Ways of Successfully Transitioning to a “New Normal” for Families 

The emotional toll that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken on us is enormous. Our lives have been dragged back and forth as a result of lockdowns, social distancing, and many other social gathering limitations that have impacted every aspect of our lives, including our relationships.

Keeping physical space between people who don’t live together was critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. As governments have decided to lower the social distancing limits, returning to our daily life with a mask and unknown parameters can be stressful and anxiety-causing. 

For children and young adults especially, it’s difficult to anticipate how we’ll handle our return to in-person school following online schooling. Many of us, without a doubt, are not prepared to return, and yet here we are. Despite the fact that school systems differ from one country to another, the difficulties that children face are more or less the same around the world. Students who are returning to school this fall may be feeling the pressure, worry, stress, and anxiety that comes with the change after a lack of social contact owing to lockdowns and other restrictions. 

COVID-19 pandemic school closure and online learning have worsened some of the systemic vulnerabilities that students and families were already facing, such as poverty, displacement, and racism. Researchers report significant increases in people’s anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. A recent study by Duckworth et al. (2021), found that high school students who learned remotely (regardless of gender, race, and ethnicity, or socioeconomic status) had lower levels of social, emotional, and academic well-being than students who learned in school. Moreover, returning to school also involves periodic quarantine of students if there is a confirmed case and their friends leading to isolation at home or hospitals. 

Younger children are adaptable and flexible, but attempts to safeguard their health may make new child care and school settings more difficult. If you are a parent you may be hesitant to enroll your kid(s) in an early childhood education program since you may be unable to readily visit and interact frequently with the childcare provider or teacher. 

If you are a parent of older youth, you may be more apprehensive about how your child will maintain their safety without your guidance with the current safety protocols in the school. You may also be concerned regarding how your child will adapt to a newer school environment with distancing in the classroom and limited social opportunities with peers. 

So, how do we cope as a parent and a child during this return to school phase of their lives? Good stress management techniques and practices can be highly beneficial in this scenario to prepare for these stressful and uncertain times. 

Establish better communication

We have a tendency to mentally navigate our anxieties in isolation. One of the most beneficial strategies is to communicate how we cope with uncomfortable emotions with others. This can be done as a daily ritual during dinner time or having a good discussion or as you are getting ready to put your child to bed. Encourage your children with positive remarks (such as “I am so glad that you shared that with me”) when they share their feelings or emotional experiences with you. This will create a positive association with communication. 

Tiny techniques of tackling stress 

There are many small ways that you and your loved ones can manage daily stress. The easiest of all is taking a deep breath, counting down from 10 to 1, or going for a quick sip of water, doodling, playing with your pet, watching a light-hearted television, listening to a piece of soothing music, engaging in hobbies, learning something new.

Get moving

 Educate children on ways they can still enjoy playtime and peer engagement during this transitional phase. Play and exercise are crucial parts of a child’s development. Make sure that your children are receiving opportunities and dedicated times to engage in these forms of activities. You can also engage them in exploration to various outdoor venues such as state parks and hiking trails. 

Power of Now

Most of our lives we spend either ruminating past experiences or worrying about the future when our true existence is in fact the “now”. When we are experiencing the present moment we are most engaged with our thoughts, emotions, surroundings, and people. Research has proven that mindfulness practice can be highly effective in bringing present moment awareness and even managing our stress. When we are faced with uncertainty, I believe that mindfulness practices can assist us in feeling more grounded, calm, and in the present moment. To learn more about various mindfulness practices, you can visit this website “link”.

A pool of research has shown its benefits in various areas and psychologists have found how mindfulness practice improves both mental and physical health. For adults, mindfulness practice has emerged as an effective method to manage stress, anxiety, depression, and work productivity. For children, it helps with stress, anxiety, improving focus and emotional regulation.  Mindfulness practices entail paying attention with your mind and body to the current moment and accepting your experiences and emotions without judgment. 

