The Scent of Happiness

It seems to happen when you least expect it: You pass a woman on the street who's wearing the same perfume your grandmother used, and you're taken back to being 8 years old and watching her put on makeup in her bedroom. Or you enter a bakery and the aroma of freshly made sourdough bread transports you to the kitchen in your childhood home, where your dad is cutting into a loaf.

You already know how certain smells can instantly call up long-forgotten memories, but you may not realize that there's a scientific reason behind the phenomenon. "The part of the brain that processes odors, which is called the olfactory cortex, is located very close to the hippocampus and amygdala -- two areas that are involved in storing emotional memories," says Pamela Dalton, an odor researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "So when you breathe in salty ocean air with a hint of sunscreen in it, that whole section of your brain gets kick-started, which helps explain why you immediately flash back to the beach house your family went to every summer when you were younger."

The Scent-Memory Connection
In fact, a Swedish study found that smells unearth earlier memories better than any other type of cue. Researchers exposed elderly people to a word, picture or odor and asked them to identify their earliest memory connected to the prompt. While the word and picture brought up moments from early adulthood, the smell led them to think of a time before they were 10 years old.

And because their power transports you back to the carefree days of childhood, Dalton says scents can be useful for helping you feel less stress or anxiety. "People don't realize how easy it is to change your mood by purposefully smelling something associated with a time in your life when you felt happy," she says." For example, try keeping a little vial of your mom's favorite perfume in your purse or at your desk to take a whiff of when you feel overwhelmed or upset. The effect is instantaneous."

Create Your Own Comfort

How do you get your own children to connect certain scents with happy memories? Dalton says it's easy; you just have to be consistent. "Apply the same lotion every night before you go in your daughter's room to read her a bedtime story or bake an apple cinnamon pie for every special holiday," she says.

In their minds, those smells will quickly become associated with being nurtured or with festive occasions, and they'll always think of you and their childhood fondly when they get a whiff of it, even decades down the road." You can also use a familiar, soothing smell -- like eucalyptus or lavender -- to ease their stress or discomfort when they're sick or uncomfortable. It makes perfect scents!

Photo by CHIRAG K on Unsplash

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Your Holiday Emotional Survival Guide

Between touching family moments and thoughtful gifts, chances are you’re going to reach for the tissue box at least once this holiday season. To help you manage those feelings of joy -- along with the occasional frustration -- it’s helpful to prepare in advance. So before you dive into those decorations and celebrations, consider these four simple ways to make this season even merrier.

1. Give yourself a break. Although it can feel like you don’t have a second to spare, it’s important to take some time for yourself. Even if it’s just for a moment, allow yourself to relax in a quiet place. This will help you feel more in control of your feelings—and prevent meltdowns.

One way to recharge your batteries is through working out. According to a University of Georgia study, regular exercise can increase your energy levels by 20 percent. Plus, it can relieve stress and increase levels of feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins. No time for the gym? Go for a walk, or try our 15-minute at-home routine.

2. Own your emotions. The holidays are full of beautiful moments—like watching your child in the holiday play and opening a handmade gift from a loved one—that can make you well up. A common reaction is feeling embarrassed by those tears. A better way to handle the situation? Be open about your feelings. For instance, say, “I’m so touched by this gift. It means so much to me that it made me cry. Thank you!”

3. Be picky. By now, you’ve probably received invites for events, gatherings and parties from your workplace, child’s school, friends and family. Before you RSVP to them all, consider which ones you really want or need to attend. Focusing on a handful of special events with cut down on stress and help you enjoy every moment.

Rather than give an excuse, decline with a simple “thank you so much, but I’m unable to go” or “I really appreciate the invitation, but I’m trying to scale back on my commitments this year to focus on my family during the holidays.”

4. Create family traditions. By lightening your social calendar, you’ll be able to spend more time doing the things that are important to you. Some of the most fulfilling and memorable moments of the season are family traditions, such making special recipes, caroling with friends and taking in the twinkling lights on a drive. Plan at least one night each week to share to wonder, excitement and joy of the holidays together.

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A Pediatrician’s Guide to De-Stress Your Next Doctor’s Visit

Going to the doctor’s office can be a stressful occasion for the whole family. As a pediatrician, I want to make sure that the kids I take care of are happy and healthy – and that their parents have a chance to address any concerns. And this all has to happen within 20 minutes, so I don’t keep my other patients waiting! To maximize our time together and help the visit go off without a hitch, there are a few smart moves moms can make. Here’s what I recommend to de-stress your next doctor’s visit:

Bring your child’s paperwork. Keep your child’s medical files in an easy-to-find location. If you’re a first-time patient, provide the doctor’s office with your medical history and files. That way, we won’t have to track down things like allergies and vaccination histories during the appointment. Also, remember to bring in any forms or waivers that your child needs to be filled out for school, sports and activities.

Think about what you want to address. When I’m wrapping up a visit, parents will often mention an important issue that requires more careful examination. To make sure that you don’t forget anything -- and that I have enough time to examine any problems -- jot down a little list of all the conditions and concerns that you want to discuss. You may also want to call or email me before coming in. For instance, if you’re worried because your child can’t concentrate in school, I sometimes have his or her teachers fill out a questionnaire before the visit.

Keep track of symptoms. Take note of when your child developed her problem and how often it occurs, such as when she started getting headaches and how long they last. Knowing the complete picture can help me make a diagnosis.

