Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Tips for Reducing Your Child’s Holiday Stress November 24, 2009

We all want to enjoy the holidays–to take some much-needed downtime to reconnect with our favorite people, eat good food, and have a laugh while remembering old times. Even if we are master stress-busters, 100% committed to a lifestyle of nutrition, adequate sleep and physical exercise, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, if our over-booked, over-fed, over-stimulated child has a meltdown, we are likely to be led down our own rocky path to Meltdownville.  

Dr. Charlotte Reznick is a child educational psychologist, an associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA, and author of a new book, The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (say that three times fast!). Here are her tips for helping every member of your family, both large and small, to have a relaxing, joyful, happy holiday.

Visualize a heart-filled holiday.
You can do this one at the dinner table. Have everyone in the family close their eyes, focus on their heart, and imagine what kind of holiday will bring joy into their heart. Then share your ideas around the table. This helps kids feel listened to, cared for, and included.
Spread the joy around.
The time-honored tradition of helping others can shift priorities. If kids or teens are moping around or showing signs of stress, take them to the local soup kitchen to serve meals. Visit a nursing home with hand-made cards. Helping others gives kids a feeling of more control and a sense of being both useful and appreciated.
Blow out negativity, light up hope.
Create a family ritual of hope. Have two candles for each family member: one lit, one not. Have each imagine what they’d like to let go of — what no longer serves them — and say, “I’m going to toss this out (anger, worry, meanness to my sister) when I blow this candle out.”  Then light a new candle and share, “I hope to bring in (kindness, faith, cleaning my room) as I light anew.” Let go of the old and bring in the new.
Give distress a voice.
If this is your child’s the first holiday without a loved one–grandpa passed away, or big sister is in Afghanistan–younger family members may feel a deep sense of loss. Or maybe your child is feeling the stress of a recent divorce. Give her paper and markers, and ask her to draw whatever is making her sad or mad. Then ask her what the picture wants to say out loud. Often, putting a face on an emotion and letting it “speak” makes the child feel better–and gives the parent a way to understand what’s going on.
Sweat is sweet.
Kids (and adults) can get all pent up during holiday time. Surprise little ones by clearing the furniture out of the center of the room, turning on some fun music, and dancing vigorously for 10 minutes. Or bundle up the family and take a wintry walk while playing “I Spy.” Exercise releases feel-good chemicals and is one of the fastest ways to chase away holiday blahs and instill a sense of togetherness.


Psychotherapy–not more money–increases happiness November 22, 2009

Feeling down? Money tight? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your lottery ticket was the big winner? Or, perhaps more realistically, you finally received a much-needed raise and were able pay back all your debt? Happiness at last. Right?

Research by the University of Warwick and the University of Manchester finds that psychological therapy could be 32 times more cost effective at making you happy than simply obtaining more money. The research has obvious implications for general public health.

Chris Boyce of the University of Warwick and Alex Wood of the University of Manchester compared large data sets where thousands of people had reported on their well-being. They then looked at how well-being changed due to therapy compared to getting sudden increases in income, such as through lottery wins or pay rises.

They found that a four-month course of psychological therapy had a large effect on well-being. They then showed that the increase in well-being from an £800 ($1,318.56 USD) course of therapy was so large that it would take a pay rise of over £25,000 (a whopping $41,205 USD) to achieve an equivalent increase in well-being. The research therefore demonstrates that psychological therapy could be 32 times more cost effective at making you happy than simply obtaining more money.

Governments pursue economic growth in the belief that it will raise the well-being of its citizens. However, the research suggests that more money only leads to tiny increases in happiness and is an inefficient way to increase the happiness of a population. This research suggests that if policy makers were concerned about improving well-being they would be better off increasing the access and availability of mental health care as opposed to increasing economic growth.

The researchers further draw on two striking pieces of independent evidence to illustrate their point– over the last 50 years developed countries have not seen any increases to national happiness in spite of huge economic gains. Mental health on the other hand appears to be deteriorating worldwide. The researchers argue that resources should be directed towards the things that have the best chance of improving the health and happiness of our nations — investment in mental health care by increasing the access and availability of psychological therapy could be a more effective way of improving national well-being than the pursuit of income growth.

I might add that this be approached with a wide-open perspective on “therapy.” Aside from traditional talk therapy with an accredited professional, we must allow ample access to art therapy, yoga and/or tai chi, religious/spiritual counseling, Qi Gong, 12-step groups, accupressure, dietary and nutritional counseling, etc. I would also caution against laying too much importance on those therapists with the power to prescribe. This country is already grossly over-prescribed, when so many other forms of therapy exist.