Ways to teach mindfulness to children

  1. Breathing exercise with a toy (breathing bear)
  2. Engage children in an art activity 
  3. Slow stretches 
  4. Visual imagery practice 
  5. Spidey senses 
  6. Glitter jar activity
  7. Gratitude practice like naming three daily good things before bed

 Isn’t it amazing how merely tuning into your thoughts and feelings can have such a great impact on your entire body? According to the researchers, it is believed that the benefits of mindfulness are tied to its ability to reduce the body’s response to stress, therefore with worries about sickness, finances, and isolation, coping with grief from loss.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused worldwide trauma for the whole of humanity. The slow and steady transition is much harder than anticipated. We are still struggling to find a balance between the safety of our family and the need for social connections. This transition is uncertain but filled with the hope of going back towards “normal”. The only assurance we have is to take care of ourselves and our families during these unknown times. The techniques suggested here are a few of the many you can try to aspire to and create healthier, happier, and resilient lives for your families and communities.   

This blog written by Thoinu Karam, Family and Consumer Sciences intern.

Nine foods that will help you stay on your ‘New Year Health Goals’

Happy New Year friends! We have passed one of the most challenging times of our lives and are still struggling to work through the uncertainty for 2021. In spite of this ambiguity, our health is still one thing we can improve and make plans to either continue or begin the personal health journey.

In my last blog “Practical Tips To Master Your Health Goals during Holidays,” I mentioned to not only empty your pantries of tempting food that might derail you from your health goals but also load up your pantry and refrigerator with foods that will help you stay on target. So to get things started, let us look at these nine essential items that might prove to be your best friend in sticking to your journey. 

  1. Grains 

Grain-derived products are a staple to most of us. They provide substance and base to so many of our dishes. Making changes in this segment of your pantry might be the easiest adjustment as there are numerous varieties of products available to suit your lifestyle. So here are some of my favorites grains for the pantry- brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, whole corn kernels, and whole-grain bread/tortilla/wraps/pasta. Due to the higher fiber content, these items have a much higher satiety value as compared to their more processed counterparts. However, I do also keep ready to cook versions of these items for quick-fix meals. When buying ready to cook grains, make sure to look at the food labels to make sure they do not have higher sugar, salt, and fat content.  

  1. Lentils and beans

Lentils and beans are my favorite way to add bulk to my dishes. Whether it is adding beans in my soups or making bean burgers/quesadillas, or adding cooked lentils to my salad, these products have never failed me. It is abundant in proteins and contains great amounts of fiber as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Keeping dry lentils and beans are most economic and it lasts longer. You can menu plan with these and cook them in a slow cooker or instant pot for later use. However, for convenience, you can also get no/reduced sodium canned beans. 

Photo by Anthony Shkraba on Pexels.com
  1. Canned or dried meats

This group is a no-brainer. Canned meats are not only nutritious but they are also very affordable, time-saver, and convenient to travel with. The only factor to consider while buying these products is to get low sodium/fat options. Find canned meats that are not preserved in oil but water. Add your seasonings to make it tastier. When you buy canned items with high sodium/oil/sugar, you cannot remove those and they contribute to unnecessary calories to your daily meals. The second factor to consider is to add a variety of meats (chicken, tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, etc.) as a staple and find newer ways to use these products. 

  1. Frozen fruits and veggies

These are your nutritional powerhouse group. Frozen fruits and vegetables are perfect for healthy smoothies, yogurt parfaits, breakfast bowls, stir-fry, steamed vegetables, riced vegetables, baking casseroles, etc. They last for a very long time and compared to other processed versions, it holds more nutrients. They are nearly as nutritious as whole fruits or vegetables freshly harvested from the farm.  

  1. Healthier snacks

Most of us need help in improving this section of our pantries. Let’s be honest here, not all products that claim to be healthy are actually healthy. So make sure to read your nutrition labels and ingredients list. Your whole wheat bread should not have anything other than 100%/whole wheat flour as a first ingredient. Here are some of my recommendations for snacks- low-calorie popcorns, whole nut butter, brown rice cakes, whole grain crackers, canned fruits in water (no added sugar), roasted nuts and seeds with limited sodium, protein bars (try making homemade bars!), healthy trail mix (more preferably homemade), low sugar dried fruits, and dried low sodium jerky.   

