The Food Mood Connection

moodBad moods are considered by most of us to be just part of being human, something that we can simply ride out and wait for them to pass. Occasionally, these moods are more long-lasting and problematic. We experience feelings that we describe with words such as depression, being a little down, anxious, agitated, and other descriptive expressions. If these moods and emotions last a long time, we may consult medical help. We usually look for things in our environment that are creating these disturbances. Maybe the problem is all in our head or, more accurately, in our diet.

“You are what you eat.”-John De Cola

We are, in fact, greatly influenced by what we eat. The food-mood connection is a vastly underestimated and overlooked part of our mental health. In the last 50 years, the medical world has become more aware of the role that what we eat plays in our physical health and well-being, but we still have a way to go in using our diets to improve our mental health. When we are having a bad day or a bad period in our lives, we can often identify an outside cause. Sometimes, however, there is none that we can pinpoint. Sometimes we are simply overreacting to external events that we normally handle quite well. If we are craving specific foods at these times, most of us grab something unhealthy such as fast foods or a sugary snack. Others reach for something with alcohol in it. The problem then goes away for a while, but soon comes back with a vengeance.

When stressed and overwhelmed very few of us think about grabbing a lean steak with a side of broccoli,fish or a piece of grilled salmon and some kale. Maybe we should. What we eat affects our feelings and reactions because certain foods produce brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that allow parts of the brain to communicate with each other. They are the reason that we process things the way we do, have feelings and emotions that we experience, and perceive life in a unique way. The way these parts of the brain communicate creates our individual personalities. While external forces have certainly influenced our personalities, our neurotransmitters play a vital role in our day-to-day moods, motivation, and in general satisfaction with the state of our lives.

The two main neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation are serotonin and dopamine. These two hormones are largely responsible for the regulation of our levels of happiness. Let’s take a look at the role these two play:
Serotonin plays a major role in regulating mood, sleep, cognitive abilities, sexual behavior, and appetite. We are more resilient to life’s up and downs when our serotonin levels are high. We have a more positive attitude and handle stressors more easily,while low levels of serotonin can result in depression and a tendency to be more impulsive.
Dopamine plays a role in your perceptions of pleasure and pain, emotions, and controls the brain’s reward’s and pleasure centers. Whenever you see something you want, dopamine levels rise giving you the motivation to go after it. In addition, your body needs dopamine for such normal activities like walking and maintaining your physical sense of balance.

Maintaining a healthy diet allows the brain to produce adequate amounts of serotonin and dopamine by converting essential amino acids into these neurotransmitters. Don’t worry, this article is not going to turn into a science class, the solution to this is pretty simple. You not only are what you eat, but you feel as you do because of what you eat. A healthy balanced diet, while no miracle cure, will allow you to cope with life stressors much better. Certain foods contain these essential amino acids which the body converts into these neurotransmitters. Here’s a how to explanation:
Serotonin – The amino acid tryptophan is the building block of serotonin. It’s found in poultry, meat, and most types of fish-salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines. If you’re not into flesh eating then you can obtain adequate amounts through consuming nuts and seeds such as flax seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and in fruits like bananas, kiwi, and pineapple. Vegetables and legumes are also good sources.

Dopamine – Dopamine levels can be improved by decreasing your intake of sugar. Excess sugar intake is responsible for that feeling that we call “sugar high.” The reason we often crave sugar is to increase levels of dopamine which excessive amounts of sugar deplete. In order for your body to make dopamine, it needs appropriate levels of the amino acid tyrosine which can be found in foods like almonds, avocados, bananas, low-fat dairy, meat, poultry, lima beans, or soy products. You should also increase your intake of antioxidant producing foods such as green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, and peppers.

A regular program of exercise combined with at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night will also help optimize levels of serotonin and dopamine. Cutting back or eliminating alcohol is also important as too much alcohol can wreak havoc on these neurotransmitters, especially dopamine.

chocolateFood supplements can also enhance levels of these brain chemicals. Some physicians recommend vitamin B6 supplementation and L-Phenylalanine, two supplements that can be found in stores such as Vitamin Shoppe, GNC, Whole Foods, or your local pharmacy. Dark chocolate is known to be a good source of L-Phenylalanine, just be sure that the chocolate is at least 65% cacao. Sorry, and over-the-counter Hershey bar doesn’t cut it. Dark, cacao rich, chocolate is available in health food stores and is an acquired taste. It is, however, a natural way to boost both serotonin and dopamine.

I realize that parts of this article may be confusing for some. It does not have to be. Changing your snacking habits, making food substitutions, and adjusting a few simple aspects of your lifestyle can optimize your brain chemistry to give you a fighting chance to more successfully cope with life’s battles.

Next time someone asks you, “What’s eating you?,”ask yourself, “What have I been eating?” Remember, you are not only are what you eat, but how you fuel your brain effects how you think.

John
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I’d Love To Change The World, But….

“I love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do, so I’ll leave it up to you.”- Alvin Lee

Change, is perhaps the only constant of human life. Despite this law of nature, it is something that changehumans resist. We want change in a lot of areas but, on a deeper level, we fear it, we resist it, and we often engage in subtle self sabotage which prevents it from occurring. Why is this, and how can we get ourselves to bring about change to improve our lives?

Change is a basic principle of the universe, the only truly constant thing in existence. It is in conflict with another universal principle, homeostasis. Homeostasis is the tendency for living things to stay the same through a pattern of adjustment, internal regulation, and resistance. When it comes to human beings trying to initiate change, homeostasis tends to win more often than not. It’s easier for humans to stay the same in the face of a behavioral change that is desired. Homeostasis wins because it’s far easier for us to fail than it is to succeed. In other words, failure is easy, changing is a lot more difficult.

The psychology behind human change has been studied rather extensively over the past forty years. In 1977 James O. Prochaska of the University of Rhode Island and his colleagues developed what they called the trans-theoretical model, since known simply as the Stages of Change. While the model was originally applied to drug and alcohol addiction, it has been adapted to all types of human behavioral and lifestyle changes. It has been referred to as “arguably the dominant model of health behavior change” of the last 50 years. The Stages of Change model is a simple one, and understanding it can help all of us make change a lot more easy.

