All Entries For mental health
Everyone on the planet has one incredible thing in common. Every week, we are each given 168 hours to do what we please, to create and share our worlds, to make choices that decide our future, and to fill our hearts up with what makes them beat with excitement. What wakes us up in life and how we spend our time are one in the same.
The time I have today, teaching yoga and building a new business, is completely different than when I worked a 9-to-5 gig. My goals with practicing yoga and writing balance each day, as well as my love for CrossFit and Pilates. I like having a full plate at the beginning of each day and slowly clearing it as the day goes along. Except for on weekends, where I don’t do any "work" at all (only occasionally subbing for yoga classes).
My goal is to end each day with the satisfaction that it was well spent. I want to be able to sit back, enjoy a glass of red wine, and know that I contributed to something bigger than myself. Knowing this, over the past couple of years I have developed ways to utilize my time to its fullest. These five tips speak to me, and hopefully to you as well. Read More ›
It's been a long, long day. You skipped lunch, ran 50 errands, and now you realize that your whole head is aching, you are seriously cranky, and every muscle in your body is sore. Your life, as they say, is out of control. But that doesn't mean you have to suffer. "There's a lot you can do to relieve stress, even in a single moment, if you prepare yourself," says Herbert Benson, M.D., director emeritus, Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Next time you're feeling frenzied, frustrated, and fed up, try one of our instant serenity tips. Read More ›
Greetings to everyone. I'm thrilled to share this guest blog on DailySpark.com to share my wit and wisdom on all things healthy living. The SparkPeople community is a powerful and potent network of wonderful folks supporting one another as they strive to achieve mental and physical fitness through a healthier lifestyle. Kudos to all of you for doing your best to live the rich and rewarding life each of you so deserves.
This blog is all about the brand new science of food and addiction. As a physician and scientist and Pew Foundation scholar in nutrition and metabolism, I have devoted years to studying this issue and am thrilled to see that scientists around the globe continue to produce brilliant work to help people manage what is now emerging as a major problem in the field of weight management. Even the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, noted in a recent pronouncement that a new and significant cause of overweight and obesity is food addiction.
SparkPeople has done a masterful job of enlightening the community about this cutting-edge new science. I've been following the personal journeys of so many people who are struggling with cravings, binges and addictive urges for what we now call the hyperpalatables--sugary/fatty/salty/refined/processed food combinations.
Let's meet Samantha, one of my patients, who is featured in my book, The Hunger Fix, which described the new science in consumer-friendly terms.
The beast never went away, it was just hiding, waiting to strike. I was blindsided, and by the time I really consciously realized what was happening, it was too late. A clear consciousness of what was happening didn't emerge until real physical terror— I woke up choking, because stomach acid was running up my throat into my mouth from my anxiety. I had bought bags of candy, intending to make Christmas cookies for everyone, but suddenly I had to feed the beast. I hid candy in the freezer, the car, even wrapped in a sock strategically placed through- out the house. I felt ashamed, tricked, embarrassed, mortified, and angry. The anger fired me up and gave me strength to face the beast. I'm nauseous just admitting my darkest moments of addiction— my friends, family, and husband would be shocked to know! The Hunger Fix, pages 166-167
Thanks to the advent of specialized scans that allow researchers to peer into the brain, we've discovered what is now believed to be the basic mechanisms underlying all addictions. This is what is happening inside your brain:
- Your Reward Center is Hijacked: In any addictive state, we now know that the reward center in your brain undergoes organic changes. In the case of food, it's usually the hyperpalatables that cause most of the problems. Overexposure to them causes too much dopamine (the brain chemical that helps you feel reward and pleasure) to flow, overwhelming the brain. The brain can't handle this long term and a primal mechanism kicks in resulting in a decrease in the total number of dopamine receptors (the only way to feel reward is when dopamine bonds with its receptor). The bad news is that as a consequence of this downshift in receptors, your own perception of reward significantly decreases. One cupcake is not enough. 2, 3, 20 can't do it. There's no period to the end of that sugary/fatty/salty sentence. This is how the addictive cycle begins. If you have addiction genetics in your family line, this entire process is magnified. You do not have to have addiction genetics to become food addicted. You just need that overexposure from your living environment.
