Managing Holiday Stress

Jerry Daskosk's image of a young lady in meditationThe holiday season can be one of joy and excitement. Houses donned in lights, boisterous music and ornamental trees definitely help with bringing cheer for the “most wonderful time of the year.” However, while many look forward to the pleasures of family, food and gifts, there is one element of this time year that is not enjoyable: STRESS.

Stress during the holidays can be brought on by a number of things, from pressure to spend large amounts of money on presents, last minute shopping, or preparing to host a large party. Likewise, for individuals dealing with loss of a loved one, the absence of that person, or lack of family in general, can very well trigger stressful emotions among other things. While, for some the solution is throwing in the towel and opting to avoid the holiday entirely, experts suggest that such does not really deal with the problem. Instead, it benefits individuals more to craft ways to cope with holiday stress, and better deal with other areas of their life as well.

One such way of doing so is through mindfulness. The concept of mindfulness includes being aware of situations and allowing oneself to feel the range of emotions and deal with them in the moment as a means of therapy. Here are some ways mindfulness can play a role in managing stress during this time of year:

Be Present
Far too many adults worry about things that haven’t yet occurred or issues which they imagine will happen as a result of a given action. To remain stress-free, it’s important to focus on what’s happening in the moment and what you can control at that time. Concerns about whether someone will like the gifts you bought, whether you should’ve added more sugar to the cake, or if you will get along well with family should be disregarded for the now. Deal with issues as they come, but every facet of the moments you’re in now.

Be Kind To Yourself
Self care is sometimes neglected during this time in which selflessness is celebrated. However it’s extremely important to maintain positive thoughts about yourself and do things that bring you pleasure. They could be as simple is buying a gift for yourself or going to the spa. Regardless of how it is achieved, the reality is that one can’t truly care for others without caring for himself first.

Focus on the Experiences
Not to be confused with being present, this concept is about choosing to put emphasis on the experiences one has with family or acquaintances as opposed to looking for value in gifts or the lack thereof. Using the season as a way of connecting with others rather acquiring or purchasing things can cause a big difference in mood. Furthermore, being able to recall those happy moments can alleviate stress in the future.

At the end of everything, be sure to give yourself time to rest, think and recover from all that transpired. Clear your calendar, find a quiet place or calming music and allow yourself to truly be mindful and restful. This is a great tip for any time of the year, but especially after high-strung moments as this time of year can be.

Bullying Has Significant Impact on Mental Health

Jerry Daskoski's image of a girl being bulliedBullying in schools has gotten a lot of attention over the last couple years. Part of that is due to the advent of technology and the ability to bully from virtually anywhere, at any time, with a much larger scope and possibly less consequences than one would have inside a classroom. Still, for many detractors, it’s just an example of kids being kids, at best, and at worst, the need for recipients of the behavior to toughen up. After all, we’ve all been bullied or know someone who was, and that they turned out “ok;” yet research suggests that may not be true.

In a study conducted by National Children’s Bureau and YoungMinds, victims revealed that not only did bullying have a significant impact on their mental health, with regard to depression, anxiety and varied emotions like anger and rage, for many, the effects remained long after school. Nearly half (46%) of those polled said that they experienced low self-esteem throughout their lives, with some of them remarking that bullying made it noticeably more difficult for them to develop personal relationships with others.

Among the most surprising and equally saddening findings of the study is that over one-third of participants avoided going to college or continuing their education as a result of and to avoid bullying. Such significant life-altering decisions are likely not considered by perpetrators or those who defend them. Not going to college, as we know, could determine one’s economic status and overall success in today’s society. Therefore, depression as a result of not being able to access certain levels of income or career goals could be considered a byproduct of behavior like body shaming or abuse because of sexual preference and/or expression.

For those perceived to have the power to quell these types of behavior, school teachers, majority of them have stated that these expectations are not reality. 70% of the teachers surveyed said there is not adequate support for victims of bullying, and that many of them were not at all trained to deal with bullies nor to support victims. Instead, school counselors are expected to provide support to these kids, but they do not interface with children as nearly as often, meaning relationships are not as strong and children may not confide in them when situations arise. Furthermore, counselors may be outnumbered by the volume of kids who need help at a given time.

