Category Archives: health

Think of your sweetie, and boost your mood

love on hand by David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos.netWhen you spend time thinking about your romantic partner/spouse, your body chemistry is positively impacted, say researchers from Western University.

Study participants got a boost in blood sugar/glucose levels by just thinking of their partner, giving them a boost in energy and happiness. It wasn’t just people in the early stages of young romance who experienced these benefits; long-term relationships and marriages benefited as well.

If we think about our romantic partner, we get a boost in glucose and a boost in our mood. And those who get a boost of glucose are the ones feeling really happy, explains psychology researcher Sarah Stanton. The researchers call the effect eustress, positive, euphoric stress.

Stanton explains, “It seems that no matter how long you’ve been with your partner or how happy you are or how old you are, if you think about them … you can still get that little stress response.”

These results are added to findings that thoughts about love stimulate cortisol and bring health benefits.

I wonder if the researchers considered only happy relationships in this study, because it seems couples who are having difficulty may not be able to get this easy boost. For example, if thinking of your partner reminds you of your most recent argument, it may negate the eustress effect.

However, it seems like good news that a zero-calorie, zero-side effect method could bring about these pleasant results, at least for many couples. Give it a try, focusing on positive aspects of your spouse, and see if you agree.

Read the last post about how letting glucose levels fall can impact your relationship.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for more than 18 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Feeling hangry? Snacking may protect your marriage.

goat cheese morguefileIf it seems like your sweetheart is crankier before meals than after, it is not your imagination. Research has now proven what my husband already knows, that being “hangry” (hungry and angry) is a real thing.

Researchers from The Ohio State University and the University of Kentucky tested the blood glucose levels of married couples for 21 days. They had the couples secretly stick pins in a voodoo doll of their spouse each evening (up to 51 pins, depending on how peeved they were feeling). The spouses who measured lowest in glucose levels (bottom 25 percent) placed more than twice as many pins in their spouse voodoo doll as those who measured in the highest 25 percent.

Researchers followed up this oh-so-scientific voodoo doll experiment with a computer game for the spouses. The spouses played the game in separate rooms, and the winner was allowed to blast their spouse with unpleasant noise as loudly and for as long as they wanted. Once again, the partners who had lower average glucose levels were more aggressive, playing louder and longer noises than partners who had higher glucose levels.

Why do glucose levels affect our behavior so directly? Researchers explain that glucose gives our brains the energy to control itself. When glucose levels drop, it’s harder to control anger and hostility. Your brain consumes about 20 percent of your calories, despite making up only 2 percent of your body weight.

If you find yourselves arguing or bickering, be sure you aren’t letting your glucose levels fall too much. And if you have a sensitive topic to discuss, by all means, eat first. It may help protect your marriage by minimizing hostility and anger.

For people who have a greater tendency toward getting hangry (you know who you are), carry a healthy snack in your bag or car. Your stomach, and your spouse, will thank you.

Source: Health magazine’s Sept. 2014 issue

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for more than 18 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Trauma and PTSD’s effect on marriage

