Appreciating What You Have Instead of What You Want

With everything 2020 has thrown at us, you may feel like everything has gone a bit (make that a lot!) sideways. And in many ways it has. But this year has also turned out to be more about appreciating what we have instead of wanting for more – hasn’t it?

While there have been ups and downs, a lot has happened at the community and personal level that we can be grateful for, and we have all become a little more aware of the importance of the little things; the moments of connection and our individual ability to infuse joy into each day.

Let’s look at some simple ways in which we can focus on what truly matters most and bring joy into every day.

Focus on Your Community

The better part of this year has shone a spotlight on the importance of community support. Many have turned to their neighbours for practical help, but also for social and emotional support. Some communities have combined all three with initiatives like neighbourhood food banks, clothing drives, errand support and job search help. As well, shopping local and supporting local business has become a huge desire across the country.

Create The Community You Want

Sometimes it’s simply about getting together safely to share a joyful moment and blow off some steam. Some neighbourhoods have created weekly outdoor parties featuring a wide range of engaging activities. Painting neighbourhood murals and making a joyful noise by singing or having an impromptu music jam are just some of the ways that communities are stepping up to spread joy.

Safe Santa Visits

Wondering how your kids will get their wish list to Santa safely? While some malls are implementing social distancing measures for in-person visits, many Santa’s are going virtual and offering Zoom calls.

One such Virtual Santa notes that Zoom calls are twice as long as the usual mall visit. Your kids may get more Santa joy with a personal video call than in a crowded mall.

Helping your kids feel supported and safe is important. Find ways to keep normalcy in an otherwise abnormal time while keeping in mind kids are really just living in the moment!

Get Serious About What You Can Control

How many times have you told yourself that when a certain thing happens, you will finally be happy? Perhaps when you finish that big work project, get that promotion, pay off the mortgage, or meet that special someone?

You Are In The Driver’s Seat

Reality check: you are in control. Joy does not depend on outside influences. Joy need not wait for a moment in the future that may never arrive. Joy resides within and is available to you 24/7 – if you are conscious of it and take action.

Where is Your Locus of Control?

Psychologists use the term locus of control to describe how much control we feel over our lives. An internal locus of control can also be called “agency.” Overall, it incorporates the ability to take action, be effective, influence your own life, assume responsibility for your behaviors and attribute our successes to our own abilities and efforts.

Those with an external locus of control do not feel they have much control over their lives, and attribute success to external factors. It’s time to take back the power of your level of happiness by getting back to what’s really important. Family, health, nature, laughter and love.

The Power of Positivity

Our consumer culture tells us: buy more, do more, be more. But what about the little things? Isn’t it time to get back to basics? That brilliant yellow leaf, glinting in the sun. Your children’s happy smiles when you take them out in nature. Joy is captured in moments (and they don’t need to all end up on social media). But your heart must be open to joy, or those precious moments may just pass you by.

Meditation

Instead of looking for more outside of yourself, try looking within. Meditation can bring us to a place of stillness where we can truly hear ourselves. Without the roar of constant seeking and doing, we are finally free to hear our inner guidance.

You Have All You Need

From a spiritual perspective, you already have everything that you need. As Buddhist philosopher Pema Chodron says: “How do we cultivate the conditions for joy to expand? We train in staying present.”

Bring Back the 80’s

The 80’s was about more than acid-washed jeans, neon sweaters and feathered hair. Without the internet it was a slower, more social time. Is it time to ease up on our beloved tech and slow things down – 80’s style?

Family walk

Walking is the original exercise. There is something about walking in the forest – the sound of the wind rustling through the trees. The crunch of leaves and running water. The fresh smell of cedar and pine. Try taking your family (or just yourself) for a long forest walk. Nature has a way of bringing out the best in us, and you may find that you feel more abundant after time spent outdoors.

Games Night

Board games were a staple part of the 80’s. Why not get your family together and kick it old school with Monopoly, Risk or Scrabble? For a modern twist, try these 6 board games you can play over Zoom.

Block Party

Block parties are a great way to get to know your community. Try organizing an outdoor sing-along with your neighbours – BYOHC (Bring Your Own Hot Chocolate).

Live to Give

We can get so caught up with our day-to-day lives that it’s easy to forget the joy of giving. Giving back takes us out of ourselves and shifts the focus to someone else.

Giving Makes You Happier

In a 2020 study, participants were asked to play a multiple-choice video game. Only half were told that a donation to the United Nations World Food Programme would be made for every answer they got right. In the post-game assessment, the first group was significantly happier. Giving makes you happier, which leads to more giving, which further increases happiness. As the authors concluded, people feel good when they do good.

