6 Tips to Manage Stress and Avoid Burnout at Work

-Joe Wilner

At times, we all experience stress, and for many people a major source of stress arises from work-related issues.

Feeling overworked, facing tight deadlines, and experiencing a lack of job-security can keep us in a chronic state of fight-or-flight.

Stress isn’t all bad, of course. A healthy dose of stress in the right context is positive and productive. This healthy stress is called eustress, and it helps us stay motivated and engaged in our goals and objectives.

But, when stress gets the best of us we can experience burnout, feel overwhelmed, and end up struggling to deal with our day-to-day responsibilities.

So here are six tips to defeat that unhealthy stress in your life so that you can stay focused and productive at work.

1. Get your heart pumping

Some people have a more active work life than others, but if you’re sedentary most of the day it’s important to make exercise a regular part of your routine.

“Exercise is truly one of those little tricks in life that can really reduce stress of any lifestyle,” says Jim Laird, Ph.D., professor at Clark University in Worchester. The minimum exercise to aim for is roughly 30 minutes of accumulated moderate exercise on most days of the week.

Start with some light stretching. From there, go for a walk and try to get at least 10,000 steps per day. There a numerous popular apps to help you track your activity level. If possible, make working out fun by playing sports, being outdoors, or trying yoga.

Here’s a list of exercise ideas you can start incorporating into your life today.

2. Use diet to ease stress

Medical science clearly shows that our diet is directly related to our overall well-being. If you aren’t making this connection it’s time to consider how to create healthier eating habits.

When it comes to increasing energy and stamina, consider including complex carbs and proteins in your diet, as well as snacking throughout the day and drinking plenty of water.

Whether it’s through your meals or supplementing vitamins, incorporate omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B-12 to keep yourself mentally and emotionally nourished.

As I’m not a doctor, please consult a medical professional with questions or concerns related to diet, but these are a few ideas you can research and explore further.

3. Honor interests and hobbies

When was the last time you did something remotely fun and entertaining?

We all need time to unwind and enjoy life. Make enjoyable activities a part of your routine to avoid stress.

Hobbies and passions take our attention away from our worries and help us let go of stress. We also get a boost of positive emotions when we’re engaged in activities we enjoy. This dose of positive emotions in crucial to help balance out the negativity bias we’re faced with as a human being.

4. Find meaning and value in your work

There’s a story of three construction workers laying bricks. One afternoon a man walked by and asked the construction workers what they were doing.

The first worker said, “I’m laying one brick after the other.”

The second worker said, “I’m making a wall.”

The third worker said, “I’m building a cathedral.”

When we take pride in what we do and realize the value of our work, we’re more likely to focus on the positive and make productive meaning out of stressful events.

Make it a point to review what you appreciate about your work.

5. Mind over matter

Often the more stressed out we feel the more we start to think negatively. Worry intensifies and we dwell on what we don’t like. This of course only exacerbates stress.

Learn to master your mindset and attitude. Watch and observe your self-talk and use self-encouraging statements to assist you in maintaining a helpful perspective.

Be intentional about what you read and watch and try to consciously have a mental diet of positive ideas and motivating messages.

6. Let it go 

Relaxation techniques may be the most underestimated tool for managing stress. When the sympathetic nervous system triggers the stress response, relaxation techniques provide us the means to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and calm our physiology.

You can utilize meditation, deep breathing, taking a hot shower, or going for a soothing walk, but one way or another create a relaxation ritual that helps you calm your mind and body.

Sometimes dealing with stress is a matter of letting go of what we can’t control and staying present in the moment.

The more tools you have on your tool belt the better equipped you are to manage stressful events as they occur. Hopefully these ideas help to grow your set of tools.

Planning Fun Events May Make Them Less Fun

-Janice Wood

New research shows that nothing ruins a potentially fun event like putting it on your calendar.

In a series of studies, researchers at Ohio State University found that scheduling a leisure activity, like seeing a movie or taking a coffee break, led people to anticipate less enjoyment and actually enjoy the event less than if the same activities were unplanned.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t plan at all: The research showed that roughly planning an event — but not giving a specific time — led to similar levels of enjoyment as unplanned events.

“People associate schedules with work. We want our leisure time to be free-flowing,” said Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of marketing at the Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “Time is supposed to fly when you’re having fun. Anything that limits and constrains our leisure chips away at the enjoyment.”

