Q: I yelled at my sister yesterday and can’t even remember why. My husband started treatment for A fib; my daughter wants to drop out of college; one car is in the shop; and a week after the warranty expired, the water heater died. Now I can’t find the dog, and I don’t think I care. I’m really off my game. Any suggestions?
Joan E., Gaithersburg, Maryland
A: We’re sorry things are piling up right now, but you can’t ever completely eliminate times of stress, disappointment and family concerns. What you can do is build up the resources INSIDE yourself to handle those challenges so they don’t throw you off balance.
Fortunately, taking steps to find your balance can be rewarding! By eating good food, spending time with friends, doing what’s important to you and helping others, you’ll find yourself growing stronger, calmer and more able to handle whatever life dishes up.
We’ll look in detail at what we’re calling the Blueprint for Balance over the coming weeks, but here are three simple ways to get started:
Fuel up to calm down: To stimulate your calming neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and GABA, try adding kefir, kimchi, oolong tea, pumpkin seeds, edamame and nori (seaweed) to your diet.
Dispel stress: Nothing tames the stress hormones — cortisol, epinephrine — like moderate physical activity. Take time for yourself by walking 10,000 steps a day. Find the dog, and head out together on your new walking routine. The walks will help you sleep better, lower your blood pressure, improve your mental focus and build resilience. You also can help dispel cortisol by eating spinach, beans, walnuts (12 halves daily), citrus and dark chocolate (1 ounce a day).
Think about others: Studies show that altruism reduces stress and eases depression. Volunteer (maybe with your hubby) at a local community center or charity; reach out to family, neighbors and those in need. You can help yourself by helping others.
Q: I want to keep my kids away from drugs without being a helicopter parent. There’s so much dangerous stuff out there -- synthetic marijuana, heroin is making a comeback — it terrifies me! What’s your advice? — Mariam R., Albany, New York
A: It’s clear that you’re a mom who actively cares about her kids. So take heart -- you probably are already helping them resist peer pressure and feel good about themselves so they avoid self-destructive choices.
This brings to mind studies from the 1960s and ’70s that showed that when rats were given two choices -- water with and without cocaine — they opted for the cocaine. In the ’70s, Canadian psychologist and professor Dr. Bruce Alexander noticed that these rats were isolated and caged. He decided to build Rat Park, an environment in which rats had space to run around, social interaction with other rats and playthings to keep them happy. He also installed two choices of water” one with and one without drugs. The result? In Rat Park, the happy, socialized rats consumed far less of the drugs than isolated rats did. The study suggests that for many rats — and humans, too — a supportive society, teaming up with a buddy for example, may make drugs easier to resist. You see that at work in 12-step, peer-to-peer programs.
So listen to your kids, let them know you value their input and talk to them about how dangerous drugs are. Plan family dinners and adventures. Get to know your kids’ friends. Studies have shown that in the short term, that’s an effective way to reduce teens’ risk for drug use.
We also know a lot more about the brain today than we did in the ’70s, and have learned that biological factors as well as the environment influence any person’s decision to try (and retry) or not try a drug. That’s why it’s important to get health-care professionals involved in diagnosis and treatment at the first signs of risky behavior or experimentation.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.