Using Poetry to Explore Thoughts and Feelings

Creating a Healthy Balanced Life WorkbookPoetry exercises excerpted from Creating a Healthy Balanced Life

By Sandra K. Negley, MTRS, CTRS and Ester Leutenberg

Looking for an interesting way to lead your clients as they explore their thoughts and feelings? Something different and introspective? Try poetry.

Poetic Thoughts and Feelings – exploring through poetry

One creative way to explore thoughts and feelings is through the writing of poetry. Don’t worry, this does not mean a person has to be a great poet or writer to have fun with this unique and ancient art form. The key is to be open, enjoy, explore, and look soulfully at one’s deeper thoughts and feelings. Writing poetry can assist a person to focus thoughts, stop circular thinking, and begin to look at life from a different perspective. A variety of creative writing techniques will work with most people and most ages; here are four styles to initiate participants’ creative thinking.

Technique #1

Haiku is a unique ancient Japanese style of writing that uses 17 syllables divided into 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables.

River inspiring poetryExample:

River flows gently

Water moves sand and rock

Forgiveness begins

 

Technique #2

Five-line poetry while similar to Haiku is less restrictive and for some allows a more creative exploration.

Title of Topic (1-word) Describe Topic (2 words) Action Occurring (3-words) Feelings—how it makes you feel (4-words) Summary (1-word)

Example:

Friendship

Honesty, acceptance

Evolving through time

Creating more fulfilled experiences

Forever

 

Technique #3

Pass Around Poem

A fun exercise in poetry writing can come from a less threatening approach that lends itself to creative and critical thought. This opens the door for participants to have interesting and inquisitive discussions on the coincidences in life.

Poetry book and notebookInstructions: Distribute one poetry book, a pen, and one piece of paper to each participant. Instruct participants that when you say, “start” they will follow this process:

  1. Close your eyes
  2. Open the book
  3. Place one finger on a spot in the book
  4. Open your eyes
  5. Write a line of poetry from where your finger landed (one line)
  6. Give participants an example

The facilitator gives participants 30 seconds and then says “pass.” Participants will pass their book to the right and repeat the process. The number of lines of the poem will be determined by the number of participants. (Keep in mind some people may need more time than others, waiting can be unsettling and/or break the magic with boredom. Consider facilitating with smaller groups.)

 

Technique #4

An I Am Poem can be used as an introspective exercise for participants to increase self-awareness while also connecting with other members of the group. The I Am Poem is a creative way to also teach and explore current issues, science, art, and conceptual thoughts. There are two ways to approach this form of writing:

Form One — Instruct the participants that to write this poem only requires one instruction; each line of the poem must start with “I am . . .” The poem can be as long as they choose and reflect as much about themselves as they would like to share. The poem may include such things as gender, ethnicity, interests, family traditions, mottos, memories, or future goals. Encourage participants to be creative in defining who they are and how they express themselves. Remind them that it does not have to rhyme.

Example Format:

I am a woman

I am multidimensional

I am strong and industrious

I am vulnerable and emotional

I am an advocate for individuals with disabilities

I am a listener

I am a mother, grandmother, teacher, friend

I am a woman

 

Form Two — This poem follows a more directed and structured format. Begin with the I am statement — two characteristics of the person. This statement can be repeated throughout the poem as a line opener and then repeated as the last line of the poem. The writer can have as many stanzas to their poem as they choose. As the facilitator, you can prepare a format for participants or you can list a variety of suggestions and let participants develop their own format.

Example Format:

I am (characteristics of the person)

I wonder (something the person or thing could think or be curious about)

I hear

I see

I dream

I am (If you wish repeat first line of the poem, every 4-5 statements)

I fear

I love

I understand

I hope

I am (end poem with this line)

Additional Suggestions

I care                     I feel                      I want                     I touch

I pretend               I respect                I cry                       I laugh

I worry                   I unfold                  I release               I forgive

I say                        I hope                    I honor

Thrive Behavioral Coping Skills for Teens

Teens ~ Out-of-the-Box Coping SkillsExcerpted from Teens ~ Out-of-the-Box Coping Skills

By Ester R.A. Leutenberg & Carol Butler, MS ED, RN, C

It’s already August. Teens, whether they have been working, getting ready to go away to college, or just hanging about the house, are bored. They grunt in response to questions, don’t want to go anywhere with the family (pa-leeease, Mom!), have their noses in social media of all kinds at all times, and are, in general, no fun to be around.  They need to find some way to cope with the last of summer. We need them to find a way to cope.

Assuming that they already have a firm foundation in the coping skills we teach to our teens, let’s take it a step further and take a look at how teens can thrive by becoming part of a larger cause. We can guide participants to interact with their community by engaging in activities they are passionate about.

I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.

-Oprah Winfrey

Poems About the Earth

Clean it Up

Clean up the earth,
so it could be a sparkling clean place for us all!
Clean up the earth,
so we can see the gorgeous blue and green on our planet.
The blue and green will shine in our eyes if we clean it up.
So clean it up,
so that we don’t see any garbage ~
any time or any day.
Clean it up
and live in a world of happiness.
The world we live in can be cleaned up and we can be happy!

-By Allie ~ 9 years old from
Ms. Siegelman’s Third Grade Class
Nassakeag Elementary School – Long Island, NY

In the Future, My World …

I will live in a country of my own making.
In the future,
Environmental destruction will be the norm.
No longer can it be said that
My peers and I care about this Earth.

-Excerpt from The Lost Generation by Jonathan Reed

Before the session begins, place a small globe or a picture of the earth in a covered box.

  • At the start of the session, have a volunteer take the picture out of the box and show it to the group.
  • Ask the participants what is represented (our world).
  • Ask what it means to live in one’s own little world. (Caring only about oneself and one’s close associates.)
  • Point out that teens might have a wider view of the world – school, community, etc.

 

Distribute the handout of Earth Poems. (Click here for printable handout.)

  • Have a volunteer read Jonathan Reed’s poem aloud.
  • Ask the participants what it means to them. Discuss.
  • Have another volunteer read it again, this time from the last line to the first. (Not each word, each line.)
  • Ask the participants what it means now.
  • Why did the poet want us to hear it both ways?
  • Which way do the participants want to see going forward?
  • Can we achieve this?
  • Ask participants for suggestions on how we can achieve a world where environmental destruction will be rare and folks will care for and cherish the earth.

 

Point out the list of causes on their handout. Ask what other causes might be added to the list.

Animal advocacy Health issues School
Children’s needs Homeless assistance The arts
Community Literacy Veterans
Cultural rights and equality Political issues Violence prevention
Faith-based organizations Safety

 

  • Ask them to choose a cause and write a poem about it. As they see from the examples, the lines do not have to rhyme, nor does the rhythm need to sound like that of Robert Louis Stevenson. Write their thoughts about an issue important to them and that causes them concern.
  • Have volunteers read their poems aloud. It might help to write one of your own and read it first to break the ice.
  • Discuss what ways there are to use their various abilities to support their chosen cause.
  • Debate the pros and cons of peaceful demonstrations.
  • Identify other ways a message might be conveyed.
  • Discuss how to raise funds to support a cause.
  • Identify the benefits received from volunteering.
  • Help each participant create and share a plan to follow through on advocacy or humanitarian efforts they care about.
  • Discuss the value of volunteering for a charity, faith-based or public service organization? Does it negate your contribution if you benefit as well as your cause?

Enrichment Activities

 Initiate discussion about these questions; possible responses are in italics.
  • How can teens use their artistic or literary skills to promote their causes?
Posters, postings, and pictures on social media, letters to editors, petitions, etc.
  • I what other ways can a message be spread about a particular need?
Songs, movies, television programs, documentaries, stage plays, etc. about the topic.
  • What are the pros and cons of parades and peaceful demonstrations?
Pros – publicity, educate the community. Cons – may be difficult to organize.
  • What are some ways to raise funds?
Sales (baked goods, rummage, etc.), services (cut lawns, wash cars, etc.). Donate the proceeds.
  • What is the value of volunteering for a charity, faith-based or public service organization?
 A natural high from helping others, make like-minded friends, work experience for a resume.
 
Prompt teens to make plans to follow through on one or more of their ideas. 

Post Traumatic Stress – Grief and Survival Guilt

Grief and Survival Guilt

As veterans make the transition from deployment to civilian life, from military housing to home, from loneliness to being in the heart of their family they often experience grief and survival guilt. Survival Guilt JournalingIf you are doing this exercise with a group, ask them to share what the phrase “shock and awe” means to them both as a military term and as a generic phrase. If you are doing this exercise alone, journal about what the phrase means to you. Remember, journaling is for your eyes only. Don’t worry about your writing style. Just jot down your thoughts as they come to you.

The death of a comrade in arms or the death of anyone close to you often leads to feelings of being overwhelmed, of not having the strength to go on, of feelings of guilt…why am I here and he/she isn’t.

Read the following with your own feelings in mind.

Excerpted from Veterans: Surviving and Thriving after Trauma

By Ester R. A. Leutenberg and Carol Butler, MS Ed, RN, C

Shock and Awe

Shock and Awe is a military doctrine of rapid dominance; the use of overwhelming power and spectacular force to paralyze the enemy’s perception of the battlefield and destroy their will to fight.

  • Shock, disbelief and denial are usually the first reactions to death.
  • Awe involves fear and dread, natural reactions to loss, especially sudden death.
  • You may grieve the loss of your former identity, the loss of innocence after combat, the loss of a dream if you change careers due to emotional or financial problems, and so on.

The grief process is individualized. Stages have been theorized, but people do not go through all the same stages and no specific time frames exist.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross named five stages of grief:

  1. Denial, a defense mechanism that buffers immediate shock.
  2. Anger, we resent the pain and loss, and then are guilty about being angry.
  3. Bargaining, If only I had been better toward them; or if they are still alive, we tell our Higher Power, if they are saved I promise …
  4. Depression, sadness, about practical concerns and the loss.
  5. Acceptance, new normal, easier after a long illness or advanced age; harder to accept when a soldier dies in the prime of life.

GriefWork ~ Healing from LossGriefWork ~ Healing from Loss lists three markers along the Healing Pathway:

  1. Shock ‒ The reality of the loss has not sunk in.
  2. Disorganization ‒ The reality of the loss is real.
  3. Reorganization ‒ Rebuilding a satisfying life ‒ a New Normal.

Survival Guilt compounds grief among many veterans.

  • Some ask, why wasn’t it me who got hurt or killed.
  • Some take responsibility or blame, it’s my fault.
  • Some think, the dead person deserved to live and I deserved to die.

