Saturday, December 29, 2012

Joy: Embrace It for Healing

The second word of the holiday season I’ve been thinking about is “joy.” [Last week’s post was Believe-It Effects How we Feel]How often do we let ourselves totally enjoy it?

Four years ago on New Year’s Eve, I took a neighbor and friend to their monthly medical appointment, where they were continuing to be monitored for a return of lung cancer. It was a very good visit, and as we were leaving the hospital, I said, “we have much to celebrate tonight.” While she had been happy to report “everything is fine,” she became a bit sad and said, “It’s fine now, but the cancer will return.”

Last week I came across a quote from Brene Brown, which would have been a good response to this comment.  “Don’t squander joy. We can’t prepare for tragedy and loss. When we turn every opportunity to feel joy into a test drive for despair, we actually diminish our resilience. Yes, softening into joy is uncomfortable. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s vulnerable. But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope. The joy becomes part of who we are, and when bad things happen—and they do happen—we are stronger.”

Our brains are wired to make us fearful, as for centuries, being on guard kept us from being eaten by the tiger. “Yes, the hunt was successful, but it could attract animals that could steal the food and/or kill us.” In short, we have been “programmed” and have a lot of practice at tamping down our joy.

Since emotions and experiences leave lasting impressions on the brain, which influences how we feel, it’s important to understand that one negative experience can wreck many positive ones. Have you been at a party, on vacation or had a visit with a friend, where 99% of it was fun and very enjoyable, yet one negative thing happened and that becomes the lasting memory? Now if you’ve talked about this with friends, some will say, “just let it go and concentrate on the good stuff.” Good advice, but one we have little practice doing.

 “Imprinting” our brain with positive thoughts and joy, as Brown noted, has some very important benefits including:
-       They lower the stress response in the body.
-       Increase resilience and can counter act the effects of trauma
-       Help to protect against depression
-       Increase well being

In order to emphasize the positive through conscious attention, Rick Hanson’s, author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, outlines Three Simple Steps as part of Seven Facts about the Brain That Incline the Mind to Joy 
1. Help positive events become positive experiences. You can do this by:
• Paying attention to the good things in your world, and inside yourself. So often, good events roll by our eyes without us noticing them. You could set a goal each day to actively look for beauty in your world, or signs of caring for you by others, or good qualities within yourself, etc.

• Deciding to let yourself feel pleasure and be happy, rather than feel ascetic or guilty about enjoying life. In particular, release any resistance for feeling good about yourself. You've earned the good times: the meal is set before you, it's already paid for, and you might as well dig in! You are just being fair, seeing the truth of things. You are not being vain or arrogant - which distort the truth of things.

• Opening up to the emotional and sensate aspects of your responses to positive events, since that is the pathway to experiencing things.

• Sometimes doing things deliberately to create positive experiences for yourself. For example, you could take on a challenge, or do something nice for others, or bring to mind feelings of compassion and caring, or call up the sense or memory of feeling contented, peaceful, and happy.

2. Extend the experience in time and space:
• Keep your attention on it so it lingers; don't just jump onto something else. Notice any discomfort with staying with feeling good.

• Let it fill your body with positive sensations and emotions. (That’s the space part.)

In sum, savor, relish the positive experience. It's delicious!

3. Sense that the positive experience is soaking into your brain and body - registering deeply in emotional memory.

Perhaps imagine that it's sinking into your chest and back and brainstem. Maybe imagine a treasure chest in your heart.

Take the time to do this: 5 or 10 or 20 seconds. Keep relaxing your body and absorbing the positive experience.

As Hanson notes, The innate neurological circuitry of your mind poses a very real challenge: positive stimuli tend to roll through it while negative stimuli get flagged and captured and deferred to. But you can consciously override those tendencies in simple and effective ways each day, by focusing on positive experiences, valuing them, and helping them sink in.

That’s a deeply wise and wonderful undertaking: happiness is skillful means. And happily for happiness, this is aligned with your deepest nature: awake, interested, benign, at peace, and quietly inclined to joy.

In keeping with this post, the last one for 2012, I send you best wishes for a joyous New Year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Take a Break: Celebrate St. Stephen’s Day/Napping

The day after Christmas is the perfect time for a nap. One where you curl up with a good book, soothing music, comfy sofa, or reading chair and a warm “blankie.” Read a few pages and doze. Enjoy.

