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Beating Holiday Stress
by On December 18, 2012

It is possible to survive the holiday frenzy without feeling frantic — if you know how. Here are top tips from some of the nation’s leading stress experts.

By Vicki Haddock/WebMD Weight Loss Clinic – Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte E. Grayson, MD

The holidays really are the best of times and the worst of times. Our tidings of comfort and joy can so easily be devoured by the insatiable stress to do it all, be it all, and buy it all.

And that stress is nothing to ho, ho, ho about, either. It increases your risk of illness and even death. One study, published in the Oct. 12, 1999, issue of the journal Circulation, suggested holiday stress and overindulgence help explain the soaring rate of fatal heart attacks in December and January.

Yet it is possible to survive the holiday frenzy without feeling frantic — if you know how. Here are top tips from some of the nation’s leading stress experts:

Stress Master: Psychologist Alice Domar, director of the Mind/Body Center for Women’s Health at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, and author of the book Self-Nurture.

Strategy: Cut yourself some slack!

Tip 1. Shop so you don’t drop. Domar’s ritual is to take a personal day off work in the middle of the first week of December. “I hit the mall as soon as the doors open, carrying nothing but an empty backpack and my credit cards,” she says. “The crowds haven’t yet descended, the salespeople are still helpful, and there’s plenty of stuff on the shelves. When I’ve bought too much to carry, I go back to the car, drop it off, and go back in again. It’s amazing how much I can accomplish.” If she finds something she really likes — say a hurricane lamp at Crate and Barrel — she’ll buy an assortment in different colors and give one to each of several people on her list. “My sister-in-law, my friend, and my co-worker never talk to each other,” she says. “They’ll never know.” And of course, catalogs and Internet retailers make it possible to shop without leaving the comforts of home.

Tip 2. Treat yourself. All that hustling and bustling can drain you. Domar suggests that for every 10 presents you buy for others, you select a little indulgence for yourself. “I might go with a little Godiva truffle or a Dave Barry calendar — nothing expensive, just a little pick-me-up.” She also recommends regular exercise and making time for a movie date with your partner, a soak in a hot tub, or a solitary evening of soothing music.

Tip 3. Skip the Nutcracker. Or if that is simply too much heresy, go ahead and take in the ballet but forgo the big menorah lighting, or the Santa parade, or the holiday ice show. The point is, don’t drag yourself or your family from event to event. Think quality, not quantity. Domar recommends allowing each child to pick two events as must-dos. “The Nutcracker will be around next year, I promise,” she says.

Tip 4. Stretch the season. If December is a hotbed of socializing, the weeks that follow tend to be a wasteland. That’s why Domar proposes people schedule their holiday bashes for mid-January (her own office party is set for Jan. 14.) By then, guests actually welcome the idea of a party, and you’ll have the luxury of time to put it together. And just because the last Scotch pine needle has been vacuumed out of the carpet doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate a holiday theme. Domar suggests asking guests to bring a fruitcake and wear the tackiest present they received.

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Stress Master: Nutritional biochemist Judith Wurtman, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of the book Managing Your Mind & Mood Through Food.

Strategy: Eat to stave off tension as well as hunger.

“Imagine explaining your angst over failing to create a Martha Stewart table to a really empathetic giraffe.”

Tip 1. Carbo-charge your body. It’s 4 p.m. on Dec. 23, and you’re stuck in an interminable line at the post office. It’s time for a snack, but not just any snack. Wurtman says the secret is choosing carbohydrates with low or no fat — maybe a handful of pretzels or, if you crave something sweet, a few Tootsie Rolls or jellybeans. “At least 30 grams’ worth — look at package labels to get amounts,” Wurtman advises. Her research over several years shows such carbohydrates boost the powerful brain chemical serotonin, which helps the body feel calmer. Curiously, one snack to avoid at such times is fruit: fructose is the only carbohydrate that appears not to stimulate serotonin.

Tip 2. Eat mini-meals. When you eat stress-reducing foods, the effects last only about two to three hours. If you’re up against chronic holiday stress, try eating several small meals or snacks throughout the day instead of a couple of big ones. Just be careful to keep your total intake of calories about the same.

