Feeling Good About Yourself Every Day

By: DiscoveryHealth.com writers

Research into the mind-body connection has paved the way for an old motto, with a new twist: You are what you feel.

Feeling stressed not only puts you emotionally on edge, it raises blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and contributes to all sorts of physical ailments. Likewise, feeling peaceful and happy can go a long way toward good health.

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So Discovery Health Online asked some "feel good" experts to share their trade secrets. But try not to whip through these tips like another batch of daily chores. They're to be savored consciously, like a relaxing cup of tea.

"This isn't a feel-good checklist or report card," says Deborah Issokson, a licensed psychologist in Watertown, Mass. "If you're not slowing down enough to acknowledge what you're doing, it won't work."

Start Your Day with Wheaties for the Soul

Before getting out of bed, resist the impulse to propel yourself into the day's frenzy. Instead, lie still and take a few moments to experience how you feel and the sensations around you — how your head feels resting on the pillow, how the comforter feels on your body, or how the sun feels on your face.

"Mindful awakening" is how Eva Selhub, medical director of the Mind/Body Medical Clinics at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, puts it, and while the concept may sound corny, it can help set the tone for the rest of the day.

"Mindful awakening helps elicit the relaxation response, which calms the mind and the body to a point where any stresses that come your way, you can deal with them rather than freaking out," says Dr. Selhub.

Dr. Selhub says stress is usually the result of "negative babble"...so by quieting the mind, you can quiet the negative thoughts so that the stress response isn't elicited in the first place." She says the average American experiences the fight-or-flight response, characterized by an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension, 50 times a day.

Try to remember how your feelings as you awoke felt, so that if anxiety starts creeping into your day, "you can go back to that feeling." Or use mindfulness (which is simply being aware and present in the moment) throughout the day to keep you better grounded. It'll help you communicate better with others, too.

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Take a Breather & Take a Break!

When the Going Gets Tough, Take 5...or 10

When you're stuck in traffic or you find a heated confrontation building between you and your co-worker, or with your children or spouse, take a few seconds for some deep breaths, count to 10 or repeat a mantra that helps you regain some calm.

"You'll instantaneously reverse the stress physiology and help yourself feel better," says Dr. Selhub. The sequence to keep in mind: Stop, breathe, reflect (i.e. What is it that's stressing me out? Why am I feeling threatened? Am I over-exaggerating?), then choose (What would be the appropriate way to react to this situation?).

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It's all about choice, says Issokson. "I think stress comes because we get so wrapped up that we forget that we always have a choice about how we respond," she says.

So what if you're stuck in traffic? You can't change the situation, but you can choose your response. "I can sit here and be upset and wail on my horn, or I can sit and listen to the music on the radio, think about my loved ones, and I'll get there when I get there," says Issokson.

Do Yourself a Favor

Treat yourself daily to activities or things that make your happy, whether it's getting a massage, taking a walk with the dog, giving in to a chocolate craving.

"One of the big problems, especially for women, is that they don't know how to take time out for themselves," says Dr. Selhub. "Self-nurturance is about recognizing your needs, recognizing your weaknesses, recognizing your strengths and then embellishing on that," says Dr. Selhub.

Jennifer Louden, author of "The Comfort Queen's Guide to Life" and "The Woman's Comfort Book," has these favorites for lifting spirits: showers by candlelight in the winter, reading her favorite poetry (or listening to favorite tunes), walks, and selecting particularly sumptuous, but comfortable, clothes.

Louden, who is writing another book called "The Mood Changer," to be released in 2002, advises coming up with a repertoire of feel-good rituals ahead of time so that when you're down in the dumps or overwhelmed, you aren't pressed for remedies.

Or break the monotony — change your hair color, cut your hair, buy something new, or take a different route to work. "It gives you that feeling that you're not in a rut, that your life isn't stagnant, that you have the control and ability to change something in your life, even though it's just minor," says Dr. Selhub.

Balanced nutrition and regular exercise also go a long way to help make you feel good, and each one can enhance the other, says Jane Kirby, a nutritionist in Charlotte, Vt. and author of "Dieting for Dummies."

"When exercise becomes a personal commitment, people automatically change their eating habits," says Kirby. "Exercise kind of puts you in touch with how your body works and how your body feels."

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Back to Basics

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Try to connect each day with a friend, relative or someone important to you and have some meaningful interaction. Research shows that social supports helps people live longer, feel better, and cope with life easier, says Dr. Selhub, whose clinic teaches mind-body wellness to patients with a variety of illnesses.

"Have some kind of meaningful conversation or interaction, not just "Hi, how are you, what's new," but "Let me tell you something wonderful I'm doing with myself" or "I've been concerned about you because you've been worrying about such and such," says Issokson. "It's an acknowledgement of our connection with other humans on this planet."

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Remember the Important Things

Louden says she starts her day on a reflective note, either lying in bed for a few moments or writing in her journal, and asks herself "a mindful question...something to tap into the greater wisdom...like what do I most need to do today or what does my spirit need."

"So much of that process is about trusting myself and then acting on what I hear," says Louden. "Then everything else falls into place for the rest of the day. It's a huge difference from days when I'm jumping from one thing to another and worrying and giving everything equal importance."

Michael Kibler, an executive consultant and president and founder of Corporate Balance Concepts in Chicago, suggests creating anchors — photos of your loved ones, a starfish from a vacation, or possibly a meaningful voice mail — to remind yourself of "the big picture" and keep from being rattled by the day's details and frustrations.

"If you can regularly get in touch with what's important to you — what you cherish, what you enjoy, what you feel responsible for — then it makes it easier to suffer the indignations and challenges in life." He has telephone messages from his 4- and 8-year-olds dating as far back as when they were 2. "It's an instant refresher of what's important."

Say, "Thank you."

Take time each day to think about what you're grateful for. "It doesn't have to be a huge thing," says Issokson. "It can be, "I'm grateful the sun was shining today, and I noticed," or "I'm grateful to have been able to make a living today." It's about taking time and being in the moment."

"It's not to gloss over what's bad, but to take a moment to put things in perspective," says Issokson. "Particularly for those who are prone to being pessimistic, it helps people kind of check in and say, "All these things aren't going right, but I'm here today, I'm healthy, I supported myself today, I had a meaningful conversation today...my life's not so bad."

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