Tuesday, July 8, 2014

get happier

Because I’m Happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof, because I’m happy.
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth, because I’m happy.
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you, because I’m happy.
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do.
(From “Happy” by Pharrell Williams)

If you are going to get a song stuck in your mind, this is not such a bad one. I have seen several television shows on happiness recently. You can look for them on television or the internet and/or read my take on them below.

Shawn Achor is a professor at Harvard University and has traveled the world studying happiness. He asserts that 90% of our happiness depends not upon our external world, but upon how we process the events in our lives. In his book, "The Happiness Advantage" he says that by increasing your happiness level you will:
• Increase your brain health and remember things better
• Lessen your chance of heart disease and other illnesses
• Make better financial decisions
• Have more energy
• Have fewer backaches, headaches, and other fatigue related symptoms
• Be more successful at losing weight
• Live longer

According to Dr. Achor, there are five habits that have been shown to increase your happiness level if you do any of them for as many as twenty-one days. They are:
• Writing down three things for which you are thankful
• Journaling a positive event that occurred within the past 24 hours
• Exercising for ten minutes per day
• Meditating on your breathing for two minutes per day
• Writing an email praising someone

Marci Shimoff wrote "Happy For No Reason" and there was a show on PBS by the same name. Some of the keys to happiness that she discusses are:
• Taking ownership of your happiness level
• Taking care of your health with nutrition and physical activity
• Spirituality
• Nourishing relationships
• Love
• Meaningful activities

And finally, the documentary film, “Happy” that was shown recently on PBS looked at different cultures around the world and how they strive for and achieve happiness. Filmmaker Roko Belic found that across the world some of the activities that promote happiness are community ties, regular exercise, personal improvement projects, and volunteer activities.

Consider trying some of the ideas listed above to increase your happiness level and thereby also increase your health, immunity, resiliency and personal productivity. Contact your Employee Assistance Program. We can also help. 770.834.8327

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Helping Your Child Decide What to Do after High School

Helping to prepare your teenager for life after high school may seem like a daunting task! Although many of us assume that a college education is the next vital step, other alternatives exist and may represent a better fit for your particular child. Educating your son or daughter about his options will not only help him feel more empowered as a young adult but will also likely help him to invest more fully in whatever decision you collaboratively make. Your high school graduate may want to go to college, get a job, or take a year off. Here's how you can help your adult-to-be make the best decision! College or Technical School You and your teenager will probably want to begin researching options for college and/or technical schools during your child’s junior year of high school. Encourage him to think about what qualities he is looking for in a college, such as: academic standards, location, majors and programs of interest, career possibilities, and extracurricular involvement. Help your child begin to articulate his personal goals and dreams. Does a particular college or technical school help them move in the right direction? After doing some online research and talking to people, creating a list of potential schools to visit might be a good idea. Sitting in on a class, talking with students who attend that school, and figuring out options for financial aid will help you both become clear about which options will provide the best fit. It’s important to be upfront with your teen about the level of emotional and financial support you’re willing to provide if he goes to college. Job Options If college isn't an option or your teenager needs extra time to earn money for tuition, finding a job or internship may be a better choice. Going directly into the work force offers several possible benefits, including health insurance, tuition reimbursement, and valuable work experience. Helping your teenager research job options, learn how to create a resume, and prepare for interviews will be very helpful for landing the first real job! Entering the military is another alternative that may help a young person decide what kind of lifestyle, values, and social role he wants for the long-term. Veterans are entitled to many benefits, both while in the service and afterward. Talking with friends and family who have military experience may provide valuable information for this decision. Taking Time Off For some young people, taking a year off between high school and whatever comes after can be beneficial. Opportunities for travel/study abroad, community service, and/or self-exploration abound! Community service organizations offer a wide variety of choices that young people can match with their skills and interests. Americorp, for example, offers hundreds of programs across the United States with a small stipend, plus a chance to obtain money for college or vocational training. Many religious organizations provide international service programs and missions opportunities as well. Remember: It's Your Child's Life When the subject concerns the future, some young people may try to shrug it off. Here's how to get the ball rolling and keep communication flowing: • Really listen to your child and resist the temptation to provide unsolicited advice. If he is struggling to make a decision, a story or two about a tough choice you had to make might be very reassuring. • Provide respect and support while giving up some control. Trying to direct your child's future probably won't benefit him/her in the long run. This is a time for young people to develop invaluable decision-making and problem-solving skills. • Prepare your child to be self-sufficient away from home. This includes making major decisions regarding dating, drugs, alcohol, and sex, as well as mastering day-to-day living skills (cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, paying bills, and managing a budget). • Don't be afraid to set limits on how much you can financially support a teen who decides to take time off. It's important for young people to increasingly move toward emotional and financial independence! It can be tough for families to stay positive and open-minded while their high school graduates figure out what’s next. Resist the temptation to lecture your child and try to remain supportive, even if he keeps changing his mind. Remember that your teenager needs your positive influence and unconditional love during this transition, and eventually things will work out for the best!