Tip 3. Zero in on stress points and fix them. The holidays often generate a vicious cycle: Stress causes people to eat more and richer foods, which causes them to gain weight, which makes them feel even more stressed. “It’s better to prevent or deflect the stress than deal with it,” says Wurtman. For example, say you’re a working mom who comes home at 6 p.m. to begin your second job, and you eat because you feel overwhelmed. Instead, plan ahead. Give your family written instructions on what to do to help you, and give yourself 10 guilt-free minutes of time-out to relax.

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Stress Master: Robert Sapolsky, professor of biological sciences and neurology at Stanford University and author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Disease and Coping.

Strategy: Put whatever’s stressing you in perspective. Chances are your stress level isn’t high because you’re running for your life from an attacking lion. So just imagine explaining your angst over failing to create a Martha Stewart table to a really empathetic giraffe. If your holiday woes would sound like utter nonsense to the giraffe, you’re describing stressors of your own making and you can conquer them.

Tip 1. Ratchet down stress by lowering expectations. Remember, those Norman Rockwell families are strictly two-dimensional — don’t expect them to bear much resemblance to your own family gatherings. “For people living at the other end of the country, this is often one of the few or only times of the year to see some people of great significance,” Sapolsky observes. The result: “this stressful pressure to cram all this emotion and bonding and intimacy into a very hectic few days.” Expect some irritations and imperfections, then relax and have a good time in spite of them.

Tip 2. Don’t go it alone. While the notion of holiday stress conjures up visions of jam-packed mall parking lots and tense dinners with the in-laws, many people suffer stress because they face the holidays by themselves. Sapolsky advises getting proactive by connecting with family, friends, even others who face similar isolation.

Tip 3. Remember the reason for the season. Some people find the holiday season stressful because it seems robbed of its authentic meaning. Instead they are awash in a culture conspiring to crassly cash in on something that once had great personal significance. The antidote, says Sapolsky: “Take the time and effort to reaffirm what this season really means to you, whether it is about family, community, religion. Go help someone in need, to help yourself reaffirm what it is all about.”

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Stress Master: Eric Brown, spokesman for the Center for a New American Dream, a Maryland-based, nonprofit organization urging Americans to shift their consumption to improve quality of life and the environment.

Strategy: Learn how to have more fun with less stuff! (A 1998 poll commissioned by the center and conducted by EDK Associates of New York found that 44% of Americans feel pressure to spend more than they can afford at holiday time, and only 28% report the holidays leave them feeling “joyful.”)

Tip 1. Give the gifts money can’t buy.
By getting creative, you can avoid the stresses of traffic, crowded department stores — and that lingering dissatisfaction that you spend a small fortune on generic gifts. Four out of five people say they would prefer a photo album filled with childhood memories to a store-bought gift. “My 65-year-old mother has all the stuff she needs, so I gave a donation in her honor to the county food bank,” says Brown. “People increasingly are finding new ways to think outside the box — to give gifts that show the relationship between the giver and the recipient.” Other ideas: Adopt a koala bear in a child’s name at the local zoo. Create an audio or video of a family elder reminiscing for their children and grandchildren. Illustrate and write a homemade story featuring your child as the main character. Make coupons redeemable for backrubs or homemade brownies. Or write to celebrities, asking for an autograph dedicated to the recipient.

Tip 2. Lick overspending. It takes an average of four months for a credit card user to pay off stress-inducing holiday bills, according to a 1999 report by the American Bankers Association. Instead try this: Decide how much you can afford to spend for each person on your list, then put that amount in cash in an envelope with that person’s name on it. When the envelope is empty, you’re done – no exceptions. Or freeze your credit cards in a jug of water, or mail them to a friend until the holidays are history. “The more you can inject a sense of humor and make it a game, the easier it’ll be to live within your means,” Brown says.

Tip 3. Follow your holiday bliss. “My wife and daughter and I actually prefer to just go away,” Brown says. “We rent a cabin for Christmas Eve, Christmas, and the day after. It forces us leave all the distractions behind and just enjoy being together. We get in touch with what the holidays are all about.”

How to Lead By Example
by On November 7, 2012

How to Lead By Example:  Dr. Schuler’s Ten Rules for Working and Living

by A. J. Schuler, Psy. D.

