Tag Archives: mental-health

The secrets to happiness

The Secrets to HappinessUnless you’re Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, you probably want to be happy. We all strive to be happy but sometimes happiness can seem hard to find. In today’s world, we have never-ending responsibilities and so much stress.

As a society, we have become more materialistic and focused on collecting “things” to make us happy. But as the saying goes, “money can’t buy happiness.” Although, I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy retail therapy. Buying a new pair of shoes, a fun outfit – or practically anything – certainly does boost my mood.

However, material happiness is usually fleeting. What is the secret to lifelong happiness? What makes us truly happy? Is it something you either have or you don’t have?

Research shows that we all have the potential to be happy. It seems that there are certain characteristics that lead to a sense of well-being. You can create your own happiness by focusing on these traits:

Optimism
Happy people are filled with hope. Optimistic people embrace all of life’s experiences even if that means making mistakes. They don’t feel like mistakes are a personal failure. Rather, when things go wrong or life gives them a setback, optimists see it as a fluke or something out of their control and an opportunity to try a new approach.

Optimists who see the glass as “half-full” also tend to be healthier which can contribute to greater happiness. Check out our blog, The Power of Positive Thinking, to learn more about the health benefits of a positive outlook.

Self esteem
Happy people have learned to like themselves. Studies have shown it’s not about having friends, close family relationships, or material things. If you can accept yourself with all your flaws, you are more likely to find happiness.

I tend to repeat myself over and over when I’m having a conversation to the point that my friends and family will say, “Okay, I’ve got it!” Or, I blurt out things I wish I hadn’t said and then stew about it later. You have to love your physical traits, too. I am so pale that when I visit someone in the hospital, nurses ask me if I need to sit down. I am learning to accept these things I don’t like about myself, even find humor in them,  and then let them go.

Proactivity
Happy people search out new experiences that will make them happy. They don’t wait around to find joy in life. They have a curious nature and make their own happiness. Think of all the things you’ve discovered that you like or enjoy doing just by trying them, especially when you were younger. As we get older we get more cynical about new experiences. Take a chance and try something new!

A sense of control
People who believe they are in control of their own destiny tend to be more happy. Feeling like you are in charge of how you live your life leads to a greater sense of well-being. Of course, there are things that are out of your control. You can’t control the weather, traffic or other people who annoy you. However, you can control what you wear, how you drive and how you react to annoying people. The more you make your own decisions and manage your own time, the happier you will be.

Extroversion
Outgoing people are happy people and have a greater satisfaction in life. Being extroverted also ties into being self assured. If you are confident and like who you are, you can walk into a room of strangers and start up a conversation. Extroverts also tend to be more content and have a larger circle of friends.

I am more introverted my nature and spend a lot of time “in my own head.” I have had to work at being more outgoing and trying new experiences. I do feel it has built my confidence and made me a happier person.

Love
Having a sense of compassion for others and knowing you are loved is one of the biggest predictors of happiness. We need relationships – whether they are romantic love, the bond we have with our children, or the acceptance of friends. Spending time with others strengthens these connections and contributes to our sense of happiness.

Friendship
Our friends help us accept ourselves for who we really are. When they accept us, flaws and all, we are better able to be more comfortable in own skin. We find happiness from spending time with other people, and from supporting others when they need us. Read more about the power of friendships in our blog, 7 Reasons We Need Friends.

A contented feeling
A feeling of security or contentedness comes from feeling good about where you are in life. It’s recognizing that you can be happy without being rich, having the biggest house on the block or being the most popular. Happy people are simply content with their current situation. It’s okay to have goals, wishes and dreams but your happiness doesn’t have to hinge on them. You can be happy right now.

Spirtuality
People who are spiritual tend to have greater life satisfaction. Life may have a bigger meaning beyond our knowing, so it’s not worth worrying so much about the little things. Religion can have a positive affect on both your mental and physical health. Studies show that those who pray or attend religious services regularly are less likely to have hypertension, anxiety disorders or depression.