The research also has important implications for the way in which “pain and suffering” is compensated in courts of law. Currently the default way in which individuals are compensated is with financial compensation. The research suggests that this is an inefficient way at repairing psychological harm following traumatic life events and that a more effective remedy would be to offer psychological therapy.

University of Warwick researcher Chris Boyce said: “We have shown that psychological therapy could be much more cost effective than financial compensation at alleviating psychological distress. This is not only important in courts of law, where huge financial awards are the default way in which pain and suffering are compensated, but has wider implications for public health and well-being.”

“Often the importance of money for improving our well-being and bringing greater happiness is vastly over-valued in our societies. The benefits of having good mental health, on the other hand, are often not fully appreciated and people do not realize the powerful effect that psychological therapy, such as non-directive counselling, can have on improving our well-being.”

Journal Reference:

1.Boyce et al. Money or mental health: the cost of alleviating psychological distress with monetary compensation versus psychological therapy. Health Economics Policy and Law, 2009; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S1744133109990326


Teens, sex, and family dinners: Parent/teen relationships count November 21, 2009

Concerned about your teen engaging in sex at a young age? A new Child Trends research brief, Parents Matter: The Role of Parents in Teens’ Decisions about Sex, explores how your behavior and practices as a parent, and the qaulity of your relationship with your adolescent can make an impact on the probability of first sex by age 16.  

 The Role of Parents in Teens’ Decisions about Sex

  • Better parent-adolescent relationships are associated with reduced risk of early sexual experience among teen girls.
    • Teen girls who reported high relationship quality with both parents were less likely to have sex at an early age (22%), compared with teen girls who reported low relationship quality with both parents (37%).
    • This finding holds true for teen girls’ relationships with their mothers and fathers separately, but no significant association was found for teen boy
  • Teen boys who eat dinner with their family every day have a lower probability of having sex before age 16 (31%), compared with those who eat dinner with their family four days a week or less (37%). No significant association was found for teen girls on this measure.
  • Adolescents whose parents are more aware of whom they are with when not at home are less likely to have sex by age 16. For example, only 22% of girls who reported that their parents knew “everything” about whom they were with when they were not home had first sex before age 16, compared with 43% who reported their parents knew little or nothing.

“These findings highlight the importance of parents in adolescents’ lives,” said study co-author Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D. “Parents can be involved beyond having the ‘sex talk’ with their adolescents, by fostering strong relationships, developing family routines such as eating dinner together regularly, and being aware of where their children are when they are not at home.”
This study is based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, sponsored and directed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.


It’s not to early to begin 10 New Year’s resolutions for weight “release” November 19, 2009

The actor Freeman Michaels MA, who played Drake Belson on The Young and the Restless in the mid-1990s, is now a nationally known weight-release coach and seminar leader, and author of a new book about his successful approach, called Weight Release: A Liberating Journey (Morgan James Publishing, $16.95).

Before we take those first bites of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, it might be useful to take a moment ot listen to Michaels’ approach to eating and weight loss, and how it can affect (for better or worse) our self image. 
“If you’re like I was when my weight ballooned to 275 pounds a few years ago,” he shares, “you’re probably wondering if you’ll ever again have that healthy feeling of being light, quick, and carefree. For some, childhood may have been the last time you were at a size and weight that felt good. Take heart! You can begin to release weight by following my 10 New Year’s resolutions. I’m more than 70 pounds lighter now, thanks to a self-care practice I developed and that is helping hundreds of others do it too.”

Curious? Here are tips from his new book: 

1. Stop thinking of weight in terms of “loss.” Food and eating behaviors have provided comfort to you. When we focus only on “losing” the weight without dealing with the underlying purpose those behaviors have served, we’re apt to “find” it again.
2. Replace self-judgment with self-compassion. Self-judgments–I’m fat, I’m unattractive, I’m undisciplined–are roadblocks to releasing weight. Learn to be compassionate toward the part of you that holds shame, blame, or guilt, and you’ll begin to release the weight of unresolved issues. Actual weight release will result.
3. Stay in the safe zone. Identify some “safe zones”–areas or people with whom you feel safe. Establish who might be allies in your weight release journey and find places where you feel comfortable being yourself.
4. Minimize bad days. For many of us, bad days can quickly translate into bad days of eating. Practice unplugging from negative people energetically in order to create your own positive reality.
5.  See slips as teachers. When you catch yourself in a negative pattern around food, don’t slide into self-criticism. Instead, ask yourself what’s going on with you that wants to be addressed.
6. Change something–anything. Make a change, preferably something you have resistance to, that has nothing to do with food, diet, or exercise–e.g., rearrange your bedroom. Note how the mere act of changing something affects you emotionally.
7.  Plan to “snack consciously.” Buy and prepare foods you can snack on throughout the day. Schedule in snacks twice or more per day; don’t wait until you’re starving.
8. Eat before you eat out.  Before you go out to dinner, eat a healthy snack so you’re not impulsive and motivated by hunger when ordering.
9.  Prepare “meal” affirmations. Before you eat, say a silent affirmation. Examples: “I choose to eat what my body needs,” or “I love my body, and I offer it sustenance.”
10.  Embrace discomfort. “Comfort food” suggests the presence of discomfort. The goal is to embrace the discomfort and allow it to be your teacher and your guide. It will lead you to the unmet needs that are causing anxiety or distress–and influencing the way you eat and think about food.


