Gratitude

Although many of us get swept up in all the hoopla around Thanksgiving – the turkey and trimmings, the football games, the parades, and yes, even the holiday shopping – it behooves us to pause and remember what the holiday is really about: giving thanks, expressing gratitude for all that is good in our lives.

This recent Time magazine article highlights several benefits to our health and wellbeing from practicing gratitude, including being more patient and experiencing long-lasting happiness. Amazing how a few small acts, like saying thank you to your partner for washing the dishes or writing down three good things that happened to you each day, can reap such big benefits.

In the spirit of the holiday, I’d like to take a moment to share the top 5 things I am grateful for, today and every day:

  • My family, near and far, for keeping me grounded and helping me succeed.
  • My friends, for the joy and laughter as well as the hugs and support.
  • My home, for providing warmth, comfort and shelter.
  • My morning quiet time, when I can turn inward and just be.
  • My Nia practice, for helping me rediscover the joy of movement.

And one – actually two – more things, just for fun – my feline “goddesses,” Artemis and Athena (below left and right, respectively). These little kitties remind me every day to look at the world with wonder and curiosity – to see everything as if for the first time. They teach me patience by often testing my patience, but who can resist their sweet little faces?

I wish you and your loved ones a Happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

cat pic

 

 

Physical Environment

Some people may be surprised to see physical environment as one of the self-care areas on the Wheel of Health. However, the spaces that we live, work and play in can have a profound effect on our health and wellbeing – either positively or negatively. There are three major areas that fall under this category: your community, your workplace and your home. I will explore each of these briefly and invite you to consider those aspects of your environment that you can most easily influence to support and nurture your health.

Community

Think about the town or city where you live. There are a number of factors that can affect your health and wellness. For example, local climate may play a role. If you live in the northern US, you may not get enough sunlight during the winter months to make adequate amounts of Vitamin D. You could also be more prone to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. It may also be more difficult to stay active when winter weather hampers your exercise plans.

If you live in a warmer climate, you need to consider taking precautions against the sun and heat. For example, you may want to use sunscreen when you are outdoors, stay well-hydrated and limit outdoor activity when air quality is poor. The local climate can also impact health issues such as seasonal allergies. There may be certain types of plants or trees that grow in your geographic area that irritate your sinuses. Minor cases are often treatable with medications, but more severe allergies may prompt you to consider moving to a different geographic location to avoid the trigger(s).

There are often different health issues in urban vs. rural areas. City residents may face higher levels of stress due to concerns about crime, violence or traffic congestion. On the other hand, cultural norms in more rural areas may contribute to higher rates of tobacco use or less nutritious diets. Rural residents may also have to travel further to obtain routine or emergency medical care. There are advantages and disadvantages to both settings, so you will want to carefully consider which environment will foster your health and wellbeing.

 Workplace

If you work in an office, it is likely you spend a good portion of your day in that environment. Although we may have limited control over the buildings we work in, our personal work spaces can be created to nurture our wellbeing.  Creating a healthy environment in your office space can have a positive impact on your physical body as well as your emotional satisfaction with going to work every day. There are a few factors to consider such as:

Ergonomics: You want to be sure that your office furniture and equipment supports body mechanics and does not contribute to potential health issues, such as musculoskeletal pain or eye strain. The Human Resources department at your workplace should be able to assess your workstation and assist you with making it as safe and comfortable as possible. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) also has some helpful resources here.

Surroundings: There are several strategies you can use to make your work station or office as pleasant as possible. For example, consider adding green plants to brighten up your space and improve air quality. Play soothing music or purchase a small water fountain to listen to the sound of running water. Decorate your workstation with photos and keepsakes that inspire you. Add a desk lamp to avoid or reduce the need for fluorescent lighting. And finally, do your best to avoid clutter by implementing a file system and/or other organizational tools. Allot some time at the end of each day to tidy up your desk and office space.