St. Stephen’s Day is the opposite of napping. Celebrated on Dec. 26, this is a holiday in Ireland that has little to do with the saint, who was the first martyr stoned to death shortly after the crucifixion.  Also called “Hunting the Wren” or “Going on the Wren,” originally, groups of small boys would hunt for a wren, and then chase the bird until they either caught it or it died from exhaustion. The dead bird was tied to the top of a pole or holly bush, which was decorated with ribbons or colored paper.

Early in the morning of St. Stephen’s Day, the wren was carried from house to house by the boys, who wore straw masks or blackened their faces with burnt cork, and dressed in old clothes (often women’s dresses.) At each house, the boys sing the Wren Boys’ song. There are many versions and variations of this song, including the following:
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
Although he is little, his family is great,
I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.

My box would speak, if it had but a tongue,
And two or three shillings, would do it not wrong,
Sing holly, sing ivy–sing ivy, sing holly,
A drop just to drink, it would drown melancholy.

And if you draw it of the best,
I hope in heaven your soul will rest;
But if you draw it of the small,
It won’t agree with these wren boys at all.

Sometimes those who gave money were given a feather from the wren for good luck. The money collected by the Wren Boys was used to hold a dance for the whole village.

Today wrens are no longer killed and girls as well as boys go on the wren. Traditional dancing and music are part of the celebration, along with prizes for best costume and Irish food. The money collected is often used for community projects.

 Ways to celebrate:

 Listen to The Chieftains - "St. Stephen's Day Murders" featuring Elvis Costello. Note this is a tongue in check tribute to the murders people would like to commit on St. Stephen’s Day 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Believe-It effects how we feel

Given that a popular expression on holiday cards is “Believe,” it made me start thinking about how our beliefs impact healing. Then I came across an entry on Ellen Langer’s blog:

 A friend’s brother, a physician, told him that if he ever became sick, “Don’t bleed.” What he meant was that illness is a time to “keep a stiff upper lip” or “whistle a happy tune,” choose your favorite metaphor.

I recently told a friend with cancer that, even if he has to walk at a snail’s pace to “Stand tall.” He has and as a result he doesn’t seem to be suffering as much. I have another suffering friend who I told early on that she can play it for sympathy or be heroic. Sympathy, however, wears thin very soon.

There’s ample research showing that friends and loved ones take the cues for how they treat sick friends and family from their own attitude to the diagnosis. The problem is that the patient then takes cues from them to assess the seriousness of her condition, oblivious to how she influenced the view. Often what then happens becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. She sees herself as sick, behaves accordingly, and as a result, may worsen her condition.

I believe that for as long as we can, we want to live each moment fully. When we do that, we actually may influence the disease process. Regardless, though, we influence those around us who influence us, which results in more life to our years

If you are not familiar with Dr. Langer, she is a Harvard Professor of Psychology who has authored eleven books and over 200 research articles on the illusion of control, perceived control, successful aging, decision-making, to name a few of the topics. Each of these is examined through the lens of her theory of mindfulness. Her research has demonstrated that by actively noticing new things—the essence of mindfulness—health, well being, and competence follow.

Years ago, a very inspired woman with HIV/AIDS made the comment about some of the people she came across with her diagnosis, “It’s simple, if you whine, you die.” While I’m not sure how “simple” that may be,  I do know that people who constantly complain about their condition are not among the healthiest people I know

Given the parameters that we’re all mortal, we can make each day, regardless of what we’re facing, much better and help ourselves heal,  by having some positive beliefs about ourselves. Believe in your health, and your ability to heal (that’s not the same as cure) regardless of your diagnosis. Outward expressions of positive health, will help others mirror that back to you.

Some things to consider:
• Looking good can make you feel better. Learn more at Looking Good: Improve How You Feel 

• Find contentment in what you are doing.

• Surround yourself with people that are positive and support healing in you. 

• Fake it ‘till you make it. Your body language shapes who you are, Basically, if you assume positions and behaviors that change how encounters go, do it long enough and you ultimately will change your brain and outlook. Check out Power Posing: Could it Help You Heal. 