sad man morgefileHaving recently celebrated the Fourth of July in the U.S., we remember and honor those in the military. However, in recent years many of those vets are coming home with significant trauma and/or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that can significantly impact their relationships and marriages. In addition to soldiers, other survivors of trauma, such as survivors of childhood sexual abuse or survivors of disasters, terrible accidents or kidnapping, can also experience PTSD. Even those who suffer grief, particularly sudden and unnatural deaths of a loved one, can experience PTSD. Sufferers can experience great emotional and sometimes physical pain. These after-effects can impact the way the individual functions in everyday life, and they can certainly affect the survivor’s marriage. Symptoms of PTSD can include nightmares, depression, trouble sleeping, feeling jittery or irritated, dependence on drugs or alcohol, feeling like you’re in danger, and more. Read PTSD symptoms here. The symptoms following trauma are normal; when they last more than three months, they are considered PTSD. Survivors may experience a loss of interest in social activities, hobbies, sex, and relationships. They may feel distanced from others, numbness, or hyper-vigilance and on guard, and unable to relax and be intimate. They may struggle with anger, improper impulses, memories of the trauma (re-experiencing the trauma), decision-making, and concentration. Work and daily activities can become a struggle. The partner/spouse can feel isolated and alienated and frustrated from the inability to work through the problems together. They may even fear the actions of the survivor. Therefore, the partner may distance him or herself from the survivor, adding to the marital discord. However, a sense of companionship can help alleviate feelings of isolation. A therapist trained in dealing with PTSD can be a big help to the individual survivor as well as the spouse. If the survivor is not willing to admit problems with PTSD, the spouse may want to insist on marital counseling, because PTSD does increase the rate of divorce. Both therapy and medications have been successful in treating individuals who have PTSD. For the wellbeing of both partners, a support network of helping professionals and community support can be beneficial. Some individuals feel a sense of guilt or shame or fear in asking for help. According to PsychCentral, PTSD is treatable. “Psychotherapy involves helping the trauma become processed and integrated so that it ultimately functions as other memories do, in the background, rather than with a life of its own. Therapy for PTSD initially focuses on coping and comfort, restoring a feeling of safety, calming the nervous system, and educating the person about what they are experiencing and why and – through the process of talking – interrupting the natural cycle of avoidance (which actually perpetuates PTSD symptoms though it is initially adaptive and self-protective). Therapy provides a safe place for trauma survivors to tell their story, feel less isolated, and tolerate knowing what happened…Through treatment, survivors begin to make sense of what happened and how it affected them, understand themselves and the world again in light of it, and ultimately restore relationships and connections in their lives.” They continue, “Successful treatment of PTSD allows the traumatic feelings and memories to become conscious and integrated – or digested – so that the symptoms are no longer needed and eventually go away. This process of integration allows the trauma to become a part of normal memory rather than something to be perpetually feared and avoided, interfering with normal life, and frozen in time. Recovery involves feeling empowered, reestablishing a connection to oneself, feelings, and other people, and finding meaning in life again. Recovery allows patients to heal so that they can resume living.” According to SheKnows.com, individuals with PTSD can create and maintain successful intimate relationships by: 1.Establishing a personal support network that will help the survivor cope with PTSD while he or she maintains or rebuilds family and friend relationships with dedication, perseverance, hard work, and commitment. 2. Sharing feelings honestly and openly with an attitude of respect and compassion 3. Continually strengthening problem-solving and communication skills 4. Including playfulness, spontaneity, relaxation, and mutual enjoyment in the relationship Thankfully, trauma doesn’t always have the last word. Many individuals and couples find they experience recovery and even growth after coping with a traumatic experience. The Generous Husband blog recently wrote about the concept of Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG), which means the changes or growth that occur after an individual or a couple has overcome a traumatic event. “Disaster does not have to ruin you or your marriage,” he writes, adding that tragedy can end well. Those who experience PTG experience one or more of the following: 1) Spiritual growth 2) improved relationship with others 3) See new possibilities/goals for life 4) improvement in self-image or 5) a new more positive view on life. PTSD and trauma can make married life challenging difficult, but help is available. There is hope for a life beyond the trauma–a life that once again includes happiness and joy. Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for more than 18 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here. Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Harvard Study: What Makes Men Happy for Life

morguefile walking coupleI do not refer in this article to what women can do to make men happy. Nope, men are responsible for their own happiness, as are women. That being said, a 75-year-long Harvard study provides some great insights into what it takes for men to live a happy life. And not surprisingly, relationships have a great deal to do with this earned happiness.

The study began in 1938 and followed 268 male undergraduates into their old age. Many factors, of course, influence their happiness. Following are some of the more surprising, helpful or interesting findings:

1. Alcohol use is by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness among the study’s subjects. Alcoholism was also the single strongest cause of divorce between study participants and their wives. Together with cigarette smoking, it was the #1 greatest cause of morbidity and death.
2. While some of the participants successfully recovered from a lousy childhood, memories of a happy childhood were a lifelong source of strength. (This should help parents understand the importance of those early days with our children.)
3. Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70.
4. Habits developed before age 50 were more important to physically aging well than heredity.
5. Having “warm relationships” was critically important to health and happiness in later years. Even more surprising, those who scored the highest on the warm relationships scale earned $141,000 a year more during peak salaries than the men in the lowest scale.
6. Men who had warm childhood relationships with their mothers earned much more than men whose mothers were uncaring. Those who had poor relationships with their moms were much more likely to develop dementia in elder years.
7. Men who had warm relationships with their fathers had lower levels of adult anxiety, enjoyed vacations more, and had increased satisfaction with life after age 75.
8. Men who did well in old age did not necessarily do well in midlife, and visa versa. (There is always time to make a change in your life.)