Small Gestures Make A Difference

Giving doesn’t have to be a grand or expensive gesture. Drop off a fresh batch of cookies to your neighbour with a new baby. Donate some warm socks to a women’s shelter. Use your loyalty points to buy goods for those in need, every little bit helps. The key is to choose an activity that you enjoy doing, for a community that you love.

Plan Ahead

Do you plan for joy? It’s important to make sure you have something to look forward to. Not just for the holidays, but more importantly for the weeks and months that follow.

Something To Look Forward To

Write down one activity that you will engage in over the next week. This can be as simple as watching a movie you are excited to see or calling a friend to chat. It can be anything that you find enjoyable, as long as it is not unhealthy (i.e., eating a whole cake in one sitting).

Something You’re Good At

You can give your happiness an added boost by scheduling an activity for each day that provides you with a sense of accomplishment. Learning a tune on a musical instrument, fixing something in the house, some DIY projects, re-organizing your spice shelf or even donating a pair of socks to a local charity. These are all activities that can help to bring your “Locus of Control” back to centre.

Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude journals are great for some, but they’re not for everyone. Here are 3 simple ways to up your gratitude quotient:

Gratitude Break

Set an alarm on your phone for a quick gratitude break. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, stop for a moment and think of something you’re grateful for, then resume what you were doing.

Bring The Positivity

When planning social video calls (aka Online Happy Hour), set a small homework task for everyone who will be participating in the call: To show up with one positive thing to share so that the conversation stays fun, positive and fulfilling.

Say Thank You

Take the time to bring a little more positivity into your home by saying thank you for the little things your loved ones do for you, things you normally take for granted.

Set Up an Ironclad Bedtime Routine

We all know the fuzzy thinking and irritability that comes from lack of sleep. But what about happiness? A 2019 study found that short sleepers had the lowest levels of happiness.

Routine & Habit Make The Difference

Set yourself up for sleep success by creating an ironclad bedtime routine. This will let your body know that it’s time to get into sleep mode. If you’re waking up in the middle of the night to scroll on social media, it’s time to remove your phone from your bedroom. Not only will this prevent notifications from waking you up, it will keep your room nice and dark to increase production of melatonin (the sleep hormone).

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the changes happening all around us? Anxiety kicking into high gear and you are having trouble enjoying the things that matter. Sometimes those feelings go deeper and your system could very well be out of balance. It’s not your fault but you can certainly give your body some help to get things rebalanced. In fact we see patients everyday that just don’t feel well anymore and this year has thrown that into overdrive!

We can help! Let’s meet to check your hormone levels, see how your nervous system is doing, and work on building up your physical resilience while finding your inner joy.

Book a call. Let’s do this together!

References:
Ackerman, C.E. 25 CBT Techniques and Worksheets for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/cbt-cognitive-behavioral-therapy-techniques-worksheets/

Chodron, Pema. 2002. The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. Shambhala Publications.

Lai W, Yang Z, Mao Y, Zhang Q, Chen H, Ma J. When Do Good Deeds Lead to Good Feelings? Eudaimonic Orientation Moderates the Happiness Benefits of Prosocial Behavior. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jun 6;17(11):4053. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17114053. PMID: 32517165; PMCID: PMC7312963.

Locus of Control: How do we determine our successes and failures? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/moments-matter/201708/locus-control

https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/cbt-behavioral-interventions.htm

Zhao SZ, Wang MP, Viswanath K, Lai A, Fong DYT, Lin CC, Chan SS, Lam TH. Short Sleep Duration and Insomnia Symptoms were Associated with Lower Happiness Levels in Chinese Adults in Hong Kong. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Jun 12;16(12):2079. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16122079. PMID: 31212815; PMCID: PMC6616396.

You Might Have High Blood Pressure And Not Even Know It

Did you know your blood pressure could be out of control without you even knowing? High blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease, and the months of stress, uncertainty, poor diet and immobility we have all been going through are not helping matters.

When the way your blood flows through your body is affected by your habits, vital nutrients and oxygen can’t get to where they are needed in the body. And as the pressure continues to mount, we start to see physical damage in the arteries and organs that can lead to heart disease and stroke.

Heart Disease is Killing Women

Heart disease is the biggest contributor to deaths worldwide, and in spite of what many believe, it’s not only men who are affected. In fact, men represent 49% of deaths from heart disease, whereas women represent 51%. Here are some more jaw dropping facts on women and heart disease:

● A woman dies of heart disease in Canada every 20 minutes.
● Early signs of an impending heart attack were missed in 78% of women, according to a retrospective study published in Circulation.
● Two-thirds of heart disease clinical research still focuses on men.
● Women are five times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer.
● Among women, the risk of having a heart attack greatly increases during the 10 years after menopause

1 in every 5 female deaths in the US is attributed to heart disease. Approximately 1 in every 16 women age 20 and older has coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease.

