Friday, November 29, 2013

Traditions: Don’t let them overwhelm your holiday

While doing pre Thanksgiving grocery shopping, I met a neighbor whose husband had recently died. Her cart was heavily laden with the fixings for a very large Thanksgiving dinner, yet her eyes were wet with tears. As we briefly chatted, she told me that the good thing about the holidays is that “they’re over pretty quickly.”

A number of people share this sentiment-the Saturday after Thanksgiving is either the beginning of the “most wonderful time of year,” or “hell month.”  There are as many people as there are reasons for finding the holidays “stressful.”

Family and friends have various and assorted traditions. Some believe that these are sacred and need to be adhered to at all cost, whether they continue to work, or people have the energy, stamina or finances to implement them. The upside of tradition is that it provides continuity from year to year and it can be something everyone looks forward to. The downside is that it can become a burden versus a joy and something that can cause worry and stress-not good things for anyone, but particularly bad for those affected by chronic conditions.

Nothing stays constant. Things are always changing and so traditions need to be adjusted accordingly. Consider the following:

Think about your favorite holiday experiences. What was it that made it so special? Write down the various holiday traditions you either provide or take part in.  

Rank them from most enjoyable to least. Do any of them incorporate the magical memories of holidays past? Does that influence how you rank them?

Assess realistically what you have the time and energy to do this season. When you add this factor to your list, does it change the ranking?

Delete the ones that are not enjoyable, too difficult to do or you can’t really afford. Gift giving is one that many people struggle with. You might continue to give gifts but modify what you spend. Check out The Helpful Guide to Simple Christmas Links for ideas to simplify the holidays.

Institute some new ways of doing things that better reflect who you are and your current situation,

Talk to family and friends about the changes you are making and why. Some will understand it and others, well maybe not so much. Keep in mind that they are responsible for how they feel and it’s not your job to take that on.

Ideas from family and friends should be listened to but only adopt the ones that you can reasonably do.

Open your life to new ways of doing things.

No is a choice. Saying it can simplify life considerably.

Simplify and savor the holidays.

Holiday Posts from Previous Years

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Take a Danish Hygge Break

Pronounced “hue-gah,” the Danish term “hygge” means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with people you most enjoy. It is an absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming and the presence of comforting, gentle and soothing things. Originating in Norway, where it meant well being, the high season of hygge is Christmas. Candles, mulled wine, fire places, blankets and scarves makes the long and cold winter season bearable and for many, quite enjoyable.

Danes are the happiest nation in the world for good reason – they make enjoyment a priority and take the time to celebrate/acknowledge simple, wonderful moments (like meals, visiting, being active or even just drinking coffee!) that nourish the soul. They find ways to incorporate hygge into their daily life so it becomes a natural extension rather than a forced and stressful event. By creating simple rituals without effort {such as brewing real tea with a little china cup every evening to stopping at the flower shop every week} the Danes see both the domestic and personal life as an art form and not every drudgery to get away from.

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, what better way to usher in the holiday season then with a variety of different ways to bring hygge into your everyday life.

• Pay attention to what makes you fell open hearted and alive. What are those simple rituals and pleasures that give meaning and comfort to you?
• Light up your space with candles (flame less are fine).

• Use your fireplace if you have one. If you can’t burn wood in it, consider candles or even a gas model.

• Even though it’s cold outside, adopt the Danes custom of warm clothing and invite friends over for an outside bonfire. A mug of cocoa, coffee, tea or even mulled hot cider are great ways to chill the night air as you stand close to the fire.

• Take a long soak in the bathtub by candlelight.

• Call a friend, dress warm, bring a mug of something hot and take a walk.

• Snuggle on the couch with books, magazines, and something warm to eat and drink.

• Invite people you enjoy for an evening of good food, conversation, games, music or whatever appeals to you and your friends. This part is important No cell phones or political discussions allowed.