Study director George Vallant summarized that the $20 million study boiled down to one conclusion: Happiness is love. Vallant details the findings in a book titled Triumphs of Experience. While money and social class did not impact lifelong happiness, the ability to “take love in and metabolize it” certainly did.

You knew that already, right? With so many goals to consider for 2014, a renewed focus on love may be the most important to your happiness.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Is Anxiety Affecting Your Life and Marriage? 10 Tips to Ease Stress

Since 1980, diagnoses of anxiety disorders have increased 1,200%, reported Nancy Snyderman, MD, on this morning’s Today Show. (See American Anxiety.) The state of the economy, marriages in trouble, overly busy schedules, and a culture that is too constantly “plugged in” were all cited as common reasons Americans have sought help for problems with anxiety.

Another key reason people experience anxiety problems is due to the gap between their high expectations and their ability to fulfill them. Please, take note of this and evaluate your expectations for your life, spouse and family.

Experiencing panic attacks and inability to sleep, racing blood pressure and heart rate, and feeling so worried you can’t move forward on tasks are some of the ways anxiety might get in the way of living life to the fullest–or even being able to leave the house. Thankfully, many patients who have sought treatment from their physicians have been able to relieve some of their symptoms and function better. Only about a third of people who need help seek it out, say experts.

Stress, as compared with anxiety, is often a motivator for accomplishing our goals. Experiencing stress is not necessarily a problem, and usually does not require medical treatment. It may be a sign that changes are needed, though. Take marriage as an example. If you’re feeling stress that you haven’t connected with your spouse lately, this might help motivate you to take a positive action and schedule time together.  On the job, a looming deadline might make you feel stress, but also motivate you to complete the project.

Be aware of your own state of mind, as well as your spouse’s. If one of you is experiencing too much stress, work together to discuss and find solutions.  (I’ll include some practical ideas here.) However, if you or your spouse is experiencing what may be an anxiety disorder, a doctor’s help may be needed.

Our world can often seem too hectic, as if we may never get the chance to take a deep breath. Even on vacations, we may be worried about the work piling up for us back at the office. Following are some ways you may be able to reduce stress in your life:

1)      Dr. Snyderman suggests unplugging at least one hour before bed from all electronic devices including TV. I’ve written a lot about making time to unplug to benefit your marriage and to have time to focus on each other. Another benefit is improved sleep. Keep the TV out of the bedroom. Put the smart phones, ipads, laptops, etc. in their chargers. Facebook can wait until tomorrow, and you can finish your emails later. It’s important to your health and to your relationships to have this hour block before sleep to read, think, talk and to begin your nighttime routine.

2)      Plan your meals. We all have to eat, and waiting until you’re hungry for your next meal is a bad time to be planning what it’s going to be. You’re more likely to grab something unhealthy on the go, or to eat the first thing you find. It takes much less time to plan a few days of meals than it does to run to the store or restaurant each day. In our house, we often make a double or triple batch of something (like tacos, soup, lasagnas, chili, quiche, etc.) and freeze for future meals when we might be rushed. If you have an hour on a weekend, you can make up a few meals for use during the week. Honestly, it doesn’t take much effort, and you’ll be glad you have a homemade meal ready to heat. And it’s less expensive when you buy in bulk and freeze for later. If you have kids at home, teach them to cook and get them involved in helping in the kitchen. Benefits to better meal planning can include improved health (if you choose wisely), saving money, and making your spouse and family feel cared for.

3)      Exercise. I’ve not always been a big fan of exercise, although I force myself to do it even when I don’t feel like it. Truthfully, we all feel better when we’ve gotten some exercise and we’re taking care of ourselves. In the last couple of years I’ve started to really enjoy tennis, and I’ve taken up running short distances. Family walks and bike rides round out my not-too-strenuous routine. The research I’ve read on living longer shows it’s important to keep moving rather than worry about completing marathons. Find an activity you enjoy, such as gardening, swimming or horseback riding, and you’ll be more likely to make time for it. Exercising together can be good for your relationship and can improve your sex life when you feel better about your body.

