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Healthy Weight Loss & Dieting Tips: How to Lose Weight and Keep It Off

The key to successful, healthy weight loss

Your weight is a balancing act, but the equation is simple: If you eat more calories than you burn then you gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight.

Since 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound of fat, if you cut 500 calories from your typical diet each day, you’ll lose approximately 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). Simple, right? So why is weight loss so hard?

All too often, we make weight loss much more difficult than it needs to be with extreme diets that leave us cranky and starving, unhealthy lifestyle choices that undermine our dieting efforts, and emotional eating habits that stop us before we get started. But there’s a better way! You can lose weight without feeling miserable. By making smart choices every day, you can develop new eating habits and preferences that will leave you feeling satisfied—as well as winning the battle of the bulge.

Not all body fat is the same

Where you carry your fat matters. The health risks are greater if you tend to carry your weight around your abdomen, as opposed to your hips and thighs. A lot of belly fat is stored deep below the skin surrounding the abdominal organs and liver, and is closely linked to insulin resistance and diabetes.

Beware of “Sugar Belly”

Calories obtained from fructose (found in sugary beverages such as soda, energy and sports drinks, coffee drinks, and processed foods like doughnuts, muffins, cereal, candy, and granola bars) are more likely to add to this dangerous fat around your belly. Cutting back on sugary foods can mean a slimmer waistline and lower risk of disease.

Getting started with healthy weight loss

While there is no “one size fits all” solution to permanent healthy weight loss, the following guidelines are a great place to start:

  • Think lifestyle change, not short-term diet. Permanent weight loss is not something that a “quick-fix” diet can achieve. Instead, think about weight loss as a permanent lifestyle change—a commitment to your health for life. Various popular diets can help to jumpstart your weight loss, but permanent changes in your lifestyle and food choices are what will work in the long run.
  • Find a cheering section. Social support means a lot. Programs like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers use group support to impact weight loss and lifelong healthy eating. Seek out support—whether in the form of family, friends, or a support group—so that you can get the encouragement you need.
  • Slow and steady wins the race. Aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week to ensure healthy weight loss. Losing weight too fast can take a toll on your mind and body, making you feel sluggish, drained, and sick. When you drop a lot of weight quickly, you’re actually losing mostly water and muscle, rather than fat.
  • Set goals to keep you motivated. Short-term goals, like wanting to fit into a bikini for the summer, usually don’t work as well as goals like wanting to feel more confident or become healthier for your children’s sakes. When frustration and temptation strike, concentrate on the many benefits you will reap from being healthier and leaner.
  • Use tools that help you track your progress. Keep a food journal and weigh yourself regularly, keeping track of each pound you lose and inch of your waist lost. By keeping track of your weight loss efforts, you’ll see the results in black and white, which will help you stay motivated.

Keep in mind it may take some experimenting to find the right diet for your individual body. It’s important that you feel satisfied so that you can stick with it on a long-term basis. If one diet plan doesn’t work, then try another one. There are many ways to lose weight. The key is to find what works for you.

Reducing calorie intake promotes weight loss—the type of diet isn’t important

A major study concluded that it doesn’t matter which diet program you choose, as long as it is one that reduces your calorie intake and is healthy for your heart (low in saturated fat and cholesterol). In other words, the best diet is the one you’ll stick to, not necessarily the one currently topping the bestseller list.

Healthy dieting and weight loss tip #1: Avoid common pitfalls

Diets, especially fad diets or “quick-fix” pills and plans, often set you up for failure because:

  • You feel deprived. Diets that cut out entire groups of food, such as carbs or fat, are simply impractical, not to mention unhealthy. The key is moderation. Eliminating entire food groups doesn’t allow for a healthy, well-rounded diet and creates nutritional imbalances.
  • You lose weight, but can’t keep it off. Diets that severely cut calories, restrict certain foods, or rely on ready-made meals might work in the short term. However, once you meet your weight loss goal, you don’t have a plan for maintaining your weight and the pounds quickly come back.
  • After your diet, you seem to put on weight more quickly. When you drastically restrict your food intake, your metabolism will temporarily slow down. Once you start eating normally, you’ll gain weight until your metabolism bounces back—another reason why starvation or “fasting” diets are counterproductive.
  • You break your diet and feel too discouraged to try again. Just because you gave in to temptation doesn’t mean all your hard work goes down the drain. Healthy eating is about the big picture. An occasional splurge won’t kill your efforts. Diets that are too restrictive are conducive to cheating—when you feel deprived, it’s easy to fall off the wagon.
  • You lose money faster than you lose weight. Special shakes, meals, and programs may be cost-prohibitive and less practical for long-term weight loss and healthy weight maintenance.
  • You feel isolated and unable to enjoy social situations revolving around food. Without some practical, healthy diet strategies, you may feel lost when dining out or attending events like cocktail parties or weddings. If the food served isn’t on your specific diet plan, what can you do?
  • The person on the commercial lost 30 lbs. in 2 months—and you haven’t. Diet companies make a lot of grandiose promises. Most are simply not realistic. Unfortunately, losing weight is not easy, and anyone who makes it seem that way is doing you a disservice. Don’t get discouraged by setting unrealistic goals!

Healthy dieting and weight loss tip #2: Put a stop to emotional eating

We don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger. If we did, no one would be overweight. All too often, we turn to food for comfort and stress relief. When this happens, we frequently pack on pounds.

Don’t underestimate the importance of putting a stop to emotional eating. Learning to recognize the emotional triggers that lead you to overeat and respond with healthier choices can make all the difference in your weight loss efforts.

To start, consider how and when you eat. Do you only eat when you are hungry, or do you reach for a snack while watching TV? Do you eat when you’re stressed or bored? When you’re lonely? To reward yourself?

Once you’ve identified your emotional eating tendencies, you can work towards gradually changing the habits and mental attitudes that have sabotaged your dieting efforts in the past.

Strategies to combat emotional eating

  • If you turn to food at the end of a long day, find other soothing ways to reward yourself and de-stress. Relax with a book and a steaming cup of herbal tea, soak in a hot bath, or savor a beautiful view.
  • If you eat when you’re feeling low on energy, find other mid-afternoon pick-me-ups. Try walking around the block, listening to energizing music, or doing some quick stretches or jumping jacks. Another alternative is taking a short nap—just keep it to 30 minutes or less.
  • If you eat when you’re lonely or bored, reach out to others instead of reaching for the refrigerator. Call a friend who makes you laugh, take your dog for a walk, find a fun activity to do, or go out in public (to the library, the mall, or the grocery store—anywhere there’s people).
  • If you eat when you’re stressed, find healthier ways to calm yourself. Try exercise, yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises. Better manage stressful situations by either changing the situation or changing your reaction. See related articles below to learn more about stress management.

Healthy dieting and weight loss tip #3: Tune in when you eat

We live in a fast-paced world where eating has become mindless. We eat on the run, at our desk while we’re working, and in front of the TV screen. The result is that we consume much more than we need, often without realizing it or truly enjoying what we’re eating.

Counter this tendency by practicing “mindful” eating: pay attention to what you eat, savor each bite, and choose foods that are both nourishing and enjoyable. Mindful eating will help you lose weight and maintain your results.

Mindful eating weight loss tips

  • Pay attention while you’re eating. Be aware of your environment. Eat slowly, savoring the smells and textures of your food. If your mind wanders, gently return your attention to your food and how it tastes and feels in your mouth.
  • Avoid distractions while eating. Try not to eat while working, watching TV, reading, using a computer, or driving. It’s too easy to mindlessly overeat.
  • Chew your food thoroughly. Try chewing each bite 30 times before swallowing. You’ll prolong the experience and give yourself more time to enjoy each bite.
  • Try mixing things up to force yourself to focus on the experience of eating. Try using chopsticks rather than a fork, or use your utensils with your non-dominant hand.
  • Stop eating before you are full. It takes time for the signal to reach your brain that you’ve had enough. Avoid the temptation to clean your plate. Yes, there are children starving in Africa, but your weight gain won’t help them.

Healthy dieting and weight loss tip #4: Fill up with fruit, veggies, and fiber

To lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat less food. You can fill up while on a diet, as long as you choose your foods wisely. The key is to add the types of food that can keep you feeling satisfied and full, without packing on the pounds.

Fiber: the secret to feeling satisfied while losing weight

If you want to lose weight without feeling hungry and deprived all the time, start eating foods high in fiber. High-fiber foods are higher in volume, which makes them filling. They also take longer to chew, which makes them more satisfying to eat. High-fiber foods also take a long time to digest, which means you’ll feel full longer. There’s nothing magic about it, but the weight-loss results may seem like it.

High-fiber heavyweights include:

  • Fruits and vegetables – Enjoy whole fruits across the rainbow (strawberries, apples, oranges, berries, nectarines, plums), leafy salads, and green veggies of all kinds.
  • Beans – Select beans of any kind (black beans, lentils, split peas, pinto beans, chickpeas). Add them to soups, salads, and entrees, or enjoy them as a hearty dish of their own.
  • Whole grains – Try high-fiber cereal, oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat or multigrain bread, bran muffins, or air-popped popcorn.

Focus on fruits and veggies

Counting calories and measuring portion sizes can quickly become tedious. But you don’t need an accounting degree to enjoy produce. When it comes to fruit and vegetables, it’s generally safe to eat as much as you want, whenever you want. No measuring cups or calorie tables required.

The high water and fiber content in most fruits and vegetables makes them hard to overeat. You’ll feel full long before you’ve overdone it on the calories.

  • Pour a little less cereal into your morning bowl to make room for some blueberries, strawberries, or sliced bananas. You’ll still enjoy a full bowl, but with a lower calorie count.
  • Replace one of the eggs and some of the cheese in your omelet or scramble with vegetables. Try tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, spinach, or bell peppers.
  • Swap out some of the meat and cheese in your sandwich with healthier veggie choices such as lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, cucumbers, and avocado.
  • Instead of a high-calorie snack, such as chips and dip, try baby carrots with hummus, a sliced apple, or the old-favorite: celery with peanut butter (just don’t overdo it on the peanut butter).
  • Add more veggies to your favorite main courses to make your dish “go” further. Even dishes such as pasta and stir-fries can be diet-friendly if they’re less heavy on the noodles and more focused on vegetables.
  • Try starting your meal with a low-density salad or soup (just watch the dressings and sodium) to help fill you up, so you eat less of your entrée.

Don’t love vegetables? You’re probably not preparing them right. Veggies can be delicious and full of flavor when you dress them with herbs and spices or a little olive oil or cheese.

Fruits and vegetables to eat in moderation

Fruits and vegetables of all colors, shapes, and sizes are major players in a healthy diet, but you still need to watch out for the following potential diet busters.

  • Veggies that have been breaded or fried or doused in heavy sauces are no longer low-calorie, so tread with caution. Opt for healthier cooking methods, such as steaming, and use low-fat dressings and spices for flavor.
  • Salads are guilt-free—unless you drench them in high-fat dressing and toppings. By all means, add some nuts or cheese, but don’t overdo it. As for dressing, a little fat is healthy (try a vinaigrette made with olive oil), but again, moderation is key.
  • Dried Fruit. Be careful when it comes to dried fruit, which is high in calories and, often, in added sugar. You can eat a whole lot more fresh fruit for the same number of calories. If you do choose to snack on dried fruit, keep your serving size small.
  • Fruit Juice. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a glass of juice every now and again. But remember that the calories quickly add up, without doing much to make you feel full. Also make sure that your drink of choice is made from 100% fruit juice and contains no added sugar.

Healthy dieting and weight loss tip #5: Indulge without overindulging

Try not to think of certain foods as “off limits.”

When you ban certain foods or food groups, it is natural to want those foods more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. Instead of denying yourself the unhealthy foods you love, simply eat them less often.

If you’ve ever found yourself polishing off a pint of ice cream or stuffing yourself with cookies or chips after spending a whole day virtuously eating salads, you know how restrictive diet plans usually end. You probably blame yourself, but the problem isn’t your willpower—it’s your weight loss strategy. Deprivation diets set you up for failure: you starve yourself until you snap, and then you overdo it, cancelling out all your previous efforts.

In order to successfully lose weight and keep it off, you need to learn how to enjoy the foods you love without going overboard. A diet that places all your favorite foods off limits won’t work in the long run. Eventually, you’ll feel deprived and will cave. And when you do, you probably won’t stop at a sensible-sized portion.

Tips for enjoying treats without overeating

  • Combine your treat with other healthy foods. You can still enjoy your favorite high-calorie treat, whether it’s ice cream, chips, cake, or chocolate. The key is to eat a smaller serving of it along with a lower-calorie option. For example, add strawberries to your ice cream or munch on carrot and celery sticks along with your chips and dip. By piling on the low-cal option, you can eat a diet-friendly portion of your favorite treat without feeling deprived.
  • Schedule your treats. We are creatures are habit, and you can use this to your advantage when trying to lose weight. Establish regular times when you get to indulge in your favorite food. For example, maybe you enjoy a small square of chocolate every day after lunch, or a slice of cheesecake every Friday evening. Once you’re conditioned to eat your treat at those times—and those times only—you’ll stop obsessing about them at other times.
  • Make your indulgence less indulgent. Find ways to reduce fat, sugar, or calories in your favorite treats and snacks. If you do your own baking, swap out half the butter or oil in the recipe with applesauce, and cut back on the sugar, making up for it with extra cinnamon or vanilla extract. You can also eliminate or reduce high-calorie toppings and sides, like whipped cream, cheese, dip, and frosting.
  • Engage all your senses—not just your taste sense. Instead of chowing down mindlessly, savor and prolong the experience. You can make snack time more special by setting an attractive table, lighting candles, playing soothing music, or enjoying your treat outdoors in a beautiful setting. Get the most pleasure—and the most relaxation—out of your treat by cutting it into small pieces, taking time to smell what you are eating, and by chewing slowly and thoroughly.

Healthy dieting and weight loss tip #6: Take charge of your food environment

Your weight loss efforts will succeed or fail based largely on your food environment. Set yourself up for success by taking charge of your food environment: when you eat, how much you eat, and what foods are available.

  • Start the day with breakfast. People who eat breakfast tend to be thinner than those who don’t. Starting your day with a healthy breakfast will jumpstart your metabolism, plus, it will help keep you from binge eating later in the day.
  • Serve yourself smaller portions. One easy way to control portion size is by using small plates, bowls, and cups. This will make your portions appear larger. Don’t eat out of large bowls or directly from the food container or package, which makes it difficult to assess how much you’ve eaten.
  • Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time. You will be more inclined to eat in moderation if you have thought out healthy meals and snacks in advance. You can buy or create your own small portion snacks in plastic bags or containers. Eating on a schedule will also help you avoid eating when you aren’t truly hungry.
  • Cook your own meals. Cooking meals at home allows you to control both portion size and what goes in to the food. Restaurant and packaged foods generally contain a lot more sodium, fat, and calories than food cooked at home—plus the portions sizes tend to be larger.
  • Don’t shop for groceries when you’re hungry. Create a shopping list and stick to it. Be especially careful to avoid foods at the ends of the aisles and along the perimeter, where grocers tend to sell high-calorie snack and convenience foods.
  • Out of sight, out of mind. Limit the amount of tempting foods you have at home. If you share a kitchen with non-dieters, store snack foods and other high-calorie indulgences in cabinets or drawers out of your sight.
  • Fast for 14-16 hours a day. Try to eat your last meal earlier in the day and then fast until breakfast the next morning. Early studies suggest that this simple dietary adjustment—eating only when you’re most active and giving your digestive system a long break each day—may help you to lose weight. After-dinner snacks tend to be high in fat and calories so are best avoided, anyway

Soda: The Secret Diet Saboteur

Soft drinks (including soda, energy drinks, and coffee drinks) are a huge source of calories in many people’s diets. One can of soda contains between 10-12 teaspoons of sugar and around 150 calories, so a few soft drinks can quickly add up to a good portion of your daily calorie intake.

Switching to diet soda isn’t the answer either, as studies suggest that it triggers sugar cravings and contributes to weight gain. Instead, try switching to water with lemon, unsweetened iced tea, or carbonated water with a splash of juice.

Healthy dieting and weight loss tip #7: Make healthy lifestyle changes

In addition to your food and eating-related choices, you can also support your weight loss and dieting efforts by making healthy lifestyle choices.

  • Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep has been shown to have a direct link to hunger, overeating, and weight gain. Exhaustion also impairs your judgment, which can lead to poor food choices. Aim for around 8 hours of quality sleep a night.
  • Turn off the TV. You actually burn less calories watching television than you do sleeping! If you simply can’t miss your favorite shows, get a little workout in while watching. Do easy exercises like squats, sit-ups, jogging in place, or using resistance bands or hand weights.
  • Get plenty of exercise. Exercise is a dieter’s best friend. It not only burns calories, but can actually improve your resting metabolism. No time for a long workout? Research shows that three 10-minute spurts of exercise per day are just as good as one 30-minute workout. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or park in the back of the parking lot. Every bit helps.
  • Drink more water. You can easily reduce your daily calorie intake by replacing soda, alcohol, or coffee with water. Thirst can also be confused with hunger, so by drinking water, you may avoid consuming extra calories, plus it will help you break down food more easily.

  • Related Articles
  • Resources and References

Related Articles

Weight Problems and Obesity in Children
Learn a whole-family approach to helping your child reach and maintain a healthy weight.


Emotional Eating:
Learning to recognize your emotional eating triggers is the first step to breaking free from food cravings and compulsive overeating.

74c17 healthy eating 60 Healthy Weight Loss & Dieting Tips: How to Lose Weight and Keep It Off

Healthy Eating
Learn easy ways to stick to a healthy diet to boost your energy, sharpen your memory, and stabilize your mood.

Top Health Problems Associated With Obesity

Choosing a Weight-loss Program

Healthy Lifestyles

Choosing Healthy Fats
A guide to replacing bad fats with good fats that promote health and emotional well-being.

