Archive for Living Happy

No Such Thing As Failure

Word success in text

I was completely engrossed, hanging on every word.  I read story after story, barely able to believe what I was reading.  Every person I read about was completely unsuccessful.  I began to find comfort in their failures.  Their defeat made me smile.  I know, I know.  Not exactly the reaction you’d expect.  Especially from someone who at one point in life was convinced the word FAILURE should consist of four letters. 

It really is such an ugly word after all, isn’t it? So absolute. So unyielding. So. . . necessary.  That’s right, necessary.  Why?  Because a phoenix can only arise if there are ashes to arise from. 

So, yes...failure is necessary to move forward, but the term itself can be rendered completely invalid, as long as you don’t give up trying.

Here are a few tips on how to bounce back from your setbacks and turn them into successes:

1. Define your own success:  Failure is subjective.  If your ideas of success are bound by strict ideas, you’re very likely going to find yourself disappointed.  The one thing in life that’s guaranteed is that nothing is guaranteed, so why attach your sense of self worth to someone else’s idea of success?  Draw your own lines.

2. Find the lessons in setbacks:  I could rattle off a slew of statistics about entrepreneurs and businesses that eventually were successful after copious failures, but this isn’t about money.  This is about personal success – it’s about rebounding from a defeat and moving forward.  Anything can be useful if we learn from it and then do something with that knowledge.

3. Stay the course:  This is where most of us get tripped up, and it’s understandable.  On one hand, we know being consistent is critical to positive change. On the other, we have the definition of – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Sadly, there’s no miraculous blueprint that will lead us to the life we want.  We are all different.  We have to figure out for ourselves what works and what doesn’t; and then we have to keep moving toward our goal.

4. Focus on progress, not end results:  So you didn’t reach your ultimate goal.  Big deal.  Did you make any progress?  Just because you didn’t meet a specific goal doesn’t mean it’s over.  It’s easier to be aware when you focus on the process and not the outcome.  I’m not saying to stop setting goals.  I’m saying to that when you slip and fall, get back up and go back at it.  It’s about making progress.

5. Set yourself up for success:  Sometimes we set ourselves up to fail without realizing it.  We try to make too many changes too quickly and we set initial goals too high.  It’s more realistic to make small adjustments in your schedule than to overwhelm yourself with major changes all at once.  Simple goals work – they’re tangible, achievable, and realistic.  

Sometimes it might simply mean taking the stairs when you could easily take the elevator or choosing to eat a human sized portion when you could choose to "Supersize it".  Remember, goals are things you have the capability to achieve through direct action or not achieve through inaction.  So when you find yourself in the ashes, arise and fly.  Success is about perseverance. 

How I Stepped out of the Blues and Into Happiness

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I hate everything and everyone.

That’s not true.

It used to be. I wasted the majority of my twenties, the last years of youthful freedom and the first years with my children, stewing in depression and bitterness. And the sadder I got, the fatter I got. 

I wasn’t always like that. In high school I was Mr. Social: the homecoming king, class president, football team captain. I was a student body president in college. Twice.

Then real life hit, and I was faced with living in a strange place, waking up too early for an awful commute to go a job I didn’t like and facing a team of “coworkers” that only wanted me fired so they could move up the ladder. It was enough to wipe the fresh faced optimism out of even the brightest soul, and I let it take over my life.

I was a bitter, cynical mess, and nothing fixed it. Not getting a new job, getting married, having a child. Neither did drinking, smoking or any other substance I would dabble in. No one wanted to hang out with me, and my wife...well, let’s just say I wasn’t invited to her side of the bed very often.

I knew I needed to improve, that I was wasting valuable time being a putz, but I didn’t act until my ten year high school reunion. It was there that I was reminded of how I impacted so many people simply by being kind, or offering rides, or helping a teammate off the ground. It dawned on me that when I focused on being good to others my own life was enriched in return. I was happier because I created happiness.

After the reunion I shared drinks with an old friend who had gotten into meditation. She claimed that just 15 minutes of quiet focusing on positive thoughts can trigger chemical changes in the brain (she's right). 

