Saturday, October 29, 2011

So Just How Stressed are You? What You can Do About It.

A new study, published on-line in the Journal of Aging Research, found that men, who consistently experiencing more than two major stress events in a year (spouse dies, divorce, coping with an aging parent) have a higher risk of death then their less stressed peers. Only three things seem to reduce this stress: good health, marriage and the occasional drink. The author of this study concludes, “People are hardy, and they can deal with a few major stress events each year. But our research suggest that long-term, even moderate stress can have lethal effects.”

Stress isn’t always bad. We’re programmed for “fight or flight,” since that’s our body’s way of protecting itself from real or perceived danger. When we are threatened, our nervous systems revs the engine with hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. This allows us to flee the tiger or apply the breaks when we’re about to run over the tiger in our car. Stress also comes into play when you give a presentation you aren’t sure about, go to the doctors for lab results, have a job interview or even ask someone out on a date.

At some point, having your body constantly on overload because of stressors starts taking its toll. It’s a bit like trying to run your computer with a number of different programs operating all at once. It will freeze, crash and just stop working. This is how the body responds when it has too much stress. It not only can impact your mood and your ability to remember things, but it can also lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and worse.

So how much stress is too much and how stressed are you? Start by taking the Stress Quiz: How Stressed Are You? This particular quiz looks at how you handle your daily life. Next try the Life Stressor Test Developed by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe in 1967, there are a few items that aren’t as accurate today as they were in the 60‘s. However, it is an indicator of what type of events are stressful for people. Between the two, you should have a good idea of what the stressors are in your life, how well you handle them and whether stress could be a contributor in your health and well being.

So once you have a handle on your stressors and how you handle them, what’s the next step?

Determine what stressors you can change or control and act accordingly. There are many things in our life we have no control over (the weather, life events such as the death of a loved one) When confronted with a stressful situation, ask yourself: is this my problem? If it isn't, walk away. If it is, identify what you can do to address it now before it blows way out of proportion. As the saying goes, “don’t sweat the small stuff “ and don’t spend hours obsessing about would a, could a, should a. Most importantly, accept what you can’t change.

Take a break. If you are a caregiver, schedule time to get out of the situation for a few hours at least weekly if not daily. Use the Five Minute Kripalu Yoga Break and of course, don’t forget that every Wednesday is “take a break day” at Healing Whole. If you aren’t interested in one week’s activity, check the side bar for the summary posts of archived “take a breaks.” There are now 100s of these, so you should find at least one or two that peek your interest.

Avoid the stressful situation all together. If going to the annual Thanksgiving party at Aunt Jane’s leaves you with an emotional hang over for the rest of the weekend, make other plans this year.

Identify the priorities in your life. If it’s not a priority, and it makes you anxious, let it go.

Change how you view and react to a situation. If you think about it, there are often more than one way to see something. So if you do decide to go to Aunt Jane’s for Thanksgiving, identify who and/or what makes you crazy. Is there another way you can view this situation?

Stick to the basics of sufficient sleep (more than 8 or less than 6 is not healthy) exercise and a well balanced diet. Certain foods, such as sugar and caffeine can add to your stress.

Breathe! When you are feeling the most tense, remind yourself to breathe deeply. Shallow breathing reduces the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream, which leads to an increase in muscle tension. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Connect with others. If you find you are spending more and more time alone, reach out to other people. Attend a support group, accept invitations, and/or create invitations so people come to you.

Talk about it. Talking to a good friend, family member or members of your support group can help you problem solve and reduce stress. Since Aunt Jane’s Thanksgiving party is quickly approaching, talk to your cousins or Aunt Jane about what makes you feel so stressed about these events and look for solutions.

Laugh. It truly is the best medicine.

Avoid self medicating with alcohol or other drugs.

Practice meditation and mindfulness.