This study was released by Anti-Bullying Alliance in partnership with Barclays, to mark the beginning of anti-bullying week. This information, while informative, is just information unless systems are put in place to provide more training for teachers, parents and even family doctors (92% of whom expressed having no formal training in dealing with bullied victims) to properly address this issue. If ignored, the effects could be damaging for far too many people, even unto suicide or worse. There is a lot of work to do; this information and groups like the Anti-Bullying Alliance are a good start.

3 Brain Foods to Fuel Your Cognitive Function

It is a well-known fact of life that what you eat has a profound impact on the way your body functions. With obesity officially a full-blown epidemic in the United States and the health food market booming, it appears that the vast majority of us are intimately aware of important our eating habits can be. The connection between the foods we choose to consume and our weight or physical health is extremely clear. However, many people are less informed about how directly eating certain foods can influence the our mental capacity. Research has revealed that although the relationship between healthy eating, physical fitness, and cognitive function are all intertwined, there are absolutely a number of foods that have been proven to improve brain function, focus, and clarity. Incorporate some of these delightful treats into your regular diet to enjoy increased protection against cognitive decline.


picture of walnuts

This delicious snack is jam-packed with nutrients that are both great for your heart and anti-inflammatory. Additionally, walnuts are the only noteworthy nut source of alpha linolenic acid, meaning they encourage improved blood flow. What does that matter? The better your blood flows, the more oxygen is delivered efficiently to your brain. A paper presented at the 2010 International Conference on Alzheimer’s also noted that mice afflicted with the ailment that were fed a diet of walnuts enjoyed better memory and motor skills.


image of berries

The connection between eating berries and enjoying a healthy brain has long been accepted by the scientific community thanks to a considerable history of animal studies which reveal exactly that. Recently, a study in the Annals of Neurology reaffirmed this belief when it concluded that a berry-heavy diet led to slower mental decline in memory and focus within middle-aged women.


picture of coffee

The stimulant found in coffee, caffein, sharpens mental acuity – hence the beverage’s extreme popularity as a morning treat. We drink as much as 120,000 tons of coffee annually. However, beyond the way in which coffee wakes you up and gets your mind running on all cylinders, it has also been found to have other positive impacts for your brain. Coffee is rich in antioxidants which can keep your brain healthy. It also may help diminish the prominence of depression in women, according to recent research.

Healthy eating is a crucial habit for every individual to build for themselves. As you craft your own best practices for what you choose to consume, be sure to consider the foods that can keep your mind sharp, both today and in the long term.

Stay Sharp: 3 Easy Tips to Build a Better Brain

Image of Healthy Brain FunctionImproving cognitive function can seem, at best, to be an ambiguous process. At worst, the endeavor can seem a sisyphean task. However, wellbeing (both physical and mental) should be at the forefront of your mind. The old adage claims that, “time is no man’s friend,” but it certainly need not be your enemy. Being mindful about the way in which you maintain your health, especially as your grow, can completely transform your quality of life, as well as empower you to embrace its milestones. Developing the proper set of habits seems to indicate not just obvious mental and emotional benefits, but also potentially improves your cognitive function. Although the scientific community may still be debating the finer points of some of these habits, adopting a holistic mentality to your mental wellness can ensure that you surely stand to benefit from them in one way or another.

Physical Activity

An ever-increasing portfolio of research indicates that physical activity improves brain health and cognition. A team from the Boston University School of Medicine concluded that hormones released during regular exercise positively impacted blood hormone levels which in turn have positive impact on memory function. A different study in 2013, the combined effort of researchers from Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber, show that the molecule irisin, which is released during endurance exercise, not only improves cognitive function but protects against mental degeneration. Higher level of irisin is also known to impact learning and memory function.

Researchers have even noted the connection in children. A study from Finland indicated that first grade students with higher cardiovascular fitness and motor skills also performed better in reading and arithmetic assessments. In short, better fitness often equates to higher cognitive function.