Healthy Recipes
Instead of eating out, try making fast, delicious meals at home that are easy to prepare and healthy to eat.

Easy Exercise Tips
Exercise is one of the easiest and safest methods to improve both your physical and mental health.

How to Sleep Better – If you’re overeating due to fatigue or low energy, these sleep tips can help you sleep better and feel more energetic during the day.

Stress Management –Instead of using food, manage stress by learning how to take charge of your thoughts, emoptions, and the way you deal with problems.

Relaxation Techniques – By practicing techniques that activate your body’s relaxation response you can combat stress and ease tension without using food.

Free Toolkit Program

If you feel too overwhelmed to put these tips into practice, repair what may be the source of the problem—an inability to stop worrying or manage overwhelming stress and emotions. Take advantage of Helpguide’s free Bring Your Life Into Balance program, which can help you take control of your emotions and control your weight.

Resources and References

Weight loss and dieting basics

The Nutrition Source: How to Get to Your Healthy Weight – Guide to healthy weight loss covers what causes weight gain, what leads to weight loss, and lessons from successful dieters. (Harvard School of Public Health)

Losing Weight – Learn about healthy weight loss and dieting, including tips for recognizing roadblocks and keeping the weight off. (American Heart Association)

Aim for a Healthy Weight: Guide to Behavior Change – Covers behaviors that will help you lose weight and maintain your healthy weight loss efforts. (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

Tips for Setting and Meeting Your Weight Loss Goals – After you’ve made the commitment to start losing weight, set goals that are realistic, specific, and measurable. (Mayo Clinic)

Weight loss and nutrition myths – Debunking myths about food, dieting, and exercise. (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease)

Dieting and food choices

Cutting Calories – Illustrated healthy weight loss guide, with strategies for eating more while still losing weight, avoiding portion size pitfalls, and using fruits and vegetables to manage weight. (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion)

Losing Weight: A Healthy Approach – Offers a low-fat vegetarian plan for weight loss. Includes meal suggestions, foods to avoid, and healthy weight loss tips. (NutritionMD)

How to Spot a High-Calorie Food – Lists some useful ways to spot high-calorie foods that can sabotage your weight-loss and dieting efforts. (NutritionMD)

Emotional eating and healthy weight loss

How to Stop Emotional Eating – Ways to curb emotional eating from sabotaging your healthy weight loss efforts. (Mayo Clinic)

How to Avoid Overeating – Offers seven strategies that can help defend against eating too much. (Harvard School of Public Health)

Mastering the Mindful Meal – Explains the effects of mindless eating, and offers exercises to help you become a more mindful eater. (Brigham Women’s Hospital)

Portion sizes and healthy weight loss

Just Enough for You: About Portion Sizes – Offers tips for managing portion sizes at home, and when eating out. (Weight Control Information Network)

Portion Distortion – Are you a victim of portion distortion? Many of us eat oversized servings without realizing it. This site helps you regain perspective. (National Institutes of Health)

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Maya W. Paul, and Suzanne Barston. Last updated: January 2013.

Choosing Healthy Fats: Good Fats, Bad Fats, and the Power of Omega-3 fats

Making sense of dietary fat

A walk down the grocery aisle will confirm our obsession with low-fat foods. We’re bombarded with supposedly guilt-free options: baked potato chips, fat-free ice cream, low-fat candies, cookies, and cakes. But while our low-fat options have exploded, so have obesity rates. Clearly, low-fat foods and diets haven’t delivered on their trim, healthy promises.

Despite what you may have been told, fat isn’t always the bad guy in the waistline wars. Bad fats, such as saturated fats and trans fats, are guilty of the unhealthy things all fats have been blamed for—weight gain, clogged arteries, and so forth. But good fats such as the monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3s have the opposite effect.

As a matter of fact, healthy fats play a huge role in helping you manage your moods, stay on top of your mental game, fight fatigue, and even control your weight.

The answer isn’t cutting out the fat—it’s learning to make healthy choices and to replace bad fats with good ones that promote health and well-being.

Myths and facts about fats

Myth: All fats are equal—and equally bad for you.

Fact: Saturated fats and trans fats are bad for you because they raise your cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease. But monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are good for you, lowering cholesterol and reducing your risk of heart disease.

Myth: Lowering the amount of fat you eat is what matters the most.

Fact: The mix of fats that you eat, rather than the total amount in your diet, is what matters most when it comes to your cholesterol and health. The key is to eat more good fats and less bad fats.

Myth: Fat-free means healthy.

Fact: A “fat-free” label doesn’t mean you can eat all you want without consequences to your waistline. Many fat-free foods are high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and calories.

Myth: Eating a low-fat diet is the key to weight loss.

Fact: The obesity rates for Americans have doubled in the last 20 years, coinciding with the low-fat revolution. Cutting calories is the key to weight loss, and since fats are filling, they can help curb overeating.

Myth: All body fat is the same.

Fact: Where you carry your fat matters. The health risks are greater if you tend to carry your weight around your abdomen, as opposed to your hips and thighs. A lot of belly fat is stored deep below the skin surrounding the abdominal organs and liver, and is closely linked to insulin resistance and diabetes.

Types of dietary fat: Good fats vs. bad fats

To understand good and bad fats, you need to know the names of the players and some information about them. There are four major types of fats:

  • monounsaturated fats
  • polyunsaturated fats
  • saturated fats
  • trans fats

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are known as the “good fats” because they are good for your heart, your cholesterol, and your overall health.

GOOD FATS
Monounsaturated fat
Polyunsaturated fat

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
  • Peanut butter
  • Soybean oil
  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
    Flaxseed
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines)
  • Soymilk
  • Tofu

GOOD FATS
Monounsaturated fat

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
  • Peanut butter

Polyunsaturated fat

  • Soybean oil
  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines)
  • Soymilk
  • Tofu

Saturated fats and trans fats are known as the “bad fats” because they increase your risk of disease and elevate cholesterol.

Appearance-wise, saturated fats and trans fats tend to be solid at room temperature (think of butter or traditional stick margarine), while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be liquid (think of olive or corn oil).

BAD FATS
Saturated fat
Trans fat

  • High-fat cuts of meat (beef, lamb, pork)
  • Chicken with the skin
  • Whole-fat dairy products (milk and cream)
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Ice cream
  • Palm and coconut oil
  • Lard
  • Commercially-baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough
  • Packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips)
  • Stick margarine
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish)
  • Candy bars

BAD FATS
Saturated fat

  • High-fat cuts of meat (beef, lamb, pork)
  • Chicken with the skin
  • Whole-fat dairy products (milk and cream)
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Ice cream
  • Palm and coconut oil
  • Lard

Trans fat

  • Commercially-baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough
  • Packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips)
  • Stick margarine
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish)
  • Candy bars

General guidelines for choosing healthy fats

With so many different sources of dietary fat—some good and some bad—the choices can get confusing. But the bottom line is simple: don’t go no-fat, go good fat.

If you are concerned about your weight or heart health, rather than avoiding fat in your diet, try replacing saturated fats and trans fats with good fats. This might mean replacing some of the meat you eat with beans and legumes, or using olive oil rather than butter.

  • Try to eliminate trans fats from your diet. Check food labels for trans fats. Avoiding commercially-baked goods goes a long way. Also limit fast food.
  • Limit your intake of saturated fats by cutting back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods. Try replacing red meat with beans, nuts, poultry, and fish whenever possible, and switching from whole milk and other full-fat dairy foods to lower fat versions.
  • Eat omega-3 fats every day. Good sources include fish, walnuts, ground flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.

How much fat is too much?

How much fat is too much depends on your lifestyle, your weight, your age and most importantly the state of your health. The USDA recommends that the average individual:

  • Keep total fat intake to 20-35% of calories
  • Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your calories (200 calories for a 2000 calorie diet)
  • Limit trans fats to 1% of calories (2 grams per day for a 2000 calorie diet)

Get your personalized daily fat limits

See Resources and References section below for an easy-to-use tool from the American Heart Association that calculates your personalized daily calorie needs, recommended range for total fats, and limits for trans fats and saturated fats.

Saturated fats: Reduce this bad fat

When focusing on healthy fats, a good place to start is reducing your consumption of saturated fats. Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products such as red meat and whole milk dairy products. Poultry and fish also contain saturated fat, but less than red meat. Other sources of saturated fat include tropical vegetable oils such as coconut oil and palm oil.

Simple ways to reduce saturated fat

  • Eat less red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and more fish and chicken
  • Go for lean cuts of meat, and stick to white meat, which has less saturated fat.
  • Bake, broil, or grill instead of frying.
  • Remove the skin from chicken and trim as much fat off of meat as possible before cooking.
  • Avoid breaded meats and vegetables and deep-fried foods.
  • Choose low-fat milk and lower-fat cheeses like mozzarella whenever possible; enjoy full-fat dairy in moderation.
  • Use liquid vegetable oils such as olive oil or canola oil instead of lard, shortening, or butter.
  • Avoid cream and cheese sauces, or have them served on the side.

Sources of Saturated Fats
Healthier Options

Butter

Olive oil

Cheese

Low-fat or reduced-fat cheese

Red meat

White meat chicken or turkey

Cream

Low-fat milk or fat-free creamer

Eggs

Egg whites, an egg substitute (e.g. Eggbeaters), or tofu

Ice cream

Frozen yogurt or reduced fat ice cream

Whole milk

Skim or 1% milk

Sour cream

Plain, non-fat yogurt

Eliminate trans fats from your diet

A trans fat is a normal fat molecule that has been twisted and deformed during a process called hydrogenation. During this process, liquid vegetable oil is heated and combined with hydrogen gas. Partially hydrogenating vegetable oils makes them more stable and less likely to spoil, which is very good for food manufacturers—and very bad for you.

No amount of trans fats is healthy. Trans fats contribute to major health problems, from heart disease to cancer.

Sources of trans fats

Many people think of margarine when they picture trans fats, and it’s true that some margarines are loaded with them. However, the primary source of trans fats in the Western diet comes from commercially-prepared baked goods and snack foods:

  • Baked goods – cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough, and some breads like hamburger buns
  • Fried foods – doughnuts, French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, and hard taco shells
  • Snack foods – potato, corn, and tortilla chips; candy; packaged or microwave popcorn
  • Solid fats – stick margarine and semi-solid vegetable shortening
  • Pre-mixed products – cake mix, pancake mix, and chocolate drink mix

Be a trans fat detective

  • When shopping, read the labels and watch out for “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients. Even if the food claims to be trans fat free, this ingredient makes it suspect.
  • With margarine, choose the soft-tub versions, and make sure the product has zero grams of trans fat and no partially hydrogenated oils.
  • When eating out, put fried foods, biscuits, and other baked goods on your “skip” list. Avoid these products unless you know that the restaurant has eliminated trans fat.
  • Avoid fast food. Most states have no labeling regulations for fast food, and it can even be advertised as cholesterol-free when cooked in vegetable oil.
  • When eating out, ask your server or counter person what type of oil your food will be cooked in. If it’s partially hydrogenated oil, run the other way or ask if your food can be prepared using olive oil, which most restaurants have in stock.

Getting more good, unsaturated fats in your diet

Okay, so you realize you need to avoid saturated fat and trans fat… but how do you get the healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats everyone keeps talking about?

The best sources of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fish.

  • Cook with olive oil. Use olive oil for stovetop cooking, rather than butter, stick margarine, or lard. For baking, try canola or vegetable oil.
  • Eat more avocados. Try them in sandwiches or salads or make guacamole. Along with being loaded with heart and brain-healthy fats, they make for a filling and satisfying meal.
  • Reach for the nuts. You can also add nuts to vegetable dishes or use them instead of breadcrumbs on chicken or fish.
  • Snack on olives. Olives are high in healthy monounsaturated fats. But unlike most other high-fat foods, they make for a low-calorie snack when eaten on their own. Try them plain or make a tapenade for dipping.
  • Dress your own salad. Commercial salad dressings are often high in saturated fat or made with damaged trans fat oils. Create your own healthy dressings with high-quality, cold-pressed olive oil, flaxseed oil, or sesame oil.

Damaged fat: When good fats go bad

A good fat can become bad if heat, light, or oxygen damages it. Polyunsaturated fats are the most fragile. Oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats (such as flaxseed oil) must be refrigerated and kept in an opaque container. Cooking with these oils also damages the fats. Never use oils, seeds, or nuts after they begin to smell or taste rank or bitter.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Superfats for the brain and heart

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. While all types of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good for you, omega-3 fats are proving to be especially beneficial.

We’re still learning about the many benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, but research has shown that they can:

  • Prevent and reduce the symptoms of depression
  • Protect against memory loss and dementia
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer
  • Ease arthritis, joint pain, and inflammatory skin conditions
  • Support a healthy pregnancy

Omega-3 fatty acids and mental health

Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain. Research indicates that they play a vital role in cognitive function (memory, problem-solving abilities, etc.) as well as emotional health.

Getting more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet can help you battle fatigue, sharpen your memory, and balance your mood. Studies have shown that omega-3s can be helpful in the treatment of depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and bipolar disorder.

There are several different types of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • EPA and DHA – Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have the most research to back up their health benefits. Both are found in abundance in cold-water fatty fish.
  • ALA – Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) comes from plants. Studies suggest that it’s a less potent form of omega-3 than EPA and DHA. The best sources include flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil.

Fish: The best food source of omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fats are a type of essential fatty acid, meaning they are essential to health, but your body can’t make them. You can only get omega-3 fats from food.

The best sources are fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines, or high-quality cold-water fish oil supplements. Canned albacore tuna and lake trout can also be good sources, depending on how the fish were raised and processed.

Some people avoid seafood because they worry about mercury or other possible toxins in fish. However, most experts agree that the benefits of eating two servings a week of these cold-water fatty fish outweigh the risks.

If you’re a vegetarian or you don’t like fish, you can still get your omega-3 fix by eating algae (which is high in DHA) or taking a fish oil or algae supplement.

Choosing the best omega-3 supplement

With so many omega-3 and fish oil supplements and fortified foods, making the right choice can be tricky. These guidelines can help.

  • Avoid products that don’t list the source of their omega-3s. Does the package list the source of omega-3 fatty acids? If not, chances are it’s ALA (sometimes from plain old canola or soybean oil), which most Westerners already get plenty of.
  • Don’t fall for fortified foods. Many fortified foods (such as margarine, eggs, and milk) claim to be high in omega-3 fatty acids, but often, the real amount of omega-3 is miniscule.
  • Look for the total amount of EPA and DHA on the label. The bottle may say 1,000 milligrams of fish oil, but it’s the amount of omega-3 that matters. Read the small print. It may show only 300 mg of EPA and DHA (sometimes listed as “omega-3 fatty acids”), which means you’d have to take three capsules to get close to 1,000 milligrams of omega-3.
  • Choose supplements that are mercury-free, pharmaceutical grade and molecularly distilled. Make sure the supplement contains both DHA and EPA. They may be hard to find, but supplements with higher concentrations of EPA are better.

Fish oil supplements can cause stomach upset and belching, especially when you first start taking them. To reduce these side effects, take them with food. You may also want to start with a low dose and gradually increase it, or divide the dose among your three meals.

How much omega-3 do I need?

The American Heart Association recommends consuming 1–3 grams per day of EPA and DHA (1 gram = 1,000 milligrams). For the treatment of mental health issues, including depression and ADHD, look for supplements that are high in EPA, which has been shown to elevate and stabilize mood. Aim for at least 1,000 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per day.

The truth about dietary fat and cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty, wax-like substance that your body needs to function properly. In and of itself, cholesterol isn’t bad. But when you get too much of it, it can have a negative impact on your health.

Cholesterol comes from two sources: your body and food. Your body (specifically, the liver) produces some of the cholesterol you need naturally. But you also get cholesterol directly from any animal products you eat, such as eggs, meat, and dairy. Together, these two sources contribute to your blood cholesterol level.

Good vs. bad cholesterol

As with dietary fat, there are good and bad types of cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is the “good” kind of cholesterol found in your blood. LDL cholesterol is the “bad” kind. The key is to keep HDL levels high and LDL levels low. High levels of HDL cholesterol help protect against heart disease and stroke, while high levels of LDL cholesterol can clog arteries, increasing your risk.

Research shows that there is only a weak link between the amount of cholesterol you eat and your blood cholesterol levels. The biggest influence on your total and LDL cholesterol is the type of fats you eat—not your dietary cholesterol. So instead of counting cholesterol, simply focus on replacing bad fats with good fats.

  • Monounsaturated fats lower total and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, while increasing good cholesterol (HDL).
  • Polyunsaturated fats lower triglycerides and fight inflammation.
  • Saturated fats raise your blood cholesterol.
  • Trans fats are even worse than saturated fats, since they not only raise your bad LDL cholesterol, but also lower the good HDL cholesterol.

  • Related Articles
  • Resources References

Related Articles


Healthy Eating – Learn easy ways to stick to a healthy diet to boost your energy, sharpen your memory, and stabilize your mood.


Healthy Weight Loss and Dieting Tips – Learn how to avoid diet pitfalls and achieve lasting weight loss success.


Heart Healthy Diet Tips – Learn which foods are healthiest for your heart and how diet affects heart disease.


Diabetes Diet and Food Tips – Learn how the right diet can help prevent, control, and reverse diabetes


Nutrition for Children and Teens – Simple
steps to help your children develop better eating habits and learn to enjoy healthy foods.

Cooking Eating Out


Eating Well on the Cheap – Get tips on how to stretch your food budget while still making healthy choices.


Healthy Recipes – Instead of eating out, try making fast, delicious meals at home that are easy to prepare and healthy to eat.


Cooking for One – Find meal ideas that make cooking for yourself as inexpensive as eating at fast food restaurants—but much healthier.