Survival Guilt can be mitigated if you accept the following statements to be true:

  • Admit to your feelings
  • Realize that survival guilt is common, but not comfortable
  • Seek others who understand, veterans, support groups, family
  • Mourn the loss, possibly having a ceremony or some other way to commemorate the person’s life
  • Act and live as they would have advised; make a contribution, hold a fundraiser, give blood, time, and energy to the causes they believed in

Warning Signals

Some symptoms are dangerous and require professional help. Make note of those symptoms of depression or complicated grief that apply to you.

  1. Thoughts of harming or killing yourself or others.
  2. Inability to trust yourself or others.
  3. Persistent belief that you deserve(d) to die.
  4. Inability to function months after the death; cannot perform at work or school; unable to care for children or household responsibilities.
  5. Severe depression and hopelessness about the future; feeling worthless.
  6. Inability to eat or sleep or take care of personal health and hygiene.
  7. Feelings of extreme guilt, rage or bitterness.
  8. Substance abuse, including taking higher than recommended doses of prescribed medications.
  9. Extreme physical reactions like nausea, aches and pains, lowered immunity.
  10. Very slow thinking, speech, and body movements.
  11. Seeing or hearing things that are not there.
  12. False beliefs that the person still lives; searching for them, or thinking you recognize them in familiar places.
  13. Envy toward others who are not suffering, or not caring about others.

Veterans front cover*Here are two exercises from Veterans: Surviving and Thriving after Trauma that may help those working through grief and survivors guilt:

Carry the Torch

Shock and Awe – Journaling Suggestions

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Awareness

Excerpted from Managing Moods Workbook, by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John Liptak, PhD

Managing Moods WorkbookMay is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is important that facilitators keep an open mind about mental health issues and the stigma attached to people experiencing these issues. Rather than thinking of people as having a mental disorder or being mentally ill,  Erasing the Stigma of Mental Health Issues through Awareness helps facilitators to diminish the stigma that surrounds people suffering from these issues. Stigmas occur when people are unduly labeled, which sets the stage for discrimination and humiliation.

People who stigmatize and /or stereotype others bring about unfair treatment. This unfair treatment can be very obvious. For example, people make negative comments or laugh. On the other hand, this unfair treatment can be very subtle. For example, people assume that a person with mental health issues is dangerous or violent.

Stigmas affect a large percentage of people throughout the world. Some of the more common stigmas are associated with physical disabilities, mental health conditions, age, body type, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, family, ethnicity, race, religion, financial status, social sub-cultures and conduct. Stigmas set people apart from society and produce feelings of shame and isolation. People who are stigmatized are often considered socially unacceptable and they suffer prejudice, rejection, avoidance and discrimination.

Mental Health Awareness – An Introduction to Stigmas for your Clients

Intense Anxiety - Mental Health AwarenessA stigma is extreme social disapproval of some type of personal characteristic or a belief that is not considered socially acceptable. Fear of judgment and ridicule about mental illness often compels individuals and their families to hide away from society rather than face criticism, shunning, labeling and stereotyping. Instead of seeking treatment, they struggle in silence. Here are some ways you can combat the stereotypes and stigmas that are associated with mental illness.

  • You and your loved ones have choices. You can decide who is to know about your mental illness and what to tell them. You need not feel ashamed or embarrassed.
  • You are not alone. Remember that many other people are coping with a similar situation.
  • Seek help and remember that treatment from medical professionals can help you to have productive careers and live satisfying lives.
  • Be proactive and surround yourself with supportive people – people you can trust. Social isolation is a negative side effect of the stigma linked to mental illness. Isolating yourself and discontinuing enjoyable activities will not help.

Mental Health Awareness Month – Printable Exercises

DE-STIGMA-TIZE with the Facts About Mental Health Issues

Myth: Mental health issues are rare.
Fact: Mental health issues are not rare and affect nearly everyone either directly or indirectly.

Myth: People with mental health issues are unable to lead productive lives.
Fact: Most people with a mental health issue respond to treatment, learn to cope with and manage their problems, and go on to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

Myth: People who have mental health conditions will not get better.
Fact: Once diagnosed, mental health issues are treatable. While they are not always cured, they can be managed effectively. Most people with mental health conditions live productive and positive lives while receiving treatments for their mental health issues. As is the case with any illness, individuals with severe or persistent mental health conditions who respond poorly to available treatments may require more support and may not function as highly as others.

Myth: People with serious mental health issues are violent and unpredictable.
Fact: While some people who suffer from serious mental health issues do commit antisocial acts, mental health issues do not equal criminality or violence – despite the media’s tendency to emphasize a suspected link. People with mental health issues are no more likely to commit violence than anyone in the general public, but they are more likely to be victimized and are more likely to inflict violent behaviors on themselves.

Myth: Mental health issues happen because of bad parenting or personal weakness.
Fact: The main risk factors for mental health issues are not bad parenting or personal weakness but rather genetics, severe and prolonged stress (such as physical or sexual abuse), or other environmental influences (such as birth trauma or head injury).

Myth: Treatments for mental health issues are not usually effective.
Fact: The effectiveness of any treatment depends on a number of factors including the type of mental health issue and the particular needs of the individual. A combination of psychiatric medication and psychotherapy, or social interventions is the most effective way to treat mental health issues.

Myth: Mental health conditions are caused by everyday stressors.
Fact: It may seem that stress is responsible for mental health conditions; however, there is no one clear cause of mental health issues. Rather, it is a result of complex interactions between psychological, biological, genetic, and social factors. Stress, stigma, and lack of support can make it worse on the individual.

Myth: Mental health issues are always hereditary.
Fact: Some mental health issues include a genetic component, which results in a predisposition or vulnerability toward the mental health problems among children and siblings, but environment also plays a key role in the development of certain conditions. If someone in one’s family has a mental health condition, that person will be a higher risk.

Click here for a printable version DE-STIGMA-TIZE with the Facts About Mental Health Awareness Issues

Mindfulness Defined

What is mindfulness and why is it a good thing?

According to Donna Torney, MA, LMHC, RYT in her upcoming book Mindfulness for Emerging Adults:  The Center Points model for well-being, mindfulness is:   “…paying attention to moment-to-moment experience without judgment. [It] is a fantastic aid in the process of exploring values and identifying strengths, as well as increasing the rich direct experiences of everyday life.  Engaging in practical mindfulness in this way leads to more contentment and calm, whether you are young or old, paying bills or socializing.”

In a study reported in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research:  Neuroimaging M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after participants’ meditation regimen support these claims.  They show increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.

What kind of meditation works? Britta Hölzel, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and the study’s lead author, said the participants in the study referenced above-practiced mindfulness meditation,  just what Donna recommends.

Try this Centering Points exercise working toward mindfulness and focus.

Woman sitting on the ground mindfulnessBut it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is, I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?—Henry David Thoreau

Focusing basics for the severely distracted

Goals:

  • Taking a look at small and easy ways to build mindfulness and focus
  • Rating exercises from most to least accessible/doable in your daily life

Starting a meditation practice is a great idea especially with all the research that shows the mental and physical benefits it can bring.  But there are times in life (usually when we most need it) when sitting still and calming the mind can seem like a feat of Olympic proportions.

Exercise:

Here are some ideas to find moments of tranquility, even in the most hectic of times.  Read through each mini-exercise, then rate them by assigning three stars to the exercise you would be most likely to try today, two stars to an exercise you are willing to try tomorrow, and one star to an exercise you can commit to trying by the end of the week.  Commit to completing a three star exercise as soon as possible.

Take note of what is distracting you – If you don’t feel ready for a meditation practice it’s okay. Start by noticing what is distracting you.

  • Are your distractions fear-based; are you worrying about some future outcome?
  • Are your distractions fantasy-based; is there something you don’t have that is stopping you from living your life in the here and now?
  • Start by noting what takes you out of the present moment. Just taking note of what is keeping you in a state of distraction is a step toward more mindfulness.

Perform a single routine task mindfully – fold laundry, wash dishes, feed the dog, without slipping into autopilot.  So often, we get up in the morning and do our routine in zombie mode.

  • Get out of bed and stretch for half a minute.
  • What is the first thing you usually do in the morning? Can you do it with all your senses engaged?
  • Resist automatic thoughts and mentally rehearsing your to-do list.
  • You might find that the routine task is actually enjoyable, or you may decide to change the start of your day so that the very first task is something that feels pleasant, like reading a few pages in a good book versus checking your email.

Take a slow walk or run – Routine exercise is another place where we can easily check our focus.

  • Take your walk or go to the gym as usual, but consciously slow down your pace.
  • Notice something new about the gym or the walking/running route you are on.
  • Refrain from projecting into the future or thinking about the past. You may burn a few less calories by slowing down, but what you gain in tranquility and calm will make up for it.

Puppy MindfulnessPet or play with an animal – If you have one, your dog or cat can become your Zen master.

  • Take time out today to be with your pet and just with your pet. Animals are experts in being in the present moment.
  • Get down on the floor and get on your pet’s level. Gaze into their eyes as you play with or pet them.
  • Thank them for being your Zen master.

Belly breathe with a baby or small child – Babies and young children can also anchor us to the present moment in a special way.

  • If you have an infant in your life, take some time to watch them while they nap. Babies have not learned the bad habit of taking shallow breaths.  Take long, slow breaths like a baby.
  • If you have a toddler in your life, ask him or her to lie on the floor next to you. Place pillows on your bellies.  Watch them as they float up and down on your belly as you take long, deep inhales and exhales.
  • Take some time to giggle with your toddler as the pillows rise and fall.

Walk barefoot – If the temperature allows, kick your shoes off and walk in the grass for a few minutes.

  • Walking barefoot requires mindfulness to avoid sharp objects or other outdoor goop.
  • It is immensely grounding and healing.
  • Focus on how it feels to connect directly with the earth.

Meet your energy level with self-compassion. If you are low on energy, or going through a stressful time, it can be counter-productive to try to force yourself to concentrate harder.  Use the above suggestions to anchor yourself in the present moment in small doses that will add up to improved mood and concentration.  By practicing small doses of mindful focus, the fog will lift and you will feel more energized.

Which exercise can you commit to today? Choose a few of the focusing exercises that seem most accessible to you.  Write a plan stating how and when you will try the exercises. Journal about them.

Click here for a printable version of this exercise.

Communicating With Your Healthcare Provider

Excerpted  from Optimal Well-Being for Senior Adults II
By Ester R.A. Leutenberg and Kathy A. Khalsa, CPC, OTR/L

Communication with my healthcare provider.

The following is a guide for senior citizens as they prepare to meet with their primary care health care professional. Feel free to distribute it to your clients/participants, or print it out for yourself.

