Health/Wellness

Healthy Habits for Sweet D.R.E.A.M.S

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What is happiness and how can we achieve it?

We have agonized over this question for centuries, but only recently has science begun to weigh in on the debate. First, let’s think about what happiness is not.  Happiness is not feeling good all the time.  It is not being rich and affording everything you want.  Finally, happiness is not a final destination, it is a journey. It takes regular effort to maintain happiness. Most established techniques for achieving happiness are about adopting habits, not one-shot events, and most life events that make us happy in the short-term, like getting married or being promoted, fade over time as we adapt to them.

 

So, what IS happiness?  Science suggests that happiness is a combination of genetics, how satisfied we are with our lives and how good we feel on a day-to-day basis.  In simple terms, happiness is pleasure and a sense of well-being. The good news is that we have the ability to control how we feel and with consistent practice, we can form life-long habits for a more satisfying and fulfilling life. I have coined the acronym D.R.E.A.M.S. which are a set of 6 habits that if practiced daily will assist in the journey of achieving happiness.

farmacy

 

D: Diet

It is known that the best place to begin your personal pursuit of happiness is at the end of your fork.  Changing what we eat can stabilize our mood, improve focus and boost overall brain health, all while trimming our waistline.  Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD) which is rich in processed foods and high in sugar does not deliver the important foods our bodies require to achieve happiness.  In order to tap into the mental well-being of happiness, the following guidelines should be adopted.

 

Eat more F.O.O.D.

F:  Fresh fruit and vegetables

O: Only complex carbohydrates and grains

O: Organic as much as possible

D: Drink water and avoid fruit juice

 

Eat less C.R.A.P.

C: Cheese and other dairy products

R:  Refined foods

A:  Artificial sweeteners (including Truvia and Stevia) and Preservatives

P:  Processed foods (much of it is loaded with sugar)

 

 R: Respire (Breathe)

breathe

 

What is the first thing said when we are on the verge of a meltdown? That’s right: “Take a deep breath.”  Turns out, there is truth to this age-old advice. Also, pregnant women are taught breathing techniques due to its beneficial effect on coping with physical and emotional distress.  How is deep breathing going to turn things around? Most of us breathe with the upper half of our lungs and our belly barely moves. This means that the lower lobes of our lungs don’t get a full supply of fresh oxygen. 

 

Belly breathing engages the diaphragm, the muscle which divides our chest from our abdomen.  This breathing is also referred to as  abdominal breathing.  Infants and small children naturally breathe with their diaphragms. Adults, on the other hand, tend to lose this habit due to a number of reasons, including mental tension, poor posture, tight clothing, and unhealthy lifestyle habits.  In the absence of deep breathing, small blood vessels in the lowest portion of the lungs are deprived of air causing shortness of breath and a feeling of anxiousness; the opposite of happiness.

 

Studies show that calming the breath through belly breathing can have a huge impact on well-being. Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which guides the body from stress to relaxation. Additionally, when relaxed, our heart rates and blood pressure are lowered; we sweat less and digestion improves.

 

E: Exercise

calories

 

The benefits of regular exercise on our body in terms of managing weight or boosting cardiovascular health are well recognized.  However, did you know that keeping fit can have a positive effect on our mental health, mood and happiness?  Moderate intensity aerobic exercise such as jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening and dancing have been shown to elevate mood immediately and may last up to 12 hours.  The main reason that exercise improves mood is through the release of feel-good chemicals called endorphins. These neurochemicals are produced when the body is under stress such as during intensive exercise.  They are structurally similar to the drug morphine and like natural painkillers are involved in reward circuits that reduce discomfort and give the euphoric buzz or “natural high.”

 

Exercise acts as a welcome diversion from our worries and if approached mindfully can have a meditative effect.  Additionally, exercise has been found to boost self-esteem and aid sleep, both of which have a positive effect on stress levels.  Research has shown that individuals who exercised at least 2 – 3 times weekly experienced increased psychological well-being and decreased depression, anger, and distrust.

 

exercise pyramid

 

A: Altruism (Gratitude)

gratitude lady

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough.” (Melodie Beatty) On a basic level, gratitude is being satisfied and appreciative of what you have. Gratitude is an attitude and way of living that has been shown to have many benefits in terms of health, satisfaction with life, and happiness.  Feeling and expressing gratitude turns our mental focus to the positive which combats the brains’ natural tendency to focus on threats, worries, and negativity. 

 

Gratitude makes you a more resilient person and has been shown to improve relationships.  When you feel thankful, you have a tendency to be kinder and more empathetic to others. Ultimately, gratitude works better when your way of thinking is reframed.  It works best when coupled with a sense of purpose.  Put another way, gratitude and having a sense of satisfaction are the reasons to get up every morning and tackle the day with fervor.

 

M: Mindfulness

The Brain

New research has shown that happiness is not found in external things at all, but is a power we hold within ourselves. As it turns out, what makes people happy is dependent far less on what they are doing and depends significantly more on whether their attention is fully present in the moment.  The average person’s mind wands about 47% of the day—and when the mind wanders we don’t feel happy. A wandering mind makes us vulnerable to depression, stress, anxiety and other negative emotions.

 

One way that we can practice mindfulness is through meditation which is an ancient tradition that has been scientifically studied and shown to have a positive impact on our minds and bodies. 

Scientific research has shown that meditation has many benefits for our well-being, including: increased  ability to withstand stress, assist with helping  feel more rested, relieve and reduce pain, lower blood pressure and increased immunity.

 

S: Sleep

sleep

 

Did you know that humans are the only species on the planet who will deprive themselves of sleep? Sometimes being “advanced” isn’t so advanced! For optimal health, we need sleep. Lack of sleep makes us less alert, slows reaction times, and impairs memory–so aside from physical health, there’s a huge mental cost to not getting enough sleep. An exhausted person is not a happy person. We regularly cut sleep short because we’re “busy” and assume that a few minutes here or there is no big deal. But it is a big deal, and the cumulative effects creep up on us.  Research on life satisfaction found a direct correlation between sleep quality and overall happiness.  In fact, they found that sleep quality is the single most influential factor in determining our daily mood.  Including repair of the body’s cells, other benefits of a good night’s sleep include improved memory, reduced stress, and may contribute to weight loss by reducing the amount of Leptin, the chemical involved in cueing the brain that you are full. Inversely Ghrelin,  the substance that signals the brain that it’s time to eat, increases with lack of sleep. 

 

By adopting the above  habits into your daily routine, not only will you have better health, but greater happiness as well.  Sweet D.R.E.A.M.S!!

 

sleep pillow

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