The Power of PLAY

 

I recently attended a luncheon where Dr. Elisha Goldstein presented on how to create and sustain positive changes in the brain. Dr. Goldstein is the co-founder of the Center for Mindful Living in West Los Angeles and has published extensive articles, books, and blog posts on the topics of mindfulness, well-being, and happiness. During his presentation he read a quote that stirred my imagination about a concept that has become lost in the adult world. He read,

"The opposite of play is not work, it's depression." - Dr. Elisha Goldstein

In today's society the idea of play appears to be reserved for those ten and under. For children, the concept of play is a critical part of brain development, which enhances emotional, social, and cognitive growth. As children become teenagers the desire to play decreases as the the pressure on the social environment increases in addition to the high demands of academic achievement. 

The question we all need to revisit is how can we return to a childlike state of mind where play is not obligatory but a natural priority. As adults, can we once again incorporate play as a natural process of seeing and understanding the world as it helps to enhance emotional regulation, social engagement and relational attunement? When is the last time you spoke about play with your romantic partner? With your boss and colleagues? What about with your family?

Potential benefits of PLAY:

-Telomere lengthening (i.e. slow down the process of aging)

-Higher vagal tone (associated with general well being and lower levels of inflammation and chronic disease)

-Increased BDNF (a protein produced throughout the body that is associated with increased long term memory)

So what does this whole play thing look like? No, it may not be necessary to go and find your favorite toys from childhood but you may want to take a moment and think back to your most fond memories as a child involving play. Who were you with? What was involved? Remembering the social and environmental clues that allowed you to play may be helpful hints on how to recreate play as an adult. Try brainstorming activities that make you feelcreative, at ease, and comfortable in your own skin. If you are still struggling to think of ideas, practicing self compassion and self care may be a good place to tart.

Not only is the data strong on how play affects the brain and body, it also can enhance the relationships we have with others allowing for increased moments of joyful spontaneous interactions. The next time you feel anxious, overwhelmed or overworked think of how you can incorporate play back into your life.

Embracing the Monday Blues

Tune in, Not Out

        Sunday night. A very common time to experience a slight raise of anxiety in anticipation of the start of a new week. Whether you’re a parent of three facing endless diaper changes or an owner of a constantly evolving startup, Monday morning can feel like a hurdle to large to jump. Learning to tune in to your feelings of anxiety or sadness can have profitable outcomes not only for yourself, but those around you including your partner and children. Learning to tune in can help you:

1) Notice Unwanted Thoughts

        Tuning in or bringing attention to your Monday blues can help you discover thoughts that are tied to your emotions such as “I am unorganized” or “life is out of control.” Thought patterns can become so automatic that they go unnoticed but slowing down and tuning in can help stop these thoughts in their track.

2) Be an Example for Those Around You

        When you tune in and notice your feelings, you are modeling healthy emotional behavior. This can have a significant impact on your spouse or children as many household behaviors are mirrored. Whether you take a deep breath, talk about your feelings, or write down your thoughts, you are making an impact on your loved ones by actively modeling how to deal with the Monday blues.

 

3) Rewire the Brain

       Yes, it is true! Every time you bring awareness to your emotions you are rewiring the brain. This means that each time you try something different when you are in a state of distress your brain is creating new pathways that will help make the Monday Blues less of a battle. It can be as easy as taking some deep breaths instead of reaching for your phone or pausing for a moment of gratitude before getting dressed. The next time you notice feelings of sadness or anxiety at the start of a week, take a moment to tune in and slow down and you will reap the benefits!

Why the Weather Matters

Southern California is experiencing something quite unusual this winter season. We are seeing lots of stormy clouds, cooler temperatures, and a lot of rain. Over the past several weeks I have been intrigued by how and why people respond to the change in weather. Some feel revitalized and energized by the dark clouds while others notice a decrease in energy and motivation.

Trends

Research shows that in general, the more extreme the weather (both hot and cold) the more people display aggressive behavior. Warm and sunny weather is linked to lower rates of depression while cold and rainy weather is linked to higher rates of depression.

Personality Type Matters

Research has helped highlight trends in weather and mood but it is important to take into account individual differences. The way your mind and body react to the weather is dependent on your personality type. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is most common during the winter but it also can take effect in the spring and summer. The time of onset depends on how an individual reacts to temperature and sunlight. Introversion and extroversion may also play a significant role in how certain hormones manufactured in the brain are affected by the weather. 

Tune In

If you are curious about seasonal affective disorder or how the weather may be affecting your mood, take a minute to check in with your body. Notice if you are feeling drained or energized, hopeful or discouraged. If you notice you are feeling less energetic and more depressed than usual, the weather may be impacting your hormonal regulation in the brain. Contact your local physician if you have questions or concerns about SAD or to determine if treatment is needed.

 

Three Simple Ways to Improve Your sleep Hygiene

Now, more than ever before, researchers are highlighting the importance of sleep and why it plays a main role in a healthy lifestyle. Not only does it affect energy and productivity, it affects the regulation of very important hormones that are needed throughout the day. With a poor night of sleep the production of these hormones can be become unbalanced, leaving you feeling hungry, irritable, emotional and flat out terrible. Try implementing these three simple yet game changing methods into your nightly routine and take note of the results!

1) Allow for a 30 minute "No Phone Zone"

We've all been there. It's late, you're in bed, and it feels like your arm is on autopilot as it picks up your phone without hesitation. You barely had time to browse social media during your busy day let alone return some important emails. This one will take a bit of self-control but reducing face time with your phone can dramatically impact the quality of your sleep. All colors of light can be disruptive to your circadian rhythm but researchers have found blue light (the light that radiates from phones and computers) to be most disruptive to deep sleep. Aim to allow for thirty minutes of technology free time before you hit the hay. (Setting aside this downtime has its perks! Pick up a favorite book or get some extra cuddles for a free serotonin boost!)

2) Integrate Aroma Therapy

Essential oils are all the rave these days. If spending $$ on a tiny bottle isn't your thing, a scented lotion or night cream will also work. The point is to smell a specific scent at the same time every night in order to condition your body to prepare for sleep. By tapping into your olfactory sensory system, your brain will recognize the smell and code it as a cue to calm your mind and body, which will increase your quality of deep sleep.

3) Deep breathing

Taking deep, slow breaths throughout the day is important to practice all day long as it is a natural way to reset the nervous system, thus reducing feelings of anxiety and stress. The breath has gained popularity over the last several years and new research is coming out on how deep breathing can positively affect sleeping patterns. Try laying in bed with your eyes closed and take ten slow deep breaths. With each inhale and exhale try to only think about the breath and let go of any thoughts that may arise. Focusing on only the breath helps the entire body relax as it slows down metabolism, lowers heart rate, and decreases activity in the brain.

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