During September, the nation observes Recovery Month. Events, posters, and print materials provide education about how treatment services and recovery peer supports can empower people with a mental and/or substance use disorder to live a healthy and rewarding life. Recovery Month spreads the positive message that recovery in all its forms is possible, that behavioral health is essential to overall health, that prevention works, and treatment is effective.
Stop and Smell the Roses
We often talk about the need to pause, breathe, and unplug. One way to do that is to take even one minute to mindfully appreciate the beauty of the world around you—whether it’s a bird in flight or a plant growing in a garden or a sidewalk crack
In this issue, we continue with our recent theme of hobbies for wellness and include articles on social and environmental wellness
Social Wellness and Hobbies
By Crystal Brandow
Hobbies can strengthen and support many dimensions of wellness. Hobbies, like putting together puzzles or painting, can improve mood and lower stress while supporting intellectual wellness. Walking, hiking, or doing outdoor water sports like kayaking can support physical health while also increasing time spent outside, supporting environmental wellness. These activities can support general well-being, improve mood, and decrease stress levels.
There are many hobbies that you can get involved in – take the time to see what feels best for you! And, many hobbies can contribute to expanding social wellness when we join, participate, or engage with them with others. Social wellness is about developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system.
Meeting a group at a library for a regular chess club or joining a weekly walking group are just two examples of hobbies that can help you develop a sense of connection and belonging and build and expand your support system, while also enhancing other dimensions of wellness.
At Policy Research Associates, Inc. a few staff members came together to record a podcast on how they work to enhance their social wellness. We noticed that the hobbies described as increasing social wellness contribute to other dimensions of wellness, too.
Take, for example, playing volleyball. One person talks about playing volleyball, despite hesitations to join a group with a bunch of strangers, and how this evolved into supporting social wellness by building community with new people, while also contributing to improved physical wellness, with each night of playing consisting of a few hours of physical activity
Playing the bagpipes was another activity discussed on the podcast. This contributes to social wellness, through bonding with fellow performers during weekly practices, as well as to intellectual wellness, through memorizing music and staying skilled at playing. Holding a bag pipe while marching in a parade can be a form of staying active and contribute to physical wellness, too. A pleasant surprise for the speaker was, after getting involved in this group, learning about the opportunity to perform inside gigs and getting paid to play – supporting financial wellness.
Other hobbies shared on the podcast include dancing, quilting, and singing. Each activity, while promoting a sense of connection and belonging while building a support system, also benefited the speakers in other areas of their lives. And, a couple of the people on the podcast spoke about being an introvert or having social anxiety. Yet, they were able to get involved in hobbies that boosted social interaction, or even pushed themselves to take on leadership roles in social groups to be in more outgoing positions.
When selecting any hobby, it’s important to do what makes you feel safe. One speaker described seeking out a welcoming environment and finding people who support you just the way you, which can be a first step to picking up a hobby and supporting wellness.
Policy Research Associates, Inc. (prainc.com) is an organization whose mission is to create positive social change through technical assistance, research and training.
The podcast is available for download
Knitting by Pat Nemec
Over the past few issues of Words of Wellness, we have talked about how hobbies can boost our wellness. For me, knitting affects many of the dimensions of wellness! For example, my grand-mother knit for me and now I knit for my grandchildren. This inter-generational link feeds my spiritual and emotional wellness.
Intellectual wellness includes recognizing our creative abilities and finding ways to expand our knowledge and skills while discovering the potential for sharing those gifts with others. My intellectual wellness is an important part of knitting for me, as I am always learning new techniques and challenging myself with new patterns or trying to design my own. Like other hobbies, knitting has many informative podcasts and video tutorials available online. Sometimes, I listen to audiobooks while I knit, which also contributes to intellectual wellness.
As a purposeful and productive activity, knitting is part of my occupational wellness. Social wellness is enriched by my conversations about knitting with family, friends, and other knitters who are now no longer strangers. Since knitting is relaxing to me, it’s a stress reliever that’s good for physical wellness—a benefit confirmed by research on the value of handcrafts and by descriptions of knitting as an active meditation.
