Enjoying the Holiday Season: Managing and Reducing Stress

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 9:16 AM comments (0)

Holiday-stressThe holiday season is often an exciting and much anticipated time of year. This season—for all its fun and festivities—often comes with long lines, burdensome traffic, inclement weather and various pressures leaving you to feel stressed out and overwhelmed.

For many of us the holidays are nerve-wracking.  Some attribute the stress to having to spend time with family, travel and excessive spending.  But, in reality, the holidays are difficult because our self-talk, that never-ending commentary going on in our heads that manages to rob us of joy and happiness.  Below are three habits you can practice before, during and after family gatherings that will help with the process.  Remember, it's not that people and situations make us feel badly, it's our self-talk about people and situations that cause our negative emotions.

Robert Farra, PhD, Psychologist at NorthShore, provides the following strategies to help make the holidays truly merry:

  1. Practice non-judging.  Evaluation often makes our experiences less than enjoyable. Judging is labeling or evaluating something as good or bad, as valuable or not, as worthwhile or worthless. Judging sees the world as black or white, good or bad.  Harshly judging self and others is for many of us an extremely bad habit. Henry James wrote, “Three things in life are important: The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and third is to be kind.”  We don’t know the circumstances behind the person or thing we are judging including ourselves. Give your family, your friends and yourself a break.  Practice non-judging.

  2. Practice patience.  Becoming impatient with self and others is a destructive habit.  If you need to learn how to practice patience in preparation for the holidays, I recommend you go to any large grocery store between the hours of 5 to 7 p.m.  Buy a few items and consciously choose to wait in the longest line.  Be present in the moment and notice how your mind starts creating misery for you as you wait.  Practice patience.  I know, you could move much faster than the clerk who, according to you, is moving in slow motion.  But that’s not the point.  Becoming irritated about something over which you have no control is fruitless.  As you reach the conveyer belt, excuse yourself and choose the next longest line.  Repeat until you are able to relax and enjoy the moment.

  3. Practice gratitude. Focus on the wonderful people in your life.  Consciously think about how grateful you are for them.  No they are not perfect!  But, neither are you!   Consider there are people and things for which you can be grateful in adversity as well as those times everything seems to be going smoothly.

Do you get stressed out during the holidays? What do you do to reduce it?

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Guide to Buying and Giving Age-Appropriate Toys

Thursday, December 06, 2012 5:37 PM comments (0)

Now is the time when our shopping lists for holiday giving may include items for children of varying ages. While walking through the aisles, you’ll see plenty of new toys along with many of the tried-and-true classics (like building blocks and dolls). With all the options out there, how do you know which toys are best suited for what ages?

The most colorful or cute toy on the shelf doesn’t always make it the best choice. It’s worthwhile to recognize that children of varying ages have achieved different development milestones.  Just as you wouldn’t give an infant a LEGO® set, you also wouldn’t buy a four year old a teething rattle.

Kenneth Fox, MD, a pediatrician at NorthShore, gives the following recommendations when shopping for age-appropriate toys:

  • Safety first. Choose sturdy toys with washable surfaces. Watch out for small parts, sharp points or edges. Make sure attached pieces (eyes, buttons, etc.) cannot be torn or bitten off to create choking hazards. Avoid toys made of or decorated with toxic substances or chemicals (paints, dyes, glazes or other embellishments). As much as possible, try to understand where toys or other gifts are made and avoid untrustworthy sources even if they appear to be bargains. Make certain batteries are not accessible to curious and nimble little hands and mouths. Battery- or electric-powered toys should be  labeled “UL approved.” For more detailed information on specific toys consult Consumer Protection Safety Commission website (www.CPSC.gov).
  • Read the packaging information. Most toys include a recommended age on the packaging. These labels, based on a typical child’s abilities and skills at a particular age, should serve as guidelines. But remember, every child is different and develops at his own pace. Ask yourself the basic question: “Is this toy right for this particular child, given his particular developmental stage?”
  • Resist buying toys that a child can “grow into”. Age guidelines on toys exist for a reason. As nice as it may be to stock up on new toys for the growing child, it’s often hard to keep these toys out of reach until they are age appropriate.
  • Choose usefulness over fad, “must-have” toys. Every year there are countless new toy trends and gimmicks. It often is best to stick to options that have been around long enough to be dependable and tested. The best, most fun toys often have an unstructured aspect. They invite and engage the child’s imagination and creativity.
  • Kids learn a lot both by receiving and by giving. Basic capacities for empathy emerge in childhood through experiences with gift exchange and through symbolic play. Kids learn to be generous givers and gracious receivers of gifts through practice, guided by caring adults. From choosing, wrapping and presenting gifts to others, a capacity for empathy is nurtured, supported and reinforced. Also, modeling how to show one’s appreciation is a great gift in itself. “Thank you” goes a long way, even in today’s world of rampant consumerism.
  • Set limits on gifts and keep things simple. How often have you noticed that young children are often more entertained by gift wrapping and packages—like big empty boxes—for creative play? Art supplies are often the most treasured, enduring and useful gifts.
  • As much as possible, try to connect a gift with an experience. For example, handmade or homemade gifts or cards in which the child participates creatively make for heartfelt and memorable experiences. A book about or memento of a particular activity, thing or place that a child can then have direct experience with in a hands-on way, makes for a wonderful, cherished gift.

