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Monday, December 29, 2014

Making Resolutions That Last

2:06 PM Posted by Tiffany Taft , , ,
It’s that time again. An entire year has come and gone and we are left with an opportunity to examine what we have done and how far we have come this year. After some investigation, it appears that only 30% of individuals will actually set New Year Resolutions - meaning less than half of Americans will set healthy and obtainable goals for the new year. People may vow to eat better, lose weight, improve relationships, and even learn to cook; possibilities are endless.
Currently, the diet industry worth is over $60 billion and the fitness industry is a $25 billion dollar industry. With so many options and “fixes” promised by some organizations, it can be even more challenging for those wanting to change poor habits for healthier ones.

Here are some ideas for you this new year to achieve those resolutions you desire to change.

First, create a resolution that you really want. If you are creating a goal that others want for you, but you do not want for yourself, it is not going to work. Trying to change for the sake of others is not the best option for lifelong results. You have to want the change. So make sure your resolution is for YOU. Also, too much is not always a good thing.

Your resolutions should be limited. If you find yourself writing more than five big goals, consider the top three you would like to see different this year. Part of setting goals is to make sure they are obtainable, so be specific. If you set several larger resolutions, its common for people to “give up” when they do not see positive results across all of their goals. Be realistic and specific with these changes.

When you set goals, they should be measurable. The action plan you design should include how you will measure your success both small and large. Sometimes it’s hard to see the whole picture and reviewing small pieces of success you accomplished throughout the week is extremely helpful.

 Next, create a plan of action. Change is never easy and sometimes you may need the help of others. If getting more exercise or eating right are your resolutions, perhaps you may need to find a friend or a group of likeminded individuals who can encourage you and your goals.
Be prepared that your goals mean you will have to change your habits. Habits can be difficult to change and/or break. Knowing which habits are the hardest to reduce or change will also be helpful when setting your action plan. Support systems including your friends and family will be extremely beneficial during your initial engagement of changing habits.

Additionally, you should consider writing down your goal and sharing it with others. Seeing a visual reminder of your long-term desire for change in addition to friends or family getting positive reminders can all assist positive change. Please keep in mind that those you share your goals with should be supportive for you. Lifestyle changes are difficult by themselves, try and limit negative feedback that some individuals may offer.

Finally, if you feel like you missed the mark or failed at your goal, forgive yourself and move forward. The first of the year is not the only time you can set New Year resolutions. Your new year starts when you want; 365 days from day one. If you make a mistake, eat the wrong food, miss a workout – whatever the case may be – you can always start again. You create your own refresh button. Remember: It’s not how you fall, it’s how you get back up.

Happy New Years everyone. Keep your goals strong!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Holidays, Relatives, and Keeping Our Sanity

5:12 AM Posted by Tiffany Taft , , , ,
It’s that time of year where family and friends gather for festivities and holiday cheer. But sometimes, cheer is in short supply, especially when relationships experience conflicts. Turmoil within our closest relationships can sometimes make or break our holiday spirit. It does not matter how old you are, get-togethers can be challenging. So as the holidays progress, here are some helpful reminders of improving and maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family to enjoy the most of this season and the end of 2014.
First off, believe and understand that you are not the only one having a difficult time. By acknowledging that others may be experiencing similar difficulties, it may help reduce feelings of inadequacy or self-criticism when you engage with friends and family.

Next, consider your current emotional state and ask yourself if you typically feel frustrated or aggravated with those around you. It’s a difficult task, but if you are reacting and responding to others differently than you usually do, it’s beneficial to return to your typical emotional state.

When you find yourself stressed, frustrated or aggravated, take a moment for yourself. Taking a break and even removing yourself from challenging situations can reduce conflict and internal turmoil. For example, you can leave the room for a few moments or even go for a walk to reduce negative emotional experiences.
Also, when friends or family say something less appealing, try not to take it to heart. If you do not take comments personally, you will have a greater ability to exhibit conscious choices and responses. If you can limit feeling personally attacked by others, you may find it easier to observe the dynamics of relationships around you (both friends and family).

It’s surprising how much you can learn by simply observing those around you.

You may identify individuals who are quick to attack and criticize, seek attention and even avoid conflicts. Additionally, showing compassion to those closest to you can greatly reduce negative interactions with others. Showing compassion and even empathy to friends and family experiencing a difficult time of year is likely to reduce unnecessary conflict during holiday get-togethers.

So remember, as the year draws closer to an end, try to prevent holiday blues associated with poor interactions of those closest to you. When holiday cheer is lacking because relationships have become more challenging, take a moment and reflect on these helpful reminders. If your relationships flourish during these holidays, it is likely your mental health will as well. Be prepared to use your positive coping strategies and be mindful of your own responses around others. Positive relationships and interactions with others begins with you.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The challenge of sitting with our thoughts

7:36 PM Posted by Stephanie Horgan , , , ,

One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, once said, "My mind is a bad neighborhood I try not to go into alone." It seems that more and more of us are finding that being alone with our thoughts can be a truly terrifying activity. When was the last time you spent time doing nothing? Take out the social media and electronic distractions, and what do you have left when you are alone? Where does your mind go?