The Stages of Change are:
1. Precontemplation-In this stage a person has not yet acknowledged that there is a problem behavior that needs to change. The 300 pound man has not yet acknowledge he is overweight, the pack a day smoker doesn’t realize it’s a problem, the person living on minimum wage doesn’t think that things could be better. In this stage a person is not necessarily happy, but oblivious to the idea that change is possible, probably because they are not yet ready to attack the process of change.
2. Contemplation-At this point a person acknowledges that there is a problem, something is wrong, but is not yet ready for sure that they want to change. They weigh the pros and cons of change, and change usually gets delayed. I’ll start tomorrow, next week, next month, when X happens and so on. This getting-ready-to-get-ready stage is often where homeostasis wins and change is defeated.
3. Preparation-This stage is characterized by preparations to bring upon the change. A person is now jennette_fulda_fat_pantsdetermined to begin a process of change within the next 30 days. Commitments are made to themselves, and frequently others. The smoker promises his wife and kids that he will quit, the 300 pounder promises a friend that they will walk every day at lunch. At this stage positive self talk can make or break the process, especially when a person goes public with their plan. Thoughtful preparation is the key to getting through this stage. Breaking goals down, keeping them simple and doable, sets up a person through a successful ride through this stage. The “what ifs” and “yeah buts” need to be overridden by achievable action steps which generate confidence.
4. Action-At this point a person has engaged in steps towards the desirable outcome for a six month period on a fairly consistent basis. People in this stage have shown improvement and have made strides towards achieving the desired outcomes. When progress has been made, a person needs to make note of it and celebrate their successes. Noticing what works, and doing more of that, rather than noticing what does not, becomes the key to making these positive changes permanent. A question that I often ask clients in this stage is “What are you doing now that you want to win before, and what have you stopped doing that you were doing before?” The purpose of this question is to show the client that they are doing it. Progress is not luck, but is the result of their own consistent efforts. When a person realizes this, change becomes internalized, self image improves, and a person is ready for more of the same.
5. Maintenance-at this point a person has incorporated and internalized the desired changes. They have been successful with maintaining their change goal for over six months. In this stage it is important that a person is aware of thoughts and behaviors that could lead to their slipping back into their original patterns. Being aware of stressful situations that will arise and being able to cope with these stressors successfully, is what is necessary for maintenance.

Some strategies to keep in mind during the process of change are:
1. Getting education and how-to information about desired change. This can come from reading, professional help, and honest feedback from people that you trust.
2. Acceptance of what you are feeling. Realize that it is okay to have feelings of doubt, shame, and guilt. Accept that your feelings are not facts, they are merely interpretations and are not necessarily true. The goal is to notice these feelings and to continue to act appropriately despite them.
3. Getting help from supportive friends, colleagues, and professionals may be required to initiate or maintain positive momentum. If it gets tough, don’t go it alone.
4. Counteract your negativity. Replace unhealthy attitudes and behaviors with healthy ones. For images   example, replacing your morning cigarette with 10 minutes of deep breathing outdoors is one example. Replacing that second 20 ounce cup of coffee with a large glass of water is another example.
5. Notice and celebrate your successes. As with all behavioral changes, success builds upon success, and tends to bring more of the same. Change is a slow, gradual, yet steady process. Think in terms of “this is a process, not an event.” Find appropriate ways to reward yourself along the way to the desired goal.
6. Pen and paper are important tools to utilize during this process. Identify where you are in the process of change, writing out the obstacles and challenging them, and identifying appropriate steps to take, in writing, will help. If you are doing this without professional help, in a self-help format, then writing is imperative.

So that’s the science behind human behavioral change. This model of change works, and works well. It has been tested, researched, and studied in thousands of experiments. Knowing where you are along the way to a desired goal, and knowing what steps to take, will get you where you want to be.

“It works if you work it.”-Anonymous

John
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The Problem With Positive Thinking

“Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”- James 2:17

In contemporary counseling, personal development, and self-help, positive thinking and affirmations are considered to be part of the process. Much has been written about the power of belief, expectation bias, the power of intention, and many other types of thinking that promise life changing results simply by changing the way we think. Undoubtedly, our thought processes play a huge role in the successes and failures in our lives, but there is certainly more to it than mere want-to.

I’m sure most of you are more than familiar with the power of positive thinking. The Power of Positive catThinking was actually the title of a well-known self-help book written by Norman Vincent Peale, a minister, author, and radio personality of the 1930s. He popularized the expression, the power of positive thinking, through his work as a Sunday host of a radio show. He, like many positive thinking advocates, made some pretty hefty claims about what positive thinking can do for us. Millions of people benefited from his thoughts, ideas, and teachings.

Affirmations are positive self statements made with the intention of changing harmful self talk and self beliefs. In and of themselves, they are beneficial, but in recent years the concept of how to use affirmations has changed. In 2006, a best selling book called “The Secret” came out and reinvented the way that most people think about and use affirmations. The book sold well, as there was a something for nothing mentality that the book implied. All one had to do was believe and wishes would be granted, attitudes would change, and you would soon be living the life of your dreams. The missing part of the equation, however, was good old fashion work.

Initially, positive thinking and affirmations do seem to work. Changing your thought processes from negativity to positivity quickly results in a change of attitude. A light goes on, one gets a wave of “yeah, I can do this,” and does feel differently. Using positive thinking and affirmation works…. until it doesn’t. Positive thinking and affirmations stop working when one’s goal exceeds one’s capacity to attain it. For example, if your goal is to drop 15 pounds for your 30th high school anniversary, your daughter’s wedding, or the beginning of track season, all the positive thinking in the world is not going to help unless you have a systematic plan of action to get that 15 pounds off of you. If your goal is to get a new job, you probably should begin to look for one. If you are hoping for a significant other with an “if it happens, it happens” attitude, then it probably ain’t going to happen. Positive thinking and affirmations work best when combined with a solid behavioral plan of action, A.K.A work.