Malkoc conducted the study with Gabriela Tonietto, a doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis. The results are published in the Journal of Marketing Research.

In the paper, they report on 13 separate studies that looked at how scheduling leisure activities affects the way we think about and experience them.

In one study, college students were given a calendar filled with classes and extracurricular activities and asked to imagine that this was their actual schedule for the week.

Half of the participants were then asked to make plans to get frozen yogurt with a friend two days in advance and add the activity to their calendar. The other half imagined running into a friend and deciding to get frozen yogurt immediately.

Results showed that those who scheduled getting frozen yogurt with their friend rated the activity as feeling more like a “commitment” and “chore” than those who imagined the impromptu get-together.

“Scheduling our fun activities leads them to take on qualities of work,” Malkoc said.

The effect is not just for hypothetical activities, she noted.

In an online study, the researchers had people select an entertaining YouTube video to watch. The catch was that some got to watch their chosen video immediately. Others chose a specific date and time to watch the video and put in on their calendar.

Results showed that those who watched the scheduled video enjoyed it less than those who watched it immediately.

While people seem to get less enjoyment out of precisely scheduled activities, they don’t seem to mind if they are more roughly scheduled, the researchers discovered.

In another study, the researchers set up a stand on a college campus where they gave out free coffee and cookies for students studying for finals.

Before setting up the stand, they handed out tickets for students to pick up their coffee and cookies either at a specific time or during a two-hour window. As they were enjoying their treat, the students filled out a short survey.

The results showed that those who had a specifically scheduled break enjoyed their time off less than did those who only roughly scheduled the break. “If you schedule leisure activities only roughly, the negative effects of scheduling disappear,” Malkoc said.

She suggests you aim to meet a friend “this afternoon” rather than exactly at 1:00 p.m.

One study showed that even just setting a starting time for a fun activity is enough to make it less enjoyable. “People don’t want to put time restrictions of any kind on otherwise free-flowing leisure activities,” she said.

Malkoc pointed out these findings apply to short leisure activities that last a few hours or less.

The results also have implications for leisure companies that provide experiences for their customers, Malkoc said. For example, some amusement parks offer tickets for their most popular rides that allow people to avoid long lines.

But this research suggests that people will enjoy these rides less if the tickets are set for a particular time. Instead, the parks should give people a window of time to board the ride, which would be the equivalent of rough scheduling in this study.

Self-Compassion: A Life-Changing Skill

-Neil Petersen

It’s a cliche to say that we’re out own worst critics. But if you read the AllPsych blog very much, you know that psychology researchers are in the business of showing that a lot of the old cliches go a lot deeper than we might think.

Today’s exhibit is self-compassion. Most of the research coming out on this topic is suggesting that you can make a real difference in your life by showing yourself a little empathy.

That’s because self-compassion is linked with mental health in a general way: people who have higher self-compassion tend to have higher overall wellbeing and happiness. Giving yourself a fair shake can change your approach to life.

Don’t believe me? OK, here come the studies…

For starters, research published earlier this year found that a “harsh attitude towards oneself” was a strong predictor of depression and poor mood in the general population. Mindfulness also had significant influence, suggesting that a combination of high self-compassion and high mindfulness may be optimal for mental health.

Another study published this month showed that when women are feeling less self-compassionate than they usually do, interacting with people focused on their bodies makes them more concerned about their body image and lowers their mood. When they’re feeling more self-compassionate than normal, however, interacting with people focused on their bodies has no effect or sometimes even makes them appreciate their bodies more.

One researcher looked at self-compassion in older adults. She discovered that those who approached their relationships in more anxious and avoidant ways tended to have lower purpose in life, sense of mastery of their environment, personal growth, self-acceptance and overall quality of interpersonal relationships. However, what connected all these things to the way people approached their relationships was how much self-compassion the people felt.

Of course, there’s a natural question here: does becoming more self-compassionate actually make people happier, or does being happy just make people more self-compassionate?

Well, good news: self-compassion is a skill that can be learned.

Earlier this year, a team of researchers experimented with a six-week online course for teaching self-compassion. When the program ended, the 37 participants reported that they felt not just more self-compassionate but also happier, less stressed, less depressed and better at managing their emotions. Even better, they were still experiencing the benefits of their self-compassion training three months later!