The handknitted afghans in my home are good for my environmental wellness. They are warm in the winter, nice to look at, and remind me how much I enjoyed making them. I can’t say my financial wellness is always improved by my knitting hobby, but I do make small projects from scraps (free!) and use them as homemade gifts.
Knitting has been a life-long activity and I find I can’t not do it. If my schedule gets in the way of knitting, I can feel stress building. But all it takes is a few minutes with my knitting needles and a deep breath, and I relax again.
Loving Our Oasis in Space
By Maria Martinez Alonso
I remember seeing a drawing from NASA showing a couple of astronauts in their space suits, helmets off under their arms, resting on the top of a hill overlooking a beautiful valley, a lake in the front, a majestic mountain range in the back. The caption reads, “Earth – Your Oasis in Space. Where the Air is Free and Breathing is Easy” (see page 4). It made me think of all the gifts around us we take for granted and how disconnected our life is from the natural world. We see ourselves on Earth, outside of it; it’s there for us to exploit or to be used, not for us to love and respect.
However, many of us, over-urbanized and chronically stressed, are realizing that spending time in Nature feels like going back home; that there is a deep longing inside each one of us for wilderness, for natural environments. We are learning to appreciate, to enjoy, and to experience a sense of wonder that we are here, breathing, at all; that we are part of Planet Earth.
As human beings, we are not separate from Nature, but we seem to forget this in our daily lives. We disconnect from what actually can help us find sanity and balance. When we reconnect and are in tune with the rhythms of the forests, the trees, the mountains, the ocean, a sense of being complete emerges. We feel well, physically safe, at peace. Natural environments invite us to give ourselves time: our muscles relax, our faces soften, our minds start settling down and our hearts touch tranquility. It’s a powerful practice.
As a self-care strategy, time in nature has a healing effect. Listening to a birdsong, starting a garden, finding a spot in a park and simply sitting there without checking our phones and just noticing seasonal changes, has proven to be highly beneficial for both our mental and physical health.
Nature also is good for our spiritual wellness, transcending our daily worries and the busy-ness of our minds, awakening us to our profound connection with all living things. Researchers note that, when we do physical activities in natural settings instead of artificial environments, we tend to experience less fatigue, less sadness, less anxiety, and less anger. We find relief from the everyday stresses of life and cultivate resilience; positive emotional reactions are triggered because we are genetically hard-wired to affiliate with other forms of life (the “biophilia hypothesis”) and when we don’t, we suffer.
Some say, “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live in.” Well, we also need to take care of the Earth—isn’t it the only place where we can live? Too many of us are disconnected from the land. Realizing this, more and more people in different countries are choosing to relocate closer to natural environments. I’ve been steering myself in this direction over the course of the years. I grew up in a busy European capital city but have gradually replaced buildings and traffic noise with fields, cows and forests in the New Jersey countryside.
Even in the age of “technostress,” our bodies are still adapted to Nature. The discrepancy between the way we live and what our bodies need, keeps our stress levels high and our nervous system constantly stimulated. We take care of ourselves when we reconnect with nature. By enjoying and protecting our environment, we can help future generations live in clean surroundings; access clean air, food, and water; and enjoy the many creatures who live on our planet. By healing the Earth, we take care of ourselves.
When we care, with kindness, for the environment we share with all the other beings on Earth, peace and gratitude will be our most natural emotional response.
You can find a nice collection of resources, including fact sheets, presentations, tips for providers, and infographics, at the Policy Research Associates website.
For example, learn about the science of sleep, workplace wellness, and alternatives to pain management. Find the “Well-Being Playlist,” which includes a series of podcasts on the 8 Dimensions of Wellness. Some of these feature Words of Wellness editor, Dr. Peggy Swarbrick. You also can access them through SoundCloud or Apple podcasts, so you can download them and listen on the go—maybe while you’re exercising or engaging in your favorite hobby!