People talk about “leading by example,” but what does that mean? By incorporating the following attitudes and practices into your life, you will not only improve your own life, but also begin to fashion yourself into the kind of person that others will follow and emulate –  the very definition of  leading by example.  So, here are my “Ten Rules for Working and Living:”

The Lives We Live are the Lives We Create

Yes, life is a creative art.  Expectations are often self-fulfilling.  If we expect life to be good, if we believe it is filled with opportunities and cause for celebration, then we will notice those things and live so as to promote them, even without conscious intent.  If we believe life is a marathon of unremitting toil and scarcity, then toil and scarcity will be all that we find and experience, and we will inadvertently create the circumstances that promote them.  You cannot expect to win the lottery and then win the lottery: that is magical  thinking, the special realm of childhood (or of adult madness).  But you can (and do) nurture a basic attitude toward living, and if you don’t take control of it, it most assuredly will take control of you.

Health and Productivity go Hand in Hand

We talk a lot about the importance of balance, and surely everyone’s definition of balance is, well, different.  In order to be productive and healthy, we  all have to take care of our minds, bodies and spirits, but the reverse is also true: being productive is inherently healthy, and doing good,  meaningful work that fits our talents can keep us alive and healthy a long time.  How often do we see someone retire and then fall into poor health?  Doing what you love to do, and doing it well, and especially helping  other people learn and succeed, brings benefit back to you.  In the end, it does not matter what it is you do, so long as it is not destructive to others and you feel you are  making a contribution.  No matter how menial or arcane the job, all work has inherent dignity and can become a  medium through which a person can grow and make a contribution to others.

As We Treat Others, So Shall We Be Treated

This is about the law of averages.  Yes, there is injustice in the world, and  yes, there is cruelty.  Bad things happen  to good people, and vice versa.  But  in general, we may sow what we reap.  I once read a quote:  “Make your words sweet:“ you may have to eat them later!  People notice how we treat them, especially when we are in positions of leadership, and most especially when we think no one is looking.  What goes around comes around.

Don’t Wait for Solutions: Create Them

Some people are experts in seeing what is wrong with a situation, system, organization or person.  But what good is such expertise?  What does it solve or create?  I am forever baffled by people who see themselves as passive – unable to create a solution or work toward one.  What does anyone get out of being a perpetual critic?  A temporary feeling of power or superiority?  What could be a more impoverished way to  live than that?  Two schools of thought  here: the active and the passive. The passive and negative position waits for someone else to make a bad situation better, perhaps faulting others for their inaction (we see this in offices all the time).  The positive and active position works to build a productive awareness among those who can influence a negative situation so that all can take collective  action to make it better.  Guess which  type of person others naturally follow – and then imitate?

Negativity Kills

Literally.  What is violence but an extreme expression of negativity?  But killer negativity does not require a physical manifestation to wreck its  havoc.  We know that negative thinking weakens the immune system and contributes to disease and to an increase in mortality. We also know that negativity is contagious:  for example, when there is a high profile suicide in some community, health experts know to expect a new spate of imitative suicides or suicide attempts, even among those with no social connection to that first poor, despairing person.  Suicide, and even severe negativity or depression, can spread like an epidemic, or like a cancer.  Even in small doses, negativity contributes to illness and ultimately to death.  This represents a universal truth of  living, or “anti-living.” Why are people drawn to leaders?  Because leaders, through their attitudes  and abilities to resist or overcome negativity, function like antibodies in the world, fighting negativity and adding “life” to those around them.  If negativity is a cancer, then good  leaders, just in the way they carry themselves and approach the world, fight that cancer, all the time.

Communication Starts With Listening

Don’t worry about trying to express yourself better (you don’t have to be talkative to be a leader).  Think instead about asking better questions, and then repeat back your best understanding of what you’ve just heard.  Resist the temptation to think about what you want to say in response when carrying on a conversation.  You’ll be amazed at how much you learn, and how much better you understand people you thought you understood before.  People rightly see leaders as those who understand them, or who make the effort to try to understand them.  Only once you’ve listened will you have earned the right to speak your own point of view, based on a more complete understanding of other people and the circumstances around them.  That’s what makes a person an effective  leader.  By setting a tone of listening, others will follow suit.

Between Two Positions Always Lies a Third Option

Leaders know that dilemmas that come pre-packaged as “either-or” propositions are usually preset for failure.  There is always at least one other way to view a situation, either by expanding the issue, finding a third alternative  or creating a negotiated compromise.  There are certainly times not to compromise, but even that decision  should only come after a creative examination of many possible approaches has been completed.  But what makes leaders effective is their ability to generate those options, either through imagination or consultation, before making any final decisions.  While most people get trapped into defining conflicts as either/or, win/lose propositions, they end up  following those who prove they can craft better solutions, creating value and advantage for all involved.