So if self-compassion is such a powerful way of creating positive change in our lives, why isn’t everyone already going out of their way to cultivate empathy for themselves?

Recently, some psychologists from the United Kingdom did a survey to figure this out. They found that while most people think the world would be a better place if we were all a little more self-compassionate, people feel some reluctance about becoming more self-compassionate themselves.

Specifically, they think being more self-compassionate will make them more vulnerable and maybe even open them up to ridicule from others because they feel Western culture discourages self-compassion.

This suggests that if we’re serious about promoting a happier, healthier, less stressed society, we have to create a culture of self-compassion. And we can work toward that by being more self-compassionate as individuals.

Think about it, developing a self-compassionate approach to life is a win-win: not only are you an early adopter on the cutting edge, but you’ll be happier and less stressed out as a result!

Healing Compassion Fatigue with Nature

-Jennifer Blough

Suspecting I was struggling with a touch of compassion fatigue, my husband recently convinced me to head up to northern Michigan for a few days to stay at our family’s cottage. I was long overdue for some much-needed self-care, so I packed a small suitcase and hit the road. It was officially fall, which meant that the tourist season had come to another close, the trees began to show hints of color, and the lake was still – perfect for a little rest and relaxation.

Our cottage, which is located on the southern tip of Torch Lake, has always served as a refuge for me. No matter what Mother Nature has to offer – the gentle lapping of the waves on the beach, the warmth of the summer sun, or an evening thunderstorm – she has ability to nourish the mind, body, and soul.

Nature’s Medicine

But don’t just take my word for it. In fact, there is mounting evidence that suggests that nature does indeed have a restorative effect on our well-being by combatting mental fatigue, reducing stress, and improving productivity and concentration. Exposure to nature has even been shown to increase our life satisfaction and promote a more positive outlook (Chalquist, 2009).

While weekend getaways are nice, you don’t necessarily have to travel to the woods or the lake in order to reap the benefits of nature. Healing can take place almost anywhere, anytime with a little effort and imagination:

  • Take walks outside on your lunch break
  • Go to a park and have a picnic
  • Plant a garden – inside or out!
  • Go swimming
  • Plant a tree
  • Sit quietly and observe birds and animals
  • Go skiing or sledding
  • Practice mindfulness, mediation, or deep breathing outdoors
  • Bring the outdoors in – decorate your home or work space with elements of nature, such as rocks, wood, live plants, or even a small water fountain.

Take a Mindful Approach

No matter what the season, there are countless ways to enjoy the healing power of nature. The next time you head outdoors, give this mindfulness activity a try:

  • Wherever you are, take a deep breath and look around you. Simply notice what you see. Do you see water? Trees? Mountains? Without judgment, just observe everything you see.
  • Take notice of all the sounds that nature has to offer. What can you hear? Do you hear leaves rustling? Birds chirping? Again, without judgment, just notice what you hear.
  • What do you smell? Do you notice the aroma of flowers or maybe a salty mist coming from the ocean? Without judgment, simply notice what you smell and take it all in.
  • Finally, notice what you feel. Notice the sensation of your breath coming in and going out. Without judgment, notice how the breeze or the sun feels against your skin. Notice how your feet feel firmly planted against the earth.
  • Wherever you are, use all of your senses to simply observe and be in the moment.

Can You Cheat at Mindfulness and Self Compassion?

-Kellie Edwards

I have a client who laughingly says she loves to “cheat the system” — find a short cut, an easier way, a faster route and get “more bang for her buck.”

She remembers doing it as a child at school. When she was supposed to be learning how to touch type she got so frustrated with how slow it was she peeked under the hand-guard and typed faster by looking at the keys.

When she was studying and working in the corporate world she became addicted to multi-tasking — if she could possibly get two or more things done at once she would definitely feel like she was “cheating the system”, saving time and getting more done.

And when she was driving she used to compete with the other cars in the lanes next to her to see if her zippy lane changes could get her just that little bit ahead of the pack. No she didn’t have any car accidents, but she did feel she had an edge.

And this is not unlike many in our “quick fix” “instant” culture — if mindfulness was a pill we might all be taking it, but like exercise, it takes effort to realize the gains.