So I meditated. The more I meditated, the more aware of the good things in my life I became. Even things that others might construe as trouble I began to see as blessings, like a long commute (it allowed me to do things like these). 

My life changed within days. I got closer with my wife, my kids wanted to spend more time with me, I built a network of friends. I got involved with my church and charitable groups as well. It turns out, people enjoy being around happy people, not cranky bastards!

Since I felt happier, I wanted to look better too. So I started training for a triathlon, and you can read all about that here.

Depression is a serious disease for many people and always worth seeking help for. But for some of you, there is an opportunity to change today. Make the choice and commit to opening your eyes, because the positives are there, just waiting for you to see them. 

Meditation and the Brain: What Happens

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It started when the girl was nine. She would go to a quiet place, sit in
silence and slowly push the muck and chaos of her world out of her mind.
No more bullies, demanding parents, loud classrooms, or anything else
that comes with the tough life of the elementary-age schoolgirl. Just
her; absorbing stillness, basking in tranquility.

Meditation is so nice, even nine year-olds get it, right?

This particular youngster was Lena Dunham, popular actress and creator
of the HBO show "Girls." Dunham told a crowd at an NYC benefit that she
thought any busy lady could benefit from the practice of meditation.

"It gathers me up for the day and makes me feel organized and happy and
capable of facing the challenges of the world, both internal and
external," she told the audience.

We talk a lot about meditation on this blog. We've even created a
tutorial on how to get started. The proven benefits are just innumerable, and the only cost is your time.

But what really happens when you meditate?

First, your brain calms down and stops trying to keep up with every
little thing around you. Scientific studies have shown a decrease in
beta waves - or brain waves, if you will - even after just a few minutes
of meditation. Literally, your brain just stops caring about irrelevant
things.

Imagine your brain as a busy downtown during a workday. Lots of moving
parts and things rushing to and fro. Then you begin meditating, and the
frontal lobe, where you're emotions and problem-solving skills come
from, goes into sleep mode, as does your parietal lobe (home of
sense-related stimuli.)

Then, your anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex
fire up. The former regulates your worry, the latter risk and fear.

It's the equivalent of someone kicking out all the crowds and putting up
barricades for you and you alone to relax in the park. If your brain is
still downtown, meditation takes it from a busy weekday to a cool,
gentle Sunday morning.

In other words, meditation isn't just a bunch of mumbo jumbo - it's a
process that causes very real, and very beneficial chemical changes in
the brain that reverberate through the rest of the body. You'll feel
better, worry less, be more inspired, focus more and have a sharper
memory to recall it all - and that's just in the brain.

Your kids may not get into it like you want them to (timeout, anyone?)
or like Lena Dunham did, but you can start today. For those of you who
have tried meditation, what benefits did you see? Let us know in the
comments!

Nothing: The Key to Mental Health

The power of Nothing

Sunset was Terri's favorite time of day. She would sit out on the porch and watch as the massive ball of cosmic fire would set below the horizon of the ocean, its soft glow careening off the surface of the water in serene peace.

 She had gotten a lot accomplished today. She had been focused at work, focused at home. Tomorrow would be a new day full of challenges and problems to solve. But for right now, as the cool, gentle breeze of the Atlantic Ocean grazed her face, she sat there, listening to the wonderful sound of nothing.

 Her chair rocked back and forth on that old wooden porch, a cup of warm coco in her hand.  She stared intently, noticing a single seagull, its intentions unknown, land in the water in front of her. Terri drew in a deep, slow breath, filling her lungs with the smell of seaside air and did her best to clear her mind.

 This was her time to unwind. This was her time to listen for no particular reason or look for any particular sight. This was her time to do absolutely nothing. And she wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

 Imagine the power to think of nothing. Go ahead. Give it a try. Right now. Think of absolutely nothing. Its’ hard, isn't it? Well, to be fair, right now would be kind of tough considering you're reading this. But for thousands of years, humans have been trying to master the art of meditation. What the heck is meditation and how does it affect us upstairs?

Meditation is the practice in which the only goal is to slow down and eventually stop all the crazy conscious activity in our minds. To strive for the perfect peace and tranquility. That sounds amazing! It is easy to try and almost impossible to fully master. But even basic meditation can have tremendous benefits to our bodies! Research shows that meditation can affect us in many ways including:

  • Improving memory – I thank the big guy upstairs that my head is attached to my body or I swear sometimes I'd forget where I put it. I'm sick of forgetting things. In a recent study, meditation was shown to help with short term and long term memory. Images of the brain show after as little as two minutes of meditation, the brain becomes more focused.
  • Feeling Cranky? - Meditation may help you actually be nicer. That sounds like something this world sorely needs. Why not start with you? During one experiment researcher took part in, they noticed that when the subjects were shown pictures of other people, the ones who'd meditated or practiced meditation responded in a kinder, gentler way. Imagine that.
  • Bring out your inner Mozart! - People who practiced meditation also seemed to show more “creativity” with the projects they took on, being able to focus better on the task at hand and come up with new ways to get those things done. So go meditate and write a symphony! Maybe all that extra stress in your brain is preventing you from blasting through that glass ceiling and reaching for the stars!
  • You’re only as old as you think – Another powerful weapon in our constant battle with aging is meditation. It’s a proven way to encourage the gray matter to stay healthy in our brains. I'm not a brain surgeon (although I bet they meditate) but gray matter keeps your brain healthy, happy and focused. It’s a little dry but the University of Mass released some fascinating information on the preservation of brain matter and meditating.

Okay, now that we've talked about a few of the things that meditation can do for you, it’s time to take up that challenge and go think of nothing. Who knew that “nothing” could be the key to a happier, healthier you?

 

 

In Defense of Downtime

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About ten years ago, Dave Chappelle was arguably the most popular comedian in the world. His “Chappelle’s Show” was watched by millions and badly imitated by everyone at the watercooler. Over the course of two-plus seasons, the show grew to become the most popular program in its timeslot among the coveted 18-34 male demographic. The edgy, crude sketch comedy is considered by many to be one of the greatest comedic shows ever.

Then Dave disappeared. Right in the middle of negotiating a multi-multi-million dollar contract to keep the show going, he walked away from it all. Rumors flew about drug addictions, about pressure to perform driving him insane, and him fleeing to a hideout somewhere in Africa.

Now he’s resurfaced, performing 15 stand up shows across America, and opening up about where he went all those years. The reality of it? He just needed normalcy. He did retreat to Africa, but only to find quiet. Most of the rest of the time he spent in Ohio with his wife and kids, being a normal dude.

Even though you don’t have four million people watching you perform, or anyone “pressuring” you to sign a $50 million contract, you can probably relate to Dave.

The modern working world demands that we be “on” all the time. Family life demands that we be “on” all the time. Even our entertainment, with stars who are often famous for not really doing anything, tells us we need to be “on” all the time.

The result? When we’re “off,” we have guilt. Spending an hour in front of the TV makes us feel fat. Going on a hike to where cell reception goes AWOL induces panic.

Relax. No, literally: relax!

As Dave Chappelle will tell you, prioritizing downtime is crucial to staying sane in a world where there are so many demands. Humans aren't built to be on edge all the time; it’s one of the reasons we’re programmed to sleep. Downtime is important, and you shouldn't let anyone tell you otherwise.

There’s oodles of research that tells us taking it easy (or at least going “offline”) lowers blood pressure, relaxes the tension from muscles and floods the brain with good chemicals. The result is balance, and someone who’s more prepared to deal with the stress that comes with being at the beck and call of work and family round the clock.

So yes, have a seat (though not for too long), go on a hike, take the family to a movie, turn off the cellphone for a couple hours, retreat to the woods for a camping weekend - or escape to a hotel and allow yourself to be served and pampered.

Most of all, have no guilt.

Here’s a tip: really make your downtime count by cutting yourself off from distraction. You don’t have to escape to Africa like Chappelle. Just turn off the phone and the TV, even the lights. Find a comfortable position, and focus on being happy and at peace for 15 minutes or more.

In fact, check out some of our other posts on meditation, and join our elite program, with tons of helpful tips on this topic and many, many more.

 

How Just a Few Minutes of Meditation Can Improve Your Life

Meditation can improve your life

In the middle of the most important test of his life, David found himself wandering away. Not physically; no he was stuck in a classroom with a teacher monitoring every movement. His brain was the one wandering off. A question on the test about rodents set him to thinking - of the filthy bar he spent the previous evening in, about the girl he met there; who reminded him of his girlfriend in high school and how they would try unsuccessfully to get into bars way back when, and on and on and on.

 It must have been ten minutes or more that he sat there, pencil idle in his hands, while his classmates powered through the important mid-term exam. By the time he snapped out of his daydreaming, there was no way David was going to complete the exam on time. He failed it miserably.

 The following week his professor asked him to stick around for a few minutes after class. He wanted to discuss David’s daydreaming. He had seen David’s potential - when he was focused, David was as sharp as a knife, surpassing all of his classmates.

 Dr. Reavis had a proposal for David: meditation.

 Like so many, David had heard about meditation and associated it with monks and hippies. But Dr. Reavis was insistent that regular meditation would help him knock out that nasty daydreaming habit, as well as reduce the stress from David’s nocturnal party lifestyle.

Dr.Reavis was onto something. A 2013 study by researchers at the University of California, located in Santa Barbara, found that students who practiced mindfulness meditation were more focused and performed much better on their tests.

 Mindfulness meditation focuses on corralling the mind and its incessant thoughts by finding total awareness of the mind-body connection. When the mind begins to float away from the task at hand, mindfulness is being able to steer it back to where it needs to be. Mindfulness meditation trains folks like David to have that ability.

 Like the students in the research, David meditated four days a week. By the time his final rolled around, he was in complete control of his mind. He aced the test.  It is results like this, that meditation is so popular in corporate America, as well as schools, hospitals, churches, and countless other organizations.

 There are spas and centers where you can learn the practice, but there are also a few things you can do on your own to get some mindfulness of your own:

  1. Find a quiet place (which is pretty standard in all forms of meditation)
  2. Assume a comfortable, but not too comfortable position (cross legged with straightened back is obviously common)
  3. Focus on the mechanics of breathing - the expanding lungs and rib cage upon inhaling, the relaxing of muscles and stillness upon exhaling
  4. If you find your brain wandering away, pull it back to yourself. Do this over and over again; just like a sport or profession, the more practice you get at reeling in your thoughts, the better you'll become at it.

 If you do this routine daily, for just 10 minutes or more regularly, you'll see results. You will find you are more productive at work, more focused on the important things at home, even entertainment will be more enjoyable because you'll be able to immerse yourself in it.

 If you are a student, like our friend David, you’ll nail your tests, or at least not spend half your allotted time daydreaming about bars.

 Really, we can't say enough about the benefits of meditation. Read our blog long enough and you’ll see why we promote the practice of meditation. Speaking of benefits, sign up for our elite program today and you'll learn much more about this ancient and beneficial practice.

 Do you currently have a meditation routine? Have meditation tips? Let’s hear them in the comments!

Five Positive Life Lessons From Breaking Bad

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He’s a middle-aged man who has spent a good portion of his life as an educator. He’s long held back feelings of insufficiency, or at least the notion that he hasn't done much with his life. Heck, he’s probably a lot like the rest of us.

His life changes suddenly when he’s diagnosed with cancer. Feeling like his time is short, he makes some awful life choices. The older, criminal version of “YOLO,” if you will. Within a short time, he’s being hunted by the police for a number of drug-related charges.

Sound familiar?

No, it isn’t Walter White, the central character of Breaking Bad.

Well, that is Walt’s story, but this particular instance isn't a piece of fiction. The man is Stephen Doran, a Massachusetts tutor who was arrested earlier this year on charges of trafficking meth. And like Walter, he’s suffering from cancer.

Doran’s story, like White’s, is a fascinating glimpse at what desperate people will do to make something of their lives. Breaking Bad is one of the most popular shows on TV for a reason - all of the primary characters are people just like us, with many of the same frustrations and empty feelings. It’s a dark show though, and the deeper viewers get into it, the more heinous things the characters do to get what they want.

But what if we were to claim that there are positives you can take from Breaking Bad? In the middle of all that darkness are some realizations that can help you navigate the seasons of your own life. Some are learned by seeing what not to do, but others can be learned and applied, even if you never breaking bad and decide to pursue a life as a drug kingpin.

1) A “mundane” life is okay

It’s easy to question your place in the world and what kind of impact you’re having as you trudge through everyday life. Walt did that, and it came at a great cost to his family and the people he loved. By focusing on living the best life you can and impacting your environment in a positive way, every day, you’ll find that life has rewards far greater than loads of ill-gotten money or power could ever give you.

2) Even the best people will make bad decisions
Walt, Jesse, and Skyler are all good people at their core who made consistent unfortunate decisions. Hank, Walt’s DEA agent brother in law, is really the only consistently decent character on the show, but even he begins making bad choices as his desperation to bring Walt down grows. Learn from them - you’re going to make mistakes, and sometimes you’ll hurt other people. First, learn from every mistake you make. Second, make restitution with anyone you’ve hurt. And third, learn to forgive yourself.

3) Telling the truth is always easier
Much of the trouble Walt and company find themselves in is to cover up for lies. Lies that they concocted to cover other lies, which were concocted to hide original misdeeds, which in the end didn’t seem too bad. This is a lesson you learn in elementary school: telling the truth is always easier, even though it may lead to short term pain.

4) Make yourself irreplaceable
Walt had unique abilities that were able to make him a ton of money. Even better for him, his ability to create a drug unlike any other on the market saved he and Jesse repeatedly. It’s a reminder to find your strengths and turn them into superpowers. Find opportunities to contribute your ability (though not in meth making; try non-profits or even corporate America) and perfect it like no one else can.

5) Keep learning
Yes, Walt made a good batch of meth, it seems. But he also was able to apply his scientific education in other ways, from rigging up a battery to get an RV out of the desert to dissolving bodies in acid. Okay, those are all horrible examples of science, but it shows the capabilities you can have if you’re learning and applying your brain to new things. We’ve blogged before about exercising your brain - learning new things is just as important as eating healthy or exercising.

**Bonus Point!**

Since we’re making a list of positives you can apply from Breaking Bad, we may as well mention one we were reminded of while writing this post:

6) Find positives in everything
Always focus on the positives, and look for the good in all things. Even in the middle of one of the darkest, most disturbing pieces of television to enter pop culture in a long time.

In all reality, if Walter White or Stephen Doran had followed these bits of wisdom, especially any of the first three, their lives would’ve played out differently. Who knows, they may have gone on to do extraordinary good things that would merit them a TV show based on their lives?

Alas, we can only watch and learn from their mistakes.

Do you watch the show? Have you taken anything positive from the heinous adventures of Walt, Jesse, Skyler, Hank and company? We’d love to hear your own theories in the comments!

Three Ways to Avoid Football Season Meltdowns

3ways to avoid football season meltdownWe all have something that ignites our passion; whether it’s the latest tech gadget, a book release by a favorite author or a must have pair of suede boots. For some, its sports and that passion can come in form of cheers, grunts, groans and excessive swearing. But what happens when that passion turns into a full-fledged meltdown? How can we avoid it? With Football Season in full swing let's make it a safe and enjoyable one by sharing these simple tips with all the Football fanatics in our lives. I know I will be.

Three Ways to Avoid Football Season Meltdowns

Corey was stunned. His small children were weeping in fear, his wife’s jaw was practically on the floor and her eyes were those of someone who had seen a monster. They were all staring at him, and he was staring at the remote control that lay smashed into a thousand pieces on the living room floor.

To think, this was all caused by a football game.

Corey is a college football fanatic. Like many fans, he’s convinced he’s the number one, most important fan in the world. When the team wins, he floats on cloud nine for days. When his team loses, like they did on this particular day, he does things like throw the remote as hard as he can onto the hardwood floor.
Few sports bring out as much passion as football. Millions of fans fill stadiums every fall Saturday and Sunday, and millions more tune in at home. The emotions the sport elicits for the faithful are intense on both the good and bad sides of the spectrum.

A loss can send even a great, well-adjusted guy like Corey to snap momentarily, much to the horror of his family.
Look, it doesn’t have to be this way. Football, and all sports, is meant to be a fun diversion. It’s great to get into the games, but when they cause you to behave outside your normal self, it’s time for a change. If you find yourself getting a little too “into it,” or you see the rage come out in your spouse, consider these three tips:

Hit the DVR, Leave the House - It’s sacrilege to some fans who watch from home, but try watching the game a couple hours after kickoff starts. You’ll realize that where you sit, or what you’re wearing doesn’t have an impact on the game, and you won’t be able to get into any text-based bitch sessions with other fans of the team.

Have a Reality Check - You’re not on the team. You don’t impact the team (see above). You should be honored that these men go out and sacrifice their bodies in competition essentially for your entertainment. Take a chill pill, sit back and enjoy it, and bask in your simple fanliness.

Make Plans for After the Game - This may be hard to do after a late game, but try setting an appointment for after the game. You’ll be less tempted to get blackout drunk or punch your hand through a wall during the game. Plus, being with friends and family will quickly take your mind off a game gone bad.

Football season isn’t over until February, so don’t spend it sulking and terrifying your kids. Soak up the all-too-short season and the awesome athletic talents of the players. Unlike Corey, you’ll be able to save $30 on a replacement remote too.

Let’s hear it in the comments - what teams are you passionate about, and what insane things have you done in the heat of passion thanks to them? Share your stories!

Six Ways to De-Stress Your Commute

Six Ways to De-Stress Your CommuteJason has the nice life. Loving family, nice home, and a job he really enjoys. Which is why it was a helluva shock when he snapped at his boss over an innocent question.

Yelling at your boss to stop snooping in your personal life when all he asked is whether your weekend went okay is a sign - something needs to change. Jason knew exactly what it was: his commute.

45 minutes from one side of town to another, all on a crowded, snarled highway. Every morning Jason would fight it, weaving in and out, smashing the gas and slamming the brakes. He’d wave his middle finger at drivers and pretend they could hear him yelling. It was intense, but by the time he’d arrive at the office he would calm down.

Until the day he told Mr. Thomas to shove his snooping questions where the sun don’t shine. On that day, Jason realized he needed to do something about that intense commute.

There are over 128 million commuters in the US, and over a third of those are rushing across cities from suburb to suburb like Jason, usually via overcrowded highways. 75% of all commuters are alone, meaning there are at least 100 million cars battling each other to get ahead and arrive at the office on time (stats from the US Census).

We’ve posted before about the importance of morning routines. It’s important to get a good night’s rest, followed by some quiet time, maybe a workout, and a good breakfast. The commute is also a critical aspect of a good routine, and for many it’s where their day of stress is truly kicked into high gear.

In Jason’s case, he tried a few different tactics to transform his commute from rage-inducing hell ride into something that helped springboard him positively into the rest of his day. Some of them are included in these six ideas, any of which we think will work for you:

 Slow down - The obvious suggestion, but it bears stating. Leave earlier to give yourself more time. Ease into the slow lane, and let the Mario Andretti’s pass you by. You’ll realize that for all your speeding and aggression, it only made a difference of a couple minutes at best.

 Try public transit - Public transit gets a bad rap, but it’s great way to get to and from work. Why? Because you don’t have to worry about driving. Chances are you’ll be able to sit down and plug in your headphones or open a book.

 Find a carpool - Part of the problem of a commute is the solitude and being left alone to one’s thoughts. Try riding with a couple coworkers from your area. The conversation will help take your mind off your work woes - just be sure riding with coworkers doesn’t turn into one long bitch session about the office. Like public transit, you’ll be helping the earth by removing at least one vehicle from the roads. Some cities even offer monthly rental vans so 10 or more can ride together.

Try an alternate route - Simply avoiding the highway can help. Sure, your commute will be longer, but the change of scenery may help put your mind in a better place. Just be careful around school zones and neighborhoods.

 Hop on a bike - Ditch your car altogether and get a workout instead. A $500 investment in a commuter bike can pay for itself quickly in health benefits and money saved on gas.

Learn something - Instead of your usual zany morning show or hard-pumping metal, try listening to something that stimulates your mind. If you have an iPhone, try a podcast; there are thousands on topics from economic theory to entomology and beyond. other options are foreign language training or even singing.

Instead of coming into work already pissed off and ready to fight, Jason’s commute is now a time when he’s able to place his mind in a better, more peaceful frame. Sometimes he bikes in, sometimes he takes the light rail, but he’s learning Spanish, thanks to the audio course he rented from his local library.

Don’t underestimate the effect a pleasant commute can have on the rest of your day. A peaceful life can often be attributed to making the best of the things you control. You can’t control what other drivers are doing, but you can control your own situation. By eliminating stress where you can, you’ll be better suited to deal with it when it’s out of your hands.

Winterizing Your Mind and Body

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Santa had come and gone. Wrapping paper littered the floor, trampled by children too busy with new toys to notice. In the kitchen, adults in tacky sweaters laughed and shared stories of Christmas past around glasses of chardonnay and eggnog.

In an empty bedroom, Maggie wept into a pillow. She should’ve been soaking up the joyful energy of the children, or giggling with the grownups about the time Uncle Herb set the Christmas tree on fire with his cheap cigar. Instead she cried in solitude, convinced she had ruined yet another Christmas.

Maggie really didn’t have a bad life. She was gainfully employed, longtime husband, kids successfully ensconced in college. By all measures, hers was a successful life.

Unfortunately, even she wasn’t exempt from the winter blues. Every year, starting around Thanksgiving, Maggie seemed to carry a heavy burden. As the temperature got colder and the sun made fewer appearances, her energy sagged along with her interest in most things. Inevitably it would result in her snapping at a family member’s innocuous comment at the Thanksgiving dinner table, or the aforementioned scene on Christmas Day.

Maybe it was the weather, or the memory of so many missing faces from previous happy holidays. Regardless, November through March were just about intolerable.
 
But then things would thaw, the sun would come out, the kids would come home for a few weeks and all was well with the world again. According to the Cleveland Clinic, as much as 20% of the US population
 

suffers from some variance of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). That’s over 60 million people with what amounts to a form of depression.

 
For some there isn’t much they can do outside of seeking professional treatment. But for many others it’s a result of environmental factors and other things that fall within their ability to control. We all spend some time each year “winterizing” our houses, lawns, and cars - why not do the same for our minds and bodies?

There are a few things you, and people like Maggie, can do to prepare yourself for the onrush of cold weather and raw emotions that winter and the holidays bring.

  • Turn on the lights, then turn them off - one of the causes of SAD is the disruption of the body’s normal circadian rhythms by constant dark skies. Fight off these effects by getting out when the sun makes an appearance, and turn on the lights during the day. At night, turn off the lights when you begin your wind-down period, and make your bedroom as dark as possible when sleeping. Start early to develop a habit and routine.

  • Take Vitamin D - sunlight triggers the body to produce vitamin D, which has an incredible range of benefits, from boosting the immune system to fighting osteoporosis. Start a year round regimen, and your body will be prepared for the sun’s usual disappearance for days and sometimes weeks at a time.

  • Start with the hard stuff early - while that title sounds like drinking at dawn, it means you need to take holiday situations packed with stressful deadlines and knock them out in advance. Start your shopping months in advance before the crowds hit. Prepare your holiday cards ahead of time. Iron out travel details long before you have to.
  • Exercise - Besides helping fight off the pounds from holiday eating, exercise has amazing effects on the body, such as the release of dopamine (a bodily chemical that regulates mood, among other things.) Even better, find a partner to workout with, you’ll both enjoy the fitness as well as the companionship. Develop a routine today before the winter hits.
  • Surround yourself with friends - speaking of companionship, isolation is a major spur for SAD. Being with friends - whether exercising or not - will keep you from stewing or mulling about in your home by yourself. The weeks before winter are a great time to rekindle old friendships via one last patio dinner or even a group shopping session. Then, schedule nights out, or friends-only holiday parties, in advance, to give yourself something to look forward to.

For some people, SAD is unavoidable, and they should seek professional help. For most folks, like Maggie, it can be fought off with some effort before the winter months hit. We’ve shared some of our ideas - what do you do to fight off the winter doldrums in advance? Let us know in the comments!