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The Changing of the Leaves

September marks the start of Fall, bringing with it a number of changes to the world around us. Green leaves change to vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red. The heat of summer makes way for the cool breezes of Autumn. How do you deal with changes in your life? Maybe you are a prepper, anticipating problems and finding solutions like a squirrel stashing nuts for winter. Perhaps you wait and see, going with the flow like a leaf in the breeze. Do you put off changes until the last moment, holding on to your old ways and only changing when you have no other option? Do you dive right in, like a child excited for their first day of school? Maybe you deny change all together, refusing to get a new jacket because your old one works just fine, despite the coffee stain. Whatever your strategy, know that change will always be there and anything can change, including how we deal with it. 

Happiness and Physical Health

It’s the beginning of the year where some of your New Year’s Resolutions are getting in shape, whether that be losing weight, gaining weight, maintaining weight or just toning.  Having a healthy active lifestyle is so important and it is so exciting that it is one of your New Year’s Resolutions! Not only does physical health contribute to your happiness, but your happiness affect your physical health. Have you ever experienced physical symptoms (i.e. high blood pressure, a stomach ulcer, low energy, tension in your body) when you are stressed or unhappy? That is your body’s way of telling you, you are unhappy or stressed.  Being physically healthy contributes to lower stress, improving mood and overall happiness. I started out by talking about your New Year’s resolution pertaining to weight, which typically involves going to the gym and exercising.  However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not just exercising, but eating healthier as well. Exercise has various fun forms, which can include going to a gym, dancing, hiking, climbing a mountain, or biking riding. Eating healthy includes adding fruit and vegetables to your diet, drinking a lot of water, and reducing your intake of juice, soda and alcohol. If you are newbie to exercising or eating healthy, start out at least once week and then gradually increase the days.  You do not have to take this journey alone, grab a friend or join a healthy, active meetup group (https://www.meetup.com/)! Remember exercise and being healthy reduce stress and improve mood so go out and pick an active activity today! 

“Having good health, being able to breathe and be happy, that’s one of the most beautiful gifts…”-Roy Ayers

Sex Education

Q: My 13-year-old daughter is entering high school in the fall, and I am afraid that she will be peer pressured to be sexually active. I grew up in a household where talking about sex was taboo, so I am unsure how to even initiate “The Talk!” How can I bring up my concerns and what topics should be discussed?

There is a common misconception among teenagers that all of their peers are engaging in sexual behaviors. This notion fosters a false sense of peer pressure and results in teens (especially boys) feeling pressured to have sex. As a parent, it is your responsibility to address inaccurate beliefs regarding sex – ideally before your teen starts dating or becomes sexually active.

Your child deserves your honesty, so it’s okay to admit that having “The Talk” is difficult. Despite how awkward some topics may seem, strive to keep the conservation going. However, you must first conquer the step that intimidates many parents: initiation. Fortunately, there are strategies you can utilize that make approaching this topic easier! Rather than sitting your child down for a lengthy heart-to-heart talk, try weaving various subjects into everyday conversation. There are plenty of moments throughout the day that can serve as transitions into teaching opportunities. For instance, the occurrence of risky sexual behavior in a TV show or movie could be used to start a discussion about safe sex. By actively choosing to make sex education an ongoing dialogue, you help normalize sexuality!

When deciding what topics to focus on, you should not assume that your child’s sex health education classes in school adequately discuss all topics. Additionally, teens are susceptible to learning misinformation from friends, media, or the Internet. You play an important role in supplementing, correcting and reinforcing any information your child may already know. A good way to begin is to find out what your child already knows and build from there. Listed below are some important topics you can use to develop the conversation.

  • Safer Sex
  • Contraceptive Use
  • Abstinence
  • Pregnancy
  • HIV/AIDS and other STDs as well as STD testing
  • Healthy, respectful relationships
  • Sexual assault and rape
  • Sexual orientation/attraction

Exercise and Happiness

We have all been told on multiple occasions throughout our lives that exercising is good for us. Aside from it aiding in weight management and increasing our strength, exercising can contribute to increasing happiness. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, is released in our brain when we exercise. Exercise further contributes to overall happiness, as it energizes us. Though the thought of putting yourself through physical activity sounds strenuous or exhausting, you will feel more energized after your workout than you did before it. Don’t believe it? Test it out for yourself! Other benefits resulting from exercising that contribute to our happiness, include a boost in our confidence as we observe our body transform, decrease in anxiety symptoms, and improved sleep.

COMPASSION AND HAPPINESS

Compassion, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. When we experience compassion, we create activity shifts in our brain that are associated with resiliency and well-being. At the National Institute of Health, Jordan Grafman, conducted a brain-imaging study that demonstrated the pleasure centers in our brain (parts of our brains that are active when we experience pleasure from things such as yummy foods, money, sex) were just as active when observing people giving money to charity as when receiving money for themselves. Happiness stems from compassion because it contributes to broadening our perspective beyond ourselves. When we focus on others and perhaps helping them, our attention shifts from our own issues. This shift in attention can improve our mood and may also lend insight into our own situation. Acts of compassion can be done for those you know, those you do not know, the Earth, or even for yourself!