Download a copy of August’s Word of Wellness HERE
References and Resources
Thanks to Maria Martinez Alonso and Crystal Brandow for their contributions this month. Maria is a Clinical Psychologist and Mindfulness Teacher (mindfulawarenessnj.com). Crystal is a Senior Policy Associate at Policy Research Associates, Inc. Illustrations are listed online as free for reuse without attribution, and are from various sources, including pixabay.com
The “Earth” poster on this page is in the public domain and by Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) / NASA («Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech») – Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL): Visions of the Future: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/visions-of-the-future/ / Background: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/visions-of-the-future/about.php / Image Use Policy: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/imagepolicy/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70624414
The rose picture on p. 1 is from the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, taken by Pat Nemec.
The PRA, Inc. podcast on Social Wellness is: https://soundcloud.com/user-983188732/pra-well-being-social-wellness
To learn about the benefits of knitting for physical wellness, see the report at https://knitforpeace.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/The-Health-Benefits-of-Knitting-Preview.pdf and also the website http://www.knitforhealthandwellness.com/ and its companion site http://www.stitchlinks.com
For a more philosophical and spiritual angle on knitting, read The Knitting Sutra: Craft as a Spiritual Practice (see info at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/104724/the-knitting-sutra-by-susan-gordon-lydon/9780767916332)
Summer is Here
For many people in the U.S., the 4th of July holiday marks the real beginning of summer. School is out, beaches are busy, gardens are in full bloom, and the days are long. Summer often seems like a time of leisure, even if we are working every day.
Leisure time is when we can decide what we want to do, when our time is not already committed. The English word “leisure” comes from the Latin word “licere,” which means “to be allowed.” So, to have leisure pretty much means that you can give yourself permission to do what pleases you.
In the June issue of Words of Wellness, we introduced hobbies as a way to strengthen many dimensions of wellness. A hobby is a leisure-time activity that someone pursues over time, with a sense of passion and commitment, while building knowledge and skill. This leads some experts to call hobbies “serious leisure.” Hobbies can be a great way of releasing stress and frustration.
Hobbies include collecting themed items and objects, engaging in creative and artistic pursuits, playing sports, or pursuing other amusements. Hobbies provide numerous health and wellness benefits, from lowering blood pressure to improved confidence. Not only are they enjoyable, but they may delay or prevent cognitive decline like memory loss, especially hobbies that involve learning new skills and solving challenging problems.
Hobbies that require some level of physical activity also create chemical changes in our body that help reduce stress. Hobbies like swimming, yoga, knitting, or martial arts can help reduce anxiety. Hobbies build confidence because being good at something and learning something new is very rewarding. However even if your hobby does not require physical activity you can still benefit.
Hobbies that require you to be physical active or exercise help can help with depression and anxiety give your body confidence. Hobbies can prevent bored and even help people stay in shape. People are more likely to lose weight or stay fit when they take up a physical hobby, which can be both rewarding and fun.
July Hobbies: Get Outside!
By William Latin
I surveyed some people to discover the hobbies that many people pursue during nice weather. The hobbies they reported included swimming outdoors, barbecuing, playing sports such as tennis or volleyball and basketball. These hobbies help many of the wellness dimensions. Team sports are a great way to meet new people and to socialize. These sports also require a degree of strategy and planning that stimulates your intellectual wellness. While indoor swimming pools and tennis centers can be expensive in some areas, many areas have free local swimming areas or tennis courts for residents. For people who live in a rural area, there may be free swimming and other outdoor activities at a state park or other public recreation area. Check your town, county, or state websites for more information.
Physical wellness hobbies are great things to do but remember that summer weather means that you should take care of yourself and try not to overheat. Sunscreen is a must if you’re outside. In some areas, you also should use an insect repellent to avoid getting bites from mosquitoes, chiggers, or ticks.
If you are more into mental challenges than physical challenges, see if there is a local chess club that meets in a park. See if you can find a free outdoor concert in your area.
To beat the heat, consider air-conditioned activities such as an indoor recreation activity or even swimming indoors. Many parks and recreation departments offer classes in the summer (and all year round) to help you explore new hobbies like dancing or cooking.
Think about the summer hobbies you enjoyed in the past or would like to try!
By William Latin
Many people we talk to report that barbecuing is a favorite summer hobby that has many wellness benefits. I personally love to barbecue in the summer. Actually, I like to barbecue all year round. Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is…look outside and you will see…not Carole King but me grilling. Rain or shine, snow or sleet I’ll be there.