4)      Nurture social relationships. I’m all about nurturing and investing in your marriage and family. It’s also important to cultivate friendships and in-person social activities, such as volunteering, church groups, neighborhood groups, etc. The research is very clear that social networks help us live longer (see The Longevity Project). And doesn’t time with friends reduce your stress? Just try to avoid comparing how busy and stressful your lives are! Instead, take a walk or take in a cultural activity together.

5)      Many people like me find prayer and/or meditation helps them reduce unnecessary worrying, and stay more calm and positive throughout the day.

6)      Make time to hug and kiss your spouse throughout the day. This non-sexual touch is a known stress-reducer. Also, make time for sex, which is also beneficial and releases bonding and stress-reducing hormones.

7)      Try to reduce travel time by commuting during off-peak hours or working some or all of the time at home if your job will allow it. Combine your errands to save time (and gas). Bring reading or busy work with you for those times when you’re forced to wait, like at the doctor’s office.

8)      Reduce the busyness of your life by cutting out extraneous activities (the fourth birthday party this month) and making time for what you want to be doing. If you don’t have one or two free nights a week, seriously consider paring back.

9)      Make your home a pleasant place to be. Save a little energy and kindness for those closest to you. Take a minute before you enter the house to clear your mind and have a positive word for those at home. Try to reduce clutter and stay on top of regular tasks, like laundry. Encourage everyone in the family to pitch in by assigning small tasks. For example, my kids sweep the kitchen floor, take care of the cat, and make their beds (usually). I do the laundry, but everyone puts their own clean clothes away. My husband and I share the shopping and cooking duties. We have a white board for tasks, so that I don’t have to constantly nag.

10. Before you do any of these, you have to decide you want a less stressful life, and then commit to making some small, doable changes. You might even consider bigger changes, like earning less money in exchange for a less stressful lifestyle.

Lori Lowe is the founder of Marriage Gems and author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Happy Marriages for those with Chronic Illness

If you or a friend are married and struggling with a chronic illness, today’s post is for you. The Christian Marriage Bloggers Association recently featured a new blogger, Helena, with the Chronic Marriage Blog. Helena is a counselor and also lives with Muscular Dystrophy. She shared this post, Beyond the Fairy Tale with advice for all those married couples in which one of the spouses has a chronic illness. She shares the statistic that sadly the divorce rate exceeds 75 percent for those with a chronic illness.

Having a close friend with MS, and having interviewed couples with depression and other long-term illnesses, I can see the challenges it can bring to the marriage. Helena’s advice is right on target. I have also been blessed to see how some couples handle these difficulties with grace and love and are positive examples of marriage. For instance, in my book First Kiss to Lasting Bliss, I wrote about a young wife whose husband experienced a brain injury after a bike accident. He was left with physical impairments and an inability to communicate in the same manner. Yet, his mind was still astute, and his love for her never waned.  While her challenges have been intense (read Challenges for Spousal Caregivers), she says it has made their marriage more extraordinary.

Even those without a chronic illness will likely go through at least a period of illness at some point during their marriage. This may include recovering from pregnancy or the common flu. Or they may include cancer treatments, joint replacements or other times in our lives when we must rely on others for care. It is during these rough days, months or years when our character as a spouse is known, and the depth of our love and commitment is shown.

Check out the CMBA blog and the Chronic Marriage blog for some great tips.

Lori Lowe is the founder of Marriage Gems and author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Note: I just saw that Amazon has First Kiss to Lasting Bliss currently discounted at $13.95 for a hard copy and $8.19 for the Kindle edition!

Simple Solutions for Busy Families—Get Back Hours a Day Starting Today!

Even with the school year winding to a close, most of the families I know are struggling with lack of time to do all they would like to do, or even all they feel they must do. It’s such a pervasive issue that affects marriages and families of all ages that it’s worth spending some time to see if there are solutions.

I was prompted to write this from a couple of things I’ve read recently, the most recent of which was a blog post by Kathleen Quiring on “The Importance of Not Being Busy.”  She makes many good cases for striving to be less busy, including the fact that busy people are less likely to give their time to help those in need. (FYI, this isn’t just her opinion; it’s been shown in research.)  Also, busy people are more likely to get into accidents, to sleep and eat poorly, to yell more, and to waste more resources in the name of convenience.