In any process of goal attainment, there will be a point where doubt creeps in. We all know what that feels like. It’s that “this isn’t what I expected’ moment where rubber meets road, and men and boys, and women and girls get separated. This happens because positive thinking and affirmations can only have lasting utility if one works on the beliefs behind them. For example, that 15 pounds we talked about is more likely to be lost if affirmations and positive thinking are combined with a behavioral plan. Rather than repeating the mantra, “I will lose 15 pounds… I will lose 15 pounds..,” it makes more sense to repeat more realistic affirmations such as, “I will eat 2000 calories per day,” or “I will walk every day for 30 minutes at lunch.” Combining this more realistic mantra with some positive imagery and visualization will change your belief that it is possible.

sunPeople who gravitate towards positive thinking and affirmations usually don’t go into the process with a solid belief system in place. They are often people who have a tendency towards negative self talk. They usually are the kind of people who have an internal critic telling things like they’re not good enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, or worthy of success. They view a satisfying life as something that others have, and they’ll never have. When doubt creeps in to their plan of positive thinking and affirmations, they fold like a house of cards because it is simply what they do and how they react to a challenge. They can’t help it, their negative thinking is such a part of their world view.

So what is the corrective action here? How does one get to the point where they can utilize these techniques and reap the benefits of a more positive mindset? Here are some action steps:
1. Examine your beliefs about yourself. These are what we need to change. If you hold the same negative belief systems about your abilities, then when real life challenges your positive thinking you are likely to give up with an “I knew it!” type of response. Examining beliefs about yourself can be difficult and painful. It’s one of those things that you might want to do with a psychotherapist or coach, but it can be done alone if you can get yourself to be brutally honest. A pen and notebook are needed here, as seeing these negative beliefs in writing can be an eye-opener. You must work to improve your self image if you are going to be able to maintain positivity in multiple areas of life. You probably have some areas where you do feel competent, and others not so much. Examine the self talk that you have in areas of competence, and compare it to self talk in areas where you do not. What’s the difference? Identify ways, in writing, that you can realistically change the negative areas. Review this list at least two times per day, morning and evening, and consciously work to improve the negative areas.
2. Set realistic goals. Goals should be just slightly out of your comfort zone, not goals that are insurmountable. Here is where most affirmations and positive thinking fail. Accomplishing a goal that was slightly uncomfortable creates a higher baseline from which to work. For example, if your goal was to land your dream job then breaking that down into a plan of action is more realistic. Start with a subgoal of obtaining three interviews in the field in which you want to work. Focusing on subgoals slowly but surely increases your confidence that the perfect job is attainable. Set realistic time frames. If you just graduated from college, then that six figure dream job is going to take time to obtain. Setting yourself up for a series of smaller successes increases and grows your sense of confidence, making positive thinking and affirmations more useful. Use the search box and categories section to the right of this post to learn more about useful methods for goal setting. Use the SMARTER goals method, and adjust quite frequently as needed. If you are not getting the results you’re looking for, don’t change the goal, change the strategy to get there. This process is where positive thinking and affirmations will become useful tools.
3. Action, Action, Action! Actions do in fact speak louder than words. Noticing your successes, blog_skinny_kidrecording and writing them out creates lasting change. Beliefs aren’t real, actions are. Without taking action you will know, on some level, that affirmations and positive self talk are merely trying to fool yourself. Notice the action steps that you take towards your goals. Create affirmations and positive self talk along the way to attaining subgoals. Noticing your positive actions, even if some result in failures, will change your self image. Celebrate the actions and the process, and begin to speak positively to yourself about your efforts.

Again, I highly suggest you use the search box and categories section of this blog to build upon the ideas in this post. Positive thinking and affirmations are useful tools in the changing of human performance, but the emphasis should be on the word performance. Get out there and go after what you want. Learn to coach yourself realistically along the way.

John
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Back To The Future

technologyThe 21st century has proven itself to be an incredibly interesting time in which to live. Modern science and technology is progressing at a rate that, up until a few years ago, would have been unfathomable. I recently heard a statistic that is mind blowing: more new information has been produced during the last 10 years than all the previous years of mankind! While I am not sure that this is actually true, it does point out the obvious, we are living in the world of George Jetson. We are more connected and plugged in than ever before yet, at the same time, many seem to be more disconnected. Many appear to be disconnected from themselves.

Alienation from the self is one of the fundamental reasons for human emotional discomfort. Without question, modernization has brought alienation. We use technology to try to satisfy some basic, fundamental human needs. We need to connect to larger groups and use technology for that purpose. How many of you have a greater connection to family, friends, and formerly distant relatives through Facebook? How many of you have your cell phone on your person, or at least nearby 24/7? Used properly, these innovations can be incredibly healthy and useful. We were able to reach out to others anyplace on the planet in ways that would have been unimaginable even 25 years ago. As with all new technical developments, there is an upside and a downside.

Some people have become disconnected and removed from their physical selves. Psychiatry has discovered that this disconnection has led to maladies that previously did not exist, at least not on a recognizable scale. Seasonal Affective Disorder, Seasonal Depression, existential alienation, and emotional disturbances caused by a lack of connectedness to the physical self and nature are very obvious to those of us that practice in the field of mental health. In the 20 years that I have worked in the field I’ve noticed this change. What’s going on? What are some of the causes of this, and what are the solutions?