More Information
Healing the Whole Person: Ways to Increase Well Being

Stress Mastery from Taking Charge of Your Health

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Take a Break: Halloween 2011 Tricks or Treats

So this year, have tricks and treats for your visitors Halloween night. If you live in a house with a lawn, have a volunteer pretend to be a statue (such as a witch or monster) and have them come to life as the children approach. In Vermont, many people make odd looking people using stuffed leaves. Older teens have been known to sit in a chair, looking very much like the “leaf people,” only to come to life when trick or treaters pass them by. Makes for a wonderful scream. Hiding under a pile of leaves, or even laying flat to the ground can create a good scare.

For those in apartments, there may be a number of restrictions on what you can put on your door, but the skies the limit once you open it. There is the classic “hand in bowl,” so when the kids go to select their candy, a hand grabs them. This is done by placing a bowl, with a hole in the bottom large enough to fit a hand through (cheap bowls from the Dollar Store are perfect), on a table. This can be a thick piece of cardboard on two saw horses, which also has a hole that the candy bowl rests on. A person sits under the table, which is covered by a cloth, and grabs people as they come to collect their candy. Watch the video to see how one family set their “hand in bowl” outside with a sign that encourages trick or treaters to “take one.”

If you have the time to rig it up, as the door opens, a spider drops down in front of the kids.

For more ideas, check out Halloween Pranks.

Of course it wouldn’t be Halloween with out some special candies and other goodies. One of the best selection of things to make comes from Our Best Bites. This year they feature a mad scientist potion drink, which is Kool Aid mixed with a little bit of dry ice. Their “easy Halloween Party Food” section has lots of wonderful ideas. Keep in mind that for trick or treating wrapped store bought candy is the best.

Of course if you don’t want to celebrate with food, consider classic cartoons as your treat:

Donald Duck Trick or Treat (1952 Cartoon)

Betty Boop 1933 Banned Cartoons Halloween Party

The Skeleton Dance-Silly Symphonies Walt Disney 1929

No matter how you celebrate it, Halloween has something for everyone. Don’t forget that the “take a breaks” for October have all been related to Halloween, so if this doesn’t inspire you, try one of the other weeks from this year or last.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Three P’s: Purpose and People

Last week, I wrote about the “gotta haves, “ the three essentials that help sustain in living well-people, purpose and passion. Last week’s post was on passion and in September I blogged about the Power of Purpose, so this leaves people.

Study after study shows that having friends and a social life are key to healthy living and aging. Who we spend time with impacts how we think and feel about ourselves, and even impacts what we do. With that in mind, these are some ideas to consider about who is or isn’t in your life.

Do the friend assessment: Take an inventory of the people in your life. Who do you spend the most time with? How do they make you feel? Do you look forward to seeing them? Are you relieved when they are gone? Do they help you make good choices for you? Do they bring you energy or take it from you? In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor talks about how to help a stroke patient. She describes the visitor that came bringing hope and encouragement versus the ones that took energy from her. In short, are you surrounding yourself with people that inspire you and are fun to be with?

Avoid, reduce and eliminate the energy vampires in your life. There are people that always want something from you, get on our last nerve and in general zap ideas, strength and good feelings. It doesn’t matter their relationship to you, they don’t need to be in your orbit if they make you feel lousy.

Have friends that are passionate: Again, it’s who you hang with that helps you define yourself. If your friends are passionate, it doesn’t have to be the same interests as yours, it increases the chances you’ll develop a passion if you don’t happen to have one.

Care and invest in people. Whether it’s someone you’ve just met or an old friend you haven’t seen for a while, letting people you care about them and are willing to be there for them helps to retain friendships.

Seek out new friendships: A very wise therapist told me many years ago that friendships are like a pail of water with a hole in the bottom. People are always leaving our lives because they move, change jobs, die, don’t want to be with you any more etc. etc. Therefore, if we want to keep the pail full, we need to continually be adding new people. So how do you meet people? Consider the following:
- Participate in a support group
- Engage in activities that you like doing-this increases the chances that you’ll meet someone who likes the same things you do.
- Attend parties and accept invitations from friends and families.
- Host a party and tell people to bring friends
- Volunteer, if for no other reason it gets you out of the house and if you are among other people, you have a greater chance of meeting someone.
-Join a church or civic organization (Rotary, Lions Club etc.)
- For more ideas, check out

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Take a Break: Halloween 2011 Divination Games

On Halloween, my mother had us do all sorts of funny games, such as walking down the cellar steps backwards, throwing peels of apples over our shoulder, and some odd way of looking into a mirror. As I grew older, I realized these were divination games that she and my father had grown up with.

