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Arleen Fitzgerald

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Contributing Experts

Arleen Fitzgerald, L.I.C.S.W.

Behavioral Health

Take a breath – a deep one

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Dec. 18, 2012

So, are you sitting down?

No, it's not bad news. There's just something you should try: deep breathing. It doesn't take long – and it's a great way to de-stress.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Sit or lie down.
  2. Slowly count to four while you breathe in through your nose. Hold your breath for a second.
  3. Count to four again, this time while breathing out slowly through your mouth.
  4. Repeat a few times.

Did you know: It sounds simple, but there's something complex at work. Deep breathing actually changes the chemical balance in your brain to help you calm down.

Best wishes for a happy holidays to everyone.

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Joyful holidays: Spend – and stress – less!

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Dec. 4, 2012

It's the holiday season, and many of us are feeling it: the pressure to spend money we don't have.

Worries about finances are a common cause of stress, particularly this time of year. And, they can definitely put a damper on holiday happiness.

Of course, there's the other side of the coin, too. Some of us get so carried away with all the merriment that we don't realize just how much we're spending. That is, until the bills – and the stress – come rolling in.

Help protect your peace of mind – and your pocketbook – with these tips for a joyful, budget-friendly season:

Reflect for a bit

What do the holidays mean to you? For some, it's about connecting with family and friends. For others, it's a time for spiritual reflection or worship. Think about what matters most to you. You may realize that you need to shift your mindset from the mall to the more meaningful.

Get real about your budget

Now that you've put things in perspective, sit down and set a realistic budget. If you have children, you might talk with them about their expectations for gifts. And, then you can consider what's manageable.

Depending on the age of your kids, this can also be an opportunity for a chat about responsible spending. Try to keep these conversations upbeat - so children don't become anxious about family finances.

And, focus on inexpensive ways to enjoy the season together. You might stroll your neighborhood to see the festive lights. Or, bake cookies for a local senior center. This can help children understand that the holidays aren't about expensive gifts or piles of presents.

Change up your exchange

Worried others will think you're a Scrooge if you scale back this season? Suggest a low-cost or homemade gift exchange to friends and family. Others may love the idea, too!

Or, here's another twist:

Rather than exchanging gifts, how about serving dinner at a local shelter or collecting gifts for needy families? Volunteering together can be a great way to bond, help others and boost everyone's holiday spirits.

Think outside the gift box

Here's a fun and affordable idea for those on your list: Give the gift of time - your time - with redeemable coupons. Make them thoughtful and person-specific. For example:

  • A best buddy may be delighted with help on a room-painting project. You might attach the coupon to a color swatch or paintbrush.
  • Your brother or sister may love an offer of childcare for a weekend away.
  • Your spouse might get a kick out of receiving coupons for a back rub a month.

Remember: If you go this route, it's not just the thought that counts. Be sure to follow through on your gift.

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Be grateful, be happy

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Nov. 20, 2012

"Count your blessings." So say philosophers, from ancient Romans to modern-day grandmothers. As it turns out, that's pretty good advice.

Researchers have found that focusing on what we're thankful for can increase our sense of well-being and happiness. And, the benefits may go beyond our emotional health. For example, people who make a habit of writing down what they're grateful for report fewer physical complaints than others.

Make gratitude your attitude

It's simple – and free – to reap the benefits of being thankful. Keeping a gratitude journal is a popular way to begin. Some people choose a handwritten journal – while others might note their thoughts on a computer or smartphone. Here are a few tips to grow a more grateful attitude:

Have a nose for good news. How about letting your senses be your guide? Every day, list one thing about each of your five senses that made you happy.

For example:

  • Sight: the stack of clean laundry your partner folded
  • Smell: the scent of freshly cut grass
  • Hearing: the hum of a well-tuned car engine
  • Taste: your first sip of morning coffee
  • Touch: cool sheets on a muggy night

The art of the "thank you." Telling people you appreciate them is another way to practice gratitude. Plus, it's a wonderful win-win - nice for you and the recipient. So, thank your dad for teaching you to score a baseball game. Let a colleague know that his or her help on a project really made a difference. Thank your spouse or partner for a recent compliment or kind gesture. Write a quick thank-you note to a caring friend or good neighbor. You will probably be surprised at how meaningful a written thank you note can have today.