A recent trend in the fields of psychotherapy and counseling has been a return to some of the wisdom of previous generations. Despite all the new psychopharmacological solutions, innovations, psychotherapy, and research studies, results are often gained with age old wisdom. Here is some of that wisdom distilled down into usable parts:
jetsons1. Get connected. Up until the mid-20th century most humans had more contact with others than they do now. While we have more ways to connect to people than ever before through the Internet and text messaging, these methods are not as therapeutic as face-to-face, physical, contact. Using contemporary technology is incredibly beneficial, but sometimes conversation is better. Seeing the person that you’re speaking to makes a heart-to-heart conversation more powerful and meaningful. If you have friends that you communicate with over long distances, consider Skype as a way to increase your connectedness with them. If you haven’t done this, I’d suggest you give it a try. It’s free, visual, auditory, and far more personal than either a phone call or email can ever be. If you are a baby boomer, this is a variation of the George Jetson telephone conversation, George speaking to Judy on a telephone/television type device. Next time you make contact with that old friend from high school give Skype a try and see what you think.
2. Get outdoors. For over 99% of the history of the human race man was intimately connected with nature. People had to be outdoors to get a lot of basic human needs met. There was wood to be gathered to stoke the fire, out houses to walk to for bathroom purposes at 2 AM, cows to be milked, eggs to be gathered, and a variety of things that put people outdoors daily. Getting outdoors was a necessity, today it has become a luxury that many of us don’t have time for.
Meditation and mindfulness-based practices have been shown to cause significant, positive changes in the lives of those struggling with moderate levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. There is a learning curve with meditation and such practices that often frustrates a person and leads them to quit the practice before they develop adequate skills to benefit from it. A simple solution to this is to get outside every day. Yes,EVERY day, regardless of weather or time of year. If you can exercise outside the benefits are even more powerful and magnified. A simple routine of walking, stretching, and calisthenics done outdoors would serve the same mood elevating purpose that Abe Lincoln got chopping wood. If you are not Lincolnesque, then getting outside for 5 to 10 minutes for some deep breathing will also do the trick.

3. Spend some time in the company of people that are important to you. Through most of mankind’s Fireplace-Deskop-Wallpaperhistory fire was a source of communal connectedness. People had to be together, huddled around a fire, for warmth and food. The byproduct of this was human connection, meaningful conversation, and a sense of tribal community. As recently as 100 years ago the fire, wood stove, or family kitchen was the central focus of daily life. Finding ways to re-create this in your life is beneficial, providing good feelings instantly. Just remember, no texting or phone calls!

4. Be open to strangers. Yeah, I know, in the modern world “stranger danger”is often good advice, but I’m talking about people that are safe. People that work in your building, the guy that works at the convenience store you frequent daily, the mailman, the secretary at your doctor’s office etc. Ever notice how people seem to open up to others during times of common stress such as snowstorms, power outages, long lines at the bank, and getting stuck in an elevator? People begin to talk to people, connect, and commiserate. People feel good doing during these times because they feel that “we have something in common, we are all in this together,” type of connection. Simple eye contact, and a how are you today attitude can make you, as well as them, feel better.

5.EXERCISE! If you are a regular reader of this blog you knew that I’d eventually get around to this. fredExercise is one of those things that used to be built into daily life. A cave man didn’t have to go to the gym, all he had to do was live his life. In previous eras of human history, the very act of getting basic human needs met provided a reasonable level of physical fitness. In fact, if you are a member of the Baby Boom generation, you probably ate a lot of Hershey bars, Twinkies, and drank “sugary drinks” quite regularly,and you probably had and acceptable BMI. I’d also guess you were reasonably fit, at least as a child, from doing some dangerous things like running in the schoolyard at recess, climbing trees, riding a bicycle, – horrors, without a helmet – and walking home from school. It wasn’t until the 1960s that President John Kennedy realized that American kids were getting out of shape.
Exercise is a basic necessity for physical and emotional wellness. Everyone should have something that they do on a regular, if not daily, basis to elevate their heart, utilize their muscles, and break a sweat.

As with many things, balance is a key element. Trying to keep a balance between old school wisdom and the modern culture of technology is a challenge for everyone. Combining old-school with new school can make better students of us all.

John
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You’re Not Yourself When You’re Hangry

Have you ever had one of those days where literally everything makes you angry? You know that you’re anryoverreacting to some degree, but you can’t help it, nothing is going right. You step into the angry zone and go with it. You might later look back on the days events and ask yourself, “What the heck was that all about?” In hindsight it wasn’t really so bad at all. What brought it all on?

The reason may well have been that you merely may have been hungry. Or, rather “hangry.” Hangry, aka “food swings,” are terms created to describe the point in your day where hunger and anger collide, that “hanger zone,” where you to and say things that you later regret. You overreact and a minor trigger becomes a larger, self created problem.

Hanger is not merely some excuse that we come up with to explain those brief moments where we lose it and act like we did in first grade, there is some solid research indicating that it is a real phenomenon that even the most stoic among us are susceptible to. It is a scientific fact, hanger exists. Marjorie Nolan, of the American Dietetic Association explains that, “When blood sugar is low the hypothalamus is triggered in several levels of hormones are affected. This imbalance then causes a shift in neurotransmitters and suppresses serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a brain chemical that helps regulate mood and appetite. It is also the brain chemical that is positively enhanced by the prescription medications Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, and many other prescription medications that are taken by millions of Americans. Everyone has the potential to overreact when serotonin levels are not in balance

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????A 2014 Ohio State study showed that hunger in the form of low blood sugar can lead to increased anger and aggression in married couples. For 21 days, 107 married couples measured their blood glucose levels before breakfast and before dinner time. Each participant was given a voodoo doll that represented their spouse along with 51 pins. They were told, “This doll represents your spouse, “and were instructed to insert between zero and 51 pins into the doll each night depending upon how angry they were with their spouse. Twenty-one days later they competed against each other on a computer task and were told that the winner would be allowed to blast the loser with noises through headphones. Participants who had the lowest levels of blood sugar consistently stuck more pins in the spouse doll and blasted their spouse with louder noises. The researchers concluded that self-control and anger management requires energy, and that energy is affected by blood glucose.