Movement/Activity: By now, many of you have probably heard the new mantra that “sitting is the new smoking,” as studies have demonstrated that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with a higher risk of all-cause mortality. If you have a job that requires you to sit at a computer most of the day, find ways to build movement into your day. We can all benefit from taking breaks during the work day – whether to stretch, take a short walk or just take a few deep breaths away from our work station. Taking a break allows us to come back to the job at hand with renewed energy and sense of purpose.

Home

No matter what type of dwelling you live in, your home can be a haven for your health, offering support to your body, mind and soul. However, it can also contribute to health problems if we are not careful. There are a few factors to consider when assessing the safety and comfort of your home, including:

Air quality: It is important to have a home that is well ventilated (i.e., one that allows for the exchange of indoor and outdoor air).  Without proper ventilation, an insulated and airtight house may seal in harmful pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, and moisture that can damage a house.  Click here for a helpful guide to home ventilation. There are several reasons to remove your shoes once inside your home, primarily because they can track in dirt, pesticides and other pollutants. When buying new carpet, furniture or paint, consider products with low chemical emissions to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals.

Water quality: The water available for drinking in your home can contain a variety of contaminants that may adversely impact your health. You can learn about the quality of your community’s tap water by visiting this website and entering your zip code. If you have a private well, contact your city or county government to have it tested regularly for any potential contaminants. There are certified filters that can remove harmful contaminants from your water.

Aesthetics: Although we often can’t control the environment outside our homes, we have more control over the inside of them. Explore what changes you could make so that each room is a more nurturing, supportive place for you. Feel free to experiment with color, material, scent, music or the overall layout of rooms so that these spaces satisfy your senses. Consider assessing how the color impacts your mood, or whether there is adequate lighting and pleasant smells.

There is one other topic related to aesthetics I would like to address and that is clutter. Clearing clutter is first and foremost a safety issue, as it can reduce the risk of falls and help eliminate germs. However, clutter can also have a subtler impact on us mentally and emotionally. Having too much “stuff” in your living space can drag you down, physically and mentally. Common challenges include excess paper, clothing, and “collections” of favorite objects. Here are some helpful strategies for reducing clutter:

  • Follow the “one in, one out” rule – every time a new item comes into your home, a similar item must leave. For example, if you buy a new jacket, donate or sell a used one that you no longer need. Some people even take this a step further and remove two items for every new one that comes in.

 

  • Create a place for everything. Once all items have a home, it will be easier to put things away regularly.

 

  • Schedule time to regularly go through things and purge as needed. This can be daily, weekly, monthly, yearly – whatever timeframe works best for you.

 

  • If you have trouble dealing with clutter on your own, consider hiring a professional organizer. You can click here to find one in your area.

 

As you can see, there are many ways that your physical environment plays a role in your health and wellbeing! I encourage you to take some time to assess how the places you live, work and play are impacting your health.

Spirituality

For many people, spirituality is a central component of how they experience life and view the world. For this reason, considering spirituality in the context of health is critical.

Spirituality is a way to find meaning, hope and inner peace in your life, but it can mean different things to different people. For many, it is tied to the practice or beliefs of an organized religion or faith to which they belong.  For others, it may not be linked to a particular religion or faith, but can be found through music, art, or a connection with nature. Although spirituality is very personal, the role that it plays in our lives can inform – and transform – our health.

The relationship between spirituality and health

There has been a significant increase in interest in the relationship between spirituality and health over the past few decades. Many research studies have demonstrated that spiritual practices are associated with better health and wellbeing for a number of reasons, including:

Contemplative practice is good for you. Many of these practices guide you to direct your attention inward, to quiet the mind or to increase compassion or empathy. These practices may include prayer, meditation, yoga or journaling. Meditation and yoga have both been found to help decrease depression and anxiety, while prayer and journaling may help you find meaning in life’s challenges and become more resilient in the face of obstacles.