• For the spaces in your house, where you spend the most time, surround them with things you love. Remember this isn’t about “having” but rather about being. Instead of going out and buying something new, put out an item you really enjoy seeing, but seldom do because it’s packed away for “safe keeping.”

• Make a warm cup of something, sit in a rocking chair, plays some music and spend a while enjoying your hygge break.

• Have a “cookie bake” where several friends come and bring their favorite recipes, which you will make over the course of the afternoon/evening.

• Involve your children, family and friends in preparing for the holidays ahead. Plan parties where you make presents for one another. If you need ideas, there are literally hundreds of ideas from the last four years of Take A Break.

• Turn off the TV and enjoy doing something with your family- games, telling stories, working on a crossword puzzle or Lego's together. Create a movie night, where each member of the family takes turns selecting the movie, make some snacks and depending on age, provide a brief introduction to the film. The film title is kept secret until “show time.”

• Keep hygge in mind when making or selecting presents this season. Since this is a time of year where it’s wonderful to snuggle up and be cozy, warm throws for the sofa, comfy slippers, candles made from beeswax and soy that are unscented, and a tea, coffee or cocoa set will be appreciated. Exceptional chocolates or other treats that you make or buy are always welcome.  Gift certificates for things like a pedicure, massage or a visit to the hair salon can make someone’s day.  If you like to knit or crochet, warm scarves, mittens and hats are perfect for this time of year. Keep it simple, make it yourself if you can, and surprise family and friends with something you enjoyed making. 

I’ve had so much fun working on this post. I think hygge is the Danes understanding that finding contentment, and certainly making room for it daily, leads to a good quality of life. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Light Someone’s Torch: Inspire and be Inspired Regardless of Your Age or Health

This past week, Gloria Steinem spoke at the National Press Club  and the next day she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Steinem was co-founder of New York and MS. Magazines. She is a champion of equal rights, social justice and a feminist. For more information about her life and work, go to Gloria Steinem website. 

At 79, having survived breast cancer and living with various chronic conditions, it’s fairly common for people to comment on her age and what she has been versus what she’s doing and planning. She made a very interesting comment during her speech at the National Press Club.  "People often ask me at this age, ‘Who am I passing the torch to?’ First of all, I’m not giving up my torch, thank you! I’m using my torch to light other people’s torches. … If we each have a torch, there’s a lot more light."

I’ve heard other interviews with Steinem, and again and again she refuses to be defined because of age or condition. One interviewer asked what she thought the greatest contribution she had made was. Her reply was something along the lines of “I don’t know because it may be something I’ll do next year or sometime in the future.”

Steinem’s torch shines brighter and brighter with each passing year. Her message is an important one regardless of age, illness, ability or whatever the restriction that we use to self-limit. We can continue to be inspired and/or be a source of inspiration as long as we choose to do so.

If you’re wondering how you can “light someone’s torch” by inspiring them consider the following:

• Be who you are, not a version of what you think others want you to be.

• Live in the present and mindfully

• Walk the talk-Practice what you preach

• Honor promises and tell the truth

• Listen when others are talking and communicate clearly-say what you mean, mean what you say.

• Make yourself available to others as you can.

• Do what you love.

• Be enthusiastic, encouraging and willing to care about others

• Be a life long learner

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Take a Break: Try some “hacks” that work

The terms “hack” and “hackers” can have negative connotations. However, today’s “take a break” is about modifying something to make it work better, easier or to be more fun.

If you are not familiar with “life hacker,”  you will at least be amused if not learn some useful stuff at the site. Advertised as “tips, tricks and downloads for getting things done” one of my favorite hacks was How to (Legally) Boost Your Music Library Without Spending a Dime.  Also very helpful-Top 10 Everyday Life Hacks that take 10 seconds or less. Truly you can peel an entire head of garlic in less than 10 seconds.