Glucose from food is converted into neurotransmitters that provide energy for brain functions. Low levels of glucose undermine self-control and the ability to deal with unwanted impulses. In plain English, eat or you’ll become hangry. Lead author of the Ohio State study, Brad Bushman, stated that “The brain accounts for only about 2% of our body weight, but it consumes about 20% of our calories. It takes a lot of brain food to exercise self control.” And, as most of us already know, the most difficult emotion to control is anger.

So, how do we use this information to prevent ourselves from slipping into the Hanger Zone? If you examine your own patterns, you’ll probably find that you are most susceptible late morning, 11 AM or so, and mid afternoon, probably between 2 and 4 PM,and, if you skip breakfast or your breakfast is 20 ounces of coffee, you’re far more likely to enter the Anger Zone more often. Good Hanger Management consists of:
1. Eat something in the morning. If you can’t stomach food, then juice, yogurt, a glass of milk, or even a few pieces of cheese can be enough. High protein andlow sugar food choices are best. Eat something more substantial before the time when you slip into your own personal Hanger Zone. Too much coffee or an energy drink are flirting with disaster. If you drink coffee, keep consumption to a minimum and go easy on the sugar or use an artificial sweetener. The “sugar crash” plays a huge role in morning hanger. Rule number 1 in the morning is never reach for a high sugar food. Choose a complex carb or protein food first.
2. A mid afternoon snack can get you over the hump to avoid the mid-afternoon Anger Zone. If you are a chocolate lover, there’s good news. Chocolate increases serotonin levels more so than most other foods, more serotonin bang for the buck than virtually anything else. Don’t get carried away however. Small amounts of chocolate, the darker the chocolate the better, can actually be healthy. Even a half a bar will do the trick. One of the reasons choclate can seem to be addictive is that our brains crave foods that raise serotonin, and choclate is among the best.
3. Adjust your calories accordingly. Hanger management is not a reason to eat too much or gain weight. Include the calories in these snacks as you estimate your daily caloric needs. Eating too much can make you sluggish, and that can impact your hanger as well.

So there it is, a brief, news-you-can-use, summary of how to control your anger. Become aware of your patterns and triggers, input this information to do use. You may notice an improvement in your life as early as tomorrow morning, somewhere between 10 o’clock and 12 noon.

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! WE WILL WIN THIS FOR MOTHER RUSSIA!”wms
“Coach eat a SNICKERS.”- Robin Williams (in a commercial for Snickers)

John
P. S. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and other social media. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro for brief guides on self-help. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Lessons Learned From Latin Class

“You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body” – Juvenal

If you have ever taken classes in Latin, I am sure that you have heard the expression,”mens sana in corpore sano,” which translates to “a sound mind in a sound body.” Most of the expressions and words learned Latin classes have long since been forgotten or have been written off as irrelevant for 21st century life. This quote from Juvenal’s “Satire X” deserves a second look.

Juvenal is giving his fellow Romans advice on what they should wish for in their lives. His suggestion is discusthat they get their priorities straight, and focus on what’s really important, our physical and emotional health. The expression, mens sana in corpore sano, is a reminder to all of us. You probably are familiar with more contemporary expressions like, “when you have your health, you have everything,” but too often most of us do little to ensure that we have our health. Research indicates that one of the most immediate benefits of a sound body is a sound mind. While a sound body takes time to develop, the benefits of a sound mind can be felt almost immediately.

The American Psychological Association identified in 2011 what they are referring to as The Exercise Effect, which touts the benefits of a regimen of moderate exercise as a key component in the maintenance of our mental health and happiness. The APA also acknowledges that graduate training programs in counseling psychology rarely teaches students how to help patients modify their exercise behavior.”Exercise is something that psychologists have been very slow to attend to,” says Michael Otto, PhD, a professor of psychology at Boston University. “People know that exercise helps physical outcomes. There is much less awareness of mental health outcomes — and much, much less ability to translate this awareness into exercise action.”

If you’ve ever taken a walk, gone for a jog, or taken a moment to stretch during a hectic day, you’ve probably noticed that you felt better afterwards. Unfortunately, you may have not realized that this feeling of well-being can be duplicated whenever you want it. Dr.Otto’s work at Boston University shows that the mood enhancement effect of such moderate exercise is felt within five minutes. Five minutes! Think about that for a moment. What other medication or prescription can bring results that quickly? And, research done at Duke University indicates that the results can be long-lasting.”There’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people and people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program,” says James Blumenthal, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Duke. Blumenthal has explored the mood-exercise connection through a series of randomized controlled trials. In one such study, he and his colleagues assigned sedentary adults with major depressive disorder to one of four groups: supervised exercise, home-based exercise, the antidepressant Zoloft or a placebo pill. After four months of treatment, Blumenthal found, patients in the exercise and antidepressant groups had higher rates of remission than did the patients on the placebo. Exercise, he concluded, was generally comparable to antidepressants for patients with major depressive disorder.The Duke University study showed that exercise not only improved the lives of patients that had depression, but that these patients were less relapse prone. Their conclusion was that exercise is not only a front-line treatment of depression, but it is an important factor in preventing its relapse.

Mary de Groot, PhD, a psychologist in the Department of Medicine at Indiana University, is conducting research with depressed patients who also have diabetes. Rates of clinical depression are higher among adults that have diabetes, is more difficult to treat, and is more likely to return after treatment. People with diabetes are more likely to be depressed, and depressed persons are more likely to have diabetes. People with both disorders have a significantly higher death rate than those with either disorder alone. Doctor de Groot was shocked to find that there was no significant research done on the link between exercise and the treatment of patients with the co-occurrence of diabetes and depression. In a pilot study that she conducted, patients showed significant improvements in both their diabetes and depression in a 12 week study that combined Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with exercise. Her research shows great promise for this difficult to treat population.

The findings of the American Psychological Association with regard to exercise, and the health benefits that should be emphasized and reinforced by every mental health professional to their patients include the following:

Improved sleepShouting for Joy
Increased interest in sex
Better endurance
Stress relief
Improvement in mood
Increased energy and stamina
Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
Weight reduction
Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness

The APA says that the benefits can be had with as little as 30 minutes of walking per day. The walking does not even have to be continuous, it can be divided into three 10 minute walks or even two 15 minute walks. Certainly one can do more exercise than this, these are the minimums.