Healthy Fast Food – Learn to make healthier choices and still enjoy the price and convenience of fast–food restaurants.

Resources References

Types of fats: Good fats vs. bad fats

Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good – Overview on good and bad fats. Includes information on the latest studies about healthy fats, saturated and trans fats, and heart disease, obesity and cancers. (Harvard School of Public Health)

Fats 101 – Learn about the different types of fats, including saturated fats, trans fats, and healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. Includes tips for making healthier choices. (American Heart Association)

Nutrition Action Newsletter: Face the Fats (PDF) – Describes the complicated relationship between good fats, bad fats, and various diseases. (Nutrition Action Newsletter, July/August 2002)

Healthy Fats – Explains the different types of fats and how much of them should be included in a healthy diet. Includes a chart listing typical serving sizes. (University of Michigan)

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 Fats: An Essential Contribution – All about the health benefits of the important omega-3 fatty acids, including the best food sources in which to find them. (Harvard School of Public Health)

Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Simple charts listing omega-3 fatty acid content of selected foods. (Tufts University)

Omega-3 fatty acids – Comprehensive article on omega-3 fatty acids and the role they may play in preventing several diseases and conditions. (University of Maryland Medical Center)

Trans fats and food labeling

Trans fats 101 – Detailed article on trans fats with tips and menu suggestions. (University of Maryland Medical Center)

Trans fat: A cholesterol double-whammy – Trans fat lowers good and raises bad cholesterol, making it even worse than saturated fat in the fight against heart disease. (Mayo Clinic)

Trans fats now listed on nutrition label – Laws requiring food manufacturers to list trans fat on nutrition labels. How to read and understand trans fat listings. (USDA)

Trans fat: On the way out! – Periodically updated information on the ban of trans fats in restaurants with a chart listing where they have already been banned. (Center for Science in the Public Interest)

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Maya
W. Paul, and Robert Segal, M.A. Last
updated: December 2012.

Alzheimer’s & Dementia Prevention: How To Reduce Your Risk and Protect Your Brain

Lifestyle choices can protect your brain

Researchers across the world are racing towards a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But as prevalence rates climb, their focus has broadened from treatment to prevention strategies. What they’ve discovered is that it may be possible to prevent or delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias through a combination of healthful habits. While Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 percent of dementia cases, vascular dementia accounts for up to 40 percent in older adults, and there is much you can do to prevent this type of dementia.

It’s never too early to start boosting your brain reserves, but whatever your age, there are steps you can take to keep your brain healthy.

The 6 pillars of a brain-healthy lifestyle

The health of your brain, like the health of your body, depends on many factors.

While some factors, such as your genes, are out of your control, many powerful lifestyle factors are within your sphere of influence.

The six pillars of a brain-healthy lifestyle are:

  1. Regular exercise
  2. Healthy diet
  3. Mental stimulation
  4. Quality sleep
  5. Stress management
  6. An active social life

The more you strengthen each of the six pillars in your daily life, the healthier and hardier your brain will be.

When you lead a brain-healthy lifestyle, your brain will stay working stronger…longer.

Alzheimer’s dementia prevention pillar #1: Regular exercise

According to the Alzheimer’s Research Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50 percent.

Regular exercise can also slow further deterioration in those who have already started to develop cognitive problems.

If you’ve been inactive for a while, starting an exercise program can be intimidating. But you don’t have to take up jogging or sign up for a gym membership. Look for small ways to add more movement into your day. Park at the far end of the parking lot, take the stairs, carry your own groceries, or walk around the block or pace while talking on your cell phone.

Tips for getting started and sticking with your exercise plan:

  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times per week. Try walking, swimming, or any other activity that gets your heart rate up. Even routine activities such as gardening, cleaning, or doing laundry count as exercise.
  • Build muscle to pump up your brain. Moderate levels of weight and resistance training not only increase muscle mass, they help you maintain brain health. Combining aerobics and strength training is better than either activity alone. For those over 65, adding 2-3 strength sessions to your weekly routine may cut your risk of Alzheimer’s in half.
  • Include balance and coordination exercises. Head injuries from falls are an increasing risk as you grow older, which in turn increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Balance and coordination exercises can help you stay agile and avoid spills. Try yoga, Tai Chi, or exercises using balance discs or balance balls.
  • Stick with it for a month. It takes approximately 28 days for a new routine to become habit. Once you’re over this hump, keeping up your exercise routine will feel natural. In the meantime, write realistic goals on a workout calendar and post it on the fridge. Build in frequent rewards, and within no time, the feel-good endorphins from regular exercise will help you forget the remote…and head out the door.
  • Protect your head. Studies suggest that head trauma at any point
    in life significantly increases your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This includes
    repeated hits in sports activities such as football, soccer, and boxing, or one-time
    injuries from a bicycle, skating, or motorcycle accident. Protect your brain by wearing
    properly fitting sports helmets, buckling your seatbelt, and trip-proofing your environment.
    Avoid activities that compete for your attention—like talking on your cell
    while driving. A moment’s distraction can
    lead to a brain-injuring thud!

Alzheimer’s dementia prevention pillar #2: Healthy diet

Eat to protect glial cells.

Researchers believe that glial cells may help remove debris and toxins from the brain that can contribute
to Alzheimer’s disease. Consuming foods such as ginger, green tea, fatty fish, soy products, blueberries,
and other dark berries may protect these important cells from damage.

Just like the rest of your body, your brain needs a nutritious diet to operate at its best. Focus on eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats.

Eating habits that reduce inflammation and provide a steady supply of fuel are best. These food tips will keep you protected:

  • Follow a Mediterranean diet. Eating a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet rich in fish, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, and abundant fresh produce. Treat yourself to the occasional glass of red wine and square of dark chocolate.
  • Avoid trans fats and saturated fats. Reduce your consumption by avoiding full-fat dairy products, red meat, fast food, fried foods, and packaged and processed foods.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. What’s good for the heart is also good for the brain, so by reducing your risk of heart disease, you also lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Get plenty of omega-3 fats. Evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Food sources include cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, and sardines. You can also supplement with fish oil.
  • Eat 4-6 small meals throughout the day, rather than 3 large meals. Eating at regular intervals helps to maintain consistent blood sugar levels. Also avoid refined carbohydrates high in sugar and white flour, which rapidly spike glucose levels and inflame your brain.
  • Eat across the rainbow. Emphasize fruits and vegetables across the color spectrum to maximize protective antioxidants and vitamins. Daily servings of berries and green leafy vegetables should be part of your brain-protective regimen.
  • Enjoy daily cups of tea. Regular consumption of green tea may enhance memory and mental alertness and slow brain aging. White and oolong teas are also particularly brain healthy. Drinking 2-4 cups daily has proven benefits. Although not as powerful as tea, coffee also confers brain benefits.

Reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by giving up smoking and drinking only in moderation

Smoking and heavy drinking are two of the most preventable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Not only does smoking increase the odds for those over 65 by nearly 79 percent, researchers at Miami’s Mt. Sinai Medical Center warn that a combination of these two behaviors reduces the age of Alzheimer’s onset by six to seven years.

When you stop smoking, the brain benefits from improved circulation almost immediately, no matter your age. However, brain changes from alcohol abuse can only be reversed in their early stages.

What about supplements?

Folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium, and fish oil are believed to preserve and improve brain health. Studies of vitamin E, ginkgo biloba, coenzyme Q10, and turmeric have yielded less conclusive results, but may also be beneficial in the prevention or delay of Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms.

Talk to your doctor about medication interactions, and review current literature to make a personal decision about the costs and benefits of dietary supplements.

Alzheimer’s dementia prevention pillar #3: Mental stimulation

Those who continue learning new things throughout life and challenging their brains are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, so make it a point to stay mentally active. In essence, you need to “use it or lose it.”

Activities involving multiple tasks or requiring communication, interaction, and organization offer the greatest protection. Set aside time each day to stimulate your brain. Cross-training with these brain-boosting activities will help keep you mentally sharp:

  • Learn something new. Study a foreign language, learn sign language, practice a musical instrument, read the newspaper or a good book, or take up a new hobby. The greater the novelty and challenge, the larger the deposit in your brain reserves.
  • Practice memorization. Start with something short, progressing to something a little more involved, such as the 50 U.S. state capitals. Create rhymes and patterns to strengthen your memory connections.
  • Enjoy strategy games, puzzles, and riddles. Brain teasers and strategy games provide a great mental workout and build your capacity to form and retain cognitive associations. Do a crossword puzzle, play board games or cards, or work word and number games, such as Scrabble or Sudoku.
  • Practice the 5 W’s. Observe and report like a crime detective. Keep a “Who, What, Where, When, and Why” list of your daily experiences. Capturing visual details keeps your neurons firing.
  • Follow the road less traveled. Take a new route, eat with your non-dominant hand, rearrange your computer file system. Vary your habits regularly to create new brain pathways.

Alzheimer’s dementia prevention pillar #4: Quality sleep

Your brain needs regular, restful sleep in order to function at optimum capacity. Sleep deprivation not only leaves you cranky and tired, but impairs your ability to think, problem-solve, and process, store, and recall information. Deep, dreamy sleep is critical for memory formation and retention. If nightly sleep deprivation is slowing your thinking and affecting your mood, you may be at greater risk of developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The vast majority of adults need at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Any less, and productivity and creativity suffers.

Tips to help you combat insomnia and catch up on your Z’s

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and getting up at the same time reinforces your natural circadian rhythms. Your brain’s clock responds to regularity.
  • Be smart about napping. While taking a nap can be a great way to recharge, especially for older adults, it can make insomnia worse. If insomnia is a problem for you, consider eliminating napping. If you must nap, do it in the early afternoon, and limit it to thirty minutes.
  • Set the mood. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex, and ban television and computers from the bedroom (both are stimulating and may lead to difficulties falling asleep).
  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual. Take a hot bath, do some light stretches, write in your journal, or dim the lights. As it becomes habit, your nightly ritual will send a powerful signal to your brain that it’s time for deep restorative sleep.
  • Quiet your inner chatter. When stress, anxiety, or negative internal dialogues keep you awake, get out of bed. Try reading or relaxing in another room for twenty minutes then hop back in.

Alzheimer’s dementia prevention #5: Stress management

Stress that is chronic or severe takes a heavy toll on the brain, leading to shrinkage in a key memory area of the brain known as the hippocampus, hampering nerve cell growth, and increasing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Yet simple daily tools can minimize its harmful effects.

Get your stress levels in check with these proven techniques

  • Breathe! Stress alters your breathing rate and impacts oxygen levels in the brain. Quiet your stress response with deep, abdominal breathing. Restorative breathing is powerful, simple, and free!
  • Schedule daily relaxation activities. Keeping stress under control requires regular effort. Make relaxation a priority, whether it’s a walk in the park, playtime with your dog, yoga, or a soothing bath.
  • Nourish inner peace. Most scientists acknowledge a strong mind-body connection, and various studies associate spirituality with better brain health. Regular meditation, prayer, reflection, and religious practice may immunize you against the damaging effects of stress.

Alzheimer’s dementia prevention #6: An active social life

Human beings are highly social creatures. We don’t thrive in isolation, and neither do our brains. Studies show that the more connected we are, the better we fare on tests of memory and cognition. Staying socially active may even protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, so make your social life a priority.

Oftentimes, we become more isolated as we get older, but there are many ways to keep your support system strong and develop new relationships:

  • Volunteer
  • Join a club or social group
  • Visit your local community center or senior center
  • Take group classes (such as at the gym or a community college)
  • Reach out over the phone or email
  • Connect to others via social networks such as Facebook
  • Get to know your neighbors
  • Make a weekly date with friends
  • Get out (go to the movies, the park, museums, and other public places)

Simple ways to connect with your partner, family member, or friend

  • Commit to spending quality time together on a regular basis. Even during very busy and stressful times, a few minutes of really sharing and connecting can help keep bonds strong.
  • Find something that you enjoy doing together, whether it is a shared hobby, dance class, daily walk, or sitting over a cup of coffee in the morning.
  • Try something new together. Doing new things together can be a fun way to connect and keep things interesting. It can be as simple as trying a new restaurant or going on a day trip to a place you’ve never been before.

  • Related Articles
  • Resources and References

Related Articles

Alzheimer’s Disease – The earlier you recognize the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and seek help, the better your chances of getting the care you need and maximizing your quality of life.


Early Recognition Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease
– Treating Alzheimer’s early helps slow the disease. Learn about early warning signs and what’s involved in diagnosis.



Is it Alzheimer’s or Another Dementia?
Learn how more than 50 conditions can mimic the symptoms of dementia and why it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis as early as possible.

Healthy Aging and Senior Lifestyles

Memory Loss and Aging
Memory loss is not an inevitable part of the aging process. Learn the difference between
normal forgetfulness and more serious memory problems.

Healthy Aging Tips
Healthy aging is about much more than staying physically healthy—it’s about maintaining your sense of purpose and your zest for life.


Senior Nutrition
As we age, eating well can be the key to a positive outlook and staying emotionally balanced.

Senior Exercise and Fitness Tips
No matter your age, your health, or your fitness level, there are big and small ways to get more active and boost your energy and health.

Resources and References

Helpguide’s Yellow Pages
Resources for public assistance, social services, and other health and human services.

Lifestyles for a healthy brain

Brain Health – Lifestyle choices may prevent brain deterioration as you age: stay mentally and physically active, socially involved, and adopt a brain-healthy diet. (Alzheimer’s Association)

Your Brain Health – Basics about brain health and how lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, mental stimulation, and socialization impact it. (Alzheimer’s Foundation of America)

Lifestyle Choices: Top 10 Rules – A list of top ten rules for keeping your brain healthy as you age. Includes links to articles on diet, mental exercise, physical activity, socialization, spirituality and religion and stress management. (Alzheimer’s Foundation of America)

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia prevention

Can Alzheimer’s Disease Be Prevented? (PDF) – Looks research into Alzheimer’s prevention, risk factors for the disease, and current prevention strategies. (The National Institute on Aging)

The Four Pillars of Prevention – How to prevent Alzheimer’s through diet, stress management, and mental and physical exercise. (Alzheimer’s Research Prevention Foundation)

Prevention – Learn about the latest research on Alzheimer’s prevention, including the heart-head connection and the role of exercise, diet, and intellectual activity. (Alzheimer’s Association)

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Melissa Wayne, M.A., and Jeanne Segal,
Ph.D. Last updated: January 2013.

Dealing with Bullying and Cyber-bullying

Bullying and Suicide

If bullying means you, or someone you know, feels suicidal, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) in the U.S., or visit Befrienders Worldwide to find a helpline in your country.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is repeated aggressive behavior that can be physical, verbal, or relational. Boys frequently bully using physical threats and actions, while girls are more likely to engage in verbal or relationship bullying. The results are similar:

  • You are made to feel hurt, angry, afraid, helpless, hopeless, isolated, ashamed, and even guilty that the bullying is somehow your fault. You may even feel suicidal.
  • Your physical health is likely to suffer, and you are at a greater risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or adult onset PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
  • You’re more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school to avoid being bullied.

Need help with online or cyber-bullying?

If a bully is harassing, threatening, or humiliating you or someone you love by using computers,
cell phones, or social networking sites, read Dealing With Cyber-Bullying

The most damaging aspect of bullying is its repetition. Bullies are often relentless, bullying over and over again for long periods of time. You may live in constant fear of where and when the bully will strike next, what they’ll do, and how far they’ll go.

Types of Bullying

Physical bullying:

  • Hitting, kicking, or pushing someone…or even just threatening to do it
  • Stealing, hiding, or ruining someone’s things
  • Hazing, harassment, humiliation. Making someone do things he or she doesn’t want to do.

Verbal bullying:

  • Name-calling
  • Teasing, taunting
  • Insulting or otherwise verbally abusing someone

Relationship bullying:

  • Refusing to talk to someone
  • Excluding someone from groups or activities
  • Spreading lies or rumors about someone
  • Hazing, harassment, humiliation. Making someone do things he or she doesn’t want to do

Adapted from: PBS Kids – It’s My Life

Why a bully might be targeting you

Research shows that about 25 percent of kids experience bullying, so you’re not alone. While there are many reasons why bullies may be targeting you, the main reasons are usually your physical appearance or social standing within your peer group.

Bullies tend to pick on people who are “different” or don’t fit in with the mainstream. It may be because of how you dress, act, or because of your race, religion, or sexual orientation. It may simply be that you’re new to the school or neighborhood and haven’t made friends yet.

If you are being bullied, remember:

  • Don’t blame yourself. It is not your fault. No matter what someone says or does, you should not be ashamed of who you are or what you feel.
  • Be proud of who you are. Despite what a bully says, there are many wonderful things about you. Keep those in mind instead of the messages you hear from bullies.
  • Get help. Talk to a parent, teacher, counselor, or other trusted adult. Seeing a counselor does not mean there is something wrong with you.
  • Learn to deal with stress. Finding ways to relieve stress can make you more resilient so you won’t feel overwhelmed by bullying. Exercise, meditation, positive self-talk, muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises are all good ways to manage the stress from bullying.

Tips for dealing with a bully and overcoming bullying

There is no single solution to bullying or best way to handle a bully. It may take some experimenting with a variety of different responses to find the strategy that works best for your situation. To defeat a bully, you need to retain your self-control and preserve your sense of self.

Tip #1: Understand the truth about bullying

  • Walk away from the bully. Bullies want to know they have control over your emotions so don’t react with anger or retaliate with physical force. If you walk away, ignore them, or calmly and assertively tell them you’re not interested in what they have to say, you’re demonstrating that they don’t have control over you.
  • Protect yourself. If you can’t walk away and are being physically hurt, protect yourself so you can get away. Your safety is the first priority.
  • Report the bullying to a trusted adult. If you don’t report threats and assaults, a bully will often become more and more aggressive. In many cases adults can find ways to help with the problem without letting the bully know it was you who reported them.
  • Repeat as necessary. Like the bully, you may have to be relentless. Report each and every bullying incident until it stops. There is no reason for you to ever put up with bullying.