Twisted Sifter offers a variety of Life hacks, “little ways to make our lives easier” along with very interesting information art, nature and much more. Very photography oriented. Check out some of their most popular posts:
• 50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World:  Some of the tips were very helpful, such as “A frozen, saturated sponge in a bag makes an icepack that won’t drip all over when it melts.” Who knew that you could light a strand of spaghetti and then light those candles in jars? Since I’m making duct tape ties for Christmas this year, I particularly liked the easy instructions-which includes such favorites as the Windsor knot.

• 50 Creative Ways to Repurpose, Reuse, and Upcycle Old Things: Loved the turning old credit cards into guitar picks.

Some other “hacks” you might enjoy:

• 26 Clever and Inexpensive Crafting Hacks: My favorite tip was cutting tin foil or sandpaper to sharpen dull scissors. 

• Food Hacks: Kitchen shortcuts for brilliantly lazy cooks: Being a guacamole fan, great suggestion on how to keep it green.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Dealing with Anxiety

Anxiety is a common malady that has probably always plagued mankind. This past week, I encountered someone who was incredibly stressed. Since they wanted me to e-mail the things we discussed, I thought this might be a helpful blog post. Also, it’s a good summary of three posts I’ve already written- two very recently Take a Break: Create a Three Blessings Journal/Space Invest in the Process of Healing  and one from 2012 Contentment is Happiness.

Anxiety = What If. What if I start to feel worse? What if I’m really sick? What if I can’t afford the medication I need?  When we become most anxious it’s because we’re worried about the future. Sometimes there is a legitimate need to be anxious, but more often than not, it’s our lovely ancient brain wiring, which needed to keep us alert to the very real tiger that lurked in the bushes ready to bounce. In short, we’re wired for a certain level of paranoia or as the neuropsychologist Rick Hanson calls it, “the brain’s negativity bias. The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” Consequently, we routinely over estimate the danger and underestimate our ability to handle it. 

The health impact of anxiety and stress has been well documented. Left un checked, anxiety can directly decrease immune function, ultimately leading to “flares,” disease progression and worse.

1. Focus on the now by practicing Stop
• Tell yourself “stop.” 
• Take a Breathe Taking deep breaths is a powerful anxiety reducing technique as it activates the body’s relaxation response. Try slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, hold your breath to a count of 4 and slowly exhale to a count of 4. Repeat several times or sufficiently to slow down.
• Observe what’s going on around you
ยบ Proceed

2: Engage in the present; invest in the process and not the outcome. Being goal oriented is all well and good but invest in the process so everyday is a good day. Read Invest in the Process of Healing.

3: Focus on meaningful activities
The worst thing you can do is sit passively by and obsess. Go to the movies, visit friends, do your laundry. Ask yourself what you would be doing if you weren’t anxious and go do it. Focusing on being anxious adds to the problem.

4. Count your blessings: Martin Seligman, the father of the positive psychology movement, suggests practicing the “Three Blessings” exercise to increase happiness. "Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep.  Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. Next to each positive event, answer the question "Why did this happen?" Fore more information, read this past Wednesday’s Take a Break

5. Increase Contentment: I use contentment over happiness, as the latter implies a level of euphoria that is difficult to maintain. Read Contentment is Happiness and increase it by doing the following (these are from Ten Keys to Happier Living from Action for Happiness):
• Giving: Do things for others
• Relating: Connect with People-Call a friend, have lunch
• Exercising: Take care of your body-Reduce TV viewing and time spent on computers and other technology. Take a walk, dance
• Appreciating: Notice the world around you
• Trying out: Keep learning new things
• Direction: Have goals to look forward to
• Resilience: Find ways to bounce back
• Emotion: Take a positive approach
• Acceptance: Be comfortable with who you are
• Meaning: Be part of something bigger

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Take a Break: Create a Three Blessings Journal/Space

As the holiday seasons seems to be descending upon us at a rapid rate, and Thanksgiving just two weeks away, what better time to prepare for the day we give thanks by learning about the Tree Blessings Practice.