Latin_class_at_Benet_AcademySo it looks like that not everything learned in Latin class was a waste of time. Twenty-first century research indicates that Juvenal was correct, a healthy body is an essential component of having a healthy mind and the results can be had within five minutes. Making exercise a habit, and part of your lifestyle, is not difficult. A little consistency and self-discipline will get you started. You’ll soon enjoy the benefits of the exercise effect, and it will become automatic. Try exercise as a mind-body solution before you reach for that bottle of medication. Work with your doctor to create a regimen that works for you.
“When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.”― Augusten Burroughs

John
P. S. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Visit my author page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro. Feel free to leave a comment, or email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Dee- fense!

“The best defense is a good offense.”-Jack Dempsey

dempseyHuman beings are innately self protective. We instinctively protect ourselves from most real or imagined threats, sometimes even subconsciously. We have built in protective factors, we sneeze to clear sinuses, put on body fat before a cold winter, flinch to protect our face and eyes, and frequently get bad vibes when something bad is about to go down. Many of our defenses are instinctive, some subliminal, and many somewhere between. Although these behaviors and attitudes serve a protective purpose, they sometimes get in the way of our enjoyment and full participation in life.

The first person to identify psychological defense mechanisms was Sigmund Freud. Freud believed we all carry a sense of self which he called the Ego. In psychoanalytic theory the Ego is who we believe we are, and we will do virtually anything to protect this sense of self. Sigmund identified defense mechanisms in very broad terms, but it was his daughter, Anna Freud, who was the first to define in detail. The Freud’s felt that the purpose of these defense mechanisms was to protect humans from acting on their “instinctual desires.” As you may know, the Freud’s were big on “instinctual desires.” Since their time psychologists have focused on the role that defense mechanisms play in protecting us from anxiety, fear, and human weaknesses.

While some theorists identify as many as 25 individual defense mechanisms, we are only going to focus on a few here. All defense mechanisms have two things in common: they often appear unconsciously and they often tend to distort or twist reality, which allows for a lessening of anxiety and a corresponding reduction in tension. Some of the more common defenses are:
1. Denial-This is claiming or believing that something which is true is not true. This is the number one defense from which all others stem. One simply refuses to accept a reality. I am a social drinker, I’m not fat, I’m just big boned, I never said that, are all examples of the logic of one who is in denial. Denial is the initial reaction of people who are experience trauma or disasters and may even be a beneficial initial response to something that would be otherwise overwhelming to deal with.
2. Displacement-This is placing the blame on someone or something else. Acting on an emotion, anger for example, might get you in trouble if the emotion was directed at the real target. Putting this emotional energy on someone or something else is far safer. So instead of screaming at your boss you direct that energy at family when you get home, a much safer target.
3. Reaction Formation-This is reacting in a way that is directly opposite what you are really feeling. For example, in the 1990s there were a number of religious figures and televangelists who ranted and railed against the evils of greed, pornography, and vice. A few were caught engaging in the very behaviors that they preached against. While it may be easy to call such people hypocrites, a more logical explanation would be at their defenses failed, and the reason that this cause was so important to them was to protect their own ego from unacceptable urges.
4. Regression-This is returning to attitudes and behaviors that would be more appropriate in a child. This behavior is likely to be manifested through immature behavior. An adult throwing a temper tantrum is one example. Grown adults engaging in pranks, practical jokes, and juvenile behaviors are other examples. The childish behavior becomes a throwback to the way you would have reacted as a child.
5. Rationalization-This is when your logic justifies a bad decision or behavior. For example, you try to convince your wife that purchasing a new Corvette makes sense because it will hold its resale value better than the Subaru station wagon she wants you to buy. It also tends to be a part of the logic of a criminal mind. “I had to do what I had to do,” is often the logic of career criminals and people who physically assault and intimidate others. Rationalization is often justification for bad behavior and making poor choices.
6. Projection-This is attributing your uncomfortable feelings onto others. For example, let’s say that you spent a fair sum of money for a new outfit of clothes. You did this because you wanted to look good for a particular event. At the event, you notice that people are looking at you. You project your insecurity onto them when you think that they are looking at you “because I look silly.” What you don’t realize is that they’re looking at you because they think you look great. You are projecting your insecurities onto them. Unless you get a few compliments soon, your evening is about to be ruined.
7. Intellectualization-This is when you use your logic to think away a feeling or emotion that may be otherwise unacceptable to you. This tends to be one of the least damaging of the defense mechanisms, and some approaches to psychotherapy make it a part of the treatment. With this defense you use your intellect to talk yourself out of of negative feelings. For example, you get rejected for a job that you applied to. You assuage your hurt ego by doing a financial analysis and conclude that the commute would have made accepting the job a bad idea for money reasons. Emotion goes out the window and cool, clear, logic prevails.
8. Sublimation-This is taking unacceptable impulses and channeling them into something that is socially acceptable. For example someone, who otherwise might end up being a violent person, finds an outlet for their violence through a sport like football. A surgeon sublimates his hostile urges into skillful use of a scalpel. This socially acceptable use of a defense mechanism serves a purpose not only for the one sublimating, but also for the larger society.

As I mentioned previously, many believe that there are far more than the eight which I have outlined here. These are some of the major ones and the easiest to identify. If you analyze your own defenses and those of others, you can see that they can serve both good and bad purposes. Being able to identify your own, unique, go to defenses can give you insight into your behavior and increase self awareness. Recognizing the use of defense mechanisms in others also has great value.

Remember, being defensive is not always a bad thing. Allowing yourself to be defensive when needed deefenseand accepting defensive behavior in others, can improve your relationships and all areas of your life.