In high school, we would take the apple from our lunch, and while twisting the stem, we’d say the alphabet. On whatever letter the stem came out, that was the initial of the man you would marry-I went to an all girls school. While this was not a game I learned at home, I’ve since seen variations of it as part of the divination games at Halloween.

Oct. 31 was believed to be the time of year when the veil is thinnest between this world and the next, so the idea that spirits could tell your future was quite popular. Try out some divination games so you’ll be all set for Halloween:

Halloween Divination Games

Victorian Era Halloween Divination Games

Bobbing for Apples: Prophecy and Divination Games Using Apples

Halloween Tarot Card Reading

How to Read Tea Leaves

Monday, October 17, 2011

Steve Jobs on Passion

Since I wrote about passion this weekend, it was interesting to come across an article on Steve Jobs and the 7 Rules of Success with his first item being, “"People with passion can change the world for the better." Asked about the advice he would offer would-be entrepreneurs, he said, "I'd get a job as a busboy or something until I figured out what I was really passionate about." That's how much it meant to him. Passion is everything.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Three P’s: Finding Passion

This is the last fall I will have a school age child at home. While he’ll be in college this time next year, it’s not the same, as nearly all of the colleges he is applying to are a plane ride away. In short, it’s made me think a lot more about life in general, what it means to be getting older and an “empty nester,” and what are the keys to a successful life regardless of age, health status etc.

I’m pretty convinced that the important things in life can be boiled down to a few basic “gotta haves”: people in your life that you love and who love you; purpose; and passion. Hmm three P’s- people, purpose and passion. So how does one cultivate these?

Instead of trying to cram them all into one post, each will be explored over the coming weeks as well as their inter relations. Today’s pick is passion. How does one find a passion if they don’t already have it?

Chances are good that you already have a passion but haven’t called it that. What is it that you think about it or do that absorbs you? That you love? What makes you smile? Talk about? Read and learn about? It doesn’t have to a career or job but it’s nice if it works out that way. It is the thing that you want to do.

I’ve read many an article on making your passion your career. It’s a nice concept, but sometimes what we love doing, such as being a quilter or a lover of 17th century fiction, can be ruined for us by making a job out of it. Besides which, an ideal passion should last a life time.

In her article “Find Your Passion in Three Steps,” Mary DeMuth talks about why we’re afraid to find passion-fear of rejection; the need to do something about it; it may be something that others think is worthless etc. Regardless, knowing your passion and engaging in it have positive consequences. It can increase happiness as well as life expectancy.

One of DeMuth’s steps is the “three movie exercise.” List your three favorite movies and then see what the common thread might be.

That was not an easy task, so I started to think about films that I will watch again and again. It didn’t take long for me to realize a common thread. I like “slice of life” films, those movies, which look at a finite period of time in a person(s) life and explore it. Yes, that’s a good reflection of my interests. I am fascinated by the choices we humans make, what makes us happy, how we respond in various situations and so forth.

Another indicator of our passion can be answered by asking our friends what they think we’re passionate about. Their responses may yield new insights.

It seems fitting to end this post with one of the best examples of living one’s passion- Steve Job’s Speech at Stanford’s graduation, Among his closing remarks was the following, Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

For addition information, try Finding your passion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Take a Break: Halloween 2011 Celebrate Samhain

Being of Irish decent on both sides of my family, my mother was particularly interested in our knowing that many of our Halloween traditions originated in Ireland, where the Celts celebrated Samhain, (sow-en).

In Celtic lore, the year is divided into two halves associated with the dark and the light. The dark half begins at sunset on November 1st with Samhain and the cycle ends when the light half begins at sunset on May 1st, which is the festival of Bealtaine. Both festivals are closely linked, but in general, Samhain is considered to be the most important. Irish Culture and Customs

This was the time between the end of summer and the beginning of winter that the dead revisited the mortal world. When the Catholic Church arrived in Ireland, they took the Druid custom and created All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2. Oct. 31 became the All Souls Evening or All Hallow’s Eve.

