10 Tips to a Peaceful Christmas Season

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Quartine.  Sickness.  Riots.  Arguments.  Politics.  Tantrums. Deadlines. “I wants.” 

Kids home most of the year. Routines completely out of whack. Families apart for the holidays.

It seems like Christmas 2019 was a different world.  This year peace seems so much farther away than usual.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are some of the things my family does year-round to help us remain in peace.  May these simple tips help you and yours this Christmas season.

  1. Deep Breathing: Breathing is essential to life.  Deep breathing is essential to self-control and calmness.  Along with regulating blood pressure, helping relax muscles, deep breathing decreases the stress hormone cortisol – and who doesn’t want less stress? When things seem out of control, take a deep breath.  Recite a favorite verse or proverb and remind yourself, this too will pass.  Here is a great article for Harvard Health on how to make deep breathing a routine.  this more a routine.

2. Go to bed on time (maybe even a little early): For my followers, you know how much I value sleep and the many benefits it gives.  In addition to improving concentration, lowering health issues (like heart and diabetes), sleep is good for emotional response. A study done on this by the Mental Health Foundation found that people that didn’t get enough sleep were four times as likely to suffer from lack of concentration, have relationship problems and 3 times more likely to be depressed, and 2.6 times more likely to commit suicide.

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3. Go outside: Something is calming about being out in nature.  Seeing the colors, feeling the warmth of the sun, or the comfort of a cool breeze, it a sensation unlike any other.  More that, being outside lowers depression and stress, is social, and increases short-term memory and concentration.  But, more than that, it gives the brain a minute to take a break and process the day.  For those who need it, it is also a safe way to take a break from family members or use it as a way to talk through a situation.

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4. Make a list of things you’re thankful for: I am a big proponent of counting blessings. There is something about writing them out that does help shift the mind from a “Woe is me” to a “Blessed is me” attitude.  Gratitude helps physical and psychological health and is a benefit to getting good sleep.    

Reading

5. Read/watch something uplifting:  What we put before our eyes affect what we think and feel.  Ever walk out of the theatre after watching a suspense movie and take extra precaution walking to the car?  This year there has been so much negative news and more movies and shows of intense drama, fear, and, call it what it is, poor behavior.  When I talk to friends and family who have been reading and watching these things, their anxiety and fear are much higher than those who have chosen to spend that same time watching and reading positive and uplifting things.  Positive words are healthy for one’s body and mind.

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6. Listen to uplifting music: Some of us do not have time for books and TV shows.  Instead, we spend our days working and running the household and driving kids to this appointment or that.  But, during that time, we are still taking in messages.  Use this time to listen to what is uplifting.  In the car, limit how much news and talk radio you listen to.  Set a specific time frame and then move on to uplifting audiobooks or music.  At work, create a playlist or station on Spotify or Pandora that is designed to help focus and still brings in good vibes.

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7. Write down your worries…then burn them:  This is one of my favorite things to do.  There is something powerful about writing down the worries.  It gives them a concrete feeling.  And concrete can be destroyed.  Once they are written down, it allows me to see the worry as a challenge with limits.  Once there are limits to the fear, that means there is a way to conquer the fear.  Once I can see the worry is not abstract, I then pray over them and then – burn them. 

8. Spend time with a close friend: When we are busy (or quarantined), it is easy to forget to invest in other relationships.  We forget to do things that bring us joy and help us relax.  But something is refreshing about spending time with people we love.  As a military family, we have lived all over.  It is still my favorite thing to screen time family and friends, not near us.  The apps Marco Polo and Whatapp are particularly great for this because you can send video, text, and audio no matter the time of day for them to open when it works for them.  But, there is something wonderful about sharing a cup of Joe and playing a game or watching a movie together (either in person or on a Zoom). This also helps us carry each other’s burdens and reminds us we are not alone in this. 

9. Enjoy a delicious, nutritious meal: I love food! I also believe it has a major impact on our health, behavior, and attitudes. Health food helps my body to operate better.  But, more importantly, I feel better.  When I feel better physically, I feel better mentally.  I also respond to information with more logic and less emotion. When we are pressed for time and/or overwhelmed, it is easy to let good healthy habits fall by the wayside (especially with the holiday goodies at every turn).   However, taking a little time to eat nutritiously, will change the impact on your life and the life of those in your household.

10. Be playful and laugh a lot! This year, more than most, it has been easier to forget to laugh and play. But these two things are so important to our relationships, heart, and mental health. Adults need recess too! Play is both fun and motivating. Studies show that people and leaders who laugh are more composed in the face of adversity and have a “bright side” mentality.

This Christmas and holiday season, as we are celebrating with new traditions, different people, and face the coming New Year, let’s remember we can be at peace in the face of adversity.  May these tips help you, as they do me and mine, this season and year to come.

