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Arleen Fitzgerald

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Contributing Experts

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

Behavioral Health

Moving time: 3 ways to stay grounded

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – March 19, 2013

We're moving! Whether cross-country or just to the other side of town, relocating can be an exciting time. It's an opportunity to start fresh. But, of course, getting there can also be a challenge.

Moving without mayhem calls for an organized approach and – perhaps more importantly – a positive outlook. Here are three strategies to help any move go more smoothly:

1. Scout the new locale

Do you feel uneasy about all the unknowns ahead? If possible, visit your soon-to-be home – local places and attractions – before your move. For example, depending on your family's needs and interests, you might check out:

  • Schools and places of worship
  • Recreational areas, playgrounds and dog parks
  • Shopping areas and restaurants
  • Museums and well-known landmarks

Even from your current location, you can learn a lot about your destination. Visit the official website of your adopted city or state. Or, read your new town's newspaper – look for it online.

Web-based satellite maps can even let you zoom in for a bird's-eye view. You can find your new digs and see the surrounding area.

2. Purge, plan and prioritize

As you prepare for a move, consider which belongings you really need to keep. A lighter load means not only an easier move but less to unpack, too.

Maybe you feel a bit panicky about all that needs to be done. Get it off your mind and onto your list. Prioritize your tasks – and try not to get distracted by things that can wait. Break larger projects into smaller, more doable steps. It can also help to:

  • Start packing early so you have the time you need
  • Consult experienced friends or colleagues for their best moving tips
  • Assign tasks to specific family members – and ask for help when you need it

3. Make a fond farewell

Leaving family, friends or neighbors behind can be difficult. A few parting tips:

  • Don't save all your goodbyes for the last minute –- when you may feel overwhelmed. As opportunities arise, tell people you'll miss them.
  • Plan to keep in touch by phone, letters, email, video chat – whatever suits your style.
  • Arrange for future get-togethers, if possible.

Most of all, try to go with the flow

Stay flexible – and don't expect a perfect, bump-free move. With that in mind, why not give yourself some padding for the move? If your schedule allows, add in some wiggle room. This extra time can help you adjust and feel calmer as you make the transition to a new home.

Help kids look forward

Moving can be especially tough on children. Reassure them you'll do everything you can to make it easier. Then, focus on the positive. For example, talk about the new opportunities that await them – whether that's a school drama club or an amazing skateboarding park. You might also go together to pick out paint colors or fun furnishings for new bedrooms.

Kids and adults alike need time to settle in and adjust. So, once you've arrived, be patient and loving. And, make an effort to help children make new playmates – and stay connected with old friends, too.

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A 4-week plan to recharge your energy

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – March 6, 2013

Do you feel like a 25-watt bulb in your 150-watt life? If so, maybe it's time to shed some light on your personal energy crisis – and create a plan for recharging.

Here are some simple – but powerful – ideas to give you a boost. Try adding one or two strategies a week to your routine to keep your energy building.

Week 1: Food – the juice that runs you

Make sure you're getting premium fuel. This week, take steps toward eating for more energy – and better health.

  • Plan a week's worth of healthful meals and snacks. (See "My good-stuff grocery list" for a handy shopping tool with wholesome foods.)
  • Break for breakfast. Your brain and muscles need morning fuel after hours without food. This three-part combo can provide the energy and nutrients you need: a whole grain plus fruit and a source of lean protein – for example, oatmeal with berries and low-fat or fat-free yogurt.

Week 2: Sleep – your renewable energy source

When you don't snooze, you lose – energy, that is. So, this week, focus on getting the rest you need.

  • Slip between the sheets at the same time each night. Most adults should aim for seven to eight hours of slumber. Keeping your bedroom dark, quiet and cool can help you drift into dreamland.
  • Squeeze in a short power nap on a break, if you find it helps. But, it's best to do this in the early afternoon – not too close to bedtime. Naps should last no longer than 30 minutes.

Week 3: Exercise – the pep in your step

A brisk walk can be a great go-to energy booster. And, over time, getting more fit can mean having more energy. This week, begin to move more.

Put exercise on your daily calendar – as non-negotiable appointments. Pressed for time? You don't have to do it all at once. Start with 10-minute sessions worked into your day – and build from there.*

Recruit an exercise buddy. Maybe the two of you could give salsa lessons a whirl or stretch your limits in a yoga class. Or, how about reprising a childhood favorite? Maybe you loved to bicycle, swim or play basketball. You're more apt to keep doing an activity you truly enjoy.

For safety's sake, talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your level of physical activity.

Week 4: Energy siphons – your vitality drainers

This week, make some positive changes to help keep your zip from getting zapped.

