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Anxious About The Holidays? Just Breathe…

Post by Eugenie Pabst, PsyD.

This can be a very anxiety-provoking time of year.  How often do you think about your breath?  Most likely, only when you are out of breath, or when it’s sharp, shallow and stressed. Breathing is automatic; it takes place without you even thinking about it and we rarely give it much attention.  However, if we tune into our breath, it can tell us a great deal about how we are feeling physically, mentally and emotionally.  Much of our distress is caused by anticipation of the future (anxiety) or by dwelling on the past (depression).  Often times, it is very difficult to free ourselves from such emotional distress on our own.  However, the simple rhythm of your breathing can bring you back to the here and now.  By controlling your breath, you can learn how to master your thoughts and, in doing so, have more control over your body’s responses to stress, physical strain and emotional stimuli.

Biofeedback Therapy is a training process that teaches you how to do this.  It is a form of “applied psychophysiology” that increases your awareness and is designed to teach you how to have more control over your mind and body.  With the assistance of a variety of monitoring devices, including those that measure respiration, heart rate, skin temperature and muscle activity, you can learn how to control certain involuntary body responses that result when your autonomic nervous system is compromised under physical or mental stress.

Through in-office training and self-practice, you can learn how to let go of limiting habitual patterns (poor breathing, obsessive thoughts, worry, fear, anxiety, poor posture) and develop self-regulation tools for better management of stress. Treatment is short-term with the ultimate goal of learning how to produce positive physical and cognitive changes outside of the biofeedback office and without the help of a therapist or technology.  By learning how to “just breathe” and become more aware in your daily life, you will learn how to stay present and in control…and the holidays may be more enjoyable?

Dr. Eugénie Pabst is a clinical Psychologist who specializes in Biofeedback therapy.  By utilizing Biofeedback, Dr. Pabst teaches her clients a self-regulation skill that inspires growth and healing through self-awareness.  As a LifeSkills Authorities Recovery Team member, Dr. Pabst can be an integral part of the healing process. She is a sought after Biofeedback specialist in Chicagoland and has a private practice Lincoln Park.

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Intervene Young to Prevent Drug and Alcohol Abuse Later

A new study finds specific brain regions that may play a role in the development of childhood anxiety, that may later lead to the adult child self-medicating through alcohol and drugs.

The findings could lead to new methods of early detection and treatment to intervene on at-risk children, according to study leader Ned. H. Kalin, chair of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Children with anxious temperaments suffer from extreme shyness, persistent worry and increased bodily responses to stress. It has long been known that these children are at increased risk of developing anxiety, depression and associated substance abuse disorders,” Kalin said in a university news release.

“We believe that young children who have higher activity in these brain regions are more likely to develop anxiety and depression as adolescents and adults, and are also more likely to develop drug and alcohol problems in an attempt to treat their distress,” he said.

The findings, published in the Aug. 12 issue of Nature, suggest it may be possible to prevent children from developing full-blown anxiety.

“My feeling is that the earlier we intervene with children, the more likely they will be able to lead a happy life in which they aren’t as controlled by anxiety and depression. We think we can train vulnerable kids to settle their brains down,” Kalin said.

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Are the “Big Six” Your Key to Health and Happiness? Part 2 of 6

Post by Michael Plahn

This is the second installment of a six-part series to describe what I believe is the key to health and happiness as I have learned and personally experienced.  It is doubtful that each of these areas will be controversial, and when followed, the changes that I will suggest have proven without fail to help every one of my clients, when they take the suggested actions.  In just six installments, you may have the answer to achieve optimal health just by reading the LifeSkills Authorities Blog. With the goal to help identify the keys to optimal health for my own life and clients, I have read books, attended classes, acquired certifications, and listened to lectures by amazing individuals.  What I have learned through countless hours of studying, learning, and experimenting, can be summarized in a simple acronym: “TBHealthy Never Eat Carrots.”  That’s it you ask?   Here’s what the acronym TBHNEC actually stands for:

  • Thoughts
  • Breathing
  • Hydration
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Circadian Rhythm

Today the topic is exercise.  This is a monster topic and I am asked about this area by virtually everyone who hears that I have worked in and have extensive training in the fitness profession.  The typical question that I am asked is, “what should I do for a workout or exercise routine?”  For any of you who are trained in personal training, kinesiology, physical therapy, corrective exercise, or holistic lifestyle coaching, you know that this is a very complex question.  The answer requires complex and comprehensive assessments with the programs being different for most people.