Scheduling enough time with your healthcare provider is sometime difficult. If you have several intricate questions about your health tell the patient representative when you make your appointment that you have issues to discuss with your physician and will need extra time. You are not required to tell the person on the other end of the phone what these issues are. However, if you are speaking with a physician’s assistant or nurse you might want to let them know what your issues are so the doctor can be prepared with the information needed to answer you in full.

Optimal Well-Being For Senior Adults II - Healthcare ProviderHere is a list of things you will need to know for your appointment:

  • What is your primary health care provider’s name?
  • Medications
    • What are they, including over-the-counter supplements?
    • Are you taking them as prescribed? If not, why not?
    • If you aren’t taking them as prescribed, how and when are you taking them?
  • Your chief problem today is:
  • This problem is affecting my daily life in these ways:
  • My questions are:
  • I have been feeling differently since I last saw you in the following ways:
    • Feeling more anxious
    • Feeling more disorganized
    • Being more forgetful
    • Having trouble expressing yourself

Your provider is required to ask you if you feel safe in your daily environment. Be sure to be honest with him or her when you answer this question. You don’t have to be physically abused to feel unsafe. If someone or something is bullying you or scaring you in any way, your doctor can be your first line of defense. Doctors have complete information regarding resources in your community to help you. You are paying for her or his time and interest. Don’t feel your concerns are unimportant.  If you aren’t being heard by your physician, go to family, friends, minister, or social services for help finding a doctor who will listen to your concerns.  . If you are having difficulty with family member(s) arrange to go to the appointment without them. Contact the Salvation Army, local churches, or Social Services if you need help getting to your appointment without your family member taking you there. There are folks who will gladly step up and help, but you have to ask!

Consider bringing a family member or friend to your appointment. You have a right to have them with you when you talk with your physician.  Two folks at the same meeting will hear different things.  It will help to remember what was said after the appointment is over. Go for a post-appointment coffee and write down what you discussed and what solutions were suggested.

Click here to download a printable form to take with you to your appointment.

Perception and How It Can Be Used as a Coping Skill

Perception

Adapted from an exercise by Donald A. Tubesing, PhD, MDiv, and Nancy Loving Tubesing, EdD., Structured Exercises in Stress Management, Volume 2.

“Beware,” the soothsayer says to Caesar through Shakespeare’s pen, “Beware of the Ides of March!”Vincenzo Camuccini, "Morte di Cesare", 1798,

Thunder and flashing lightening…everyone lookout, beware, danger! When Shakespeare penned the phrase it was only foreboding because the actor made it so. Now-a-days, just those words can strike dread in the hearts of some folks. Recited in tones of doom, and thanks to a few hundred years of history, it can plunge listeners into a dismal mood. In Shakespeare’s version the worst happens. Caesar is murdered by two of his friends on that day. “Et tu, Brute.” We fear the worst might happen to us, too.

Looking at it on one hand it is a dark and dismal threat. On the other hand, it is simply an indication of a date in the middle of March. Why does the same phrase strike people so differently? Because our perception is different. It isn’t the words themselves that engender fear, but the emotions that we ascribe to those words.  Some folks feel a sense of dread. For others, the Ides of March is simply March 15th and it doesn’t disturb them at all. April 15th, maybe, but not March 15th.

How we see and feel things, or our perception of them, greatly affects our stress level. Perception can be defined as “a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.”

Attitude Adjustment Hour

Try this exercise that demonstrates the role of perception in the management of stress and helps us practice making conscious shifts in perceptual patterns. You can use it by yourself, or gather a group of your friends or family.

Discuss or journal about the following:

  • Any life event, major or minor, can become a cause of stress if we view it as a threat. Stress is our reaction to whatever dangers we see around us. Perception is the key to stress management. Our stress level is determined by the way we label events (perception). If we see safety we remain relaxed. If we see danger we fight back with stress.
  • Incredible as it sounds, most of our stress comes from between our ears. If we don’t like it, we can get rid of it, by changing our mind.
  • It’s no phonier to be “Pollyanna-ish” (seeing the rosy side of very tough problems) than it is to be cynical (seeing the negative side of positive opportunities)
  • At any given moment, we always have numerous perceptual options available to us – many ways to view our situations. Our choice of viewpoints, to a large extent, color the quality and feeling tone of our daily experiences.
  • In our society, attitude adjustment hour is synonymous with drinking alcohol. Yes, alcohol does alter people’s mood. But true attitude adjustment comes only from making the choice to change our perception. This exercise offers an opportunity for you to practice the skill of seeing your life from many different possible viewpoints.

1.    If you are able, find a friend or family member to join you in the exercise describe his or her day to his or her partner. If you are doing this early in the day, describe yesterday. If you are doing this alone, journal about the questions and answers.

2.    Now you will be challenged to “adjust your attitudes” by re-describing your day using one of the viewpoints listed below. Take turns using one of the eight possible attitudes listed below. If you are doing this alone, write it down.

  • A situation comedy – a big joke and the joke is on you.
  • A Greek tragedy – as if you were meant to suffer and you surely did.
  • A soap opera – of heroic proportions, with all the subtlety, intrigue, and drama of daytime TV.
  • A fairytale – perfectly positive and enjoyable, everything is rosy.
  • A bore – no expressions, dull, ho-hum, nothing much interesting
  • An athletic contest – using sports metaphors as you “drive for the goal,” “take a time out,” “strike out,” “hit an ace,” and so on.
  • A pitiful mess – you’re lousy and you mess everything up, and your life stinks.
  • A trap – everyone’s out to get you and you have a lot to complain about.

3.   Repeat step 2, two or three times, allowing the opportunity to review your day from several perspectives.

4.   Consider the following:

  • How did the changed viewpoint alter your feelings?
  • How do you normally choose to tell your day’s story?
  • What difference would it make in your life if you regularly sat down at the end of the day for an “attitude adjustment hour” in which you told and retold your day’s story from different perspectives?
  • How can you incorporate the principles of perception into your day right while it is happening?
  • How can you incorporate the same principles after the fact?

Signs and Symptoms of Intense Anxiety

Intense Anxiety

By Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John J. Liptak, EdD
Excerpted from Managing Intense Anxiety Workbook

Managing Intense Anxiety WorkbookAnxiety is an inevitable part of everyday life for most people. Some anxiety is actually an appropriate emotional response to a variety of situations that people encounter. It manifests itself in the life of most people in many different ways. Some of the most common types of everyday, “normal” anxiety:

  • Situational Anxiety – Feelings of apprehension and dread related to a specific situation such as starting a new job, moving to a new community, or learning about a new illness.
  • Anticipatory Anxiety – Feelings of apprehension and dread when one confronts something that has been frightening in the past, or that has resulted in a negative experience such as speaking in front of a large group of people.

Anxiety Disturbances – These can be distinguished from the everyday, “normal” anxiety because they are more intense (panic attacks), last longer (often months or years instead of going away after an anxiety-producing situation), and interfere with a person’s ability to function effectively in daily life (i.e., inability to function in a job).

Different types of disturbances related to thinking and behavior are conveyed and expressed in different forms:

  • Panic Disorder: People have feelings of extreme terror that strike suddenly and often without any warning. People with panic disorder often experience sweating, chest pain, and/or heart palpitations. They feel as if they are out of control during one of their attacks of fear, and they attempt to avoid places where panic attacks have occurred in the past.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: People have feelings of overwhelming worry and experience extreme self-consciousness in everyday social situations. These worries include the fear that others will judge them harshly, they will do something that may be embarrassing, and the fear of being ridiculed by other people. People with this disorder often are very anxious being around people and have a difficult time talking to others. They will stay away from places where there are other people and have a hard time making and keeping friends.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: People exhibit excessive, extreme, and/or unrealistic worry and tension, even if there is nothing (or very little) to be worried and/or tense about. People with this disorder may be worried about just getting through the day and doing everyday tasks. They often have trouble falling and staying asleep, inability to relax, and trouble concentrating.
  • Specific Phobias: People experience intense, unwarranted fears about an object or a situation. The fear involved in a phobia is usually inappropriate for the object or the situation and may cause people to avoid specific everyday situations in order to avoid the object or the situation. Some common phobias include snakes, speaking in public, clowns, fear of situations where escape from bad things is perceived as difficult. This represents an intense fear resulting from real or imagined exposure to a wide range of situations.
  • Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder: People experience anxiety caused by substance utilization or withdrawal.
  • Anxiety Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition: People have anxiety attacks that can be directly attributed to an existing medical condition (often diagnosed with cancer), and it often parallels the course of the illness.

Intense AnxietyWhen to Worry?

Symptoms related to intense anxiety can be very complex and difficult to cope with. The good news is that people can develop the skills needed to manage the symptoms and progress forward to begin enjoying life more. Undergoing the stress that accompanies many of the mental health issues can be a very frightening way to live. People who experience intense anxiety and stress over time are at risk of developing a serious mental or physical illness and need to seek a medical professional.

Suicide Warning!

People who experience intense anxiety may feel suicidal, have suicidal thoughts, and make plans for committing suicide. Sometimes they think that the only way to escape the physical, psychological, and emotional pain is to attempt suicide. Remember to take any talk about suicide or suicidal acts very seriously.

Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

  • Calling or visiting people to say goodbye
  • Engaging in reckless actions
  • Expressing feeling of being trapped with no way out
  • Expressing severe hopelessness about the future
  • Giving away possessions
  • Increasing use of harmful substances
  • Talking about killing or harming oneself
  • Making a plan for dying by suicide
  • Purchasing a weapon
  • Putting legal affairs in order
  • Withdrawing from family, friends, and activities of interest in the past

Serious Mental Illness

If there is a serious mental illness present, much more must be done than complete the assessments, activities, and exercises contained in this workbook. Serious mental illness must be taken seriously and professionals can take an active role in finding help immediately. All disturbances related to intense anxiety need to be thoroughly evaluated by a medical professional, and then treated with an appropriate combination of medication, and group and/or individual therapy.

*To download four PDF exercises from Managing Intense Anxiety Workbook, click here.

Shake the Hold of Chronic Stress with 10 Simple (Mostly) Approaches

Chronic Stress

Jacquelyn Ferguson

Author Jacquelyn Ferguson

From an article by Jacquelyn Ferguson

Do you know where you’d be if you had absolutely no stress? If your answer is, “dead,” you’d be right.

Every day we all experience some stress. Most of it is normal stress that comes and goes in your life, often called acute stress. According to Helena Popovic, M.D., an expert on improving brain function this milder version of stress builds your resilience by switching on your adrenal glands to release performance-enhancing chemicals. Without these chemical releases you would have little energy to get out of bed in the morning…your days would feel flat and you would be listless.