  • Take a few minutes each day to de-stress. Whether you journal, do crosswords, putter in the garden or just enjoy a quiet moment, it can be revitalizing.
  • Snuff out a habit that's dragging you down. If you smoke, call your doctor and make an appointment to talk about the options available to help you quit.

Finally, as you make energy improvements, remember to be patient if you have setbacks. It takes time for new habits to click on for good.

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When depression runs in the family

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Feb. 27, 2013

You're no stranger to depression. Perhaps a loved one – a parent or a sibling – has struggled with it. And so, you may wonder: Could it affect me, too?

Yes, a family history does raise a person's risk of developing depression. But, that doesn't mean you will. At the same time, people with no family history may develop depression. In fact, anyone can – even children.

More than one cause

In some cases, depression occurs for no clear reason. But, often it appears to be brought on by a combination of factors. These may include:

  • Genetics. Several genes acting together may play a role.
  • Brain chemistry. People can have too little – or too much – of certain brain chemicals.
  • Stressful and significant life events. Those include divorce, death of a loved one, job loss, illness, or exposure to violence, abuse or neglect.
  • Pregnancy and postpartum. In these cases, hormonal changes are thought to be a key trigger.
  • Self-esteem. People who lack confidence may be more likely to become depressed.

Know the signs

Depression is highly treatable. And, the earlier treatment starts, the more likely it is to be effective.

That's why it's so important to know the warning signs and symptoms. They include:

  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite – eating too much or not enough
  • Persistent sadness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating

If you have any of these signs – lasting two weeks or longer – talk with your doctor.

Don't just shrug it off

Again, most people who seek help for depression do get better. And, early treatment can also keep the condition from getting worse or coming back. But, it's never too late to get help.

Treatment may include counseling, medicine and lifestyle changes.* Keep in mind that it can take a while for medications to work.

Take suicide seriously

Anyone who thinks or talks about suicide needs help immediately. Call 911 if you or a loved one is in danger.

Here's another number to have on hand: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

That's the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It's available toll-free, 24 hours a day.

Be sure to check your health care benefits plan to see what services may be covered.

Even young children aren't immune

Is my child depressed?

That's not an easy question to answer – even for the most observant, caring parent. And, a child's symptoms may be somewhat different from an adult's. For example, he or she might:

  • Complain that "nobody likes me"
  • Stop playing with friends – and spend a lot of time alone
  • Be less talkative – and avoid eye contact
  • Have trouble falling or staying asleep or sleeping too much
  • Eat slowly or have no appetite or have an increased appetite
  • Be irritable, negative or angry
  • Let grades slip
  • Become fatigued easily
  • Have frequent headaches and stomachaches

As in adults, stressful events can make children more vulnerable to depression. So, be especially alert to these warning signs if your child is coping with something difficult, such as divorce or the loss of a loved one.

If you suspect depression, talk with your child's doctor. Treatment can help.

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New baby on the way! Preparing siblings-to-be

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Feb. 6, 2013

Congratulations! You're expecting a new little one – that's cause for celebration.

But, many parents worry that their older children might not be quite so thrilled with a new addition to the family. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help kids get ready for their role as big brother or big sister.

Before the baby arrives

Here are a few suggestions to help prepare older children:

Make them feel special. Kids need reassurance. Tell them – and show them – that you love them now and always. But, be honest: Let children know there will be some changes – that new babies need time and attention.

Involve them in the excitement. For example, you might have a child help you organize the nursery or pick out a special item for the baby. Pregnant moms can let kids talk to the baby – and feel those tiny kicks.

Explore – and play. If your child isn't used to being around babies, it may help to:

  • Visit friends who have infants
  • Read books about new babies and siblings
  • Spend time together looking at your child's newborn pictures
  • Pretend-play with baby dolls
  • You might also check with your local hospital. Many offer special sibling classes for expectant families.

After the baby arrives

How your child reacts to the new baby will depend in part on his or her age. And, some children will adjust easier than others. Be sure to supervise toddlers or other young children around the new little one. You can also help smooth the transition with these tips:

  • Find ways to let kids help, such as fetching diapers or singing a soft lullaby.
  • Praise children often – especially when they're helpful, gentle and loving with the baby.
  • Do something special just for them. Maybe that's giving them a "Big Sibling" T-shirt or letting them choose a new book or toy.
  • Gently encourage visitors who come to visit the baby to enjoy time with older siblings, too.

Once your baby's here, it's probably best to postpone making major changes in your older child's routine, such as toilet training or moving to a new bed.

Also, don't be surprised if some kids regress a bit – acting out, or returning to baby talk or wetting their pants, for example. Try not to overreact. And, prepare other family members and caregivers so they can take it in stride, too. Usually these are just temporary setbacks. But, check with your child's doctor if you have concerns about how your child is adjusting.