I came across a study recently that was too fascinating not to share. Many of you may have already read about it, but it got me thinking about how our minds work. The article was published in Science magazine, and the title was "Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind." In this article, authors looked at 11 different scientific studies, and found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think. They found that the participants enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. The conclusion that was drawn was that most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative. I notice this tendency in myself and how difficult it is to just sit and be, rather than do. 

The set up of most of the studies was using college-student participants and having them spend time by themselves in an unadorned room (for 6 to 15 min, depending on the study) after storing all of their belongings, including cell phones and writing implements. The participants were typically asked to spend the time entertaining themselves with their thoughts, with the only rules being that they should remain in their seats and stay awake. After this thinking period, participants answered questions about how enjoyable the experience was and how hard it was to concentrate. Next the researchers wanted to find out if participants would enjoy themselves more if they have something to do. In this study, researchers randomly assigned participants to entertain themselves with their own thoughts or to engage in external activities (such as reading a book, listening to music, or surfing the Web). They asked the latter participants not to communicate with others (ex via texting or emailing), so that they could compare nonsocial external activities (such as reading) with a nonsocial internal activity (thinking). The results were that participants enjoyed the external activities much more than just thinking, found it easier to concentrate, and reported that their minds wandered less. The scientists then repeated these experiments again with non-college students and found similar results. 
This finding especially fascinated me: Many participants elected to receive negative stimulation over no stimulation—especially men. Sixty-seven percent of men (12 of 18) gave themselves at least one shock during the thinking period, not including one outlier who administered 190 shocks to himself! But what is striking is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 min was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid. What does that say about how much fear we as humans have of being alone with our thoughts?! 

This was a beautifully written quote at the end of the article: Research has shown that minds are difficult to control however, and it may be particularly hard to steer our thoughts in pleasant directions and keep them there. This may be why many people seek to gain better control of their thoughts with meditation and other techniques, with clear benefits. Without such training, people prefer doing to thinking, even if what they are doing is so unpleasant that they would normally pay to avoid it. The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.

As a therapist who gets to journey into many peoples thought processes, I can testify that minds are can be very tricky things to change. More often than not, I use CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) to challenge client's thoughts and help them have more control over what script is running in their head. I also enjoy using the principles of mindfulness to help clients notice where their minds typically go, let go of the anxiety or depression, and just be still. It is much easier on paper than it is in reality, but the hard work of looking at your thoughts in therapy is completely worth it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Handling Holiday Weight Gain

9:03 AM Posted by Tiffany Taft , , , ,
In the midst of the holiday season, food is heavy topic. Between cookie exchanges, holiday parties and family dinners, many people find themselves eating more. Over 35% of Americans report family celebrations and feasts are a source of weight gain. On average, between Thanksgiving and New Years, Americans will gain anywhere from five to ten pounds (that’s one dress size!). Typically, people consume 32% more during holiday dinners and even more if holidays fall on the weekend.
For this season, limiting overall consumption of unhealthy or unnecessary foods will be key. Surrounded by increased choices of food and desserts, it can be challenging and difficult to say no. In an effort to keep those holiday pounds off and maintain healthy lifestyles, here are several suggestions to consider. Planning ahead will be a simple and effective tool for you.

Know what types of food will be available and what you can eat. If several of your favorite dishes will be offered, choose beforehand which one you want over the others. Self-monitoring is an effective tool to maintain your current weight and reduce the likelihood of holiday weight gain. Self-monitoring uses personal observation and recording your target behaviors. However, you will have to be honest about what you are eating and how much. Using self-monitoring and documenting your foods can help you identify specific food groups that are challenging to refrain from eating to as well as patterns when you are likely to eat more.

Even with reviewing your food choices, you still need to eat; so don’t deprive yourself altogether. Consider having a bite or two instead of the whole piece. If you get to cook this year, use new recipes that are low in calories. Even if you have to bring food places, at least you know there will be a healthy alternative and you can still enjoy meals with others. If you are headed to a holiday dinner or party, you may consider eating a healthy snack beforehand.

Curbing your appetite can reduce overeating and unnecessary calorie consumption. Another suggestion is not to skip regular meals. Maintaining consistent blood sugar levels by eating regular meals can reduce weight gain. If you plan to starve yourself and gorge out on holiday dinners, that is not an effective plan.

During meals and festivities, remember to drink water. There will be several opportunities for you to consume empty calories through liquids. Having a water bottle on hand can help curb your appetite and decrease hunger.

Finally, make sure you are getting rest (7 to 8 hours of sleep) and exercise. Research has shown that limited sleep increases hunger up to 18% in adults. You need to get your rest. Increasing your exercise time by 10 to 15 minutes also can help shed those extra holiday calories.

 Gaining weight by consuming sugary drinks and desserts is not difficult to do this time of year. Challenging yourself to refrain from holiday cookie platters and unhealthy eating patterns is much harder. So remember, before you fill your plate, consider food options and choices in front of you. There’s no reason you cannot start the New Years off right before the end of the 2014.

It’s all about moderation.

