Increasing Your Happy Hormones
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Most moms know what it’s like to feel the blues now and then. Minor swings into sadness or feeling low can be common to all of us. The good news is there are a several ways we can ward off the blues—or at least reduce their effect. In this blog we will explore several simple ways to increase our cheerfulness and feelings of happiness while decreasing the frequency of those low times.

It is important to recognize that our bodies and emotions work hand in hand. Dr. Gregory L. Jantz, author of Moving beyond Depression speaks of the relationship between physical and emotional health. “Few people realize the impact their physical state has on their ability to overcome depression,” he says. “Depression is not a mental condition but a debilitating whole-body condition that must be addressed physically as well as mentally.” Please understand, this blog is not offered as a definitive solution for depression, but rather a way to increase our “happy hormones” by making a few lifestyle changes.

What are “Happy Hormones”?

The word hormone comes from a Greek word meaning “arouse to activity.”  In His infinite wisdom, God has designed each of us with certain chemicals, or hormones, in our brains that can have an uplifting effect on our moods and emotional states.  They’re produced by the endocrine glands and secreted into the blood, which carries them to distant cells and organs, stimulating physiological changes within these regions. (1) Of the various hormones that exist in our bodies, two are especially important for the purposes of this blog:

What’s the point of this little science lesson?  Simply this: We don’t have to live at the mercy of fluctuating hormones and their accompanying mood swings.  There are ways we can naturally lift the levels of serotonin and endorphins in our bodies.

Exercise Away the Stress

 “We know that exercise has an antidepressant effect,” explains Dr. Bonnie Spring, professor of psychology at the University of Health Sciences/Chicago Medical School. Science proves it:  In a study at Texas A&M University College of Medicine, women reported significant improvements in mood after twenty minutes or more of walking. Why?  Exercise boosts the body’s production of serotonin.  Intense, lengthy exercise also increases the release of endorphins, which probably explains the euphoric feeling that athletes commonly refer to as the “runner’s high.”

 

To benefit most from these increases in “happy hormones,” we need to get thirty minutes or more of moderate exercise five or six days a week. That means making exercise a part of our daily routines. How? Never underestimate the benefit of your own sidewalk or the local park! Simply taking a walk in the sunlight and fresh air can add to your feeling of well-being. You may find it helpful to have a walking buddy, so you can enjoy the fellowship as well as the accountability.

If you have small kids, you can involve them in the process by pushing them in a stroller while you walk. Or you can stay inside and do a simple workout video together in the family room. Another option is to join a health club, as many clubs offer child care programs that give moms a chance to work out while the kids enjoy themselves in separate, supervised play areas. The important thing is to find a form of exercise that suits your current family situation.  As one study showed, people who exercise have 1.3 fewer days with depressive symptoms than those who do not exercise. So get active, and stay active!

Happy Eating

According to Elizabeth Somer, a registered dietician and author of Food and Mood and Nutrition for Women, “certain foods or food combinations set off a series of chemical reactions in your brain that help determine whether you feel content, on one hand, or anxious or depressed on the other.” If you sense that you’re spiraling into depression, Somer suggests eating a snack that combines protein with a carbohydrate; half a turkey sandwich, for example. The combination helps turn on neurotransmitters that naturally invigorate your brain chemicals.

Some people turn to alcohol to alleviate anxiety or depression. Not a good idea, Somer advises, since alcohol is a depressant. “If you’re already blue, it will make you feel worse,” she says.  Dark chocolate, on the other hand, has long been considered an endorphin booster – Now remember, moderation in all things!

During low periods, it’s wise to gravitate towards foods that contain tryptophan, which activates the serotonin in your brain. Foods with tryptophan include turkey, bananas, milk, yogurt, eggs, meat, nuts, beans, fish, and cheese (cheddar, gruyere, and Swiss). Stay away from simple sugars such as candy syrups, table sugar, and sweetened fruits; they cause a brief spike in blood sugar that may make you feel better in the short term but can be followed by a quick drop in energy, leaving you craving more.

Vitamin C can be an important addition to your diet, since the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin requires adequate supplies of vitamin C. Other vitamins and minerals can also be helpful in maintaining a feeling of well-being. Some studies show that a deficiency in B-6 or B-12 vitamins can be a contributing factor to depression. Lower magnesium levels have been shown to trigger depressive symptoms, so increasing your intake of magnesium rich foods may be helpful. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in sources such as fish oil or flax seed oil, can be important, too; a diet deficient in these essential acids may lower brain levels of serotonin.