Play is essential to a child’s physical, cognitive, social and moral development. Toys, books and experiences that enrich creative play make wonderful gifts for the season and support healthy child development all year long.

Can you remember a time when one of your children received a toy not well suited for his or her age? What did you do?

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Wash Your Hands, Improve Your Health

Tuesday, December 04, 2012 4:15 PM comments (0)

Walk into any public restroom and you’re certain to see a sign stating that employees must wash their hands before returning to work. Hopefully you know that this sign applies to more than just employees—you should be washing your hands after going to the bathroom, too!

Not only does washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds help wash away the dirt and grime, it also helps remove germs including viruses and other potentially harmful bacteria.

Becky Miller, MD, Infectious Disease Physician at NorthShore, gives the following tips on the importance of washing your hands:

  • Washing your hands can help decrease your chances of getting sick, especially during cold and flu season.
  • Hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice for an easy way to remember how long you should wash your hands.
  • Don’t forget to rub soap and water over all surfaces of your hands – it is the mechanical action of cleaning that helps eliminate most of the germs.
  • If soap and water are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand rub to kill germs, remembering that it will not be effective for cleaning visibly soiled hands.
  • Remember to wash your hands after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing to help avoid spreading germs to others.

How many times a day do you wash your hands? Do you wash them more frequently when you’re sick?

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Medicine Cabinet Clean Up – The Do’s and Don’ts of Proper Disposal

Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:54 PM comments (0)

How often do you purge your medicine cabinet? You should plan to clean through your cabinet and properly dispose of any medications every six months. Using expired medications can be hazardous to your health. Therefore, you should not be saving unused prescription medications for later use, nor be saving expired prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Tina Zook, Pharmacy Manager, provides the following instructions for properly disposing of medications:

  • Do not flush medications down the toilet. Most medications should be disposed of in other ways. For a complete list of medications that can be flushed down the toilet or poured down the sink, refer to the FDA website.
  • Follow any specific medication disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information.
  • Contact your city or county government’s household trash and recycling services for locations to return your unwanted medications (Drug Take-Back Programs). Find out if there are any restrictions on the types of medications that can be returned.

There will be instances where instructions are not given on the drug label and a drug take-back program is not available. In these cases, you follow the following steps for disposing of medications:

  1. Take the medication out of the original containers (do not crush tablets or capsules) and mix the medication with an unpalatable substance (kitty litter or used coffee grounds).
  2. Place the mixture in a sealable bag or empty container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
  3. Throw the sealable bag or other container in the household garbage.

How often do you clean your medicine cabinet? What has your process been for disposing of medications?

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Extreme Stress – How to Handle and Overcome Anxiety

Monday, November 26, 2012 10:47 AM comments (0)

At one time or another, whether it’s because of work, family or social situations, almost everyone may feel anxious or stressed out. While these feelings are normal and common, when they begin to impact your daily activities and relationships it may be something that requires attention and/or medical help.

Anxiety may trigger intense negative thoughts and feelings, panic attacks and withdrawal from usual activities. The most common types of stressors that bring people in for treatment include: social stress, environmental stress, physical stress and the stress associated with the way we perceive our ability to handle these stressors. 

A common question asked by those who seek treatment for anxiety is: Will I ever feel normal again? Bethany Price, PhD, Psychologist with NorthShore, encourages her patients to follow three steps to overcome their anxiety and return to a more “normal” lifestyle:

  • Recognize that it is normal to experience stress and anxiety. Determine which stressors that trigger these emotions can be resolved and which may need to be accepted.
  • Examine the ways that your thoughts are distorted by learning to recognize how problems tend to be magnified and then correct this faulty way of thinking. 
  • Develop a plan to reengage yourself in activities that have been avoided.  With support and guidance, individuals often find that they are even better prepared to handle future stress.   