A spiritual community can improve your life.  Many of us find community through participation in spiritual activities such as attending religious services or belonging to a meditation group. These communities can be sources of social support, which may provide a sense of connection and security as well as improved health and wellbeing.

Spiritual people make healthier choices. Some spiritual traditions have rules about treating the body with kindness and avoiding unhealthy behaviors. Research shows that people who practice a religion or faith tradition are less likely to smoke or drink, commit a crime, or become involved in violent activity. They are also more likely to engage in healthy habits like wearing seatbelts and taking vitamins.

Spirituality may help you live longer. A comprehensive review of research that compared spirituality and religiousness to other health interventions found that people with a strong spiritual life had an 18% reduction in mortality. Although there is not yet consensus about the extent of spirituality’s benefit on health, most researchers agree that there is a positive relationship between religious/spiritual practices and better health outcomes.

(The above information was adapted from the University of Minnesota’s Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing.  Please visit their site for references, if interested.)

Finding spirituality in every day moments 

As noted earlier, spirituality is very unique and personalized for all of us. There are many ways we can seek and find spiritual experiences – and sometimes they just occur on their own. This happened in a number of ways for me recently.  It began with seeing two living legends in the music world – Marc Cohn opening for Michael McDonald. It was an awesome show – from Marc’s rousing rendition of “Walking in Memphis” to Michael opening with “Yah Mo B There” and closing with an encore (including Marc and his band) belting out Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and of course, The Doobie Brothers’ “Taking it to the Streets” – it was both soul-stirring and soul-soothing. I have loved Michael’s velvety voice for as long as I can remember. And the songs he writes are meaningful, with themes of love and compassion for one another. Seeing him live was on my bucket list and I am grateful I had the chance to do so.

A few days after the show, I traveled to Wilmington to attend a health education conference. Since I don’t get to the coast very often, I was determined to find a little bit of time to walk on the beach. I don’t particularly enjoy the beach in the summer, but I love being by the water in the fall, my favorite season. After sitting almost all day during the conference, I went back to my hotel, grabbed my sneakers and made my way to Wrightsville Beach. I arrived in time to see some surfers making the most of the last hour of sunlight. I walked along the beach, enjoying the sound of the waves and the cool breeze on my face. I laughed at the woman trying to stop her dog from chasing the waves. I smiled at the little sandpipers as they hurried to pick their food from the sand before the water could wash them away. I then took a moment to stop and sit on the sand, taking in the sights and sounds, and silently expressing gratitude for my good fortune to be here, enjoying the splendors of this earth.

And last weekend, I attended Sunday service at the Unitarian Universalist church that is my spiritual home. We have a new minister, and this was only my second time hearing him preach. His sermon was titled “V is for…” and he spoke about the violence and hatred we are seeing across our country and the world, through mass shootings and terrorist attacks. He reminded us of the Golden Rule: to treat others how we want to be treated. He invoked the spirits of Buddha, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and their collective messages of non-violent resistance. He reaffirmed that the only way to fight hatred is with love. It was a sobering message, but one that is needed now more than ever.

Three totally different experiences, all spiritual moments for me. I invite you to explore the ways that spirituality presents itself in your life and the impact it has on your health and wellbeing.

Personal and Professional Development

As I discussed in my previous post about the Wheel of Health, your wellbeing encompasses more than just physical health. Today we will explore the importance of personal and professional development on your journey to optimal health. For many people, these two areas are closely related, which is why I have chosen to discuss them together.

Personal and professional endeavors can be a source of enjoyment and energy, or emotional drain and stress. Some individuals have personal lives that are fulfilling with family, friends and hobbies that provide joy and meaning, while others have not yet reached the place of contentment they desire. The same may be true professionally – some people have careers that are meaningful and resonate with their purpose and values in life, whereas others struggle in demanding jobs that provide little personal or professional rewards. There are also many people who struggle to find balance across these two domains. Regardless of where you are personally and professionally, these areas of your life can affect your health either positively or negatively.