The problem with stress as we have come to understand it is when it becomes chronic. Heightened normal stress that goes on day after day, month after month, and even year after year becomes toxic. Care giving, recovery from a disaster, living in a toxic relationship, and other similar lifestyles can push your eustress to dis-stress. Chronic stress damages your performance and your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Chronic stress is a contributing factor to every major disease. Chronic stress can lead to brain function loss, depression, and body fat accumulation. Chronic stress is costly. In an article published in Forbes (Jan. 20, 2015) Michael Blanding reports that stress from the workplace alone costs $125 to $190 billion dollars a year.

Chronic Stress at WorkHere’s why. When you face a threat, an impediment to what you’re wanting at the moment, such as you want the car in front of you to go faster, you experience it as stress. This triggers a specific set of responses in the brain and body (the fight/flight response) and your brain sends a message to the adrenal glands atop your kidneys to pump adrenaline into the bloodstream. The role of adrenaline is to trigger the fight/flight response. Your heart rate, blood pressure, muscle strength, arousal, concentration and speed of information processing increase dramatically.

Additionally, the adrenal glands release cortisol to reduce inflammation and raise blood sugar levels, fueling immediate action. The release of both of these hormones provides a substantial surge of energy to deal with the threat. How much energy do you really need to curse out the driver in front of you? The threats of the modern world, for the most part, do not require the response that fleeing a snarling cheetah required. Hence, our body provides an overload of hormone response. It isn’t in the least bit necessary for the threat to be real to the rest of the world for your body to respond as it would have to the snarling cat or a neighbor one cave down chasing you with a club. As long as your body perceives a threat the fight/flight response will activate.

“Understanding whether you find something stressful is the first clue in effectively managing it. Some people find public speaking highly stressful. Other people love it. Some people thrive on deadlines, others panic. In some instances, increasing your skills or improving your time management is a first step in stress management,” Popovic says.

Not all stress is created equal nor is it equally damaging. Acute stress (eustress) revs you up, improves your focuses at the same time your abilities increase and interestingly, your hunger decreases. This performance-enhancing stage can bring out the best in you, like an athlete preparing to compete. Chronic stress that is too intense and/or continues too long overwhelms your brain and body and you hit a tipping point, called allostatic load, when performance declines turning eustress into distress.

Woman stretching and relaxingPopovic says, “Effectively managing stress is about understanding what happens at your tipping point . . . where you start to feel you are losing control of a situation. You may not always recognize that loss of control is the basis of feeling stressed, but if you drill down to the core of an issue, lack of control is often a key factor.”
Understanding this can allow you to turn distress into success. The following acronym is adapted from Dr. Popovic’s work:

LESS STRESS

L = Look at things differently (reframe the problem)
E = Evaluate if something really matters…how important will it be a year from now
S = Sleep on it, a rested brain might produce different perceptions and solutions
S = Share it with a trusted person

S = Step out into nature – a nice hike will often help put things in perspective
T = Thank people, be grateful
R = Read
E = Exercise your body and your mind
S = Still your mind through meditation or listen to your favorite, calming music
S = Stay in the present moment, deep breathing will help you do so.

All great advice. Now you just have to practice it when you’re at that tipping point.

Four New Books From Whole Person

Introducing Four New Books

We’re pleased and proud to introduce four new books from our caring and talented team of authors. Whole Person Associates remains committed to providing you with professional resources that empower people to create and maintain healthy lifestyles by addressing stress management, wellness promotion, health and wellness concerns, and mental health issues.

Nurturing Spiritual Development in Children by Understanding Our Own SpiritualityNurturing Spiritual Development in Children by Understanding Our Own Spirituality

Deborah Schein, PhD and Ester R.A. Leutenberg

The purpose of this workbook is to encourage caregivers to be aware of the importance of spirituality and to realize that spiritual development can be nurtured at a very young age.  In order to successfully do this, it is important for caregivers to explore and understand their own spirituality. Learn more…

Teens - Managing Life's ExpectationsTeens – Managing Life’s Expectations

Ester R.A. Leutenberg & Carol Butler, MS Ed, RN, C

Teens are bombarded with expectations from parents, teachers, peers, work supervisors, themselves, media messages, and society’s standards. They need to figure out when to try, or not try, to live up to someone’s expectations and decide how to handle unreasonable expectations while upholding their own passions and plans. Learn more...

Managing Family Life Involving a Member with Emotional or Physical Challenges WorkbookManaging Family Life Involving a Member with Emotional or Physical Challenges Workbook

Ester R.A. Leutenberg and Dr. John J. Liptak

All families experience struggles, stress, and crises at one time or another. These will often disrupt the unity and functioning of the family and its members. The focus of this workbook is to explore the aspects of living with a family member, or being the family member, who has an emotional or physical challenge, and to provide help for ALL of the family members to effectively adjust and manage the situation in the best way possible. Learn more…

Optimal Well-Being for Senior Adults IIOptimal Well-Being For Senior Adults II

Kathy A. Khalsa, CPC, ORT/L and Ester R.A. Leutenberg

Optimal Well-Being for Senior Adults II is the second in a series of workbooks consisting of reproducible activity handouts written for mental health professionals to provide guidance and content as they work with the changing needs of senior adults. The activities in the workbook are clear, easy-to-follow handouts that cover a wide range of mental health and life skills issues. Learn more…

Take a Moment to Relax – Give Yourself a Break!

Give Yourself a Break!

Candles in the dark

The holidays are upon us and many are stressed to the max. Our expectations are over-the-moon. Give yourself a break. Choose a couple of things from your to-do list and pare them down or cross them off. You really don’t need to make 5 dozen each of a dozen different kinds of cookies. The season will go on even if you don’t get the most elaborate ever gingerbread house made.

Studies show that one of the ways to handle stress is to do small things for others. Adding a few new things to your list of nice things you already do for others will help manage your stress. Here’s a list from Peg Johnson, Editor, WPA, of things that are easy to do:

  • Say thank you to someone you don’t usually…coworkers, service personnel, your family.
  • Pay for the person behind you in the fast food line.
  • Hold the door for someone.
  • Let someone who only has a few things go ahead of you in the checkout line.
  • Leave a thank you note and maybe a gift card for your mail carrier and paper deliverer.
  • Leave a thank you note taped to the garbage can when you put it out for collection.
  • Let the person behind you have the next open parking place.
  • Go out of your way to carry someone’s packages for them.
  • Give up your seat on the bus to someone else.
  • Next time you get good service in a retail establishment ask to see the manager and report the excellent service you received.
  • Drop off a small bag of cookies at your neighbors house.

Now you’ve tried a few of those, here’s a relaxation script you can do right at your desk. Keep practicing until you can feel the benefits by just remembering how good it felt.

Laptops on a deskGive Yourself a Break – Relaxation at Your Desk

Time: 10 minutes

This quick routine can be done almost anywhere: your desk at work, in bed, in the line at the grocery store, while riding in the car, while watching TV, while listening to a lecture, at that interminable choir concert at your child’s school. It combines the benefits of deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation.

Script

Turn off your phone and put your computer on screen saver. . . Get comfy in your chair and close your eyes.

Draw in a long, slow breath while you imagine it filling your body.

Blow it out in a long, slow stream. . . Imagine that all the toxins in your body are leaving with it.

Draw in another long, slow breath. . . Think of the oxygen filling your cells with new life and energy.

Again, blow it out in a long, slow stream as you picture your stress going with it.

Draw in another long, slow breath. . . imagine peace entering your soul.

As you blow it out, imagine all the restlessness in your body going with it.

You are relaxed.

Pause

Now, beginning with your toes, tighten and release your muscles… Breathe in as you tighten them, out as they relax. . .Now do the same with your feet, ankles, calf muscles, and your thighs. Breathe in and out slowly as you pay attention to each muscle group.

Pause

Continue with your abdomen. . . Let it expand with good, clean, oxygen-filled air. Blow it gently out as you relax. . . Do the same with your chest, arms, hands, neck, and face.

Pause

Rest. Breathe in a normal, relaxed way. Enjoy the relaxed feeling of your body and mind.

Sit as quietly as you can for five minutes. Then open your eyes and rejoin the world, feeling relaxed and ready to face anything that lands on your plate.

Click here for printable version. Enjoy the last few weeks of the holiday season! May peace and joy be with you in the New Year.

Reach out with your heart

Reach out with your heart

By: Donald A. Tubesing, PhD, and Nancy Loving Tubesing, EdD
Excerpted from Seeking Your Healthy Balance

Reaching out can be a risky business. When you commit yourself to loving your neighbor in general, you never know when a particular neighbor is going to pop up with a need you can fill. It takes an attitude of openness and curiosity to leave your personal circle of security and step across invisible boundaries into the unknown.

Community crowd walking up stairs It’s not too hard to offer your services to an elderly neighbor whose lawn needs mowing… or help out a charity you enjoy…Think the last time you were with a group of people. Which people did you include in your reach-out circle? Which did you ignore or interact with only superficially? For most of us the second group is by far the larger.

The neat, clean lines we’re tempted to draw between the people who belong in our neighborhood and receive our care, and those who don’t belong and are therefore excluded from our care-giving, tend to disappear in times of crisis when our connections as part of the human family suddenly, unexpectedly, draw us closely together in intimate contact with strangers.

Reach out with care and concern

People need people. Reaching out with care and concern for another heals both the receiver and the giver! Break beyond your boundaries and give yourself to others. They need you. You can make a difference in your world by reaching out with your attitudes, with your heart, with your hands, and with thanksgiving.

The most valuable skill for reaching out to others is the art of listening with your heart. This gift of listening deeply and carefully to the concerns and feelings of others is called empathy.

Empathy literally means to “feel in” to stand in another’s shoes for a moment. Everyone needs empathy. Click here for a group of assessments that will help you open up to others.

Reach out - Woman hugging childAnother important skill is the ability to reach out and literally touch someone. Most of us learned to keep our hands to ourselves as we were growing up…In this society we keep our distance. Why not get used to giving people hugs. It’s not that hard. Some people may be surprised at first, but if you practice it often enough, your neighbors will soon figure out you’re for real. Touch is a powerful way to reach out.

Positive caring demonstrated by physical contact lets high energy flow between people, filling each person with vigor and vitality. You can hardly touch without being touched in return. You have a marvelous health-giving resource at the end of your arms and many touch-hungry neighbors waiting for physical strokes. Initiate a health-enhancing exchange. Make sure that touch is a part of every contact you make.

At this time of year in particular we reach out with thanks-giving. A little appreciation goes a long, long way. Studies have shown that gratitude is a more powerful motivator than money. Most of us will really put ourselves out just to hear someone say, “Thank you.”

If you want to improve your thanks-giving style, you could try one or more of these suggestions:

  • Form a mutual-admiration group. If some people in your life don’t like to give and receive appreciation, find some who do and spend time with them.
  • Select small, unique gifts that carry a personal message from your heart. Surprise people with them. Gifts you create – poems, notes, wall hangings – speak most clearly.
  • Once again, get into the habit of thanks-giving. Say it directly! “Thanks for listening to me.” “You’re always so positive. Thanks.” “Knowing you care keeps me going. Thanks.”