Are you easily stressed? How do you overcome it?

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Holiday Eating – Plan Your Portions

Thursday, November 22, 2012 10:23 AM comments (0)

All of the holiday treats and temptations on the table can make for a difficult time managing your weight and portion control. While it’s okay to indulge from time to time, it’s important to make smart choices to help keep your plate balanced.

According to the USDA’s MyPlate recommendations, half of your plate should consist of fruit and vegetables, accompanied by grains, protein and dairy. You may find it hard to have this much balance on your plate during the holidays, but planning in advance and thinking through your meal choices can be a huge help for keeping your plate (and waistline!) in check.

Goutham Rao, MD, gives his insight on how to plan your portions and still be able to enjoy the holidays:

  • Be selective about what you put on your plate. There is no need to deprive yourself of holiday treats, but be sure to watch your portion size. You also want to make sure that you are including plenty of fruits and vegetables on your plate. You can enjoy a smaller slice of pie just as much as a full slice.
  • Don’t be afraid to adapt recipes to include more healthy additions. Finding ways to remove salt, sugar and fat from recipes can help keep the calorie count down.
  • Watch what you’re drinking. Alcoholic beverages can contain just as many calories as the main course. Try to keep it light and drink in moderation. Avoid other high-calorie drinks such as regular soda pop, milkshakes and fruit juices.
  • Make physical activity part of your holiday routine. This can be something simple such as taking a walk every evening after dinner.

What is your favorite holiday treat? What do you do to resist temptation and overeating?

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Managing Diabetes and Enjoying the Holidays

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 10:07 AM comments (0)

With the holidays right around the corner, it’s hard not to be tempted by flavorful sides, festive drinks and decadent desserts. For those with diabetes, the struggle to avoid some of these foods may be a challenge, especially with many planned family dinners and holiday parties.

However, diabetics don’t have to completely deprive themselves from the traditional foods and meals that the season brings. Romy Block, MD, a NorthShore endocrinologist, gives the following tips for managing diabetes during the holidays:

  • Pay attention to what you are eating. Choose quality over quantity. Rather than having a whole slice of pie, have a smaller portion. When you know you’ll be tempted by sweets, eat a salad or lean protein for dinner. This way you won’t already be raising your sugars and can enjoy a dessert without feeling guilty.
  • Drink lots of water. While it can be hard to reign in your portions during the holidays, you should be monitoring your sugar levels frequently. In fact, you may need to do so more often given the abundance of sweets available. Water can help balance out sugar levels.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per hour and no more than two drinks per evening. When you do drink, be sure you are always doing so with food.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep helps the body’s regulatory system and weight loss. If you can, try to get eight hours a night.
  • Don’t stress out! Relaxing can help to reduce your sugar levels. Instead of worrying too much about what the season will bring, try to set aside time each day for exercise and engaging in activities that you enjoy.

It’s important to note that these tips shouldn’t just apply to the holidays. Managing your diabetes is a process and making small changes can really help to make a big difference.

What ways have you found success in managing diabetes during the holidays? What holiday foods are the hardest for you to avoid?

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Quit Smoking – Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Thursday, November 15, 2012 12:02 PM comments (0)

Smoking is an unhealthy habit that can be hard to break. While we’ve all heard of the many ways quitting can be made possible—cold turkey, medications, nicotine patches and gum, or therapy—it often comes down to one’s determination and ability to make changes.

It is important to understand that it is never too late to quit smoking. Even if you’ve tried to quit before and haven’t accomplished it, you can still find success quitting in the future. Stacy Raviv, MD, a NorthShore pulmonologist, gives her insight on how quitting can improve your health:

  • Decrease risk of cancer. Smoking is one of the leading causes of cancer. Quitting can help greatly reduce your risk of getting lung and other cancers.
  • Limit loss of lung function, reduce cough and shortness of breath. Smoking greatly impacts your respiratory system. Quitting may make it easier to breath, exercise and stay active.  It may also prevent progressive worsening of one’s breathing over time.
  • Improve bothersome asthma and allergies. If you are a smoker and suffer from asthma or allergies, you may notice a significant change in your symptoms once you quit smoking. Smoke is often considered an irritant and trigger of allergy and asthma symptoms.
  • Decrease blood pressure. Smoking can impact your heart and blood vessels, causing elevated blood pressure and an increased heart rate. These factors can lead to other heart problems, including heart disease and atherosclerosis.
  • Decrease your risk for heart attack and stroke. While most smokers do not actually develop lung cancer or even emphysema, heart attacks and strokes are very common diseases made even more common by smoking.
  • Stay alive and healthy for those you care about. They will thank you for it.