I think that having a BBQ has many advantages, especially for your social wellness. Inviting people over for a BBQ is a great way to socialize. Many people I talk to enjoy being invited to a BBQ. It’s fun, social and there is usually great food. You don’t even need to grill hotdogs or hamburgers. If you want to try and eat healthier, try grilling vegetables! Barbecues add a great char filled flavor to any food. You can grill any kind of vegetable including, onions, peppers, tomatoes and even zucchini.
BBQ’s are usually very casual and you can just kind of hang out and not worry about being so formal. If you don’t have access to a grill of your own, you can actually use one in the park. A lot of public parks have coal grills and wood burning grills that are free to use. The park also generally will have picnic benches and other outdoor areas for you to host your party.
PROUD 2B Well
We have a new project at Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey, Inc., called PROUD 2B Well. This project funded by SAMHSA is taking place at CSPNJ sponsored Community Wellness Centers (CWCs). PROUD 2B Well will increase members opportunities to access health and wellness education, support and resources. PROUD 2B Well includes two main components: collecting health information from members and using that information to provide health and wellness support.
The idea for PROUD 2B Well came from our experience going to too many untimely funerals, and data that we collected in 2017 showed that most people in CSPNJ-sponsored supported services reported having at least one medical condition and more than 25% report having six or more. About half of the people reporting a medical condition also said they needed help managing that condition. Substance use, exposure to trauma and poverty are far too often risk factors that negatively impact members’ wellbeing.
The PROUD 2B Well project involved training Regional Coordinators, Peer Mentors, Center Managers, working at the CWCs to collect information using two surveys—one focused on medical conditions and health risks, the other focused on the person’s feelings about their overall well-being.
After helping members complete the surveys, trained Peer Mentors, Managers and Coordinators will be able to follow-up to see what information and support members want. This information will be used offer wellness activities to CWC members. CWCs will be offering groups and classes on mindfulness, meditation, smoking cessation, nutrition, diabetes, and exercise.
Peer Mentors also will offer individualized health and wellness support. This may include helping members learn about a health condition and how best to manage it, as well as how to improve their physical wellness through healthy eating, physical activity, improved sleep, and stress management. Peer Mentors, Center managers, and Regional Coordinators will develop skills so they can locate and share information such as disease-related support groups, healthcare providers, free health fairs and clinics, and free or low-cost wellness resources and services. We hope this will help people live longer and we will attend many fewer untimely funerals.
Stay tuned to hear more as we roll out PROUD 2B Well over the next 3 years!
The Summer Solstice
This year, the longest day in the northern hemisphere falls on June 21. It’s also another reason to celebrate! Ancient spiritual traditions celebrated this day, often at special locations. You probably have heard of Stonehenge, where the sunset on the summer solstice aligns with part of the structure.
Native Americans also built structures that seem to track the sun and the moon. One of the largest, Chaco Canyon, is located in New Mexico, and is now a national park. The National Park Service emphasizes that they can’t prove that the buildings at Chaco were constructed purposefully as part of early astronomy, but the summer solstice brings many visitors who are believers.
Eating fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season is good for both financial and physical wellness, because food that is in season often costs less. The US Department of Agriculture recommends shopping at local farmers’ markets, which may take SNAP benefits. July and August are often the best months to get local fresh berries and cherries. These brightly colored fruits are easy to eat and delicious any time of day. They are also full of vitamins and antioxidants.
Antioxidants are compounds that seem to protect against inflammation in your body. If you eat foods high in antioxidants, they help protect against cognitive decline, stroke, cancer, and many other diseases. In general, it’s best to get antioxidants from food, rather than supplements, since fresh fruits and vegetables have so many benefits, such as fiber and other important nutrients. Plus, berries are more fun to eat than a vitamin pill! While many food groups contain antioxidants, berries are at the top of the list, with about 10 times more antioxidants than other fruits and vegetables!
Check your local area to see if there are “pick your own” locations—you can often get a good price discount as well as some exercise. Picked too many? Freeze the extras! Wash and dry the best looking berries (take the leaves and “hulls” off the strawberries), put them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and put them in the freezer. Once frozen, store them in a zippered bag. Enjoy them frozen on a hot day. Try mixing the frozen barriers into yogurt (plain or flavored) for a cool and healthy treat.