To be truly healthy we must reach out beyond ourselves. When we share each other’s burdens and joys we become channels of healing. No matter how timid or tired or selfish or crazy or young or old we are, we all have something important to offer each other. Train yourself to notice others’ needs and then be ready to share your gifts when they are appropriate.

Click here for exercises to assess your reaching out skills.

Quick Relaxation Tips for the Start of the Holidays

Relaxation Tips for the Beginning of the Holidays

As we begin the busy months of November and December we often find ourselves a bundle of irritable nerves, snapping at friends and family and wondering how we will ever get everything ready in time. There are 29 different holidays stemming from different holidays during this time. Wish folks a happy holiday and when you are feeling particularly stretched take a moment or two to relax and catch your breath with these helpful relaxation tips and suggestions.

Autumn Relaxation

Mini-relaxations from Harvard Health Publications

Healthbeat from Harvard Health Publications suggest these activities that take only seconds.

Mini-relaxations are stress busters you can reach for any time. These techniques can ease your fear at the dentist’s office, thwart stress before an important meeting, calm you when stuck in traffic, or help you keep your cool when faced with people or situations that irritate you. Whether you have one minute or three, these exercises work.

When you’ve got one minute

Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in. Pause for a count of three. Breathe out. Pause for a count of three. Continue to breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each inhalation and exhalation.

Or alternatively, while sitting comfortably, take a few slow deep breaths and quietly repeat to yourself “I am” as you breathe in and “at peace” as you breathe out. Repeat slowly two or three times. Then feel your entire body relax into the support of your chair.

When you’ve got two minutes

Count down slowly from 10 to 0. With each number, take one complete breath, inhaling and exhaling. For example, breathe in deeply, saying “10” to yourself. Breathe out slowly. On your next breath, say “nine”, and so on. If you feel lightheaded, count down more slowly to space your breaths further apart. When you reach zero, you should feel more relaxed. If not, go through the exercise again.

When you’ve got three minutes

While sitting, take a break from whatever you’re doing and check your body for tension. Relax your facial muscles and allow your jaw to open slightly. Let your shoulders drop. Let your arms fall to your sides. Allow your hands to loosen so there are spaces between your fingers. Uncross your legs or ankles. Feel your thighs sink into your chair, letting your legs fall comfortably apart. Feel your shins and calves become heavier and your feet grow roots into the floor. Now breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly.

Retrieved November 3, 2016 from http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/mini-relaxation-exercises-a-quick-fix-in-stressful-moments.

Relaxation Tips from WebMD

Here are some relaxation tips and suggestions from WebMD:

Relaxation and Meditation1. Meditate
2. Breathe Deeply
3. Be Present, Slow down.
4. Reach Out
5. Tune In to Your Body
6. Decompress
7. Laugh Out Loud
8. Crank Up the Tunes
9. Get Moving
10. Be Grateful

Click on the WebMD site below to read the details of how to make these suggestions work for you: http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/blissing-out-10-relaxation-techniques-reduce-stress-spot. Retrieved on November 3, 2016.

A relaxation script from Julie Lusk

Here is a great relaxation script from our own Julie Lusk (see her books here) and Judy Fulop entitled “Sun Meditation for Healing”. It only takes ten minutes. Do this after you have tried the relaxation suggestions above. If you are alone simply read it to yourself or out loud, whichever is more comfortable for you. Pause when instructed to do so. You or your participants will experience the healing power and energy of the sun as you imagine its warming and relaxing power.

Script

Please close your eyes (obviously you can’t do this step if you are ready to yourself) and take some time to go within yourself to settle your body, mind, and heart. Feel free to use whatever method works best for you. For example, it may be focusing on your breath, meditating, stretching your body mindfully, or using a sound, word, image, or a phrase as a mantra to become centered…Take your time…allowing yourself to become more and more at ease with yourself.

Pause

Allow yourself to become as relaxed and comfortable as you can . . . let your body feel supported by the ground beneath you.

Slowly begin to see or feel yourself lying in a grassy meadow with the sun shining it’s golden rays gently upon you…Let yourself soak in these warm rays …taking in the healing power and life giving energy of the sunshine.

This magnificent ball of light has been a sustaining source of energy for millions of years and will be an energy source for millions of years to come…This ancient sun is the same sun which shined down upon the dinosaurs…upon the Egyptians while they built the pyramids…and it now shines upon the earth and all the other planets in our solar system and will continue to do so forever.

As the sun’s rays gently touch your skin, allow yourself to feel the warmth and energy flow slowly through your body…pulsing through your bones…sending healing light to your organs…flowing to your tissues…recharging every system…and now settling into your innermost being…your heart center.

Sense your heart center glowing with this radiant energy. If you wish, give it a color…Take a few moments to allow this warm and healing energy to reach your innermost being…physically…emotionally…mentally…and spiritually.

Pause for 30 seconds

As this healing energy grows and expands, allow yourself to see, feel, and sense this energy surrounding your being…growing and growing…Allow this energy to further fill this room…this building…out into the worlds…and finally throughout the universe…reaching and touching and blessing all.

Pause for 30 seconds

You may share this healing energy and power with anyone you’re aware of right now…Mentally ask them if they are willing to receive this healing energy…If they are…send this source of healing energy to them…giving them the time they need to take in this energy and make it theirs in their own heart center.

Pause for 30 seconds

Now take your attention back to your own heart center…Find a safe place within you to keep this healing and powerful energy…a place to keep it protected and within your reach…Give yourself permission to get in touch with this energy whenever you wish.

With the warmth of this energy in your being, begin stretching, wiggling, and moving…Slowly open your eyes, feeling alive, refreshed, keenly alert, and completely healthy.
Repeat the above instructions until everyone is alert.

Celebrating AutumnA caveat about relaxation tools: relaxation is a muscle skill just like shooting a basket or playing the piano. Expect that it will take some practice to learn to efficiently relax your body. Eventually you should be able to think of the beginning of a script and your body will relax by itself. Practice, practice, practice.

Brighten the corner where you are

New York skyline in the fall

New York skyline in the October where darkness is falling early.

Feeling the dark days of winter creeping up?
Follow the advice from the old children’s’ hymn and
Brighten the corner where you are!

The days are getting shorter. The sun seems to be loosing its brightness. Football practice now ends at 6:30 instead of 7:30 and you can still hardly see the kids on the far side of the field. That quick trip to pull weeds after bringing the kids home from dance requires a yard light now. And zipping around on the scooter after supper needs headlights and watching out for deer crossing the road.

Deer looking out from the woods.

Deer looking out from the woods.

As I stumbled home last night to throw myself into my chair and watch Monday Night Football, tiredness crept up like a cat after a treat. Maybe not even tiredness…maybe just dullness. The inability to process my surroundings efficiently, and not really caring anyway. That kind of blahness.

Loving the beautiful colors of the fall, like the fall shade of very intense blue of Lake Superior only displays at this time of year to the splash of vibrant color on the hill above the city, doesn’t make up for that indisputable fact: it is getting dark earlier and the lack of light is makes me lethargic.

That special blue of Lake Superior in the fall.

That special blue of Lake Superior in the fall.

I hopped on the internet to see what I could find for sure tips on how to reenergize now the sun is gone so early. Here’s some of what I found when I searched for advice on how to keep bright and alert in the failing light of fall. Click on the links to go to the pages where the information was found.

  • Have your physician check your iron and vitamin levels. If needed discuss the best changes in your diet and/or supplements to correct any low levels. Then make sure you eat what she recommends and take what supplements he recommends. Follow-through is necessary for success!
  • Try getting up earlier. The daylight is there, is just at the other end of your day. Get up earlier, try working out before work. Workout facilities are often quiet at 6 a.m. and you will be energized for the entire day.
  • Music. Put on whatever you really like to revel in. I have a secret love for doing housework to Mama Mia. Doesn’t matter if it is Mozart or the Beetles, as long as you love it and it encourages you to move with vigor.
  • Light up your life. Don’t be wasteful, but don’t sit around in the dark, either. (See the information about SAD below.) Figure out where you’re going to be for the evening and let your light(s) shine.
  • Indulge yourself in some feel-good activities. If you enjoy candle or lantern light or just snuggling up to the fire, do so. If you like to surf the net, do so in an environment that makes you feel good just to be there. Find yourself a particularly enjoyable book (it doesn’t have to be great literature) and spend some time reading just for your enjoyment.

Information downloaded on October 4, 2016 from http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/youre-getting-sleeeeepy-staying-awake-staying-sane-as-the-days-get-shorter-176680.

Here are a few more:

  • Sing Oh What a Beautiful Morning in the shower…loudly. Use the shampoo bottle for a
    Happy songs in the shower.

    Happy songs in the shower.

    microphone if it helps you get into it. Not only are the words happy, you will fill your lungs with good, fresh oxygen and fill your head with good thoughts. When you get to work, crank up the tunes. Something with a strong bass beat and an up-tempo. Don’t forget the headphones!

  • Caffeine, that old standby. Works, but use it judiciously. A cup of coffee yes, a pot, not so much. One important caveat though: this is a short-term solution to your problem. The effects of caffeine last for only two or three hours, and then you’re susceptible to what is known as a “crash,” which causes you lose all energy completely. Caffeine isn’t the healthiest choice on this list, but it works in a pinch.
  • Chewing gum. Chewing a piece of gum has been proved to help people stay awake and attentive in situations of boredom. This is due to the stimulation of facial muscles causing an increase in blood flow to the head. In addition, because chewing is not an involuntary muscle movement like breathing or blinking, it slightly stimulates the brain, even though you may not realize it, which helps you stay awake.
  • Lifestyle changes. If you’re looking for a healthier, more long-term method of maintaining attentiveness during life’s less exciting moments, a lifestyle change may be in order. Regular exercise has been found to provide the body with more disposable energy, meaning you’ll be able to stay awake without having to drink cup after cup of coffee and listen to “Flight of the Bumblebee” continually. Eating properly will also provide you with the energy your body needs to make it through a day without dozing off. Making sure that you get the right amount of sleep every night is also an important factor in being able to stay awake during the day. Too little or too much sleep causes lethargy and sluggishness in your daily life. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t the easiest solution to tiredness, but changing your lifestyle is definitely the healthiest and most effective choice that you can make.
  • Take a nap. A power nap is a great way to get some quick energy. However, restrict it to 20 minutes. Anything longer than that and you’ll wake up worse off than you were before the nap.

    20 minute nap.

    20 minute nap.

