How To Be Happier…Every Day

Four Tips to Help You Live HealthierHappiness researchers say that you have the ability and power to be happier by changing your habits.  Below are strategies and “happiness activities” shown in numerous studies to increase the happiness of study participants.  To improve your happiness, choose the strategies or activities that suit you best.  Build these activities into your everyday life to ensure long-term success.  Seek out additional resources, if needed, to expand your knowledge, skills and success in the areas you choose.

Tips to increase happiness

Live with purpose.  People who strive for something personally significant – whether it’s learning a new skill, raising a good family, or changing careers – are happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations.  Pick one or more significant goals and devote time and effort pursuing them.  The process of working towards your goal is as important to your well being as its attainment.

Nurture your relationships.  The happiest people surround themselves with family and friends.  A Japanese study published last year found that contented people’s happy experiences most often involved connecting with someone.  Happy people have a strong bond with at least two out of three of these essential relationships: a partner, a friend, or a parent.  Experts say the best way to improve a relationship is to invest time and energy in it.

Count your blessings.  One way to feel happier is to recognize good things when they happen.  Express gratitude for what you have privately and also by conveying appreciation to others.  If you have trouble counting your blessings, try keeping a gratitude journal.  Write down three to five things you’re grateful for once a week.  Several studies show that people who record what they appreciate experience greater happiness and less anxiety.

Practice kindness.  Do good things for others.  Acting kind or helping others makes you feel capable, compassionate and full of purpose.  In one recent study, researchers could literally see the benefits of kindness.  Subjects were hooked up to a brain-imaging mechanism and asked to click yes or no to charity-giving opportunities.  When they donated, the machine registered a boost in blood flow to a part of the brain associated with happiness.

Learn to forgive.  When we hold on to pain, old grudges, bitterness or hatred, many areas of our lives can suffer.  When we’re unforgiving, we are the ones who pay the price over and over.  According to research conducted by Dr. Fred Luskin at Stanford University, people who learn to forgive become less stressed, less angry, more optimistic and reported healthier relationships and improved physical health.  Forgiveness is not excusing someone else’s wrong behavior, nor does it necessarily include reconciliation with the person who wronged us.  Forgiveness means no longer dwelling on the wounds that keep us tied to the past.  By learning to forgive, you take responsibility for how you feel and take back the power from others to keep hurting you.  An effective forgiveness technique to consider: Write a letter in which you let go of anger and resentment toward those who have hurt you.  Actually sending the letter is optional.

Practice spirituality.  Studies show that people who have a spiritual dimension in their life – defined not as an affiliation with an organized religion, but as an internal sense of the spiritual meaning of life – are happier than those who don’t.  It doesn’t matter what you call it – God, Spirit, Higher Power or Nature – connecting to your spirituality is the experience of feeling connected to a force bigger than yourself.  The more deeply you experience this connection, the more content and happy your life will feel.  To nurture your spiritual side: learn meditation, pray, read spiritual books, or get more involved in your church, temple or mosque.

Develop healthy coping strategies.  It’s hard to be happy if you’re chronically over-stressed and emotionally drained.  Stress and anxiety are huge barriers to health and happiness.  Research from Harvard Medical School has found that women 100 years and older share a common trait – they’re not plagued by negative feelings such as guilt, anger, fear and sadness.  Find and practice healthy ways to manage stress, hardship or trauma.

Move your body.  Research overwhelmingly shows that people who exercise are happier.  Make some form of exercise – such as brisk walking, running, swimming or yoga – a regular habit.  When you exercise, your body produces valuable brain chemicals and hormones – like endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline – that impact your energy, mood and health.  Additionally, taking up a sport or working out regularly will help you feel more in control of your body and health, thereby increasing your confidence and self-image.  Also important to feeling happier: Eat a nutritious diet and get adequate sleep.