Altruism
Giving without expecting anything in return is one of the truest ways to find happiness. Because even though your reasons for giving are altruistic, you can get so much in return. Having a positive impact on someone else’s life can help you feel better about what is going on in your own life. For more details about the rewards of giving, read our blog 5 Surprising Benefits of Giving Back.

A purpose
Happy people enjoy what they do. They don’t do it for money or glory. They do it because they love it. Your purpose should be your passion. It may be the work you do for a living. It could be your purpose is being the best mother and wife. You may enjoy teaching kids or mentoring others. Your purpose makes you excited to get out of bed every morning. Simply put, it makes you happy.

We all have the potential to be happy. By focusing on these traits and characteristics you can create your own happiness. What makes you happy?

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Is gossip good for you?

1066564_gossip_girls_1When you think about gossip, you probably have a negative image. I picture a group of people having a bawdy conversation and telling stories over dinner or drinks. Or, a hand in front of a mouth as one person whispers in another person’s ear.

We all do it. We may not like to admit it, but we all gossip. It’s easy to get caught up in it, and then feel guilty and a little bit ashamed afterward.

But what if gossip were actually good for you?

Research has shown that a little bit of gossip is healthy. It’s what binds a culture together. It helps keep the social machinery working properly. However, gossip is only healthy and beneficial when you use it selectively for the good of your social group. For instance, sharing the happy news that a couple you know is pregnant. Or, passing on that a mutual friend just got a promotion at work.

If you pass on negative information, indulge in rumors, or flat out lie simply to hurt someone or make yourself look good, that’s the type of gossip that will make you feel guilty afterward. And when your friends find out – and they will – you may be ostracized from the group.

How can you use gossip for the greater good?

Make important decisions
Humans are curious by nature. We like to hear about what is going on with other people. We also make many important decisions based on what others tell us. You might decide to take a new job based on what others say about the company. You may choose to go on a date with someone because your friends recommend him or her to you.

Create bonds with your friends
Good-natured gossip binds you together with your friends. We form friendships and bonds as a group with people who share our belief systems, morals and lifestyles. We enjoy the act of talking, listening, sharing secrets and telling stories. Gossiping brings us closer together. It’s still important to be kind and considerate, though, or you can lose these friendships quickly.

Teach you lessons
Gossip is a form of storytelling. Instead of “Once up on a time,” we start with, “Did you hear what happened to…” By sharing stories about what others have done and the outcome, we learn lessons about social norms and how to behave in society. You learn how you should behave – or not behave – in certain situations if you want to be accepted by your peers.

Keep you in line
No one wants to be gossiped about negatively. You may be deterred from going against the values and what is considered acceptable behavior in your social group. Social pressure and the risk of being talked about keeps us from doing or saying things that go against the group. On the other hand, the opportunity to be rewarded with positive gossip will encourage us to do things that are good for us and the group as a whole.

Good for your health
A little gossip can be good for your social and mental health. Sometimes you just need to vent. Our friends provide us with a sounding board if we are feeling frustrated about a situation or think we have been wronged by someone. By telling your side of the story and letting it out, you may feel better and relieve stress and anger you’ve been holding in.

Should you gossip as a rule? Probably not unless it’s positive gossip. Ask yourself these test questions before you open your mouth.

Would you want what you are about to say being said about you? Will what you are going to say hurt someone’s feelings if they find out? Would you say it in front of the person you are talking about?

If you don’t like the answers to any of these questions, it might be best to keep it to yourself!

7 tips to keep your mind sharp

Keep your brain sharpJust this morning, I jogged down the stairs to my basement on a mission. Then, I stood at the bottom of the landing wondering why the heck I had come downstairs.

Sound familiar? We all have momentary brain lapses from time to time. We have so many things going through our minds at once, it’s easy to become distracted.

You have probably heard these referred to as “senior moments” – even though we can have memory lapses at any age. In fact, memory loss is not typically caused by age alone. Cognitive decline is more likely to be due to organic disorders, brain injury or neurological illness.

