#41: 5 Effective & Proven Ways to decrease stress and anxiety

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength. ” – Charles Spurgeon

April 8, 2020

At the first of every month, I sit with my monthly dry erase marker and plan out my family’s month. In the calendar I include birthdays, special events, work schedules, sports games, doctors appointments, meetings, and special dates. Everyone in the house can see it. We frequently check it to make sure there are no conflicts before we make plans. It is always filled with all of the things important enough to make it to the calendar. This month when I sat down to make the calendar, the only thing I wrote were birthdays and anniversaries. With a future so uncertain, there was not much else to write and the blank calendar was serving as a reminder. The truth is it’s hard to live day to day without thinking about tomorrow. It’s weird. We all feel it. Listening to the news and scrolling through social media doesn’t help – in fact it makes it worse! 

I wanted to share with you some proven ways that we can manage the days ahead. 

In 2016, Neuroscientists from the University of Pittsburgh found pathways that connected the cerebral cortex (where all of our thoughts are) with the adrenal medulla (which is what dictates how our bodies respond to perceived stress). Their studies proved that there is indeed a mind-body connection. Not only that, but they also realized the reason that meditation and certain exercises like yoga and pilates can alter the way our bodies respond to stress. They also found that many areas of the cerebral cortex controlled the adrenal medulla, but the most important ones were the ones that came from the motor areas of the cortex and the ones that were involved in awareness and affect. Another interesting finding was that when people were asked to re-imagine or think about a stressful event, the messages sent to the adrenal medulla were just as powerful as the actual events. 

So, why am I telling you all of this? Well, I am worried. This is the first time in history that we are living through such a tragic event with 24/7 news coming at us in all directions. If what these scientists found in their studies is true, every time we read, listen to or experience the stress of the current situation, our bodies are sent into a state of fight or flight mode and this in turn affects not only how we feel but our physical state as well. 

The great news is that because we know all of this, we actually have real ways that we can deal with stress, not only today but always. 

  1. We need to manage how much time we allow our thoughts to be focused on a stressful situation. Worrying about every news story or every facebook post is not changing the future or helping anyone. In fact as the scientists in the study showed, each time you think about it, you are hurting yourself with the same intensity as the first time. So while you want to stay informed, limiting the amount to time worrying is most important. 
  2. If you change your thoughts about the situation, you will change your body’s response. Start your day with gratitude. I know it sounds corny, but when you stop to be thankful for the things you do have, you remind your mind and your body that not everything around you is negative or scary. Take the time to write down 3 things you are grateful for and be as specific as possible. 
  3. Meditate for at least 10 minutes a day everyday. If you have never meditated or think it sounds crazy, I challenge you to try it for 7 days, every day and see how you feel. My favorite apps are Headspace and Calm. 
  4. Move! Movements like Yoga and Pilates, or anything that relaxes you can send positive messages to your body too! So make a commitment to yourself to move everyday. Do not be rigid with your schedule, just do something that makes you feel good that day. Just do it, even when you don’t want to. Get your kids to join too!
  5. Write down 3 things every night that you want to accomplish tomorrow. When you wake up in the morning, take a look at your list and just get those things done. Simple things are important. 

The little things you do every day will help to keep you healthy. You are in control of what you chose to think about or not think about. Pretending to be happy is not the answer. Shifting your thinking to other things, is. Moving your body in a relaxing way will not only help your body but it will also help your mind. 

So there you have it, real scientific proof that we can control more than we think. Please take care of yourselves, remember that you matter, what you do everyday matters not only to you but to your kids too. 

Share with a friend – We are stronger together!

A day at a time! 

-Elizabeth Vainder, M.D. 


*Richard P. Dum, David J. Levinthal, Peter L. Strick. Motor, cognitive, and affective areas of the cerebral cortex influence the adrenal medulla. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016.

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#40: The simple way to find out what your child is worried about

April 1, 2020

“Can you read me one more story?” “I’m thirsty”, “Can I go to the bathroom?”

Parents all around the world have heard these same questions right around the time that their kids should really be going to sleep! It can seem frustrating as you struggle to get your little one down and they get that second wind. 

The idea of having a few minutes to yourself seems so appealing yet your little one keeps on talking and asking for more. 

Tonight I’m encouraging you to stay a little longer and listen. 

There is something magical about that time just before bedtime. Kids will talk about so many things jumping from one topic to another. But – if you really listen closely, you will catch a glimpse into what their little minds are actually thinking about. 

Over the last few weeks, life has changed in ways that many of us could never have imagined. It has changed for our kids too and they feel it. Everything is different. No one is going to school, they can’t see their friends, school is perhaps on a computer now and there are no more playdates or get-togethers with friends. It is hard. Change is hard. 