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Why Drinking Alcohol To Induce Sleep Is A Problem

Preventing Binge Drinking in Teens and College StudentsMany people use alcohol to help them fall asleep.  But the latest research reports that – while alcohol can help you fall asleep faster – its negative impact on the quality and quantity of your sleep far outweighs its sleep-inducing effects.  Plus, regular use of alcohol as a sleep aid may result in a dependency on alcohol.

How alcohol reduces the quality of your sleep According to researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, drinking alcohol to fall asleep interferes with sleep homeostasis, the body’s sleep-regulating mechanism.  It reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep when you dream and an important phase of restorative sleep.   Alcohol may seem to be helping you sleep – as it helps induce sleep – but the result is lighter, lower-quality sleep, interrupted by frequent awakenings which lead to a poorer night’s rest.

How alcohol affects sleep apnea Those suffering from sleep apnea should be extremely careful when mixing alcohol and sleep.  Sleep apnea is a condition caused by obstructions in the airway that makes it difficult to breathe effectively while sleeping.  Alcohol intensifies this problem by causing the airways to narrow even further and making it even harder for the person to get the quality of sleep they need.  Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that men, especially, have longer episodes of sleep-disordered breathing after drinking alcohol.

Use of alcohol and dependency Using alcohol on a regular basis to change your mood, relax or help you fall asleep is a dangerous choice that can lead to dependence.  One of the symptoms of alcohol dependence is the need to drink increasingly more to feel the same result.  Health experts recommend that regular use of alcohol as a sleep aid may result in a dependency on alcohol and that alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid.

Why a chronic lack of sleep is bad for you

According to the latest research, the consequences of too little sleep are more than just daytime fatigue, a bad mood or a lack of focus.  Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it can shorten your life expectancy.  British researchers who studied how sleep patterns affected the mortality of more than 10,000 British civil servants over two decades found that those who cut their sleep from seven to five hours or fewer a night nearly doubled their risk of death from all causes.  In particular, lack of sleep doubled the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

If you need help

If you try the suggestions above and find that you still are having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, talk to your doctor or a sleep medicine physician to determine what factors are keeping you from sleeping.


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Women With High Job Strain Have 40 Percent Increased Risk Of Heart Disease, Study Finds

Women who report having high job strain have a 40 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and the need for procedures to open blocked arteries, compared to those with low job strain, according to the American Heart Association.  Job strain, a form of psychological stress, is defined has having a demanding job, but little to no decision-making authority or opportunities to use one’s creative or individual skills.  In addition, job insecurity – fearing losing one’s job – was associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, increased cholesterol and excess body weight.

Tips for managing job stress

If you experience high levels of job stress, how can you keep stress at work from negatively impacting your health or quality of life.  The following suggestions can help you increase your ability to healthfully manage stress.

—  When circumstances at work make you angry or tense, take some steps toward resolving the problem.  This gets you away from a sense of feeling “trapped,” which is very stress producing.

—  Talk out your problems with a sympathetic and trustworthy friend.  Often another person can help you see your problem in a new light, so you can work on a constructive solution.

—  Build an effective and supportive relationship with your supervisor.

—  Take your breaks and enjoy them.  Walk outside, read something non-work related, or rest and put your feet up.

—  Start your day with a nutritional breakfast.  Avoid coffee or tea with caffeine.  Caffeine increases the stress response of your body.

—  Try deep breathing.  Find a quiet place and seat yourself comfortably.  Close your eyes and breathe in slowly.  Let the breath out for a count of 5-10 seconds.  Practice this routine any time you feel tense.

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Overcoming Procrastination

Everyone procrastinates at one time or another.  Estimates are that 95 percent of people procrastinate at times.  However, for some people, procrastination is a bad habit with many negative effects on work performance, job security, relationships and mental health.  Twenty percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators.

Why do people procrastinate?

There are two major causes of procrastination.  The first major cause is avoidance.  We procrastinate to avoid overwhelming tasks, difficult tasks, unpleasant tasks or to avoid change.  The second cause is fear and anxiety.  We procrastinate because of our fear of failure, fear of success, fear of criticism, fear of making mistakes or fear of rejection.