Tip #2: Reframe the problem of bullying

By changing your attitude towards bullying you can help regain a sense of control.

  • Try to view bullying from a different perspective. The bully is an unhappy, frustrated person who wants to have control over your feelings so that you feel as badly as they do. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
  • Look at the big picture. Bullying can be extremely painful, but try asking yourself how important it will seem to you in the long run. Will it matter in a year? Is it worth getting so upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
  • Focus on the positive. Reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. Make a list and refer to it whenever you feel down.
  • Find the humor. If you’re relaxed enough to recognize the absurdity of a bullying situation, and to comment on it with humor, you’ll likely no longer be an interesting target for a bully.
  • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control—including the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to bullies.

Tip #3: Find support from those who don’t bully

Having trusted people you can turn to for encouragement and support will boost your resilience when being bullied. Reach out to connect with family and real friends (those who don’t participate in bullying) or explore ways of making new friends. There are plenty of people who will love and appreciate you for who you are.

  • Find others who share your same values and interests. You may be able to make friends at a youth group, book club, or religious organization. Learn a new sport, join a team, or take up a new hobby such as chess, art, or music.
  • Share your feelings. Talk to a parent, counselor, coach, religious leader, or trusted friend. Expressing what you’re going through can make a huge difference to the way you feel, even if it doesn’t change the situation.
  • Boost your confidence. Exercise is a great way to help you feel good about yourself, as well as reduce stress. Punch a mattress or take a kick boxing class to work off your anger.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t make a bullying incident worse by dwelling on it or replaying it over and over in your head. Instead, focus on positive experiences you’ve had.

Tips to help parents and teachers to identify a bully and stop bullying

Teachers and parents of both the bullied and the bullies can play a crucial role in preventing, identifying, and stopping bullying. Creating safe, stress-free environments at home and at school can help prevent the tension and anxiety that can lead to bullying.

Despite how widespread the problem has become, many parents and teachers still have some misconceptions about bullying.

Myths Facts about Bullying

MYTH: It’s only bullying if the child is physically hurt. Words can’t hurt.

FACT: Children have killed each other and committed suicide after being involved in verbal, relationship, or cyber-bullying. Words do hurt and they can have a devastating effect on the emotional wellbeing of a child or teen.

MYTH: My child would never be a bully.

FACT: All kids make mistakes; it’s part of growing up. Parents who deny the possibility that their child is capable of being hurtful make it harder for bullies to get the help they need.

MYTH: Bullies are simply bad people and should be expelled from school.

FACT: There are a lot of reasons why children bully. Some are bullied themselves, at home or elsewhere, others bully only when they feel stressed or overwhelmed

MYTH: Kids can be either bullies or victims, not both.

FACT: Kids can often change roles, going from victim to bully and back again. For example, a bully in fifth grade may be a victim when he moves to middle school, or a victim in the playground can take revenge and become the bully online.

Tip #2: Spot the warning signs that a child or teen is being bullied

If a child is being bullied it may not be obvious to a parent or teacher. Most bullying occurs away from adults, when kids are alone in hallways or on the way home from school, for example. Bullies tend to be adept at hiding their behavior from adults and bullying victims will often cover up evidence because of a sense of shame at being victimized.

Tip #3: Take steps to stop bullying

  • Talk to kids about bullying. Just talking about the problem can be a huge stress reliever for someone who’s being bullied. Be supportive and listen to a child’s feelings without judgment, criticism, or blame.
  • Remove the bait. If your child is targeted by a bully for his or her lunch money, phone, or iPod, for example, suggest your child packs a lunch for school and leaves the gadgets at home.
  • Find help for a child who’s afraid of a bully. Make sure other teachers, coaches, and counselors know the child is being bullied. No child should have to handle bullying alone.
  • Help the bullied child avoid isolation. Kids with friends are better equipped to handle bullying. Find ways to increase their social circle, via youth or religious groups or clubs, for example.

If your child is a bully

It can be difficult for any parent to learn that their child is bullying others. The sooner you address the problem, though, the better chance you have of avoiding the long-term effects this behavior can have on a child. People who bully others:

  • Have a higher risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults.
  • Are more likely to get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school.
  • Are twice as likely as their peers to have criminal convictions as adults and four times more likely to be multiple offenders.
  • Are more likely as adults to be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children.

Bullying is often a learned behavior

Bullies can learn aggressive behavior from their experiences at home. Research suggests that some kids and teens may become more aggressive by playing violent video games. While it’s a controversial subject, parents should monitor the amount of violent content their children are exposed to via TV, movies, or video games.

As a parent, you may be setting a bad example for your kids by spanking or otherwise striking them, verbally or physically abusing your spouse, or by displaying bullying behavior such as:

  • Abusing your child’s sports coach, umpires and referees, or members of the opposing team.
  • Swearing at other drivers on the road.
  • Humiliating a waitress, shop assistant, or cab driver who makes a mistake.
  • Talking negatively about other students, parents, or teachers so that your child thinks it’s acceptable to use verbal abuse to intimidate others.

Tips for parents dealing with a bullying child

  • Learn about your child’s life. If your behavior at home isn’t negatively influencing your child, it’s possible his or her friends or peers are encouraging the bullying behavior. Your child may be struggling to fit in or develop relationships with other kids. Talk to your child. The more understand about his or her life, the easier you’ll be able to identify the source of the problem.
  • Educate your child about bullying. Your child may have difficulty reading social signs or may not understand how hurtful and damaging their behavior can be. Foster empathy and awareness by encouraging your child to look at their actions from the victim’s perspective. Remind your child that bullying can have legal consequences.
  • Manage stress. Teach your child positive ways to manage stress. Your child’s bullying may be an attempt at relieving stress. Or your own stress, anxiety, or worry may be creating an unstable home environment. Exercise, spending time in nature, or playing with a pet are great ways for both kids and adults to let off steam and relieve stress.
  • Set limits with technology. Let your child know you’ll be monitoring his or her use of computers, email, and text messaging. Limit the amount of time they spend playing video games and watching TV. Numerous studies reveal that many popular TV shows and violent video games celebrate negative values, reduce empathy, and encourage aggression in kids.
  • Establish consistent rules of behavior. Make sure your child understands your rules and the punishment for breaking them. Children may not think they need discipline, but a lack of boundaries sends a signal that the child is unworthy of the parents’ time, care, and attention.

  • Related Articles
  • Resources References

Related Articles


7bee0 cyber bullying 60 Dealing with Bullying and Cyber bullying

Dealing with Cyberbullying
Tips for kids, parents, and teachers on how to put a stop to cyberbullying, empower the victim, and deal with a cyberbully.

Teen depression: Guide for Parents – A guide for parents for helping a depressed teenager.

Teen Depression: Guide for Teenagers – Find tips and tools for helping yourself or a friend who is dealing with teen depression.

Free Toolkit Program


People who know how to quickly reduce stress and manage overwhelming emotions are less at risk for being abused or abusing others. Helpguide’s free Bring Your Life Into Balance toolkit is designed to teach you these skills. With these emotional skills in your arsenal, you’ll be more in touch with your own needs, more sensitive to others, and able to make better choices for yourself.

Resources References

Helpguide’s Yellow Pages
Resources for public assistance, social services, and other health and human services.

General bullying links

Stop Bullying Now! –
Information about bullying and strategies to make it stop. (StopBullyingNow)

Stop Bullying –
Provides information from various US government agencies on how kids, teens, young adults,
parents, educators, and others in the community can prevent or stop bullying. (StopBullying.gov)

Common Myths About Bullying –
Article outlining the nine most common myths about bullying and bullies. (Newsweek)

It’s My Life –
How bullying works and what kids can do about. (PBS Kids)

Dealing With Bullying –
Help for teenagers in dealing with bullies and bullying. (Teens Health)

Bullying at School and Online –
How to spot bullies and victims, and how to protect yourself or your child. (Education.com)

Cyber-bullying

Stop Cyber-bullying –
Information about how cyber-bullying works and what you can do to prevent it. (Wired Safety)

Stop Cyber-bullying Before It Starts (PDF) –
Provides information on ways to prevent cyber-bullying and keep children safe online. (National Crime Prevention Council)

Help for parents and teachers in dealing with bullying and cyber-bullying

Raising Children to Resist Violence –
How parents, family members, and others who care for children can help them learn to deal with emotions without using violence. (APA)

Take Action to Prevent Bullying –
Help for parents, teachers, and kids in preventing and stopping bullying. (APA)

Resilience Guide for Parents and Teachers –
Information on building resilience in children to shield them against emotional hurt from experiences such as bullying. (APA)

Sexual orientation and bullying

It Gets Better –
Collection of videos for LGBT kids and teens who have to hide their sexuality for fear of bullying. (It Gets Better Project)

The Trevor Project –
Organization helping LBGT teens and young adults who feel suicidal by providing resources and a nationwide,
24-hour hotline at 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386). (The Trevor Project)

Getting help for a bully

Teaching
Kids Not to Bully – Understanding bullying behavior in children
and how to help kids stops bullying. (KidsHealth)

Has Someone Called You a Bully? –
How bullying affects the bully and how a bully can stop. (StopBullying.gov)

How Not to Raise a Bully –
Article that discusses how teaching empathy in kids from an early age may prevent bullying. (Time Magazine)

Authors: Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: January 2013.

Stress at Work: Tips to Reduce and Manage Job and Workplace Stress

Coping with work stress in today’s uncertain climate

For workers everywhere, the troubled economy may feel like an emotional roller coaster. “Layoffs” and “budget cuts” have become bywords in the workplace, and the result is increased fear, uncertainty, and higher levels of stress. Since job and workplace stress increase in times of economic crisis, it’s important to learn new and better ways of coping with the pressure.

Your emotions are contagious, and stress has an impact on the quality of your interactions with others. The better you are at managing your own stress, the more you’ll positively affect those around you, and the less other people’s stress will negatively affect you.

You can learn how to manage job stress

There are a variety of steps you can take to reduce both your overall stress levels and the stress you find on the job and in the workplace. These include:

  • Taking responsibility for improving your physical and emotional well-being.
  • Avoiding pitfalls by identifying knee jerk habits and negative attitudes that add to the stress you experience at work.
  • Learning better communication skills to ease and improve your relationships with management and coworkers.

Tip 1: Recognize warning signs of excessive stress at work

When you feel overwhelmed at work, you lose confidence and may become irritable or withdrawn. This can make you less productive and less effective in your job, and make the work seem less rewarding. If you ignore the warning signs of work stress, they can lead to bigger problems. Beyond interfering with job performance and satisfaction, chronic or intense stress can also lead to physical and emotional health problems.

Signs and symptoms of excessive job and workplace stress

  • Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed
  • Apathy, loss of interest in work
  • Problems sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Muscle tension or headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope

Tip 2: Reduce job stress by taking care of yourself 

When stress at work interferes with your ability to perform in your job, manage your personal life, or adversely impacts your health, it’s time to take action. Start by paying attention to your physical and emotional health. When your own needs are taken care of, you’re stronger and more resilient to stress. The better you feel, the better equipped you’ll be to manage work stress without becoming overwhelmed.

Taking care of yourself doesn’t require a total lifestyle overhaul. Even small things can lift your mood, increase your energy, and make you feel like you’re back in the driver’s seat. Take things one step at a time, and as you make more positive lifestyle choices, you’ll soon notice a reduction in your stress levels, both at home and at work.

Get moving

Regular exercise is a powerful stress reliever—even though it may be the last thing you feel like doing. Aerobic exercise—activity that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat—is a hugely effective way to lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax both the mind and body. For maximum stress relief, try to get at least 30 minutes of heart-pounding activity on most days. If it’s easier to fit into your schedule, break up the activity into two or three shorter segments.

Make food choices that keep you going

Low blood sugar can make you feel anxious and irritable, while eating too much can make you lethargic. Healthy eating can help you get through stressful work days. By eating small but frequent meals, you can help your body maintain an even level of blood sugar, keep your energy up, stay focused, and avoid mood swings.

Drink alcohol in moderation and avoid nicotine

Alcohol temporarily reduces anxiety and worry, but too much can cause anxiety as it wears off. Drinking to relieve job stress may also eventually lead to alcohol abuse and dependence. Similarly, smoking when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed may seem calming, but nicotine is a powerful stimulant – leading to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.

Get enough sleep

Not only can stress and worry can cause insomnia, but a lack of sleep can leave you vulnerable to even more stress. When you’re well-rested, it’s much easier to keep your emotional balance, a key factor in coping with job and workplace stress. Try to improve the quality of your sleep by keeping a sleep schedule and aiming for 8 hours a night.

Tip 3: Reduce job stress by prioritizing and organizing

When job and workplace stress threatens to overwhelm you, there are simple steps you can take to regain control over yourself and the situation. Your newfound ability to maintain a sense of self-control in stressful situations will often be well-received by coworkers, managers, and subordinates alike, which can lead to better relationships at work. Here are some suggestions for reducing job stress by prioritizing and organizing your responsibilities.

Time management tips for reducing job stress

  • Create a balanced schedule. Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Try to find a balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, daily responsibilities and downtime.
  • Don’t over-commit yourself. Avoid scheduling things back-to-back or trying to fit too much into one day. All too often, we underestimate how long things will take. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
  • Try to leave earlier in the morning. Even 10-15 minutes can make the difference between frantically rushing to your desk and having time to ease into your day. Don’t add to your stress levels by running late.
  • Plan regular breaks. Make sure to take short breaks throughout the day to take a walk or sit back and clear your mind. Also try to get away from your desk or work station for lunch. Stepping away from work to briefly relax and recharge will help you be more, not less, productive.

Task management tips for reducing job stress

  • Prioritize tasks. Make a list of tasks you have to do, and tackle them in order of importance. Do the high-priority items first. If you have something particularly unpleasant to do, get it over with early. The rest of your day will be more pleasant as a result.
  • Break projects into small steps. If a large project seems overwhelming, make a step-by-step plan. Focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.
  • Delegate responsibility. You don’t have to do it all yourself. If other people can take care of the task, why not let them? Let go of the desire to control or oversee every little step. You’ll be letting go of unnecessary stress in the process.
  • Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to contribute differently to a task, revise a deadline, or change their behavior at work, be willing to do the same. Sometimes, if you can both bend a little, you’ll be able to find a happy middle ground that reduces the stress levels for everyone concerned.

Tip 4: Reduce job stress by improving emotional intelligence

Learn to Recognize Hidden Stress

Watch 4-min. video: Quick Stress Relief

Even if you’re in a job where the environment has grown increasingly stressful, you can retain a large measure of self-control and self-confidence by understanding and practicing emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage and use your emotions in positive and constructive ways. When it comes to satisfaction and success at work, emotional intelligence matters just as much as intellectual ability. Emotional intelligence is about communicating with others in ways that draw people to you, overcome differences, repair wounded feelings, and defuse tension and stress.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace:

Emotional intelligence in the workplace has four major components:

  • Self-awareness – The ability to recognize your emotions and their impact while using gut feelings to guide your decisions.
  • Self-management – The ability to control your emotions and behavior and adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Social awareness – The ability to sense, understand, and react to other’s emotions and feel comfortable socially.
  • Relationship management – The ability to inspire, influence, and connect to others and manage conflict.

The five key skills of emotional intelligence

There are five key skills that you need to master in order to raise your emotional intelligence and manage stress at work.

  • Realize when you’re stressed, recognize your particular stress response, and become familiar with sensual cues that can rapidly calm and energize you. The best way to reduce stress quickly is through the senses: through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. But each person responds differently to sensory input, so you need to find things that are soothing to you.
  • Stay connected to your internal emotional experience so you can appropriately manage your own emotions. Your moment-to-moment emotions influence your thoughts and actions, so pay attention to your feelings and factor them into your decision making at work. If you ignore your emotions you won’t be able to fully understand your own motivations and needs, or to communicate effectively with others.
  • Recognize and effectively use nonverbal cues and body language. In many cases, what we say is less important than how we say it or the other nonverbal signals we send out, such as eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, gesture and touch. Your nonverbal messages can either produce a sense of interest, trust, and desire for connection–or they can generate confusion, distrust, and stress. You also need to be able to accurately read and respond to the nonverbal cues that other people send you at work.
  • Develop the capacity to meet challenges with humor. There is no better stress buster than a hearty laugh and nothing reduces stress quicker in the workplace than mutually shared humor. But, if the laugh is at someone else’s expense, you may end up with more rather than less stress.
  • Resolve conflict positively. Resolving conflict in healthy, constructive ways can strengthen trust between people and relieve workplace stress and tension. When handling emotionally-charged situations, stay focused in the present by disregarding old hurts and resentments, connect with your emotions, and hear both the words and the nonverbal cues being used. If a conflict can’t be resolved, choose to end the argument, even if you still disagree.

Tip 5: Reduce job stress by breaking bad habits 

As you learn to manage your job stress and improve your work relationships, you’ll have more control over your ability to think clearly and act appropriately. You will be able to break habits that add to your stress at work – and you’ll even be able to change negative ways of thinking about things that only add to your stress.

Eliminate self-defeating behaviors

Many of us make job stress worse with negative thoughts and behavior. If you can turn around these self-defeating habits, you’ll find employer-imposed stress easier to handle.