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Stress Rx: Clear the clutter – and your mind

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Nov. 6, 2012

Do you have to find your dining room table before you can eat on it? Is your desk overflowing with unopened bills, inkless pens and unfiled paperwork?

Do you have piles of magazines or unfinished projects that are older than your kindergartner?

If so, you likely have a problem with clutter.

At some point, most of us have let things pile up. But, if the space around you is habitually untidy, it can multiply your stress. For one, it can weigh on you and feel overwhelming. Where do I even start with this mess? And, the disarray can make simple tasks, such as setting the table or finding your keys, take longer than they need to.

Ready for a cleaner slate? Give these four clutter-busting strategies a try:

  • Narrow your focus. Take on one space at a time - a single room, cupboard or drawer. Work on it until it's nice and tidy.
  • Settle on systems. You might designate places for everyday items such as keys and glasses. And, make color-coded files for bills and other paperwork.
  • Use a little tough love. Look at objects in your living space. Ask yourself: Do I love this or use it regularly? Be honest. If the answer is no, it may be time to let it go. Consider donating or selling items that can't be recycled or thrown away.
  • Make it a habit. To begin with, you may need to schedule organizing sessions that last an hour or longer to get areas in order. Or, you might designate a weekend to make major progress. After that, try setting aside 15 minutes a day to keep clutter in check.

For example, here's a stick-with-it tip: Go through your mail daily – maybe even as soon as you bring it in. Decide to act on it, file it, trash it or recycle it.

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7 stay-slim tips for social events

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Oct. 24, 2012

Wherever groups gather, it's likely you'll find tempting food. Social eating is part of the fabric of life. But, if you're not careful, get-togethers can strain other fabric - such as that around your waistline.

This doesn't mean you need to stay home to stay healthy. For starters, before your next gathering, try adjusting your mindset a bit. How exactly? Make your first priority to enjoy the company. Your mantra can be: Friends over food!

Here are a few other ideas to curb overeating – without making it a big deal or spoiling the fun:

Scenario: You're out to dinner with friends

  1. Don't get swept up by what others order. If you're familiar with the restaurant, decide ahead of time on a healthful option or two. Or, preview the menu online, if possible.
  2. Savor the moment. When your food comes, try to be the last person to start eating – and take your time. To avoid overeating, consider asking for half your meal pre-packaged to go before you take your first bite.
  3. Cut liquid calories. Sip low- or no-cal beverages, such as club soda. Keep in mind that drinks with alcohol can have a lot of calories. You might even offer to be a designated driver.

Scenario: You're facing a bountiful buffet or party spread

  1. Scout it out. Before dishing up, scout out what's available. Look for tasty, wholesome options that will leave you feeling satisfied. Only take what you truly want, not just because it's available. Keep in mind there will be another buffet in your lifetime.
  2. Ditch the dinner plate. Choose a smaller one, if available, to help limit portions. If a large plate is the only option, reserve at least half of it for fruits and veggies. And, so you won't feel deprived: Select small portions of higher-calorie favorites.

Scenario: It's a potluck or family gathering

  1. Deliver the goods. Tip the scales in your favor by making sure the dishes you bring are healthful contributions - and by eating what you bring!
  2. Celebrate what's special. Maybe your mom's made her signature meatballs. Or, a certain dish is a seasonal delight. Enjoy small, but satisfying, portions of these "love it, can't resist it" items. And, pass on high-calorie foods that are regularly available – and just not as fabulous.
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Overscheduled kids: Is your child too busy?

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Oct. 4, 2012

Lessons. Clubs. Sports. Add school and homework into the mix. Stir in haphazard meals on the go – and lack of sleep – and... voilą!

You have a classic recipe for one overscheduled, burned-out kid.

Of course, some kids cope well when there's a lot going on. But, others struggle. An overflowing plate can take a toll on anyone's well-being – whether you're 7 years old, 17 or 47! It can lead to anxiety, depression, fatigue, and frequent headaches and stomachaches. Even if your child does well with a full schedule, it is important for them to have down time and learn to be comfortable being alone.