Tips to end procrastination

  1. Identify the reasons why you procrastinate. Examine how avoidance or fear and anxiety are at the root of your procrastination. Identify the reason(s) you put off a particular task and then come up with solutions.  Examining your emotions when you are faced with tasks that you always procrastinate is a good place to start.
  2. Do the easiest part first. Start with what is easiest, so that you experience immediate success, which will give you the fuel and motivation to continue.
  3. Break large tasks up into smaller, manageable pieces. Take unpleasant or difficult tasks and break them down into small steps and tackle them one step at a time. Create a timeline for yourself to accomplish these smaller tasks.
  4. Write it down. Schedule time to work on your task and write it down. Keep your appointments.
  5. Reward yourself. Set a “completion point” for accomplishing each step of a task. Completion points give you an end in sight to look forward to.  Set up a series of rewards to give yourself upon accomplishing each “completion point.”
  6. Just get started. When it’s something you don’t like to do but have to do, don’t waste valuable time agonizing over it. And, don’t wait until you’re “in the mood.”  The mood almost always never comes.  Schedule time on your calendar and get the task done so you can get it out of your mind.  Then, reward yourself.  A “do it now” attitude deserves a pat on the back.
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Teen Suicide Risks

Recognizing childhood depressionTeen suicide is alarmingly common.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control, it is the third leading cause of death for people age 15 to 24 (following accidents and homicide).  Studies show that 4 out of 5 teen suicide attempts have been preceded by clear warning signs.  Parents and teens should be aware of some of the warning signs of depression and suicide.  The American Academy of Pediatrics describes the following signs that may signal that a depressed teen may be considering suicide:

Teen suicide warning signs

– withdrawal from friends and family members

– trouble in romantic relationships

– difficulty getting along with others

– changes in the quality of schoolwork or lower grades

– rebellious behaviors

– unusual gift-giving or giving away own possessions

– appearing bored or distracted

– writing or drawing pictures about death

– running away from home

– changes in eating habits

– dramatic personality changes

– changes in appearance (for the worst)

– sleep disturbances

– drug or alcohol abuse

– talk of suicide, even in a joking way

– having a history of previous suicide attempts

Note: The warning signs above are some typical behaviors which may be cause for concern.  This list is not intended to be all inclusive or a diagnostic tool.  Instead, it is a guide to increase awareness and prompt intervention.

How to help your child

If one or more of these signs occurs, parents need to talk to their child about their concerns and seek professional help from a physician or a qualified mental health professional.  Professional help should be sought immediately if a person is experiencing suicidal thoughts.  For 24-hour suicide prevention and support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, or get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.  In addition, you can contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for information and support regarding how to most-effectively help your child.  With support from family and appropriate treatment, children and teenagers who are suicidal can heal and return to a more-healthy path of development.

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Improve Your Sleep To Help Fight Stress

Tips for Healthy SleepStress experts report that chronically stressed people almost always suffer from fatigue and people who are tired do not cope well with stress.  When distressed people get more sleep, they feel better and are more resilient and adaptable in dealing with day-to-day events.

Did you know that most sleep difficulties (about 80%) are either caused or reinforced by our own behaviors or daily habits?  If you have trouble sleeping, the tips below will help you get the most out of your hours in bed: 

Stay away from stimulants.  Coffee, tea, colas, chocolate and some over-the-counter medications contain caffeine which stimulates the central nervous system and increases blood pressure and heart rate.  Drinking a can of cola or cup of coffee in the late afternoon can keep you awake at midnight.  Avoid consuming caffeine at least 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.

Don’t smoke, especially before bed.  The nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant.  Insomnia is among smokers’ greatest complaints.  Research shows that smokers take longer to fall asleep and wake up more often during the night than nonsmokers.  Having a smoke before bed may feel relaxing, but it is actually putting a stimulant into your bloodstream.