  1. Dairy goodness

Low-fat dairy products are a great go-to snack or dessert option. They are well suitable to combine with other groups I talked about.  In addition to low-fat milk, here are the options that can be used- low fat plain Greek yogurt for making dips, marinade, and salad dressings, flavored yogurts for parfaits and frozen yogurt bars, cottage cheese on oatmeal with fruits/vegetables/rice cakes/toast/crackers, and low-fat cheese sticks. 

  1. Non-dairy options

This group has come a long way. We have several options available for individuals who want to follow a non-dairy lifestyle. Soy-based products (tofu, soy milk, tempeh, miso, etc.) and nuts and grain-based products ( almond, cashew, flax, rice, and oats milk) provide diverse textures, flavors without the fear of lactose sensitivity. However, it does not mean that they all are low-calorie options. Make sure to use unsweetened or low-fat, sodium, and sugar options. Remember, you can always add your own flavors based on your preference. I also want to acknowledge eggs here too. They are a convenient source of protein. You can also use liquid egg whites to keep the protein content high without the excess fats coming from yolks. 

  1. Salads and pre-cut veggies

I am a big proponent of chopping vegetables for salads and use fresher vegetables when possible. However, there are days when it is not reality. Some days I do rely on pre-cut salads from the grocery stores to reach daily vegetable servings. It also stops me from drive-thru foods. So to some extent, I do recommend this option for pre-cut salads and other vegetables. 

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com
  1. Cereals and oats 

You are having a long workday sitting in front of a computer and need a snack. Most likely you will gravitate towards high-calorie snacks. I have been there too friends. In my opinion, eating healthy cereals with low-fat milk and frozen fruits/nuts or making old-fashioned oats in the cooktop/microwave with some fruits and low-fat milk/water can pull us out of cravings and satisfy hunger. It has always worked for me. I hope it works for you too. 

These are just a few of my recommendations, you can start with this and make your pantry must-haves that keeps you on track with your health goals. 

Master Your Health Goals During Holidays

Here we are, friends! In spite of the current crisis, you are keeping up with staying healthy or are thinking about starting a new health routine. The great thing about our health goals is that you can always set and practice them from where you are. Whether you are a beginner, in process, advanced level, or a returning member of your health journey, there is always a possibility for you to improve and maintain your health. 

However, it does get challenging during the holidays. Holidays are getting closer and we all know how easy it is to get derailed from our health goals. But does it have to be that way? Can’t we enjoy our holidays and yet make sure we are not straying away from our goals? The answer is YES. The overarching tip is to “be prepared.” Make sure to create practical ways you can eat right or move more that actually works for your lifestyle. 

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

Keep some techniques in your pocket that can help you troubleshoot abrupt plans and missed days. Having goals doesn’t have to be a punishment, it should be a journey. So let me  share my tried and true tips that have saved my health goals and still let me enjoy festivities. 

  1. Create clear goals and get precise: “I will start exercising next week” vs “I will exercise at least three times a week for an hour in the mornings.” Which of these goals sound more effective to you? Your detailed goals are going to help you prepare even better.  
  2. Create a calendar: This technique has saved me from missing exercise activities and overindulging in foods. Look at your calendar or create a new calendar to find available slots and add your exercise time. I usually do this on Sundays for the entire week. However, our lives don’t always run by calendar so make sure to be flexible and change up the schedule if you need to. For example, maybe choose a different time to go to the gym or walk if your day is hectic. Also, allow yourself to have a cheat day and add that to your calendar as well. 
  3. Load up your fridge: We all know to unload our pantry from not so healthy foods but we hardly invest time in replacing it with healthier options. So make sure that you have enough food in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to not get tempted to get carryout. That way, while you are preparing for the holidays, you still have good healthier options for you. 
  4. Do your research: Make sure to look for healthier alternatives to Christmas treats you get or prepare every year. There are numerous recipes and techniques available that can still give you the satisfaction of enjoying your treat without breaking your health goals. Pin those on Pinterest, take a screenshot, whatever works for you, create a recipe playlist. 
  5. Change the way you eat and move: This might be one of my most favorite tips — to practice moderation while enjoying feasts. Hope you give this a try. If you are to cook a feast or attend one, make sure to bring some healthier options or eat something filling beforehand like a big bowl of salad or smoothies or simple oatmeal. This will naturally help you to eat less than usual and you will still get to indulge in holiday feasts without guilt. You can also do a bit more cardio workouts (moderate intensity walking/jogging/ rowing/elliptical) that day to burn extra calories you might consume. 
  6. Know your numbers: It is important to identify how many calories you need to reach or maintain your goals. If you are trying to lose weight, use some of the reliable calorie calculators to identify the calories you need and then deduct 100-300 calories to create a deficit that will lead to weight loss. Start slow if you have never practiced this. A drastic calorie deficit is not healthy, plus it is harder to keep up with. Take your time. 
  7. Log Your foods and activity: There numerous apps you can use to calculate calories and nutrients you consume every day. For example, if you are going to have a big feast in the evening for Thanksgiving, you can use logging apps to calculate how light you want to be so that you are still eating within your calorie goals. The same goes for activity or exercise. 