Holiday tension? Try Feng Shui for your family Thanksgiving Dinner November 16, 2009

Click here to find out more!Using Feng Shui can help ensure a warm, happy and positive atmosphere for you and your guests. For many people, the holidays bring with them seemingly perpetual family tension. The idea that Feng Shui might offer some peace and happiness should come as a huge relief! Not sure Feng Shui is for real? Read these simple tips from Practitioner Dr. Andie Pearson, DMD–they are excellent organizational and decorating tips, and if they do stimulate a positive environment, all the better. What do you have to lose?

  • Clean and Clear: No matter what the occasion, the first step in Feng Shui is clearing clutter and cleaning the area.
  • Analyze: After you have cleared, cleaned and organized the area where you will be entertaining, you need to decided on themes, purpose, how many people will be invited, who will be there, and what activities and foods will you have. This should help you with the rest of your planning.
  • Color It Warm: Plan the decorations with warm relaxing colors. Use goldenrod, earthy greens, tans, amber, deep rich reds or maroons etc. You want a color scheme that will be both relaxing and welcoming. Fall and Thanksgiving colors lend themselves to this very well.
  • Traffic Flow – Create a good flow of traffic throughout. Ask yourself – Are you having an actual sit-down event , buffet or cocktails with appetizers ?
    • If you are having a formal dinner, have that room separate from the rest of the party, allowing the rest of the party area to be designated as the place for social gathering.
    • For a buffet-style Thanksgiving, have an area for the food and a section for drinks. You will also need to have seating scattered about in organized fashion that doesn’t block flow of traffic.
    • A Thanksgiving party that is just snacks, appetizers and cocktails has a bit of free flow. You can arrange several areas for food and drinks scattered through out the room so that people can stroll from place to place and socialize.
  • Minimalist – Decorations should be pleasing to the eye, but kept to a minimum. Overly large or overwhelming items or too much clutter can create an environment of anxiety. (From an eco-conscious standpoint, less is always more, anyway. Try to find new uses for existing items in your home, or shop second-hand, and give old finds a breath of new life.) The stimulation of clutter is too much and makes it hard to relax into the party. Flower arrangements on the table or through out the room should be conservative and moderate to short. Anything big or tall will not allow for conversion across the table. Because people will be visiting and talking, music would be very nice, but needs to be low and soft so that it doesn’t compete with everyone there.
If you stick to the basics of Feng Shui, your party will be a success. So remember, clear and clean, plan in detail, go low and conservative on decorations, and allow for good social flow patterns through out the party area.
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The more the merrier: More kids = more joy for married couples November 15, 2009

On The Soup last Friday, Joel McHale made a crack about TLC‘s penchant for shows about families with multiple kids, chiding them for the two things the network seems to do best–stick to a format and ruin a marriage. While media channels continue to drag Jon and Kate Gosselin‘s troubles to the spotlight, a new study by Dr. Luis Angeles from the University of Glasgow reports findings indicating that having children improves married peoples’ life satisfaction and the more they have, the happier they are. For unmarried individuals, raising children has little or no positive effect on their happiness.

When asked about the most important things in their lives, most people place their children near or even at the top of their list. Contrary to previous studies on this topic, Dr. Angeles’ analysis of the relationship between having children and life satisfaction takes into account the role of individual characteristics, including marital status, gender, age, income and education.

For married individuals of all ages and married women in particular, children increase life satisfaction and life satisfaction goes up with the number of children in the household. Negative experiences in raising children are reported by people who are separated, living as a couple, or single, having never been married. Children take their toll on their parents’ satisfaction with social life, and amount and use of leisure time.

Dr. Angeles concludes: “One is tempted to advance that children make people better off under the ‘right conditions’ — a time in life when people feel that they are ready, or at least willing, to enter parenthood. This time can come at very different moments for different individuals, but a likely signal of its approach may well be the act of marriage.”