The good news is that there is a lot you can do to bring down your blood pressure and reduce your risk of developing more serious issues in the future.

The 2 Types of High Blood Pressure

Primary hypertension

Primary hypertension is the most common type. It is a long term, chronic condition that develops over time due to factors such as a lack of exercise, poor diet, or a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure. A 2020 study showed that variations in the CYP24A1 gene can have a strong impact on a person’s risk of developing chronic high blood pressure.

Secondary hypertension

Secondary hypertension is acute, and not as common. It is the direct result of other conditions such as thyroid or adrenal gland issues, kidney disease or alcohol dependence.

What are the Symptoms of High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure can develop slowly, with no symptoms. Meanwhile, it may be quietly damaging your arteries, contributing to heart disease and a range of chronic diseases.

If it goes undiagnosed and untreated for too long, it may start to cause serious issues such as:
● Trouble breathing
● Vision disturbances
● Dizziness
● Headaches
● Nosebleeds

High Blood Pressure Leads to Other Health Conditions

The effects high blood pressure has, are determined by which major arteries are affected.

1 – Heart Disease and Heart Attacks
High blood pressure affects the body in many ways that increase the risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack.

– Atherosclerosis
High blood pressure damages blood vessel walls. They respond by putting down fatty deposits (plaques), which act like band-aids over damaged areas but over time make the artery walls hard and inflexible. Arteries become narrower due to the plaque build-up, preventing them from delivering vital oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. And if the plaque breaks apart it can result in a blood clot that could block arteries entirely.
If the heart arteries are affected, Atherosclerosis can lead to coronary heart disease, chest pain and increased heart attack risk.

– Enlarged Heart
High blood pressure means that the heart needs to work overtime to pump out a higher volume of blood. This increases risk of heart thickening (hypertrophy) especially of the main pumping chamber of the heart, which makes the heart enlarged and less efficient. As the size of the heart increases, so does the risk of a heart attack.

2 – Cognitive Impairment and Stroke
When atherosclerosis affects the neck instead of the heart arteries, the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen and nutrients which can cause an entirely different set of symptoms.

– Vascular Cognitive Impairment
Over time, reduced oxygen flow to the brain can impact our cognitive and problem-solving ability. The most severe form of Vascular Cognitive Impairment is called Vascular Dementia, but milder symptoms can happen much earlier and heart issues should be considered and investigated if problems with multitasking and memory arise.

– Stroke
If a blood clot or severely narrowed arteries prevent blood flow to the brain for even a short time, it can result in a stroke. The impact of a stroke depends on which part of the brain has been deprived of blood flow.

An Ischemic Stroke happens when the artery is fully blocked, and is the most common type of stroke. Mini strokes happen when an artery is temporarily blocked, then clears up causing what is sometimes called a ‘warning stroke’.

Because high blood pressure weakens artery walls over time, the weakened wall may finally give way leading to a hemorrhagic stroke – when a brain artery bursts entirely.

Any stroke is a dangerous medical emergency.

Lifestyle Factors to Help Lower High Blood Pressure

If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should continue to take the medication prescribed and have regular check-ups. The following factors are an important part of a heart healthy lifestyle:

1 – Diet

Fat, sugar and salt are classic comfort foods, but they can wreak havoc on blood pressure and heart health. When do you crave these foods? Is it when you’re sad? Lonely? Anxious? One way to stop negative dietary habits in their tracks is by recognizing when you’re triggered into emotional eating.

Reduce Saturated and Trans Fats

Fats play a vital role in the body, such as helping us absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, D and K, and providing energy, but not all fats are healthy fats. Here’s how to reduce saturated and trans fats and increase intake of healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.

Eat Less of These Fats:
● Fried foods (chips, French fries)
● Processed meats (deli meats, burgers, hot dogs)
● Fatty meats
● Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, donuts)
● Plant oils (palm and palm kernel)
● Dairy

Replace With These Fats:
● Nuts (walnuts, peanut butter)
● Seeds (sunflower, flax)
● Tofu
● Fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
● Avocados
● Plant oils (olive, safflower, sesame)
● Beans and Legumes

Reduce Your Sugar Consumption

Although sugar provides the body with valuable energy, too much can raise blood pressure. Even ‘healthy’ sugars such as coconut sugar and honey should be reduced.

– Read Product Labels
Sugar goes by several names, making it hard to recognize on product labels. The worst offender is high fructose corn syrup, but anything that ends with ‘ose’ is a sugar. The surprising biggest culprit? Sugar-sweetened beverages.

