Monday, December 28, 2015

Stress-Free New Year

Now that Christmas has ended, it’s time to prepare for a healthier and prosperous New Year! This is the time to get your finances in order as well as your health. I usually set aside some time to reflect on the past year and hope to see a better one for the future. All the positive things that occurred in 2015, I tend to focus on and appreciate. The not so good things, I try not to focus on and carry over to the New Year. It is imperative that we do not focus on the negative as this will follow us into the New Year and never leave! Goals are very important to have for the New Year. Here are some goals I set for myself for the New Year:

  • Lose 60 lbs.
  • Eat more vegetables
  • Exercise 4 days a week
  • Focus more on self-care
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Spend less money on fast food and cook more at home

If you have any goals for the New Year, please do not hesitate to get moving. This is something we all can do together. Let’s get started and make 2016 a great year!!!

Vashonte James, MSW, LCSW

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Health Benefits of Yoga and Its Stress Reducing Capacity

The practice of yoga has endured for thousands of years and is noted primarily for its ability to increase bodily flexibility and focused awareness. This focused awareness, achieved through breath work and bodily attunement, is a form of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing attention on the present moment without judgment. Thus, yoga is a dual practice of body and mind work. The key to yogic benefit is to perform a well-formulated sequence of postures, called asanas, with long hold times.

Yoga has been shown to have a number of health benefits.  Yoga can enhance weight loss and help maintain weight over time. Because yoga increases mindfulness, mindfulness promotes a better relationship with food where food is savored and urges for emotional eating can be better managed. The inner focus associated with yoga can promote a healthier body image that is less encumbered with critical evaluation.  Decreases in blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower blood glucose (sugar) are the cardiovascular benefits associated with practicing yoga. The overall fitness benefits of yoga include increased endurance, muscle strength and balance.

Yoga also has neuroscience benefits that only recently have been explained.  For simplicity sake, let’s divide the brains response to stress along two reactive systems – the emotional reaction and the logical reaction.  The emotional reaction to stress is the activating response that turns on the body’s emotions (fear, anger, etc.) and stress hormones (adrenalin and cortisol). The logical reaction to stress does the opposite. It tries to turn the stress signal off and relax the emotions and body.  The pathways of both these systems are located in various parts of the body.

Yoga activates both of these pathways through the engagement of postures or asanas. When a posture is held, the logical system is activated as one focuses on the position. When the body bends forward, relaxation is ignited through bodily nerve pathways. So, bending forward while concentrating forces the logical brain to increase at the same time relaxation is increased producing enhancement of both. When the body bends backward, the logical system is engaged but the contracted muscles produce a stress response. Now, the logical system is challenged to overcome the stress response. The process of overcoming the stress response strengthens the logical system in the presence of stress, thus improving overall and long-term stress reduction.  Practicing yoga regularly helps rewire the brains circuitry to improve and increase the connections to the logical system making it easier to manage stress.  In terms of behavior, this means that negative thinking is better controlled and minimized and negative mood states (anxiety and depression) are reduced.  For these reasons, yoga has successfully been used in the treatment of trauma and is being explored for its use in cardiac and cancer treatments, all of which are affected by stress.

Submitted By Holly Houston, PhD. Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Monday, December 7, 2015

Beating the Holiday Blues

‘Tis the Season...for joy, happiness, and time spent with friends and family. ‘Tis also the season for stress, anxiety, loneliness, and exhaustion. While we are excited about the holidays, and may often look forward to the season, we also are overwhelmed by the many festivities and obligations. We’re busy attending holiday programs and concerts, cooking and baking, decorating, cleaning, hosting company, and of course shopping. It is extremely easy to get lost in the daily shuffle of it all, which can cause us to feel stressed and anxious. The season that we were so excited about has now become dreaded, and we can’t wait for it to be over with.

This is the tug of war we play every year. We don’t need to. We become so caught up in the process of it all that we forget why we’re doing it. We forget that we enjoy the holidays because of the joy and happiness we (hopefully) experience when we spend special time with our friends and family. That if it wasn’t for those people in our lives, there would be no need for baking and cooking, shopping, or decorating, and there would be no holiday programs to attend. The holiday season was never meant to be the source of stress; we have created that ourselves through the generations.

Make the season become once again about celebration. Change your thinking pattern. Rather than dreading another holiday work party, consider the fact that while you are at a work function absolutely no work is expected of you. Decorate the house if it makes you happy to do so, but don’t put up more that you’ll want to take down later. Let baking and cooking become a family tradition that you can do with your children, and let there be something special about it like singing songs or bringing a plate over to an elderly neighbor. Learn your limits and abide by them. Sometimes things are better when they are simpler. And never forget that excitement you felt for the holidays when you were a child.
The holidays can be a very stressful time for many, but only if we allow it to be.

Kelly Renzi, PsyD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist