Mindfulness & Self Care Are Key to Relieving Holiday Stress

Stress & Anxiety During the Holiday Season | Washington DC psychotherapistIt’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap-happiest season of all

For some of us, the holiday season dredges up more feelings of stress and anxiety than it does feelings of comfort and joy. The family gatherings, buying gifts and the travel to relatives: You may have every intention to celebrate, but something is holding you back. Maybe you just can’t wait for it to be January?

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can take good care of yourself without completely unplugging from your family’s ritual and tradition. Perhaps it means skipping an event or two to lower your stress level. Try to find your own way to enjoy family time the way you want to.

Talk to a few family member about how you’re feeling.

Do you have a trusted family member — maybe it’s that aunt, a sibling, or a favorite cousin — you can confide in? Confide with cheer. Share what’s on your mind and know you’re not alone if you feel stressed or anxious about spending so much time with the family. Make a plan to get away together; go out for coffee, pack your hiking boots, or download some relaxing meditations to help you let go when it all gets to be too much.

Get involved.

Sitting on the sidelines can amplify our anxiety. Sometimes our level of satisfaction is directly linked to our level of feeling invested, even though it’s more effort and work. Maybe this is the year you offer to host the family’s Christmas Eve gathering. Or perhaps you only do one part with gusto —,you plan plan the menu, find the centerpieces, or concoct the holiday cocktail. Think about your own interests and energy level, and offer to do something you feel good about doing.

Give back.

You don’t have to spend all of your time with your family. Take a few hours this holiday season, and spend them giving back to your community; volunteer opportunities may be available through local places of worship, homeless shelters, or animal shelters.

Be mindful of your own mental health.

Only you know your own triggers for stress. If going caroling with the family is going to put you in a sour mood, plan ahead and talk it through with family so they’re in the loop about what could make the activity more enjoyable for you. Maybe hire a car service to drive you to holiday parties or shopping? Maybe this is the year you decide to accept your uncle’s choices and let go of the burden of feeling responsible for his behavior. And if the general hubbub of the season leads to overwhelming anxiety that overtakes your daily thoughts and feelings, stop and reach out for help.

Everyone needs a little extra support every now and then; there is absolutely no shame in seeking out the help you need. Talk to a trusted family member or a friend, or:

Contact the experienced Washington DC psychotherapists at Keith Miller & Associates for an appointment to discuss how you can relieve holiday stress.

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Your Brain Deserves a Break This Summer: Take It & Be Mindful

Have a very relaxing summer vacation. Give your brain a break. Be mindful. | Washington DC psychotherapy

The kids are out of school, and pretty much everyone in the office is checked out. It’s vacation season. Nearly half (45 percent) of all Americans who vacation do so in the summer months, July more specifically. To Florida or California, DC or New York, the Caribbean Islands or Europe: We go on vacation to escape, to find a new set of scenes to look upon for a week or more.

We go on vacation because we think that’ll make us happy, but does it really?

Yes.

Well… kind of.

The research indicates that people are happiest while planning, or in anticipation of their vacations, more so than while on or after vacation. But of course there is an exception. The only people who have been found to be happier after vacation are those who can describe their time away as “very relaxing.” That’s the way.

Take a “very relaxing” vacation to maximize happiness all year round.

The secret to a very relaxing vacation isn’t traveling to a specific location, or staying at the most luxurious resorts; no, that very relaxing vacation destination isn’t a destination at all, but a mindset. Mindfulness.

Defined as “a moment to moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment,” mindfulness enhances the capability of memory; it increases your ability to focus, and lessens emotional reactivity; mindfulness also helps make the practitioner more open to change and increases relationship satisfaction.

Take mindfulness on vacation with you.

Vacation is fun, sure, but there’s a reason the majority of us feel more excited and happier before departing. That’s because vacation is also stressful. But if you start now, the practice of mindfulness can mean the difference between feeling stressed and being happy, by keeping you aware of your environment moment-to-moment.

So on this vacation this summer, truly give your brain a break.

Put down your iPhone (or at the very least, turn off your work email). Take a long walk along the shoreline. Do a little yoga. Meditate, or sketch. Try, or do something new. Simply close your eyes and let your senses be overwhelmed by the world around you.

Allow yourself the time, the space and the mental clarity to take in the richness of a new and different environment; and you’ll find the key to being happy, happier, and happiest before, during, and after vacation.

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Meditate & Be Mindful: It’s Good for Your Health

In the 1940’s, if you told someone you were going running, they probably would have asked, “Who’s chasing you?”

Know what happened next? The scientists charged in, validated the benefits of exercise, and now we all do it – and if we don’t, we feel guilty about it.

Right now, meditation is at the point where exercise was a few decades ago. It is, as Time Magazine put it, a revolution in health and mental health. As a result of the new science, meditation is now being shown as effective at performance enhancement for such elite organizations ranging from Google, to NBA teams, and the US Marines.

The practice of mindfulness is one that is growing ever more widely talked about. The world is moving faster; stress levels are higher; and more and more people are coming to understand the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.

But what are those benefits exactly?

The practice—it is, in fact, something that one must practice—of mindfulness has been proven scientifically to improve the physical and mental well-being of all who take the time to stop, breathe, and meditate.

Mindfulness can diminish the severity of pain.

So much of how we perceive pain is mental; truly, some of it really is all in your head, and meditation can help. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience revealed that pain perception is cut nearly in half when the sufferer turned to mindfulness.

Mindfulness lowers stress.

Not only can the practice of mindfulness make us feel more relaxed and calm in the midst of a stressful situation, science has shown that it’s linked with markedly decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Mindful meditation makes us feel less stressed, because it changes the chemistry of your body.

Mindfulness increases our ability to feel empathy.

One study conducted at Northeastern University College of Science found even a brief period of mindfulness improved participants’ levels of compassion by as much as 50 percent; likewise, a different study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the practice of meditation showed more brain activity in regions linked with empathy while meditating than when not meditating.

Mindfulness can make us healthier.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Health found that people who engage in mindful meditation miss fewer days of work related to respiratory issues. When they do fall ill, those with mindfulness practice experience shortened and less severe symptoms.

Mindfulness is beneficial, even when you’re not in active practice.

Your brain’s emotional processing center, the amygdala, is “exercised” every time you meditate. The result is that your brain’s distress tolerance threshold (your “window of tolerance) is expanded, even when you’re not meditating. If you’re stressed or anxious mediation expands your emotional window of tolerance as much or more than anti-anxiety medication.

Mindfulness counseling

Keith Miller specializes in mindfulness-based psychotherapy for anxiety and stress.

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Stress Might Be Affecting Your Creativity

Teen taking test with DC Psychological ServicesAll day, every day:

It seems like we’re all stressed about something. Maybe it’s money, or your health, or your parents’ health, or your kids’ behavior, or an unresolved conflict with a coworker at your high-pressure Washington DC job.

Whatever it is, it’s there. Stress.

It occupies your mind all day. Stress.

It keeps you up at night. Stress.

It’s affecting your creativity. Stress.

Yes, really.

The burden of stress you bear may be affecting your creativity in ways you don’t even realize. Stress, and exposure to prolonged negativity can thwart your ability to effectively utilize that creative, problem-solving muscle: Your brain. Stress can also affect your productivity at work, which just leads to more stress.

More stress means less creativity; less creativity means lowered productivity.

Lowered productivity means more stress.

You’re starting to get my point here, yes?

The good news is this:

There are ways to minimize stress, and maximize creativity.

But before we can get to that, first we have to talk about how, physically, that pesky thing known as stress takes its toll on our bodies, on our psyches, and on our creativity.

take our anxiety quizStress is a totally natural reaction to a threat, or something perceived to be dangerous; this ‘fight or flight’ response causes the body to be flooded with the hormones cortisol and epinephrine, which in turn inhibit the brain’s ability to function as it does otherwise. Creativity is depleted, and we soon find it difficult to locate the most logical solution to the issue at hand.

It’s a cycle, and a vicious one. When stress disrupts the creative, and logical functions of our brains, we become tunnel-visioned; and when we become tunnel-visioned, we become fixated on one specific element or stressor:

“If I had just done this, he wouldn’t have done that.”

“If I change this, everything will be better.”

I’m here to tell you that that’s not really going to solve anything.

Whatever the issues at the root of your stress, chances are it hasn’t been caused by one mistake; something’s just not working. Get out of that undo-redo loop.

Work to minimize the effects of stress.

Take a deep breath.

It really can be that simple.

Becoming more conscious of the way you breathe will prove to be helpful in your fight against stress. Meditate, and be mindful. Take up a yoga practice. Adopt these, and other healthy lifestyle habits. You’ll soon find yourself equipped to minimize your stress while maximizing creativity.

You can also schedule an appointment with one of our anxiety and stress therapists to talk further about reducing anxiety and stress in your life.

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