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Holiday Horror

Holidays are falling to the wayside as British workers increasingly skip breaks in fear of losing their jobs for being out of the office. But are we missing a trick?
"For employees who stand to lose some of their 2010 holiday allocation, now would be a good time to think about whether they want to be in the same situation next year. It's very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you are indispensible, but it's vital to take time to relax, switch off and have some fun," said Isabelle Ratinaud, Marketing Director at Monster UK, an online careers and recruitment resource.
Easier said that done? Ratinaud recommends checking your company's HR policy and your contract to make sure that your holiday requests - and holiday time - go smoothly. This means knowing the correct protocol for holiday requests (get them in early!), exactly how much holiday time you're due each year, and whether or not you can roll over holiday time from one year into another - something that companies are not legally obligated to let you do, even though it means that you may be out of pocket.
Did you get your full dose of holiday this year? Or are you hoping to make it happen next year? Discuss 

6 Steps to Short-Circuiting Stress

by Abigail L. Cuffey
You've probably felt this way hundreds of times. You know stress is bad for your physical and mental health, but when it comes to relief, you either don't do what you know you should (go for a walk, do some deep breathing, take a yoga class) or are too busy to work it into your schedule. What's going on?
"For many women, there's a major disconnect between knowing and doing," says Susan Girdler, PhD, director of the Stress and Health Research Program at the University of North Carolina. "We recognize that destressing is a good idea in theory, but with jobs, children and everything else going on in our lives, carrying through is pushed to the back burner." Not to mention the g-word: guilt. "One survey showed that the vast majority of women approved of other women taking time out to destress, but didn't think it was OK for themselves," says Alice Domar, PhD, executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School. "We don't feel comfortable meeting our own needs."
Another obstacle: You're not sure what will work for you. "Even though we're surrounded by a culture that encourages us to take care of ourselves, when you boil it down, destressing is an amorphous concept," says Leslie Campis, PhD, clinical psychologist and adjunct professor of psychology at Emory University. "It can be hard to know how to put it into practice in real life." Plus, many stress management techniques seem to require so much effort, you may think it's not worth it or assume you're just the type of person who can't relax.
The reality is that destressing is crucial: Consistently high stress levels can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health. "Almost all medical conditions are worsened by stress," says Dr. Girdler. And your destress plan has to be tailored to your personality and everyday life in order to work, says Cheryl Gore-Felton, PhD, clinical professor of psychology at Stanford School of Medicine. The encouraging news is that some of the most effective methods are very simple, don't take a lot of time or cost a thing. So stop making excuses! We've created this plan just for you.
Chow down on these foods in order to fight stress.
Step 1: Identify and conquer.
Two of the most common roadblocks are guilt and perfectionism. If you're feeling guilty, Jennifer Wider, MD, women's health expert and author of The Savvy Woman Patient, suggests repeating this phrase to yourself daily: My sanity is essential for everything to run smoothly. This frequent reminder emphasizes that taking time to manage your stress isn't selfish, but actually vital for you and everyone else around you.
If you fall under the perfectionist umbrella—things need to be a certain way for you to feel comfortable and you're never able to destress because there's always something that needs to be done—it's probably a result of our culture. "There is an unspoken expectation that women should be able to do it all—have a job, be a wife and a mother—and do it well," says Dr. Gore-Felton.Read the confessions of a former perfectionist.
Learning to relax your standards or relinquish some control is key to moving past this block. Try this to start: Practice doing one thing differently than usual, no matter how small. Ask your husband to make the bed or force yourself to leave a few dishes in the sink overnight, says Dr. Gore-Felton. Since perfectionism is basically about not being flexible, changing the way you do one thing a few times a week will help you get to the point where you are able to let go and dial down your stress levels.
Another point to consider: "Data show that as our anxiety level goes up, our performance only increases to a certain point," says Dr. Domar. "After that, your ability to juggle everything and get it done the way you want decreases." In other words, being under constant stress and not managing it will eventually backfire, no matter how brilliant a multitasker you are. Photo: Shutterstock
See nine things you should never say to your husband.