Monday, March 31, 2014

take a little trip

I just got back from vacation last week. My wife and I had a wonderful time in Athens, Georgia and Asheville, North Carolina and when I returned I felt relaxed and refreshed and ready to get back to work. That got me thinking about the benefits of vacations. I often encourage clients to plan a vacation, but I had not looked into the research.

It turns out that vacations are therapeutic. In several studies it has been shown that taking vacations is good for physical health, mental health, relationships, and work performance/productivity. And they can even help you break an unhealthy habit.

Physical health. In the famous Framington Heart Study it was found that men who took vacations lived longer than those who did not take vacations and that women who took vacations twice per year were eight times less likely to develop coronary artery disease than those who vacationed less than once every five years.

Mental health. Several studies have shown that taking a vacation increases happiness levels. Interestingly, the planning of the trip seems to increase happiness more than the trip itself. The length of the vacation and the location of the trip make very little difference in happiness levels. People who take vacations twice per year have been found to be less tense, depressed, and tired than those who vacation once every two years.

Relationships. In couples counseling I often recommend that a couple plan a trip together. People seem to get along better when they get out of their routines and have new experiences together. Studies have shown that marital satisfaction decreased as the frequency of vacations decreased.

Work productivity. Henry Ford found that his automobile plants could produce as many cars when workers worked a five-day week as when they worked a six-day week. Working past a certain point decreases productivity. Taking even a short vacation improves performance and attitude in the workplace.

Breaking unhealthy habits. Twenty years ago, after having smoked cigarettes for 20 years, I decided to not take any cigarettes with me on our vacation. Staying busy, having fun, and being away from my habitual smoking patterns helped me to not smoke cigarettes for that week and I have been able to (one day at a time) remain smoke-free for the last 20 years. Whether it is a substance abuse problem like nicotine addiction or biting your nails or an unhealthy eating habit – a vacation is an opportunity to create a new pattern and then to bring it home with you.

So, plan a trip. I think that Tanner Health System’s paid time off (PTO) plan is very generous. I am already planning my next two trips – a long weekend to the beach with the grandchildren in June and out west this October.
Happy trails!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