I hope you give these tips a try and create your own health routine that is manageable for a long time and brings you joy. 

Pressure/ Low Acid Canning


Beginning in the late ‘90s, low acid food canning began making headlines when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) received reports of botulism outbreaks associated with home canned vegetables. Those outbreaks resulted from home canners who did not follow proper safety and preservation guidelines for canning vegetables and low acid foods.

Considering the severity of the botulism, it is pertinent to follow safe preservation guidelines which starts with using a pressure canner and not a water bath canner. In my profession, I regularly have to guide people away from water bath canners and explain the necessity of a pressure canner.

So let us look at safe preservation guidelines before you start canning low acid foods.

What are low acid foods?

Low acid foods are vegetables, broth, stews, soups, meat-based recipes, spaghetti sauce, mixed dishes, and dairy products.

What equipment do I need?

A pressure canner is the only specialized equipment used to home can low acid foods. Pressure canners are thin-walled kettles that have screw-on lid with a fitted gasket. They also come with removable racks, an automatic vent/cover lock, a vent pipe, and safety fuse. It is important to buy pressure canner with Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) approval to ensure safety.

The pressure canners come with either a dial gauge or a weighted gauge to regulate pressure within the canner. You should conduct a trial run to get familiar with the new equipment. A very important thing to remember is that PRESSURE COOKERS and INSTANT POTS ARE NOT RECOMMENDED TO CAN LOW ACID FOODS – these can lead to botulism.

Store your pressure canner in dry and airtight packaging. If using dial gauge, make sure to check and recalibrate the dial every few uses. Read your manufacturer’s guidelines while learning to use and store pressure canner.

You will also need mason jars that contains two lids – A metal lid with sealing compound and a metal screwband. The jars are manufactured in different sizes such as half pint, pint, quart, gallon, or with wide mouth.

Canning toolkits are also very helpful in handling your jar while pouring your prepared fruit product and placing it in the canner. It usually contains lid magnet (lifting metal lids), funnel, tongs, bubble wand (for removing air bubbles and measuring headspace), and a jar lifter (to lift and handle hot jars).


General steps to pressure can low acid foods

  • Sterilize your jars:
    • Wash glass jars and metal screwbands in hot soapy water (if reusing jars). Sterilize it in boiling water for 10 minutes. This step can be skipped if the processing time for canning is longer than 10 minutes.
    • Metal lids with sealing compound: Sterilize sealing lids in a simmering water bath (ONLY FOR ONE USE)
  • Recipe preparation:
    • Prep your ingredients indicated in the recipe. Cut pieces of food items as evenly as possible.
    • Follow tested recipe guidelines without altering the ingredient amount.
  • Preparing the canner:
    • Gas cooktops are recommended for this canning method.
    • If using a dial gauge, make sure it is recalibrated and inspect all parts of the canner such as vent, gauge, gasket etc.
    • Place rack at the bottom of the canner and add about 2-4 inches of water.
    • Start the burner when the recipe is almost prepared and ready to be poured. Leave weight off the vent port/petcock. Once jars are placed inside the canner, you can adjust the water level if needed.
  • Processing:
    • Drain sterilized jars. Use funnel to pour prepared recipe in the jar.
    • Remove the air bubbles using bubble wand and measure and/or adjust the headspace as indicated in the tested recipe. Wipe the jar rim with clean towel without touching the food.
    • Use lid magnet to lift metal lid and place it on the jar. Place metal screwband and finger-tip tighten the lid.
    • Place prepared jars in the canner using jar lifter and cover the canner with the lid.
    • Wait for the steady steam coming from the vent port.
    • Place pressure regulator on the port and let the pressure build. Once the recommended pressure is reached, start recording processing time. Tested recipes will include the processing time based on jar size and altitude.
    • Regulate heat when the pressure fluctuates from the recommended pressure.
    • Once processing time is complete, turn off the burner and let it cool down at least till the canner is completely depressurized and vent lock falls down to its starting position.
    • Wait 10 minutes after depressurizing and then remove the lid away from your face.
    • Remove jars and let it rest the jar on the counter for at least 12 hours.
    • Clean the jars and label it with recipe name and production and expiration date.