Cutting to the chase, getting the short answer, moving on faster and not wasting time doing it the standard way all felt like gaining ground and making the most of the time she had.

So when she came to me for coaching in mindfulness — and even self compassion — she was really keen to find short, sharp, quick fixes that could get her to the destination without sitting for hours or going on retreats.

The good news from Richard Davidson, pioneering researcher from The Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds is that even with as little as two weeks practice, we can achieve lasting change in both behavior and our brains.

With my help she also discovered many short exercises she can do throughout the day like this mindful pause, mindful driving and a gratitude bedtime routine she now does regularly with her children.

And it only takes a few minutes each day to experience brain changing gratitude that is rewiring her brain for happiness and well-being.

But (yes, you knew there would be a “but,” didn’t you?) she can’t cheat the system when it comes to lasting stillness and self compassion. And that’s where the deeper self acceptance and peace lie.

Just like multi-tasking reduces productivity and cheating in typing class didn’t really get her where she needed to go (she still has to look at the keys and it slows her down terribly) nor will whipping through practices of mindfulness and self compassion. Or trying to practice without slowing down and being still long enough to genuinely touch in on what is tender and fragile.

My client really resonated with this Facebook post when she noticed a bit of cheating going on:

facebook-post

She acknowledges that the pull of “getting more done faster” can interfere with genuine and heart felt mindfulness practice. The kind of practice that creates lasting peace and well-being.

So yes, she will keep doing her mindful pause, her mindful driving practices and the whole host of other short and realistic practices I teach busy parents like her — but she will also:

  1. Tune in to her tendency to move quickly and send that feeling kindness and compassion.
  2. Choose to slow down several times a day and just savor some stillness with no other agenda.
  3. Dedicate time to longer sitting practice that goes deeper and grounds her more strongly.
  4. Be curious about any disingenuous tone to her practice.
  5. Embrace her humanness and remind herself that in this crazy busy world of ours, “other people feel this” too, that this is a lifelong habit, heavily influenced by our culture, and that she needs to be patient with her efforts to shift it.

Self-esteem v. Self-compassion

High self-esteem does not predict better performance or greater success. And though people with high self-esteem do think they’re more successful, objectively, they are not. High self-esteem does not make you a more effective leader, a more appealing lover, more likely to lead a healthy lifestyle, or more attractive and compelling in an interview.

A growing body of research, suggest that self-compassion, rather than self-esteem, may be the key to unlocking your true potential for greatness.

Self-compassion is a willingness to look at your own mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding – it’s embracing the fact that to err is indeed human. When you are self-compassionate in the face of difficulty, you neither judge yourself harshly, nor feel the need to defensively focus on all your awesome qualities to protect your ego. It’s not surprising that self-compassion leads to higher levels of personal well-being, optimism and happiness, and to less anxiety and depression.

-Talkspace

 

Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: Your Panic Attack Survival Guide

Your heart was racing. You were dizzy and felt detached. You thought you were about to die. So, understandably, you tried to escape the last situation that caused you to panic.

I get it!

It is natural to try to flee when faced with an anxiety-provoking situation or object. Every part of our being instructs us to do so. But while this could be helpful if we’re faced with a predatory animal, it is the opposite of what we should be doing during a panic attack.

Our bodies are equipped with fight-or-flight responses that, when we’re faced with what feels like danger, help us decide whether to stay and fight or to run as quickly as our legs can carry us. These are absolutely phenomenal responses that our minds and bodies produce in an effort to protect us, so kudos to you, biology, for this life-saving mechanism you have equipped each of us with.

Here is the thing, though. Although this is a fantastic response to have when we are actually faced with a threatening stimulus, panic attacks in and of themselves are not physically harmful—even though they can make us feel as if we can’t breathe. Panic attacks, which are based on a spiral of fear, confuse the brain into thinking there is real danger. The more we run, the more our minds would have us believe there is something to be running from.

So, what to do about it?