Learn New Things

It may seem to be little more than a vapid, comical interjection in the majority of the conversation in which you find it, but, when it comes to cognitive function, studies indeed indicate that “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Challenging yourself to learn new and demanding skills has been found to be beneficial to people looking to preserve or improve their brain health. However, activities with which you are already expertly acquainted, regardless of their complexity, simply will not cut it. Research show that if you are inside of your comfort zone, you are very likely outside of your enhancement or growth zone.

Similarly, curiosity and creativity can be key in stimulating not just cognitive function, but also success. A study out of Michigan State University discovered that children who participated in arts and crafts outperformed their peers in innovation, patents, and entrepreneurship in adulthood. Brain-stimulating activities like reading books or musical training also offer great benefits. Studying music, especially as a child, increases plasticity in the brain and  improves the connectivity of different brain regions, positively altering the ability of the mind to interpret and integrate a variety of sensory data. Reading and writing at any age has been shown to preserve memory. Even reading fiction can be a big help!

Put Your Brain First

Although Western culture has not traditionally extolled the virtues of mindfulness meditation, studies do show that regularly practicing such a skill does measurably change the brain and reduce stress, which in term may slow the onset or progression of cognitive disorders. The same ability to reduce chronic stress and decrease cortisol levels has been seen in yoga.

Chronic stress and the associated high levels of cortisol can be very detrimental to the the health of your brain. Stress triggers long-term changes in the wiring of your mind, which may well explain why individuals exposed to consistent and extremely high levels of stress as children are so prone to mental problems like mood disorders or learning disorders later in their lives. Cortisol, which is sometimes colloquially called “the stress hormone” can cement the connections between the hippocampus and amygdala so that your mind becomes overly eager to enter the fight-or-flight mentality. That inflexible and unwavering connection can in turn cause an excess of myelin or “white matter” in the brain, more than your mind can trim through its regular neural pruning in order to remain as efficient and functional as possible.

The key to building these great habits is consistency. Remaining committed to building a great routine may be challenging, but remember the excellent benefits the right lifestyle can have on your cognitive function, even later in life. Find the ways to incorporate these tips that best suits you, and stick with it. Your brain will thank you.

The Efficacy of Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT); it’s a therapeutic approach that is able to be applied to a wide selection of problems, making it a very popular course of treatment for issues such as anxiety disorders, general stress, substance abuse and addiction, and eating disorders.

Developed by Aaron Beck, CBT is defined as the expansion of the scope of behavior therapy to include cognition and research on human information processing, and it includes various techniques. Some argue cognitive therapy’s efficacy lies in the treatments open-endedness, as the course of the therapy is catered to the individual.

Jerry Daskoski

One psychotherapy technique it emphasizes, called collaborative empiricism, involves challenging negative cognitive distortions, which is a procedure in which the therapist conjures up a hypothesis and then assists the patient in testing the validity of that hypothesis.

Rational-emotive therapy, another CBT technique developed by Albert Ellis, is used as a treatment for anxiety and depression, and was designed to challenge irrational beliefs about oneself and the world.

Perhaps the most crucial component of CBT treatment is something called the transference relationship. It is the way in which the patient behaves toward the therapist in which it is believed to reflect early primary relationships. This is used to increase patients ability to experience themselves and other people in a more realistic and integrated way.

Because CBT caters to those receiving treatment on an individual-level, the success of the transference relationship is so important because, essentially, the client and clinician are creating the treatment path together.

Since cognitive therapy can be applied to problems on such a broad spectrum, it’s arguably the most studied course of treatment. Evidence is strong for the efficacy of CBT, specifically in treating anxiety disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Like most, if not all, psychotherapy treatments, more extensive literature and research is necessary to gaining a stronger grasp on it’s efficacy, despite the enormous evidence base pointing to CBT’s success. However, CBT comes at a cost, a high one, and thus it has not been adopted as a first-line intervention for mental disorders for many countries, including many developed nations.