In the old days, the ancients believed that on this night, hobgoblins, evil spirits and fairies traveled about the country in great numbers. For protection against fairy mischief, holy water was sprinkled on animals, food offerings were left outside the house, oatmeal and salt were put on the heads of children, iron or a dead ember from the fire was put in an infant’s cradle, and little ones were taught not to eat wild fruits on this night, or afterwards, because it was believed that the Puca, a particularly nasty spirit, went about spitting or urinating on them. It was also the custom to make a special cross called a Parshell. Two small sticks were laid crosswise and shafts of wheat were woven around the junction until the cross was secured. It was then hung over the door on the inside of the house to help protect the family from illness, bad luck and witchcraft until the next Halloween when a new cross would be made. The old cross would then be moved to another part of the house. ‘Everyone has debts at Halloween' is an old Irish proverb and this was a time when people attempted to settle up. Workers were paid, as was the rent, and farm folk secured crops and livestock for the hard winter to come. While the adults were completing these chores, children visited relatives and friends and were given gifts of apples and nuts. They also played lots of games. Irish Culture and Customs

The Druids believed that the living and the dead were at their closest on the night before Samhain. Since the spirits would try to collect as many souls during this time, people would disguise themselves so that they would appear to already be spirits. Thus began the tradition of dressing up on Halloween.

As for Jack O Lanterns, the tradition of carving turnips (now pumpkins) dates back to a blacksmith named Jack, who was so nasty, he was denied entry into heaven. He was so rotten that the devil didn’t want Jack in hell either — too much competition for him! So Jack’s spirit was condemned to wander the earth for eternity. But one request the devil did grant Jack was to give him something to light his way. What he got was a burning coal ember, which Jack placed inside a carved out turnip. Thus, the tradition of the Jack O’ Lantern was born. To this day, people in Ireland still carve out turnips and illuminate them with stumps of candle. They’re then placed in a window or put on a gate post outside the house. Here in the United States, the custom was continued by millions of Irish emigrants who carved out pumpkins because they were a lot more plentiful than turnips. Irish Culture and Customs

Today’s “take a break” is learning about Samhain and incorporating a tradition or two in your own celebration of Halloween.

Make a Barnbrack Cake: The fruit caked served on Halloween, filled with fortune telling objects e.g. a ring for finding true love, a coin for obtaining wealth in the coming year.

Make a Parshell, the Halloween cross that woven on Oct. 31. It is placed on the front door or inside the house and is believed to help protect you from bad luck. It’s very similar to making a God’s Eye, with the exception that wheat straw, plant material or paper twist is used. You can practice how to make it now so you’ll be all set for making one on Halloween.

Irish Halloween Traditions

Samhain-The Irish New Year

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why It’s Important to Celebrate

This weekend is my town’s celebration of the 250th year of its founding. Last night was a community dance, which my husband’s band played for. Prior to the event, he said, “if we have as many as 20 people I’ll be surprised.” As it turned out there were many more. Not as many as our older residents thought should be there but still way more than either of us thought would show up.

One friend I talked to said that she had an offer of a wonderful free weekend away, but instead opted to be in town. “Just how often does one’s town celebrate an anniversary like this?”

Many people I talked to through out the day had all sorts of reason for not coming to the dance or any of the other activities planned. They ranged from kids soccer games to having company. Would this have been like this a hundred years ago?

The answer was simple. No. Everyone and their brother would have shown up to celebrate. For starters, it would have been the only thing in town and the only major activity for the year. In those days, the town wasn’t just a place to sleep at night. It was where they fully lived.

We do not view being in the same room and socializing as a priority in the same manner our early settlers did. Further, if we do get together, people are texting and going outside to take cell phone calls and are rarely fully engaged in the present.