Download a copy of July’s Words of Wellness HERE
References and Resources
Illustrations are listed online as free for reuse without attribution from pixabay.com
- The internet has a lot of information on the benefits of hobbies. One source is Pressman et al. (2009). Association of enjoyable leisure activities with psychological and physical well-being. Psychosomatic Medicine, 71(7), 725-732.
- For more on “serious leisure,” see https://www.seriousleisure.net/concepts.html
- Check out this article from the University of Berkeley about tips for a healthier barbecue: https://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food/slideshow/13-tips-healthier-barbecue
- See the summer solstice sunset at Stonehenge here: https://earthsky.org/earth/gallery-the-summer-solstice-as-seen-from-stonehenge
- For a video on Chaco Canyon, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEoPXMstOxE
- To find out what foods are fresh (and often least expensive) in each season, check out the list at: https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide
- Interested in nutrition? The website www.nutritionfacts.org is a non-commercial, science-based public service. Their page on antioxidants and berries is: https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/berries/
- More on antioxidants: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants/introduction.htm#science
- To freeze berries: https://www.bhg.com/recipes/how-to/cooking-basics/how-to-choose-berries/
June is the kick-off for the summer months. We often think of summer as a time to relax. But stress management and relaxation needs to be included as an important part of every day! Of course, relaxing means kicking back and taking it easy, like enjoying a cold drink while sitting outside on a warm and sunny day. Relaxing can also be active, such as shifting your activities by doing something that refreshes your body and mind, like taking a walk or doing an enjoyable hobby. We will be including more on hobbies in the next few issues!
What is a hobby? A hobby is an activity you do regularly in your free time. Many people don’t even realize they already have a hobby. There are many different hobbies that benefit us in different ways.
Some hobbies have physical wellness benefits. Yoga, running, meditation are great hobbies because they require physical movement, stretching and can help relieve stress.
Gardening is another great hobby. Not only does it have the economic and health benefit of growing your own produce, but it can also improve your physical wellness.
Tending to your garden requires physical labor, which can be great exercise. There are many things that you can grow in your garden such as flowers, shrubberies and fruits and vegetable. Many people enjoy growing their own tomato plants, with a payoff in both physical activity and nutrition!
Art is a great hobby and it can involve painting, drawing, writing and sculpting as well as many other things. Art is a great way to express your creative side and to relieve stress. Since art requires our creativity, it can help our intellectual wellness and, for many, contributes to spiritual wellness. Sharing a creation or creating with others boosts social wellness. Displaying beautiful and meaningful creations enhances our environmental wellness, too.
Almost everyone has experienced a hobby they truly enjoy. However, as adults, many people get caught up in work and other life responsibilities and feel they do not have time for a hobby. Whether you are a young adult or older adult it is a perfect time to reactivate and old hobby or learn a new hobby. if you’re struggling to decide what hobby to get involved in think about whether you already have one. Or think about trying a new hobby. There are so many to choose from and remember hobbies can help strengthen many dimensions of wellness.
Drawing Bridges to Wellness
By William Latin
Recently, I went to the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadow Park, NY for their 3rd annual special exhibition celebrating creative arts therapy week. The exhibit featured artists who live with depression and/or anxiety and channel their challenges through art.
The exhibit highlighted the theme of bridging the gap to wellness. Many of the artists used that theme literally and portrayed actual bridges in their art.
One particular piece I enjoyed was “Death is on the Brink, Life is Right across the Bridge.”
On one side of the bridge, there were thunderstorms and it looked dreary. On the other side, there were more hopeful images. The images looked toward the future filled with love, joy and family. The artist’s statement reads, “death will not take me out from my addictive life. That’s why my bridge back to life will be completed with love, faith and prosperity.”
The photograph below also shows a second work of art. The flowers pictured are titled, “New Beginning.” The artist’s statement reads, “Starting fresh and leaving the bad things behind. Getting to a place where I feel relaxed, content, and peaceful.”