• Healing the Whole Person: Check out ways to increase Well-Being 

For previous posts on living with a chronic condition during the holidays, check out

Holidays: Over Do the Laughter and Under Do the Stress 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Take a Break: Make something with sugar other than cookies/Snow Globe

With less than a week away from Christmas, if you have lots of sugar in the house,  need some quick presents, and definitely don’t feel like baking (who needs the extra calories) consider some of the following:

Sugar Scrubs: These are so easy-mix oil (almond, olive, coconut, safflower) with sugar and put into a jar. Add essence and a colorant if you choose. The question is proportion of oil to sugar. I’ve seen some recipes of 1 1/2 cups of sugar to 1/4 to 1/3 a cup of oil. Others call for 2 cups of sugar to one part oil. Check out some of these sites for more ideas for recipes as well as jars:
Peppermint Candy Cane Sugar Scrub  She uses Starbucks Frappucino Drink bottles for the jar.

Vanilla Sugar: To two cups of sugar, slice a vanilla bean open and scrap out the seeds into an airtight container with the sugar. Bury bean in sugar and seal. Let sit for 1-2 weeks. Since the Mason jelly jars hold about 3/4 cup of sugar, you can make several presents with one vanilla bean.

Quick Fix Jar: Put sugar in an interesting jar/container along with the following note. Sugar can be used in a number of ways. Use the enclosed to:
  Heal a number of ills, such as easing the sting when you’ve burned your tongue on hot pizza, coffee. Suck on a sprinkle of sugar and the pain will ease. A dash of sugar can lessen the pain of too much spiciness in the mouth. 

• Feed your flowers-Add 3 t of sugar and 2T of white vinegar per quart of warm water for fresh cut flowers.

• Clean coffee bean and spice grinders by pouring 1/4 cup of sugar into the grinder and run it for 2-3 minutes. Dump out and wipe well.

• Get rid of roaches by combing equal parts sugar and baking powder and sprinkle where the roaches appear. The sugar will attract them and the baking powder will kill them.

•  Clean your hands, particularly if they are coated with oil or grease.

• Remove grass stains: A paste of sugar and water, rubbed gently into a grass stain, and left to sit for an hour or so, should produce clean clothes after washing as normal.

• Wasp Trap: Boil 2 oz of sugar and a little water to make a sticky liquid. Pour into empty jars or a dish and leave in the open. Wasps will be attracted by the sweetness but can’t get out because of the “sugar quicksand.”

• Start a Fire: If you can’t get a fire started, toss a handful of sugar on it. The sugar will ignite and help get the fire going.

 Natural Fly Strip: While this isn’t a present you can wrap and leave under the Christmas tree, if you live someplace were flies are a pain, even in the winter, make up some strips and hang with festive ribbons. Combine equal parts sugar, honey and water in a saucepan. Boil the mixture, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Let cool. Cut pieces of brown packing tape, punch a hole on the end and make a loop with string through the hole. Dip the strips in the mix; hang to let excess drips drop (don’t forget the paper or pan to catch the drips) until sticky, and then hang where the flies are most active.

If you’ve finished your shopping and are tired of watching Holiday specials, see your house in a snow globe. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Don’t Have Time for the Flu. Take time to prevent it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Flu activity continues to increase across the United States. The nation is experiencing an early flu season with high levels of activity concentrated in the south central and southeastern regions at this time. CDC urges you to get a flu vaccine now if you have not done so already this season. Vaccination is especially important for people who are at high risk from flu complications.

People with chronic conditions can be particularly vulnerable to flu, so it’s important that you do what you can to prevent it. Coughs or sneezes spread flu virus into the air, and then onto surfaces. You can take measurers so you don’t spread the virus to others, or so others don’t spread it to you.

You can reduce your chances of getting the flu by Cover and Wash:
• Cover your mouth and nose every time you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue and throw it away. Use your arm (not your hand).

• Observe regular cleaning habits if someone at home has the flu. Pay special attention to doorknobs, faucets, refrigerator handles, and phones.