What are tested/reliable recipes?

These recipes are lab-tested for time, temperature, and pH to ensure safety of the product if followed diligently. These recipes can be found on USDA’s website, state Extension websites, So Easy to Preserve Book, and the Ball Book on Preserving. You can also participate in University of Maryland Extension’s Statewide Food preservation program to gain hands-on experience. Have Fun Canning!

Water Bath Canning


Preserving foods at home, especially canning, is becoming more popular and there are a number of recipes, blogs, and canning guidelines available on internet. As exciting as it is, some of these sources are not research-based and give unsafe food handling advice.

We here at Breathing Room want to make sure your homemade products are safe, healthy and delicious. Considering the food safety issues associated with home preserved foods, I will be providing instruction and advice on canning methods in this, and upcoming, blogs.

Let’s start with canning fruits and pickles. Most beginners tend to start canning fruits, jams, jellies, and pickles over other food items because it utilizes water bath canning – a method recommended for canning high acid foods – as opposed to pressure canning.

What Equipment Do I Need?

Water bath canner – a large aluminum or porcelain pot with a lid. It also comes with a wire rack that fits inside to hold canning jars.

Mason jars with two lids – a metal lid with sealing compound, and a metal screwband. They come in different sizes such as half-pint, pint, etc., or with a wide mouth (for pickles or whole fruits).

Canning toolkit – contains a lid magnet (for lifting metal lids), a funnel, tongs, a bubble wand (for removing air bubbles and measuring headspace), and jar lifter (to lift and handle hot jars).


What Products Will I Need?

Most jam and jelly recipes will include the following general items:

Produce: Use almost-ripe fruits for products with better taste and texture. Support local agriculture by using produce grown at home, from local farm stands, or by participating in Community Supported Agriculture.

Pectin/Gelatin: Pectin helps to form gel by holding moisture present, and is sold as a powder and a liquid. IMPORTANT: Use the form indicated in the recipe, do not substitute.

Acid: Acid content in fruit varies. Some jellied products may not need added acid, whereas others may use lemon juice (commercial juice with 5% acidity) or citric acid.

Sugar: Sugar enhances taste, acts as a preservative, and works with pectin and acid to stabilize the gel. To limit sugar, use a tested and reliable recipe that uses modified pectin. You can also use recipes with artificial sweeteners however, it will not provide preservative properties and can alter the taste of the product. Note: do not swap sweeteners in recipes calling for sugar.

General Steps for Canning Jams and Jellies

  • Sterilize your jars:
    • Wash glass jars and metal screwbands in hot soapy water (if reusing jars). Sterilize in boiling water for 10 minutes. This step can be skipped if the processing time for canning is longer than 10 minutes.
    • Sterilize new metal lids with sealing compound in simmering water. NOTE – These should NOT be reused.
  • Recipe preparation:
    • Thoroughly wash produce. Trim, cut, and prep your fruit as indicated in the recipe. Cut pieces as evenly as possible.
    • Follow tested recipe guidelines without altering the ingredient amount.
  • Processing:
    • Use a funnel to pour the prepared recipe in the sterilized jars.
    • Remove air bubbles using the bubble wand and measure and/or adjust the headspace as indicated in the recipe.
    • Wipe the jar rim with clean towel without touching the food.
    • Use the lid magnet to lift metal lid and place it on the jar. Place metal screwband and finger-tip tighten the lid.
    • Place prepared jars in the canner and cover with the lid. Wait for the water to come to a rolling boil.
    • Start timer for the processing.
    • Turn off the burner and let it rest for 10 minutes.
    • Remove the jars with the jar lifter, and remove the lids. Rest the jars on the counter for at least 12 hours.
    • Clean the jars and label with recipe name, production and expiration date. 

