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6 Characteristics of a Healthy Family

To understand what is unhealthy, we first have to define what is healthy.

While each family is different, there are some common elements that can contribute to a healthy family environment.
Respecting opinions and personal needs, as well as showing respect, are all part of healthy family systems.
In isolation, one or more of these characteristics not being a part of your family is not in itself dysfunctional.
Whenever I conduct trainings or start working with clients who are beginning their journey in recovery from family trauma, I like to go over some basic characteristics of healthy families. If we do not know what is healthy, it's difficult to identify what was unhealthy.
These may sound easy to identify, but in truth, many of us are unaware of what makes a family healthy—or normal. Words like “healthy” or “unhealthy” have become so commonplace, but few of us could describe the characteristics required to use these words in relation to families. Thus, I focus on these six to give a foundational understanding to build from.

Here are six common characteristics of healthy families or social systems:

1. Respecting healthy emotional and physical boundaries: Children and other family members have privacy, and all members understand and respect that. In healthy families, parents do most of the emotional work with their children by modeling empathy, self-control, and appropriate behaviors in response to emotions or stress. The role of children is to learn.

2. Seeing each family member as an individual with an opinion: Everyone is allowed to have an opinion and all family members should respect and allow those opinions to be expressed as long as they are respectful, even if adults make the final decision. In families where there is little room for differing opinions, it is common for children to grow up into adults who do not know who they are. When you are always taught how and what to think, it is normal to not know how to do this for yourself.

3. Setting consistent, fair, and age-appropriate rules and expectations: All families have rules and it would be normal to find homes with different sets, but rules that are inconsistent or not age-appropriate create an environment of confusion and chaos. Children are still growing and learning, so a caregiver’s expectations of them should not be the same as their expectations of themselves or other adults.

4. Meeting each person’s needs appropriately: All members are concerned with the health and well-being of others, but in an age-appropriate way. Parents provide emotional care for the children; not the other way around. As best as they can, other members also seek to meet their other family members' needs.

5. All members of the family feel safe and secure: Children in a healthy family feel safe learning, growing, and making mistakes. They have a healthy understanding of mistakes and understand that they will not challenge or threaten their security or safety. Love is unconditional.

6. Expecting mistakes and forgiving them in a healthy way: The family members understand that we are all humans learning and growing. Conflict is handled in an appropriate and safe way, with adults modeling appropriate ways to manage disagreements and disputes. These families explore mistakes to understand and improve, instead of shaming people for them. Children understand that they will be punished for unacceptable behavior, but that they will also be forgiven for making mistakes, instead of having them held against them for years after.
Take a moment to think about your family history and if you remember any of the above characteristics. Often, people who experienced family-of-origin trauma will not have these experiences. This list can just give you an idea—if none of them took place in your home, that might be a sign that things were at least somewhat unhealthy.

In isolation, one or more of the above characteristics not being a part of your family of origin is not in itself dysfunctional. For example, different households might have different ideas about whether and how the children can express their opinions based on individual family dynamics, like culture, generation, and other factors. All of the above items do not have to exist together, either, for a family to be healthy.

Alcohol Is Not Good for Your Health, Even in Moderation

New research confirms that even small amounts of alcohol have real health risks.

It turns out that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol daily does not—as previously thought—protect health or contribute to a longer life.
New research confirms increases in the risks of numerous health problems and dying prematurely, even with modest drinking.
A 2020 report found that the alcohol industry directly or indirectly paid for 13,500 studies linking alcohol use to health benefits.
As comforting as it might be to think that drinking is good for one’s health, increasingly, the science does not support it.
It turns out that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol daily does not—as previously thought—protect against heart disease or contribute to a longer life. Apologies if your alcohol consumption depends in part on this popular belief and (until now) useful rationalization.

For decades, scientific studies suggested moderate drinking was better for most people’s health than not drinking at all, and could even boost longevity. But, a new analysis of more than 40 years of research has concluded that many of those studies were flawed and that the opposite is true.

Just published in JAMA Network Open, this meta-analysis reviewed 107 observational studies that involved more than 4.8 million people. The massive study stressed that previous estimates of the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption on the risk of death by “all causes” — meaning anything, including heart disease, cancer, infections, and automobile accidents — were “significantly” biased by flaws in study design.

According to the researchers, earlier research did not adjust for numerous factors that could influence the outcome, for example, age, sex, economic status, and lifestyle behaviors such as exercise, smoking, and diet. Using statistical software, they essentially removed such bias, adjusting for various factors that could skew the research. After doing so, there were no significant declines in the risk of death by any cause among the moderate drinkers.[1]

While these previous observational studies could identify potential links or correlations, they could also be misleading and didn’t prove cause and effect. Moreover, they failed to recognize that many light and moderate drinkers had other healthy habits and advantages and that non-drinkers used as a comparison group often included people who had given up alcohol after developing health problems.

This represents the largest study to effectively call B.S. on the widely held belief that moderate drinking of wine or other alcoholic beverages is healthy. In contrast, it found that the risk of numerous health problems, as well as that of dying prematurely, increased significantly after less than two drinks per day for women and after three per day for men.