• Vaccinate. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone six months of age and older should get a flu shot. Flu vaccines are available in a number of locations, including your provider’s office. To find the closest place for a flu shot, go to HealthMap Vaccine Finder. This year’s vaccine is supposed to be a good match for current flu strain, but it takes two weeks after getting the shot for the vaccine to take full effect. Note that the nasal spray flu vaccine (LAIV or FluMist) is only given to healthy people from ages 2 to 49. The CDC specifically notes that people with chronic diseases are not considered candidates for LAIV

• Every time you use a tissue, throw it in the trash and then wash your hands.

Remember not to share anything that goes into the mouth.
Wash your hands often and well. Use soap and water for at least 15 seconds.

• Avoid contact with sick people.

• Stay home when you are sick.

Have alcohol hand sanitizer on hand if you don’t have access to soap and water.

Giving a boost to your immune system can help to reduce the chances of getting the flu and/or reducing severity. This is particularly important for those who can’t take the flu vaccine.  Things like laugher , being physically active, or having a strong social network can boost immunity. Studies of Tai Chi and Qigong have found that they can significantly improve immune response in older adults after only five months of practice. "A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi." Am J Health Promot. 2010 Jul-Aug;24(6):e1-e25. "Effects of a traditional Taiji/Qigong curriculum on older adults' immune response to influenza vaccine." Med Sport Sci. 2008;52:64-76.

People who practice  Mindfulness meditation have been shown to reduce the incidence, length and severity of respiratory by as much as 50%. These results were nearly as effective as flu shots. "Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection: a randomized controlled trial." Ann Fam Med. 2012 Jul-Aug;10(4):337-46.

Call your health care provider if you think you have the flu. Flu symptoms can often be confused with the common cold, but the flu usually comes on more suddenly and is more severe.

Symptoms of flu may include fever (usually high), headache, tiredness and weakness (can be extreme), dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body or muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (much more common among children than adults).

A person who is sick with the flu is contagious. That means they can spread viruses. Adults can be contagious from one day before having symptoms to seven days after getting sick. Children can be contagious for longer than seven days.

If you start to get flu symptoms:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink plenty of liquids.
- Don't use alcohol or tobacco.
- Stay home from work or school to protect others from catching your illness.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue every time you cough or sneeze.

Take medication to lessen the symptoms of flu, but NEVER give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, especially fever, without first checking with your health care provider.

To learn about the flu go to the CDC Flu site. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Take a Break: Make something with Christmas Tree Balls/NYC Tour

There are all sorts of Christmas tree balls in the stores, and chances are good you have some lying around that never make it onto your tree. So below are a number of things to try.

• Make a wreath using a coat hanger. Talk about easy. 

• Add various sizes and colors of balls to clear glass stemware, bowls, platters, etc. For example, use a champagne flute (they have them at the Dollar Store), and place tiny champagne colored balls inside. Nice decoration for a New Year’s party, particularly if you have them placed on a table runner. Place a large ball on top of a shot glass.  A glass trifle bowl filled balls would make a lovely centerpiece.

• Loop a piece of ribbon through one or two balls and then tie around a linen napkin. Voila a one of a kind napkin holder.
• Use small balls to make easy earrings.

• Turn them into a vase/candle holder by removing the metal top and gluing a small mirror to the bottom. Fill with flowers or a very thin tapered candle. 

• Make a tree topiary.

So if you have no desire to make something, take a stroll down around NYC, to improve your festive move. Don’t live in NYC, no problem. Check out these virtual tours:

• 2011 Christmas windows 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas/Holiday Gifts for Hospital Patients

Starting before Thanksgiving, reminders that Christmas is coming appear every place you look, including hospitals.  Between Dec. 23 until Jan 2 hospital personal are scaled back, not only because they want to be with their families but every effort is made to keep patients at home.

The heavy build up alone is enough to make one feel overwhelmed, but having to be hospitalized at the end of the year can be very depressing for patients. Even though this has been stressed on every post relating to gift giving for hospital patients, it’s  important to remember that the best present you can give is spending time with the person, particularly at this time of year when people are dashing from party to party and don’t make it to the hospital.

In addition to the suggestions from Unique Gifts for Hospital Patients consider some of the following ways to bring some holiday cheer.