Prep your child. Before the appointment, let your kids know why they’re seeing the doctor. One exception: If you know that getting a shot makes your child anxious and worried, skip telling her. She may spend the entire visit in tears.

Don’t promise “no shots!” or “no medicine!” Instead, just say that you’re not sure. Your child shouldn’t feel like you’ve betrayed her. Also, don’t use needles as a bartering chip. I’ve had some parents tell their kids, “If you’re bad, Dr. Zets will give you shot.” Not only does this portray me as the bad guy, it also encourages a fear of doctors!

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

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6 Tips to Handle Criticism

It’s happened to the best of us: After your boss disapproved of your work, you found yourself fighting back tears (or getting angry). It’s a common reaction. But dealing with negative comments without having to reach for a tissue is important. In fact, learning how to accept -- and learn from -- criticism can strengthen relationships and advance your career. Here are some tips on how to deal with any potentially stinging comment:

1. Breathe. Although you may feel yourself getting upset or defensive, take a deep breath. Feel tears starting to well or your temper starting to rise? Step away from the situation. That gives you time to cool off and gain perspective, so you can respond appropriately.

2. Pinpoint the emotions underneath. Ask yourself: What’s the real reason I’m upset? Is it shock? Fear of failure? Identifying the root of your emotions can help separate your feelings from the situation -- so you can process the comment objectively.

3. Consider who’s giving the criticism. If his or her opinion matters, the comment has more weight. Understanding the other person’s viewpoint can help you evaluate your own behavior. But if the person who made the remark doesn’t matter as much to you -- say, a stranger or random coworker -- realize that allowing their critique to bother you gives them power that they don’t deserve.

4. Decide if the comment is valid. It’s easy to ignore your own shortcomings, and there may be some truth in the criticism -- even if you don’t want to admit it. Try looking at the situation from a third-person perspective: Ask yourself how you would advise a friend to handle the same scenario. But if the criticism is off-base, have a discussion with the other person. It may be a misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Or recognize that everyone is entitled to their own opinion -- and move on.

Giving Criticism Effectively
Along with managing your own response, it’s also important to know how to best deliver criticism. Two tips:

  • Consider how the other person is likely able to handle the situation and how important the issue is to you. In some cases -- say, you’re not a fan of the car your sister recently purchased -- it may be better to hold your tongue.
  • When delivering a critique, choose an appropriate time and place to bring it up (a quiet conference room in the office, or a time when your husband’s not distracted). Focus on the facts instead of getting personal, and offer solutions or propose changes that can help you both get on the same page.

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The 8 Secrets of Constructive Arguments

When it comes to confrontations, many of us are programmed to think of them as a win-or-lose situation. As a result, we often avoid conflict to help keep the peace. But that can take a toll on our health: A University of Michigan study found that couples who usually held their tongues during conflict had a greater risk of death. That’s because suppressing emotions can increase the production of damaging stress hormones, explain experts.

In fact, arguments are often a sign of a healthy relationship. In reality, free expression of an honest disagreement is a sign of mutual trust and respect. And they often strengthen your bond: Some of the more common benefits of healthy conflict are gaining insight into the relationship, establishing new patterns of behavior, focusing on issues that require attention and becoming aware of others’ needs and goals.

But that doesn’t mean you can pick a fight with your spouse in the name of love or longevity. The key is first learning how to argue constructively -- without automatically dissolving into tears and reaching for a box of tissues. To engage in a healthy discussion, here are my guidelines to have a constructive disagreement:

1.    Pick a time and place
Something on your mind? Don’t ambush your husband when he’s tired, hungry, unprepared or distracted. Instead, request to have the discussion later, like after dinner -- when both of you can devote your full attention to the conversation.

2.    Keep the pulse on your emotions
Strong feelings interfere with your ability to rationally process and discuss the issue at hand. If you find your voice rising and anger bubbling, take a break to let them simmer down. Then revisit the issue when you’re able to approach it rationally.

3.    Take note of your non-verbal messages
During the conversation, use appropriate eye contact to signal that you’re listening and trying to understand. Make a conscious effort to avoid negative facial expressions or eye rolling.

4.    Be direct
Before the discussion, determine what’s troubling you and what you need from the other person so you can communicate it. And stick to the issue at hand. Attacking the other person or his personality isn’t constructive; it just leads to hurt feelings.

5.    Focus on the present issue
Avoid bringing up past problems or throwing out multiple grievances at once. If you’re upset that your husband bought a new flat-screen without advance notice, for instance, don’t be tempted to call him irresponsible and accuse him of never taking out the trash. He’ll just feel attacked.

6.    Own your feelings with “I” statements
Beginning sentences with “you” automatically puts the other person on the defensive. Rather than say, “You’re so irresponsible,” for instance, say “I feel upset that you don’t consult me before big decisions. We should be a team.”

7.    Identify and manage goals
Conflict is often goal-driven, so determine what you need and where there’s common ground. (“Let’s focus on growing our family vacation fund.”)

8.    Know when to agree to disagree
There are some conflicts, especially those related to morals, values or personal beliefs, that can’t be fixed by listening more or challenging less. Sometimes you have to drop the issue.

Conflicts and disagreements shouldn’t be stressful, dysfunctional or detrimental. You shouldn’t burst into tears and reach for the tissues during an argument. With understanding of why conflict occurs and how to find an agreeable solution, confrontation can serve as a building block for a healthy relationship.

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