example, that school drop-offs fill you with separation anxiety. Eventually you want to be able to take your child to school, but if you are still in treatment, you can ask a co-parent or co-adult to handle the drop off. “You don’t want to model this very worried, concerned expression upon separating from your children,” says Dr. Howard. “You don’t want them to think that there’s anything dangerous about dropping them off at school.”
In general, if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with anxiety in the presence of your child, try to take a break. Danielle Veith, a stay-at-home mom who blogs about her struggles with anxiety, will take some time to herself and engage in stress-relieving activities when she starts to feel acutely anxious. “I have a list of to-do-right-this-second tips for dealing with a panic, which I carry with me: take a walk, drink tea, take a bath, or just get out the door into the air,” she says. “For me, it’s about trusting in the fact that the anxiety will pass and just getting through until it passes.”
Find a support system
Trying to parent while struggling with your own mental health can be a challenge, but you don’t have to do it alone. Rely on the people in your life who will step in when you feel overwhelmed, or even just offer words of support. Those people can be therapists, co-parents, or friends. “I am a part of an actual support group, but I also have a network of friends,” says Veith. “I am open with friends about who I am, because I need to be able to call on them and ask for help. ”
You can also look for support on blogs, online forums, and social media. JD Bailey runs a site called Honest Mom, where mothers can post essays about mental health and parenting. “I write about mental health to connect with other moms and help them not feel so alone,” Bailey explains. “I get email and Facebook messages from readers, and the most common comment is, ‘I felt so alone until I found your site.’ And yes, writing about depression and anxiety helps me, too!”
Long-term nutrition can have positive effects on brain health
By Cara Rosenbloom
If you’ve ever found bliss in a bite of chocolate or smiled when someone offered you a french fry, then you know food can make you happy. But while it’s true that your favorite treat may give you a brief emotional lift, sustained mood-boosting brain power can only come from a consistent supply of nutritious foods.
Recognizing the difference between a quick jolt of cookie fueled joy and the positive effects of long-term nutrition for brain health is important. Researchers are taking a closer look at how food can impact your mood and future cognitive function, and they are finding that what you eat does make a difference.
There’s a mountain of evidence to show that the well-researched Mediterranean diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And good news! That very same diet is also associated with improved mood and a reduced risk of depression and cognitive decline.
The key to the Mediterranean eating plan is to emphasize vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains, olive oil and lean protein, while reducing ultra-processed, fried and sugary foods. Basically, eat the real stuff, and cut back on junk food.
Enjoying a collection of nourishing foods can feed the brain the right combination of nutrients, which help boost serotonin, the neurotransmitter that’s responsible for happiness and wellbeing. It also allows the brain to be properly fed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to combat oxidative stress and reduce cellular damage to brain cells.
An offshoot of the Mediterranean diet is the brain-healthy MIND Diet (Mediterranean- DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), which is based on the same foods but adds extra emphasis on eating berries, leafy greens and nuts. Researchers have found that people following the MIND diet have better cognitive abilities, equivalent to being 7.5 years younger in age than people not following it. They also found that people sticking to the MIND eating plan lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53 percent. Yep, food can do that.
Studies show it’s the cumulative and synergistic effect of all of the foods in the Mediterranean/MIND diet, and not one singular food that has the most powerful effect on brain health. Translation: There’s no specific superfood that will make you happy or improve cognition. Instead, aim for a healthy eating plan with a variety of nutritious foods. Here are some brain-healthy ingredients to consider adding to your plate, and why you should embrace them:
People who eat omega-3rich fish tend to have a lower risk of depression and a more positive affect, which is defined as how much you experience positive moods and feel joy. Bonus: Salmon also contains vitamin B-12, which helps produce brain chemicals that affect mood. Low levels of B-12 are linked to depression.
Whether from supplements or foods, these good bacteria are beneficial for more than digestive health. People who take probiotics see improvements in their perceived levels of stress and have a more positive mental outlook compared to people not taking probiotics.
