Case of the Winter Blahs?

Case of the Winter Blahs?

Did you ever read The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster? (If not, you should, it’s truly excellent.) In it, Juster describes a place called “The Doldrums,” where our little hero Milo gets briefly stuck; it’s colorless and bleak and populated by people called the “Lethargarians' who don’t do anything and you’re not allowed to think or laugh, and the intention is that everyone’s bored and miserable all the time. Now is it just us, or does that sound an awful lot like the month of February?
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New Year Resolution: Healthy Skin

If you don't already have healthy skin habits, now is the time to start. Here are 5 tips we snagged from Health.com to get you on track in 2015 and beyond.

Avoid heavy-duty cleansers

Unlike your pots and pans, “your skin needn’t be scrubbed or squeaky to be clean,” says Jeannette Graf, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center. So don’t overdo it. Mild, nondetergent cleansers—milks, gels, foams, or cloths—are your best bet. Scan the ingredient labels of products to see if they contain gentle, plant-derived surfactants (the prefix coco- equals coconut, for example; gluco- equals fruit sugars). “The natural source is often hinted at in the name,” says Jim Hammer, a cosmetic chemist with and product-development manager at Pharmasol Corp.

Ditch the toner

These were originally invented to restore the natural pH of skin after it had been washed with an alkaline-detergent soap. “If you’re using a pH-balanced cleanser, there’s no need for toner,” Graf says. “It’ll only dry your skin.”

Make sure acid-laced products are pH-balanced

This means their pH is in sync with skin, so “they gently remove sebum (an oily substance secreted by the skin) and makeup without stripping natural oils,” Graf says. Look for the words “pH-balanced” on cleansers that contain glycolic or lactic acids and on exfoliators, she adds, because some have a low pH, which can cause dryness.

Opt for fragrance-free for sensitive skin

Fragrance is the most common cause of skin-care-related allergic reactions. If you’re sensitive, be sure to choose products that are labeled “fragrance-free.” The ones that are marked “unscented” typically contain small amounts of fragrance to help mask the odors of active ingredients.

Choose multitasking moisturizers

A good day cream juggles two jobs—hydration and protection. Pick one that has plant-based moisturizers (natural oils, butters, and essential fatty acids penetrate skin better than man-made emollients like petroleum, Graf explains) and antioxidants (those from natural sources may also contain bioflavonoids and other beneficial compounds not found in synthetic versions, Hammer says), plus nonirritating physical sunblocks, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

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Holiday Health Tips: Part 2

Drinking Responsibly

Practice moderation (really). Drinking too much may not just mean a terrible hangover. Around this time of year, doctors report seeing a spike in erratic heartbeats—dubbed “holiday heart syndrome.” It is more common among people who usually aren’t heavy drinkers but drink in excess for a short time. “Alcohol may be toxic to enough cardiac cells that it disrupts the coordination required to maintain a normal heart rate,” says Kenneth Mukamal, an internist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston. “Women should have no more than three drinks on any occasion and seven per week,” says Michael Weaver, an associate professor of internal medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, in Richmond. “So a woman can have up to three drinks in a night and go out two nights, but that’s it for the week—or else the chances of problems go way up.”

Keep it on the rocks. Melting ice dilutes a cocktail and creates more liquid. So order your drink on the rocks to try to avoid a quick buzz—and to sip longer before a refill. Use soda water as a mixer for liquor (a cocktail with liquor and club soda is only about 100 calories), and don’t be ashamed to add ice cubes to bubbly. In France, it’s called a piscine. Très chic.

Put a cork in it early. Alcohol may help you to conk out quickly; the problem comes when it starts to wear off. The period in which your body is metabolizing the alcohol is when sleep is disrupted. You may wake up frequently in the middle of the night (even if you don’t remember doing so) and miss out on restorative rest. The best strategy is to allow time for the alcohol levels in your body to drop before going to sleep; at the very least, retire your flute several hours before bedtime.

(via Real Simple)

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Holiday Health Tips: Part 1

A to ZZZs of Sleep Deprivation

Don’t let late nights make you fat. “People who sleep less over time tend to be heavier,” says Lawrence Epstein, the chief medical officer of the Sleep Health Centers, in Brighton, Massachusetts. But it doesn’t take long for the cycle to start. “If you pull one all-nighter or miss a few hours each night over a week, your body releases hormones that prompt eating and weight gain,” says Epstein.

Use the weekend to catch up. Most of us have sleep debt: the difference between the number of hours we need every night (which varies per person) and how many we get. If you feel best after seven hours a night and you get five for three nights in a row during a busy week, you have a sleep debt of six hours (two missing hours for three nights). Erasing that debt requires you to get six extra hours over the course of a few days, but they don’t have to be consecutive, says Epstein. David F. Dinges, Ph.D., the chief of the division of sleep and chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, conducted a study in which participants were restricted to about four hours of sleep for five consecutive nights, then allowed to sleep for 10 hours or more on the sixth night. The researchers found that after the recovery night, participants regained some of their previous levels of alertness and ability to concentrate. So while you should focus on eliminating your sleep debt completely, just one good snooze (a few hours more than you normally need) can give you a fresher start.