Consume less:
● Alcohol
● Soft drinks
● Sports drinks
● Canned fruit in syrup
● Processed desserts (candy, chocolate bars)

Replace With:
● Water
● Green tea
● Pure fruit juices without added sugar
● Low sugar fruits: berries, kiwis, citrus and melons
● fresh herbs to boost flavour

Reduce Your Sodium Intake

We need salt to maintain electrolyte and fluid balance, but in moderation only. Salt is frequently added to processed foods to extend shelf life and enhance taste. Here’s how to cut back:

Reduce Intake:
● Less processed, pre-packaged and fast foods
● Rinse canned goods before eating
● Remove the salt shaker from your table
● Taste food before adding salt
● Crackers, chips and salted nuts

Replace With:
● Herbs, spices or lemon to enhance flavour
● Cooking more at home, where you can control salt levels
● Raw nuts, homemade crackers, homemade sweet potato chips or kale chips
● cut-up veggie sticks

2 – Exercise

Exercise can effectively reduce high blood pressure by improving artery health and managing weight. The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise for adults, and one hour per day for children and youth.

Tips to Increase How Much You Exercise

1. Mix it up: do weight-bearing exercise two days per week and cardio 3 days per week
2. Set daily hour limits on sedentary activities like watching TV
3. Use active transportation like walking or biking for short trips
4. Plan active family outings like hiking or going for a swim
5. Do active household tasks as a family like shovelling snow and dog-walking
6. Embrace outdoor winter activities like ice skating, tobogganing and skiing
7. Try indoor cardio like an online aerobic class or put on your favorite tunes and dance like nobody’s watching

3 – Reduce Your Stress Levels

Stress has a strong blood pressure-raising effect. Here’s how to lower your stress response, and improve stress resilience:

Mindfulness and Meditation
A 2020 review examining behavioural strategies found that mindfulness training had the greatest blood pressure-lowering effect. How does it work? Participants in a 2020 study reported that increased self-awareness, attention control, and emotion regulation helped them make better health choices, and improved their ability to handle stress.

Another 2020 study found that after 12 months of using a breathing meditation app, participants’ blood pressure was significantly reduced.

Simple Activities That Help Increase Mindfulness

● Meditation. The key is to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else. Try one of the many free meditation apps (like Headspace). Try fixing your mind on a single candle, or close your eyes and visualize a peaceful spot.
● Deep Breathing. Breathwork can quickly bring you back to a calm state, and can be done anywhere, anytime. Try the simple but effective box breathing technique: breathe in for four counts; hold for four; breathe out for four, hold for four.
● Yoga. Combining breathing, focus and exercise, yoga is one-stop shopping for stress relief. Include forward bends but avoid poses that compress the diaphragm. Try these 5 blood pressure-reducing poses from Yoga International.

4 – Blood Pressure-Friendly Food Based Supplements

While supplements are not a substitute for maintaining close contact with your physician and following their advice, certain everyday nutrients have shown positive results in research studies.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C does more than support our immune systems. A 2020 review concluded that Vitamin C supplementation resulted in significant reduction of blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension. Another 2020 review found that low vitamin C levels were strongly associated with high blood pressure.

Garlic
What kitchen staple can reduce blood pressure? The allicin in garlic supplements have been shown to lower blood pressure by widening blood vessels, increasing nitric oxide production and relaxing the smooth muscles found in blood vessels.

Are you at risk of high blood pressure? It’s never too early to talk about prevention. Naturopathic Medicine can help put you on a path to a healthy lifestyle designed to work for you. Prevention and management require changing lifestyle habits but going at it alone can be challenging. Let’s work together to ensure your heart health and overall health is maximized!
Give us a call today 416-234-1888.

References:

Nardi WR, Harrison A, Saadeh FB, Webb J, Wentz AE, Loucks EB. Mindfulness and cardiovascular health: Qualitative findings on mechanisms from the mindfulness-based blood pressure reduction (MB-BP) study. PLoS One. 2020 Sep 23;15(9):e0239533. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239533. PMID: 32966308; PMCID: PMC7510988.

Ran L, Zhao W, Tan X, Wang H, Mizuno K, Takagi K, Zhao Y, Bu H. Association between Serum Vitamin C and the Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies.

Cardiovasc Ther. 2020 Apr 29;2020:4940673. doi: 10.1155/2020/4940673. PMID: 32426036; PMCID: PMC7211237.

Tabassum N, Ahmad F. Role of natural herbs in the treatment of hypertension. Pharmacogn Rev. 2011 Jan;5(9):30-40. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.79097. PMID: 22096316; PMCID: PMC3210006.

Benjamin, E.J., Muntner, P., Alonso, A. Bittencourt, M.S., Callaway, C.W., Carson, A.P., … & Virani, S.S. (2019). Heart disease and stroke statistics – 2019 update: A report from the American Heart
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Heron, M. (2018). Death: Leading Causes for 2016. National Vital Statistics Report, 67(6), 1-76.