Step 2: Make your (small) plan of attack.
Think of one thing you can do each day that would be a source of joy or rejuvenation. Here's the kicker: It can't take more than five to 10 minutes. "The smaller you start, the easier it is to make a permanent habit of it," says Dr. Campis.
Ask yourself what's doable and feels special. Get up before your kids and drink coffee in silence or add a few minutes onto your shower to do some deep breathing and think about anything but your to-do list. "For me, it's carving out the time to read The New York Times and The Boston Globe every night," says Dr. Domar. She also suggests the "one thing" rule. "When you wake up, your first thought should be about one little good thing you can do for yourself that day," she says. Buy some fresh flowers or call a friend. Place a sticky note on your nightstand that reads "one little thing" as a reminder to think about it among the influx of other obligations. Photo: Ron Chapple / ThinkstockCheck out nine ways to be more optimistic.

Step 3: Think outside the box.

If you're having a hard time figuring out what might work for you, consider some unconventional techniques. Remember, as long as it destresses you, that's all that matters.
One example: scream therapy. (Seriously.) "Studies show that the simple act of screaming may help ease stress," says Dr. Wider. Even some colleges apply this idea. At Northwestern University, a tradition called the "primal scream" takes place at 9 p.m. on the Sunday before finals week. Students open their windows and simply yell for a few minutes. Take a cue from the coeds and let out a wail in the confines of your car or in an open field (if you live in a rural area).
Got stress? Discover 10 surprising stressors and how to conquer them.
Two more things you may not think of as stress busters: folding laundry (some people find this relaxing because it's a mindless activity that also completes a task, says Dr. Wider) and having a get-together with friends and family. "Surrounding yourself with loved ones is a natural reaction to stress—the 'tend and befriend' response—and can help you relax," says Dr. Girdler. (Of course, if you stress about the details, that one's not for you.)
Another tactic is to think about the everyday moments when you feel most relaxed. It could be baking, watching a favorite TV show or even vacuuming. "I consider walking my daughter to school every day part of my downtime," says Dr. Domar. Photo: Thomas Northcut / ThinkstockLearn how to make your sex life a priority.

Step 4: Make it happen.

Sticking with a new habit depends on two things: planning ahead and anticipating barriers. First, figure out what changes you need to make for a daily habit to happen. Is it a matter of waking up a few minutes earlier? Asking your husband or a friend to help out? Then, predict any roadblocks and make a contingency plan. One of the biggest reasons women forgo stress management is that they quit at the first hiccup. "Finding a place in our schedules that won't be subjected to interference like a family emergency or unexpected travel is really tough, so we need to plan for those times," says Dr. Gore-Felton. Think (and write down): If I'm not able to do X, then I'll do Y. Whatever the disruption is, by planning for it, you maintain a sense of control. Photo: Thinkstock

Step 5: Stay on course.

So, you've made your own destress plan and figured out how to squeeze it into your schedule. Now comes the tough part: maintenance. As corny as it may sound, putting yourself on your to-do list can help. In between "Pick up dry cleaning" and "Grocery-shop," jot down your destress activity. "Busy women are very task-oriented, and writing it down means we can't cross it off until we've completed it," says Dr. Domar. Making something you want to do a must helps give you permission to do it, and the more you do the activity and see the benefits, the more you'll want to fit it in.
Gathering support also helps change habits long-term. Reach out to a friend or neighbor and see if she might agree to a tradeoff: She watches both sets of kids while you take your walk and vice versa. Or incorporate that friend into your activity. "For many of us, our friendships are often a source of tremendous support and stress relief," says Dr. Gore-Felton. Not only does having a buddy join you for a park stroll make it more fun, it also helps keep you accountable because there's someone relying on you to show up. Photo: Ron Chapple / ThinkstockComplain effectively in any situation--and get what you want.