Have you tried to quit smoking? What methods worked for you? What didn’t?

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Salt – When Too Much is Too Much

Monday, November 12, 2012 2:11 PM comments (0)

A dash of salt here and there for flavoring can’t hurt, right? While moderate amounts of sodium in your daily diet are fine, it’s often easy to eat more than necessary. Look on any label – especially those of pre-packaged and more-processed foods—and sodium is almost certain to be one of the ingredients.

The American Heart Association recommends 2,300 mg daily as the highest daily acceptable level, and if you are over 51 years, African American or have heart disease including high blood pressure, the recommendation is 1,500 mg.

Too much salt can lead to health problems, including cardiovascular disease particularly hypertension. For this reason, it’s never a bad idea to learn some quick ways to pass on the salt.

Mary Bennett, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at NorthShore, offers the following tips to help reduce your daily sodium intake:

  • Read the label. Before purchasing and consuming food, read the label. If the total sodium value on the label is more than 5% of the recommended daily value of sodium, you may want to reconsider purchasing or at least limit your portion size.
  • Pass on passing the salt shaker. Maybe the easiest way to avoid eating too much salt is to not have the shaker on the table during mealtimes. If you are looking to add additional flavors to a dish, use herbs and spices. There are also sodium-free mixes available that can provide lots of flavor without the sodium.
  • Eat in, not out. More often than not when you eat out – especially at fast food restaurants—more sodium will be added than what you would typically use at home. The best way to reduce your salt intake when you’re out to eat is to avoid adding additional garnishes (pickles, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, etc.) to your meal and to watch your portion size.
  • Opt for the low- or reduced-sodium choices at the grocery store. If you can, choose natural ingredients and skip the frozen, processed and packaged food options.

What do you do to limit your sodium consumption? What is one salty food you couldn’t live without?

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Irregular Periods – Understanding Inconsistent Menstrual Cycles

Tuesday, November 06, 2012 3:46 PM comments (0)

At one time or another, most women experience an irregular menstrual cycle. While regular for some women may be every four weeks, the length between cycles will vary between individuals. However, most women get their period every 21-35 days.

Inconsistency often isn’t something to cause concern. In most cases it is due to a hormonal imbalance, which can be normalized with medication, such as birth control.

Sangeeta Senapati, MD, Endoscopic Surgeon at NorthShore, shares some of the causes of irregular menstrual cycles:

  • Stress. Being anxious and tense can impact your hormones, thereby affecting your cycle.
  • Medication. Depending on the types of medications you are on, your cycle may be impacted. If you recently began using birth control or have switched this medication, it is also not uncommon for your cycle to change in frequency, flow and length.
  • Tobacco and alcohol use. Cigarette smoking can cause a shortening of your menstrual cycle.  Women who smoke are also more likely to have painful periods.  Alcohol can disrupt the menstrual cycle and prevent a woman from ovulating. This may mean delayed or skipped menses.
  • Excessive exercise. Those training for endurance sports (such as marathons) often experience missed periods or loss of menses entirely. This may occur due to decrease in body fat and overall increase in the body’s stress level, which causes a hormonal imbalance.
  • Change in weight – through a weight gain or loss. A decrease in body fat below 15% may lead to a decrease in female hormones, which can cause delay and loss of menstruation. Obesity may lead to menstrual problems as well causing women to have fewer menses than normal. Women who are overweight may also have longer and heavier menses due to the excess estrogen that is associated with weight gain.
  • Diet. Poor nutrition – either due to an eating disorder or not – can cause women to skip cycles. Diets high in carbohydrates may also impact menstruation.
  • Pregnancy. It is important to remember that you can still become pregnant even if you are not menstruating regularly.
  • Onset of menopause. Menopause has officially occurred when it has been 12 months since your last menstrual period. The average age of menopause is 51-52. The perimenopausal period often begins in a woman’s 40’s. Some signs of the perimenopausal period may include irregular menses, hot flashes/night sweats, vaginal dryness and sleep disturbances.

If you experience consistently irregular menstrual cycles it may be worthwhile to consult your physician.

Have you ever had an irregular period?

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