Watch out for hidden caffeine. Think hot cocoa is a soothing way to end a winter’s night? Hold on to your marshmallows. Chocolate, even the powdered kind, contains caffeine, as do many over-the-counter pain medicines that you might pop at night to get a head start on a hangover. Excedrin Extra-Strength Caplets, for example, contain 65 milligrams of caffeine; by comparison, the average cup of coffee contains 50 to 100.

Skip the sliders. Foods that are high in fat or protein require your body to work harder at digestion. When your body is busy breaking down mini hamburgers, your sleep is more likely to be hampered. Watch the clock; an early cocktail party is the perfect time to snack on something more substantial. As the night wears on, taper off. Or, if you’re still hungry, have some complex carbohydrates, like whole-wheat crackers or a handful of crudités.

 

(via Real Simple)

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De-Stress this Fall

Between back to school and then the holidays, fall can be a stressful time (particularly for women/moms). Make sure to carve out time for you to de-stress, at least a bit each day. Not only will you be healthier and happier for it, but so will those around you!

Check out our 8 stress-busting tips here:

Meditate
Meditation can be a great way to relax, especially if you are under a lot of stress. Research has shown that meditation can be helpful in lowering heart rate and blood pressure, and even improving cognitive performance.

And meditation is pretty simple to do: just find a comfortable place, close your eyes, relax your muscles, and focus on one thing, whether it's your breathing, an object (a flower, or a painting)—or even a picture in your mind—perhaps you are sitting on a beach in the Caribbean. You can do this for as little as 10 minutes to experience benefits. The key is staying focused and not letting any distractions or thoughts enter your mind—being mindful is key. If you have a bit more time, take a Yoga or Tai Chi class—both incorporate mediation, along with physical movements.

Drink Green Tea
Green tea is very soothing—it contains theanine, an amino acid that gives flavor to green tea and also promotes relaxation. It is also thought that theanine is a caffeine antagonist, meaning it counters the stimulating effects of caffeine. So, drink green tea, and avoid caffeinated beverages, since caffeine can worsen the stress response.

Eat Mood-Boosting Foods
Many of us crave indulgent carbohydrates like cookies, candy, ice cream, pretzels, and other sweet and starchy foods when we're stressed, anxious, or tense. These foods can have a soothing effect in some women, and it may have something to do with low serotonin levels during these mood states. Serotonin is a brain chemical responsible for feelings of calmness and relaxation. It's thought that consuming these carbohydrates helps boost serotonin levels, which results in feelings of contentedness and relaxation. So, enjoy these treats if they provide some instant satisfaction, but do watch your portion sizes! I recommend 100 calorie portions—4 Hershey Kisses, or a small handful of pretzels. You may want to pre-portion out pretzels, for example, and take them with you as a snack when you leave the house. The 100-calorie packs work well too.

Create a Relaxation Room
Many spas have relaxation rooms to sit in before and after treatments, and it's a great thing to create at home too. A relaxation room doesn't have to be a "room" per se—it can be a space in your bedroom, for example, but the key is having an area or room at home, solely devoted to relaxing. You can have a really comfortable chair or daybed, with dim lights, or candles nearby— whatever it is that you enjoy and find relaxing. This will give you an opportunity to decompress, with very little stimulus—this is key. Forget the blackberry, cell phone and laptop—this is a time to kick back and relax. You might want to read a book or magazine, but the idea is to clear your mind of distractions and stressors.

Listen to Music
Listening to soothing music can be very relaxing—and slow tempos in particular can induce a calm state of mind. (It can also slow down breathing and heart rate, lower blood pressure, and relax tense muscles too). This can be particularly beneficial when you're getting ready for a tough day at work, or if you're in your car stuck in traffic, or, if you're lying in bed trying to free your mind of stressful thoughts. Interestingly, music therapy has been shown to be helpful in decreasing anxiety associated with medical procedures: one recent study found that heart rate and blood pressure decreased significantly among individuals who listened to music during a colonoscopy (the control group did not experience any changes). The music intervention group also required less sedation during the procedure.

Get a Massage
Getting a massage is a great way to free yourself of tension and relax, and adding aromatherapy oils such as chamomile or lavender can be particularly beneficial: one recent study found that emergency room nurses experienced reduced stress levels with aromatherapy massage: The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, found that 54 percent of the emergency room staff in summer and 65 percent in winter suffered moderate to extreme anxiety. However, this fell to 8 percent, regardless of the season, once staff received 15-minute aromatherapy massages while listening to music. If you don't have a lot of spare time, you can get aromatherapy oils and massage tools to use at home.

Have a Hot Bath
Heat relaxes muscles—and taking a long bath can be soothing for the mind as well. Stock up on your favorite bath salts and soaps, get a bath pillow, and decorate the room with candles. You can even create an in-home spa, by incorporating spa treatments like facials.

Exercise Daily
Exercise helps to boost endorphins and reduce stress—and research shows that 20 minutes each day is all that is needed to experience benefits.

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