- Your Executive Center is Impaired: People with food addictions are constantly told "just use moderation for heaven's sake!". The problem is that the brain center that controls impulses (prefrontal cortex or PFC) is also where your willpower and discipline is housed. Scientists have discovered that in all addictions, the PFC is damaged and impaired. Try telling a food addict or an alcoholic in the middle of their respective binges to use moderation. This is not an excuse to stay out of control. It's just a scientific fact that is taken into consideration when a detox and recovery program are created.
I'm a perfectionist, and I don't like to trouble other people with my problems. As a result, I'm sometimes quite hard on myself. Recently, I found myself in quite a jam, and I had no choice but to call a friend for help. I braced myself for her reaction. Rather than judge me, she was gentle and kind.
Her generosity, compassion and kindness were a wake-up call to me. I was shocked--not by her behavior, but by my reaction. And I vowed to go easier on myself.
A few nights later, I was reading the Pema Chodron book "Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion." I seem to stumble upon Pema's teachings when I am most in need of guidance. That night I reread teaching #15, Not Causing Harm. This excerpt is what seemed prophetic:"It's a lifetime's journey to relate honestly to the immediacy of our experience and to respect ourselves not to judge it. As we become more wholehearted in this journey of gentle honesty, it comes as a shock to realize how much we've blinded ourselves to the ways in which we cause harm." (Emphasis mine.)
I read that passage several times, each time pausing to reflect on how I do this in my life. In an effort to be a more mindful person, I qualified and judged myself rather than employing gentle honesty.
Since then I've made a concerted effort to go easier on myself, to observe rather than judge my actions, and to treat myself the way my friend treated me, and the way I treat those I love: with gentle honesty.
As we prepare to celebrate the day that we traditionally express love to others, let us take the time to express our love for ourselves. After all, the relationship we have with ourselves is our most valuable yet the one to which many of us devote the least amount of effort.
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Stress can derail our best intentions to adopt and maintain healthy habits. It’s easy to make poor decisions when stress levels rise. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, highly stressed people are 30% less likely to eat a healthier diet and 25% less likely to exercise. People try to alleviate stress in unhealthy ways like overeating and sedentary activities like watching TV.
Just like managing your weight, managing your stress is about becoming aware of your choices—and making better ones. meQuilibriumcan help you dial down the effects of stress by coaching you to better manage your thoughts and emotions. Our philosophy is this: You can’t annihilate stress itself, or completely change your circumstances. But you can change your response to stress. The concepts you’ll learn, paired with a little practice, will help you do just that. And when you start to shift your stress response, you’ll find that can do lots of things you never thought you could.
In Search of Your Inner OptimistOptimists sometimes get a bad rap. If you tend to be a sunny-sider, chances are you’ve been criticized for being unrealistic, impractical, a dreamer, maybe even dumb. There’s this tough-guy—and we think, defensive—response to life and its unpredictability, and that response is: Life sucks and then it’s over.
We’ve gotten the (wrong) idea that cynicism and realism go hand-in-hand, and that there’s just no room for optimism, unless we want to embarrass ourselves. Well, we disagree. Read More ›
A recent study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology adds to an existing pile of evidence that if you are normal weight but see yourself as overweight, you are much more likely to become overweight. So, the next time you're in a fitting room at the mall and a friend does the ol' "I'm so fat" thing, you might want to let her know that if she keeps saying that, it might in fact turn out to be true.
Researchers surveyed normal-weight teenagers to see if they felt overweight or not, and then followed up with them 10 years later as young adults. Of the teenage girls who had seen themselves as fat, 59 percent did in fact become overweight, as measured by BMI. But using waist circumference instead of BMI as the measure, 78 percent had become overweight as young adults. And, we can probably guess that 100 percent of subjects who had become overweight were pretty upset about that.
