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Daily Archives: June 21, 2016

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Why the Summer Solstice May Be the Happiest Day of the Year

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The summer solstice is June 20, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. But do the extra hours of sunshine make you happier?

In general, people are more cheerful in the summertime, according to Philip Gehrman, associate director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Light serves as the strongest cue to regulate circadian rhythms, which include the sleep cycle, hormonal fluctuations and body temperature and follow a roughly 24-hour pattern.

“People tend to feel better in summer months,” Gehrman said. “There’s a slight elevation in our mood. More positive emotions are reported.”

But the effect isn’t uniform—circadian rhythms vary from person to person, so the amount and timing of sunlight means different things to different people, said Dr. Irina V. Zhdanova, a neuroscience professor at Boston University. For example, morning sunlight can irritate people who wake up late. On the other hand, for people who rise early, morning sunlight can have a positive effect, but sunlight may irritate them in the evening.

It’s similar to meal habits, Zhdanova said.

“Some like three meals a day, others like 10 small meals a day,” Zhdanova said. “Sometimes sunlight is good and uplifting during a certain time of the day, while for others, it’s neither uplifting or positive and can induce mild irritation.”

The extra sunlight also entrains the circadian rhythm, a process in which the internal biological clock aligns itself to external cues, like the light-dark cycle. Now that the days are longer, in general, the circadian rhythm is entrained much better, Zhdanova said. In other words, the circadian rhythm is better aligned with natural sunlight and darkness, which can affect people’s sleep and moods.

However, Gehrman said, it is unclear whether elevated moods come from more entrained circadian rhythms and better sleep, or if the happiness boost is directly attributable to the sunlight.

On the flip side, experiencing less sunlight in the winter can pose a challenge, said Frank Scheer, director of the Medical Chronobiology Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“The lengthening or shortening of the light period during the day does have a clear effect,” Scheer said. “In wintertime, when the days are shorter, we are more likely to wake up when it’s still dark outside and before the circadian system stimulates wakefulness and improved mood.”

So, enjoy the longest day of the year while it lasts—the days will start getting shorter again from here.

This article originally appeared on Time.com.

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7 Ways to Carve Out Time to Meditate

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Establishing a meditation routine can be difficult. You’re busy! Who has time to breathe, let alone sit and breathe? But if you think the only way you’ll learn how to meditate is with a 25-hour day, think again.

RELATED: How to Meditate (Even If You’re Really Impatient)

Plenty of busy people are making time for meditation. Media guru Arianna Huffington makes it a part of her morning routine. Rapper 50 Cent uses meditation to help him remain positive when faced with negative personalities. And Jerry Seinfeld won’t let anything get between him and his meditation time—he allegedly takes time between TV shoots to get zen.

Cultivating Calm, On Your Time

“I have a really chaotic schedule so I do it whenever I can,” says Dan Harris, a correspondent for ABC News and the author of the New York Times bestseller 10% Happier. “I don’t freak out if I can’t fit it in but I do think it’s important to do something every day.” Harris has been meditating ever since he experienced a panic attack on air nearly a decade ago.

He credits meditation with helping him control knee-jerk reactions to frustrating situations. Thanks to improved patience, Harris says he’s a better listener and is able to hold shorter, more fruitful meetings. Meditation, he says, is “fighting a lifetime pattern of letting your thoughts lead you by the nose.”

RELATED: The 8 Best Apps for Guided Meditation

Dina Kaplan, founder of The Path, a weekly meditation practice in New York City, says meditation allows her to have more “mental agility” during her day. She’s much more calm when faced with stress, and feels as though she makes better decisions. And science confirms these benefits: your brain will actually change if you stick with meditation, just as your body changes when you exercise regularly. You’ll be rewarded with improved memory and other cognitive benefits.

“Don’t put the pressure on yourself that you have to do it forever,” Harris says. It’s okay if you fall off the wagon for a few weeks, so long as you muster the grit to return to your practice. The power of meditation, he says, is derived from practicing daily. Watch this video for a short meditation exercise from Happify, featuring Harris and Sharon Salzberg, a meditation teacher and author.

So what’s the secret to actually making time for meditation? We asked Harris, Kaplan and David Ngo, a behavioral designer at Stanford University and behavior consultant for The Path, for their best tips on how to actually create a meditation habit.

7 Ways to Start Meditating Today 

1. Type it into your phone calendar
Instead of simply hoping you’ll be able to squeeze in meditation on the fly, try setting aside a specific time for it. “If I carve out time to [meditate], that’s the space for my practice to go,” says Ngo. When you create that space, the habit can grow. But rather than thinking of meditation as another item on your to-do list, think of it as a gift to yourself, says Kaplan.

 2. Do it in the morning
“If you’re starting out and you’re struggling with developing the habit, I do think you should do it first thing [in the morning]” says Kaplan. She meditates right after she brushes her teeth. By doing it right away, she has no excuse. Especially for parents with young kids, doing it before the day gets underway is your best bet for fitting in some “me time,” she says. Kaplan recommends not setting your goals too high in the beginning. “If you can do five minutes, that’s better than nothing.”