NEW YEAR, NEW RESOLUTIONS

With a new year comes new resolutions. Reflecting on our difficulties maintaining resolutions is often discouraging; however, we likely set ourselves up for failure before even beginning Often times the resolutions we set are not well defined (e.g., “I will exercise” or “I plan to lose weight”), unrealistic, and/or difficult to maintain. Thankfully, there is a clever acronym to help set us up for success and to guide in the creation of realistic resolutions. The acronym is S.M.A.R.T. and it stands for Specific (simplistically written and clearly defined), Measurable (provides evidence we are meeting or not met our resolution), Achievable (resolution should be slightly challenging, but also bring a sense of confidence it can be achieved), Results-focused (resolution should lead to the desired result), and Time-bound (provides a timeframe that creates a sense of tension between the current reality and the vision of the goal).
To give an example of what this would look like, we will use one of the most common resolutions, exercise. A S.M.A.R.T. resolution might sound something like this, “I will complete 30-minutes of light-moderate exercise three days a week. I will track progress towards this goal through use of a calendar and by the end of the first month I will have created a routine I can maintain. By the end of the sixth months, I will be completing 30-minutes of light-moderate exercise 4 days a week and by the end of the first year, I will maintain 30-minutes of light- moderate exercise 5 days a week.” This example highlights the various parts of the S.M.A.R.T. goal, but we recommend personalizing it for yourself. For example, maybe instead of increasing the number of days you exercise, you could increase the amount of time you exercise on the three days. The key is to make goals that are realistic for you – and do not be afraid to start out with small goals. If you find these goals are too easy and do not provide a sense of challenge, you can always increase the difficulty! Alternatively, if you find your initial goals were a little ambitious, reduce them to a more appropriate level. As a last note, if you have several desired resolutions, we recommend prioritizing only one or two before incorporating the others. In this coming New Year, work S.M.A.R.T., not hard!

HAPPINESS AND PETS

Social support is one way we can help ourselves improve our overall psychological and physical well-being, but does it always have to be accomplished by other people? Research suggests the answer is no (but you happy pet owners already knew that, didn’t you?)! McConnell and colleagues conducted three studies in 2011 exploring the benefits of owning a pet. Their studies demonstrate multiple benefits including, but not limited to, greater self-esteem, decrease in loneliness, healthier relationships, and improved mood.  Research is also demonstrating some evidence that people with pets fare better when facing serious health challenges (e.g., recent heart attacks, HIV). While studies have demonstrated a link between pets and various positive benefits, those who have human support and a pet receive the largest benefits. It is important to consider pets often come with large responsibilities that if not properly planned for can diminish or eliminate the positive benefits. However, if adequately planned and cared for, a pet can be every bit as good as a best friend (just like the old adage says)!

KINDNESS AND HAPPINESS

Through our lives, we all perform acts of kindness whether consciously or unconsciously. It can be in the form of opening a door for someone while walking out of a grocery store or carving out time to volunteer with a local charity. There are also times where our acts of kindness may not be known by the recipient. For example, having coffee ready for your co-workers because you had to go in early one morning to work on an assignment. They may not be aware of who made the coffee, but for coffee lovers, the smell of the aroma can be enough to put a smile on their face. In that moment, perhaps it may not be important to you to share you made the coffee because the reactions of your co-workers are enough. Research has demonstrated that when individuals engage in different acts of kindness, there is an increase in happiness, as it increases our pro-social tendencies toward others. Challenge yourself to perform acts of kindness regardless of whether they are big or small. As research suggests, the key is engaging in a variety of acts to avoid these acts becoming routine and feeling like a chore. It can also be helpful to write down your acts of kindness and reflect on them periodically.

HAPPINESS AND THE UPCOMING HOLIDAYS

While the holidays are filled with cheer and joy, stress can also be a part of it. There can be multiple upcoming parties, work events, family gatherings, and costs that need to be prioritized. Sometimes it helps to start thinking about the holidays earlier to ensure the associated stress does not take away from the happiness experienced during the holiday season. Try focusing on what is important to you. Decide whether hosting everyone at your home is important or being together regardless of the location matters most. If attending church on Christmas Eve is something you have missed in the recent years due to other responsibilities (e.g., cooking, wrapping gifts), then perhaps this year you may want to consider asking other family members for help. If you are hosting a party, make a conscious effort to socialize during the evening even if there are other hosting responsibilities that need to be taken care. It is okay to delegate some tasks to other family members. Often, we do not get to spend time with our family and friends because we find ourselves too caught up with hosting duties. It is also helpful to consider the small things. Aside from the hosting, gift giving, festivities, and delicious meals, filling your home with holiday scents and music can also add a special touch improving the mood and overall joy of the holidays.