“Dee-fense, dee-fense, dee-fense…” – Sports fans everywhere

John
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A Healthy Dose Of Fear

“Until you get it on the red line overload, you’ll never know what you can do,6a017d41fbc1a2970c0191021f96b9970c
until you get it up as high as you can go.” – Kenny Loggins

Stress, and stress related illnesses are, without doubt, the silent killers of twenty-first century life. Our scientific advancements, technological improvements, and modern advancements have only complicated its’ detection and treatment. Despite all the progress mankind has made, stress remains inevitable. Too bad there wasn’t some kind of vaccination for it… or is there?

Dr. Donald Meichenbaum, a pioneering psychologist in the field of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, has developed an approach to coping with stress, anxiety, and fears that, while not an instant fix, works extremely well in developing an individual’s coping skills. He calls his approach Stress Inoculation Therapy, or SIT. Don’t worry, no needles or shots are involved, just a willingness to get out of your comfort zone and learn to be comfortable there.

needle phobiaSIT is a type of psychotherapy intended to prepare clients in advance to handle stressful events with a minimum of upset. SIT is based on the idea that low levels of exposure to stress builds a tolerance and ability to cope over time. These exposures to stressors are analogous to being inoculated or vaccinated as we are physical ailments in the same way in which we are inoculated for measles, mumps, or other physical diseases. While SIT does not pretend to make us immune to stress, it is designed to help us function with less distress and more efficiently when facing life’s difficulties.

Stress inoculation has three components:
1. The initial conceptualization phase, where the therapist educates the client about the general nature of stress, fear, and anxiety. The therapist also helps the client identify their own, unique stressors, and habitual ways of appraising and evaluating those stressors.
How does the client speak to themselves? What is the internal dialogue that surrounds the stressful event? Does this dialogue help or hurt the situation? How does the client’s body respond? How does the client breathe, sit, stand?
The goal of this stage is to educate the client as much as possible about the nature of stress in general, as well as their own unique responses to it.

2. Skills acquisition and rehearsal is the second phase. In this phase the therapist helps the client develop positive coping skills to address the stressors, with the goal being “getting a little comfortable with being uncomfortable.” The therapist and client work to utilize the clients unique resiliency factors. New ways of viewing and processing the stressors are explored. Clients focus on controlling their physiological responses through breath control and relaxation, as well as their internal dialogue. Negative self talk is replaced with a more positive, realistic, internal appraisal.

Some of this work is done the in session, as the therapist discusses events that are disturbing to the client, and the client experiments with coping skills in the safety of the therapy room. Clients then practice these skills in the real world, returning to the therapy room to process what worked and what did not. The process is repeated, usually over the course of 8 to 15 weeks, while the client becomes “inoculated” through repeated, low level exposures.

3. Application and follow through is the final phase. In this stage the therapist looks to find opportunities for the client to develop even more skills by intensifying the experience. A variety of simulation methods are used to increase realism such as visualization, modeling, vicarious learning, role-play, and repetitive behavioral skills. These are down until the skills are not merely learned, but over learned, making success second nature.

To help grasp these concepts, think about what it was like when you learned to drive an automobile. Remember the initial anxiety, fear is, hopes, and anticipation that went along with your first episode behind the wheel of a car? Overtime, you went through these three stages to the point where you are now. You have probably overlearned what it takes to drive an automobile. If you are a typical driver, you probably do much of your daily commute on autopilot with your physical body driving the car, while your mind is somewhere else.

Stress Inoculation Therapy has been shown to be useful in treating all types of anxiety, irrational fear, and anticipatory stress. It is systematic and relatively permanent, as it accelerates the way in which we normally learn. The exposure, and tolerance of it, is a type of learning, controlled by a collaborative effort of therapist and client. The focus is placed on the behavior and progress, rather than the reasons the negative emotions exist. The goal of the treatment is to create behavioral change.

Donald Meichenbaum’s Stress Inoculation Therapy, while best done with a trained psychotherapist, can be used by anyone for self-help. Sitting down with a notebook, and making a careful study of your own unique stressors, and responses to them, is a great way to start. Some key points to remember if you are using SIT for self-help are:
1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This paradoxical statement is critical to remember. Over 120521164054time your comfort level, or “distress tolerance,” will rise.
2. The stress will not, and may never, go away entirely. The goal is to increase your ability to function and remain comfortable in the face of the stressful event.
3. This is a process, not an event. While you may see some results immediately, to fully over learned these skills can take 3 to 4 months. The coping skills you develop, however, are likely to be more permanent and long-lasting than any you would get from medication alone.
4. Recording progress is extremely helpful if you are doing this as a self-help strategy. A notebook dedicated to this, and daily practice will be required. As stated previously, this will take time, but it will be worth it.
5. Use the categories search box of this blog to get more information about anxiety, worry, and fear. This will give you background information to develop your own self-help plan.

So there it is, your own road map into your life’s Danger Zone. Go boldly, you can do this!

John
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Lessons From American History

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you’re probably pretty good at handling most of what life throws at you. Most of the time you can figure it out, make it happen, and get the job done. What about those times when you’re not so motivated? You know, you’re blindsided by a challenging event that you normally would handle with ease, but it occurs on a day when you just don’t have it. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always give us time to warm up, ease into the task, and take it on. Sometimes you just have to suit up quickly and get into it. How can we be ready for situations like these?

My first career was an education as a high school social studies teacher. I taught a number of courses, one of my favorites being United States History. US history is filled with examples of the American people taking on challenges successfully with little preparation. One of the best examples is the quick mobilization and successful conclusion to our nation’s involvement in World War I. The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. The war ended on November 11, 1918, despite the fact that the United States was ill prepared to take part in a major conflict on another continent. The positive attitude and willingness of the American military will serve as our example.

pershingDuring World War I the armed forces of the United States were known as the American Expeditionary Force, or the AEF. President Woodrow Wilson gave command of the AEF to Major General John J. Pershing, a lantern jawed, 5’10,” 170 pound bundle of energy and can do attitude. It was Pershing’s job to take a ragtag group of farm boys and city slickers and whip them into fighting shape as soon as possible. Pershing’s nickname was “Black Jack Pershing,” which ought to give you an idea about his motivation. Within seven months the AEF had arrived in Europe and the tide turned, ultimately leading to victory for the Allied side.