Even though this sounds rather glum, those of us who showed had a wonderful time. I met several new people in town and look forward to being around them the remainder of the weekend. Because there was music and dancing, with kids running around and making merry, there was very limited use of electronic devices. Just like many years ago, the wall was lined with people that no longer could dance, but just wanted to be among those that could, enjoying the music and talking to old friends and “remembering when.”

Is it worth it to go to the effort to celebrate an anniversary or some other occasion, particularly if you are not feeling all that great or are concerned about you might appear? I think it is for two very important reasons:

• When we celebrate we are “counting our blessings.” The literature is full of research that shows that if we want to increase our happiness level, count what you are grateful for. An Oprah moment "The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate."

• There is no substitution for being together physically. If I were a physicist, I could probably explain the quantum physics of it, but the chemistry we create when we are together can be powerful. Besides, there is no virtual hug that equals a real one.

So for whatever reason celebrate and enjoy it with other people.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Take a Break: Halloween 2011 Name Skeletons/Edible Acorns

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays in the whole year. There are just so many interesting and fun things to do. So today starts the next four weeks of activities to prepare for Halloween. Note that last year, I provided four weeks of activities pertaining to Dias de la Mortis (Day of the Dead). The links for each week are as follows:

Paper cuts/skulls

Skeleton figurines /paintings

Food and coloring

Altars/Flowers/Halloween Movies

But now for this week’s activities
“Name Skeletons.” This is an easy project, that makes quite a statement. Take a piece of white paper, the bigger the larger the skeleton. Fold it in half. Along the half, print a name-yours, a friend’s, a favorite pet or even an object. Make sure the letters connect. Now cut out the name. Small cuts across the centerline make interesting design details. Unfold and you have the center of your skeleton. Paste on black paper, adding a skull, arms and legs.

Edible Acorns: By “gluing” (a dab of melted chocolate, Nutella or even peanut butter) a Hershey kiss to the bottom of a Mini Nilla wafer, with a dab of chocolate on the top for the stem, you have something that looks like an acorn.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How To Fundraise When Someone is in Need of Specialized Care

While medical science can provide incredible advances in effective treatments, it comes with a very high price, particularly for things like transplantation and recovery from spinal cord and/or brain injury. It’s becoming more common for people in need of specialized equipment or services to find that insurance does not cover the costs. Family and friends frequently rise to the occasion to supplement costs with donations, fundraisers and direct appeals.

The purpose of this post is to help those who are in a position to organize effective fundraisers in such situations.

The first step is to organize family and friends. The simplest method is setting up a Lots of Helping Hands website. This is free, easy to do and it only lets those people have access to the site that you deem appropriate. In this way, you can quickly identify who is willing to help out and in what types of ways. Just because some friends and family may not be on-line should not be a deterrent. Pair them with someone who is, so they are “in the loop,” and what they’re doing can be logged on so duplication of efforts is reduced.

Keep in mind that people are more likely to give if a) they know what you need and b) you keep them updated and informed. If you set up a Lots of Helping Hands website and rarely update it, it will become a source of frustration.

Document everything you do, so that if you’re not available, someone else can easily pick up where you left off. Be sure to keep the names, and contact information of everyone you talk to and include dates and brief summaries of conversations. This can be done on-line, or just keeping a special notebook with you will help considerably.

Understand what the financial obligation might be. What will insurance pay for? If money is raised for this person, can the insurance company insist that this fund be used before they will reimburse? In short, do your homework. Call the insurance company. Get them to put in writing what they will and will not cover. Make sure you keep information on who you talked to and when.

Most hospitals will have a “patient advocacy” or social services program that can help you determine what types of unreimbursable costs as well as limited benefits you will most likely encounter. They can give you a good idea from past experience about what the patients needs will be, impact on family and caregiver, what’s covered and what resources might be available to help you with costs.

In putting together your “costs” be sure to factor in things like money lost from missed work, travel, meals, and hotel rooms. Keep in mind that donations such as frequent flyer miles and gas cards can go along way to help reduce travel costs. Share your list of expenses with your circle of family and friends. You never know who knows who, which can help move you quicker to your goal or ease staying in a strange town.