As we discuss often in the this blog, living a balanced life can benefit your overall health and well-being in so many ways. Studies have shown that we can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia by living a healthy lifestyle. For instance, staying physically active, getting plenty of rest, being social, eating a balanced diet, and giving up bad habits, such as smoking and limiting alcohol to one drink a day, can all help improve your brain health.

In addition, you can actively exercise your brain muscles. Here are some strategies you can use to help protect and sharpen your mind:

Keep learning
Just as physical activity keeps your body in shape, mental activity can shape up your mind. And, exercising your brain doesn’t really require any special equipment. Simply read a book or the newspaper. Sign up for an online newsletter that interests you. Take a cooking class or take classes toward a degree. Sign up for martial arts or make pottery. Learn a new language. All of these activities help stimulate your mind and keep your brain flexible.

Play games
Games help you concentrate and use strategic planning. This mental stimulation increases your mental clarity. Play a round of golf or hit the tennis court. Play pool with some friends. Do a crossword, Sudoku puzzle or other brain teaser. Play chess, checkers or cards – even solitaire on the computer or a tablet. Or, grab the video controller from your kids or grandkids and play with them. Choose video games that involve strategy or problem solving. Believe it or not, games like tennis and bowling can give you a physical workout, too!

Be social
If you can play games with friends or family, that’s even better. Social interaction with friends can have many health benefits, including improving your mood and cutting down on stress. Both depression and stress can contribute to memory loss. So, go out to eat with a group of friends. Get together and play cards. Have a family game night. Socializing and staying connected is just another form of mental exercise.

Get moving
Speaking of exercise, get up and get moving! Physically active people tend to have better memory and cognition than those who are inactive. Exercising gets your blood flowing all over your body, including your brain. This increased blood flow may help keep your mind sharp. Weight training, toning exercises and improving balance can also help you stay fit and strengthen your brain. Here are some tips to help you get motivated to exercise.

Relieve stress
Exercise helps relieve tension and assists you in coping with the stresses of the day. Chronic stress can wear on your body and mind. Stress causes your body to produce cortisol – which can lead to impaired memory. Find ways to relax and recharge your body and your mind. You’ll feel better, and it’s good for your brain!

Take care of your body
In addition to regular exercise, you should keep your body tuned up. That means getting a physical every year and following your doctor’s recommendations. If you have any chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or depression, you need to treat them to prevent any serious problems in the future. The better you take care of yourself, the better your memory will probably be.

Eat healthy
A healthy diet may be good for your brain health, too. Studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This type of diet includes lots of fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and beans. Include plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose low-fat protein sources like fish, lean meat and skinless poultry. And drink plenty of water to stay hydrated!

Find your purpose
Do something that you love. Do something you’re good at. Find that something that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning. Having a mission in life can help you stay mentally sharp. You may have a job that you love. You may like to volunteer in your community or help out at the local school. You may have a hobby that you truly enjoy. Whatever it is, have fun with it!

Exercise your brain every time you get a chance. Do something new. Try something different. Just remember that when you flex your brain muscles, you are improving your cognitive skills and keeping your mind sharp!

11 tips to getting a good night’s sleep

good nights sleepI do not have the best sleep habits. I like to watch TV or mess with my iPad while lying in bed. I usually have a snack when I should be hitting the sack. I have a hard time shutting my brain down so I can fall asleep. And then I don’t want to get up in the morning.

In a recent blog, we talked about the health benefits of getting more sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep or getting enough sleep, here are some tips to help you get a better night’s rest:

Set a regular bedtime
Go to bed at the same time every night. By going to bed at the same time, you condition your body to follow a regular pattern of sleep. Then, your body can set its natural clock to help you initiate and maintain sleep.

alarm clockWake up at the same time
On the flip side, you need to wake up at the same time every morning – even on weekends. This will also help regulate your sleep patterns. If you sleep in on weekends, you are more likely to feel draggy during the day and then be unable to fall asleep at your usual time that night. Once the work week starts, your natural sleep rhythm will be out of whack and you’ll have to reset your system again.