In contrast, 31 percent of the girls who did not consider themselves fat during adolescence were found in the follow-up study to be overweight, as measured using BMI. That number was 55 percent as measured by waist circumference.
There are a few explanations for why perceiving yourself as fat can actually make you fat. Read More ›
In the last few years, as I’ve committed myself more deeply to practicing yoga and embracing its philosophy, I’ve cultivated habits that make me a calmer, less emotionally volatile person. Among those habits that I’ve worked to break is complaining.
I grew up in a house where complaining was common. Though this habit bothered me, I found myself reacting the same way when I was out of my element—especially when some incident forced me out of my comfort zone (such as car issues). I think age and life experience helped me outgrow these reactions, but it was not without effort. I don’t always succeed, but I’ve made great progress. Consider these two scenarios:
Last year, the battery in my car died, unbeknownst to me. I had turned on my flashers while getting out of the car one night. As a result, my car alarm started going off in the morning and nothing I tried made it stop. I had a busy morning ahead of me, and this car issue quickly sullied my mood. I called my boyfriend a few times, desperate for help. He was en route to a bike race in North Carolina so there was obviously nothing he could do for me. The first time I called for help. I tried his suggestions, they didn’t work, so I called back to complain that it was still going off (not to yell at him but just to complain about my present situation). Meanwhile, my day wasn’t getting any less busy, the car alarm was still going off, and I was right where I started. Eventually I figured out how to remove the fuse connected to the alarm, called AAA, and got a jump-start. Problem solved—probably an hour later than it would have been if I had started by thinking not whining.
Fast-forward several months: Someone sideswiped my car while it was parked in front of my apartment building, taking off the driver’s side mirror. I awoke early and found it, and though I wasn’t happy, I didn’t complain and didn’t get stressed. I called some repair shops and then forgot about it. The problem was no big deal, it wasn’t pricey to fix, and even though it was a hassle to pay money for something I didn’t do and deal with someone else’s mistake, I knew complaining would do no good. As a result, it had much less of an effect on my day than the other incident had.
With a different approach, an unpleasant situation can seem be a tiny ripple in your life rather than a tidal wave. Cultivating patience takes practice, and you can’t learn it when life is peachy keen. Thus rough patches become opportunities to practice.
I focus on taking a positive approach to anything that comes out of my mouth, and if I do complain, I try to do it with perspective. In fact, when we’re having a rough day, Coach Nicole and I often say or type “first world problems,” as a way to show that we’re able to laugh at the trivial nature of our problems. (Thank goodness we work with people who keep complaining in check!)
SparkGuy recently sent us this article, which says that complaining is bad for your brain in multiple ways. And it’s not just the complainers who suffer. It’s the listeners, too. Read More ›
Every morning, I start my day with a hot chai. In the summer, it is a particularly special treat. Instead of my usual vanilla chai, it is transformed into a half-coconut, half-vanilla chai. I realize it has too many calories and I should opt for sugar-free syrup (at least it is nonfat), but I consider it my one indulgence. My one addiction.
My morning pleasure.
It makes me happy.
Happiness. Most of us want it. Many of us have it. The drive-thru window where I get my chai provides an interesting backdrop for a small study of the differences in people's levels of happiness.
There is one girl who is simply bubbling over with happiness each and every time I see her. It is genuine. She actually makes you happy. I would love to meet her parents.
Then there is another person whom you dread hearing on the speaker and seeing at the window. Nothing about him even whispers, "Hey, I'm a mostly happy guy."
With which person do you most identify?
There are two ways that we can think about happiness. We can consider things that come and go, but bring happiness to us when we experience them (for many, these include shopping, eating, and drinking). We can also consider something that I think of as our "way of being." We can have episodes of happiness or we can just simply be happy. Read More ›
Last week I wrote about the trials of moving my 90 year old father-in-law from independent living, to a hospital to rehab and finally to his new home an assisted living facility not too far from where I live. It has been a roller-coaster of emotions and decisions and it can be tough to not feel as though the whole world is caving in around you. But as with every obstacle in life, when we face them head on, we usually come out stronger than we did before we were hit with them.