Whether you are dealing with a transplant or not, the National Bone Marrow Donor Program’s Mapping the Maize has good on-line tools for calculating expenses, understanding insurance etc. You can download a copy from the website or obtain a free printed copy by calling 1-888-999-6743 or 612-627-8140

Once you have completed this exercise, you will have a dollar amount that is needed. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by it. Keep in mind the “March of Dimes” model, where the goal was if everyone could just send a dime a cure could be found for polio. Many people did just send a dime, but many more contributed hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

Develop a plan for raising the money needed, while taking care of day to day expenses. Ideally, the cash flow in will balance outgoing money needed for care. Use the on-line tools from Mapping the Maize to help you develop your plan.

Because an individual is not a registered charity, donations are not tax deductible. There are non profit organizations, such as NTAF (National Transplant Assistance Fund & Catastrophic Injury Program) and National Foundation for Transplants that can receive designated funds for the individual, whereby donations then become tax deductible. Sometimes a church or civic organization (e.g. Rotary) will be willing to take on this role. These groups can provide a lot of assistance with fundraising ideas and support.

Use caution in selecting a fundraising organization. Make sure they are legitimate and you have seen their audited reports and their 501© 3 credentials. Talk to other people who may have used them and ask at the hospital what they know about the organization. The last think you want to do is raise money that benefits an organization and not the person in need.

If you decide to do this on your own, identify someone who will be in charge. A separate trust account, with a designated person to administer it, should be established. This account can only be used for specific purposes, which are identified to anyone wishing to make a donation. Be clear that if money is left in the account after the goal is achieved (e.g. transplant takes place, equipment purchased) identify where remaining funds will be distributed. Finally, know the tax laws for donating funds and keep good records of all donations received.

Once you have figured how much money is needed and where it will be “housed,” it’s time to raise the money. Below are ways to go about fundraising:

• Ask individuals for their assistance in raising money and make it easy for people to donate. A well written fundraising letter can be a good tool. Keep in mind that people like to have options in how they give and what they give to. If you will be doing a lot of traveling, make sure people know that they can donate gas cards or frequent flyer miles. Make sure that they are aware who is running the fund and that all checks can be mailed directly to the bank handling the account. To make it easier, send self addressed stamped envelopes to them.

• Offer multiple ways for people to donate anonymously, such as donation boxes at churches, school, local stores or other community locations. Raffles work.

• Have fundraising events that relate to the person in need. For example, if the person was a golfer, holding a golf tournament would have special meaning. Where the person goes to church, school, work or play are all potential places that can take leadership roles in planning and carrying out fundraisers that have particular meaning.

• Have fundraisers that community will enjoy. Having events that will appeal to a broad spectrum of your community, whether they know the person or not, will help to generate both money and interest. Road races are very popular. If you can find someone willing to do a matching donation, this can add a boost to your event.

• The ever popular “spaghetti dinner” can make a quick $2,000. These are easy to organize, ingredients aren’t expensive and many places will be willing to donate ingredients, paper products etc. It’s always good to combine another activity with the dinner, such as a 50/50 raffle, silent auction, door prizes etc.

• Work with a local group so that you can have a “give-a-way” for people to take home. Things like mugs, T-shirts, and pens are used so people will notice that you are raising funds. Include a web address where people can go for more information on making a donation. The more eye catching the art, the more people will read it and take notice.

• Use social marketing tools like Facebook and Twitter to keep people up to date, where and when fundraisers are happening. Check out Rob Laird Organ Transplant Fundraiser on Facebook There is also a free web resource called Give Forward, which lets you set up a free web page to collect funds.

• Press coverage really helps. Everything you do, where public can attend, should have good advertising.

• Keep information current. Those who are donating are invested. They want to know how the person is doing, so be sure that each step of the way, you keep your web information up to date and press releases active.

• Write thank you notes. If appropriate, mention donors in your press releases.

Fundraising for a Friend of Family Member from the National Marrow Donor Program

Mapping the Maze: A Personal Insurance and Financial Guide to Marrow and Cord Blood Transplant

Children’s Organ Transplant Association