Power down the electronics
I know it’s hard, but turn off all the gadgets. That means no TV, laptops or tablets at least an hour before bed. No cuddling with your smart phone either. Some research has shown that using backlit screens before bedtime interferes with sleep.

read a bookRead a book
It’s time to go old school and read a book if you need to relax before bed. Preferably a real book or an e-reader that doesn’t use an internal light source. Also, a fiction book can help you lose yourself in the story and forget about the worries and stress of the day. When you’re trying to fall asleep, think about the story to keep your mind occupied until you drift off.

Make yourself comfortable
Turn your bed into a comfy retreat. If you wake up with a sore back or stiff neck, it may be time to think about a new mattress or a different pillow. Make up your bed with a bedspread or comforter that you love and add soft sheets. The more cozy you feel in bed, the easier it may be to go to sleep.

Keep the room cooler
Another way to be more comfortable is to keep the temperature in your room slightly cooler – around 65 degrees. If you are too hot or too cold, it can interfere with the quality of your sleep.

Watch what you eat and drink
Try not to got to bed either hungry or feeling too full. Your discomfort may keep you awake. If you need a snack to keep you from feeling hungry when you get in bed, keep it small and avoid high-fat foods that will take longer to digest. You also want to limit how much you drink before bed, so that you aren’t making frequent trips to the bathroom in the night.

caffeine cup of coffeeAvoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
Both caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that raise blood pressure and energy levels, making it harder to fall asleep. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can act as a sedative but when the effects wear off, your sleep patterns will suffer.

Get some exercise
Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and experience a deeper sleep. However, you should exercise earlier in the day. If you exercise too close to bedtime, it can actually energize you and make it harder to fall asleep.

take a power napTake a power nap
A short nap (15 to 20 minutes) can help you feel energized during the day. However, a long daytime nap will actually interfere with your nighttime sleep, especially if you already struggle with falling asleep or waking up during the night.

Quit worrying!
Trust me, I know that this is easier said than done. I am a huge, obsessive worrier. When I go to bed at night, my brain just won’t shut down. I keep a notebook beside my bed so that I can write down things that I think of as I try to fall asleep. Or, I have found that sometimes it’s better to get up and take care of something I forgot to do before I got in bed. Otherwise, I will just continue to lie in bed and think about it.

Do you have trouble falling asleep? What are your tips to getting a better night’s sleep?

Is laughter the best medicine?

boy laughingKids laugh hundreds of times a day. As adults, we can go all day without laughing or sharing a laugh with someone. Why is that? For one thing, we may feel like we have to take life more seriously. In addition, we have more stress and anxiety. It’s harder to see the humor in things.

Laughter may actually be good for us. It may have physical and mental health benefits. While there may not be definitive research on the healing powers of laughter, it certainly won’t hurt you any!

What happens when you laugh?
When we laugh, we stretch the muscles throughout our face and bodies. I have laughed so hard that my stomach muscles will be sore later. It addition, your pulse goes up as well as your blood pressure, and you breathe faster which sends more oxygen to your tissues. The results of laughing are very similar to exercise. Laughter may even burn calories. What could be better than that?

How does laughing effect your health?
Finding humor in life may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the blood. It may also boost the levels of immune cells. So, laughing may help strengthen your immune system.

Laughter may help lower blood sugar levels – helping reduce the risk of diabetes.

Laughing can help you relax, give you a general sense of well-being and help you sleep better. It may also help those with chronic pain relax and achieve more pain free sleep.

You may have a more open mind when you have a good sense of humor. Laughing may help you improve your creativity and problem-solving skills.

Could laughter be the best medicine?
Scientist are not completely convinced that laughter really has major effects on our minds and bodies. For one thing, it’s really hard to conduct a controlled experiment on laughter. For instance, if research subjects reported that they were in less pain when they were laughing, is it the act of laughing or the distraction in general that brings about the pain relief? So, it becomes hard to measure the true benefits of laughter.

