Editor's Note: This summer we interviewed renowned obesity expert Dr. Martin Binks, and, due to the overwhelming popularity of that post, he has agreed to contribute regular guest posts to the dailySpark. We're thrilled to have him!
NEW: Dr. Binks shared a video on this same subject!
By Dr. Martin Binks
So the holidays have arrived with all the promise of Norman Rockwell-like family celebrations, joy, good cheer, gift giving and spectacular feasts and festivities – maybe. At this time of celebration our expectations are often quite high and our responsibilities and schedules seem to grow exponentially. On top of all the normal day-to-day things like going to work (or in light of our current economy, looking for a job), getting the kids to school and extracurricular activities, and basically living our already full lives, we find ourselves juggling budgets to buy gifts, attending extra family and work-related social events, decorating, cooking--and the list goes on and on. Then if we do all this successfully, we are blessed with the actual holiday, where people you may only socialize with or even see once a year come and judge your party-giving skills, your cooking and the quality of the crystal ball reading you were required to do to find the "perfect gift." In all of this commotion it’s often too easy to forget that self-care is still important. In fact "me time" is often last on the list and frequently postponed until January.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love the holiday season and truly believe it can be a wonderful, rewarding and fun time provided we approach it in the right way and don’t get overwhelmed. Through my work with patients and families I have come to understand some ways that this stressful time of year can remain joyous. I would like to share some general perspectives that seem to have helped folks with whom I work. I will also be reminding you of some core skills that can make coping with and even enjoying this season a little easier by allowing you to focus on realistic self-care goals during this busy season.
Fight negative thinking.
We all have an “internal dialogue” that can be either positive or negative. Negative thinking often distorts facts and influences other thoughts, can interfere with our comfort level and our goals, and may impact emotions, self-esteem, and self-confidence. In thinking about the holidays, consider all the times that your internal dialogue gets triggered whether it's at a social event, when preparing for a family gathering, or even when looking in the mirror. I am sure you can think of times your thoughts got in your way or upset you. You may recall times that you realized afterwards that your thoughts got you all worked up even beyond the true "facts" of the situation. This holiday season take time to pause and monitor your thinking especially when you are upset. Understand how your thoughts may be making matters worse then take action to 1) Identify the thoughts that are not helping, 2) Stop those thoughts by simply saying stop, and 3) If possible replace the thoughts with something more calming. For example if you are fretting over a party you have planned, tell yourself “I know I have not thought of EVERYTHING but overall I have planned well for the party and its time to relax and have fun!” This process can work to improve your state of mind in almost every situation.
Set aside time to manage your stress and practice some relaxation strategies.
Managing stress effectively involves fighting the negative thinking that adds to daily stress, not taking on more than you can handle, asking for help when needed, and just keeping the holidays in perspective.
However, even when you are able to do this successfully stress does creep in and over time it does build up unless you practice letting it go on a regular basis.
The body’s natural relaxation response is a powerful antidote to stress. This physiologic state of calm allows our body and mind to rejuvenate. Physiologically, we cannot be both stressed and relaxed simultaneously so if you can learn to elicit the body’s relaxation response, the stress response can be effectively blocked or reduced. When our minds become focused through meditation, visualization, or relaxation, the body responds with physical changes, including decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, muscle tension, and oxygen consumption. Once you learn how to practice the relaxation response regularly you will notice feeling more relaxed throughout the day even when not actually doing a relaxation exercise. Practice makes perfect when it comes to relaxation.
Here is a quick and simple relaxation breathing exercise to get you started.
Make yourself comfortable. Lie on your back or sit in a chair in a comfortable position.
Close your eyes and begin focusing on your breathing. Notice how the breath feels as it flows into your body and then flows back out again. Take a few deep breaths…
Now place your hand on your stomach. Make sure you allow your stomach to rise as you breathe in followed by the air flowing up into your chest… make the breath last for a count of 3 or 4…as your lungs fill with wonderful, energizing air …Pause for just a moment
…then as you breathe out…allow your stomach and chest to fall as you quietly say the word relax under your breath. Repeat this as you continue to gently breathe in 2, 3, 4… and out 2, 3, 4 …
Continue this exercise for as long as you wish, 5, 10 or even 20 minutes. You will find the more you practice the better you become and the easier it is to feel relaxed. Then, when you don’t have time to stop to do this in a formal way, the practice will have "trained" your body’s relaxation response so that just a few deep breaths and perhaps saying the word relax will trigger a calm feeling at any point during your day.
Some people find it easier to use a relaxation CD or audio file; there are many good ones available. Just try some out and see which ones you like the best – you can usually sample these CDs at your local bookstore or on the internet.
So remember, take some time to care for yourself this busy season and above all enjoy a happy and healthy holiday!
Dr. Martin Binks is Clinical Director and CEO of Binks Behavioral Health PLLC. He is also Assistant Consulting Professor, Division of Medical Psychology, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center. His professional activities include direct patient care, research, consultation services and the development of evidence-based obesity and health promotion programs for healthcare, research and corporate wellness environments.
Dr. Binks received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Fairleigh Dickenson University, trained at the Bronx VA Medical Center and completed pre and postdoctoral training in behavioral medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. He is the former Director of Behavioral Health, Research, and New Business and Strategic Alliances at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center. Dr Binks has worked extensively in the areas of obesity, health & wellness promotion, neuropsychology, substance abuse treatment, post-traumatic stress disorder and spinal cord injury.
Dr. Binks has authored and co-authored multiple research publications and the book The Duke Diet and has appeared on MSNBC Countdown with Keith Olberman, ABC news "On Call”, NPR, Lifetime Television, WGN, 700 Club and is a featured contributor on EverydayHealth.com. He is regularly called upon for commentary on a wide range of health and psychological topics in a variety of national publications and websites including USA Today, Washington Post, LA Times, Oprah Magazine, GX Magazine, AOL Health, Fitness, Men’s and Women’s Health Magazines Reuters and the Associated Press. Dr. Binks has been a contributor with the Army National Guard Decade of Health and Wounded Warriors Programs and is a member of several corporate advisory boards.
His research interests include technology-based healthcare delivery, obesity treatment, non alcoholic fatty liver disease, and overall health promotion. He serves as a reviewer on several scientific journals Dr. Binks contributes to healthcare provider education through his work with students and trainees and by lecturing nationally in the areas of obesity management, health promotion and behavioral medicine. Dr. Binks is currently active in several leadership positions at the national scientific organization The Obesity Society.
Dr. Binks works directly with health coaching clients from around the world through in-person, telephone and web-based technology and also offers individual psychotherapy at the Durham, N.C., location. He can be reached through www.DrBinks.com.
Which tactics do you use to get through the holidays?
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