Step 6: Keep this last resort in mind.
No matter how well you prepare, there are some days that won't go according to plan, and that's OK. For these situations, use this mini-relaxation technique that combats stress anytime, says Dr. Domar. When you feel your heart beating faster or when you start to get anxious, take slow, deep breaths, allowing your chest and abdomen to rise and fall with each one, and count down from 10 (one number per breath).
You can also use this exercise in anticipation of a stressful event (like a call with your child's teacher or your annual review at work). Photo: Dmitriy Melnikov / Thinkstock

The Egg Diet? This Woman Lost 30 Pounds Eating Eggs

By Sarah Jio, Glamour magazine

Do you like eggs? I admit, I don't eat a ton of them. But, one woman says they were the key to helping her lose 30 pounds and get lean...

Related: 12 Secret Signs He's Into You

Salon writer Felisa Rogers wrote recently about how she credits eggs for helping her shed 30 pounds several years ago. And, get this: It was more of an accidental diet: "I once inadvertently lost 30 pounds," she writes. "I was 23, and I had just moved to Portland, Ore. ...While job and house hunting, I paid rent to sleep on a friend's couch, which I shared with her reprehensible golden retriever. As the weeks passed, my budget dwindled. I set my sights lower and broadened my job search. I whittled my diet down to three items: protein cereal, broccoli and eggs." She goes on to talk about how eggs, a cheap protein, are surprisingly healthy, and how she's back to eating eggs again (with a little more variety in her diet, thank goodness!).

Really, though, I think this writer's weight loss success story had more to do with eating fewer calories, more lean protein
(aka, eggs) and sticking to the plan (for her, it was for budget reasons). Researchers have recently found that eating the same foods over and over again can help with weight loss goals. So it's probably less about eggs and more about these things. For the record: I lost some weight in college by sticking to a dinner of brown rice, tofu and steamed veggies every single night. I wasn't even trying to lose weight, but my body just responded to this repetition.

Do you eat a lot of eggs? What are your favorite ways to cook them? I'm a hardboiled sort of gal.

The Don’t-Do List: 4 Over-Prescribed Treatments and Tests

What doctors do is important. Equally important: what they don't do. To keep patients healthier, prevent unnecessary treatment (and side effects), and save health-care dollars, a panel of doctors is urging internists, family medicine specialists, and pediatricians to follow top-five lists of medical don'ts. Here are some of those tests and procedures — and the go-slow approaches that are preferable.
Lower-Back Pain
* Don't do an imaging test within the first six weeks except in special cases.
"The vast majority of back pain goes away on its own," says Shannon Brownlee, author of Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer. "A back image is not going to help you heal faster, but it can mislead your doctor into thinking that something is wrong, which can lead to costly and unnecessary surgery." Of course, sometimes tests and treatments are unavoidable (say, if you're also having bladder problems), so make sure your doctor listens carefully to all your symptoms, says Jerome Groopman, MD, coauthor of the forthcoming Your Medical Mind: How to Decide What Is Right for You. "A really good doctor doesn't follow a cookbook," Dr. Groopman says.
Bone-Density Screening
* Don't do a routine bone-density test for women under 65 or men under 70.
The standard test, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), measures the mineral content of your bones, but "for premenopausal women, routine screening is a huge scam," says Brownlee. "It often leads them to take osteoporosis drugs, which is very controversial at best for that age group. At that age, you don't need a DEXA scan to tell you what you should be doing to prevent osteoporosis."
PLUS: 8 Old Wives' Tales: Which Should You Believe
Electrocardiogram (ECG) Screening
* Don't do an annual test if risk is low.
"If you don't have symptoms and are at low risk for heart disease, chances are pretty good that the test is wrong if it says you do have a problem," Brownlee says. Even so, your doctor will almost certainly feel compelled to follow up with more invasive tests that carry the risk of injury or even death.
Sinus Infection
* Don't give antibiotics for most cases of mild or moderate sinusitis.
"Antibiotics are not 'anti-every-kind-of-bug' drugs," Brownlee says. "They don't work against viruses, and most sinus infections are caused by viruses." Plus, overprescribing these drugs can produce stubborn new bacterial strains that antibiotics can't fight — which can cause problems more serious than sinus trouble. Don't ask for the hard stuff unless the sinus problem is severe or symptoms last longer than a week or get better and then worsen.