weathering the winter blues

Some of us notice a significant change in our energy level, mood, and attitude during the cold and gray months of winter.  Research has shown that a lack of light, warmth, and exposure to natural surroundings can contribute to feeling the winter blues.  Many of us experience a hibernation response every year, particularly after the hyperactivity of the holidays.  We naturally want to sleep more with less daylight and stay indoors to avoid the cold.  So how do we survive the winter? How do we stay strong when our energy reserve runs low?
The winter blues, or what is often referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is similar to mild depression.  Those of us who struggle with this condition may feel lethargic, apathetic, and unmotivated for days on end.  We may have difficulty concentrating and completing tasks.  Social withdrawal and decreased sex drive are common symptoms, and moodiness and irritability often result.  It can be easy to lose perspective in this emotional context and begin to question our self-worth, sense of connection with others, and ability to reach life goals. So how can we stay physically healthy and emotionally balanced in spite of these cold weather challenges?
Here are some tips for weathering the winter blues:
1.      Get regular physical exercise.  Exercise is one of the most important and accessible strategies for shifting the tendency toward depression in our brains and bodies.  
2.      Spend time in the sun if and when possible. Vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sunlight.  Vitamin D helps support bone, muscle, and heart health and additionally helps to improve our mood. 
3.      Eat healthy foods and consider taking a daily multivitamin.  Although when we are tired and stressed we often crave carbs and sugar, healthy eating strengthens our body’s immune response and helps to maintain emotional equilibrium.  A balanced diet can increase energy levels, improve mood and stamina, and insure a wellness response during exposure to illness.
4.      Limit alcohol and caffeine intake.  Too much of either can contribute to anxiety, headaches, muscular tension, and gastrointestinal problems.  Although they may temporarily lift our mood, overreliance negatively impacts long term physical and emotional health.
5.      A lack of sunlight may contribute to a disturbance in the body’s circadian rhythms.  A consistent bedtime routine that allows your mind and body to relax and unwind is helpful for falling asleep more easily.  Yoga, reading, a bath, or relaxing music may help!
6.      If symptoms continue, you may want to consider: (a) making an appointment with a counselor, (b) talking with your doctor about an antidepressant, and/or (c) taking a recommended herb, such as St. John’s Wort, for depression.  Research your options online and talk to friends for suggestions!

We all survive in the ways we can.  Taking good care of our bodies and minds in the winter months is especially important for staying healthy and managing stress well.  To help take care of our physical selves, Tanner located a Health Source Gym near each hospital; to help take care of our emotional selves, Tanner established the EAP staffed with Licensed Professional Counselors. If Winter Blues have taken hold of you, take a proactive approach and access the services and tools available to help.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

now what?

The new year is almost one month gone.  You managed to avoid the usual family disagreements at most of the holiday get-togethers and maybe even resolved an issue or two.  The emotional roller-coaster had more ups than downs and you’re feeling pretty good about the future. So, now what?  How do you continue 2014 with the momentum that you had in mind when you made those New Year’s resolutions that (this time) you fully intend to keep? 

You might begin by not giving the tasks ahead the power to overwhelm you.  After all, regardless of how many good intentions you have, they can only be addressed one at a time.  With that in mind, consider setting some priorities and a basic time line for what to do when.  If like most of us, you discover that your time frame doesn’t always coincide with the real world, be willing to revise and re-start as you go.  If in January it seemed worth doing, it probably still is.

Build your self-confidence by learning from the past.  Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted as saying, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.”  Stronger because we pay attention and commit to not making the same mistakes.  Stronger because we learn valuable lessons for our experiences.  Stronger because we made it though “that” challenge and now know that we can do “it” again.  Learning from the past is not the same as living there.  Instead, learning from it allows us to let it go.

Connect.  Routinely connect with others that are important to you.  We are hard wired to be connected to others--that ability is why we exist.  Sure, interaction with some people can be the most difficult part of the day.  But connecting with those who are significant to us is a continual reminder that we are worthy to love and to be loved.  With those connections we make a contribution to the best of humanity and we feel safe to be ourselves.

Remain optimistic.  The most resilient of people are those who nurture their optimism, allowing it to pull them along through the toughest of times.  Optimism doesn’t come easily for everyone—it takes intentional practice and, again, is supported by feeling connected.

Dream of a better future.  Learn and grow from the past.  Be fully connected in the present.  See the glass as half full.  If speaking to someone in confidence will help, remember your Employee Assistance Program.  Call us.  770-834-8327.