Spinach, chard and other dark leafy greens contain magnesium, which can positively impact serotonin levels and boost your mood. About half of all Americans are low in magnesium, and this deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety. In addition to your greens, add magnesium rich pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, chickpeas and beans to your meals.
With a high content of antioxidants known as flavonoids, blueberries help activate brain pathways associated with better cognition and less cellular aging. Blueberries and blueberry juice are associated with having a more positive mood.
This seafood delicacy is high in zinc, a mineral that’s not stored by the body and must be consumed daily. Being deficient in zinc is linked to depression. Other good sources of zinc include crab, beef, beans, chickpeas and cashews.
Results from systematic reviews indicate cocoa can shake off bad moods, and may be protective against depression. And sipping antioxidant- rich hot cocoa increases feelings of contentment and puts people in a happy mood. But since too much sugar is negatively associated with brain health, choose dark chocolate and keep portions to a square or two a day. While many foods provide positive brain fuel, there are some edibles that have the opposite effect. In contrast to the Mediterranean-style plan, typical unhealthy Western diets that include excessive amounts of sugar, salty snacks, processed and fried foods have been associated with worsening of symptoms of depression, and an increased risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
For these reasons, the Mediterranean diet includes limits on “meats and sweets,” while the MIND Diet limits fast food, red meat, cheese, butter, stick margarine, pastries and sweets. Keeping your brain in shape is just one more reason to choose whole foods and cut back on processed items.
"Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor."~Thích Nhất Hạnh
We have the ability to regulate our nervous system in a variety of ways, inducing a state of calm and relaxation. This article is the first in a series which will investigate specific techniques to use towards inducing calm, particularly through vagal nerve activation. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in one’s body. Its name means “wanderer” – as it originates in the brain stem and wanders to the ears, tongue, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, heart, lungs, pancreas, gallbladder, spleen, kidneys, intestines and stomach.
The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which plays a role in “rest and digest” behaviors and initiates an overall calm state and immobilization. In contrast, the sympathetic nervous system is involved in “fight or flight” behaviors and initiates a state of fear and anxiety and mobilization. When a person is hiking in the woods and spots a black bear the sympathetic nervous system is activated, initiating a cascade of events that involves one’s breath becoming shallow, pupils dilating, heart rate increasing, palms becoming sweaty, digestion slowing down and running.
While most of us are not hiking in woods and stumbling upon bears, we encounter several real and perceived threats in our everyday life – your toddler standing on a wobbly chair, your partner’s frowning brow when you walk in the door, the tone of someone’s voice, an image that reminds you of something painful from your past. All of these cues can trigger your body into “fight or flight” mode as if you are standing in front of a bear.
The number of times one experiences fight or flight mode per day can interfere with his or her overall level of functioning, manifesting in a variety of mental illnesses such as generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder to name a few. The good news is that there is a myriad of ways in which one can activate the vagus nerve, changing the body’s physiology and tipping the scales back to a state of calm and rest and digest. As a matter of fact, through initiating diaphragmatic breathing, we have 20,000 to 30,000 opportunities a day to initiate a state of calm, which is the number of breaths humans take in one day.
There are several resources on-line or your therapist can teach you diaphragmatic breathing. To do so, place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. When you inhale, the hand on your stomach should extend out and the hand on your chest should remain relatively static. Continue to breathe in this pattern for a few rounds or if you are able, try to work towards 5-7 cycles (inhale and exhale) of breath per minute to initiate paced breathing. Stop if you become light headed. Both methods of breathing, either diaphragmatic or paced are generally not natural. Like any new skill, practice makes perfect.
The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication and Self-Regulation. Stephen W. Porgers. W. W. Norton & Company 2011.
Breatheology: The Art of Conscious Breathing. Stig Avall Severinsen. Idelson-Gnocchi Ltd. 2010.
Everyone feels anxiety at some point. Whether you’re stressed about an upcoming test or just generally feeling anxious, the same “fight or fight” stress response is the same. While this response can be helpful when in a particular emergency situation, the body will quickly wear out if this stress response is triggered too often by everyday life.