Easing up

Do you think your child is doing too much? Here are some tips on taking a look at activities – and striking a healthier balance:

  • Prioritize. Most parents agree: School should come first. But, remember that kids need family time, physical activity, rest and downtime, too. If extra activities lead to your child skimping on schoolwork or losing out on sleep, it's time to reevaluate priorities.
  • Focus on the fit. What extracurricular pursuits suit your child best? Consider the child's age, temperament, interests and abilities. Also, ask yourself: Is this something my child really wants – or is there pressure to participate? Make sure it is the child's interest that is driving the activities and not ones you missed out on during your childhood.
  • Talk it through. Discuss with kids how to select and prioritize activities - and why a schedule that's not overly demanding is best. Listen thoughtfully to their wishes, and share yours, too. These conversations may help kids learn important lessons in goals, compromise and life balance. For younger children, you may need to make the call to ease up on activities – or to avoid adding new ones for now.

Of course, there's no single formula for balance. But, taking cues from your child, talking about it and using your judgment may help prevent one stressed-out kiddo.

And, finally, consider your own schedule, as well. Try to be a good role model in how you spend your time.

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Does your health have you worried sick?

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Sept. 16, 2012

It's natural – and often good – to be concerned about your health. Wanting to stay well may motivate you to take care of yourself, for example. And, concern may be what sends you to your doctor regularly and as needed.

But, sometimes, concern turns into worry. And, worry can become overwhelming – and harmful.

Maybe you agonize over every new symptom, convinced something is seriously wrong. And, as your anxiety rises, so might your heart rate and blood pressure. A headache, muscle tension or an upset stomach may follow. And, in turn, you feel worse – and more worried.

A worry-less action plan

If fretting over health matters is taking a toll on your well-being, here are a few positive steps to help ease your mind:

  • Take charge of your health care. Start by seeing your doctor. A checkup can give you a more accurate picture of your health. Ask about a checkup and screening schedule that's right for you. A proactive approach to your wellness may help lessen your anxiety.
  • Learn from the past. The next time a health worry crops up, think of times you've gotten upset before – when it turned out to be nothing or something minor. Then, remind yourself that you don't need to assume the worst now.
  • Make a date with your fears. Try setting aside a specific time each day to think about what's bothering you. Write down your worries. Maybe even picture yourself confronting them.
  • Let's say you've chosen 15 minutes in the evening. If you start to worry at other times, remind yourself of your set time. This I'll-worry-later approach might be difficult at first. But, with practice it may help you avoid dwelling on things.
  • Feel empowered. Rather than think your body will fail you, give it some credit – and a boost. Be active, eat healthfully and get adequate rest. Positive lifestyle habits can ease anxiety – and help you feel healthy and strong.

Of course, none of this is to say you should dismiss signs of illness. It's always best to talk with your doctor when you have questions or concerns.

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4 ways to feel closer when you're parenting from afar

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Sept. 5, 2012

When miles separate you and your child, it can be tough on you both. And, whether you're separated by 100 or 1,000 miles, you may struggle to feel connected.

Of course, as the parent, it's your job to make those important connections - to be there for your child. It takes effort. But, oh, the rewards! Finding ways to feel closer can bring joy and comfort to your child – and to you.

We are family!

Bridge the miles with these positive ways to stay connected:

  1. Call, write, text, repeat. Stay in touch with frequent telephone calls, emails and text messages. If possible, set up a regular time for calls. You might even enjoy some sweet face-to-face time using online chat technology, such as Skype™.

    And, don't underestimate the delight that old-fashioned mail can deliver. Your child can hold on to a letter or card and read it over and over. You might include recent photos and other keepsakes, too.
  2. Do things together – despite the distance. Depending on your child's age, maybe you can watch the same show on deep-sea life, root for a favorite sports team or read a mystery book series. Follow up with calls to talk about your shared interests or activities.
  3. Tune in to your child's daily life. Who are your child's best friends? What's going on at school this week? Try to engage your child in conversations that help you make connections. Maybe there's a big math test on Tuesday. Wish your child well beforehand – then check back to see how it went. You may need to be proactive to stay in the loop. For example, maybe that's checking in regularly with your child's caregivers and teachers.
  4. Keep promises. Follow through if you say you'll call at 7 p.m. or visit on Saturday. If something unavoidable comes up, break the news gently – and as soon as possible.

And, do visit or see your child whenever it's possible. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. But, time together is better.

The bottom line: What's important is that children feel loved and valued – even from a distance.

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