First, in my opinion, based on my experience, exercise is not necessarily about lifting the most, working the hardest, perspiring the most, and feeling as though you have “really worked hard.”  Those who are properly trained or educated know that exercise is a stress to the body.  Some may view it as a “good stress” as I have heard it called, but is this really true?  Well, it could be from one perspective.  However, it is essential to realize that exercise is a stressor to the body.

Big deal, what does that mean?  It means that you need proper rest, nutrients, hydration, as well as proper healing time to compensate for the stress you put on your body as a result of exercise.  Thus, if you are not eating properly, sleep poorly, have relationship and career problems, and your posture is putting a constant strain on your system, and you ask me “what type of workouts should I do,” then after a series of assessments, the type of exercise I would likely recommend for you would be vastly different than if you have proper hydration, nutrition, sleep, relaxation, and your musculoskeletal system was in balance.  It just makes sense when you look at it at this basic level, doesn’t it?

Just walking for 20-30 minutes outside at a leisurely pace may be plenty or even too much exercise for many people.  It depends on a variety of factors, some of which I just mentioned.  As you can likely guess, to properly answer the common question of “what should I do for my workouts” depends not just on the individual’s goals, but also on the numerous factors that must be assessed to recommend the proper exercise routine.  I have found tremendous success personally and with my willing clientele if there is a willingness to look at the entire lifestyle and be open to making minor tweaks or maybe major changes in different areas.  This holistic view of health is where I have seen true lasting positive changes not just in fitness levels, fat and weight loss, but also in health, the way the body looks, and how we feel physically and emotionally.

One of the worst things a so-called “fitness professional” can do is prescribe or write a fitness program for someone without knowing salient details about the person’s life.  We are a culture of impatient, out-of-shape people who want dramatic change…and we want it now!  We are also a people who believe in excess.  Put all this together and you have millions of Americans with the good intentions of getting “healthy or in-shape,” who are struggling.  They are failing to meet their goals, frustrated, starting to believe they cannot change, maybe even getting depressed as a result, and then finding dysfunctional ways to deal with all these negative results.

People join gyms, buy quick fix products off of late-night television or at the local sporting goods store, and buy one of the hundreds of fitness magazines sold, to find the newest “sure-to-work” or  “customized” exercise routine.  You know what I have seen as a result of this?  People who join those gyms may stop going after a month or two.  Many who do exercise and use the plans they cut out of fitness magazines or implement tips they see on television, get poor results or short-lasting gains.  Some individuals make short-term progress, but cannot seem to stay on course to attain their goals for the long-term.  Many people hire well-meaning personal trainers.  Unfortunately, many of these trainers do not have the proper level of experience to understand how to look at the entire person and their lifestyle.  Subsequently, instead of partnering up with someone with the proper education and clinical experience, they write improper fitness routines for their excited new clients.  This leads to injury, incomplete results, decreased self-esteem, and potentially life-threatening recommendations.   Why are these the common patterns?

People spend billions of dollars on poorly designed, but brilliantly marketed, fitness equipment with claims that it will change your body (and seem to imply your life) in six weeks.  In no time, that equipment packs second hand stores and garage sales if it is not at the local dump.  But, you know what?  The fitness industry is getting bigger and more profitable by the day while our country is getting fatter, more discouraged, and more sedentary at the same time.

This does NOT have to happen to you.  If you believe that you are financially unable to engage with a competent qualified professional, but have the sincere, desire to change, then ask them for help.  You may be surprised to find that those who are the best at what they do in the fitness business, have a sincere desire to help others and will likely find a way to help you improve your life in some way.

To summarize, here is my suggestion to you.  Hire a qualified competent professional who understands how to look at your entire lifestyle to help you take the actions that will produce lasting change.  Interview them before you hire them.  If they don’t ask about your entire life and lifestyle thoroughly, and take detailed assessments, or partner with individuals who can do the proper assessments, then do not hire them.  If you do not have the money, ask yourself the hard question, “How much is your life really worth to you?”  Then see if you have the money to invest in yourself.  You may suddenly find that it’s pouring outside and its time to use that “rainy day fund.”