Several herbal remedies have become popular in the past few years for fighting anxiety and depression. St John’s Wort, for example, contains an ingredient called hypericin, which helps to prevent the chemical processes that destroy serotonin. Kava kava and ginkgo biloba have been shown to have properties that reduce stress and improve mood.  Check with your doctor before adding any supplements, however, since certain ones can interact with medications you may already be taking.

Attitude is Everything

Changing your exercise and eating habits is important for boosting your happy hormones on a regular basis, and so is changing your attitude. Research now shows that thoughts, emotions, and behaviors all have an impact on body chemistry. “Simply getting out of bed and into a warm shower can elevate serotonin levels making it easier to get into a positive, constructive frame of mind.”

Some studies even show that smiling raises the serotonin levels in your brain. Why not practice smiling at other people (starting with your family members) throughout the day? It will be a blessing to them, and it will give you a lift too! And never underestimate the power of laughter, which research has shown releases endorphins into the body. Call up a friend who makes you laugh. Read a funny book.  (Personally, I love reading the jokes in Reader’s Digest. Watch a family-friendly comedy show or movie and let loose the laughter!

Change your attitude by refocusing your mind. It’s easy for us to ruminate over things that worry us or make us angry. It’s important to turn your thoughts to what is good and pure and truthful. Anger, guilt, and worry will diminish your happy hormones if left unchecked, so don’t wallow in regret or anxiety.  Confession is good for the soul and also for your state of happiness. Ask forgiveness, forgive, or make things right, and you will feel a big burden lifted. If you are living in rebellion against God, turn from it. Often people conform to negative influences thinking that doing so will make them happy, when in reality they end up feeling worse about themselves. God forgives our sin, but one of the consequences of choosing an ungodly lifestyle is the negative physiological effects it has on us. Don’t let sin steal the happiness God intends for you!

Relax, Refresh, Renew

 Here are a few additional ways to increase your happy hormones:

  • Discover what relaxes you and do it.

Perhaps it is a bubble bath or a massage or a manicure.  Personally, I am rejuvenated when I have some time alone to read. I love those rainy days or Sunday afternoons when I can play some soft classical music and curl up on the couch with my dog and a good book. I don’t get to do it all the time, but quiet reading is something that is totally relaxing for me, and I look forward to it.

  • Listen to good music.

Discover the music that creates a sense of relaxation for you.  Some kinds of music can soothe your soul, while others can rub you the wrong way emotionally and make you feel tense or angry. Play soothing music in your household, and set the tone for peace. Use pleasant music instead of television for background noise. Studies show that television noise can be a stressor; so if you feel your tension rising, turn off the T.V. and play soothing music instead.

  • Get a good night’s sleep.  Sleep may directly affect your serotonin levels. Some research suggests that consistent sleep patterns are crucial to ensure the most consistent cycling of serotonin, hormones and other neurotransmitters. “You’re especially vulnerable to mood swings when you’re sleep-deprived,” says Dr. Bonnie Spring. “Get enough sleep, particularly when you know that swings are more probable, like during the week before your period.  If you have insomnia, try different remedies until you find what works for you.”

As moms it is difficult sometimes to get a good night’s rest.  Tending to a sick child, rocking a crying baby, or waiting for teenagers to come home can rob us of the effective sleep we need.  Do the best you can, knowing that at certain times in your life you may be a bit sleep-deprived.  Those times won’t last forever.  Look for other ways to catch up on sleep.  Afternoon power naps, for example, can be wonderfully renewing.

  • Get out in the sun.

Sunlight is a definite day-brightener! Direct sunlight increases the serotonin and melatonin production in the body. During the fall and winter months, people who leave for work in the dark, work indoors during the daylight hours, and then return home in the dark tend to experience general fatigue and mood swings often associated with depression. Research suggests that at least twenty minutes of direct sunlight a day can help alleviate some of the symptoms.

  • Seek professional help.

The truth is depression can be brought on by various causes. If you experience continuous symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, see your doctor.  Many physical conditions can cause you to feel down, including hypoglycemia, heart disease, anemia, sleep apnea, diabetes, endocrine disorders, allergies, and even dehydration.  There can be a heredity component as well.

As I mentioned earlier, this blog is not intended as a cure-all but rather as an encouragement to explore simple ways you can renew your mind and body.  If you need professional help to overcome continuous depression or overwhelming anxiety, by all means, seek out a Biblically based counselor or therapist.

 

This is an excerpt from A Positive Plan for Creating More Calm, Less Stress. Click Here for more information.