Yes, these are all important reasons. I think even more important is the fact that your family needs you to be present and available, and to do that you need to have time to give. Most of us don’t even have wiggle room in the schedule. When we are rushing from one event to the next, it’s hard to be present and loving—let alone patient and kind. A marriage needs time to be nurtured. We need time to go on dates, or even to watch a movie at home together. We need time to talk and to make love. For those of us with kids, we need time to have real conversations, not just discussions of homework and the schedule of supervised activities or sports. I read a stat today that I seriously hope is wrong that says the average number of minutes per WEEK that parents spend in meaningful conversations with their children is 3.5. I wonder how many minutes per week we spend in meaningful talks with our spouses.

Is there a way out of this busyness trap? Of course. But when I said the solutions were simple, I didn’t say they were easy. They are doable! What would you do with an extra 20 to 30 hours a week? Would it fall through the cracks or would you spend it with your husband, wife, friends, sleeping, or enjoying your hobbies? Could you use the time to better organize your home or family so life doesn’t seem so chaotic? First decide what you would do with that time so you have the motivation you need to make changes.

Today I’ll focus on the absolute biggest time waster for the average American family, then I’ll add some additional tips later in the week.

Your TV May Be Stealing Your Family Life

Nielsen surveys say that say the average American watches four hours of TV per day. That adds up to two months non-stop in a year, or nine years of your life up to age 65. Nine years! The TV is on for six hours and 47 minutes a day in most American homes. And about half of Americans say they think they watch too much TV. Two-thirds watch it while eating dinner.

The average adult male watches 29 hours of TV per week; the average adult female watches even more–34 hours per week. And remember the kids having less than four minutes a week having real talks with their parents? They watch an average of 1,680 minutes of TV a week. When I shared this with my son, he said, if that’s the average, then lots of people watch even more than that! My daughter chimed in, “I’m glad we’re not average.”

I’m not saying TV is terrible in itself. But it’s what we are giving up to have so much of it. What is the opportunity cost for you? What could you accomplish with an extra hour or four extra hours a day? You get to choose what you think is most important in your life. In my experience, TV shows can feel pretty addictive. We get into patterns and they are hard to break. We think of the characters as friends, even as we neglect our own friends. Even the marketing campaigns convince you it’s “must-see” TV. But if you stop watching the new shows, they can’t pull you in.

During the last few years, my husband and I have drastically cut down on TV time. Even when he is traveling on business, he only watches TV if he’s in the exercise room working out. I enjoy a few minutes with Matt Lauer in the mornings, and TV helps me pass the time on the treadmill, but most evenings the TV is not turned on.  I’ve used my extra evening time to write a book (see the end of this post), read many great books, take tennis lessons, and enjoy more time with my family. And I often write this blog in the time that used to be eaten up by TV. I do sometimes miss a show I wish I’d seen. But by the miracle of the Internet, if I really want to see it later, I can watch it commercial- free online. I’m not a fan of TIVO, because I think it encourages more TV watching. My kids watch less than an hour a week and don’t seem harmed by it in the least.

If you and your spouse enjoy the same show, at least you can enjoy it side by side and maybe trade back or foot massages. I cringe when I see that often one spouse watches one TV while the other watches something else in a different room. Every night.

OK, my last point is regarding TV in the bedroom. I’ve said it before, but research shows couples with a TV in the bedroom cut their sex life in half. An Italian study showed having no TV in the bedroom doubles the couple’s sexual frequency.

I can hear people saying, “but TV relaxes me” or “I need to veg out after a long day of work.” But it’s just a habit that’s been formed. You could just as well relax by taking a walk or having a glass of wine with your honey on the porch. What new habits could you form that would be fun for you and would benefit your family?

If you’re not a big TV watcher, first ask yourself if that’s really true or if you just aren’t adding it all up. But if TV isn’t an issue or you aren’t willing to cut back, stay tuned for other solutions this week.

Please share if you have found cutting back on TV helpful for you or your family—as well as other solutions for your busy life.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available  at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Ambro courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net