  • Resist perfectionism. No project, situation, or decision is ever perfect, so trying to attain perfection on everything will simply add unnecessary stress to your day. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself or try to do too much, you’re setting yourself up to fall short. Aim to do your best, no one can ask for more than that.
  • Clean up your act. If you’re always running late, set your clocks and watches fast and give yourself extra time. If your desk is a mess, file and throw away the clutter; just knowing where everything is saves time and cuts stress. Make to-do lists and cross off items as you accomplish them. Plan your day and stick to the schedule — you’ll feel less overwhelmed.
  • Flip your negative thinking. If you see the downside of every situation and interaction, you’ll find yourself drained of energy and motivation. Try to think positively about your work, avoid negative-thinking co-workers, and pat yourself on the back about small accomplishments, even if no one else does.
  • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things at work are beyond our control— particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.

Tip 6: Learn how managers or employers can reduce job stress

It’s in a manager’s best interest to keep stress levels in the workplace to a minimum. Managers can act as positive role models, especially in times of high stress, by following the tips outlined in this article. If a respected manager can remain calm in stressful work situations, it is much easier for his or her employees to also remain calm.

Additionally, there are a number of organizational changes that managers and employers can make to reduce workplace stress. These include:

Improve communication

  • Share information with employees to reduce uncertainty about their jobs and futures.
  • Clearly define employees’ roles and responsibilities.
  • Make communication friendly and efficient, not mean-spirited or petty.

Consult your employees

  • Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their jobs.
  • Consult employees about scheduling and work rules.
  • Be sure the workload is suitable to employees’ abilities and resources; avoid unrealistic deadlines.
  • Show that individual workers are valued.
  • Offer rewards and incentives.
  • Praise good work performance, both verbally and officially, through schemes such as Employee of the Month.
  • Provide opportunities for career development.
  • Promote an “entrepreneurial” work climate that gives employees more control over their work.

Cultivate a friendly social climate

  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees.
  • Establish a zero-tolerance policy for harassment.
  • Make management actions consistent with organizational values.

  • Sources of Stress
  • Resources References

Sources of Stress

Preventing Burnout – When you’re burned out problems often seem insurmountable, but these tips and coping strategies can help you recover.

Stress Management – Manage stress by learning how to take charge of your thoughts, emotions, environment, and the way you deal with problems.

Quick Stress Relief – Identify your own stress responses and learn how to quickly and effectively reduce stress in the middle of any challenging situation.

Job Loss and Unemployment Stress – Find tips for staying positive during your job search and maintaining your spirits in tough times.

Career Help

Finding the Right Career – Discover how to find a career that fits your skills and interests, find the courage to make a change, and overcome obstacles to career happiness.

Effective Communication – Learn communication skills that will help improve teamwork, promote creativity and problem solving, and resolve conflicts at work.

Job Networking Tips
Networking is the best way to find a job and get career advice. While it may sound intimidating,
it can actually be enjoyable—even if you’re shy or feel like you don’t know many people. 

Interviewing Techniques and Tips – Do you feel uncomfortable selling yourself or fielding unexpected questions? Learn how to present yourself effectively to potential employers.

Free Toolkit Program


If you have been battling stress for a long time and already devote time to exercise and relaxation,
you might want to take advantage of Helpguide’s free 
Bring Your Life Into Balance mindfulness toolkit.
This toolkit teaches skills for managing overwhelming stress and emotions.

Resources References

General information about stress at work

STRESS … At Work – Highlights current knowledge about the causes of stress at work and outlines steps that can be taken to prevent it. (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

Stress at Work– Advisory booklet offers help and advice for anyone dealing with job and workplace stress. (Acas)

Workplace Stress – Describes the signs, causes, and effects of stress in general and on the job, and how management and employees can deal with workplace stress. (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety)

Stress in the Workplace: A Costly Epidemic – Delineates the causes and costs of workplace stress and also includes ideas for coping with stress on the job. Includes warning signs of stress (to the left of the article). (Fairleigh Dickinson University)

Managing and reducing job stress

Stress Management – Document by England’s Chartered Management Institute covers job stress management and quick stress reduction tips. (businessballs.com)

Managing Job Stress: 10 Strategies for Coping and Thriving at Work – From a career advice and job-search site, describing stress management techniques for the workplace. (Quintessential Careers)

Stress in the Workplace – Workplace stress from the employee’s point of view; gives suggestions for gaining control over some aspects of one’s job. (American Psychological Association)

Managing Job Stress – Readable, employee-centered site providing a wealth of strategies for reducing workplace stress. (Portland Community College)

Work stress tips for employers and managers

Reducing Occupational Stress – Guide for managers and supervisors on how to make changes in the workplace to reduce stress. (Job Stress Network)

Reducing Stress in the Workplace – Presented from management’s point of view, this article offers strategies for stress reduction that benefit employees and corporations alike. (The Institute for Management Excellence)

Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M.A. Last updated: December 2012.

Grieving the Loss of a Pet: Understanding and coping with the grief of losing a pet

Understanding grief after the loss of a pet

For many people a pet is not “just a dog” or “just a cat.” Pets are beloved members of the family and, when they die, you feel a significant, even traumatic loss. The level of grief depends on factors such as your age and personality, the age of your pet, and the circumstances of their death. Generally, the more significant the loss, the more intense the grief you’ll feel.

Grief can be complicated by the role the animal played in your life. For example, if your pet was a working dog or a helper animal such as a guide dog, then you’ll not only be grieving the loss of a companion but also the loss of a coworker or the loss of your independence. If you cared for your pet through a protracted illness, you likely grew to love him even more. If you lived alone and the pet was your only companion, coming to terms with his loss can be even harder. If you were unable to afford expensive veterinary treatment to prolong the life of your pet, you may even feel a profound sense of guilt.

Everyone grieves differently

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. Some people find grief comes in stages, where they experience different feelings such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution. Others find that grief is more cyclical, coming in waves, or a series of highs and lows. The lows are likely to be deeper and longer at the beginning and then gradually become shorter and less intense as time goes by. Still, even years after a loss, a sight, a sound, or a special anniversary can spark memories that trigger a strong sense of grief.

  • The grieving process happens only gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.
  • Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to the loss of a beloved pet. Exhibiting these feelings doesn’t mean you are weak, so you shouldn’t feel ashamed.
  • Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it. By expressing your grief, you’ll likely need less time to heal than if you withhold or “bottle up” your feelings. Write about your feelings and talk with others about them.

Tips for coping with the grief of pet loss

Sorrow and grief are normal and natural responses to death. Like grief for humans, grief for animal companions can only be dealt with over time, but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
  • Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check out online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups. If your own friends, family members, therapist, or clergy do not work well with the grief of pet loss, find someone who does.
  • Rituals can help healing. A funeral can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Ignore people who think it’s inappropriate to hold a funeral for a pet, and do what feels right for you.
  • Create a legacy. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your pet, compiling a photo album or scrapbook, or otherwise sharing the memories you enjoyed with your pet, can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your animal companion.
  • Look after yourself. The stress of losing a pet can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly to release endorphins and help boost your mood.
  • If you have other pets, try to maintain your normal routine. Surviving pets can also experience loss when a pet dies, or they may become distressed by your sorrow. Maintaining their daily routines, or even increasing exercise and play times, will not only benefit the surviving pets but may also help to elevate your outlook too.

Tips for seniors to cope with pet loss

As we age, we experience an increasing number of major life changes, including the loss of beloved friends, family members, and pets. The death of a pet can hit retired seniors even harder than younger adults who may be able to draw on the comfort of a close family, or distract themselves with the routine of work. For older adults who live alone, the pet was probably your sole companion, and taking care of the animal provided you with a sense of purpose and self-worth.

  • Try to find new meaning and joy in life. Caring for a pet previously occupied your time and boosted your morale and optimism. Try to fill that time by volunteering, picking up a long-neglected hobby, taking a class, helping friends care for their pets, or even by getting another pet when the time feels right.
  • Stay connected with friends. Pets, dogs especially, can help seniors meet new people or regularly connect with friends and neighbors while out on a walk or in the dog park, for example. Having lost your pet, it’s important that you don’t now spend day after day alone. Try to spend time with at least one person every day. Regular face-to-face contact can help you ward off depression and stay positive. Call up an old friend or neighbor for a lunch date or join a club.
  • Boost your vitality with exercise. Pets help many older adults stay active and playful, which can boost your immune system and increase your energy. It’s important to keep up your activity levels after the loss of your pet. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program and then find an activity that you enjoy. Exercising in a group—by playing a sport such as tennis or golf, or taking an exercise or swimming class—can also help you connect with others.

Helping a child cope with pet loss

The loss of a pet may be your child’s first experience of death—and your first opportunity to teach them about coping with the grief and pain that inevitably accompanies the joy of loving another living creature. Losing a pet can be a traumatic experience for any child. Many kids love their pets very deeply and some may not even remember a time in their life when the pet wasn’t around. A child may feel angry and blame themselves—or you—for the pet’s death. A child may feel scared that other people or animals they love may also leave them. How you handle the grieving process can determine whether the experience has a positive or negative effect on your child’s personal development.

Some parents feel they should try to shield their children from the sadness of losing a pet by either not talking about the pet’s death, or by not being honest about what’s happened. Pretending the animal ran away, or “went to sleep,” for example, can leave a child feeling even more confused, frightened, and betrayed when they finally learn the truth. It’s far better to be honest with children and allow them the opportunity to grieve in their own way.

Tips for a helping a child cope with the loss of a pet

  • Let your child see you express your own grief at the loss of the pet. If you don’t experience the same sense of loss as your child, respect their grief and let them express their feelings openly, without making them feel ashamed or guilty. Children should feel proud that they have so much compassion and care deeply about their animal companions.
  • Reassure your child that they weren’t responsible for the pet’s death. The death of a pet can raise a lot of questions and fears in a child. You may need to reassure your child that you, their parents, are not also likely to die. It’s important to talk about all their feelings and concerns.
  • Involve your child in the dying process. If you’ve chosen euthanasia for your pet, be honest with your child. Explain why the choice is necessary and give the child chance to spend some special time with the pet and say goodbye in his or her own way.
  • If possible, give the child an opportunity to create a memento of the pet. This could be a special photograph, or a plaster cast of the animal’s paw print, for example.
  • Allow the child to be involved in any memorial service, if they desire. Holding a funeral or creating a memorial for the pet can help your child express their feelings openly and help process the loss.
  • Do not rush out to get the child a “replacement pet” before they have had chance to grieve the loss they feel. Your child may feel disloyal, or you could send the message that the grief and sadness felt when something dies can simply be overcome by buying a replacement.

Making the decision to put a pet to sleep

A decision concerning euthanasia may be one of the most difficult decisions you will ever have to make for your pet. As a loving pet owner, though, the time may come when you need to help your pet make the transition from life to death, with the help of your veterinarian, in as painless and peaceful a way as possible.

Knowing when it’s time to put a pet to sleep

Euthanasia for a beloved pet is highly personal decision and usually comes after a diagnosis of a terminal illness and with the knowledge that the animal is suffering seriously. Your choices for your pet should be informed by the care and love you feel for the animal. Important things to consider include:

  • Activity level. Does your pet still enjoy previously loved activities or is he/she able to be active at all?
  • Response to care and affection. Does your pet still interact and respond to love and care in the usual ways?
  • Amount of pain and suffering. Is your pet experiencing pain and suffering which outweigh any pleasure and enjoyment in life?
  • Terminal illness or critical injury. Have illness or injury prohibited your pet from enjoying life? Is your pet facing certain death from the injury or illness?
  • Your family’s feelings. Is your family unanimous in the decision? If not, and you still feel it is the best thing for your pet, can you live with the decision that you have to make?

If you do decide that ending the suffering is in your pet’s best interest, take your time to create a process that is as peaceful as possible for you, your pet, and your family. You may want to have a last day at home with the pet in order to say goodbye, or to visit the pet at the animal hospital. You can also choose to be present during your pet’s euthanasia, or to say goodbye beforehand and remain in the veterinary waiting room or at home. This is an individual decision for each member of the family.

What to expect when putting your dog or cat to sleep

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, euthanasia for a pet is most often achieved by injection of a death-inducing drug. The veterinarian may administer a tranquilizer first to relax your pet. Following the injection of the euthanasia drug, your pet will immediately become unconscious. Death is quick and painless. Your pet may move its legs or breathe deeply several times after the drug is given, but these are reflexes and don’t mean that your pet is in pain or is suffering.

How to explain pet euthanasia to a child

Explain that the pet is ill, often suffering, and that you have the ability to end that suffering in a very humane and gentle way. It is a simple injection, very peaceful and painless, and if you really love a pet you have to make these kinds of difficult decisions.

  • Children tend to feed off of how their parents react. If a parent is hysterical, the children will be the same. If the parents are truly sad, and deal with the sadness in a healthy and thoughtful manner, the children will follow their example.
  • If you are putting your beloved pet to sleep for the right reasons, tell your children that it is OK to feel sad, but don’t feel guilty. These are two very different emotions. You should feel sad, and your children can feel the sadness, but don’t mix guilt in with the sadness. One emotion is healthy, the other terribly burdensome.

Source: Dr. Larry

Getting another dog or cat: Moving on after pet loss

There are many wonderful reasons to once again share your life with a companion animal, but the decision of when to do so is a very personal one. It may be tempting to rush out and fill the void left by your pet’s death by immediately getting another pet. In most cases, it’s best to mourn the old pet first, and wait until you’re emotionally ready to open your heart and your home to a new animal.

Some retired seniors living alone, however, may find it hardest to adjust to life without a pet. If taking care of an animal provided you with a sense of purpose and self-worth as well as companionship, you may want to consider getting another pet at an earlier stage. Of course, seniors also need to consider their own health and life expectancy when deciding on a new pet.

Each animal is different, so trying to exactly duplicate your old pet will likely result only in frustration and disappointment. A new pet should be appreciated fully for its own sake, not as a direct replacement. That may mean choosing another type of pet or a different breed (see Choosing the Right Dog or Choosing the Right Cat for tips). Whatever you decide, give yourself time to grieve the loss of your old friend and follow your instincts. You will know when it is right to bring a new animal companion into your life.

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  • Resources References

Related Articles

Coping with Grief and Loss
There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain and express your emotions in ways that allow you to heal.

Supporting a Grieving Person
You may not know what to say or do when someone you care about is grieving, but you don’t
need to have answers. Simply being there makes a big difference.

Understanding Depression
It’s normal to feel sad, helpless, or numb following a loss. But if you aren’t feeling
better over time or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign of depression.

Getting a New Pet

The Therapeutic Benefits of Pets
Caring for a pet is a responsibility, but it can also make you happier and healthier, both mentally and physically.

Choosing the Right Dog
To make sure you find the perfect canine friend, it’s important to choose a dog that best fits in with your lifestyle.


Choosing the Right Cat
Learn about different types of cats and find tips for choosing the right one for your lifestyle.

Free Toolkit Program

Your ability to overcome grief and loss is dependent on your capacity to experience, rather than obsessively think abou t, your loss. Helpguide’s free Bring Your Life Into Balance Toolkit can help you develop the skills to manage overwhelming stress and painful emotions during the grieving process so you can heal and move on.

Resources References

General resources for grieving the loss of a pet

When Your Animal Dies (PDF) – Brochure about the grief process and how to understand your feelings of loss when your animal dies. (American Veterinary medical Foundation)

Coping With Death of Pet – Details on understanding pet loss grief and how to cope with the pain and sadness. (Recover-from-grief.com)

Coping With the Death of Your Pet – Tips on how to cope when it’s time to say goodbye to a beloved pet. (The Humane Society of the United States)

Helping children cope with pet loss

Children and Pet Loss – Guidance for helping children of different ages cope with the death of a pet. (Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement)

Support groups and hotlines for grief after pet loss

Pet Loss Hotlines – List of hotlines in the U.S. for pet grief counseling. (Chance’s Spot)

Putting a pet to sleep

Pet Euthanasia – How do I know it’s time? (PDF) – Information about making a decision and how the process works. (American Veterinary Medical Association)

Euthanasia of a Beloved Pet – Webpage devoted to helping you better understand and deal with euthanasia. (The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement)

Euthanasia: What to Expect (commercial site) – Provides information about the euthanasia process and what to expect. (Pet Center)

Euthanasia: What do you tell the kids? – Straightforward advice on how to explain pet euthanasia to your children. (Dr. Larry)

Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Robert Segal,
M.A. Last updated: December 2012.

The Therapeutic Benefits of Pets: How Caring For a Pet Can Make You Happier and Healthier

How pets can affect mood and health

While most pet owners are clear about the immediate joys that come with sharing their lives with companion animals, many remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of playing with or snuggling up to a furry friend. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond. Studies have found that:

  • Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
  • People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets.
  • Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
  • Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
  • Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
  • Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
  • A pet doesn’t have to be a dog or a cat. Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension and pulse rate.

One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that most pets fulfill the basic human need to touch. Even hardened criminals in prison have shown long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with pets, many of them experiencing mutual affection for the first time. Stroking, holding, cuddling, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe us when we’re stressed. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and some pets are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost mood.

How pets can help to make healthy lifestyle changes

Adopting healthy lifestyle changes can play an important role in easing symptoms of depression, stress, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and anxiety. Caring for a pet can help with those healthy lifestyle changes by:

  • Increasing exercise. Exercise doesn’t have to involve boring repetition at a gym. Taking a dog for a walk, riding a horse, or simply chasing a kitten around are fun ways to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule.
  • Providing companionship. Isolation and loneliness can make disorders such as depression even worse. Caring for a living animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from your problems. Most pet owners talk to their pets, some even use them to work through their troubles.
  • Helping meet new people. Pets can be a great social lubricant for their owners. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks or in a dog park. Pet owners also meet new people in pet stores, clubs, and training classes.
  • Reducing anxiety. The companionship of a dog can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world.
  • Adding structure and routine to your day. Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. No matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressed—you’ll always have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for your pet.
  • Providing sensory stress relief. Touch and movement are two healthy ways to quickly manage stress. This could involve petting a cat or taking a dog for a walk.