What are Tested/Reliable Recipes?

These recipes are lab-tested for time, temperature, and pH to ensure safety of the product if followed diligently. These recipes can be found on USDA’s website, state extension websites, So Easy to Preserve Book, and the Ball Book on Preserving. You can also participate in the University of Maryland Extension’s statewide Food preservation program to gain hands-on experience.

Have fun canning!






A Brief History of Food Preservation

During the first agricultural revolution, preserving foods ensured long-term supply of food, reduced the burden to hunt, and prevented spoilage of excess agricultural produce. Today, food preservation is a reemerging skill in Maryland. If you fondly recall making strawberry jam with your grandmother, then join me and my colleagues at our food preservation classes, where we teach you how to safely preserve foods through the following techniques. To whet your appetite, today’s post will introduce you to how these methods came into existence.

Humans learned the first principle of preservation—drying—around 12,000 years ago, when temperatures from a previous ice age began to warm and naturally dry excess agricultural produce. These natural conditions, together with fire, enabled humans to practice drying on variety of food items such as fish, wild game, grains, vegetables, and fruits. During the middle ages, drying evolved by using “stillhouses”, which were made specifically to dry foods.

Most methods of preservation kills or prevents the growth of microorganisms, except for fermentation. Dating back to 6,000 B.C., fermentation utilizes good bacteria to preserve food and provide health benefits. Nearly every civilization has fermented foods: kimchi from Korea, chutney from India, and cheese from Europe. Fermentation not only helped to preserve foods but also created some of the most profitable and globalized commodities, such as wine and beer.

Humans residing in cooler parts of the world naturally gravitated towards freezing foods. By the end of the early middle ages, most areas of Europe used underground rooms and cellars to store foods with or without ice. Given the labor required to transport ice in those days, it wasn’t the most popular method of preserving food. However, in the 1800s, Clarence Birdseye revealed that quick-freezing at very low temperatures developed better tasting meats and vegetables. This discovery was the first of many to mechanize the freezing process.

Pickling produce started in India around 4,000 years ago. The Greeks pickled fruits in honey and syrup, and considered it a food for the wealthy. Pickling practices in the United States started during the 16th century.

Canning is the newest method of preservation, established in the 1790’s by French confectioner Nicholas Appert. He discovered that sealing food in a glass jar, then heating it, will preserve the food. In 1851, Raymond Chevalier Appert patented the pressure retort to can at temperatures higher than 212°F. Since then, canning has been identified as a factor of causing botulism. The USDA and other research entities continue to research this potential source of food poisoning, however, there are safe ways to can.

In my next few blog posts, I will go into more detail about food preservation and the importance of proper techniques to prevent foodborne illness. If you’re interested in getting started right away, you can register for one of our food preservation classes or contact the educator in your area. We provide you with the latest, research-based techniques to ensure that you preserve your foods safely and deliciously.

Struggling To Break Bad Habits? Consult With Your Brain.

In my last blog, I talked about habits and touched on how your brain changes when you start breaking these habits. The ability of your brain to change is called neuroplasticity, and there’s a lot more to it. Our posts often give tips for modifying behaviors to create healthier habits, including ways to save money, get more active, or eat healthier. If you’ve tried some of our tips, but struggled with making them stick, I hope today’s post will boost your motivation.

Every time you learn something new, your brain rewires itself. This neuroplasticity proves that you are not bound to your habits. No matter how difficult, with the right strategies and professional support, you can change your habits. In fact, from a neurological perspective, you can create new habits the same way you created your old ones.