Laughter Cures

You gotta laugh.  You just gotta!  Life presents too much that is just fun and funny, even absurd.  That’s the beauty of it.  If you keep that attitude about you, and nurture it, then you add the power, not only of avoiding negativity, but of adding joy and positivity to your life, and to the lives of others.  Laughter is even more infectious than negativity, and at least as powerful a force for health.  If the laughter comes at no one’s expense, but comes rather from a shared sense of the beauty and absurdity that we see all around us (especially in ourselves!), then people can be drawn to you, and your playfulness will catch on.

Do Great Work, Have Fun and Lend a Hand Along the Way

Good work is, well, good.  Great work is inherently rewarding.  Do it with fun and style, and you are not a prisoner of your labor, but rather a master of your craft.  If you help others along the way, either by teaching them or just by  setting them up for their own success, then both life and work acquire  greater meaning.  None of us live forever, and we should all leave a little something behind for the good.  This “rule” is one of my favorites; it’s one worth repeating and spreading around.

In the End, We Are All More or Less Human

. . . And that’s a good thing.  We are imperfect.  We have bad moods and bad moments.  We m
ake mistakes; we have parts of our character that may be less than forever admirable.  That just makes us human.  Keeping this in mind helps us refrain from taking ourselves too seriously when we succeed or when we fail, and it also gives us some humility and perspective through which to understand  the inescapable frailties of others – especially when they fail to see the  wisdom of our obviously superior points of view (wink wink, nudge  nudge)!  In the end, the pursuit of near-perfection is more important than its achievement, even if it is good to be competitive and dedicated to excellence in order to bring out the best in ourselves and others.

Copyright (c) 2003 A. J. Schuler, Psy. D.

Dr. A. J. Schuler is an expert in leadership and organizational change. To find out more about his programs and services, visit www.SchulerSolutions.com or call (703) 370-6545.

 

6 Ways to be Positive in Any Situation
by On November 1, 2012

The power of remaining positive, whatever the situation, can never be underestimated. We are all here for a limited period of time, is it worth it to spend any of that time in can be so hard on ourselves though social conditioning. I am guilty of being extra tough on myself, but have learned over time to recognize my gifts rather than finding false and self-imposed inadequacies.

Inventory of Memories – Keep an inventory of memories that can immediately make you smile. Occasions where you felt happy, appreciative and cheerful. When you were at peace with the world. Whenever you are in a negative frame of mind, consciously and deliberately pick up any leaf out of this inventory and dwell on it. Reminiscing those happy moments gives a balanced perspective to your situation. You realize that what appears negative today will change tomorrow. Nothing stays the same.

Criticizing Detox Diet – Change your approach and attitude. See if you can stop criticizing others and situations. Our cultural conditioning teaches us to find flaws and problems at all times. Shift from fault-finding to appreciation-finding.

Whether you are positive or negative, the situation does not change. So, we mind as well be positive.

Article

Happy Monday
by On September 24, 2012

Your plans work out sometimes … and sometimes they don’t.  The ability to go with the flow and make adjustments in your mental picture – while remaining grateful is a critical component of getting great results and having fun along the way.

Watch Video

Michelle shares some of her experiences having life not go as planned – and how to make the best of any situation.

Going with the flow and being grateful for any and all situations can be easy to get theoretically… KNOWING  that what you need is what is showing up in your life and living from that awareness is more challenging – and more rewarding.

Here are two practical ways that you can shift any situation from the stress of your plans not happening as you pictured to something you are truly grateful for:

1.  Write down at least three reasons why the situation you are in is a good thing.  Why is it good for you?  For others?  For the world in general?  Actually write them down … my experience is that writing down is much more real and powerful than only thinking about them.

2.  Take time to breath.  Five or more conscious breaths will calm the mind.  Oxygenate the body and reduce stress inside and out.   Stressful thoughts manifest in the body very quickly.  By breathing the mind and the body get a break … space is created and gratitude can fill that space.

Have a terrific week.  I’m excited for all of your plans to work out just as planned!  And i’m equally excited for them not to!!

be free!

eric