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Are the “Big Six” Your Key to Health and Happiness? Part 1 of 6

Post by Michael Plahn

This is the first installment of a six-part series to describe what I believe is the key to health and happiness as I have learned and personally experienced.  It is doubtful that each of these areas will be controversial, and when followed, the changes that I will suggest have proven without fail to help every one of my clients, when they take the suggested actions.  In just six installments, you may have the answer to achieve optimal health just by reading the LifeSkills Authorities Blog. With the goal to help identify the keys to optimal health for my own life and clients, I have read books, attended classes, acquired certifications, and listened to lectures by amazing individuals.  What I have learned through countless hours of studying, learning, and experimenting, can be summarized in a simple acronym: “To Be Healthy Never Eat Carrots.”  That’s it you ask?   Here’s what the acronym TBHNEC actually stands for:

  • Thoughts
  • Breathing
  • Hydration
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Circadian Rhythms

It is not about having a rigid stance of boycotting that beautiful orange produce…far from it.  I’ll start explaining The Big Six, as I call them, with the last one first, Circadian Rhythms.  Since this one can be extremely complicated, I will focus on one system of the body under this topic.  Basically, it means sleep patterns.  I promise you, it is important not just how much total sleep you get each night.  There are other areas that are crucial to achieve success in this area.  Ask yourself, not just how much sleep you get regularly (by the way I have heard experts say that their studies show that we need between 8.5-10.5 hours every night!), but all of the following questions:

  • Is your sleep continuous or do you wake up throughout the night?
  • What time did you go to sleep? (studies suggest optimum is near sundown)
  • What time did you wake up? (studies suggest optimum is near sunrise)

I work with two groups of people on these questions:  1) Busy executives who are highly stressed and have poor stress management strategies, or who travel extensively. 2) People not feeling well or whose health has begun to suffer and their physician has told them they need to get more sleep and take better care of themselves.  The reason it is only these two groups is because this is a very difficult area to effectuate change in people.  I have much more success with nutrition, exercise and the other areas in the Big 6, but nobody wants to go to bed early it seems.  I am not entirely certain why this is, but my suspicion is that people are so over-stimulated and attempt to pack so much into their lives, personally and professionally, that they simply cannot afford to “waste” valuable hours sleeping. There are some  techniques that fall into what is called “sleep hygiene” that can make a tremendous difference to help some people fall asleep and stay asleep.  Sleep hygeine can be described as the actions, habits, or predictable things people do to tell their bodies that it is time to prepare to sleep.  Experts suggest to turn off lights, the computer, and the television an hour before it is time to sleep, otherwise the body will release stress hormones that actually trigger you to stay awake. As someone who spent most of his life using the television to put me to sleep, I chuckled at how impractical this idea from the supposed experts was because I did not want to live my life like this.  I didn’t want to waste my life going to bed at 8PM!  The suggestion of having a predictable routine was fine, but doing this right about sundown (or as soon after as possible) again sounded nice, but maybe in my elder years.  I mean this is absurd, right?  Who is going to do this?  You know who will be compliant to suggestions like these?  People who are completely unable to sleep without strong sleeping medication (which still doesn’t completely do the trick), those who are sick, and those who are just miserable and atribute part of it to poor sleep.  Those are the people who are willing to take such suggestions. My suggestion to you is the same I would give any of my clients, use balance to guide you.  It is unrealistic to go from a bedtime of 1AM to sometime near sundown in a week or two.  And, this may not be necessary at all.  A good suggestion is to try 15 minutes earlier every week, keep the TV off in the bedroom (use your BR for two things, sleeping and the other “s” word), and try to develop some predictable patterns like brushing your teeth and then washing your face thirty minutes prior to climbing into bed.  The key is to make sure that the changes you implement are realistic and they work for your life.  Just because a supposed expert recommends something doesn’t necessarily mean that I would recommend it for you.  If you are happy, healthy, and your lack of sleep is not a big deal to you, then keep doing what you are doing.  It is none of mine or anyone else’s business to tell you to change just because the experts have spoken.  It is simple: if it is not broken, no need to fix it.   Yet, if you think your approach to sleep may need some work then maybe try some of the strategies I suggested. Have you tried sleep hygeine or can you provide personal experience on this topic?   Give my recommendations a shot and let us know how they worked for you.   As always, we love to hear from you so please comment. Next, I will tackle the topic of exercise, so make sure you are properly rested.