(1) J. Mathew Neal, “The Pituitary Gland,” Basic Endocrinology, An Integrative Approach (Malden, MA: Blacwell Science, 2000), 21–22.

(2) Endorphin,” Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, second edition (New York, NY: Random House, 1997), 431

 

Photo by Xavier Mouton Photographie on Unsplash

Table Talk
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How’s the conversation around your dinner table or in the car? In a distracted culture, we sometimes need to be a little more deliberate about building good healthy conversations as a family. As the summer comes to an end and school is around the corner, consider setting aside a little time for table talk with your kids. Here are a few questions to get you started. I’ve added questions for little ones to the end of the list.

  • If you could start a restaurant, what would it be called and what would be on the menu?
  • If you could donate a million dollars to the charities of your choice, to what groups or organizations would you give it?
  • If you could take one friend and go on a one week (all expenses paid) vacation, where would you go and who would you bring?
  • If you were going to make a movie, who would star in it and what would it be about?
  • What would be the title of your autobiography and name some of the highlights?
  • Where in this world do you want to visit before you die?
  • Describe your dream dinner and who you would invite.
  • If you could go back in history, what era or time period would you choose and why?
  • If you could be one Bible character who would you be?
  • If you had to perform one talent on stage in front of an audience, what would it be?
  • If you had two days to go away and relax from all responsibilities what would you do?

 

 

Questions for Little Ones:

  • Who is your favorite Bible Character?
  • Where is your favorite place to visit?
  • What animal do you like best?
  • Which book do you like to read?
  • What do you like to draw?
  • Which color is your favorite?
  • Which room do you like best in our house?
  • Where is your favorite place to play?
  • Name your favorite toy.

 

For more tips, check out Karol Ladd’s book A Positive Plan for Creating More Fun, Less Whining.

 

Terrific Travel Tips
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Family trips create wonderful memories for you and your kids. But a little too much family togetherness may tend to test your patience. Family vacations provide the opportunity to see the good, the bad and the ugly when you travel with family, so be deliberate about bringing out the best in your kids to make it a great summer adventure. Here are a few tips

Pre-prep for Success:  Vacation Preparation is everything!  For a memorable trip, begin preparing the kids beforehand for what they can expect or which family members they may be meeting.  Together, you can look up on line some of the possible activities to do while you are at your destination.  Talk about the importance of being flexible as weather or other circumstances may change even your most perfectly laid out plans.  Buy tickets on line to save you the hassle and time once you get there.  Check out comments from other families and make sure you are planning age-appropriate activities.  Recently I was at the Tulsa zoo and saw a mom, dad and grandma all pulling their little bitty toddler along in a red wagon.  It was obvious that the young child had no interest at all in the animals, despite the fact that the family kept pointing and saying , “Look at the animals.” He was just too young, and definitely too hot and tired to enjoy the experience, which leads me to my next point.

Schedule for Enjoyment:  You know your kids and you know what they can typically handle.  Please don’t overload your little ones by trying to fit way too many activities in a day.  They are already going to be on over-stimulated by the new environment, so don’t overwhelm them with too much to do.  A good schedule for younger kids usually includes getting up and getting out early, a time to eat lunch and rest (or nap) then another late afternoon activity and dinner.  For older kids, you may want to let them sleep a little longer and enjoy a mid-morning brunch, then a full day of afternoon activities and sight-seeing.  Plan out your days as much as possible ahead of time making your schedule work for your family’s needs, but always remain flexible.  Teaching your kids to be flexible and adjust to new situations is a quality they need to learn for life, and they learn it as they watch your example on vacations.  Schedules should not rule your vacation, they are simply a guideline to help you work through your day.

Throw out Complaining:  Make one clear rule before the trip even starts, “No whining or Complaining allowed.” Now mom, you set the tone by guarding your own mouth, but also have a talk with the kids telling them how whining and complaining can be quite draining not only to the rest of the family but to the whiner himself.  The energy used for complaining can always be better used toward choosing to enjoy an activity or work through a difficulty.  We are happier people when we stop whining, and change our focus to something good about the situation.  On one trip I had my daughters memorize the apostle Paul’s words in Philippians, “I have learned to be content no matter what the circumstances.”

Give Goodies:  A goody bag became a fun and expected item on Ladd family trips.  I took great joy in putting together a fun little tote bag of games and snacks to keep the girls occupied while we traveled in the car or by plane.  They even served to be helpful as we waited at restaurants.  A quick trip to Walmart or the Dollar store will help you fill a bag with healthy snacks, water, markers, note pads, small books, pocket sized games, chewing gum, activity books, little toys, magazines, you name it!  I built the anticipation by waiting until we got in the car or boarded the plane to give the kids their bags.  They loved it, and it sure made travel much more enjoyable.