Go to bed at regular hours.  An erratic schedule can cause problems such as “Sunday night insomnia.”  This problem occurs to people who stay up late and sleep late on weekends and then try to switch back to their usual bedtime to prepare for Monday morning.  Try to go to bed at roughly the same time each night and, no matter how long you slept, get up at your usual time in the morning.

Exercise regularly.  Sleep is facilitated by relaxation and exercised muscles relax more easily.  Aim for 20 minutes of exercise that increases your heart rate at least three times a week.  Late afternoon is best.

Don’t use alcohol to induce sleep.  A nightcap can lull you to sleep, but alcohol typically produces light, unsettled sleep.  Also, using alcohol to fall asleep could lead to dependency.

Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.  Set the mood for relaxation before bed.  Start letting down about an hour before bedtime: read, listen to music or take a warm bath.

Don’t take sleeping pills; they induce less restful sleep and can cause serious problems.  Oftentimes, the person relying on sleeping pills is left

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How To Improve Your Productivity and Get More Done Each Day

Tips to ease financial stressAre there too many things on your calendar each day to get done?  If your answer is “yes,” you may be guilty of a common assumption made by many people, say researchers.

According to a study reported by the American Psychological Association, research reveals that people over-commit because we expect to have more time in the future than we have in the present.  Of course, when tomorrow turns into today, we discover that we are too busy to do everything we promised.  Keep this fact in mind.  It will help you to better-plan your days and avoid unnecessary frustration.

Three ways to improve your productivity at work

How can you improve your productivity and get more things done each day?  Here are three strategies that can help:

  1. Schedule your time for work – Be consistent. Don’t do personal things when you are scheduled to work. Make a “To Do” list and prioritize your tasks.  A list is most effective for those of us who need to consult a reference or see it in writing.  When you have completed a task, cross it off your list.  You’ll get a real sense of completion and satisfaction as you see your list getting shorter and shorter.
  1. Do the most-difficult, time-consuming, least-favorite job first – It may sound crazy but you’ll be doing it when you have the most energy and motivation. If you tackle the toughest job first, the rest of your tasks will seem that much easier. 
  1. Don’t allow yourself to get interrupted by other people’s “emergencies” – How many times have you had your tasks and activities planned, so you could finally get caught up with your own work, and all day long other people keep coming to you with their last-minute problems that only you can fix? You don’t want to say no, you want to be a team player, but you have stuff to get done too, right? Remember, that being a team player also means respecting others’ time and realizing that others have responsibilities too.  If your co-workers can’t grasp this, you have to.  Learn to say no in a polite but firm manner: “I would really like to assist you with that, and I know you have a deadline.  Unfortunately, I have a project which I must complete for my boss today.  If you can come back tomorrow or another time, or better yet, schedule some time with me so that it is on my calendar, I would be more than happy to help you.”
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What Is Problem Gambling?

Help for problem gamblingApproximately two million adults in the U.S. meet the criteria for pathological gambling, and another four to six million are considered problem gamblers, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. Due mainly to shame, denial and a desire to handle the problem themselves, only one in 10 problem gamblers seek professional help.

An uncontrollable urge to gamble

Just as some people become addicted to drugs or alcohol, it is possible for a person to become obsessed with an uncontrollable urge to gamble. A person has a problem with gambling if he or she continues to gamble despite evidence that their gambling is causing personal, family, financial, work or legal problems. 

Warning signs of problem gambling

Review the warning signs below. If you or someone you know answers “Yes” to any of the questions below, consider seeking help from a professional who is experienced in treating problem gambling:

You have often gambled longer than you had planned.

  1. You have often gambled until your last dollar was gone.
  2. Thoughts of gambling have caused you to lose sleep.
  3. You have used your income or savings to gamble while letting bills go unpaid.
  4. You have made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling.
  5. You have broken the law or considered breaking the law to finance your gambling.
  6. You have borrowed money to finance your gambling.
  7. You have felt depressed or suicidal because of your gambling losses.
  8. You have been remorseful after gambling.
  9. You have gambled to get money to meet your financial obligations.
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How To Help A Family Member Who Is Abusing Alcohol Or Drugs

Helping a Family Member Who is Abusing Alcohol or DrugsSomeone in your family has a problem with alcohol or drugs.  What can you do to help?

