Wish you meditated regularly? Put a cushion, a candle and a timer in a quiet area — with your space already set up, all you have to do is sit.
Research shows that meditating for 20 minutes four times a week can provide significant benefit to your mental and physical health, but finding that time on a regular basis isn’t exactly easy. To pave your way to a regular practice, pick a quiet part of your home and set up everything you need to meditate — a cushion or a set of folded blankets, a timer and perhaps a candle. Then, when you find yourself with a few extra minutes on your hands, you’ll only have to sit down to begin your practice. And once you’re sitting, you’ll be more likely to stay for a while.
#2 Make your own aromatherapy
Natural spirit lifter: Place oranges studded with whole cloves in a bowl in your living room, and tuck one in the cupholder of your car.
According to aromatherapy, the essential oils of citrus fruits are bliss in a bottle. To make your own citrus aromatherapy, place several whole cloves in the skin of an orange (you’ll release some of the aromatic oils of an orange peel by piercing it with the cloves). Then stack several of these oranges in a clear bowl and place them in your home or office where you’ll be able to smell the scent regularly. A bonus: The scent of cloves is considered to be warming.
#3 Drift off to sea
Stressed? Relax by resting a palm on the center of your breastbone, home of the acupressure point known as the Sea of Tranquillity.
When you feel your stress levels spiraling out of control, bring the soles of both feet to the floor, sit up tall and lay a palm on the center of your breastbone. This spot is home to the acupressure point known as the Sea of Tranquillity. According to traditional Chinese medicine, stimulating this point deepens your breathing, which calms the nerves and promotes the relaxation response. Stay here, breathing naturally, until you feel your inhales and exhales lengthen, then gently remove your hand. Stimulating this point can also help you fall back asleep when you wake up in the middle of the night: Simply lie on your back with one palm resting on the center of your breastbone and breathe regularly until you feel yourself start to drift back off.
#4 Expand your network of friends
Make time for making friends. Socializing stimulates the reward center of our brain. The more support we have, the better life feels.
If you can’t remember the last time you struck up a conversation with a stranger or mingled at a party, it’s time to kick your wallflower tendencies to the curb. People who have a large network of friends experience life as more rewarding and stimulating. Having a strong but small group of people to lean on yields greater overall satisfaction as well. If shyness keeps you from reaching out to others, consider joining a group, volunteering or taking a class, where you’ll share a common goal and interest.
#5 Practice smart splurges
Indulging in some retail therapy? To boost your mood, skip material objects and buy an experience, like dinner or a manicure instead.
Shopping for happiness? Steer clear of the mall. According to a recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, retail therapy may be able to cheer you up, but only if you’re spending your money on an experience rather than a product. Purchasing material things like a fabulous outfit or widescreen TV can make us second-guess our choice and lead to less satisfaction. However, buying something like a massage, an evening out with the family or a vacation tends to leave people happier in the end.
#6 Allow yourself a tasty treat
Conquer your cravings with dark chocolate. Research shows it can satisfy our sweet tooth better than milk chocolate can — and it’s more filling.
Here’s a piece of news we can sink our teeth into: A small study at the University of Copenhagen found that dark chocolate was better than milk chocolate at satisfying a sweet tooth. Those who ate the dark confection reported feeling fuller for longer, ate fewer calories at their next meal and had fewer cravings afterward than those who ate the milk chocolate. Dark chocolate is loaded with heart-healthy antioxidants called flavanols that may help lower blood pressure. Some studies have shown an association with chocolate intake and reduced risks for heart disease and stroke. But that doesn’t mean chocolate is a health food that you can nosh on at will. Treat yourself to no more than a small square (about an ounce) of dark chocolate a day to satisfy your cravings and fill up on antioxidants.
#7 Stay in bed longer
How to look more attractive: Spend more time in bed. A new study shows people are rated better-looking when they are getting enough sleep.