 Martin Seligman, the father of the positive psychology movement, suggests practicing the “Three Blessings” exercise to increase happiness. "Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep.  Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote.  Next to each positive event, answer the question "Why did this happen?"

Today’s take a break includes the following:
• Learn more about the Three Blessings Exercise by watching Seligman’s video

• Figure out a space in your home where you can sit for 10 minutes to work on this exercise. You might want to make this a calm space, with plenty of light, flowers, comfortable chair or whatever else that strikes your fancy. It could be in your bedroom or another place in the house or yard.

• Collect pens, pencils, and all sorts of other inspiring items to encourage you to make this Blessings journal unique to you. Try not to use an electronic device for this project as handwriting switches on a different part of the brain that engages the brain more deeply than typing. The act of writing helps to clarify your thoughts and remember things better.

• Tonight, just before you go to bed, write down three blessings that occurred during the day. These can be as simple as seeing a beautiful flower. This practice helps you to reorient your brain to think positively instead of focusing on the negative aspects, which our brains have a natural tendency to do. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Affordable Care Act Does Not Equal Good Health

If I hear or read one more comment about the Affordable Care Act –a.k.a.“Obamacare”- I’m going to scream. With our relentless obsession over this political hot potato, we have now become a society that believes that to have some assurances of health, you must have health insurance. We are focusing on “sick” care versus “health” care. I wonder what would happen if just a quarter of the energy being used to fight over this issue was put into creating environments that promote health and well being? 

 Yes, we do need some form of universal health care. Yes, it is a big change and a lot of confusion should be expected, much as it's been for the launch of many other major initiatives. My concern is that the intense and seemingly never ending battle about it is helping to erode our understanding of what we as individuals and community can and should be doing to maximize health.

The basics of a healthy diet, exercise and stress reduction, which could significantly reduce the impact of many chronic conditions, most often are categorized as Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and not part of the main stream. Yet, if we adopted this as a way to live our lives, the need for health insurance and health care could be significantly reduced.

Whenever I interject these comments into discussions about Obamacare, I’m always asked, “so how do you fix it?” The solution rests in individuals and communities recognizing their importance and responsibility in promoting and leading healthy lives.

The best example for how to go about this is Blue Zones. Initially started by National Geographic to identify those places in the world where people live the longest, the project has continued to expand into new directions. Having identified the characteristics of communities and people where longevity is high, these Power 9  are being introducing  into communities where there is a desire to improve health and well-being. Blue Zones Project by Healthways 

The newly developing Blue Zones communities are being tracked by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, measure of U.S. residents’ daily heath and well-being. Unless I missed it, having life insurance isn’t on this index, though there are a lot of health insurers interested in this research as initial results indicate this is a good way to reduce costs. 

Interestingly, when I talk about the Blue Zones to health professionals I encounter, I would say at least  8 out of 10 have never heard of it. Why is that? If I were to guess, it's because they are so focused on a particular condition or aspect of health care that they aren't looking at root issues and the bigger picture. Also, because many of the Power 9 (stress reduction, diet, movement, spirituality etc.) fall into the CAM camp, it's easily dismissed as not being "hard science."

Health reform is desperately needed. Where do we put our time and effort? In health insurance? In creating communities where the healthy choice is the easy one? Can we invest in more than one approach or a more balanced approach?

For all of you who are weary of the debate, below are resources to help you and your communities lead healthier lives:

Healing the Whole Person: Ways to Increase Well-Being  While designed for those affected by chronic and/or life-threatening conditions, it’s relevant for all.

• The Power 9 from Blue Zones: The common factors found in places around the world where people live the longest. 

Do What You Can, With What You Have, Where you are No matter how healthy we are, we all will develop something as our final outcome is predetermined. These are ways that individuals, community and hospitals can help when that happens. 

• Are Zombie Doctors Taking Over America? Zubin Damania’s talk at Ted Med. He is the Director of Healthcare Development for Downtown Project Las Vegas. He is working on a health care model that does not revolve around insurance.