RELATED: 19 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Becoming a Morning Person

3. Start with one breath
Don’t underestimate the power of small behaviors. By focusing on taking one conscious breath when you have a spare moment, you can pave the way for creating a meditation habit. Ngo says this philosophy comes from BJ Fogg, Ph.D., behavioral scientist and founder of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, who pioneered the idea of creating tiny habits. For example, to create a habit of tidying up at home, you might start by making your bed each morning. A tiny habit should be a behavior that requires little effort and can be performed in less than 30 seconds. “That seed of the habit can then grow into a full-blow tree,” says Ngo.

4. Perform meditation after an existing habit
After you get into your car for your daily commute, try meditating for a few breaths instead of racing to turn on the ignition. Or quiet your mind after you go to the bathroom at work. “The pattern is always after,” says Ngo. “This is called anchoring.” Ngo recommends choosing a daily occurrence or existing activity to remind yourself to meditate.

5. Use headphones
As a TV correspondent, Harris has a packed schedule that involves a fair amount of travel. “People think you have to sit in some position, but that isn’t true,” he says. “There are four ways to do it: walking, standing, sitting or lying down.” No matter how busy life gets, Harris tries to fit in 30 minutes of meditation each day. His secret weapon? Headphones. He puts on a pair to cancel noise when he meditates in airports and on planes. “As long as you’re somewhere that’s reasonably quiet, you’re good,” says Harris. (And if you’re lying down and you fall asleep, that’s ok, he says.)

RELATED: How to Overcome Anxiety, Starting Now

6. Siphon time from superfluous activities
Think about it: Do you really need to hit ‘reply all’ to every email that hits your inbox? “I would have considered myself busy at my last job, but it was just an excuse to procrastinate from what was really important,” says Kaplan. As a successful start-up founder and Emmy award-winning TV reporter, Kaplan says she was writing redundant emails and taking meetings that were unnecessary. “If you’re answering emails you don’t really need to respond to, that would give you 15 minutes,” she says. With that extra time, she suggests finding a quiet park bench to relax, or even sneaking into a hotel lobby for a few minutes.

7. Practice mindfulness when you’ve got time to kill
Resist the urge to scroll through Instagram the moment your friend or dinner date heads to the bathroom. “I think it’s very healthy to have all sorts of moments in the day where you’re just being,” says Kaplan. It’s tempting to use our phones as entertainment during those “black spaces” during the day, but Kaplan recommends pausing and just letting the moment happen instead of gluing yourself to your Facebook feed. Look around, smile at other people and enjoy some momentary calm. While it’s not the same as doing a seated meditation, being fully present during these small moments can help you feel more comfortable confronting the thoughts rattling around in your mind.

This article originally appeared on DailyBurn.com. 

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This Is How Tonight’s Rare ‘Strawberry Moon’ Might Affect Your Body

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Look up at the sky tonight, and you will see a rare celestial phenomenon: a solstice full moon. Depending on your time zone, it may be the first since 1948. 

The June solstice, observed at 6:34 p.m. ET, when the sun reaches its northernmost position in the sky, will mark the first day of summer, and the longest day of the year. (Of course it's a Monday!) Then, as the sun sets two hours later, a full moon will rise in the east. 

June's full moon is known as the strawberry moon because it appears at the peak of strawberry season. Algonquin tribes considered it a signal to start harvesting the fruit, according to the Farmer's Almanac. But tonight's full moon may mean other things aside from perfectly ripe berries. Research suggests it might affect us in a handful of unexpected ways.

If you've been sleeping fitfully, for example, this lunar phase could be to blame. In a 2013 study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers found that on nights surrounding a full moon, participants had lower levels of the sleep hormone melatonin. They also slept 20 fewer minutes overall, and brain activity related to deep sleep declined 30%.

Research has also hinted there may be a link between the lunar cycle and a woman's menstrual cycle. According to a 2011 study in the journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, some women's periods may be synced to the full moon. The researchers found that of the 826 women who participated in the study, 30% had their period during the full moon. 

The moon may even have an effect on surgical outcomes. A 2013 study revealed that people who had emergency heart surgery during a full moon were less likely to die. They also spent, on average, four fewer days in the hospital than patients who underwent the same surgery during two other moon phases. 

But whether you notice any effects from tonight's moon or not, you're likely to feel good this week. As TIME reports, the summer solstice may be the happiest day of the year, possibly due to the extra minutes of sunlight; or because during the summer, our natural circadian rhythms become more closely aligned with the 24-hour cycle of sunlight and darkness, which can influence both our sleep and our moods. 

Now go soak up some extra rays, and make sure you hang out long enough to catch a glimpse of a beautiful moon.

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Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Wrap

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Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Wrap Recipe
Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Wrap
This chicken Caesar salad wrap recipe is elevated by the irresistible smoky flavor of grilled chicken and grilled romaine. Whisk together this easy Caesar salad dressing, toss with the grilled chicken and romaine and wrap it all together for a delicious lunch or dinner.

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