Downloaded on October 4, 2016 from https://www.scribendi.com/advice/seven_ways_to_stay_alert.en.html

  • Two more:
    Turn up the lights. Bright lights stimulate your brain, especially if you are tired because of an overly “fun” night out.
  • If you are really tired, avoid multi-tasking. A study showed that folks who had 42 hours of sleep deprivation had a 38% loss of memory until they got a good night’s sleep. Then their usual memory returned.

Downloaded on October 4, 2016 from http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/how-to-stay-awake-after-all-nighter#4

Do you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

If some of these feelings seem to happen each year, have a real impact on your life, and improve during certain seasons, talk to your doctor, you may have seasonal affective disorder.

• I feel like sleeping all the time, or I’m having trouble getting a good night’s sleep
• I’m tired all the time, it makes it hard for me to carry out daily tasks
• My appetite has changed, particularly more cravings for sugary and starchy foods
• I’m gaining weight
• I feel sad, guilty and down on myself
• I feel hopeless
• I’m irritable
• I’m avoiding people or activities I used to enjoy
• I feel tense and stressed
• I’ve lost interest in sex and other physical contact

If these are your symptoms, contact your doctor to be screened for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Downloaded on October 4, 2016 from BC Mental Health http://www.bcmhsus.ca/ and http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad.htm.

Everyone needs a quickie – a quick meditation to reduce stress

No time for meditation?
We all need a few good breaths.

  • Most folks today lead hectic lives.

    Frog with too much to do.

    So much to do, so little time

  • Most folks today could use some time for peaceful, quiet meditation.
  • Most folks today don’t have time to turn down the lights, put up their feet, turn on some peaceful music or a meditation CD and take 20 to 30 minutes out of their day to center themselves.
  • Most folks today need to recharge so they don’t over-stress and send cortisol racing through their bodies to wreak havoc on their health.

Here is a quick breathing exercise you can use to take control over your stress and recharge your batteries for the rest of the day. It even works as you sit in your car in your driveway for a few extra minutes before rejoining your family for the evening.

Frog relaxing

Breathing, relaxing, meditating

Why breathing? It’s easy, and you already know how to do it.

  • Sit comfortably in your chair, or, if you can, lie on the floor.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Breathe in deeply through your nose to the count of five. (Choose whatever count works for you…don’t obsess about how much air you can pull into your body.)
  • Hold it for the same count you used drawing breath in.
  • Blow it out gently through your mouth, again using the same count you used to breathe it in.

As you do this several times, visualize your lungs filling with lovely fresh oxygen as you breathe in. Imagine the good, fresh breath exchanging with the old, tired air in your lungs. Finally, gently blow the used air out through your mouth, visualizing your lungs empty and ready for the next cleansing breath.

Frogs sharing the work load

Sharing the work load makes it easier

This works, even if you only have time to do it two or three times. Try it…it might turn out to be your favorite quickie coping skill.

 

 

 

 

Are you a fixer? Check out this article on the Macgyver Syndrome.

Suicide and Addiction: What You Need To Know

by Michelle Peterson

Suicide and Addiction

Suicide can destroy lives, but for all of its power it is still one of the least talked-about dangers facing Americans today. There is such a stigma associated with self-harm that many people are reluctant to talk about it or even face that a loved one might be in danger. It’s extremely important to raise awareness about suicide so that friends and family of those at risk will know what to look for.

Some of the most at-risk individuals include people suffering from PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder include: people living with depression or other mood disorders; veterans; and those living with substance abuse issues. Drugs and alcohol play a big part in suicide rates for teens and adults in the U.S., in part because they both mask and exacerbate the symptoms of serious mood and mental health disorders. In fact, individuals who suffer from alcohol addiction are six times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

“The connection between substance abuse and suicide has not been sufficiently well understood. People in both the mental health and substance abuse fields have likely had experiences that would demonstrate the connection, but I think that probably few appreciate the magnitude of the relationship between substance abuse and suicide,” says SAMHSA’s Public Health Adviser Richard McKeon.

Drugs and alcohol may be used to lighten the mood at parties, but for some, these substances lean toward the darker side of a mood and heighten feelings of hopelessness because they alter the way the brain works. When you ingest a drug, it interferes with the way neurons both send and receive information, as well as the way they process it. Some drugs can even make neurons malfunction, causing them to release overwhelmingly large amounts of neurotransmitters. This extra commotion sometimes causes disruptions in neural communication — in other words, your brain has trouble sending signals and commands to your body.

For some, this can explain that dizzy feeling you get after having too much to drink. For others, it offers insight into why it might be difficult to register what someone else is saying to you after you’ve ingested large quantities of cocaine. But it offers interesting perspective into the idea of using drugs and alcohol as a buffer in social situations: though for many it can put an anxiety-ridden mind at ease, for some it can actually make socializing even more difficult. When you’re having trouble functioning properly, it makes interactions with others awkward at best, and impossible at worst. This certainly does no favors for those longing for social connection but dependent on substances to find it, and may even lead to added distress over repeated failed attempts to “fit in.”

Drug and alcohol use also causes judgement to be impaired, and the tendency to act upon a thought without thinking it through clearly means that once the individual feels like suicide is the only option, they are that much more likely to act upon it. For this reason, it’s imperative that individuals who suffer from addiction do not have access to weapons, especially guns, and that they have a strong social and familial support system. Because substance abuse is a destroyer of relationships, this can be difficult to achieve.

Depressed Girl: Suicide and AddictionBecause isolation is common in people living with a substance abuse disorder, it’s important for friends and family to know what to look for where suicidal thoughts are concerned. Warning signs may not be overt, but there will likely be some indication that the individual is thinking about self-harm. These can include:

  • Talking about or writing about death, especially their own
  • Giving away belongings
  • Making plans to see family members they haven’t seen in a long time
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Getting into legal trouble
  • Suddenly acting happy or hopeful after a long down period
  • Violent episodes

If your loved one is exhibiting any of these behaviors, don’t second-guess your instincts; talk to them. Start a conversation by saying you’re concerned about them and ask, flat-out, if they are thinking about taking their own life. Do not be judgmental or use negative statements, such as “You’re not thinking about doing something stupid, are you?” Starting the conversation that way will likely only push the individual away and prompt them to deny their true feelings.

You also want to make sure not to demean the idea of suicide by calling it selfish, dramatic, or cowardly. Remember, it’s OK for you to have strong feelings about taking one’s own life, but the focus needs to be on respecting the agony your loved one is in. Of course you want to deter them, but don’t write off the action of suicide (or the mere thought of it) as silly, because the fact is, suicide isn’t silly. If your loved one is contemplating it, they likely feel as if they’ve exhausted all other options. It isn’t silly to feel so devastatingly sad that you feel life isn’t worth living, so be incredibly cautious to make sure you don’t send that message even unintentionally.

Instead, let them know you’re worried for their wellbeing and give them an opening to talk. Ask questions, but be sensitive. Sometimes simply checking in on how someone is coping with a major trauma — death of a spouse, job loss, or struggling with an addiction, for example — is the best route to open up the conversation. Don’t make accusations about how you think they feel, but don’t be deterred if they don’t immediately open up. Continue to talk to them about what’s going on, and remind them that you care about them and would be happy to help in any way you could. Don’t assume they already know; often, those in the depths of major depression are overwhelmed with their pain, and those with an addiction, especially, may be convinced that no one will care. Making your love and genuine concern for someone’s wellbeing can be the ultimate difference between an honest, productive conversation and a shutout.

It may be difficult to keep your feelings neutral; this is an emotional subject, and suicide is something many people feel strongly about. However, it’s important to show your loved one that you are there to help, not to judge. Offer to help them find a counselor, helpline, or rehab center and let them know they are not alone. Often, addiction can make the user feel as though they have no one on their side, no one to turn to, and it can lead to actions that push friends and family away. Let them know you’re there for them.

If self-harm seems imminent, do not leave your loved one alone. Call for help immediately and remember that there is only so much you can do. Sometimes, it’s up to the professionals to step in and take over.

Michelle Peterson has been in recovery for several years. She started RecoveryPride.org to help eliminate the stigma placed on those who struggle with addiction. The site emphasizes that the journey to sobriety should not be one of shame but of pride and offers stories, victories, and other information to give hope and help to those in recovery.

Photo via Pixabay by 422694

Stress Management Classics to Use Everyday

Time-Honored Classic Stress Management Techniques
Yes or No?

The Huffington Post ran an article by Kate Bratskeir, their Food and Health Editor, in April of 2013. She asked Dr. David Posen, and  Dr. Kathleen Hall, if the old stress management techniques still work in today’s more more highly charged environment. Are their some that might not work so well today?

elderly woman doing yogaAccording to Ms. Braatskeir’s article the following methods still have their place in the stress buster lexicon:

  • Squeezing a stress ball
  • Letting yourself have a good cry
  • Letting loose on the dance floor
  • Talking it out
  • Shouting It out
  • A good, old-fashioned time-out
  • Breaking something
  • Writing an angry letter that won’t be seen again
  • Taking a deep breath
  • The pendulum (collision balls) swing
  • ExercisingRecumbent

As you can see, many of these are similar to one another…talking, shouting, writing an angry letter for the shredder are right down the same alley. Letting loose on the dance floor, squeezing a stress ball, breaking something, and exercising take advantage of the release of endorphins that exercise produces. Crying, a time-out, watching the pendulum swing are less involved physically, but can engage you mentally. Few professionals would cross these activities off their list of effective coping tools.

In honor of these traditional methods here is a favorite coping exercise from Donald A. Tubesing, PhD’s series “Structured Exercises in Stress Management  Vol 3”.

Eight-Minute Stress Break
Participants learn a 15-step stretching routine that can be used any time of the day.

Goals
To demonstrate the effectiveness of exercise as a stress management technique.
To stretch all the major muscle groups.

Group Size
Unlimited, as long as there is sufficient space for everyone to move freely.

Time Frame
10 minutes

Materials
CD player and peppy music.

Process
1)  The trainer briefly describes typical benefits of stretching and exercise as stress management techniques:

  • Stretching and vigorous exercise both help discharge accumulated physical tension from the various muscle groups.
  • The increased flow of blood and oxygen to the muscles usually stimulates an increased energy level.
  • Both types of physical activity provide a distraction from emotional or mental strain.
  • Stretching and exercise are effective preventive measures for dealing with stress by systematically letting go of tension before it accumulates to unhealthy proportions. These techniques also are effective in crisis situations to relieve the physical effects of stress.

2)  The trainer turns on the music and participants join in as he/she demonstrates the Eight-Minute Stress Break routine which can easily be incorporated into a busy schedule.