• Items to brighten a room are always helpful. A small tree that you can trim together can provide an enjoyable activity as well as make the room a bit more cheerful. Check first about whether live plants are allowed. Poinsettias, Christmas cactus and other holiday plants serve a twofold purpose, they bring color to the room and they give the patient something to care for. Studies have shown health benefit when patients care for live plants in their room.

• Both Chanukah and Kwanza involve lighting of candles over a period of days. Look around for battery powdered candles and make your own holders. Colored votives with flameless tea lights (can get them at the Dollar Store) can look wonderful. Be sure to bring lots of extra batteries, since it’s easy to leave a light on.

• Arrange with the staff to bring a much loved pet to the hospital for a brief visit, If that’s not possible, take a picture and make a personalized holiday card from the pet.

• We all need purpose to thrive. If the person is able to do so, help them with their holiday shopping on-line or at the hospital gift shop. Many of the latter have unique gifts that you can’t find anywhere else. If they have the energy, there are things they can make to brighten their room as well as the unit they are on. My partner at CCIN  showed a patient  how to make 3-D Snowflakes.  Because of a compromised immune system, this person was not allowed to leave their room during the day and could only go to the nurse’s station at night. Not only did they decorate their room with the snowflakes, but they showed the nurses how to make them and together they decorated the entire unit.

Simple things to make, which others will enjoy include:
-       3 D snowflakes 
-       Zen gardens: This would be a great gift to leave the hospital unit after the person leaves.  
-       Calligraphy: They can spend hours learning to do this well and then create beautiful hand written cards and notes 
-       Wreaths using ribbon 
-       Felt Fortune Cookies: It could be fun to make a bowl full of fortune cookies for New Year’s Eve/Day that staff and visitors can enjoy.  
-       For other ideas of things to make, check out the Take a Break Archives 

• Holiday staff are going the extra mile, so it’s nice to remember them with items they can enjoy. A room that is decorated and cheerful, is a work environment they are going to appreciate as much as the patient.

• Bring boxes of holiday cards and stamps. Help them write notes, address and stamp them. Take them with you so you can post them. Bring along confetti, stamps and inks, colored pens so they can make extra special cards this season.

• On December 18, 1997, Seinfeld introduced the world to Festivus. Now celebrated on Dec. 23 consider introducing something totally new in the holiday mix. 

• Watching favorite holiday films together can be fun, but if you want to try something different bring a different type of film such as:
      -     Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
-       Bad Santa
-       The Nightmare Before Christmas
-       Gremlins

• Books sound like a great idea, but many times people just don’t have the concentration to read for very long. Some people love being read to and enjoy hearing books from their childhood. Most American libraries have a free system where you can download books, including audio versions,  for MP3 devices and tablets . If the person doesn’t have an MP3 device, consider purchasing an inexpensive one and downloading a variety of books, which they can listen to when they are up to it.

• Candy and special foods can be enjoyable but again, be conscious of special diets.

• Simple games that they can play by themselves (brain teasers, minute mysteries, poker, solitaire) can be found in a variety of price ranges from the Dollar Store, toy departments to high-end gift shops. When you are at your favorite thrift store, check the game area to see what kind of gently used items they might have. Old Lego’s can be easily cleaned and put into a bag. Adults can enjoy these as well as kids. K’Nexs were quite popular for a while, and like Lego’s, are often discarded. No matter the age, everybody enjoys a toy in their Christmas stocking. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Take a Break: Ten things to do with Candy Canes

Below are a variety of fun things you can make with candy canes, some of which you may want to give as gifts.

1. Candy Cane Heart WreathThis is one time you don’t want to use Dollar Store candy canes, as they can come in various sizes and it’s important that they are all the same length. Another option is using small candy canes to make a wreath. 

2 Dipped Candy Canes: Melt white chocolate, morsels in the microwave, checking at 30 second intervals as they can easily burn. Dip the candy canes in half way. If you want more “bling,” roll in white sprinkles. Package these with hot chocolate so they can be used to stir in extra flavor. An alternative is to dip the candy cane into dark chocolate and sprinkle with crushed candy cane.