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Can Nutrition Be a Culprit of an Alcoholic’s Relapse?

Post by Michael Plahn

This topic is critical for clinicians and those in recovery alike. Paradoxically, there are both simple and complicated answers to this question. But let’s first understand how alcohol use, especially prolonged alcohol use, affects the body.

When one ingests alcohol, what happens? Simply speaking, alcohol is not digested like other foods. Instead of being broken down and absorbed like other foods, alcohol avoids the normal digestive process and goes directly to the blood stream. About 20 percent of the alcohol is absorbed directly into the blood through the stomach walls and 80 percent is absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine. The brain, liver, heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, and every other organ and tissue system are infiltrated by alcohol within minutes after it passes into the blood stream. The strength of the drink will have a significant effect on absorption rates, with higher concentrations of alcohol resulting in more rapid absorption. Elimination of alcohol from a healthy adult body occurs at an average rate of approximately ½ to 3/4 ounce per hour, the equivalent of 1 ounce of 100-proof whiskey, one large beer, or about 3 to 4 ounces of wine. Are you still with me?

Addressing nutrition in recovery is crucial. Those who use alcohol excessively deprive their bodies of essential nutrients. The hormonal response that occurs with alcohol consumption is a rapid rise in insulin from the pancreas to manage sky rocketing blood sugar levels. As insulin brings blood sugar down, the body goes through a state of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). There are a number of physiological consequences that occur. As a person goes through a state of hyperglycemia to hypoglycemia, symptoms may occur even before a state of hypoglycemia is reached. These symptoms can present as anxiety, anger, irritability, fatigue, and CRAVINGS for alcohol. Thus, addressing nutrition by maintaining a stable and level blood sugar is a key factor in preventing symptoms that may lead to relapse in the alcohol dependent individual.

Why can this contribute to a relapse? Because very simply, the body of someone addicted to alcohol will crave something else to replace the alcohol. That choice tends to be processed foods or foods with a high sugar content. Therefore, many individuals new in recovery may reach for donuts, cookies, ice cream and any other high sugar content food or beverage in sight. On the surface this may seem benign, but it can also lead to a craving for alcohol if level blood sugar is not maintained.

So now the alcohol is removed from the diet and I am suggesting removing the sweets too? No, I am not a sadist, but it is important to address the entire system and create homeostasis in all areas of life, especially when someone is just beginning the recovery journey. If this is not understood, disaster could loom without the person realizing what they are doing. Ignorance is definitely not bliss when you are dealing with the deadly disease of addiction.

Let’s say you are a couple of months sober, excited and want to start an exercise program to lose some unwanted pounds while getting “healthy.” That’s great and I applaud you. You join a gym and buy a package of sessions from a personal trainer. Again, awesome… I wish more people would address their fitness and nutrition in recovery. However, not everyone in the fitness industry, let alone the average person new in recovery, understands how to properly balance blood sugar and thus minimize cravings, posits Robert Yang, a licensed nutritionist and certified Metabolic Typing professional based out of Encinitas, California who also works as part of the LifeSkills Authorities Recovery Team.

Now this excited newly sober person begins to workout and their personal trainer tells them to “eat a lot of protein to build more lean muscle mass,” without doing a Metabolic Type assessment and not knowing the entire composite of this person. Being alcoholic, the addicted person figures even more protein would be better, right? Yet if they do not balance ALL the macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) properly, they could have disastrous effects. Simply put, if there is no healthy fat (organic olive oil, organic avocadoes, or organic coconut oil) in this equation, an earnest attempt to eat “healthy,” will create ravenous cravings for fat disguised as sugar cravings for our poor sober friend. This could be a very bad thing for a recovering alcoholic. Basically, it could actually create an unintentional craving for alcohol. Yang proposes that through proper use of balancing your own Metabolic Type, you could eliminate the potential nightmarish situation that was just described.

LifeSkills Authorities can help you learn your ideal Metabolic Type or balance of macronutrients that will help you avoid cravings. This is just another example of the depth to which we take the recovery journey and our relationship with our clients.

The above article was recently written for the Treatment Solutions Network website and has garnered attention as many people will likely relate to the subject matter.  Click here to see the actual posting on the TSN website.

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