Here is your panic attack survival kit, in a series of steps:

  1. Accept, accept, accept! Acceptance is a key ingredient in mitigating and disabling these frightening responses and faulty alarm systems. The more you accept and understand, the less you fear. Try greeting your panic attack with a one-liner such as, “Hello, anxiety!” Actually picture yourself opening the door and welcoming this unpleasant visitor inside your mind’s home.
  2. Stay absolutely still! Wherever you are, stay put—do not flee. While escaping may seem like a helpful short-term solution, it only creates more problems. Running deepens the fear-processing circuits in the brain. Therefore, you may be more likely to experience the same reactions and bodily sensations the next time you find yourself in a similar situation.
  3. Breathe from your belly! Diaphragmatic breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system or calming response as quickly as a light switch, which disables your fight-or-flight response. Try this reverse breathing technique, or breathing in through your mouth while expanding your belly, and turning your tummy inward as you exhale.
  4. Your mantra: this, too, shall pass! Assuming you received a clean bill of health from your physician, just remind yourself that despite how frightening these symptoms can seem, they CANNOT harm you in any way, shape, or form.
  5. Self-empowerment and praise! Once you have successfully made it through the aforementioned steps, you have learned how to deactivate your fear response whenever you need to. So, congratulate yourself on this victory and start treating panic attacks as empowering experiences that give you an additional opportunity to master your reactions. With each step, you are rewiring your brain and training the way it responds to panic.

In addition to the aforementioned suggestions, if you or someone you care about is experiencing panic attacks, consider seeking therapy from a trained cognitive behavioral therapist who can help you start living and stop running.

-Masha Shapiro-Berkovich, MSEd, LMHC

How You Can Tell that Deep Down, Solitude Is Your Thing

What does it mean if you crave a lot of time alone?

If you are someone who likes having time to yourself and space to yourself, and just never felt in tune with all the relentless matrimania (the over-the-top hyping of marriage and weddings and coupling), there have always been other people like you. But now, more than ever before, those people are speaking out and getting heard. What’s more, what they have to say sometimes, in an instant, becomes wildly popular.

An example is an article first posted by John Warwick at EliteDaily in March of 2015, “Alone isn’t lonely: 10 signs you’re perfectly happy with solitude.” It has been shared more than 69,000 times. More than 2,300,000 people have Liked it.

I, too, appreciate Warwick’s 10 signs. I relate to many of them and I like how some of them dovetail with what I’ve learned about people who are single at heart. So I’ll share them first. But then I will share my reservations, not with the signs but with Warwick’s framing of what this says about the people who read the 10 signs and realize that yes, I am someone who is perfectly happy with solitude.

Here are the 10 signs that you are perfectly happy with solitude. (For Warwick’s discussion of each, take a look at the original article.)

  1. You love free weekends.
  2. You’ll go to the movies on your own.
  3. You’re comfortable with eating out by yourself.
  4. You prefer drinking on your own.
  5. You travel the world solo.
  6. You hate sharing beds.
  7. You find driving alone calming.
  8. You neglect your phone, a lot.
  9. You can be socially MIA for long periods of time.
  10. You see “clingy” as an unattractive trait.

A good example of the single-at-heart sensibility of some of these signs is what Warwick says about traveling alone: “The idea of discovering the world on your own doesn’t scare you – it exhilarates you.” Stereotypes of single people insist that they are alone and lonely, cowering in their apartments, too fearful to face the world. In real life, many singles fit Warwick’s description: they are exhilarated even by experiences that other people find intimidating.

Warwick’s discussion of #10 also resonates with the single-at-heart in important ways. For example, he notes: “You need that space to be alone, physically and mentally.” The “need” word is important here. People who vastly prefer living with other people and being with people a great deal of the time just don’t get it about how wanting to be alone can feel more like a need than a mere preference. But it can.

Also in the discussion of #10 is this: “Your decisions are wholeheartedly your decisions, and you love that.” There is research to support the significance of this preference for handling things on your own. In my preliminary research on people who are single at heart, I’ve found that they differ from people who are not single-at-heart by their desire to make their own decisions. And in a study of people who were 40 or older and had been single all their lives, the trait of self-sufficiency served them in a way that it did not serve comparable people who were married. For the always-single, the more self-sufficient they were, the less likely they were to experience negative emotions. For the married people, the more self-sufficient their personalities, the more likely they were to experience negative feelings.