What the Size of Your Smile Says About You

Photo: ThinkstockBy Jennifer Margulis

So much more than than a pair of upturned lips, the smile is the most scientifically studied human facial expression. In her new book, Lip Service, Yale psychology professor Marianne LaFrance, PhD, draws on the latest research—in fields from biology to anthropology to computer science—in an effort to shed some light on the happy face. Here, six facts that may make you, well, you know.

RELATED: 6 Ways to Find Emotional Balance

People with big grins live longer. In a study published last year, researchers pored over an old issue of the Baseball Register, analyzing photos of 230 players. They found that on average, the guys with bright, bigmouthed beams lived 4.9 years longer than the players with partial smiles, and 7 years longer than the players who showed no grin at all. We can't credit wide smiles for long life spans, of course, but smiles reveal positive feelings, and positive feelings are linked to well-being.

RELATED: How to Develop a Sense of Peace When You're Facing Uncertain Times

Smiles exert subliminal powers. When study subjects are shown an image of a smiling face for just four milliseconds—a flash so quick, the viewers don't consciously register the image—they experience a mini emotional high. Compared with control groups, the smile-viewers perceive the world in a better light: To them, boring material is more interesting, neutral images look more positive, even bland drinks seem tastier.

RELATED: 10 Ways to Be Happier Now

There are three degrees of happiness... An article in the British Medical Journal reported that it is indeed possible to spread the love: Within social networks, when one person is happy, the feeling migrates to two people beyond her. So if you smile, a friend of a friend is more likely to smile, too.

RELATED: Happiness: Why It's Contagious

...and two types of smiles. Genuine smiles and fake smiles are governed by two separate neural pathways. We know this is true because people with damage to a certain part of the brain can still break into a spontaneous grin even though they're unable to smile at will. Scientists speculate that our ancestors evolved the neural circuitry to force smiles because it was evolutionarily advantageous to mask their fear and fury.

RELATED: Everyday Activities That Can Improve Your Mood

To spot a faker, check the eyes. When someone smiles out of genuine delight, a facial muscle called the orbicularis oculi involuntarily contracts, crinkling the skin around the eyes. Most of us are incapable of deliberately moving this muscle, which means that when a person fakes a smile, her orbicularis oculi likely won't budge.

RELATED: 5 Things Happy People Do

Smiles have accents. When reading facial expressions, different cultures home in on different parts of the face. In the United States, we focus on mouths; the Japanese, by contrast, search for feeling in the eyes.

How Jennifer Hudson Lost 80 Pounds

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What made you decide to lose?
"It really started when I was pregnant with David, who's 2 now, and I thought, Hold on—why doesn't anybody know I'm pregnant? And I wanted to set a good example for my son. Right after I had him, I began trying to change things." 

Get Real About Your Goal Weight

If you ask a woman if she'd like to weigh less, chances are the answer will be a resounding "Yes!" Fitting into a favorite pair of jeans, looking better in a bathing suit or in workout clothes, wearing a smaller size, or simply seeing a lower number on the scale are goals that many women (and men) have (even if they're at what others consider a healthy body weight).  
With hard work, determination, focus, and perseverence, people can successfully lose weight, but it's no surprise that, unfortunately, many end up gaining some if not all of it back eventually.  Why?
Related: Finally, a Fix For Stubborn Fat
Of course there are a whole host of reasons why people regain weight. Having worked with many clients over the years and seeing family members, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances repeatedly lose and gain the same 10, 20, 50 or more pounds, I've noticed thatmost who have had trouble keeping lost weight off set unrealistic body weight goals for themselves.
To achieve those goals, they had either gone on too restrictive a diet (drastically cut calories, avoided carbohydrate-rich foods, and/or gave up sugar or alcohol), overexercised, did something more radical like gastric bypass surgery, or did any combination of these things. Weight loss was also often quick; rapid weight loss can be motivating, but it can also mean lots of lean muscle mass lost, a slower metabolism, and it can lead to medical problems like gallstones or other adverse health effects.
Related: Do You Really Need to Build Your Core Strength?
When setting goals for weight loss, I always encourage others to first focus on creating food and fitness behaviors that they believe have a high probability of turning into habits they can maintain. Cutting 200 to 300 calories a day and increasing physical activity to burn more calories can promote a weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week for most people; that may not sound like a lot, but making such small, do-able changes over time can really add up in terms of pounds lost (not to mention help preserve your metabolism).Related: Period Problems...4 Most FAQs
I also encourage people to be realistic about what weight they think they can achieve and maintain long-term. Before embarking on weight loss, it's important to ask to yourself how much you're willing to sacrifice in order to get to and maintain a certain body weight.
If you feel like you have to work out an hour a day, eat so little and/or ban sweets and alcohol for life (or whatever favorite indulgence items you have), not go out to meals with friends or family, and avoid high risk food situations like cocktail parties and such, how realistic is it for you to be able to maintain your new body weight?
Related: 5 Super Foods for Gorgeous Hair
Is it more important for you to get to an ideal or dream weight that will be almost impossible to maintain, or one that you feel is comfortable for you, that allows you to live and function fully in the world, that you can maintain by engaging in healthful (but not extreme) food and fitness behaviors?
Be honest with yourself,  and tell yourself that true happiness is not about what the scale says, but about how you feel both mentally and physically at any size. Losing even just a small amount of weight and maintaining it over time (and overcoming the yo-yoing in body weight that so many of us experience) can improve your health, help you feel lighter on your feet and better in your own skin overall.