3 Candy Cane Topiary Tree: Definitely shop at the Dollar store for supplies for this project. 

5 Ornaments: Just hang on a tree as is. A tree with alternating candy canes, red and white bows and small twinkling lights would be stunning. To step it up, glue two together in a heart shape, add a red ribbon and hang. Don’t want to use glue? Unwrap the candy canes. Take two and place them so they form a heart onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for a few minutes until they are just fused together. Left too long, they will run together, an altogether different project. After they cool, coat with modge podge, add a ribbon and hang.

6 White chocolate peppermint bark: This is as simple as crushing the candy canes and mixing with melted white chocolate. Pour onto wax paper and chill.

7 Candy Cane Vase: Glue or tape (double-sided) the candy cans to a cheap vase or hold them in place with a rubber band. Wrap a ribbon, wide enough to cover the rubber band, around the middle and voila, you have a festive vase, suitable for greens, roses or whatever strikes your fancy. It’s easiest if you use straight peppermint sticks minus the cane portion.

8 Candy cane heart chocolates: Using the small candy canes, position two so they form a heart shape, on wax paper.  Fill the center with melted white or dark chocolate-microwave works fine, just check frequently to make sure it doesn’t burn, and fill the center sufficiently that it will hold the shape. Sprinkle a little crushed candy cane on top. If you are concerned about the candy canes holding their shape, position them in their heart shape on parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees for a few minutes. Check frequently

9 Hot Chocolate on a Candy Cane: There are a few steps in making this and it will take several days:

Step 2: Take a marshmallow and spear with a skewer of some sort. Once you have a pre “drilled” hole, it will be easier to put on the candy cane.

Step 3: Skewer the chocolate gananche block onto the candy cane.

Step 4: Wrap in cellophane with a tag that says something along the lines of “swirl in an 8 oz cup of hot milk.”

Need more ideas; check out what you can do with left over candy canes 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

We are not our bodies. We are all connected

This was not the post I intended for today, but sometimes you experience something and well it doesn’t pay “to force the river” as the expression goes.

 Earlier in the week I was an advocate for a person about to undergo major orthopedic procedure. Sitting in the waiting room, and watching people in various stages of healing, including just being diagnosed, over hearing conversations and talking to the person I was advocating for, two thoughts came to my mind: we are so much more than our bodies, no matter what our age or physical condition, and we are all connected.

As if I needed a further reminder of these two points, yesterday, I happened to came across Janine Shepherd’s talk on TED: A Broken Body Isn’t a Broken Person A cross-country skier for the Australian US Olympic team, Shepherd was hit by a truck. A partial paraplegic, she went on to become a pilot, ultimately realizing, that although my body might be limited, it was my spirit that was unstoppable. 

 During her hospitalization in the spinal cord unit, she was in a room with five other people, where they could not see each other. A nurse placed straws on top of each patient and they were instructed to piece them together. The staff person connected each person’s straws to the patient on either side and instructed them all “to hold on.” Though they could not see each other, the straws were a physical reminder of their connectedness.

I know that I'm not my body, and I also know that you're not yours. And then it no longer matters what you you look like, where you come from, or what you do for a living. All that matters is that we continue to fan the flame of humanity by living our lives as the ultimate creative expression of who we really are, because we are all connected by millions and millions of straws, and it's time to join those up and to hang on. And if we are to move towards our collective bliss, it's time we shed our focus on the physical and instead embrace the virtues of the heart. 

 When someone states it so clearly, as Shepherd has, there is little more to say. Yet, as we begin the whirlwind that we call the “holiday season,” its good to keep in mind the following:

• Get in touch with the spirit of the holidays-good well, peace, love, joy and merriment-and focus on them rather than the exterior stuff (the right tree, dress, suit, presents etc.). 

• As noted in Healing the Whole Person: Ways to Increase Well-Being you are more than the diagnosis. Fear, shame, vulnerability and powerlessness can be common emotions. It is easy to define yourself by what you can no longer do and how you appear. You might even feel that you have been robbed of everything that makes life worth living. Yet great things can be achieved by connecting with your inner self, identity, soul, spirit or whatever form you choose to call the core of who you are versus what you appear to be.

• We are all connected, so think of simple ways to embody the spirit of the holidays for all and not just those you may be related to.