Now for my reservations. Speaking of people who are perfectly happy with solitude, Warwick says that “there are a select few who don’t feel relationships are their top priority.” In fact, though, we have no idea how many people feel this way. No one has ever done the relevant research. And even if researchers were to approach a big, nationally representative sample of adults and ask them about such things, there would still be a huge impediment. Because craving time on your own is so rarely acknowledged or appreciated in our cultural conversations, because matrimania is rampant, and because wanting to be in romantic relationships is portrayed as normal and maybe even inevitable, it is difficult for people who love their solitude to own that. Too many of them are wondering whether they don’t really like their time alone, they just haven’t me the right person. Or maybe they have internalized the cultural narrative that if they are not goo-goo over romance and coupling, there’s something wrong with them. So I’m not sure how many people who really do love their solitude more than they love romantic relationships would say so to a researcher – or even to themselves.

My biggest objection, though, is with something else Warwick says about people who are perfectly happy with solitude: “Their focus is satisfying their needs, and their needs only.” But think about people who really need to be with other people. When they spend time with other people, they are satisfying their own need to do so. Are they fulfilling someone else’s similar need in the process? Most likely. But I don’t think that counts as something for which they deserve extra credit. If the other person isn’t fulfilling their needs, they will probably flee. (Unless they stay because they are scared of being alone.) And I think that means that what they are doing really is about their needs, and their needs only.

So who is more attentive to the needs of others: People who put romantic relationships at the center of their lives or those who are more inclined toward solitude? If we take the difference between married and single people as one (imperfect) way of assessing that, then we already know the answer. There are many relevant studies. Single people are more likely than married people to support, stay in touch with, and exchange help with their parents, siblings, neighbors, and friends. They are also more often the ones to provide the long-term intensive care that other people need when they are sick or disabled or elderly. Follow the same people over time as they go from being single to getting married, and you will see the development of insularity. The same people who were caring and connected as single people become focused mostly on their spouse (and children, if they have any) once they marry.

So don’t tell me it is the solitude lovers who are focused solely on their own needs.

-Bella DePaulo, PhD

Schools Out, But the Same Rules Apply!

Tips for preventing summer weight gain in children

Some may blame the school lunch food and lack of recess during the year for the increased rates of overweight and obesity during childhood. With many budget cuts, gym classes are one of the first classes to get the boot. Children end up being sedentary most of the day during school- except when they change classes and go to lunch. Sadly, this sedentary behavior often continues on after school, when many kids go home to play video games or watch TV for most of the night. So now that school is basically out for the summer, kids should not gain excess weight- right? Wrong! Many studies show that kids actually gain more weight in the summer than they do during the school year . So what can be done to prevent excessive weight gain during the summer?

Serve appropriate portions:

Don’t worry- measuring food is not necessary. Measuring food is not realistic in the long term for adults, and it’s definitely not realistic for kids (nor should it be!) and measuring in of it self doesn’t teach kids WHAT foods are healthy. Instead, a good method is to serve children’s food on a 9-inch plate. From there, use the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate as a guide to what a balanced meal should look like. Trying to eat based on the MyPlate guide is an easy way to ensure the intake of adequate nutrients and eating healthfully, without being so concerned with measuring and weighing.

Treat treats like treats:

Although treats like ice cream and frozen fruit bars are delicious in the summer, remember to keep these high calorie foods as “treats” and not an everyday available snack. Since kids are home during the day, their meal pattern will likely be different than when in school, but this doesn’t mean that all rules go out the window. As the parent or caregiver, you decide the “WHAT”. That means WHAT foods are available for your child to eat during the day is up to you. By having mainly nutrient dense foods around the house during the summer months will help establish healthy eating habits all year round. Limit the amount of calorically dense snacks in the house, but be sure to keep healthier snacks on hand as an alternate. Fresh cold fruit is a delicious summer-time snack, as well as raw veggies with different flavorful dips. Don’t purchase sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, powdered ice teas or lemonades- instead try some citrus or watermelon infused waters. Brewing some homemade iced tea on your own is another good idea- this will drastically cut down on the added sugar –because remember- just one already prepared 20 oz. ice tea may have the equivalent of 16 packets of sugar!

