The holiday break 'should' be a joyous time shared with loved ones but sometimes it can also bring up a little anxiety.
All of those people that are most precious in our lives can also trigger us the most. I find every time I have a family gathering we all revert into old habits within the family dynamic.
We all have our so-called place! But the reality is it doesn't have to be the same chaotic, anxiety-filled time if you don't want it to be. Holidays spent with loved ones can be a great opportunity to practice self-awareness, empathy, and gratitude.
Here are my top tips for getting you through and even enjoying the holiday break with family.....
Identify the what, why and how associated with your anxiety.
What is it that makes you anxious about spending time with the family? Is it based around a particular person or the dynamic of people coming together in one confined space? Or maybe you aren't spending time with loved ones, maybe there's been a transition and you're feeling overwhelmed at what the holiday will be like without your loved ones around.
Why does that make you feel anxious?
Use the holiday as practice of self-awareness.
Yes there's something to be learnt from your self-centred aunt or opinionated father in law! At the end of the day no one forces us to feel anything. We subconsciously choose what we feel and how we react and usually that thing that we don't like or hide away from stems from something we are struggling to identify or accept in ourselves.
Gratitude and empathy come from the same place.
So how can you change the situation at hand? Make a gratitude list. Finding 5 things that you’re grateful for in your life before you enter the dynamic helps to centre your energy and change your perspective from tunnel vision of the day at hand, towards the bigger picture.
When we focus on what we have and what is right and good in our lives the negative stuff that causes the anxiety doesn't seem so big anymore. It lightens the spring in our step into any situation and we're less likely to react from that negative place, getting caught up in petty arguments and bickering and observing from a more calm and positive space.
When we're in a positive, grateful space we are more likely to be able to forgive and show empathy and understanding to even the most annoying, triggering person. The negative traits cool, we can place ourselves in their shoes and we can love the person for their being, not for what they have or haven't done in the past.
Connect to the meaning for coming together these holidays. It's all about sharing and offering gratitude for the special people that we’ve lived life with, learnt big lessons and gifts from, and who have been pivotal in forming who we are today.
Say hello to the Sun!
We know that getting sun exposure boosts our vitamin D levels, essential for a healthy immune system, supports most metabolic functions in the body, aids neuromuscular transmission, and bone mineralisation.
A lot of us have been struck this winter with numerous bouts of cold or flu. Soaking in spring's first rays of sun will help give your immune system fight against any lingering pathogens.
Sun exposure also balances our serotonin and melatonin levels which brings me to my next tip...
Reassess your Sleep Patterns
As diurnal creatures we are programmed to be outdoors while the sun is shining and home in bed at night. This is why melatonin (a hormone which helps us sleep) is produced during the dark hours and stops with optic exposure to daylight. This hormone is a key pacesetter for many of the body’s circadian rhythms and plays an important role in countering infection, inflammation, cancer, and auto-immunity. (Mead, 2008) Melatonin has also been found to suppress body weight and intra-abdominal fat in rats. (Hanson et. al. 2011)
When people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, their nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner, and they ease into sleep more readily at night. Exposure to bright morning light has been effective against insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
The precursor of melatonin is serotonin, which is also affected by exposure to daylight. Serotonin (our 'feel good' neurotransmitter) is produced in the day and is only converted to melatonin in darkness. Moderately high serotonin levels result in more positive moods and focused mental outlook.
Our modern-day lives can keep us cooped up indoors during the day and we stay up late at night which plays havoc with our ability to sleep well, depleting our energy levels and affects our mood.
Getting direct sun exposure is a thousand times more potent than indirect sun light and will boost serotonin levels to then be able to produce melatonin to sleep well and repair at night. Honouring your body's natural circadian rhythms is a key to unlocking your body’s natural energy source.
We only have one more week until day light saving starts. This means longer days and earlier starts. Take advantage of the spring sun, soak up its goodness, preferably first thing in the morning, and remember to slip, slop, slap with an SPF if you’re going to be out for more than 10 minutes at a time.
Many of the metabolic processes mentioned above, rely on a healthy digestive system to absorb nutrients from the food we eat, this absorption occurring in our intestines, liver and kidneys predominantly.
Research has shown that doing short-term (3-5 days) fasting or dietary restriction (DR) can help to reset the body's metabolism and immune system in mammals and cancers patients.
Both DR and fasting promote stress resistance by down-regulating conserved nutrient-signalling proteins, or by activating stress resistance transcription factors negatively regulated by these pro-aging pathways. These pathways have many regulatory effects including those on cellular growth, metabolism and protection against oxidants and other toxins (Lee and Longo, 2011).
Fasting and gluten-free vegetarian diet has also shown to have long term reduction of pain, swelling and joint inflammation symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. (Kraugh et. al. 1991)
Currently there is not much research on the effects of fasting in healthy populations but there is research to suggest fasting increases melatonin levels in rats, and we can postulate that melatonin production is partly responsible for weight control. Not only is fasting giving your body a rest, reserving energy that would normally be spent on digesting food, you are protecting your body against disease-causing oxidants and toxins, rebooting your metabolism, increasing your natural energy and assisting weight reduction.
Cleansing doesn’t need to be extreme. Simply cutting back on half your daily intake of food two days per week or swapping one meal per day (for two weeks) with a green juice or other healthy, low calorie option can reset your metabolism and over time increase your energy levels.