Friday, December 5, 2014

In the Spotlight: Sjogren's Syndrome

10:50 AM Posted by Stephanie Horgan ,
Dr. Taft's blog entry yesterday on surviving the holidays could not be more timely. This is the month of December, and I am just now writing the November post for our Rare Disease of the Month blog. This month we're discussing Sjogren's Syndrome. Although you may have never heard of it, the disease currently affects over 4 million Americans. In case you're wondering (like I was), it is pronounced "SHOW-grins." It was named after the man who discovered it in 1933, Dr. Henrik Sjogren. One well-known celebrity with Sjogren's Syndrome is the tennis player Venus Williams.   

Photo credit: What If Gourmet

Snapshot:  Sjogren's Syndrome is an autoimmune disease where the person's white cells are attacking the body's moisture-producing glands. Nine out of ten patients are women, and half of the time it occurs  in the presence of another autoimmune disease such as lupus or arthritis. The hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth, but since this diseases is systemic, it can affect many other areas of the body. Some of the parts of the body that can be affected are kidneys, lungs, liver, pancreas, the GI system, and the central nervous system. Some patients experience joint pain and extreme fatigue.  If you want to see a great snapshot of Sjogren's, check out this video clip put out by the Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation. 

Photo credit: US Pharmacist

What About Diagnosis and Treatment?
Because the symptoms patients may experience are similar to other diseases, the average length of time to receive a diagnosis of Sjogren's is 3.9 years. Often time it can be overlooked or misdiagnosed. There is no single test that confirms Sjogren's Syndrome. Ophthalmologists typically are the doctors who diagnose this. After doing a physical exam and listening to your symptoms, they use a variety of tests to make a diagnosis. The tests include blood tests to look for abnormal antibodies or inflammation, as well as eye tests that measure tear production and dryness. Dental exams looking for salivary abnormalities help as well. 

There is no cure for Sjogren's and different patients report different levels of severity of symptoms. Treatments can include over-the-counter as well as prescription medications. Some patients require immuno-suppressive drugs to treat their systemic disease. 

Photo credit: Tufts University

What About the Social and Emotional Impact?
There are few research studies on the social and emotional impact of Sjogren's Syndrome.  Some of the symptoms of the illness are invisible like extreme fatigue, joint pain, and vaginal dryness. That does not mean that symptoms are not life-altering though. On top of this, other symptoms like red eyes, tooth decay, swollen parotid glands and skin rashes may be more visible and present more challenges to a patient's social life and body image.  Social withdrawl, depression, anxiety can happen, as they can for other patients with chronic illness. 

Helpful Resources:

Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation
Search for local Support Groups
Celebrate World Sjogren's Day on July 23
Sjogren's National Patient Conference 
Clinical Trials for Sjogren's Syndrome

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dealing with the Holiday Blues

1:52 PM Posted by Tiffany Taft , , ,
It’s December and ‘tis the season to be jolly. Thanksgiving has passed with Christmas and Hanukah quickly approaching. You cannot leave home without being reminded of holiday spirit. Radio stations are filled with holiday carols and business fronts show support of holiday celebrations. However, anticipation of holiday cheer leave many feeling anything but jolly. 

The “holiday blues” create feelings of sadness, anxiety, stress and loneliness for many people. So let’s look at some of the reasons holiday blues develop. 

A leading cause to holiday blues begins with feeling pressured to be “merry.” Everywhere you go there are holiday reminders, decorations and greetings filled with cheer and positive regard. But if you’re not feeling cheerful, internal pressure begins to stir. Many feel forced to “be merry” which can create increased feelings of sadness or guilt and lead to isolation.

Also, some individuals reflect on past gatherings with friends and family. Whether it’s consciously or unconsciously, everyone has a mental record of their previous holidays. Your current mood may be impacted by previous disappointing or sad holiday experiences. Additionally, many people experience reminders of being alone or that a loved one will not be present. 

Negative emotions are likely to develop when holiday celebrations are a sharp reminder of pain, grief and loss. Separation of family and friends, whether emotionally or geographically, can also be painful this time of year. And let’s not forget financial burdens and hardships. Anxiety and stress are often checked off with gift lifts. 

Even more, if financial resources are low, many feel as though they are on the outside looking in while others experience joy through gift giving. 

So how do we fight these holiday blues? 

Don’t despair and know that it is ok to feel what you feel. Forcing feelings during holiday celebrations tend to make circumstances worse. 

Give a hand to someone in need. When we are helping others it’s difficult to focus on our own feelings of sadness. 

Create a new tradition for yourself or your family. If you have unpleasant or unhappy memories of holidays passed, it’s time to start making your own. A new tradition may be just what this holiday needs for you. 

Stay active and busy as much as possible. If you are able to fill your schedule with FUN holiday celebrations, you fight isolation and depression. Also being physically active during these winter months can combat your holiday funk. 

Finally, give yourself a gift of positive regard. This time of year, we spend a lot of time going places and doing things for the holiday season. So stop, give pause and offer yourself some positive encouragement. You deserve it! Beat the “bah humbug” mood and make a change for positive health this year. You can beat those holiday blues.