This data adds to that of another substantial meta-analysis from 2022 in which researchers in Britain examined genetic and medical data of nearly 400,000 people and concluded that alcohol consumption at all levels was associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.[2]

The modern-day belief that daily alcohol consumption promotes health emerged in the 1980s, when researchers identified the so-called “French paradox,” which suggested that low rates of cardiovascular disease among men in France was associated with daily wine consumption. Although later analyses found flaws in the research, the idea that moderate drinking improved health became broadly accepted. Wine—particularly red wine—developed a reputation for having health benefits after news stories highlighted its high concentration of resveratrol, a protective antioxidant also found in blueberries and cranberries.
However, the hypothesis that moderate alcohol use is health-enhancing has come under increasing scrutiny over the years as the alcohol industry’s role in funding research became clear, revealing that many of the studies that purport the alleged health effects of alcohol have been funded by that industry. A 2020 report found that 13,500 studies have been directly or indirectly paid for by the alcohol industry.[3] Concurrently, a range of other studies has found that even moderate consumption of alcohol—including red wine—may contribute to cancers of the breast, esophagus, head and neck, high blood pressure, and atrial fibrillation, a serious heart arrhythmia.

Dietary guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend that adults limit alcohol intake to two drinks or fewer a day for men and one drink or less for women, adding “that drinking less is better for health than drinking more.” The guidelines also warn that even drinking within the recommended limits may increase the overall risk of death attributable to various causes, including some types of cancer and heart disease, even at levels of less than one drink per day.[4]

This past January, Canada issued new guidelines warning that no amount of alcohol consumption is healthy and urges people to reduce drinking as much as possible. Issued by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, the new guidance was a significant departure from its 2011 guidelines, which recommended women limit themselves to no more than 10 standard drinks a week and men no more than 15.[5]

Alcohol is the most used recreational drug, and unfortunately, for those who enjoy drinking for relaxation and recreation, this is unwelcome news. As comforting as it might be to think that it’s good for one’s health, increasingly the science simply does not support it. The extensive new research decimates the hope of many that moderate alcohol use is healthy and makes clear that people should not drink alcohol for the express purpose of improving their health. If maintaining and/or improving health is your priority, in terms of alcohol consumption, less is more.

Reference: Psychology today
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What COVID Can Teach Us About Stress Management

Different coping styles tell us a lot about healthy eating

Now that COVID is somewhat behind us, we have some space to stop and reflect. We can remember the days when masks were mandatory, lockdowns were frequent, and many businesses were shutting down (except, of course, hospitals).
Some of us used the time to down-regulate our lives, taking advantage of a less hectic lifestyle. Others’ lives became even more hectic as schools closed, and daycare was a non-starter. Job insecurity became a huge issue. Supply chains were questionable. Not to mention the loss of loved ones and acquaintances.
And we had no idea when things were going to improve, at least until a vaccine became widely available. That first year was quite a challenge, and there was nowhere to go. It was a worldwide health threat.
COVID Anxiety and the Consumption of Junk Foods
A couple of studies presented in a 2022 research paper (Juad and Lunardo) looked at anxiety during 2020 in adults aged 18-35 in the United Kingdom and France. Their background research showed that this age group tended to struggle more with anxiety than older adults, showing a greater tendency to feel isolated, overwhelmed, and helpless.
This particular study decided to look at the uptick in eating junk foods (high-calorie, processed foods) and sugary drinks as a coping strategy for pandemic anxiety. Juad and Lunardo also found that there were specific coping strategies used by some individuals that did not lead to continued states of anxiety and turning to compensatory eating practices.
They discovered that feelings of helplessness caused many individuals to have a lower acceptance of the situation. Helplessness indicates a general feeling of not having the ability to find a way to cope with the situation. This is known as low self-efficacy.
Individuals who felt helpless tended to eat more junk food (often accompanied by weight gain) during the first year of the pandemic. On the other hand, those who were able to accept the situation were then able to develop positive coping strategies. As a result, they did not turn to junk food as a coping strategy.
Anxiety and Self-Efficacy
Other research has explored the connection between helplessness and feelings of low-self efficacy. Low self-efficacy can lead to ignoring or rejecting positive coping strategies that a person does not feel capable of performing. The opposite would be self-efficacy, or a person’s belief in their ability to find and use coping strategies to achieve a goal or complete a task.
These same concepts are evident when designing behavior change interventions that promote a healthy eating style compatible with maintaining a healthy weight.
What do they have in common? Both have to do with conquering the negativity that comes with stress that can leave a person stuck in an unproductive belief system. Without self-efficacy on board, it is easy to stay focused on the negative, use negative self-talk, and stay in black-and-white thinking. These patterns can lead a person to think that changing the situation is impossible.
The question is, can some interventions increase self-efficacy, and if so, how?
The Role of Stress Management
A study in 2022 (Carfora, Morandi, and Catellani) identified several techniques that had a positive effect on developing dietary self-efficacy. Self-monitoring, feedback on performance, review of behavioral goals, setting up a reward system, and social support all increased dietary self-efficacy.
The kicker was that stress management was consistently associated with self-efficacy across all analyses and came out as the strongest indicator.
This finding takes us right back to what was happening during COVID with regard to turning to unhealthy foods. Anxiety is a big part of stress. Jaud and Lunardo found a huge association between being able to handle the anxiety of an uncontrollable situation like the pandemic and the ability to make healthy food choices. That association points to the role of self-efficacy when handling the stress of the situation.
Rewriting Stress
Getting back to the question of whether self-efficacy can be increased, it would appear that stress management plays a key role. Taking it a step further, what actions can be taken to respond to stress that will lower its effect on us?
As Jaud and Lunardo indicated, the ability to accept the situation could then serve as the basis for developing coping strategies leading to the ability to maintain healthy eating during the pandemic.
Other research has supported several techniques used to reduce stress and develop coping strategies when designing healthy eating interventions. These techniques have been proven effective time and again. These strategies can be applied to the successful management of stress during challenging times, such as the pandemic, as well as using behavior change interventions in healthy eating or weight-loss programs.

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