So getting daily, direct sun exposure, sleep at a reasonable hour, and giving your gut a ‘spring clean’ are all essential ingredients to help you function at your best. Implement these 3 key tips to reveal a more energised, happier you!
Breast feeding provides bubs with all the nutritional components necessary for their healthy development and has long term health benefits including a reduced incidence of obesity, juvenile diabetes and heart disease.
Not only does breast feeding benefit bubs it also has health benefits for mums including the ongoing release of oxytocin which helps the body return to its pre pregnancy state.
The majority of mums and bubs are able to breast feed but there are components on both sides that are required for successful breast feeding.
The baby’s ability to receive milk depends upon the mechanics of the baby’s skull, jaw and neck, the nerve supply to the area, and central nervous system considerations. These factors apply with bottle and other means of feeding also.
For mums to be able produce milk, release it from the breast and pass it onto bub, requires sufficient mechanics of the pectoral girdle, thoracic spine and outlet, sufficient hormonal control, nerve and blood supply, and lymphatic drainage.
Some signs to look for if you’re having difficulty with breast feeding or attachment are:
Our osteos can help both mums and bubs with breast feeding by identifying and treating any mechanical issues that may be impeding breast feeding and assess whether it necessary to refer to other practitioners, which may include a lactation consultant.
What are habits and are yours serving you?
The american journal of psychology describes a habit as, "A fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience."
Our lives are made up of a series of habits. Some are essential to our day to day living. A lot of our habits aren't essential to our lives but feed our desire and numb us from feeling what is at our deepest core disturbance. Those habits can then end up stifling our growth and keep us in old, stuck holding patterns of thinking and feeling.
Habits and beliefs have a cycle of a reminder, routine and reward. An example of a bad habit; you’re having an argument with your partner (reminder) and you know there’s something you say that really gets up their grill, you’ve said it many times before and you’ve gotten the same reaction (routine) each time, you want to get that same reaction from your partner because it re-confirms in your mind the negative mental loop you tell yourself “he’s such an asshole” and when he reacts as he always does your habit of thinking men are assholes is etched deeper into your subconscious mind (reward).
Ok that’s one of my not so constructive habits! We all have them though right? But it is up to us as conscious human beings to break this habit of reacting from our mammalian brain (the yogis call this the lower mind or ‘manas’) and learn to respond from our conscious human brains (known as ‘buddhi’, the discerning, discriminating mind).
If there's something you're wanting to change in your life, whether it be a weight issue, a lack of love and connection in your relationships, or maybe it's to stop being as reactive, usually starting by breaking a daily habit involved with this intention will help you to move forward to whatever it is you want to change in the bigger picture.
Here are my top 3 tips for creating change and shifting out of bad habits:
Observe in the present
Sounds easy right? But no so. Our modern world creates a lot of distraction; phones, social media and these ideas of 'to do' lists that keep us running after our tail. By stopping for just a few seconds, taking a deep breath we can re-centre ourselves and rather than reacting, on autopilot and instinct (that might be grabbing that snickers bar when we feel anxious or yelling at our partner or child when we’re triggered), we can give ourselves space and the opportunity to respond from our higher brain, the neocortex. Tapping into this part of the brain takes more energy though (conscious effort!) and this is why most people find it hard to change their habits which brings me to my next tip….
Practice small and consistent
The more we practice the skill of observance in present time the more potential we have at tapping into the neocortex. This part of the brain is essential to regulate and override our emotional and instinctual reactions more effectively. I love the very common comment of "I'm not good at meditating so I don't do it". We try something once and it might feel uncomfortable, we react to the experience and give up. Maybe the aim was to sit and meditate for 30 mins and your expectation was that you could clear your mind and be zen after one attempt. You set the bar way too high and you’re setting yourself up for failure.
It’s great to have a big picture in mind but getting caught up in the end result usually leads to failed action rather than formation of a healthy new habit. So using the example of meditation, start with 10 mins, drop the expectation that your mind will be empty and gradually make your way from there. Or if you want to break a habit like giving up sugar try by first replacing one of those chocolate bars with a piece of fruit. When you start small you’re more likely to be consistent and repeated action is what leads to the formation of a new, healthier habit.
Add a little love to willpower
Adding a new habit is much easier than taking a bad habit out of the equation. Rather than trying to go ‘cold turkey’ with stead-fast willpower, try replacing something that you’re already doing with an intention of maitri (loving kindness) or add a new habit that has this intention behind it. For example, replace sugary sweets with fruit and as you’re eating the fruit think about how much the fruit is nourishing your body and helping you on your path to a healthier body.
Another example of loving willpower would be to add, ‘I love you dearly’ on the end of a sentence as you're having a difficult discussion you’re having with your partner. Even if the discussion gets heated and you may insult them, by adding, ‘and I love you dearly’ taps into the higher functioning part of the brain. It’s in that moment that we have the ability to employ a “cool” cognitive system of behaviour rather than a “hot” emotional system and if you and the person on the receiving end can be present enough, you may have a different outcome and therefore creating new wiring and a new way of communicating.
The ability to successfully delay gratification does not come from a place of force but rather trusting that what we’re doing in the moment may feel less comfortable, but is for our greater good. That’s where each of our healthier choices (with an intention of love behind it) helps us move towards more productive, conscious habits, and this in turn forms the building blocks for a more productive, conscious life!