Pets and older adults

The key to aging well is to effectively handle life’s major changes, such as retirement, the loss of loved ones, and the physical changes of aging. Pets can play an important role in healthy aging by:

  • Helping you find meaning and joy in life. As you age, you’ll lose things that previously occupied your time and gave your life purpose. You may retire from your career or your children may move far away. Caring for a pet can bring pleasure and help boost your morale and optimism. Taking care of an animal can also provide a sense of self-worth.
  • Staying connected. Maintaining a social network isn’t always easy as you grow older. Retirement, illness, death, and moves can take away close friends and family members. And making new friends can get harder. Dogs especially are a great way for seniors to spark up conversations and meet new people.
  • Boosting vitality. You can overcome many of the physical challenges associated with aging by taking good care of yourself. Pets encourage playfulness, laughter, and exercise, which can help boost your immune system and increase your energy.

Pets and children

Not only do children who grow up with pets have less risk of allergies and asthma, many also learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy from having pets. Unlike parents, pets are never critical and don’t give orders. They are always loving and their mere presence at home can help provide a sense of security in children. Having an ever-present dog or cat, for example, can help ease separation anxiety in children when mom and dad aren’t around. Studies have also shown that pets can help calm hyperactive or overly aggressive kids. Of course, both the pet and the child need to be trained to behave appropriately with each other.

Children and adults alike can benefit from playing with pets, which can be both a source of calmness and relaxation, as well as a source of stimulation for the brain and body. Playing with a pet can even be a doorway to learning for a child. It can stimulate a child’s imagination and curiosity. The rewards of training a dog to perform a new trick, for example, can teach kids the importance of perseverance. Caring for a furry friend can also offer another benefit to a child: immense joy.

Children with learning and other disorders

Some children with autism or other learning difficulties are better able to interact with pets than people. Autistic children often rely on nonverbal cues to communicate, just as pets do. And learning to first connect with a cat or dog, for example, may even help an autistic child in their interactions with people.

  • Pets can help children with learning disabilities learn how to regulate stress and calm themselves, making them better equipped to overcome the challenges of their disorder.
  • Playing and exercising with a pet can help a child with learning disorders stay alert and attentive throughout the day. It can also be a great antidote to stress and frustration caused by the learning disability.
  • Learning to ride a horse can help elevate the self-esteem of disabled children, putting them on a more equal level with kids without disabilities.

Finding a pet that meets your needs and lifestyle

While people who have pets tend to be happier, more independent, and feel more secure than those without pets, it’s important to select the type of pet that is best for you. You’ll benefit most from having a pet whose needs are compatible with your lifestyle and physical capabilities.

Lifestyle considerations that influence your choice in a pet

  • Little outdoor activity – If most of your time is spent at home, consider pets that would be happy to stay with you in that environment. You may enjoy playing with or cuddling a cat or a bunny; watching fish or reptiles; or talking or singing along with a bird.
  • High activity level – If you’re more active and enjoy daily activities outside of your home, especially walking or running, a dog might be right for you. Canine companions thrive on outdoor exercise, keeping you on the move.
  • Small children and the elderly – Families with small children
    or elderly living in their homes should consider the size and energy level of a pet.
    Puppies and kittens are usually very active, but delicate creatures that must be
    handled with care. Large or rambunctious dogs could accidentally harm or knock over
    a small child or adult who is unsteady on their feet.
  • Other animals in household – Consider the ongoing happiness and ability to adjust of the pets you already have. While your cat or a dog might love to have an animal friend to play with, a pet that has had exclusive access to your attentions may resent sharing you.
  • Home environment – If a neat, tidy home, free of animal hair, occasional muddy footprints and “accidents” is important, then a free-roaming dog or long-haired cat may not be the best choice. You may want to choose pets that are confined to their quarters, such as fish, birds, hamsters, or reptiles.
  • Landscaping concerns – With certain pets, your landscaping will suffer. Many dogs will be tempted to dig holes in your lawn, and dog urine can leave yellow patches—some say unaltered females cause the most damage.
  • Time commitment – Finally, and perhaps most importantly, keep in mind that you’ll be making a commitment that will last the lifetime of the pet – perhaps 10, 15, or 20 years with a dog or cat; as many as 30 years or more with a bird.

Choosing between a dog or a cat

Dogs and cats are the most common household pets. While on occasion, you’ll see someone walking a cat on a leash or a dog that uses a litter box, typically the needs and natural behaviors of dogs and cats are different:

Typical Distinctions Between Dogs and Cats
Characteristic
Cats
Dogs

Indoors or Outdoors

Housecats do enjoy being outdoors sometimes, but can wander off.

Dogs need routine exercise and walks outdoors during the day (even if you have a large, fenced backyard where they can run and go to the bathroom, they will still need a daily walk)

Training

Essential training of cats usually includes using the litter box and not clawing furniture. Cats resist training.

Dogs need much more training than cats. Most dogs enjoy training, because it gives them something to do. They also have an innate desire to please their people.

Personality

If you love serenity and independence mixed with playfulness, a cat is more likely to satisfy you.

If you want to be greeted exuberantly every time you come home, a dog is a better choice.

Sociability

Cats are often content to be left alone (except, of course, when you’d rather they leave you alone).

Dogs thrive on interaction with humans and other dogs.

Typical Distinctions Between Dogs and Cats
Indoors or Outdoors

CATS: Housecats do enjoy being outdoors sometimes, but can wander off.

DOGS: Dogs need routine exercise and walks outdoors during the day (even if you have a large, fenced backyard where they can run and go to the bathroom, they will still need a daily walk)

CATS: Essential training of cats usually includes using the litter box and not clawing furniture. Cats resist training.

DOGS: Dogs need much more training than cats. Most dogs enjoy training, because it gives them something to do. They also have an innate desire to please their people.

CATS: If you love serenity and independence mixed with playfulness, a cat is more likely to satisfy you.

DOGS: If you want to be greeted exuberantly every time you come home, a dog is a better choice.

CATS: Cats are often content to be left alone (except, of course, when you’d rather they leave you alone).

DOGS: Dogs thrive on interaction with humans and other dogs.

Choosing the Right Dog

How to find the perfect canine friend

To learn more, read article

Choosing the Right Cat

How to find the perfect feline friend

To learn more, read article

Owning a pet is not for everyone

Having a pet is not a miracle cure for mental illness. Owning a pet is beneficial and comforting only for those who love and appreciate domestic animals. If you’re simply not a “pet person,” pet ownership is not going to provide you with any therapeutic benefits or improve your life. For other people, owning a pet may simply not be practical. Some of the drawbacks are:

  • Pets cost money. Food bills, veterinary care, licenses, grooming costs, toys, bedding, boarding fees, and other maintenance expenses can mount up. The unemployed or the elderly, on limited fixed incomes, may find it difficult to afford a pet.
  • Pets require time and attention. As any dog owner will tell you, there’s nothing therapeutic about coming home to a dog that has been locked up in the house on his own all day long. Dogs need daily exercise to stay calm and well-balanced; most other pets require at least daily care and attention. Pets can even curb some social activity, as they can only be left alone for a limited time.
  • Pets can be destructive. Any pet can have an occasional accident at home. Some cats may be prone to shredding upholstery, some dogs to chewing shoes. While training can help eradicate negative, destructive behavior, they remain common in animals left alone without exercise or stimulation for long periods of time.
  • Pets require responsibility. Most dogs, regardless of size and breed, are capable of inflicting injury on people if not handled responsibly by their owners. Even cats can scratch or bite. Pet owners need to be alert to any danger, especially around children.
  • Pets carry health risks for some people. While there are some diseases that can be transmitted from cats and dogs to their human handlers, allergies are the most common health risk of pet ownership. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with a pet allergy, carefully consider whether you can live with the symptoms before committing to pet ownership. Also consider that some friends or relatives with allergies may no longer be able to visit your home if you have a pet.

Alternatives to pet ownership

If full-time pet ownership is not right for you—or if you want to give pet ownership a trial run before making a commitment—some animal shelters offer pet “rental” programs. Dogs or cats that are available for adoption can be rented out for walks or play dates. If you already own a pet but travel frequently and miss your furry companion when you’re on the road, some hotels offer similar pet rental services. Guests can borrow a dog for a day to play with or take out on walks.

Animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activities

Animal-assisted therapy involves the use of volunteers’ animals such as horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and fish to interact with patients suffering from disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and a host of developmental disabilities. The animals have been shown to improve mood and reduce anxiety.

Pets can also be used for animal-assisted activities. A variety of different organizations offer specially trained animals to visit people in children’s hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, hospice programs, shelters, and schools. During these visits, people are invited to pet and stroke the animals. Some might groom a dog, hold a rabbit in their lap, or have a cat sit on their bed, for example. Some dogs perform tricks or obedience routines to entertain patients and help take their minds off their problems.

To arrange for pets to visit your facility or to volunteer your pet for animal-assisted therapy or animal-assisted activities, see Finding Therapy Pets in Resources and References section below.

  • Related Articles
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Healthy Aging Tips
Healthy aging is about much more than staying physically healthy—it’s about maintaining your sense of purpose and your zest for life.

Play, Creativity, and Lifelong Learning
Play matters for both kids and adults. It helps us be more inventive, smart, happy, flexible, and resilient.

Easy Exercise Tips
Exercise is just as good for the mind as it is for the body. Even a little regular
exercise can boost your energy and mood and relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.

Dealing with Depression
You can’t beat depression with sheer willpower, but you can make a huge dent with simple lifestyle changes and other coping tips.

Pet Ownership


Choosing the Right Dog
To make sure you find the perfect canine friend, it’s important to choose a dog that best fits with your lifestyle.


Choosing the Right Cat
Learn about the different types of cats and discover which will be your perfect pet.


Coping with Pet Loss
It’s natural to feel grief and sadness when a beloved pet dies. The key to coping is to accept your feelings and embrace the emotions you feel.

Resources References

The therapeutic benefits of pets

Physical Medical Health Benefits of Pets – Describes all the wonderful ways pets can help us live healthier, happier lives. (PetEducation.com; commercial site)

Companion Animals in Care Environments – Series of articles about animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy. (University of Minnesota)

The Healing Power of Pets – Article about how even seriously-ill patients can respond to a cold wet nose and a furry cuddle. (Doc Martin)

The Health Benefits of Pets – Summarizes the results of numerous studies into the therapeutic benefits of pets. (PreciousPets.org)

Can Pets Keep You Healthy? – Explores the bond between human and animal. (National Institutes of Health)

Pets and children

Kids and
Pets – Tips for parents about ensuring a safe and loving relationship
between children and pets, including how to introduce a new pet to a baby. (HomeVet.com,
a Connecticut veterinarian’s website)

Dogs and Children – Article about kids and dogs living under the same roof. Includes some tips for training the dog and the child. (Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief and Rescue)

Exploring the Health Benefits of Pets – How companion animals can help children with autism. (New York Times)

Choosing the right pet

Selecting the Right Pet for Your Family – Points to consider before adopting a pet, and what factors to consider in choosing what type of pet to get. (Lexington Humane Society)

Choosing the Right Pet For You (PDF) – Explains the benefits of dogs, cats, and other bets, as well as tips for determining what type of pet is right for you. (BestFriends.org)

Finding therapy pets

Therapy Dogs – Organization that provides dog/handler teams in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Territories. (TherapyDogs.com)

Delta Society Pet Partners – Provides therapy, service, and companion animals in the United States. (Delta Society)

Therapy Dogs International – Regulates, tests, and registers therapy dogs and their handlers in the United States and Canada. (TDI)

Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated:
December 2012.

Antidepressants: What You Need To Know About Depression Medication

How effective are antidepressants?

Important

This information is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice. If you are taking an antidepressant, do not change your dosage without consulting your physician!

Most mental health experts agree that when depression is severe, medication can be helpful—even life-saving. However, research shows that antidepressants fall short for many people.

A major U.S. government study released in 2006 showed that fewer than 50 percent of people become symptom-free on antidepressants, even after trying two different medications. Furthermore, many who do respond to medication slip back into depression within a short while, despite sticking with drug treatment.

Other studies show that the benefits of depression medication have been exaggerated, with some researchers concluding that, when it comes to mild to moderate depression, antidepressants are only slightly more effective than placebos.

The bottom line

If you have severe depression that’s interfering with your ability to function, medication may be right for you. However, many people use antidepressants when therapy, exercise, or self-help strategies would work just as well or better—minus the side effects.

Therapy and self-help strategies can help you get to the bottom of your underlying issues and develop the tools to beat depression for good. So while drug treatment can be beneficial, it’s by no means the only answer. There are other effective treatment approaches that can be taken in addition to or instead of medications. It’s up to you to evaluate your options and decide what’s best for you.

Is depression caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain?

When it comes to depression, serotonin doesn’t tell the whole story

Experts agree that depression involves much more than just “bad” brain chemistry. Serotonin is just one of many factors that may play a role in the disorder.

New research points to other biological contributors to depression, including inflammation, elevated stress hormones, immune system suppression, abnormal activity in certain parts of the brain, nutritional deficiencies, and shrinking brain cells. And these are just the biological causes of depression.

Social and psychological factors—such as loneliness, lack of exercise, poor diet, and low self-esteem—also play an enormous role in depression.

You’ve seen it in television ads, read it in newspaper articles, maybe even heard it from your doctor: depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that medication can correct. According to the chemical imbalance theory, low levels of the brain chemical serotonin lead to depression and depression medication works by bringing serotonin levels back to normal.

However, the truth is that researchers know very little about how antidepressants work. There is no test that can measure the amount of serotonin in the living brain—no way to even know what a low or normal level of serotonin is, let alone show that depression medication fixes these levels.

While antidepressant drugs such as Prozac increase serotonin levels in the brain, this doesn’t mean that depression is caused by a serotonin shortage. After all, aspirin may cure a headache, but it doesn’t mean that headaches are caused by an aspirin deficiency. Furthermore, many studies contradict the chemical imbalance theory of depression.

Experiments have shown that lowering people’s serotonin levels doesn’t always lower mood, nor does it worsen symptoms in people who are already depressed. And while antidepressants raise serotonin levels within hours, it takes weeks before medication is able to relieve depression. If low serotonin caused depression, there wouldn’t be this antidepressant medication lag.

When it comes to depression, serotonin doesn’t tell the whole story

Experts agree that depression involves much more than just “bad” brain chemistry. Serotonin is just one of many factors that may play a role in the disorder.

New research points to other biological contributors to depression, including inflammation, elevated stress hormones, immune system suppression, abnormal activity in certain parts of the brain, nutritional deficiencies, and shrinking brain cells. And these are just the biological causes of depression.

Social and psychological factors—such as loneliness, lack of exercise, poor diet, and low self-esteem—also play an enormous role in depression.

Side effects of antidepressant medication

There are many different types of drugs used in the treatment of depression, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), atypical antidepressants, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Side effects are common in all antidepressants. For many people, the side effects are serious enough to make them stop taking the medication.

Side effects of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)

The most widely prescribed antidepressants come from a class of medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The SSRIs include well-known antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. Research suggests there is little difference in the effectiveness of these newer antidepressants, but there may be differences in side effects, cost, and how long the medication takes to work.

The SSRIs act on a chemical in the brain called serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate mood, but it also plays a role in digestion, pain, sleep, mental clarity, and other bodily functions. As a result, the SSRI antidepressants cause a wide range of side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Dizziness
  • Weight gain
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Sleepiness or fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Headaches

While some side effects go away after the first few weeks of drug treatment, others persist and may even get worse.

In adults over the age of 65, SSRIs pose an additional concern. Studies show that SSRI medications may increase the risk for falls, fractures, and bone loss in older adults. The SSRIs can also cause serious withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking them abruptly.

Generic vs. Brand-Name Drugs

Generic drugs have the same use, dosage, side effects, risks, safety profile, and potency as the original brand-name drug. The main reason why generic drugs are cheaper than brand-name drugs is that the generic drug manufacturer does not need to recoup huge expenses for developing and marketing a drug. Once the patent for the original drug has expired, other manufacturers can produce the same drug with the same ingredients at a markedly lower cost.

Occasionally, brand-name drugs have different coatings or color dyes to change their appearance. In rare cases, these extra ingredients will make the generic form of the drug less tolerable, so if your condition worsens after switching from a brand-name to a generic drug, consult your doctor. In most cases, however, generic drugs are just as safe and effective as brand-name drugs, and a lot easier on your wallet.

Antidepressant risk factors

Anyone who takes antidepressants can experience unpleasant or dangerous side effects. But certain individuals are at a higher risk:

  • People over 65. Studies show that SSRI medications may increase the risk for falls, fractures, and bone loss in older adults.
  • Pregnant women. The use of SSRI’s late in pregnancy may lead to short-term withdrawal symptoms in newborns after delivery. Typical symptoms include tremor, restlessness, mild respiratory problems, and weak cry.
  • Teens and young adults. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all depression medications to include a warning label about the increased risk of suicide in children and young adults.
  • People who may have Bipolar Disorder.  The treatment for bipolar depression is different than for regular depression. In fact, antidepressants can actually make bipolar disorder worse or trigger a manic episode.

Antidepressant medication and suicide risk

There is a danger that, in some people, antidepressant treatment will cause an increase, rather than a decrease, in depression—and with it, an increased risk of suicide. While this is particularly true of children and young adults on antidepressant medication, anyone taking antidepressants should be closely watched for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The suicide risk is particularly great during the first one to two months of antidepressant treatment.

Monitoring is especially important if this is the person’s first time on depression medication or if the dose has recently been changed. Signs that medication is making things worse include anxiety, insomnia, hostility, and extreme agitation—particularly if the symptoms appear suddenly or rapidly deteriorate. If you spot the warning signs in yourself or a loved one, contact your doctor or therapist immediately.

If you are concerned that a friend or family member is contemplating suicide, see Understanding and Helping a Suicidal Person.