It's tough when you are being pulled in a million different directions and what seems like little time to get everything done. When one is working against the clock, this can only exacerbate the stress levels, which is why routine is such an important part of my life. Unfortunately, decisions have to be made and they don't always align with my schedule, but I have come up with some tips to keep me on board until I weather the storm. Read More ›
My grandma was a regular walker in the later years of her life. She never wanted to walk near her Florida condominium because she didn’t want her neighbors to see what she was up to. So she’d drive to a private beach a few miles away and walk in their parking lot. (You couldn’t actually see the beach from the parking lot, but that’s another story.) I remember she looked forward to those walks because they made her feel good. Eventually she stopped walking, which was right around the time that both her physical and mental health started to decline. New research validates the idea that regular exercise for seniors has more than just physical benefits. Read More ›
You can have it all; you just can’t have it all, all at once.
I arise each weekday long before the sun, and, by the time I arrive at the office around 9, I've spent almost 90 minutes breathing, flowing, and sweating through a vigorous Ashtanga yoga practice. I've called my mother. And I've had my morning cup of coffee.
I work all day, pausing to eat a breakfast and lunch I made myself, from scratch.
At night, I teach yoga, I run, I take Spinning classes, I (rarely) meet friends. I run errands.
Then I make dinner.
After dinner, there's dirty laundry, dirty dishes, quality time with Sam and the cats, cleaning up, packing tomorrow's breakfast and lunch, setting out yoga and work clothes, returning emails, and so much more.
Though I intend to be in bed by 10, it's usually 11:30 when my head hits the pillow--and that's often the first time I've sat down since leaving work (aside from dinner). I awake the next day and do it all again.
Though I love my life, each night, before I fall asleep, there is that fleeting moment of panic: I didn't do ____. I should have done more/less ____. I need to ____.
Enough, I tell myself, when that self-doubt pipes up. You've done enough.
I repeat my mantra:
I did my best today.
I'll do better tomorrow.
There are only 24 hours in a day. I can only do so much and still be happy and healthy. To be healthy and happy, that means some things are sacrificed:
I missed the weeknight meetup with my gal pals. I should call my sister. I'm long overdue for a trim.
My floors need mopping. My kitchen table is cluttered. The bathroom probably needs a good scrubbing.
I should respond to that work email. I wish I had more time to read. I haven't spent more than a few minutes journaling in several weeks.
I think back to advice that a successful woman once shared with me: You can have it all; you just can’t have it all, all at once. Read More ›
The holiday season is in full swing now! Festive lights, the sounds of the season and holiday goodies are surrounding us on an almost daily basis. Just about everywhere you go you are reminded that it’s that time of the year. We are getting the message loud and clear that we should be happy. We’re all happy! Right?
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Depression is a medical condition that affects 1 in 10 Americans, which equates to approximately 31 million, and it doesn’t have a season. The holidays can be particularly difficult for those with depression. The good news is that having an emotionally rough time in your life is not a medical condition in most cases. Consider the following criteria to determine whether your feelings of depression should include a visit to your physician or to a mental health professional. (SparkPeople has a comprehensive condition center with additional information and resources about depression.)
According to Mental Health America, the country’s leading nonprofit dedicated to helping all people live mentally healthier lives, this time of year can be as much about anxiety, depression, and stress as it is about joy:
Many factors can cause the “holiday blues”: stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, financial constraints, and the inability to be with one’s family and friends. The demands of shopping, parties, family reunions and house guests also contribute to feelings of tension. People may also develop other stress responses such as headaches, excessive drinking, over-eating and difficulty sleeping. Even more people experience post-holiday let down after January 1. This can result from disappointments during the preceding months compounded by the excess fatigue and stress.