Like other areas on the Wheel of Health, Personal and Professional Development is very personal and varies from person to person. In general, we are referring to whatever gives you meaning and purpose in life – those activities that give you a sense of fulfillment and joy. It may be your family or your work (or both!); it may be continuously learning new things or volunteering through your church. It can be relationships with family, friends or colleagues at the office. Personal and professional development means exploring your own values and finding out what brings you joy and meaning.

Personal Development

For some people, personal development may be tied very closely to their professional pursuits. For others, it may be very distinct. For almost all of us, optimal health may best be achieved by balancing the two, which we will explore later in this post.

There are several areas of the Wheel of Health that relate to personal development, such as spirituality, relationships and communication, and mindful awareness.  However, personal development goes beyond the Wheel and can include topics such as music, art, reading, travel, gardening, and other hobbies and intellectual pursuits. Activities that bring us pleasure and satisfaction enhance our sense of contentment, joy and overall wellbeing. These may be “doing” activities such as those mentioned above, but they can also include “being” activities – for example, star-gazing, sitting on the beach, or meditating on a mountaintop. All of these things can be sources of deep personal development.

Professional Development

For many people, being involved in meaningful work can bring a profound sense of satisfaction and joy. You may have heard the saying: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” These individuals have a sense of meaning and purpose, knowing they are contributing to the world in a way that has significant meaning to them and a positive impact on others. However, there are others who find themselves in careers or work that drains them, and it can negatively impact their health. Many times, dealing with stress, dissatisfaction or boredom with one’s work leads individuals to make poor choices around food, alcohol or drugs.  I have worked with several clients who, through exploration of all areas of the Wheel of Health, realized that their job was the root cause of their health problems, such as weight gain or lack of sleep. They chose to focus on finding new work that was less demanding and would allow them to prioritize their health and wellbeing.

Professional development can also entail taking stock of where you are and where you want to go in your professional endeavors. Perhaps it means going back to school for an advanced degree to move up the ladder at work – or shifting roles within your given profession to allow for more time with your family. For others, it may mean a complete change in career focus to better align with their values and goals.

Balancing Personal and Professional Development

Many people find it challenging to balance their personal goals with the demands of their professional endeavors. Finding enough time and energy to focus on both can be stressful. Often times, the demands of full-time work can leave us with little time or energy for family and our personal pursuits. For others who have given up careers to raise a family or pursue other goals, they may find that they miss feeling “productive” or that their skills are going to waste.

Being mindfully aware of how you have structured your life and the impact it is having on your physical, mental and emotional health can help you achieve optimal health. It is helpful to assess where you are with personal, career or life goals, particularly at times of transition or milestones. These may include work-life balance, financial goals, and personal growth that will support optimal wellbeing. Regular assessment of your goals can also reinforce healthy behavior choices.

Below are some questions that can help you develop greater awareness of how your personal and professional endeavors are fostering or hindering your optimal health. Feel free to choose the questions that are most relevant for you. Take time to reflect deeply, perhaps writing down your responses or sharing them with someone you trust.

  • If money and time were no object, what would you love to do that would bring you a profound sense of satisfaction, joy and/or purpose?

 

  • How balanced are your work (what you do to earn a living) and your personal interests? What would you need to do to bring them more into balance?

 

  • If you continue with your current balance of personal and professional development, including time and energy spent on each, how will your life be 5 years from now? 10 years from now?

 

  • Is there a dream that you would like to resurrect and pursue? How are you stopping yourself? What are some first steps you could take to start pursuing that dream?

 

Movement, Exercise and Rest – Part 2

This is the second post related to this area of the Wheel of Health. Previously, I discussed Exercise and Movement. Today, I will focus on Rest/Sleep and why it is just as important for your overall wellbeing.

Rest/Sleep

While movement and exercise are important for good health, so are rest and sleep. Our bodies need down time to recover from physical activity. Although sleep needs vary by person, in general the recommendation is 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night for adults. However, almost a third of adults in the United States report sleeping less than 7 hours per night. If we don’t sleep enough, the body can’t complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. We also wake up less prepared to concentrate, make decisions, or engage fully in work, school and social activities.