In addition to visual art, the exhibit included poetry. I enjoyed this poem by H.F.:
As I bask in clarity,
reminiscing about the great times,
recollections of dreams
are becoming clearer.
now dreams have arrived
Replacing nightmares. Dreams
describe a righteous path
becoming available for consumption.
For behold, my sneakers are designed,
once more, for running again.
Another piece I found interesting was a sculpture of a bridge surrounded by art tools such as paintbrushes and paint bottles. It was clever how the whole art piece was the preparation for the sculpture. Each paint bottle sculpture had a different label on it such as Zen, creativity, imagination, reflection, and balance. It seemed to me to be a metaphor for the different elements the artist puts into their art.
Overall, I found the exhibit to be fascinating. I learned a lot about the artists and their stories of their journey to wellness.
Tidying up seems to be all the rage lately. For many people it’s easiest to relax in a clean and tidy space. But your home, workspace, or car are not the only places that could use tidying up—what about your mind?
We enjoyed a recent article in the Health Advocate Newsletter and blog on emotional clutter. They recommend these tips:
- Use a journal to record worries then revisit them later to identify possible solutions. For more on journaling, see our wellness tool on: https://www.center4healthandsdc.org/integrated-health–mental-health.html
- Reduce input by unsubscribing to unwanted marketing emails. Tell friends and family what you like to hear and what you’d rather hear, such as political news or celebrity updates. Limit your internet time and check the news less often. Take in what uplifts you and avoid or limit the rest.
Meditation or calming activities like yoga also can help clear your mind and allow your thoughts to float by, rather than clogging up your head.
Remember to pause, breathe, and relax!
5 Steps to Good Mental & Physical Wellness
Step #1: Pause & Breathe
- Meditation and mindfulness activities help you manage and reduce stress—both immediate and long-term.
- Regular mindfulness practice improves mental focus and boosts compassion towards yourself and others.
- Yoga, tai chi, and similar activities offer exercise, mindfulness, and relaxation, especially if you pay attention to your breathing and focus on the present moment.
Step #2: Reach Out and Connect with Someone
- Talk to a friend or supporter—social support relieves stress and can even keep you healthy.
- Hug a pet! Spending time with animals can be calming and make you feel less alone. Taking care of a pet can give you a sense of purpose and responsibility.
- Spend time around others—join a club or book group, volunteer as a friendly visitor, or help with a community project.
Step #3: Focus on Sleep
- Good sleep habits (also called “sleep hygiene”) can help you get a good night’s sleep.
- Getting enough sleep and rest refreshes your mind and your mood, helps your body heal, and improves your memory.
- Be consistent with the times you go to sleep and wake up. Sleep in a cool, dark space. Turn off screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
Step #4: Move More
- Try walking just 10 minutes 3 times/day for 3 days out of each week.
- Physical activity helps control weight, improve health, lower your risk of heart disease, and lengthen your life.
- Walking and other aerobic activities can help improve your mood and reduce symptoms of depression.
Step #5: Eliminate Harmful Substances
- Cut down or quit smoking, other types of tobacco and nicotine, alcohol, opioids, and other harmful drugs.
- Many harmful substances cause mental health problems and are linked to depression and suicide.
- Alcohol, marijuana, and other substances can disrupt your sleep, and many harmful substances are associated with increased health problems, including cancer, liver problems, heart disease, and difficulty breathing
Get the complete “5 Steps” document at www.cspnj.org (click on “resources).
Download a copy of June’s Words of Wellness HERE
References and Resources
Thanks, as always, to William Latin! His articles this month are on hobbies and on his visit to the Queens Museum.