I am a big believer in simple solutions for my coaching and psychotherapy clients. I like to use acronyms that are easily remembered to help initiate behavioral changes in real-time. When facing a task that requires a can do attitude, particularly if your attitude and energy level is a little bit on the low side, remembering the acronym AEF can help. Here is how:
A = Attitude. The first step is to check your attitude. Ask yourself, “What’s my attitude?” Getting clear on how you are thinking goes a long way toward determining whether or not you will be successful. Proper questioning allows you to step away from the emotional reactivity that can be counterproductive and defeating, and switching to a more positive, realistic way of viewing the situation.
Label your attitude with a number. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident am I that I can succeed at this? What would I have to think, do, or be in order to make my attitude a 10?”
Get clear on what you are feeling. Are you angry, or are your feelings hurt? Are you overwhelmed, or do you need to break down the challenge into manageable chunks that you digest one task at a time? This isn’t merely the power of positive thinking that we’re talking about here, it’s about breaking things down and performing at an optimal level. Checking your attitude can allow you to succeed when you otherwise may needlessly fail.

E = Energy. What is your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy with regard to this task?LOMBARDI 001 Marshaling all your energy on these four levels can create and indomitable force at times. Getting all your energy going in the same direction can allow you to do unbelievable things. We’ve all heard stories such as the 110 pound mother lifting the automobile to rescue her child, or the 78-year-old man who successfully defended himself from being mugged, and other such stories. These things are possible when these four types of energy are aligned.
I often think of the Vince Lombardi quote, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” when energy needs to be rallied. Checking your energy and getting it going in the right direction is vital.

F = Focus. What am I focusing on? What am I thinking about, visualizing, and dwelling on? Am I focusing on how I can’t do it, or am I focusing on how I can? The reality of our thoughts is that we tend to get what we focus on. Our brains are wired to recognize patterns. This reality allows us to make sense of our environment. We usually get the result that we are focusing on.
A useful saying in this situation is, “Success flows were focus goes.” What you attend to, particularly when challenged, is usually where you are going to end up.

Remembering the acronym AEF, and the story of the United States military during the First World War can give some lessons that are useful outside of the classroom. Learn to lead your own forces.

“A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary, an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.”- General John J. Pershing

As you were!

John
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Going Tribal

“No man is an island, entire of itself,Finding-native-America
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.” – John Donne

Twenty-first century life, for many of us, has become a hectic whirlwind of activity, sensory stimulation, stress, and overload. We are constantly seeking a balance of what we have to do and what we want to do. We try to pursue our health and well-being in the same manner that we pursue our technology. We believe that the latest diet plan, nutritional supplement, medication, exercise regimen, or self-help book will provide the blissful nirvana that we hope to find. While some of these help, we often find ourselves falling short. Maybe we are looking for health and wellness in all the wrong places.

Over the past 35 years, some compelling research done by sociologists and psychologists has indicated that people who have strong connections to others through traditional institutions such as marriage, family, and friendships enjoy health benefits equal to or greater than those that doggedly follow the latest exercise and health trends. A 2011 study cited in the “Journal of Social Behavior” stated that, “Social relationships, both quantity and quality, affects mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk.” The article was supported by research that indicated a direct link between social relationships and health outcomes. Their conclusions were that our physical and emotional health are undoubtedly affected by our sense of connectedness to significant others.

solitary-confinementCaptors have long used social isolation as a means of punishment and torture for prisoners of war. Social isolation of otherwise healthy individuals eventually results in physical and psychological deterioration, and even death. In the past few decades social scientists have gone beyond evidence of extreme social deprivation to demonstrate a link between social relationships and health in the general population. Adults who are socially connected live longer, more satisfying lives than their more isolated peers. The University of Chicago researched the impact of marriage in a 40 year longitudinal study and concluded that married men and women are significantly more likely to live longer, be physically and mentally healthy, be happier, recover from illness more quickly, and take better care of themselves.

These research studies, while providing compelling statistics, should be no surprise. The human animal has relied on each other for survival and support since the first tadpoles began to evolve into homo sapiens. The reasons were more obvious millennia ago than they are now. There is survival and safety in groups. While modern man is less likely to be threatened by wild animals, famine, and natural disasters, we still turn to each other in times of difficulty. Despite our modern day sophistication, we remain essentially pack animals that function best when surrounded by and are supported by others we feel connected to. When we are under stress due to life events beyond our control, group support is often built into our culture. Humans tend to come together for the more extreme life events, both happy and sad. We amp up our social relationships when we celebrate marriages, births, graduations, and rites of passage such as baptism and bar mitzvahs. We come together for support in times of tragedy and suffering as well, through visiting the sick, wakes, and funerals. Group support at this time often becomes the glue that makes the unbearable bearable.

Research study after research study has concluded that:
1. Social relationships have significant effects on health
2. Social relationships affect health through behavioral, physiological, and psychosocial pathways
3. Relationships have costs and benefits for health
4. Relationships shape health outcomes throughout the lifespan and have a cumulative impact over time
5. The costs and benefits of relationships are not distributed equally in the population

Marriage, family, clubs, and support groups are the modern-day tribes that we need to seek out and belong to to maintain optimal physical and mental health. Having dinner01_slide-3fe223f875768309fbe02165a865c9c09c969ad5-s6-c30that “soft place to land” has incredible value, both to ourselves as well as others. Cultivating these tribal connections should not be confined to the extremes of life such as celebrations and tragedies, but should be built into our daily routine in the same manner that we make time for exercise and watch our diet. Research indicates that “going tribal” is among the most important and reinforcing things that one can do to improve life satisfaction. Don’t underestimate the importance of quality time with your tribe.

“All things are connected like the blood that unites one family, all things are connected. – Chief Seattle

John
P. S. Follow me on the Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Also visit my author page on Amazon.com at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.