Go outside:

stock.tookapic/pexels
Source: stock.tookapic/pexels

The summer months in North America are typically warm and humid. Yes, this weather is great if there is a pool or beach around, but if there’s no source of relief from the heat, staying indoors is appealing for many kids. A decrease in physical activity during the summer months is likely a contributor to weight gain.  Plus, increased screen time- TV, tablet or phones is very common, and often the hobby of choice for many. Although the America Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO screen time for any child under 2, and less than 2 hours per day for kids older than 2, it is quite obvious that many toddlers start watching TV at a young age, and most kids exceed this recommendation. But, physical activity is a recommended for weight maintenance in kids (as well as adults), so make sure you encourage your kids to stay active. Since children and teens should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity activity on most days, try to have some ideas planned to make kids want to leave their video games behind- swimming, playing tag, jumping rope, soccer and bike riding are fun ways to meet the recommendations. It is also important to lead as an example. If kids see that their caregiver sits around and watches TV all night and rarely engages in exercise, kids will think this is normal. Having activities planned in advance as a family is a great way to get everyone involved- plus it’s an added calorie burner for adults and likely more fun than going to the gym. Adults know that physical activity is associated with many health benefits like lower rates of cancer and improved heart health, but making the benefits clear to kids is also important. Instead of focusing on weight control and heart disease, make the benefits more relevant to them- building strong bones, getting better at sports, increasing self- esteem, improving mood and decreasing stress are just a few!

Breakfast and Sleep- Don’t skimp on them because it’s summer!

Just because it’s summer vacation, doesn’t mean that kids can’t have some type of schedule. Yes, it’s great to relax and enjoy the summer, but it’s also important to make sure they have some type of routine so that meals aren’t skipped, sleep is not erratic and physical activities don’t disappear.

skeeze/pixabay
Source: skeeze/pixabay

Make sure children eat breakfast! Research has shown time and time again that eating breakfast plays a protective role against excessive adiposity in childhood and adolescence. Further, a recent study found that the odds of being obese increase in children who skip breakfast. Besides the relationship between a healthy weight and eating breakfast, eating breakfast is also associated with improved cognition and attention. So, make sure your kids start the day off eating. Some easy and tasty breakfast ideas (besides cereal) include Greek yogurt with sliced seasonal peaches, a whole-wheat waffle with fruit, or reduced fat cream cheese on a whole grain toasted bagel. Busy summer mornings? Make breakfast smoothies the night before with low fat dairy, frozen banana and a scoop of PB for extra protein, or bake eggs in little muffin trays with veggies and cheese- and then just reheat on your way out the door.

In addition to the many benefits of breakfast, adequate sleep is also important. Going to bed very late may be tempting during the summer months, but it does more harm than good. Improving a child’s sleep may also be a strategy employed to mitigate the rise of pediatric obesity. Depending on the age, recommendations for sleep can reach up to 13 hours per day, but most kids don’t reach their recommended amount. Why is sleep so important? Many studies show that the less sleep a child gets, the higher his or her risk is for obesity. Children with less sleep also report increased cravings for calorically dense foods. Further, inadequate sleep is associated with higher consumption of pizza and refined sugars, which we know are not healthy.

In summary, try to stick to a routine and keep a set bedtime schedule. Use MyPlate as a guide for healthy eating and look up local outdoor activities for your child to participate in. These small summer adjustments can help prevent excessive weight gain during these upcoming months!

References:

1.                  Nestle M. School meals: a starting point for countering childhood obesity. JAMA pediatrics. 2013;167(6):584-585.

2.                  Moreno JP, Johnston CA, Chen TA, et al. Seasonal variability in weight change during elementary school. Obesity. 2015;23(2):422-428.

3.                  Hart CN, Cairns A, Jelalian E. Sleep and obesity in children and adolescents. Pediatr. Clin. North Am. 2011;58(3):715-733.

Appreciation is extended to Kristen Criscitelli for drafting this post

Stress Check-In

“Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response TO what happens. And RESPONSE is something we can choose.” – Maureen Killoran

Everyone experiences stress sometimes. It can sometimes feel like there’s nothing that can be done about stress, but you have more control than you might think. As much as we’d probably like to eliminate stress altogether, we know that all stress cannot be avoided. Although we can’t help running into stress from time to time, we can choose how we respond and take charge. Identifying where your stress is coming from, utilizing healthy ways to cope, and getting positive support can be helpful. What kind of stress have you been experiencing lately?

-Melissa Wildt, LMHC