Other than the pictures from that exhibit, which were taken by William, illustrations are from pixabay.com
[i]Check out this article from hobbyhelp.com, which contains a list of over 100 different hobbies: < https://hobbyhelp.com/inspiration/list-of-hobbies/For some quick tips to get you started on gardening, check out realsimple.com: https://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/gardening/outdoor/gardening-[ii] 101For more about Marie Kondo’s “The life-changing magic of tidying up,” see her website: https://konmari.com/pages/about Emotional clutter: http://blog.healthadvocate.com/2019/03/reduce-your-emotional-clutter/
Even in the northern US, we are noticing signs of spring. Spring brings with it several notable days. Many recognize May 1 as International Worker’s Day,[i] when workers often hold events to advocate for improved working conditions. May Day also has a long tradition of a time for celebrating the return of spring, going back to the ancient Celtic holiday of Beltane. [ii] Although rare, some places still hold a maypole dance, where the dancers move so as to braid ribbons around a pole. [iii]
Mother’s day is celebrated in various parts of the world to express respect, honor and show love towards mothers—women described as bringing up their children with care and affection. The day honors the contribution of mothers, acknowledges the efforts they make, the maternal bonds and the role of mothers in our society. Our mother plays an important role helping to create wellness habits as a baby toddler, young adult and adult. Use this day as an opportunity to show appreciation for your mother and grandmothers.
You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. Friends come and go but family is forever. Many people have someone in their life who may not be a biological relative but is a mother figure or a grandmotherly support. When we consider mothers, we recognize that anyone can take on the role of a mother—they don’t have to be biologically related to you.
Our mothers do a lot for us and it’s important to take the time to recognize it. Although we may go through issues with our family, especially our mothers, they are there through thick and thin. You can also use this month to show appreciation to people who are like mothers to you. Pause and reflect on the people who have helped or do help you in your life to conquer obstacles or challenges.
The modern holiday of Mother’s Day [iv] was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, WV. In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating Mother’s Day, held on the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers. But celebrating mothers goes back even further than that. In fact, in ancient Greece, Mother’s Day was used to celebrate Greek goddesses. It just goes to show that you can celebrate all motherly people—real and spiritual—who have a place in your life.
The most traditional Mother’s Day flower is the carnation. Pink carnations represent gratitude and love, while red carnations signify admiration.
A mother influences her child and, in the long run, society.
As she strives to nurture and teach, she makes the world better.
A Memory by William Latin
White carnations are traditional flowers to give or wear in remembrance of a mother who is no longer living. For example, my own grandmother passed away last year and, to honor her this year, I plan on bringing white carnation to her gravesite.
It’s important to remember mothers who are no longer here. My mother and grandmother have been a huge influence on my life. They are empathic, caring, kind, and loving. In turn, they have passed those qualities on to me. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my mother and grandmother. Not only have they made the world a better place, they made me a better person.
Caring and Affection
While mothers symbolize caring, not everyone has experienced a caring and affectionate family as a child. Certainly, a warm and caring parent contributes to life-long resilience but many people who grow up in tough environments can become strong and kind adults.
Caring and affection is something that will boost your wellness when you receive it, but also when you give it to others. Think of these “4Bs” [v] for wellness:
Being: Feeling ground, recognizing and appreciating one’s strengths, with awareness and self-compassion for one’s limitations.
Belonging: Feeling a part of a community, interest group, or connection with others who have had similar experiences and/or have similar views.
Believing: Having a set of guiding principles or values and a sense of the purpose of life.
Benevolence: Being kind and generous to others, whether that’s with time, money, support, or just sharing a needed smile with someone who crosses your path on an ordinary day.
What do you do during a typical day or week that contributes to these important areas for wellness and resilience? What can you add or strengthen in your life to have a little more of these Bs?
Cinco de Mayo
Another great holiday in the month of May is Cinco de Mayo. While the holiday is really celebrated in order to honor the victory of the Mexican Army over the French Empire, a lot of people use this day to celebrate Mexican culture.
If you’re someone who doesn’t get outside your comfort zone very often, try giving Mexican cuisine a try. You may already like tacos, burritos and guacamole. While these are the common dishes eaten in the United States, in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with different foods [vi] like chalupas and chiles en nogada. Chalupas are fried tortilla shells topped with shredded beef and salsa. Chiles en nogada which is fried pepper topped with walnut sauce. The dish includes all the colors of the Mexican flag—red, white, and green. So, if you’re up for it, celebrate May 5 by trying something a little different!