Kids are not very good at expressing what they are feeling. (some adults aren’t either!)

They will complain of physical symptoms when they feel anxious or afraid. Other times they will misbehave or have tantrums. Pay attention to all of it. 

Kids are very good at eavesdropping on adult conversations and listening to the media. They make their own interpretations of what they hear. This can bring about feelings of worry or overwhelm. Sometimes they create ideas in their head that are not even real. Pay attention to what you say in front of your kids. They are listening. 

So tonight, when it’s time for your little one to go to bed, snuggle with them a little longer and lay down to listen. Listen with an open heart and validate their concerns and feelings. You don’t need to have all of the answers. Help them to understand what they are feeling and what they have seen and heard. You will learn a lot about your child in these few minutes before they fall asleep and they will know that you cared. You cared enough to listen. That is the greatest gift of all.

Share with a friend that can use this!

Have a wonderful Wednesday and stay safe and healthy

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D. 

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#39: The only thing guaranteed is change…

March 27, 2020

“In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf….” -Eric Carle 

The Little Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is one of the books that I loved reading to my kids when they were little. 

One sunday morning the warm sun came up and -pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.” 

The caterpillar in the story is so simple and has no idea of what the future will bring. It is born hungry and spends most of its time eating and crawling around. A simple life. One would argue maybe even insignificant. You wonder if it even thinks about the future. It just goes through life until one day….

He built a small house, called a cocoon, around himself. He stayed inside for more than two weeks. “

You wonder what goes on in the mind of a caterpillar in this moment. Is it scared? Does it think that life is over? Does it think that it is dead? I imagine that all of these uncertainties and fears can be extraordinarily frightening for a little caterpillar. Yet, we all know how the story ends, 

Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and… he was a beautiful butterfly!”

The story of the Little Caterpillar is a story of change and of hope. The only thing ever guaranteed in this life is change. Nothing ever stays the same. This is true for all of us. Most of us, like the little caterpillar, go through life hungry for a deeper meaning of why but all the while feeling small or insignificant. A small voice in the howling winds. Perhaps afraid to take chances on becoming who we know in our hearts we want to be. 

So we build walls around us and we stay in there for weeks, months or even years, afraid. Comfortable in our cocoon.  Afraid to evolve, and frightened of the unknown. What a shame to be the caterpillar that stays in the cocoon. It will never know how beautiful it can be. 

So as we face the coming days of uncertainty and fear in our cocoons, I hope that we will use this time like the caterpillar and transform into our best selves with hope for better tomorrows. I hope that we can all become the butterflies we were always meant to be. 

Share with a friend! Together we are stronger!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

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#38: Look for the helpers….

March 17, 2020

I can still remember as a little girl sitting hours watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. There was something about his calm voice that kept me glued to the television. Mr. Rogers would say, “There is only one person in the whole world like you, and people can like you just because you’re you.” He made you feel special. He also had a natural gift to make what were some of the most difficult or scariest of things seem manageable.

Here are some lessons that are just as important today as they were then:

1. Whatever is mentionable can be more manageable”. Helping children express their emotions can help manage their feelings. It helps us adults too…

2.You are special and so is everyone else in this world.” Everyone is special in their own way – the beauty is in finding what makes you and others special.

3.Did you know that when you wonder, you’re learning?”– Wondering can be the beginning of amazing things. We are surrounded by things all around us that began with a thought.

5. “I like to be told” – Mister Rogers was an advocate for preparing children when faced with moments of fear or anxiety. He would help children learn what to expect when visiting the doctor or the dentist. Telling someone what to expect helps with feelings of anxiety, especially if it’s from someone you love or trust.

6. Some things I don’t understand”– He wasn’t afraid to talk about difficult things that we face in the world. He gave us permission to accept that some things we just don’t understand. He reminded us not to be afraid of talking about what we are worried or thinking about. Journaling or talking to others can help us all with feelings of anxiety or worry.

So today, as we face this pandemic that is Covid 19, I ask that you stop and use Mr. Roger’s messages of hope as we navigate the next few days. Talk to your kids and encourage them to ask questions. Ignoring feelings do not make them go away. Trying to suppress feelings only help them to get stronger. It’s okay to be scared but we should always have hope.

I have faith that we will get through this together. The people of the United States will come together to fight the fight. Each of us with our unique talents will help us all make it through.

I have faith that we will prevail and be stronger and closer because of it.

Illness knows no color, race, religion or culture. Illness does not discriminate. We are in this together and we will get through it together.

So as we face the coming days, remember to keep looking for the helpers. They are always there.

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

-Quotes courtesy of misterrogers.org

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