I might add that, of the happy, successful, larger families with whom I’m personally familiar, it really does seem to come down to partnership–not only between the husband and wife, but among their offspring. Committed partners help one annother, and teach their children to do so as well. In happy families with many children, you’ll often find older children assisting younger siblings without begrudging it, because their parents model that value. And let’s not forget gratitude: parents who demonstrate thankfulness for one another and for their children encourage their kids to be thankful for one another as well.

I also look to larger families to learn better time management and organization. In our house, I’m frequently amazed by the chaos created by only two preschoolers–some might say we’ve already reached critical mass–and I can’t imagine having the energy to bring in a third (and let’s be honest, I’m not getting any younger). 

Having children is, to be certain, a tremendous amount of work. Thank goodness our children also bring us a heightened experience of happiness, although I have to wonder how that balance between work and reward is maintained if beleagured by the constant presence of a film crew?


Getting what you pay for: Scoring more facetime with your doctor November 13, 2009

In my career as a patient, I’ll admit I’ve been lucky. Blessed with a good constitution and healthy lifestyle, I haven’t spent any time in the hospital or suffered from chronic conditions. Raised in Canada, I remember informative check-ups with my general practictioner, sometimes lasting an hour or more, which included a lesson on preventative care. It isn’t so surprising then, that for our family doctor here in Southern California, we chose K. Mitchell Naficy. Dr. Naficy is patient, answers all questions and has an excellent bedside manner. He runs a busy office, but always appears relaxed and ready to hear out our concerns, and sits down to problem-solve alternative remedies with us, without simply handing over a prescription and moving on. However, like most people, we’ve had the frustration of walking out of our doctor’s office and realizing that we hadn’t addressed all the problems that led to the visit–primarily because we weren’t organized enough.

In some cases, even the most well-meaning doctors struggle to provide the care they wish to give. More and more, it is due to tightening budgets–not only on the patient’s side, but times have changed for the medical profession. Dr. Margaret Lewin, Medical Director of Cinergy Health, says, “Financially, we’d like to get our healthcare with doctors who participate with our health plan, so that we need part with only a relatively small co-pay for the visit. However, your healthplan doctor has discounted his fees in order to participate in the plan and has had to add staff and equipment in order to handle the paperwork and phonecalls generated by the insurance companies. When you consider the increasing cycle of skyrocketing costs and decreasing reimbursements, you can see that participating doctors must see more and more patients daily – spending less and less time with each.”

Dr. Lewin suggests that if you’re lucky enough to have a policy which covers out of network healthcare, and you want more time with the doctor, then choose a physician who does not accept insurance. Do check to see how long the doctor spends for a complete exam and for a short office visit, to see if that scheduling better suits your needs than an in-network doctor. You’ll probably have to pay up-front, submitting the claims to your insurance company and waiting to be reimbursed.

Make sure to maximize your time with your doctor:

 · On your first visit, give the doctor a detailed medical history – preferably typed, and including your allergies, past surgeries and serious illnesses, family medical history and a list of all your medications, including dietary supplements and other over-the-counter products – even if you don’t use them regularly (in fact, you should always carry that list of medications in your wallet, along with your doctor’s business card, in case of emergency); on subsequent visits, always give the doctor an updated list of those medications

· Take with you a careful list of all your issues, placing first the most important ones – try not to get distracted from that list. If you need prescription refills, be sure to give the doctor a list of those needs at the beginning of the visit. Make sure preventative care is on your list.

· Studies show that when a doctor makes the simple gesture of sitting down, it immediatrely gives the patient more confidence that he is listening. Politely request this. Most doctors spend a lot of time on their feet, so don’t be shy.

· For many doctors, discussing complementary alternative medicine (CAM) with a patient can prove as delicate a topic as religion or politics. Don’t wait for your doctor to bring up CAM methods–Ask.

· When the doctor explains the diagnosis and recommendations, make sure you understand by repeating back in your own words.

· When given prescriptions, check that the new medications don’t interact unfavorably with your usual regimen, and ask for expected side effects and what to do should they occur.

Before leaving the office, check with the staff to find out to handle problems that come up between visits:

· What to do in an emergency, including finding out which hospital emergency department to go to if necessary

· Is the doctor available for emergencies outside of regular office hours – and if not, what arrangements have been set up?

· Is there a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant to call? Does the doctor have regular times set aside for telephone calls? Can you email in your questions – and if so, what’s the expected turn-around time?

· What’s the procedure for getting prescription refills?

Being super-organized will help you get the most out of your doctor visits. If, however, you find that even this doesn’t give you the time you need to fulfill your medical needs, it’s time to consider changing doctors!