Brain-eating amoeba doesn't just kill kids

It's always freaky when a health risk that sounds like it could only exist on an episode of House starts killing people in real life. No wonder lots of folks are flipping out about the brain-eating amoeba that has causedmeningoencephalitis in and killed three childrenthis summer. These tragedies really do beg the question of whether or not the pathogen is targeting kiddos specifically. After all, two-thirds of those killed by the amoeba have been children under the age of 13. Sort of begs the question: Are adults immune to this killer amoeba, Naegleria fowleri?
Svetlana Kogan, M.D., founder of the Doctors at Trump Place in New York, says no.
More from The Stir: Doctor Who Prescribed Watermelon Is a Scary Warning to Us All
So then, why have kids been the only victims so far this season?
Dr. Kogan says:
It's extremely rare, but yes, the amoeba can affect everyone, young and old. You will find more kids than adults swimming in shallow, warm, fresh water, and it's unfortunate, but that's why they're more commonly afflicted.
According to the CDC, the amoeba can also occur in poorly-maintained swimming pools or in naturally hot drinking water sources. But the only reason it seems children have only been more susceptible is because they're more likely than adults to swim in lakes, ponds, or rivers over 80 degrees, where the pathogen is most prevalent. Dr. Kogan also says that there have been no reported cases resulting from swimming in salt water, so anyone swimming in the ocean shouldn't worry about Naegleria.
As for those who do find themselves playing near or swimming in ponds near their homes? Unfortunately, the only real way to 100 percent avoid the amoeba is to avoid shallow bodies of fresh water in warmer months. Of course, that's kind of extreme. Dr. Kogan's thoughts?
People should not panic. Just swim in clean, clear water, and look out for any neurological manifestations, like numbness, tingling in the hands or legs, any kinds of rashes, blurry vision, etc. after swimming in a pond.
Should any of those symptoms crop up, it would be wisest to report to the ER.
More from The Stir: Forget the Doctor: 6 Everyday Folk Who Can Save Your Life
Overall, though, it seems like the ultimate solution for everyone -- adults and kids alike -- is to stick to pools or oceans when possible. After all, prevention is the only way for anyone to completely prevent an amoeba infection.
What do you make of these recent amoeba-related deaths? Do you spend time near a warm, fresh water body of water?

Top 20 Detox Foods

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

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Most of us hit a shaky sleep patch at some point - whether it's Sunday night blues, alcohol-induced tossing and turning or full-blown insomnia. According to the UK's Sleep Council, sleep - or lack of it - is one of the most common 21st-century health complaints. And the No1 cause? Oh, what a surprise - stress! "Sleep is absolutely key to our mental, physical and emotional well-being," says sleep specialist Dr Neil Stanley fromthesleepconsultancy.com. "But we live at such breakneck, frenetic pace,  a good night's sleep is often sacrificed." So we've mined our experts, friends and colleagues to bring you the best-ever sleep advice, whatever stage of the insomnia scale you're at.
 