Yet, even if it’s not the laughing that makes you feel better, isn’t it still beneficial to laugh? Laughing means you have a good sense of humor and that means you typically take things less seriously and may better manage stress. You most likely have a positive attitude if you can see the humor in situations. You may have supportive friends and family who help give you reasons to laugh. And as we’ve discussed in previous blogs, reducing stress, having a positive outlook and having good relationships are all vital to good health.

5 ways to increase your laugh-ability:
Want to ramp up your ability to laugh and have more fun? Here are some activities to help you get in more laughs.

Spend time with happy people – If you hang out with fun and playful people, you are bound to have some laughs.

Laugh at your own expense – Share your embarrassing moments with your friends and family. Real life can be the best comedy.

Search out humorous entertainment – Go see funny movies. Read humorous books or watch comedies on TV.

Play games – Playing board games or charades with friends and family will most likely involve friendly bickering, good natured name-calling and quite a few laughs.

Hang out with kids – Spending time with kids brings out the kid in all of us. And, kids can say the darnedest things. They bring spontaneity and humor without even trying.

So, take time to laugh today. You’ll feel better, you may be healthier, and you just might brighten someone else’s day!

The power of positive thinking

positive thinkingYou’ve heard the sayings. Look on the bright side. Every cloud has a silver lining. The glass is half full. Positive thinking can be more powerful than you may realize. People who have an optimistic view of life tend to be healthier and have a greater overall well-being.

I know, one of your overly perky friends probably just popped into your head. We aren’t talking about fooling yourself into thinking everything is fine when it’s not. Or, having blind enthusiasm in any situation. Positive thinking means having the resources and the ability to stay positive even when things are hectic and aren’t going your way.

If you are serious about creating a more balanced life and improving your physical, mental and emotional health, now is the time to embrace positive thinking.

Here are some of the powerful benefits of positive thinking:

It’s good for your health
Being positive may help you live longer. Positive thinking can reduce your heart rate, decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and lower your chances of having diabetes or cancer. In addition, pessimistic thinking is one of the factors in depression. Changing the way you think can improve your mood and help combat depression.

Boosts your immunity
Positive thinking can help you fight off common colds and other illnesses. Negative thinking may even reduce the effectiveness of your flu vaccine. People with positive attitudes also recover faster from surgery and cope better with serious diseases.

Helps you manage stress
When faced with stress, a positive thinker will cope with hardships better than a negative thinker. For instance, you just found out that you didn’t get the job or promotion you wanted. Rather than being frustrated and dwelling on the negative or things you cannot change, a positive thinker will device a plan of action to overcome the obstacle or will think of new opportunities to pursue.

Opens your mind
By practice positive thinking, you will start to see things in a different way. You are able to more easily shift your mindset and your focus to see the good and the bad side of a situation. If you are used to seeing the negative in any situation, you may miss seeing the good side no matter how obvious it might be. Positive thinking also helps you look for solutions rather than wasting energy on negative emotions.

Connects you with others
Who would you rather be around? The upbeat person who sees the good in a situation and is enthusiastic about whatever comes his or her way, or the Debbie Downer who complains about everything and doesn’t see the good in anything or anyone. People like to spend time with people who are genuinely happy and make others feel good, too. So, be positive and make friends!

Now you know that positive thinking can be beneficial to you in many ways. How do you know if you’re being negative? What can you do to change negative thinking into positive thinking? First, you need to recognize when negative thoughts are creeping in. Then, learn how to focus your thoughts to be more positive and optimistic.

How to recognize negative thinking:

Do you filter?
Are you magnifying the negative aspects of a situation and filtering out all of the positive? For instance, someone says, “You look great today.” Do you accept the compliment at face value, or do you analyze the remark negatively and think, “Does that mean I don’t look good most days?”

Do you personalize?
When something bad happens, do you automatically blame yourself? Let’s say you had plans to go out with friends and they cancelled. You then assume they changed their plans because they didn’t want to be around you.