Deciding if depression medication is right for you

If you’re considering antidepressants as a treatment option, make sure you carefully consider all of your treatment options. The following questions may help you make your decision.

Questions to ask yourself and a mental health professional

  • Is my depression severe enough to justify drug treatment?
  • Is medication the best option for treating my depression?
  • Am I willing to tolerate unwanted side effects?
  • What non-drug treatments might help my depression?
  • Do I have the time and motivation to pursue other treatments such as therapy and exercise?
  • What self-help strategies might reduce my depression?
  • If I decide to take medication, should I pursue therapy as well?

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How much mental health care training have you had?
  • Are there any medical conditions that could be causing my depression?
  • What are the side effects and risks of the antidepressant you are recommending?
  • Are there any foods or other substances I will need to avoid?
  • How will this drug interact with other prescriptions I’m taking?
  • How long will I have to take this medication?
  • Will withdrawing from the drug be difficult?
  • Will my depression return when I stop taking medication?

Medication alone is not enough

Remember, antidepressants aren’t a cure. Medication may treat some symptoms of depression, but can’t change underlying contributions to depression in your life. Antidepressants won’t solve your problems if you’re depressed because of a dead-end job, a pessimistic outlook, or an unhealthy relationship. That’s where therapy and other lifestyle changes come in.

Exploring your depression treatment options

It sometimes takes time to find the depression treatment that’s right for you. Don’t be fooled into thinking that antidepressants are the best choice, just because they may be the easiest one.

Studies show that therapy works just as well as antidepressants in treating depression, and it’s better at preventing relapse once treatment ends. While depression medication only helps as long as you’re taking it, the emotional insights and coping skills acquired during therapy can have a more lasting effect on depression. However, if your depression is so severe that you don’t have the energy to pursue treatment, a brief trial of antidepressants may boost your mood to a level where you can focus on therapy.

In addition to therapy, other effective treatments for depression include exercise, meditation, relaxation techniques, stress management, support groups, and self-help steps. While these treatments require more time and effort initially, their advantage over depression medication is that they boost mood without any adverse effects.

Guidelines for taking antidepressants

If you decide to take depression medication, it’s wise to learn all you can about your prescription. The more you know about your antidepressant, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with side effects, avoid dangerous drug interactions, and minimize other safety concerns.

Some suggestions:

  • See a psychiatrist, not a family physician. Your family physician might help you or your loved one first realize that you may need depression treatment. But although any medical doctor can prescribe medications, psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in mental health treatment. They are more likely to be familiar with the newest research on antidepressants and any safety concerns. Your health depends on your doctor’s expertise, so it’s important to choose the physician who is best qualified.
  • Follow instructions. Be sure to take your antidepressant according to the doctor’s instructions. Don’t skip or alter your dose, and don’t stop taking your pills as soon as you begin to feel better. Stopping treatment prematurely is associated with high relapse rates and can cause serious withdrawal symptoms.
  • Monitor side effects. Keep track of any physical and emotional changes you’re experiencing and talk to your doctor about them. Contact your doctor or therapist immediately if your depression gets worse or you experience an increase in suicidal thoughts.
  • Be patient. Finding the right drug and dosage is a trial and error process. It takes approximately 4 to 6 weeks for antidepressant medications to reach their full therapeutic effect. Many people try several medications before finding one that helps.
  • Go to therapy. Medication can reduce the symptoms of depression, but it doesn’t treat the underlying problem. Psychotherapy can help you get to the root of your depression, change negative thinking patterns, and learn new ways of coping.

Antidepressant withdrawal

Once you’ve started taking antidepressants, stopping can be tough. Many people have withdrawal symptoms that make it difficult to get off of the medication.

If you decide to stop taking antidepressants, it’s essential to consult a doctor and taper off slowly.

If you stop abruptly, you may experience a number of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as crying spells, extreme restlessness, dizziness, fatigue, and aches and pains. These withdrawal symptoms are known as “antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.”

Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome is especially common when you stop taking Paxil or Zoloft. Prozac, which has a longer half-life in the body, is the least likely to lead to withdrawal. However, all medications for depression can cause withdrawal symptoms.

Depression and anxiety can be symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal

Depression and anxiety are common symptoms when withdrawing from antidepressants. When depression is a withdrawal symptom, it’s often worse than the original depression that led to drug treatment in the first place. Unfortunately, many people mistake this withdrawal symptom for a return of their depressive illness and resume medication, creating a vicious circle.

Tips for stopping your antidepressants safely

  • Reduce your dose gradually. In order to avoid antidepressant withdrawal symptoms, never stop your medication “cold turkey.” Instead, gradually step down your dose, allowing for at least 1-2 weeks between each dosage reduction.
  • Don’t rush the process. The antidepressant tapering process may take up to several months, and should only be attempted under a doctor’s supervision. Be patient. If, at any time, you experience difficulties, consider spending more time at your current dose before attempting any further reductions.
  • Choose a time to stop that isn’t too stressful. Withdrawing from antidepressants can be difficult, so it’s best to start when you’re not under a lot of stress. If you’re currently going through any major life changes or significantly stressful circumstances, you may want to wait until you’re in a more stable place.

  • Related Articles
  • Resources References

Related Articles

Dealing with Depression – You can’t beat depression with sheer willpower, but you can make a huge dent with simple lifestyle changes and other coping tips.

Types of antidepressants – Learn about the four types, how they work and their side effects

Depression Treatment – Learn about the many effective ways of dealing with depression including therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.

Natural Mental Health Supplements That Work – Learn about herbal supplements and alternative medicines, including those that may help you sleep.

Resources References

General information about depression medication

Antidepressants: Comparing Effectiveness, Safety, Side Effects, and Price (PDF) – Report helps consumers assess whether antidepressants are right for them, and if so, which one. (Consumer Reports)

Psychiatry by Prescription – Article on the growing use of psychotropic medications, including antidepressants, for relatively mild conditions. (Harvard Magazine)

Understanding Antidepressant Medications – Covers types of antidepressants and their effectiveness, side effects, and serious risks. (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)

How antidepressants work

Head Fake – Article on the misguided theory that low serotonin is responsible for depression, and new research that points to the real way antidepressants work. (Boston Globe)

The Anatomy of Mood: Biology and the Brain – Covers new evidence that antidepressants help depression by promoting neurogenesis and brain growth. (The Johns Hopkins Depression and Anxiety Bulletin)

Some Drugs Work to Treat Depression, But It Isn’t Clear How – Reviews the lack of evidence for the chemical imbalance theory of depression. Includes new theories on how antidepressants work. (Wall Street Journal)

Antidepressant side effects and risks

Questions and Answers on Antidepressant Use in Children, Adolescents, and Adults – FDA Public Health Advisory on the increased suicide risk in children and adolescents taking antidepressants. (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)

Sexual Problems and Depression – Learn about the sexual side effects of antidepressants and how to treat the problem. (Cleveland Clinic)

Antidepressant Use Linked to Bone Loss – Covers two Archives of Internal Medicine studies on the connection between SSRI use in adults over 65 and abnormal bone loss. (National Institutes of Health)

Antidepressant treatment guidelines

Antidepressants: Selecting One That’s Right for You – Introduction to the various types of antidepressants and how to find the right one for you. (Mayo Clinic)

Antidepressant withdrawal

Coming Off Antidepressants Can Be Tricky Business – Includes information on how to decide if stopping is the right move and a doctor’s advice on coming off antidepressant medication. (NPR)

Dependence on Antidepressants Halting SSRIs – Advice from a doctor on how to withdraw from SSRI medication without experiencing adverse symptoms. (Benzodiazepine Addiction, Withdrawal Recovery)

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Damon Ramsey, MD. Last updated: December 2012.

Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief: Finding The Relaxation Exercises That Work For You

The relaxation response: bringing your nervous system back into balance

Stress is necessary for life. You need stress for creativity, learning, and your very survival. Stress is only harmful when it becomes overwhelming and interrupts the healthy state of equilibrium that your nervous system needs to remain in balance. Unfortunately, overwhelming stress has become an increasingly common characteristic of contemporary life. When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques can bring it back into a balanced state by producing the relaxation response, a state of deep calmness that is the polar opposite of the stress response.

When stress overwhelms your nervous system your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight”. While the stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly, it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life. The relaxation response puts the brakes on this heightened state of readiness and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium.

Producing the relaxation response

Learn about obstacles to the relaxation response

Watch 3-min. video: Roadblocks to awareness

 

A variety of different relaxation techniques can help you bring your nervous system back into balance by producing the relaxation response. The relaxation response is not lying on the couch or sleeping but a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed, calm, and focused.

Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isn’t difficult, but it does take practice. Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If you’d like to get even more stress relief, aim for 30 minutes to an hour. If that sounds like a daunting commitment, remember that many of these techniques can be incorporated into your existing daily schedule—practiced at your desk over lunch or on the bus during your morning commute.

Finding the relaxation technique that’s best for you

There is no single relaxation technique that is best for everyone. When choosing a relaxation technique, consider your specific needs, preferences, fitness level, and the way you tend to react to stress. The right relaxation technique is the one that resonates with you, fits your lifestyle, and is able to focus your mind and interrupt your everyday thoughts in order to elicit the relaxation response. In many cases, you may find that alternating or combining different techniques will keep you motivated and provide you with the best results.

How you react to stress may influence the relaxation technique that works best for you:

Do you need alone time or social stimulation?

If you crave solitude, solo relaxation techniques such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation will give you the space to quiet your mind and recharge your batteries. If you crave social interaction, a class setting will give you the stimulation and support you’re looking for. Practicing with others may also help you stay motivated.

Relaxation technique 1: Breathing meditation for stress relief

With its focus on full, cleansing breaths, deep breathing is a simple, yet powerful, relaxation technique. It’s easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check. Deep breathing is the cornerstone of many other relaxation practices, too, and can be combined with other relaxing elements such as aromatherapy and music. All you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out.

Practicing deep breathing meditation

The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible in your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel.

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  • Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
  • Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
  • Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.

If you find it difficult breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying on the floor. Put a small book on your stomach, and try to breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale.

Relaxation technique 2: Progressive muscle relaxation for stress relief

Progressive muscle relaxation involves a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body.

With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation gives you an intimate familiarity with what tension—as well as complete relaxation—feels like in different parts of the body. This awareness helps you spot and counteract the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. And as your body relaxes, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for an additional level of stress relief.

Practicing progressive muscle relaxation

Before practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation, consult with your doctor if you have a history of muscle spasms, back problems, or other serious injuries that may be aggravated by tensing muscles.

Most progressive muscle relaxation practitioners start at the feet and work their way up to the face. For a sequence of muscle groups to follow, see the box below.

  • Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
  • Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
  • When you’re relaxed and ready to start, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
  • Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
  • Relax your right foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and the way your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
  • Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
  • When you’re ready, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
  • Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.
  • It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.

Relaxation technique 3: Body scan meditation for stress relief

A body scan is similar to progressive muscle relaxation except, instead of tensing and relaxing muscles, you simply focus on the sensations in each part of your body.

Practicing body scan meditation

  • Lie on your back, legs uncrossed, arms relaxed at your sides, eyes open or closed. Focus on your breathing , allowing your stomach to rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Breathe deeply for about two minutes, until you start to feel comfortable and relaxed.
  • Turn your focus to the toes of your right foot. Notice any sensations you feel while continuing to also focus on your breathing. Imagine each deep breath flowing to your toes. Remain focused on this area for one to two minutes.
  • Move your focus to the sole of your right foot. Tune in to any sensations you feel in that part of your body and imagine each breath flowing from the sole of your foot. After one or two minutes, move your focus to your right ankle and repeat. Move to your calf, knee, thigh, hip, and then repeat the sequence for your left leg. From there, move up the torso, through the lower back and abdomen, the upper back and chest, and the shoulders. Pay close attention to any area of the body that causes you pain or discomfort.
  • Move your focus to the fingers on your right hand and then move up to the wrist,  forearm, elbow, upper arm, and shoulder. Repeat for your left arm. Then move through the neck and throat, and finally all the regions of your face, the back of the head, and the top of the head. Pay close attention to your jaw, chin, lips, tongue, nose, cheeks, eyes, forehead, temples and scalp. When you reach the very top of your head, let your breath reach out beyond your body and imagine yourself hovering above yourself. 
  • After completing the body scan, relax for a while in silence and stillness, noting how your body feels. Then open your eyes slowly. Take a moment to stretch, if necessary.

For a guided body scan meditation, see the Resources section below.

Relaxation technique 4: Mindfulness for stress relief

Mindfulness is the ability to remain aware of how you’re feeling right now, your “moment-to-moment” experience—both internal and external. Thinking about the past—blaming and judging yourself—or worrying about the future can often lead to a degree of stress that is overwhelming. But by staying calm and focused in the present moment, you can bring your nervous system back into balance. Mindfulness can be applied to activities such as walking, exercising, eating, or meditation.

Meditations that cultivate mindfulness have long been used to reduce overwhelming stress. Some of these meditations bring you into the present by focusing your attention on a single repetitive action, such as your breathing, a few repeated words, or flickering light from a candle. Other forms of mindfulness meditation encourage you to follow and then release internal thoughts or sensations.

Practicing mindfulness meditation

Key points in mindfulness mediation are:

  • A quiet environment. Choose a secluded place in your home, office, garden, place of worship, or in the great outdoors where you can relax without distractions or interruptions.
  • A comfortable position. Get comfortable, but avoid lying down as this may lead to you falling asleep. Sit up with your spine straight, either in a chair or on the floor. You can also try a cross-legged or lotus position.
  • A point of focus. This point can be internal – a feeling or imaginary scene – or something external – a flame or meaningful word or phrase that you repeat it throughout your session. You may meditate with eyes open or closed. Also choose to focus on an object in your surroundings to enhance your concentration, or alternately, you can close your eyes.
  • An observant, noncritical attitude. Don’t worry about distracting thoughts that go through your mind or about how well you’re doing. If thoughts intrude during your relaxation session, don’t fight them. Instead, gently turn your attention back to your point of focus.

Relaxation technique 5: Visualization meditation for stress relief

Visualization, or guided imagery, is a variation on traditional meditation that requires you to employ not only your visual sense, but also your sense of taste, touch, smell, and sound. When used as a relaxation technique, visualization involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety.

Choose whatever setting is most calming to you, whether it’s a tropical beach, a favorite childhood spot, or a quiet wooded glen. You can do this visualization exercise on your own in silence, while listening to soothing music, or with a therapist (or an audio recording of a therapist) guiding you through the imagery. To help you employ your sense of hearing you can use a sound machine or download sounds that match your chosen setting—the sound of ocean waves if you’ve chosen a beach, for example.

Practicing visualization

Find a quiet, relaxed place. Beginners sometimes fall asleep during a visualization meditation, so you might try sitting up or standing.

Close your eyes and let your worries drift away. Imagine your restful place. Picture it as vividly as you can—everything you can see, hear, smell, and feel. Visualization works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible, using at least three of your senses. When visualizing, choose imagery that appeals to you; don’t select images because someone else suggests them, or because you think they should be appealing. Let your own images come up and work for you.

If you are thinking about a dock on a quiet lake, for example:

  • Walk slowly around the dock and notice the colors and textures around you.
  • Spend some time exploring each of your senses.
  • See the sun setting over the water.
  • Hear the birds singing.
  • Smell the pine trees.
  • Feel the cool water on your bare feet.
  • Taste the fresh, clean air.

Enjoy the feeling of deep relaxation that envelopes you as you slowly explore your restful place. When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present.

Don’t worry if you sometimes zone out or lose track of where you are during a guided imagery session.  This is normal. You may also experience feelings of stiffness or heaviness in your limbs, minor, involuntary muscle-movements, or even cough or yawn. Again, these are normal responses.

Relaxation technique 6: Yoga and tai chi for stress relief

Yoga involves a series of both moving and stationary poses, combined with deep breathing. As well as reducing anxiety and stress, yoga can also improve flexibility, strength, balance, and stamina. Practiced regularly, it can also strengthen the relaxation response in your daily life. Since injuries can happen when yoga is practiced incorrectly, it’s best to learn by attending group classes, hiring a private teacher, or at least following video instructions.

What type of yoga is best for stress?

Although almost all yoga classes end in a relaxation pose, classes that emphasize slow, steady movement, deep breathing, and gentle stretching are best for stress relief.

  • Satyananda is a traditional form of yoga. It features gentle poses, deep relaxation, and meditation, making it suitable for beginners as well as anyone primarily looking for stress reduction.
  • Hatha yoga is also reasonably gentle way to relieve stress and is suitable for beginners. Alternately, look for labels like gentle, for stress relief, or for beginners when selecting a yoga class.
  • Power yoga, with its intense poses and focus on fitness, is better suited to those looking for stimulation as well as relaxation.

If you’re unsure whether a specific yoga class is appropriate for stress relief, call the studio or ask the teacher.

Tai chi

If you’ve ever seen a group of people in the park slowly moving in synch, you’ve probably witnessed tai chi. Tai chi is a self-paced, non-competitive series of slow, flowing body movements. These movements emphasize concentration, relaxation, and the conscious circulation of vital energy throughout the body. Though tai chi has its roots in martial arts, today it is primarily practiced as a way of calming the mind, conditioning the body, and reducing stress. As in meditation, tai chi practitioners focus on their breathing and keeping their attention in the present moment.

Tai chi is a safe, low-impact option for people of all ages and levels of fitness, including older adults and those recovering from injuries. Like yoga, once you’ve learned the basics of tai chi or qi gong, you can practice alone or with others, tailoring your sessions as you see fit.

Making relaxation techniques a part of your life

The best way to start and maintain a relaxation practice is to incorporate it into your daily routine. Between work, family, school, and other commitments, though, it can be tough for many people to find the time. Fortunately, many of the techniques can be practiced while you’re doing other things.