9 Tips to Ace Your Next Test

Schools are back in session across the world.  Parents are all giving a collective sigh of relief.  Lunches are being packed, backpacks filled, and routine starting again.

Ahh!

But, along with school and routine, are tests, quizzes, and the inevitable paper.  Students across the world are giving a collective groan. 

Uhh!

Schools do not teach time management, study tips, or note-taking anymore.  These are all things that are supposed to be innate in our students these days.  I disagree.  I find these skills to be essential, not just academically, but professionally and personally as well.

Studying is an essential part of being a student in school or a student of life. These steps are used by my son at home who is reading 3 grades above grade level. These tips are especially useful for kids on the spectrum and help alleviate some of the stress that comes with school.  Here are 9 tips to help you ace that next test.

1)      Listen and pay attention: This sounds so simple.  In reality, this can easily be the hardest thing to do; especially if you have a mono-tone teacher, or find the subject taught to be boring.  Listening (not just hearing, but really taking in the information) is key to comprehension.  Pay attention is not just listening, but actively listening.  Ask questions.  Be engaged.  Be willing to learn.

2)      Make sure you understand the material: It is really easy to think you understand the material in a lecture, but then get home and realize you have no idea what happened in that class.  So, make sure you understand the material.  A great way to do this is to use elaborative integration and self-explanation.  Elaborative integration is asking how this information actually affects other areas of study or your life.  How does math affect your career choice?  How does the history of politics affect your personal life?  Self-explanation is essential.  Summarize the class to yourself.  Teach yourself.  If you cannot explain it to someone not in the class clearly, you need to study a bit more.

3)      Skim, skim, skim: This was essential to me as I got higher and higher in academics and had more to read in a shorter amount of time.  Skimming is essential to getting your brain in the right mindset to accept new material.  Skim chapter titles, headers, subheaders, fist sentences of paragraphs.  These will usually tell you the most important topics, ideas, and vocabulary likely to be on tests.  These can be the beginning of your study session notes.

4)      Take good notes: This is a hard one.  Some students want to write down everything in a lecture – word for word.  Some students only write single words.  Both are poor notetaking habits.  I recommend the Cornell Note Taking Process.   These actually allow for you the places to incorporate elaborative integration and self-explanation.  For those who are visual, this also helps for those who need academic doodling. 

5)      Distributed practice: I love this technique! Simply put, this means studying throughout the week instead of in one cram session.  The Cram Session is a technique used by students throughout the world, but it is not helpful in long term retention.  As academics (and life) build on each other like a high rise, it is essential to retain the information.  Using distributive practice to ensure retention.  Studying ten minutes a day for a subject (50 minutes a week) will ensure you retain the information and spend less time the day before a test (2 hours) trying to make sure to know the material.

6)      Interlevel practice: This practice is great to ensure recall.  This is mixing information when studying.  For example, if you have ten vocabulary words and you practice spelling them each word ten times each, you would be doing distributive practice.  If you were to practice the spelling words writing one word, then the next, then the next, and the doing this pattern ten times, you would be doing interlevel practice.  This can become a really good technique as you mix subjects as well.  We use dessert time to review grade-level material incorporating all subjects for this.  This also ensures we are out of a school setting and can be a little more silly.

7)      Create a study schedule: This sounds like a given, but it is the most forgotten part of scheduling. Most parents make sure there is time for the extracurriculars of football, soccer, dance , and music, but then forget that studying takes time too.  We have stopped holding our children accountable for studying until the day before a big test.  With a study schedule in place, there is sufficient time set for all subjects to be worked on without spending hours every evening on homework.

8)      Practice Tests: No one wants to hear more testing is needed.  This is a great way to get a feel for what you know, what you don’t know, and where you need to spend extra time.  You can create your own practice test using the keywords and questions taken in your notes.  Or you can create flashcards and practice that way.  The key is to practice. I like to start a session with a practice test early in the week, then use it at the beginning and end of every session following up to the test day.

9)      Review Often: Most students will review.  They just typically review the night before a test.  Use your downtime to review (going to and from school or practice).  I recommend reviewing the notes for the day at least 30 minutes after the class.  If you use the Cornell Note Taking System, this is a great time to pull out those headers, vocabulary, questions, and work on your summary of the notes.  This should take 5 to 10 minutes.  Review the week mid-week.  Review the material in detail the day before tests. Review of material often will ensure retention, clear focus during study sessions, and less stress the night and hours before a test.

Some of you (like most my family), naturally retain information with little work.  But, if you are like me, acing a test takes time and effort.  These simple steps can increase your retention, decrease your stress, and help you utilize your time management effectively ensuring a higher grade.

Let me know your favorite study techniques in the comments below.