Do you think the worst?
Do you automatically think the worst will happen? For example, you get in your car to go to work and your radio isn’t working. Do you assume that this is just going to be a bad day and everything will be a disaster?

Do you only see extremes?
Do you think of things as good or bad, and only black or white? You may think you have to be perfect, or you have failed. If you burn a batch of cookies, do you decide you are a terrible cook?

How can you overcome these types of negative thinking? With practice and a few tips, you can create a new habit of thinking positive.

Learn to focus on the positive:

Identify your problem areas
You may have certain areas of your life where you automatically go into negative mode. You may be feeling down about your job. You and your spouse may be in a rut of arguing and bickering. Start small by focusing on one area and approach it with positive thoughts.

Catch yourself
When you start to be a Negative Nelly, catch yourself and find a way to put a positive spin on the situation and your thoughts.

Get healthy
Practicing a healthy lifestyle can help you have a more positive outlook. Try to exercise at least three times a week. Fuel your mind and body with healthy foods to help boost your mood.

Hang out with positive people
Make sure the people you are around have a positive attitude. If you have a negative friend, he or she may want to bring your mood down with them. Supportive people with give you helpful advice and feedback.

Smile!
Find reasons to smile or laugh, even when you’re having a difficult time. Try to find humor in a situation. Or just smile for no reason. You will be surprised how much better it will make you feel. And you might get a few smiles back!

I truly believe that being positive is rewarding in so many ways. I also think that sometimes things happen for a reason. What seems like a negative situation at the time can turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Do you have any stories about the power of positive thinking?

7 reasons we need friends

best friendsDo you remember your first friend? I do. Her name was Jennifer. We met on the school bus on the first day of kindergarten. We were among the first kids on the bus and usually the last ones off, so we formed a bond. We were friends all through school, but then lost touch after graduation. I haven’t seen her in over 20 years.

Friendships come and go. Sometimes they form out of convenience, like riding the bus together. You may also be friends with co-workers, but those friendships can fade when one of you moves on to a different job.

Then, you have the friendships that can last the better part of your lifetime. These are the friends who will be with you through a bad break-up, divorce, miscarriage, illness or death. They will also share your joys: a promotion, marriage or a new baby.

So, what are the benefits of having good friends?

Fight illness and depression
Friends are important to your overall health. Studies have shown that people with a good network of friends are better able to fight diseases, such as cancer. In fact, friends may have a bigger impact on your physical and emotional well-being than your family relationships. It’s also harder to become depressed when you have friends to listen to you and help you through the tough times.

Live longer
Research shows that older people who have a large circle of friends have a greater chance of living longer than those with fewer friends. Your friends will encourage you to get out and do things you might not do by yourself. They can provide emotional support, a mental challenge and keep you physically active.

Relieve stress
Have you ever called a friend when you’ve felt like you couldn’t deal with one more thing? Our friends have our backs. If you’re mad at someone, they will be mad with you. If you’ve had a bad day, they will lift your spirits. If you just need someone to listen to you unload, they will listen. One of the best stress relievers is to get what’s bothering you off your chest and have someone listen unconditionally.

Boost your confidence
When you need a boost, your friends will tell you that you look fantastic. They will tell you that you are right and your spouse or significant other is being a jerk. They will agree that you deserved that promotion. Knowing your friends are behind you can give you the confidence to face your challenges and make changes in your life.

Tell it like it is
On the other hand, your friends will let you know when you are out of line. They will call you on your bull. True friends will be honest when honesty is what you need. They may tell you that you are putting on weight. Then, they’ll give you some healthy recipes or offer to exercise with you.

Test your limits
Good friends will push you to test your limits and try new things. It may be something as simple as eating sushi or going to a Zumba class. They may talk you into skydiving or taking a road trip to Vegas. Your friends will push you out of your comfort zone and make you a more well-rounded person.

Feel loved
Our friends love us. And while you may not tell each other all the time, you know. Your friends will be there with you through the good times and the rough patches. That’s what makes them your friends.

I’m going to call my best friend now. Who will you call?