Variations

  • Choose only a few exercises to teach during this presentation (eg, all upper body stretches). Then sprinkle the other routines throughout the remainder of the session.
  • To model how this skill could be used in real life, teach the whole sequence at once and then sprinkle repeat performances as mini stretch breaks during unexpected or particularly stressful moments in the remainder of the learning experience.
  • If the course is several sessions long, go through the sequence once at every meeting in order to entrench the routine in participants’ minds.
  • After Step 2 hand out the list of 14 stretches. Ask people to identify their favorites and make a list of those they especially want to use in the future and the situations where they most need to!

Eight-Minute Stress Break Stretchers

The 360 Stretch

  • Begin with your body relaxed, arms and hands loose at your side. Pull your right shoulder up and with one smooth movement, bring the shoulder back and around, making a complete circle.
  • Repeat this same circular motion with the left shoulder.
  • Continue stretching one shoulder, then the other, 5 times each. The reverse the direction, using alternate shoulders, 5 times each. This should loosen up your neck, back, and shoulder – place where most people store tension.

Starfish Stretch

  • Begin with your arms stretched overhead, slightly bent, eyes turned star-fishupward.
  • In a single motion, open your hands, spread your fingers wide, and reach up as high as you can. Hold that position for a few seconds. Then close your fists and lower your arms, with elbows bent. Rest a few seconds and then repeat the starfish stretch/rest sequence 10 to 15 times.
  • For variety, stretch to the side.

Snow Angels

  • Allow your arms to hang loose at your sides. Begin to loosen your wrists by shaking your hands, allowing them to flop as freely as possible.
  • Continue to shake and flop as you slowly raise your arms to the side and up until your hands touch overhead. Then allow your arms to gradually drop, still shaking and loosening the wrists.

Tall Grass Stalk

  • Extend your arms out in front of you.grasses
  • While concentrating on your shoulders, slowly sweep your hands and arms to the side and back, as if pushing tall grass out of the way.
  • You should feel a pull along your shoulders and arms.
  • Stretch your arms out again and “stalk” for 10 more steps.

Bunny Hop

  • Put your hands on your hips and hop twice on your right foot. Now hop twice on your left foot. Continue these double hops, alternating feet and adding a side kick or a cross kick on the second hop.
  • Continue hopping and kicking for 30 seconds, varying your tempo and kick height.

Hoe-Down

  • Start by getting centered, feet firmly planted, knees slightly bent.
  • Lift your right knee up towards your chest, slap it with your left hand and then lower your leg and stretch it to the side, toes pointing outward. Repeat the hoe-down lift 3 more times and then try the left leg for 4 counts.

Cloud Walk

  • This is a slow step, rolling from heel to toe, one foot at a time, gently stretching the legs and feet. Your whole body should be relaxed.
  • Pick up the tempo of the heel-toe roll until you reach a slow jog, raising your feet slightly off the floor at each step. Continue at this pace for 30 seconds.

Dippity-Do

  • Start with your legs slightly apart.
  • Dip your body into an easy knee-bend and then spring back to the upright position.
  • Continue to bend and spring back for 30 seconds, adding rhythmic arm swings as you increase your pace.

Arch Stretch

Everybody stretches!

Everybody stretches!

  • With knees slightly bent, join your hands comfortably behind your back.
  • Slowly arch your back, letting your hands and stiff arms pull your shoulders and head down toward the floor.
  • Hold for 5 counts and then relax, allowing your head to fall forward and your shoulders to curl toward the front.
  • Repeat 7 times.

Twister

  • With feet shoulder width apart and knees bent, put your hands on your hips.
  • Keep your back straight as you twist your shoulders and trunk to the right 3 times and then return to face forward.
  • Now twist to the opposite side for 3 counts and return to the center.
  • Continue to twist for 8 sets.

Body Bounce

Even little babies stretch

Even little babies stretch

  • With feet apart, arms at your sides, bend sideways at the waist, stretching your hand down to your leg as you straighten up.
  • Repeat the stretch and bounce to the other side. Do 5 body bounces on each side.
  • Now add your arms to the stretching movement. With your left arm, reach up and over as you bounce to the left 3 counts.
  • Do 5 sets on each side.

Sneak Peek

  • Stand straight with your neck, shoulders and back as relaxed as possible.
  • Tilt your head to the left. Now slowly roll your head so that your chin falls to your chest and then comes up as your head tilts to the right. Now look back over your right shoulder, hold the pose and then relax.
  • Repeat the stretch, this time starting with your head tilted to the right and ending with a sneak peek over your left shoulder.
  • Do four peeks on each side.

The Wave

  • Stand straight with your arms at your sides, palms facing out.
  • As you take a long deep breath, slowly (4 counts) raise your arms up over your head. Now, as you exhale slowly, bring your arms back down, palms facing downward (4 counts).
  • Repeat this languid wave 6 times.

Hang Loose

  • Time to shake out your body.
  • Flap your arms, twist your wrists, shrug your shoulders, jiggle  your legs, shake your feet, flex your knees.
  • Bounce your booty until your whole body feels tingly, loose and relaxed.
Laughing adults

Relieve your stress as these folks did!

 

Life as Art and the art de vivre!

Life as Art

by Michael Arloski, PhD.

The art of living

Sweet of orange, tart of lemon and bitter of grapefruit bathed my tongue all at once. Ever since I tasted a locally made Four Fruits Marmalade in the tiny English village of Sibford, I’ve been on the look-out for such citrus combos for my morning toast. I’ll take three out of four when I can. Finding lime mixed in with the other three is exceedingly rare.

Citrus FruitThis morning’s palate pleaser was not flying the Union Jack however, but rather that of England’s age old rival, the French Tri-color! French marmalade! The label read “Life In Provence” and invited a website visit. I obliged and soon sank into the fantasy of a region of the world I have only tasted from its seaside edge, and then far too briefly. The website spoke of the Provencal lifestyle, and the French way of the Art de vivre! What the Italians call La Dolce’ Vita!

It takes a real conscious effort to be part of our own culture yet not of it. How to be a cultural anthropologist of sorts and select the details of our lives to match our own true preferences? How to live in the U.S.A. and truly be a part of it (no ethno-centrism needed!), yet choose to be conscious in our art de vivre?

We make our attempts at times through inspiration. We visit a place or read about it, see film of it, and re-decorate our kitchen or bathroom to reflect that place and culture. We take cooking classes or buy a new-to-us food with an unpronounceable name and try it out. These openings into the art de vivre are all good. The hope is that we can maintain that consciousness when our rat-race culture calls, and perhaps calls loudly.

Perhaps it is about saying “yes” to life and “no” to the race. Perhaps it is about being assertive enough to say no to work, or even friends who want to race. “I’m sorry. (Not really, but we have to be polite here). We’re staying home today and doing some gardening. I want to prune my backyard grapevines. Would you like to come over afterwards and have a glass of wine and some garlic bread with us?”

Art de vivre

Live! Don’t race. Again and again, if we truly engage consciously in the art de vivre we will get the life we really want. It is not about dreaming of moving to Provence or Tuscany, and only dreaming. It is not even about moving there. It is about living the life you really want down in your bones, which you know is the true way for you to live, not some sales-pitch you swallowed.

Farmhouse in Provence 1888 Vincent Van GoghIt seems that the simple life that we seek is really about consciousness and awareness of the life we are already living. From that awareness we start re-designing, re-engineering our lives to work for us instead of against us. We choose to jump on an opportunity for fun (or even profit!) and our consciously open calendar allows for spontaneity and serendipity. We can do it instead of always complaining that we are too busy.

We are not all French farmers. Not everyone in Provence is either. Yet, to one degree or another, people there manage to hold on to the cultural supports for consciously engaging in the arte de vivre. Perhaps that is an advantage we lack here in America. Only in pockets here and there do we have the support for such a way of living. The overarching culture has morphed into a driven consumerist, unconscious way of living. All the more important to choose to live a life of awareness and make it an art.

Here in the United States, and in much of the modern world we live in, a culture that is constantly in flux. Change comes at us from all angles and shows up in the way we live our lives. Shifts that used to take generations now seem to affect us every five years or so. Our bodies are still trying to evolve biologically out of the hunter/gatherer era and our minds have to cope with a continual assault of multiple eras in one lifetime!

In the midst of this vortex of cultural confusion it is no wonder that the vision of the simple life has such great appeal. As we become conscious of our lifestyles our desire for simplicity collides head-long with the plethora of knowledge heaved at us by the technology of the information age. Science tries to step in and help us through analysis. It tries to isolate the precise variable that makes a particular diet so healthy. Yet the research seems only to raise more questions. What other variables are influencing this outcome? All good science, but in the meantime we need to figure out how to live…the art de vivre, the art of living.

One of the most valuable suggestions I’ve made to people in a quandary is to ask them to switch their question from “What should I do?” to “Who do I need to be?” The answers to the first question include many possibilities, so many that the question becomes more of a problem then the very challenge the person is facing! The answer to the second question can be found, and it is really found within.

Picnic under an oak tree - art de vivreThe question for the question of “How should I live my life?” becomes “How do I need to be in my life?” We are asking “How do I want my life to be?” What do I want it to include? How do I want it to feel? What results do I want it to include? How do I want to be living as I produce those results? What produces satisfaction in my life?

These are questions for you to ask yourself. They are not questions to answer outside of yourself. You would not be wise to seek these answers in the mass media, in the commercial sales efforts that bombard us every day, or in the efforts of other salesmen masquerading as recruiters for their own particular cause or cult. The real answers are always within us.

Yet, we look for guidance; we look at the choices, the possibilities. We look at what appears to be working and what we find on our landscape of opportunity gives us the paint with which to color our dreams.

All great projects, including creating the life you truly want, that will serve you well, begin with a dream or we might call it a fantasy; a daydream of sunshine and relaxation perhaps. That fantasy, if it is to actualize, becomes at some point, a vision. We see ourselves in a hammock with sunlight filtering through trees.

From that vision we look for what in the world supports it. What and where and how to start to form it into a plan.  A plan carried through either produces what we want, gets us closer to it, or shows us that we need to go back to the visioning board.

Many of us who dream of a satisfying and fulfilling life of health and sweetness are drawn to a way of life that seems to be working very well, the life of the people in parts of Southern France and Northern/Central Italy. We are intrigued by Provence, Tuscany and similar regions in the world.

Happy Couple - art de vivreThe world loves these places. Certainly we romanticize them and ignore their own faults and shortcomings. Certainly few of us can or ever will move there, but drawn there we are.

Only four and a half million people get to live in the entire Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, less than 8% of the population of France. Not everyone finds a villa in Tuscany or Umbria. Yet that way of living seems to have a magnetic appeal.