HELP!
What's causing my sleep problems?
Dr Stanley tackles your four most common dilemmas

"My mind is racing and I toss and turn all night"
It's easy to forget the penalty for working hard and playing hard - for a good night's sleep, you need a quiet mind and
a relaxed body. Prepare a bedtime routine where you mentally put the day aside at least an hour before you switch off the light.
 
"I wake up boiling hot and sweating"
Between 2am-4am our body's temperature is at its lowest (unless you have your period, when it is generally higher). Ideally, you need a warm bed and a cool bedroom. If you can't point the finger at a too-hot room or the time of the month, however, then speak to your GP.
 
"I can't get to sleep at all"
Are you going to bed when you're sleepy or because of what time it is? We all have a 'sleep window' and we need to listen to it. Some of us are long sleepers, some of us don't need so much. Bottom line? If you feel awake and alert during the day, you're getting enough!
 
"I wake up at 3am and can't get back to sleep"
Trying to force yourself back to sleep is counter-productive as you're just making yourself more stressed. Give it 20 minutes, then get up and read a book (don't be tempted to go online or do any work). Then go back to bed when you feel sleepy again.
 

SHATTER THE SLEEP MYTHS
Understanding sleep is the first step to recovery, says The London Sleep Centre's Dr Irshaad Ebrahim
 
You can't sleep too much
"Your body has a genetically determined sleep need: it wants the sleep it needs and no more," says Dr Ebrahim. "Oversleeping can leave you groggy. Plus, time in bed should be time asleep, so avoid lying in if you're not actually asleep, and try to keep a consistent sleep routine. If you
regularly find you need more than eight hours a night, or you get eight but you don't feel refreshed, see your GP or a sleep expert."
 
You don't need to nap
"A good night's sleep should be enough," says Dr Ebrahim "However, in some countries, city workers who get by on six hours' sleep a night have scheduled nap times, and people on the continent take siestas, which is fine because it's part of their routine. The odd 20-minute nap is OK - just don't get into a nap habit."
 
An hour before midnight is worth two after...
"Absolute nonsense," says Dr Ebrahim. "The first two hours of sleep are our most restorative; the last two give us the most REM, when our brain 'rewires' itself. Both are important, as is the middle!"
 

YES, YOUR DIET DOES EFFECT YOUR SLEEP
Anyone who's been kept awake by caffeine jitters or indigestion from a rich restaurant meal will vouch for that. But which slumber swaps should we be making and why?
 
SWAP Cow's milk FOR oat milk
"Hot milk definitely works for some. However, its proteins can be difficult for some to digest," says nutritional therapist Lorna Driver-Davies of The Nutri Centre (nutricentre.com). "Also, dairy products can trigger production of the stimulating brain chemical dopamine. Try oat milk instead (or an oaty drinks such as a Horlicks) - oats have a naturally relaxing effect because they contain magnesium and calcium."

SWAP cheese and biscuits FOR pumpkin seeds
"Rich, fatty foods are harder for the body to digest, so it's best to avoid eating them close to bedtime," says Driver-Davies. "Pumpkin seeds are rich in amino acids, which help to manufacture the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. They can also promote a feeling of fullness, which can help to make you feel more relaxed and sleepy."

SWAP wine FOR herbal tea
"Alcohol is a sedative in that it can send you to sleep, but it will disrupt your rest a few hours later," says Dr Ebrahim. "If you've had a drink, rehydrate with plenty of water and a warm, non-caffeinated drink - such as herbal tea - before bed. Studies show that the comforting, hydrating effects provided are more conducive to decent shut-eye."

SWAP chocolate FOR cherries
That Green & Black's looks
tempting, but it may well keep you awake. "You don't need a sugar rush before bedtime, nor do you need the caffeine it contains, as this depresses melatonin production," says Driver-Davies. "Instead, snack on cherries, which contain a small amount of melatonin. Can't find them fresh? Try taking Cherry Active capsules in the evening - available from nutricentre.com."