The quality of sleep matters as much as the quantity. Many of us are so busy that we find it difficult to “turn off” when it is time to sleep, resulting in sleep that does not restore us. We’re likely to have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping soundly.

If you struggle with getting a good night’s sleep, consider these sleep hygiene recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Even on weekends, avoid going to bed or waking up more than an hour later than usual.
  • Use bright light to help manage your internal “body clock”. This means avoiding bright lights in the evening and exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime ritual such as taking a warm bath, reading a calming book, lighting candles or listening to soft music.
  • Create an environment that is conducive to sleep. The bedroom should be quiet, dark and cool. Consider removing work materials, televisions, computers and other electronic devices. Be sure that your mattress and pillow are comfortable.
  • Reduce or eliminate your intake of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, particularly later in the day.
  • Regular exercise can help with sleep, but avoid moderate to intense workouts close to bedtime as they can have the opposite effect.

If you try some or all of these methods and still struggle to get adequate sleep, talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional. S/he may recommend a sleep study to determine if there are underlying medical issues that are interfering with your sleep.

In addition to adequate sleep, it is also important to allow yourself time to rest and relax (good old “R&R”). That might mean walking in the woods. Or fishing. Or lying on the couch with a good book. Whatever you find calming and restorative. This applies to taking breaks during the work day too. Many of us may find it difficult to do so in our culture that emphasizes working long hours and being plugged in 24/7, but a growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity — and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion. So, let go of the guilt and make time for yourself. You won’t regret it.

ann lamott quote

 

Hello World

Hey there.  I know what you’re thinking…not another “healthy lifestyle blogger”?!  I know, I know, it seems like we are a dime a dozen these days – BUT I encourage you to keep reading. You’re here already so you might as well stick around to see what I have to say, right?

Yes, there are many, many people in the “blogosphere” who write about health. Some are professionals or experts. Others are individuals who are passionate about health and wellness. They learn as much as they can about topics of interest and then share that knowledge with others. Where do I fall on the spectrum? I combine the best of both worlds – I took my passion for wellness and turned it into a professional career. The path was not straight and narrow, but I am incredibly excited that it led me here today.

So…why include me as a “go to” source for health-related information? Three reasons:

Credentials. I have a Master’s degree in Public Health with a focus on Health Behavior/Health Education from the UNC School of Public Health. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®), a Certified Professional in Health Quality (CPHQ) and a Certified Integrative Health Coach (through Duke Integrative Medicine). I am also sitting for the brand new, national health and wellness coach certification exam in September so I hope to add one more credential as a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach. I realize that’s a lot of letters behind my name, but my degrees and certifications are all from accredited universities and reputable professional associations.

Experience. Throughout my career in healthcare, I have worked in and/or with most of the major types of facilities in our system including a rural health department, skilled nursing facilities, a large hospital system and a primary care physician practice. Even when my primary “paid” role did not include a focus on wellness, I found a way to get involved with prevention and promoting a healthy lifestyle. I am so grateful that my career path has led me to my current role of health and wellness coach, where I am privileged to partner with individuals on their journey to optimal health.

My personal health journey*. I’m a real person who deals with many of the same health issues and concerns as you. I have struggled with weight management, emotional eating, work-life balance, stress and anxiety, to name a few.  Have I nailed all of my healthy living habits? Heck no, but my point is that I can relate to many of the challenges you may face in taking care of your physical and emotional health.

Just one last thing – my promise to you is that I will be a trusted, credible resource for you on your journey. I will strive to share information that comes from reputable sources based on sound scientific research. If I do share anything that is more anecdotal in nature, I will state that upfront. No fake news – Girl Scout promise.

*For those of you who are interested, I have included details about my health journey in my next post.