Bring books: You are never bored when you have books.  My mom used to read to us on long car rides and it made the time go by so much faster for both her and us kids.  I suggest you go to Half Price book store and pick out a few books that will suit your family.  You may even want to bring a fiction book to read as a family on the trip such as Chronicles of Narnia.  Audio books offer another good idea for car or headphones.

Writing on Return:  Coming home from a trip can sometimes be a bit of a downer, but you can make it fun by taking time to reflect on the trip.  I used to take a blank journal on each trip, and we put pictures in it and wrote reflections in the journal on the way home.  Our favorite memories about the trip as well as funny things that happened along the way made good entries into the journal.  We also added tickets stubs and brochures.  You can even write a family poem about the trip allowing everyone to share in the creative process.  Ask everyone to make a drawing or sketch of their favorite part of the trip. Years later it is a joy to pull out a journal and reflect on a memory.

Hopefully some of these travel tips will assist you in experiencing wonderful and memorable family vacations.  For more ideas on fun activities with your kids check out my book – A Positive Plan for More Fun Less Whining.

Five Ways to Boost Your Confidence
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How many times have you said no to something simply because you lacked the confidence to do it? Granted, we don’t need to say yes to every crazy opportunity that presents itself, but there are times when we ought to step forward and have a little faith in our own abilities. In fact, that’s what the word confidence means – with faith. So how do we increase our belief in our own abilities? Let’s consider five ways:

Try New Things – You never know until you try. Your belief in yourself grows when you try something new and grow from the experience. Don’t be afraid of mistakes – they happen. What is important is that you step forward in courage and face the fear of the unknown.

Grow from Every Blunder – Instead of beating yourself up and thinking of yourself as a failure, use every mistake as a growth opportunity. Allow errors to make you smarter and stronger. Most success stories are built on the foundation of lessons learned from mistakes.

Build on Your Strengths – What are you good at? Take stock of the things you do well and continue to strengthen those areas of your life. As we learn, grow and build in our areas of giftedness, we continue to get better and better at what we do and of course our self-confidence grows as a result.

Manage Around Your Weaknesses – Just as each of us have areas of strength, we also have a few weak spots. Don’t let them get you down, rather learn to work around them. Figure out ways to delegate or get the help you need so that your limitations don’t stifle you or impair you from doing what you do best.

Stop Comparing with Others – It never helps to think of yourself in relation to other people. Comparisons only breed pride or poor self-esteem. Look your best and be your best. Be thankful for your unique gifts and talents and use them to serve and help others.

Ultimately our confidence is built on a belief system. If we believe that a loving God designed us, formed us and created us for a purpose, then we can walk in confidence knowing that He has a plan for our lives. We can also have the assurance that we do not walk alone. His Spirit leads us and guides us each step of the way as we look to Him for wisdom, strength and hope.

Where do you lack confidence? Ask God to help you face your fears. And remember, God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.

The Beauty of God’s Love
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“God does not love us because we are valuable,

but we are valuable because God loves us.”  Martin Luther

The Lord did not choose you and lavish his love on you because you were larger or greater than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations!  It was simply because the Lord loves you, and because he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.  That is why the Lord rescued you with such amazing power from your slavery under Pharaoh in Egypt.  Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God.  He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and constantly loves those who love him and obey his commands. Deuteronomy 7:7 -9

What a beautiful love note to God’s people.  He lavishes his love on us, not because we have achieved any great status or because we are the most efficient mom in the world.  No, he loves us because we are his people, adopted into his family through faith in Christ.  He is faithful to keep his covenant and constantly loves those who love him.  Aren’t you blessed to know that the powerful God of all creation, faithfully loves you and me?

As believers in Christ, we are his treasured possession, and He lavishes his goodness and grace upon us.  On days when you feel less than lovely because you’ve yelled at the kids or become overwhelmed with activities, remember that God’s love is faithful and abundant. It is not based on your performance, but on His grace.   Feel His warm embrace and know that you are completely loved by him, and you can not step out of that love.  When we relish his love toward us, we can more easily pour that love out on others.

 

Loving and Faithful Heavenly Father, I praise you for your redeeming love and mercy.  Praise you that you are the High King of Heaven and yet you want to have a relationship with me.  Thank you for being faithful and kind.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your family.  I love you.  Help me to share your love with others. In Jesus Name, Amen.

This is an excerpt from The Power of a Positive Mom Devotional

Photo by Srushti Patel on Unsplash

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