• Of the things you are most frustrated by in your life, change what you can and accept what you can’t.  And then I knew, just like before, that I had a choice. I could keep fighting this or I could let go and accept not only my body but the circumstances of my life. An then I stopped asking, "Why me?" And I started to ask, "Why not me?" And then I thought to myself, maybe being at rock bottom is acutally the perfect place to start.  J Shepherd

• If you need a reminder about acceptance, go see “The Life of Pi,” in 3-D if at all possible. I could elaborate, but it’s a gem of a film that deserves to be seen with an open mind. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Take A Break: Make Felt Fortune Cookies/Christmas in France

Whether you make these for a holiday party, New Years or Chinese New Years, these are simple to make but look great. They will amaze family and friends alike.

• Make a three- inch circle from paper. I used the inside rim of duct tape to get the right size. Pin to a piece of felt (readily available in small squares at craft stores, or in larger pieces at fabric stores) or a stiffer type of fabric and cut out the circle. Use what ever colors you like.

• Cut a piece of pipe cleaner (now called “craft sticks”) slightly less than the diameter of the circle.

• Lay the pipe cleaner across the circle. Fold in half and pinch the ends making a fortune cookie shape.

Watch the video on making felt fortune cookies if this isn’t clear. She glues her pipe cleaner to the diameter but I didn’t find that necessary.

• Create fortunes to put inside the “cookies.” If you need some ideas for wording, check out the following sites:

Not interested in fortune cookies? Check out Rick Steves’ European Christmas  in France. Since my son is in college in Paris, I’m just a bit taken with Paris this Christmas. It was lovely to see the places we had visited in the fall ablaze with holiday charm. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Prescription that’s rarely written: Stress Reduction

How often have you gone to a medical provider and had them write a prescription? While many office visits do result in a medication being prescribed, few patients are ever given one for stress management. 

 A new study in the Nov. 19 Archives of Internal Medicine, reports that only three percent of primary care patients receive any type of stress management counseling, falling behind counseling for nutrition, exercise, weight loss, and smoking. As stress is thought to be a contributor to 60 to 80 percent of all visits to a primary care provider, you may want to ask yourself the next time you make a medical appointment, “is stress contributing to how you feel?”

According to the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America Report,”  common effects of stress include: headache; muscle tension or pain; chest pain; fatigue; change in sex drive; stomach upset; sleep problems; anxiety; restlessness; lack of motivation or focus; irritability or anger; and sadness or depression. In trying to cope with stress, it is not uncommon for people to over or under eat, have angry outbursts; abuse alcohol, drugs and/or tobacco, or socially withdraw.

Year after year, the Stress in America survey paints a picture of a nation at a critical crossroads when it comes to stress and health. Overall, Americans appear to be caught in a vicious cycle where they manage stress in unhealthy ways, and seemingly insurmountable barriers prevent them from making the lifestyle or behavioral changes necessary for good health. Findings from the 2011 survey found that several groups of people in particular — caregivers and those living with chronic illness — are at heightened risk of experiencing serious consequences of stress that is too high and appears to be taking a toll on their emotional and physical health.

As medical providers are unlikely to “write a prescription” for stress reduction, and the incidence of stress is much higher for those with a chronic condition, consider the following ways to reduce the stress in your life:

• Identify what creates stress for you and how you respond to it. Keeping a “stress journal” can help you identify situations that cause stress, as well as different things you have tried to help cope with it. Keep in mind that while things like family, being a caregiver, and work are likely to be on many peoples’ stress list, recognize that it’s how you react to them that causes the stress. Remember the only thing you can change is yourself.

Consider the Four A’s of dealing with stressful situations:
-       Avoid the stressor: Learn to say no, limit time with people who are stressful for you, don’t get caught up in conversations on politics, religion etc.
-       Alter the situation: Reduce the “to do list;” compromise; be assertive not aggressive; practice time management
-       Adapt to the stressor: Look at the big picture; reframe how you think about the situation; look for the positive;
-       Accept the things you can’t change

The Serenity Prayer is a good reminder of incorporating the four A’s:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference

Develop “on the spot” stress reducers. When you find yourself tensing and becoming anxious breathing techniques, quick meditations, walks, laughing and other activities can help to short circuit a stress reaction. For more information