Turns out, there really is such a thing as beauty rest. To look your most attractive, the best thing you can do is get a good night’s sleep. That’s according to a study published in the British Medical Journal, which found people were rated better-looking when they had received a full night’s sleep. Observers also ranked sleep-deprived volunteers as being less healthy and more tired looking. According to the study’s authors, people are programmed to pick up on exhaustion and may be less attracted to it, because of the health problems and lower life expectancy associated with long-term sleep deprivation. Besides being bad for your appearance, lack of sleep has been linked to a higher risk of hypertension, weight gain, diabetes and heart disease. Set aside plenty of time each night for rest. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, talk to your family doctor.
#8 Indulge in a massage
Work out your kinks and your stress with a massage. Rubdowns help lower stress hormones and may even boost the immune system.
Massages aren’t just good for muscle tension — they can help wipe out stress and anxiety too. Research suggests that rubdowns may elicit the relaxation response — a physical state of deep rest that releases tension in muscles, slows down breathing, and decreases heart rate and blood pressure. These physiological changes can help reduce the effects of stress on the body and change how we react emotionally to pressure. In other words, it can help take the edge off. Many massage therapy schools offer free or reduced-rate rubdowns so students can hone their skills. Look online or in the yellow pages for massage schools in your area.
The Health Benefits of Friendship
By Victoria Moran Published 6/29/2010
No doubt you’ve heard the good-health prescription: Eat a colorful, natural diet; exercise regularly; manage your stress with relaxation, recreation and meditation; get enough sleep; and have the proper checkups and screenings for your age and history. Recently, a host of research has added another, perhaps surprising, to-do to that list: Make friends, and keep those friendships in good repair.
”Researchers have found that having even one close friend that you confide in can extend your life by as much as 10 years,” says sociologist and relationship coach Jan Yager, PhD, author of Friendshifts. “Numerous studies also show that recovery from a major health challenge, such as a heart attack or cancer, is enhanced because of friendship.”
The Friendship Advantage
A landmark UCLA study in 2000 showed that, for women, having a circle of friends actually provides an alternative to the traditional fight-or-flight response to stress. The researchers called this response “tend-and-befriend” and showed that when women gather with other women (and with children), they release more oxytocin, the mother-love hormone associated with breast-feeding, which has a marked calming effect.
But women aren’t alone in attaining measurable health benefits from friendship. The Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging looked at nearly 1,500 seniors — women and men — for a full decade. Among their findings was that having good friends is more likely to increase longevity than even close relationships with adult children and other family members. The study subjects with the largest number of close friends outlived those with the fewest by 22 percent. Even major life changes such as the death of a spouse could not erode the “friendship advantage.” What makes these findings exciting — and practically applicable — is that while anyone’s number of family members is limited, we can expand our network of friends for as long as we live.
Friends may also add to the quality of those extra years by helping us maintain brain function. A Harvard School of Public Health study that looked at older adults across the country provides evidence that social integration — through marriage, volunteer work or frequent contact with children and neighbors — delays memory loss in elderly Americans.
While it’s clear that having friends is a healthy habit, the verdict is still out on the precise reasons why this is so. The Australian researchers speculate that, in addition to the emotional support friends provide one another during difficult times, positive peer pressure may also play a role — encouraging the adaptation of healthy lifestyle practices, such as joining a gym or a smoking cessation program together — as well as the stress-reduction benefits that derive from feeling connected to other people.
Friends in Health
Stress management is, in fact, one of the great gifts of friendship. One 2009 study found that clients with the fewest friendship connections were those most likely to be dealing with depression, anxiety and heart disease. Stress is known to encourage a host of maladies, from the common cold to the arterial inflammation that contributes to cardiovascular disease.
That might explain the results of a two-year study that looked at 500 women with suspected coronary artery disease. Those with a strong support system were not only more likely to be alive after two years, but their rates of hypertension and diabetes were lower, and they were less likely to have an excess of abdominal fat.