Two Types of Neuroplasticity
Functional neuroplasticity creates new neural pathways in your brain, changing the way your nerve cells connect and communicate with each other. When you modify your habits over a period of time, older neural pathways (set by older habits) will fade, and newer neural pathways (created by newer habits) will strengthen.

Structural neuroplasticity occurs as a result of long-term learning and conditioning, which changes the structure of neural regions. These structural changes are slower, and because the brain regions are restructured—not just the connections within the regionstudies have shown that actions, behaviors, and even personalities can change.

It’s hard not to get frustrated when you can’t seem to stick with a healthier habit. If you’re working on a habit that just doesn’t seem to work for you, take some time to figure out what the potential barriers are. Maybe you started too aggressively, or you need additional support from your family, or you’re just not that motivated to change that behavior. There’s more than one way to achieve a healthy lifestyle. You just need to stay flexible and creative to find the adjustments that work for you.

How to Maximize Your Brain Power to Change Habits

  • The first step to changing habits is to understand your existing habitual patterns. You must understand mental cues and rewards before you can start to change your habits.
  • Be more mindful when trying to change habits that require a lot of effort. Research has shown that mindfulness practices help to strengthen the pre-frontal cortex, the region of the brain that controls for rational thought and logical decision-making.
  • Get curious and creative when you’re struggling. Changing habits is a challenging process for your mind and body. If a new habit isn’t working well for you, figure out why. Cultivate a child-like curiosity to determine what is and isn’t working. Then challenge yourself to be more creative in finding ways that would work better.

Knowing that your body and brain can change its nature should give you hope for building and strengthening your positive habits. The key to creating habits that foster wholesome living is to understand triggers and rewards, and consistently practice small modifications over time. If you feel like you’ve been struggling for too long, seek professional services to help you balance your budget, develop a weight loss plan, stop smoking, or address whatever habit (large or small) you’ve been working on. If you don’t know who to ask, contact your local Extension office for guidance.



Train Your Brain To Change Your Habits

We talk a lot about habits on this blog because we see, from our professional and personal experiences, that truly modifying your lifestyle requires paying attention to and managing your daily habits. Human beings are a creature of habits. Starting from the time we get up to the foods we like to eat, we all have sets of habits we practice on a daily basis. Studies have shown that about 40-45% of our daily actions are performed due to the habits we have created over a long time. This week, I’ll be diving into the science of habits and providing a few tips on how you can adopt healthier ones.

What is a habit?
Habits are actions performed repeatedly until they become automatic responses. These responses are stored in your memory and become an instinctual process. For instance, when you feed your pet, you probably aren’t consciously thinking. You do it as an automatic daily response to your pet’s behavior.

How are habits formed?
Your environment, relationships, geographical locations, and available opportunities affect you and your behaviors on a daily basis. These nurturing elements work together with your biological constitution, genetic framework, and cognitive attributes to build your habits.

Every habit, regardless of the behavior, follows three steps:

  • Cue/situation (For example, your hungry dog waits by her bowl.)
  • Action (You fill her bowl with food.)
  • Reward (You have met your pet’s needs.)

Understanding this process can help you keep tabs on your cues and rewards, and in turn, change your habits. For instance, if you recognize that excess stress (cue) makes you reach for a cigarette (action) to relax (reward), try de-stressing a bit. It will not only help you reduce the urge to smoke, but also give you the added benefit of feeling less stressed.

Simple changes can make a big difference. Eating a well-balanced diet can be difficult, but preparing several healthy meals at once makes it easier to stick with healthy choices and minimizes unhealthier choices made in a state of hunger.

How can you change your habits?
Once you identify and address your cues and rewards, and begin creating new habits, you also create specific neural connections and pathways within your brain. This process trains your brain to learn a behavior and memorize it as a habit. This facet of your brain also makes it harder to change these habits, since modifying your behavior leads to conflict between what is comfortable and time-efficient versus the new and unfamiliar. Re-training your brain requires re-learning, which can often be uncomfortable. With consistent practice you will create the neural pathways within your brain to memorize a new habit, eventually making that newer behavior familiar and comfortable.

I’ll talk more about this process, called neuroplasticity, and provide more tips on changing your habits on Thursday.