To combat this exhausting cycle, you simply need to activate the relaxation response, which puts the kibosh on anxiety and brings your body back to its natural state. You’ll know the relaxation response has set in when your breathing slows, your heart rate decreases, and your muscles naturally loosen. Keep in mind that it is only in this state that your body can properly heal itself! Simply zoning out on the couch will not trigger the same healing response in your body – the damaging effects of stress need serious reversal that junk food and your TV cannot provide!
While yoga and meditation are the easy answers to eliciting the relaxation response, you can also try these five other techniques for a quick answer to your anxiety:
Autumn is officially here. The leaves on the trees are changing color, school is in full swing, and there’s already a chill in the air. Unfortunately, this also means cold season is upon us. The decreased temperatures lead to more time indoors with other people, which mean germs are more easily spread. Viruses also thrive in cold, dry weather, making it even easier for you to get sick.
So how do you protect yourself from catching a cold when people all around you are going down for the count? Here are ten ways to help ward off germs, courtesy of our on-site nurse, Brenda!
1. Wash Your Hands. First and foremost, make sure you are washing your hands. Frequently. Whenever possible, grab some hand sanitizer too. This will prevent not only the spread of germs to other people, but the contamination from your hands to your face. Which leads us to our next point…
2. Quit Touching Your Face. It often becomes habitual to touch your lips or rub your eyes throughout the day. Stop. Viruses can enter your body through your eyes, nose and mouth, and touching your face delivers germs straight into your system.
3. Reach for the Yogurt. You can give your immune system a boost simply by eating a small container of yogurt. The probiotics will help strengthen your system and make it harder for germs to take you down. Try adding yogurt to smoothies, use in place of sour cream, or stir into overnight oats for your quick and easy dose. For an extra punch, add a little honey to your yogurt – it’ll help loosen congestion, supply antioxidants, and prevent dehydration.
4. Crack a Window. Air out your office, your living room, and your car by opening a window when you can. It’ll help keep airborne viral particles on the move, making it harder for you pick them up. You’ll also freshen up the air in the room, letting out trapped germs and viruses.
5. Pick Up Some Fungi. It isn’t just a myth from Super Mario: the immune-boosting powers of mushrooms are real. The antibacterial and antifungal effects of mushrooms have been proven to both increase your T cell count and decrease inflammation. Chow down on shiitake mushrooms for your strongest attack against pathogens.
6. Down Some Water. Mom always said that fluids are your friend when you’re feeling sick, and she’s absolutely right! Aim for about two liters of water per day to help flush your body of excess mucus when you start to feel a cold coming on.
7. Eat Your Vitamins. Since no one is entirely sure what exactly is in those supplement bottles, we recommend taking your vitamins straight from the source: your food. Aim for about 1000 milligrams of Vitamin C a day by eating lots of bell peppers, broccoli, kale and oranges. Zinc is also essential for maintaining a healthy immune system, so stock up on beef, cashews, spinach and pumpkin seeds. Finally, don’t forget about Vitamin E, which protects against viral infections. Tofu, avocados and fish are a great source of this often forgotten vitamin!
8. Keep Away from Sneezers. This one should be obvious: stay out of the line of fire when people around you are sneezing. But don’t underestimate the distance you should keep. Particles from a sneeze can travel up to 20 feet!
9. Get Your Beauty Rest. Putting in your time under covers will help strengthen your immune system, keeping those germs at bay. While sleep is the best way to stay healthy, it’s also important to make time for relaxation during the daytime. When you meditate, read, do yoga or engage in other relaxing activities, your interleukins (molecules that respond to attacks from viruses) increase in your bloodstream, priming your body to fight colds and the flu.
10. Reach for a Neti Pot. Flush your nose free of mucus and debris by cleansing with a Neti Pot. Begin by boiling salted water, and let cool to room temperature before flushing your nasal cavity. Or you can use an OTC saline solution, if you prefer. This will help clear out any viral particles you may have breathed in during the day!
The PRC Blog
Here, the PRC staff teams up to provide our views and advice on common mental health issues.