The Friend-Weight Dilemma
It is in the area of excess fat, however, that a single dark cloud may lurk in the bright sky of friendship and health. A study reported in 2007 in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that there could be a connection between the rise of obesity and our social interactions. In other words, obesity may “spread” through a network of friends as members of that network become more tolerant of obesity and the behaviors that lead to it.
Reflecting on this study, Michelle P. Gallant, MS, RD, of Harvard University Health Services, says, “Because we want to fit in with our peers, we might go along with their way of eating. If we’re out with people having appetizers, drinks and desserts, the brain is stimulated by that, and it can trigger us to eat more than we’re really hungry for.”
Curiously, it’s our same-gender friends that appear to be the culprits here. The New England Journal report suggests that we’re influenced more by those who “resemble us.” Even spouses, who presumably share a kitchen and routinely dine together, may not affect each other’s weight gain as much as mutual friends do.
These same friends can also exert another kind of unhelpful peer pressure, especially among young women, when they overemphasize and idealize thinness. “I see the damage friends can cause each other about body image,” says Gallant. “Too much ‘diet talk’ can cause women to be preoccupied with body size in a negative way.”
The secret seems to be choosing well-balanced, health-conscious friends and engaging together in health-promoting activities. Good habits, as well as bad, may be “contagious” when we’re in the company of people we care about and whose company we genuinely enjoy. A University of Pennsylvania study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at 344 African-American women and men, and found that exercising with a family member or friend led to more weight loss than going solo, but only if the buddy-cisers enrolled together. Being assigned an exercise partner who wasn’t a “real friend” had a negligible effect.
Making Friends 101
As positive friendships vie with dark, leafy greens as the good-health superstars, how do we get more of them, especially if we’re not the life-of-the-party type? Some ideas:
Make the first move: According to Dr. Yager, showing an interest in another person is the first step on the road to friendship.
Branch out: “Since having shared interests is an obvious way to begin a relationship that might become a friendship, get active in sports or cultural activities where you’ll meet people. If someone seems interesting, suggest getting a cup of coffee before or after the next session.”
Be interested: Once a nascent friendship is underway, be genuinely interested in learning about this person. Keep things light and allow for humor. Although strong friendships can develop in support groups and other places where people go for help, more often the person who’ll be there for you when things get rough entered your life through shared good times.
Show your appreciation: Finally, cherish the friends you already have. It’s no easy matter to stay in touch these days, especially if you’ve lived in seven cities, had a dozen jobs and your face-to-face friends are in competition with a hundred Facebook friends you may not have seen since childhood (if you’ve ever met at all). While it can be fun to “know” a lot of people, acquaintances aren’t the same as friends. Stay close to the tried-and-true by getting together in person when you can, sharing a phone call every so often and making e-mail contact or even sending a real note — on paper with a stamp! Handwritten notes were always special, but now that they’re so rare, they’re worth their weight in friendship gold.
Finally, be there for the people you care about when they could use a friend. Most of us will never save a life by running into a burning building or jumping into a churning sea, but science now tells us that we just might extend someone’s life simply by being a part of it.
Think of just one person who touched your life in a special way. It might have been a teacher who recognized your capability and encouraged you. Perhaps a boss who mentored you in your career, offering insight and support. Maybe a grandparent to whom you could tell anything and who loved you unconditionally. As I write this post, several people come to mind and heart for me. How blessed we are to have even just one person who saw through our fear, hurt and need and reached out to us to nurture and support our growth in some way. Who was that person for you? What gifts and graces did he or she have that touched your life the most? What did you learn from your time with them? What values and wisdom have you gained from your relationship? Think about how your life has been enriched by this person. Notice how it feels to remember him or her. Ponder the ways in which you are living out of the wisdom and lessons that person has shared with you. Consider the gifts that this person shared with you and integrate them into your holiday wherever possible.
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