Rhythmic exercise as a mindfulness relaxation technique

Rhythmic exercise—such as running, walking, rowing, or cycling—is most effective at relieving stress when performed with relaxation in mind. As with meditation, mindfulness requires being fully engaged in the present moment, focusing your mind on how your body feels right now. As you exercise, focus on the physicality of your body’s movement and how your breathing complements that movement. If your mind wanders to other thoughts, gently return to focusing on your breathing and movement.

If walking or running, for example, focus on each step—the sensation of your feet touching the ground, the rhythm of your breath while moving, and the feeling of the wind against your face.

Tips for fitting relaxation techniques into your life

  • If possible, schedule a set time to practice each day. Set aside one or two periods each day. You may find that it’s easier to stick with your practice if you do it first thing in the morning, before other tasks and responsibilities get in the way.
  • Practice relaxation techniques while you’re doing other things. Meditate while commuting to work on a bus or train, or waiting for a dentist appointment. Try deep breathing while you’re doing housework or mowing the lawn. Mindfulness walking can be done while exercising your dog, walking to your car, or climbing the stairs at work instead of using the elevator. Once you’ve learned techniques such as tai chi, you can practice them in your office or in the park at lunchtime.
  • If you exercise, improve the relaxation benefits by adopting mindfulness. Instead of zoning out or staring at a TV as you exercise, try focusing your attention on your body. If you’re resistance training, for example, focus on coordinating your breathing with your movements and pay attention to how your body feels as you raise and lower the weights.
  • Avoid practicing when you’re sleepy. These techniques can relax you so much that they can make you very sleepy, especially if it’s close to bedtime. You will get the most benefit if you practice when you’re fully awake and alert. Do not practice after eating a heavy meal or while using drugs, tobacco, or alcohol.
  • Expect ups and downs. Don’t be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum.

  • Related Articles
  • Resources References

Related Articles

How to Practice Yoga and Tai Chi – Learning the basics of yoga and tai chi is straightforward, but maximizing the stress-relieving benefits requires regular practice.

Stress Management – Manage stress by learning how to take charge of your thoughts, emotions, environment, and the way you deal with problems.

Quick Stress Relief – Your own stress responses and learn how to quickly and effectively reduce stress in the middle of any challenging situation.

How to Stop Worrying – You can break the habit of chronic worrying by training your brain to stay calm and overcome persistent doubts and fears.

Mindfulness: The Key to Better Mental Physical Health? – Learn why focusing your attention on the present moment, without judgment, reduces anxiety.

Creating Your Personal Exercise Plan – Learn how to design a well–rounded exercise program that fits your lifestyle and lowers your risk of serious health problems.

Free Toolkit Program


If you have been battling stress for a long time and already devote time to
exercise and relaxation, you might want to take advantage of Helpguide’s free 
Bring Your Life Into Balance mindfulness toolkit.
This toolkit teaches skills for managing overwhelming stress and emotions.

Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Robert Segal, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A. Last updated: January 2013.

ADD/ADHD Parenting Tips: Helping Children with Attention Deficit Disorder

Helping your child with ADD/ADHD: What you need to know

Children with ADD/ADHD generally have deficits in executive function: the ability to think and plan ahead, organize, control impulses, and complete tasks. That means you need to take over as the executive, providing extra guidance while your child gradually acquires executive skills of his or her own.

Although the symptoms of ADD/ADHD can be nothing short of exasperating, it’s important to remember that the child with ADD/ADHD who is ignoring, annoying, or embarrassing you is not acting willfully. Kids with ADD/ADHD want to sit quietly; they want to make their rooms tidy and organized; they want to do everything their parent says to do—but they don’t know how to make these things happen.

Having ADD/ADHD can be just as frustrating as dealing with someone who has it. If you keep this in mind, it will be a lot easier to respond to you child in positive, supportive ways. With patience, compassion, and plenty of support, you can manage childhood ADHD while enjoying a stable, happy home.

ADD/ADHD and the family

Before you can successfully parent a child with ADD/ADHD, it’s essential to understand the impact of your child’s symptoms on the family as a whole. Children with ADD/ADHD exhibit a slew of behaviors that can disrupt family life:

  • They often don’t “hear” parental instructions, so they don’t obey them.
  • They’re disorganized and easily distracted, keeping other family members waiting.
  • They start projects and forget to finish them — let alone clean up after them.
  • Children with impulsivity issues often interrupt conversations and demand attention at inappropriate times.
  • They might speak before they think, saying tactless or embarrassing things.
  • It’s often difficult to get them to bed and to sleep.
  • Hyperactive children may tear around the house or even do things that put them in physical danger.

The impact of ADD/ADHD on siblings

Because of these behaviors, siblings of children with ADD/ADHD face a number of challenges:

  • Their needs often get less attention than those of the child with ADD/ADHD.
  • They may be rebuked more sharply when they err, and their successes may be less celebrated or taken for granted.
  • They may be enlisted as assistant parents — and blamed if the sibling with ADD/ADHD misbehaves under their supervision.
  • As a result, siblings may find their love for a brother or sister with ADD/ADHD mixed with jealousy and resentment.

The impact of ADD/ADHD on parents

And, of course, having a child with ADD/ADHD affects parents in many ways:

  • The demands of a child with ADD/ADHD can be physically exhausting.
  • The need to monitor the child’s activities and actions can be psychologically exhausting.
  • The child’s inability to “listen” is frustrating.
  • The child’s behaviors, and your knowledge of their consequences, can make you anxious and stressed.
  • If there’s a basic difference between your personality and that of your child with ADD/ADHD, you may find your child’s behaviors especially difficult to accept.
  • Frustration can lead to anger — and guilt about being angry at your child.

In order to meet the challenges of raising a child with ADD/ADHD, you must to be able to master a combination of compassion and consistency. Living in a home that provides both love and structure is the best thing for a child or teenager who is learning to manage ADD/ADHD.

ADD/ADHD parenting tip 1: Stay positive and healthy yourself

As a parent, you set the stage for your child’s emotional and physical health.  You have control over many of the factors that can positively influence the symptoms of your child’s disorder.

The power of a positive attitude

Your best assets for helping your child meet the challenges of ADD/ADHD are your positive attitude and common sense. When you are calm and focused, you are more likely to be able to connect with your child, helping him or her to be calm and focused as well.

  • Keep things in perspective. Remember that your child’s behavior is related to a disorder. Most of the time it is not intentional. Hold on to your sense of humor. What’s embarrassing today may be a funny family story ten years from now.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff and be willing to make some compromises. One
    chore left undone isn’t a big deal when your child has completed two others
    plus the day’s homework. If you are a perfectionist, you will not only be
    constantly dissatisfied but also create impossible expectations for your ADD/ADHD
    child.
  • Believe in your child. Think about or make a written list of everything that is positive, valuable, and unique about your child. Trust that your child can learn, change, mature, and succeed. Make thinking about this trust a daily task as you brush your teeth or make your coffee.

When you take care of yourself, you’re better able to take care of your child

As your child’s role model and most important source of strength, it is vital
that you live healthfully. If you are overtired or have simply run out of patience,
you risk losing sight of the structure and support you have so carefully set up for
your child with ADD/ADHD.

  • Take care of yourself. Eat right, exercise, and find ways to reduce stress, whether it means taking a nightly bath or practicing morning meditation. If you do get sick, acknowledge it and get help.
  • Seek support. One of the most important things to remember in rearing a child with ADD/ADHD is that you don’t have to do it alone. Talk to your child’s doctors, therapists, and teachers. Join an organized support group for parents of children with ADHD.  These groups offer a forum for giving and receiving advice, and provide a safe place to vent feelings and share experiences.
  • Take breaks. Friends and family can be wonderful about offering to babysit, but you may feel guilty about leaving your child, or leaving the volunteer with a child with ADD/ADHD. Next time, accept their offer and discuss honestly how best to handle your child.

How pets can help kids with ADHD (and their parents)

If your home life feels chaotic, you may be reluctant to add a pet to the mix. But pets come with a host of benefits for you and your child. They can help teach your kid responsibility and get him or her outside. They can also inject some much-needed fun and help the whole family blow off steam. In fact, studies show that pets can protect you from depression, stress, and even medical problems.

Read: The Therapeutic Benefits of Pets

ADD/ADHD parenting tip 2: Establish structure and stick to it

Children with ADHD are more likely to succeed in completing tasks when the tasks occur in predictable patterns and in predictable places. Your job is to create and sustain structure in your home, so that your child knows what to expect and what they are expected to do.

Tip for helping your child with ADD/ADHD stay focused and organized

  • Follow a routine. It is important to set a time and a place for everything to help the child with ADD/ADHD understand and meet expectations. Establish simple and predictable rituals for meals, homework, play, and bed. Have your child lay out clothes for the next morning before going to bed, and make sure whatever he or she needs to take to school is in a special place, ready to grab.
  • Use clocks and timers. Consider placing clocks throughout the house, with a big one in your child’s bedroom. Allow enough time for what your child needs to do, such as homework or getting ready in the morning.  Use a timer for homework or transitional times, such between finishing up play and getting ready for bed.
  • Simplify your child’s schedule. It is good to avoid idle time, but a child with ADHD may become more distracted and “wound up” if there are many after-school activities. You may need to make adjustments to the child’s after-school commitments based on the individual child’s abilities and the demands of particular activities.
  • Create a quiet place.  Make sure your child has a quiet, private space of his or her own. A porch or a bedroom work well too, as long as it’s not the same place as the child goes for a time-out.
  • Do your best to be neat and organized. Set up your home in an organized way.  Make sure your child knows that everything has its place. Role model neatness and organization as much as possible.

Avoid problems by keeping kids with attention deficit disorder busy!

For kids with ADD/ADHD, idle time may exacerbate their symptoms and create chaos in your home. It is important to keep a child with ADD/ADHD busy without piling on so many things that the child becomes overwhelmed.

Sign your child up for a sport, art class, or music. At home, organize simple activities that fill up your child’s time. These can be tasks like helping you cook, playing a board game with a sibling, or drawing a picture. Try not to over-rely on the television or computer/video games as time-fillers. Unfortunately, TV and video games are increasingly violent in nature and may only increase your child’s symptoms of ADD/ADHD.

ADD/ADHD parenting tip 3: Set clear expectations and rules

Children with ADHD need consistent rules that they can understand and follow. Make the rules of behavior for the family simple and clear. Write down the rules and hang them up in a place where your child can easily read them.

Children with ADD/ADHD respond particularly well to organized systems of rewards and consequences. It’s important to explain what will happen when the rules are obeyed and when they are broken. Finally, stick to your system: follow through each and every time with a reward or a consequence.

Don’t forget praise and positive reinforcement

As you establish these consistent structures, keep in mind that children with ADHD often receive criticism. Be on the lookout for good behavior—and praise it. Praise is especially important for children who have ADD/ADHD because they typically get so little of it. These children receive correction, remediation, and complaints about their behavior—but little positive reinforcement.

A smile, positive comment, or other reward from you can improve the attention, concentration and impulse control of your child with ADD/ADHD. Do your best to focus on giving positive praise for appropriate behavior and task completion, while giving as few negative responses as possible to inappropriate behavior or poor task performance. Reward your child for small achievements that you might take for granted in another child.

Kids with ADD/ADHD: Using Rewards and Consequences

Rewards

Consequences

Reward your child with privileges, praise, or activities, rather than with food or toys.

Consequences should be spelled out in advance and occur immediately after your child has misbehaved.

Change rewards frequently. Kids with ADD/ADHD get bored if the reward is always the same.

Try time-outs and the removal of privileges as consequences for misbehavior.

Make a chart with points or stars awarded for good behavior, so your child
has a visual reminder of his or her successes.

Remove your child from situations and environments that trigger inappropriate behavior.

Immediate rewards work better than the promise of a future reward, but small rewards leading to a big one can also work.

When your child misbehaves, ask what he or she could have done instead. Then have your child demonstrate it.

Always follow through with a reward.

Always follow through with a consequence.

ADD/ADHD parenting tip 4: Encourage movement and sleep

Physical activity can help your child with ADD/ADHD

Children with ADD/ADHD often have energy to burn. Organized sports and other physical activities can help them get their energy out in healthy ways and focus their attention on specific movements and skills.

The benefits of physical activity are endless: it improves concentration, decreases depression and anxiety, and promotes brain growth. Most importantly for children with attention deficits, however, is the fact that exercise leads to better sleep, which in turn can also reduce the symptoms of ADD/ADHD.

Find a sport that your child will enjoy and that suits his or her strengths. For example, sports such as softball that involve a lot of “down time” are not the best fit for children with attention problems. Individual or team sports like basketball and hockey that require constant motion are better options.

Children with ADD/ADHD may also benefit from martial arts training, tae kwon do, or yoga, which enhance mental control as they work out the body.

Better sleep can help your child with ADD/ADHD

Insufficient sleep can make anyone less attentive, but it can be highly detrimental for children with ADD/ADHD. Kids with ADD/ADHD need at least as much sleep as their unaffected peers, but tend not to get what they need. Their attention problems can lead to overstimulation and trouble falling asleep. A consistent, early bedtime is the most helpful strategy to combat this problem, but it may not completely solve it.

Help your child get better rest by trying out one or more of the following strategies:

  • Decrease television time and increase your child’s activities and exercise levels during the day.
  • Eliminate caffeine from your child’s diet.
  • Create a buffer time to lower down the activity level for an hour or so before bedtime. Find quieter activities such as coloring, reading or playing quietly.
  • Spend ten minutes cuddling with your child. This will build a sense of love and security as well as provide a time to calm down.
  • Use lavender or other aromas in your child’s room. The scent may help to calm your child.
  • Use relaxation tapes as background noise for your child when falling asleep. There are many varieties available including nature sounds and calming music. Children with ADD/ADHD often find “white noise” to be calming. You can create white noise by putting a radio on static or running an electric fan.

The benefits of “green time” in kids with attention deficit disorder

Research shows that children with ADD/ADHD benefit from spending time in nature. Kids experience a greater reduction of symptoms of ADD/ADHD when they play in a park full of grass and trees than on a concrete playground. Take note of this promising and simple approach to managing ADD/ADHD. Even in cities, most families have access to parks and other natural settings. Join your children in this “green time”—you’ll also get a much-deserved breath of fresh air for yourself.

ADD/ADHD parenting tip 5: Help your child eat right

Diet is not a direct cause of attention deficit disorder, but food can and does affect your child’s mental state, which in turn seems to affect behavior. Monitoring and modifying what, when, and how much your child eats can help decrease the symptoms of ADD/ADHD.

All children benefit from fresh foods, regular meal times, and staying away from junk food. These tenets are especially true for children with ADD/ADHD, whose impulsiveness and distractedness can lead to missed meals, disordered eating, and overeating.

Eating small meals more often may help your child’s ADD/ADHD

Children with ADD/ADHD are notorious for not eating regularly. Without parental guidance, these children might not eat for hours and then binge on whatever is around. The result of this pattern can be devastating to the child’s physical and emotional health.

Prevent unhealthy eating habits by scheduling regular nutritious meals or snacks for your child no more than three hours apart. Physically, a child with ADD/ADHD needs a regular intake of healthy food; mentally, meal times are a necessary break and a scheduled rhythm to the day.

  • Get rid of the junk foods in your home.
  • Put fatty and sugary foods off-limits when eating out.
  • Turn off television shows riddled with junk-food ads.
  • Give your child a daily vitamin-and-mineral supplement.

To learn more, see Nutrition for Children and Teens.

ADD/ADHD parenting tip 6: Teach your child how to make friends

Children with ADD/ADHD often have difficulty with simple social interactions. They may struggle with reading social cues, talk too much, interrupt frequently, or come off as aggressive or “too intense.” Their relative emotional immaturity can make them stand out among children their own age, and make them targets for unfriendly teasing.

Don’t forget, though, that many kids with ADD/ADHD are exceptionally intelligent and creative and will eventually figure out for themselves how to get along with others and spot people who aren’t appropriate as friends. Moreover, personality traits that might exasperate parents and teachers may come across to peers as funny and charming.

Helping a child with attention deficit disorder improve social skills

It’s hard for children with ADHD to learn social skills and social rules. You can help your child with ADD/ADHD become a better listener, learn to read people’s faces and body language, and interact more smoothly in groups.

  • Speak gently but honestly with your child about his or her challenges and how to make changes.
  • Role-play various social scenarios with your child. Trade roles often and try to make it fun.
  • Be careful to select playmates for your child with similar language and physical skills.
  • Invite only one or two friends at a time at first. Watch them closely while they play.
  • Have a zero tolerance policy for hitting, pushing and yelling in your house or yard.
  • Make time and space for your child to play, and reward good play behaviors often. 

  • Related Articles
  • Resources References

Related Articles

ADD / ADHD in Children – If you suspect your child has ADD/ADHD, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms and get the right help for your child.

ADD / ADHD School – By creating an effective plan to overcome the obstacles of attention deficit disorder, your child with ADD/ADHD can thrive in the classroom.

ADD / ADHD Treatment and Help There are many safe and effective treatments that can help improve the symptoms of ADD, boost your job performance, and improve your organizational and relationship skills.

ADD / ADHD Tests and DiagnosisADD/ADHD looks different in every person, so there are many different diagnostic tests to help determine if your symptoms really point to attention deficit disorder.

ADD / ADHD Medications Medication can help reduce symptoms of ADD but there are side effects and other treatment options you also need to know about.

Free Toolkit Program

Children with ADD/ADHD or learning disabilities are especially vulnerable to stress and emotional overload, making it more difficult for them to function. Parents who know how to manage overwhelming stress and emotions on a daily basis are better able to help themselves and their children cope with the challenges they face. Helpguide’s free Bring Your Life Into Balance toolkit teaches these needed skills.

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated:
November 2012.

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