When the American Heart Association tells us that a typical Mediterranean diet is consistent with its new dietary guidelines, it gets our attention. The globalization of our supermarkets and our dinner tables has the potential to change the health of our world. The big if is will we make the most healthy choices for us. Someone with high blood pressure still needs to avoid salt, for example. But the way of living that we look to in the Mediterranean region is not just about having access to good olive oil, it’s about pace of life, it’s about a non-sedentary life, it’s about valuing connection over production. (An interesting aside, recent studies are showing French workers to be more productive per-hour-worked than American workers.)

The eternal health and wellness search for the ultimate lifestyle formula is a bit like the efforts of alchemists searching for a way to turn lead into gold. Great idea, nice intention, but it’s not working. All of our sophisticated and complex recommendations to the public are received with hope, but far too seldom adopted into our lives.

Autumn RoadLet’s look for healthy ways to live an uncalculated life. Life was not meant to be a struggle and neither was being well. We may still want to schedule those appointments but to do so with a consciousness of our whole lives and what is really important. There are a million “Yes, but…” protests to refute this position. The reality is that you are much more free than you think. You can craft a life (not just a “lifestyle”) that is healthy and true to yourself that can draw upon a whole world of options. You are the artist.

Michael Arloski is author of Wellness Coaching for Lasting Lifestyle Change and Your Journey to a Happier Life.

Click here to read more about Dr. Arloski.

My dog at work

Locus of Control

Locus of Control – Who controls my life?

Exerpted from The Building Resiliency Workbook by
Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John J.Liptak, EdD

Locus of Control refers to your beliefs about what causes the good or bad things that happen in your life. It is the extent to which you believe that you can control the events that affect you in your personal and professional life.

locus-of-control-graphic

Think about where you would place yourself on a continuum such as the one above. Most of us place ourselves in the middle somewhere. If you placed yourself high on the continuum you believe your life is guided by your own personal decisions and efforts. If you are in the middle somewhere, you believe your life is guided by a combination of your own efforts and some external circumstances. If you placed yourself on the low end, you believe your life is guided by fate, luck, or other external circumstances.

arguing-ladies

Here are some questions to think about as you discover how your locus of control developed:

  • What did your mother/female caregiver believe about the factors that lead to success or failure?
  • What did your mother/female caregiver believe about luck leading to success or failure?
  • What did your father/male caregiver believe about the factors that lead to success or failure?
  • What did your father/male caregiver believe about luck leading to success or failure?
  • As a child growing up, how were you encouraged to take responsibility for your own destiny?
  • As a child growing up, how did your cultural, spiritual and/or religious beliefs affect your thoughts about your destiny?
  • Before you go on, journal about these questions and ponder how they influenced you as an adult.

Next, take a look at what you have contributed to the successes in your life. List your success and how you contributed to it.

060510-N-1328C-178 Fort Worth, Texas (May 10, 2006) - RCA recording artist and American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson gives thumbs up prior to her flight with the U.S. Navy's flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels at the Naval Air Station Fort Worth, Texas, Joint Reserve Base. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer's Mate Eric A. Clement (RELEASED)

Do the same with your disappointments. How did you contribute to your future in a negative way?

Review the negative situations and decide how you can have a more positive impact in your future decisions.

One way to have more control over what happens daily is to create a situation for yourself where good things can happen. You may need to change your patterns within your family, friendships and work. For example, I could change my bowling league so I can go to my children’s baseball games on Thursday nights. This will help because my spouse will feel supported and the children will be happy that I’m there for them.

Create a two column list of “Better Situations for Me” and “How this can help”.

Now…create an action plan!

Step 1 – My Life
Identify areas in your life where you feel dissatisfied or in a rut. Think about where you feel unfulfilled – relationships, work, family responsibilities, hopes and dreams, etc. Write down one of your unfulfilled areas. For example: further education.

Step 2 – Look at your attitude
Take a look at your attitude as it relates to the area you identified above in Step 1. It is through your attitude that you limit yourself and remain stuck? By confronting and changing your attitude, you can empower yourself to make positive changes in your life.

Think about the negative and limiting attitudes. What might be keeping you stuck? Here are some possibilities:

FAMILY BELIEFS:
My family passed on these negative beliefs to me about my ability to influence my life. For example, “You don’t have the brains you were born with.”

PERSONAL LIMITATIONS AND BELIEFS:
What attitudes and beliefs do you have about yourself that limit your exerting control over your situation? Examples: I do not have enough life skills. I will never succeed. I am not a smart as other people. I do not communicate very well.

Now you try. List the personal limitations and beliefs you have about yourself.

women-with-question-marks

You may have negative attitudes about other people in your life. For example: My peers think they are so smart or my partner doesn’t respect what I have to say, or my supervisor doesn’t think I deserve a promotion or (my kids all-time favorite) my parents are to blame.

Now you try. List the negative attitudes and beliefs you have about people in your life.
Remember, it is what YOU believe about yourself, NOT what other believe about you, that can influence you in either a positive or a negative way.

Step 3 – Changing Your Attitude
In Step 3 you have the opportunity to identify ways to change negative attitudes and move past the issues you have identified in Step 1. These attitudes and beliefs can be overcome with a few simple techniques:

Notice when negative thoughts pop into your head. Stop that negative self-talk, challenge it and substitute more positive self-talk.

Happy person has made the change to healthy self-talk.

Now that you have identified negative thoughts and attitudes in Step 2, think about whether the thoughts are accurate or not. What evidence is there for their accuracy?

List you negative thoughts and the evidence you have for their accuracy.

For example: Negative attitude – I’m not smart enough to go to college.
Evidence for these attitudes – Nothing, other than what my parents told me.

Create two columns on a sheet of paper. Repeat your negative attitudes from the previous page in the first column and then substitute positive thoughts for those negative thoughts. For example, the negative attitude might be I cannot get further at my place of work because I don’t have enough computer skills. A substitute positive thought might be I am smart enough to go to college. I will start with a community college where I can receive personalized assistance.

Step 4 – Goals for Change
Goals can help you regain control in your life. List several of your goals and hopes related to the area in which you feel stuck. For example: I want a job where I feel more challenged. I want to further my education. I want to learn more about technology. I want to feel smart.
List two goals related to the unfulfilled area you identified in Step 1.

Step 5 – Identify short-term steps – begin moving toward your goals.
These short-term steps are action-oriented activities to move you toward the general goals you identified in the last step. Create another two column table. Title one column Steps I will Take for One of My Goals and the other Deadlines for Completing Steps. List the short-term steps you will be taking to reach ONE of your goals and the deadlines you set for completing each step. For example: I will call my local community college and make an appointment with a counselor – deadline: tomorrow. And I will keep my appointment with the counselor, even if I am apprehensive! – deadline: next week. And if I like the school I will fill out an application. If not, I’ll look for another one – deadline the next day.

Step 6 – Take Action
It’s time to take action by taking control of your life. List the steps you have completed and the steps you are having trouble completing on two sheets of paper.

Why do you think you are having trouble completing some of the steps? Can you revise them to make them more doable? Write out your solution.

How has this process, or how will this process, help you to take greater control of the events in your life? Again, write out your answer.

Joy

Part of the trick, of course, is to constantly update your lists and goals. Don’t be afraid to make changes. Celebrate your successes. Rework those challenges that didn’t go as well and try again. Success is in your hands!

Building Resiliency cover

The article above was excerpted from The Building Resiliency Workbook by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John J. Liptak, EdD. Included is a chapter on Locus of Control with worksheets to make the tasks above easier to accomplish for your participants. Questions: call 800-247-6789 and one of our experts will help.

Steps to Effective Communication


Stop, Look and Listen!

Steps to Effective Communication

The ability to express oEffective Communicationurselves clearly and to understand what others are trying to say to us is the key to success in all areas of our lives. Most of us have not been trained in the principles of effective communication. We do not always listen to what is being said. Instead we are busy formulating and justifying our own point of view. We also become derailed by bringing up the past, especially old hurts and resentments.

Effective communication has two parts: How to really hear – and really understand – what others are saying, and and how to express feelings and thoughts without dragging in past conflicts and emotions.

It takes commitment and practice to improve communication with your care-receiver, medical team, family members, etc. You can begin by noticing when you are on automatic and then remembering what you learned about crossing a street safely: Stop, Look, and Listen.

Listening

A. Stop what you are doing. Be present, eliminate distractions, stop talking, etc.

B. Look at the speaker. Give full attention; notice body-language.

C. Listen to what is being said. Allow the speaker time to finish, don’t jump to conclusions.

D. Double check. Be certain you have all the facts, ask for more information if needed.

Once you have done all the above, it is your turn and time to express your thoughts and feelings.

Your Turn to Speak

A. “Be” Attitudes

Be focused Address the issue at hand. Do not bring strong emotions and issues from the past into the discussion.
Be specific. Do not assume the listener knows what you are thinking. Offer clarifications if necessary.
Be calm If the speaker is distraught, be calm. If you are in an emotional state where you are unable to discuss an issue, agree to continue the discussion later.
Be polite Do not use inflammatory words. Avoid insults and accusations. They will lead to heated argument and make the problem worse.

B. When pointing out an existing problem

  • Identify the issue without blaming or shaming. Avoid personal attacks.
  • Use “I” statements. “I feel __________when you _______________.
  • Offer solutions as preferences. “I would prefer it if you/we _____________________.

C. Make allowances if the other person has hearing or vision loss, or is confused.

D. Revisit the issue if you cannot reach a consensus. Accept the fact that there are some problems for which there is no solution.

15 Reminders of Effective Communication Principles

  1. Check to see if your care-receiver has on glasses and hearing aids.
  2. Look at your care-receiver when he or she is speaking. Be aware of non-verbal communication
  3. Answer all of your care-receiver’s questions. Don’t rush.
  4. Imagine yourself in your care-receivers world. How would you feel in his or her situation?
  5. Speak to your care-receiver as one adult to another. Use a respectful tone.
  6. Acknowledge your care-receiver’s objections and concerns.
  7. Allow your care-receiver time to absorb what you’re saying. Clarify or state in a different way if necessary. Offer options.
  8. Mirror back what you think you’ve heard your care-receiver say. Ask questions.
  9. Stay calm. Don’t take anything personally.
  10. Give your care-receiver time to think things over. Don’t press for an immediate answer.
  11. Think of this as a time to get to know your care-receiver better. Listen for concerns and fears. What would give him or her comfort? With whom would he or she like to talk?
  12. Take a break if your care-receiver is tired or either of you becomes upset. Return to the conversation at an appropriate time.
  13. Make sure you have heard your care-receiver’s decision correctly and are interpreting it as intended.
  14. Request help from other family members if necessary and/or appropriate.
  15. Remember, you are not alone. There are two of you in the equation. Keep communications open.

*Book excerpts taken from The Complete Caregiver Support Guide.