You might think that an alcohol or drug problem belongs to the person who is drinking or taking drugs.  But if a family member has a problem, then you have a problem too.

Families operate as a system in which each family member’s behavior affects every other member’s behavior.  The abuser’s behavior affects all family members, producing painful and difficult feelings in response.  At the same time, the other members of the family – unintentionally – develop patterns of behavior that make it easier for the problem drinker or drug user to continue their substance abuse.  This behavior is referred to as enabling.  Here are some examples of enabling:

* Denying that there is a problem, or dismissing the problem as a small one.

* Rescuing the abuser from the consequences of his or her use, such as by “calling in
sick,” covering up for a broken promise, or lending money.

* Taking over the abuser’s responsibilities, making allowances or excuses, forgiving
unforgivable behavior or to continue trying to be loving and caring in the face of abuse.

* Reinforcing drug use by participating in occasions where it is used.

What to do

If you suspect that a family member might have a problem with alcohol or drugs, learn all you can about alcohol and drug abuse.  Next, seek the help of a licensed healthcare professional who specializes in addiction.  A professional addiction counselor can help you assess your situation and help you determine the best way for you to help yourself, your drug-using family member, or other family members.  A professional counselor can help you deal with your own frustrations in dealing with a substance abuser and give you information about how to most-effectively confront your drug abusing family member.  You may also find it helpful to attend an Al-Anon meeting where family, friends and loved ones of alcoholics and drug addicts share their experience, strength and hope as they struggle to cope and come to terms with the effects of addiction.

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Raising a Resilient Child

Mother and teen conversations can prevent harmful drinking behaviorResilient people have the ability to deal more effectively with stress and pressure, cope with everyday challenges and bounce back from disappointments, adversity or trauma.  Many parenting experts believe that resiliency is the most important quality you can instill in your child.  How can you foster resiliency in your child?  While there are many factors, parenting experts recommend the following:

What parents can do to help

  1. Show unconditional love. Love is the most powerful protective factor that parents can give their child. Studies about resiliency have found that kids who overcame a very difficult childhood all had at least one adult in their life who loved and believed in them.  Kids feel loved when they know their parents enjoy being with them.  Schedule one-on-one time with your child daily and give them your undivided attention.  This feeling of specialness is integral to their self-esteem.
  1. Be empathetic. Empathy is feeling from someone else’s perspective and a critical component of all satisfying relationships. By parenting with empathy, you not only foster the healthy, emotional development of your child, but also help your child develop empathy for others.  Listen to your child and acknowledge his/her feelings.  When your child responds with fear, anger, disappointment or sadness, help them identify the emotions they are feeling.  Let them know you understand their feelings.  By acknowledging your child’s feelings you help your child accept his/her own feelings, which in turn allows your child to resolve them.
  1. Treat mistakes as learning experiences. Show your child that it’s okay to make mistakes, that they are expected, and that mistakes can be a part of the learning process. When a mistake is made, instead of chastising your child or telling him/her what they did wrong, engage your child in a discussion concerning what they think went wrong and how they think they could avoid a similar mistake from happening in the future.  By doing so in a positive and encouraging way, your child will learn that making a mistake doesn’t automatically mean that they have failed and that they can use mistakes as a way of learning to find better ways to be successful.    
  1. Focus on strengths. Self-worth and resiliency come from experiencing success in areas of life others deem important. Every child possesses areas of strength and it is important for you as the parent to identify and reinforce these, rather than focus on weaknesses.  Help your child discover their strengths and build confidence by helping him/her set and work toward reasonable goals.  Moving toward a goal and receiving praise along the way will help your child focus on what they can accomplish rather than on failures.  Each time your child achieves a goal or successfully solves a problem on their own, it gives them the confidence and skill to persevere the next time they face a challenge.
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