Finally, try to spend one-to-one time with your child every day, even if it's just to share a chat, a special book at bedtime, or an extra cuddle or two.

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Ode to joy: 5 steps to greater happiness

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Jan. 22, 2013

What's your joyful noise? A whisper of gratitude for a stunning sunset? A belly laugh at a child's sweet silliness? A "Yes!" for a challenge mastered?

No matter how you express it, you deserve and need joy in your life. And, whatever its source – from a drowsy pup on your lap to a parchment diploma in your hand – it doesn't just feel fabulous.

Blissful moments can also give your well-being a boost.

What's joy got to do with it?

Many activities that create feelings of happiness – being lively, joking around, helping others – can also have physical benefits, such as:

  • Lower risk of illness
  • Improved circulation and heart health
  • A rise in feel-good endorphins
  • Relief from stress and depression

So, for health and happiness, try these five tips for experiencing greater joy:

  • Chortle, snicker or snort. Laughter that is hearty is healthy, too. In fact, it's good for your heart health – and can relax muscles and reduce pain. So, video chat with that friend who always makes you laugh. Chuckle over the Sunday comics. Giggle through a comedy clip. Or, maybe even try a laughter yoga class or DVD. (Yes, there is such a thing!)
  • Delight in play dates for grown-ups. From racquetball with your best buddy to hopscotch with the neighborhood kids, being playful can kick up your mood and confidence. And, when your activity gets you moving, you're getting good exercise to boot!
  • Slow down, too. In the rush of our busy lives, moments of quiet joy can pass us by. Whether you relax by sitting in the evening shade, listening to sweet harmonies or doing tai chi in the park, be a regular in the pursuit of peace.
  • Savor with your senses. Dew on lush, green grass... the earthy scent of fresh rosemary... a crunchy bite of a deep-purple plum that bursts with juice. Make it a practice to relish the joy in small things.
  • Be generous. Whether you give time or money, big or small, generosity is a proven source of happiness. So, leave a kind comment on a blog, pay someone's toll, donate blood, thank your bus driver or let someone merge into your lane.

Finally, share your joyful noise. Talking about happy events brings pleasant memories. And, since positive feelings are contagious, when you share them, others might follow in your footsteps toward greater joy – and better health.

When joy seems out of reach

If you've lost interest in things you once enjoyed or have lingering sadness, talk with your doctor. These can be signs of depression – a highly treatable condition.

Your doctor may suggest counseling, medication or both. Check your benefits plan to see what services may be covered.

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Five tips to tune up your willpower

Posted by Arleen Fitzgerald – Jan. 2, 2013

If you've ever eaten ice cream while standing at the freezer – or hit the snooze alarm instead of getting up to work out – you might have thought, I have no willpower!

You have it – we all do. But, sometimes it can seem difficult to find – or appear to have abandoned us completely.

There's hope, though. You can learn how to boost – and better tap into – this inner strength to help you meet your weight-control goals.

Rev up your resolve

Like a car, willpower hums along best with good fuel, smooth roads and proper maintenance. Keep yours tuned up with these five tips:

Don't run on empty. Willpower uses mental and physical energy. Research shows that exerting it actually causes drops in blood glucose. And, being hungry and tired can be a worst-case scenario when it comes to our ability to use willpower. That's why you'll have an easier time making good choices if you eat healthfully, don't skip meals – and stay rested.

Pave the way for a smooth ride. By planning ahead, you can reduce the number of decisions you face each day. That way you'll have willpower when you really need it. For example, it might help to:

  • Make sure you have good choices available. Plan a week's worth of nutritious meals – and buy all the ingredients in advance. And, keep healthful snacks and treats on hand.
  • Plot out your workout sessions for the week – at the times you'll be most likely to follow through.*
  • Find a workout buddy – someone who will be counting on you to show up.

Keep your eyes on the road. Staying focused and calm can be a boon to willpower. One way to do this: Practice mindful eating. That means slowing down, savoring every bite – and hitting the brakes before you feel full.

Brace yourself for rough patches. Of course, stress can bump self-control right into the ditch. If you're struggling, try to focus on what you can do. And, tell yourself not to worry about things you can't control.

And, don't go it alone – ask for support from others. When we feel disconnected or lonely, it can be difficult to stay strong and motivated. Share your goals with friends and family. And, celebrate your successes with them, too!

Shift into park. Here's one final tip for the road: When faced with an unhealthy temptation, stop for a minute. Ask yourself: Does this choice support or hinder my health goals?

A little time may be all you need to ride out an impulse. When you do, give yourself credit. When you don't, give yourself a break. Don't worry about perfection – be happy with continuing to make progress.

*Talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level.

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