What are the symptoms of depression? According to the CDC, they are:
- Little interest or pleasure in doing things
- Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep or sleeping too much
- Feeling tired or having little energy
- Poor appetite or overeating
- Feeling bad about yourself or that you were a failure or let yourself or your family down
- Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television
- Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed, or the opposite: being so fidgety or restless that you were moving around a lot more than usual
Throughout much of my teens and 20s, I was restless. I felt off-center, anxious, askew. I took medication for anxiety, wasted countless hours worrying, and generally didn't enjoy my life nearly as much as I do now.
Today, I am genuinely happy, well-adjusted, and relatively calmer. The difference now is that my boundless energy is positive rather than anxious.
What changed? Several things.
As I aged and experienced more of life, I learned how to cope better. I didn't need to freak out if something "bad" happened. I didn't need to take on other people's drama as my own. And I didn't need to allow negative energy free access to me.
I realized that life is just that: life. Ups, downs, good, bad, it's all just life. It all balances out, and letting every little bump in the road sideline me is no way to live.
My senior year of college, a dear friend of mine shared a quotation with me: "The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware." --Henry Miller.
Then, its meaning escaped me. Now, it's one of my guiding mantras.
Recently, I emailed an old friend who lives on the other side of the country. "I feel so centered and strong," I wrote. My friend asked me to clarify what I meant by "centered." To explain, I retraced my steps over the last couple of years. Many of the changes I've made were solidified by my 30th birthday trip to Honduras, a week spent with no contact with anyone back home, lots of yoga, and the infinite beauty of nature. There, amid days of reflection, I made a list of what has worked to help me feel calmer, more centered, and happier with my life. Read More ›
This blog is dedicated to my team, The ~Indygirl Challenge, who told me they wanted to know how to get past the desire to satisfy that instant desire versus stay track for a long-term goal. I’m not going to fib: This is a tough one!
I used to think I wanted to reach my goals more than I wanted anything, but obviously not. I wanted to cope more, as an emotional eater. The world is very full of emotion-causing events--some good, some bad. I needed to learn other ways to cope with my emotions. (I blogged about Dealing with Emotional Eating last week.)
I also had to want to reach my goals more than I wanted to feel the food in my mouth, taste its deliciousness and feel overly full. That last part is VERY important. I’ve discovered I can have the food and all the wonderful sensations it brings, but with portion control and rules. For me, certain foods can only be eaten when I'm away from home, such as candy bars, fast food, donuts, and anything else that would hinder my efforts and trigger a binge. Then I allow myself ONE small or standard-sized item, and leave it at that. Once I track it, it is added to my SparkPeople Food Tracker for the day and I move on.
Most of all, I had to want something worse than I wanted the food. In my case it was freedom from my room/house. I had been stuck in it for a few years and really wanted out and back to a life of going to movies with my husband, shopping with my girlfriends, and working again. I was very lonely. Sitting at home alone in pain is one of the biggest triggers for me to overeat. I desperately wanted out of the situation.
As my journey started, I gained friends on SparkPeople. They cheered me on as I wrote blogs and expressed exactly what I was going through. I now NEED SparkPeople more than I NEED excess food. The people on the site help me with my emotional eating by always being there and taking time to stop by my page, even when I don’t always have the time to reply back. When I’m coping with heavy emotions, someone cares. That makes a difference.
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The other day I arrived at yoga about 20 minutes before class. I didn't want to head in the studio just yet, as it was a lovely, sunny day. Instead, I spent 10 minutes hiking to the top of a super-steep street that's next to the studio.
I left my phone in the car but wore the watch from my heart-rate monitor to track time. I didn't take music. I just walked and breathed.
That night, my practice was spot-on. I felt so strong and focused, and as I lay in Savasana (corpse pose) for our final relaxation, I felt my body relax more deeply than it had in a few weeks. (I've been B-U-S-Y!) Those 10 minutes of "me" time were just what I needed to center my mind, warm up my body and leave the day behind before unrolling my mat.
At SparkPeople, we frequently talk about the importance of starting small, especially when it comes to exercise. But this reminded me that the same tactic can be applied to stress, relaxation, and general well-being.
10 minutes is enough time to...
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