Download a copy of May’s Words of Wellness HERE
References and Resources
Thanks to William Latin for his contributions this month on Mother’s Day and Cinco de Mayo. The flower photo in column 1 on page 1 was taken by Jill Shell on the island of Medeira, Portugal and is used with permission from Peggy Swarbrick. Other illustrations are listed online as free for reuse without attribution, and are from various sources, including openclipart.org, and pixabay.com
Here are sources for our stories to give you more information:
[iii] Use your search engine to find a video of a maypole dance, or go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MVgMhcu7PQ
[v] The 4Bs are from a 2003 article on psychological and social aspects of resilience by Dr. Saul Levine that you can access here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181637/
April Fool’s Day
As with many of our celebrations, the origin of April Fool’s Day is a bit of a mystery. One idea [i] is that it comes from the switch to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. People who were slow to adopt the change continued to celebrate the start of the new year in April instead of on the new date of January 1. They became known as April Fools.
While we were researching April Fool’s Day, we came across an ancient Greco-Roman holiday called Hilaria where people played pranks on each other. [ii] We will never trick you in the pages of WoW, but we do wish you make time for joy and hilarity during this month!
April brings many of us face-to-face with our finances, since tax returns must be filed on the 15th. Financial Wellness includes the ability to have enough money to meet practical needs, and a sense of control over and knowledge about personal finances. Many people dread Tax Day, as it challenges their sense of control and financial knowledge.
Tax Day started when the US government implemented a federal income tax after the Civil War. It was supposed to be a temporary tax but, in 1913, the 16th Amendment made it possible for the government to tax individual incomes. In 1955, Tax Day was moved to April 15th and it remained there ever since. [iii]
Don’t be an April Fool on Tax Day!
Tax Day is a reminder that we should focus on our financial wellness all year long.
Do you have a good handle on your financial situation? Do you make educated spending decisions? It’s good to stay on top of your finances.
Creating and following a budget throughout the years is a great habit. Tracking what you spend and organizing receipts and tax papers doesn’t need to be a huge burden if you do a little bit every month. Consider using a computer program to keep track of your spending and to stay within your budget. If you use an online tool, be sure it is secure.
Pay attention to situations where you spend more than you planned. Were you hungry or upset? Were you tempted by a sale or a coupon? Did you just go along with someone else’s suggestion to spend?
Use the Financial Wellness Self-Assessment on the next page to help you decide if you’re on top of things financially.
Rate your Financial Wellness
Financial wellness is having an understanding of your financial situation and taking care of it in such a way that you are prepared for changes. Maintaining that balance consists of being comfortable with where your money comes from and where it is going.
Rate each item using this scale:
4 If the item is Always True for you
3 If the item is Sometimes True for you
2 If the item is Rarely True for you
1 If the item is Never True for you
___ I have a good handle on my financial situation.
___ I have money to meet my current expenses.
___ I can comfortably manage within my budget.
___ I balance my bank account.
___ I check my credit reports [iv] at least once a year.
___ My savings are on track with my life goals.
___ I do not worry about money.
___ I resist impulse spending when my funds are limited.
___ I have funds or available credit ($100-$1000) to deal with moderate unexpected life expenses.
___ I make educated spending decisions by comparison shopping and researching products before purchasing.
Add your scores for each item to get your total score (out of a possible 40) and write it here ______
Use the self-assessment scoring key to see how you’re doing.
Financial Self-Assessment Scoring Key:
- If you scored from 29 to 40 points, that’s excellent! You are doing a lot for your financial wellness.
- If you scored from 14 to 28 points, you’re doing great. You can look over the items again and see where you may want to strengthen.
- If you scored from 0 to 13 points, review your responses, to see if there is one area you may want to strengthen. Consider making one small adjustment in how you manage your money. Build on what you already do.
Want to learn more about managing your money? You can find many tips and tricks online. Your local state cooperative extension service may offer a free money management course.
Money Smarts for Adults
You can find this 14-module curriculum by clicking here
This site has lots of information under the “money” tab and offers tools to help you compare checking accounts and credit cards so you can find what works best for you.
This online budgeting software is free and includes a cell phone app. However, if you are not comfortable storing your personal data online, you may prefer to use a paper-based system or software that you use on your personal computer.
This new curriculum is for a 6-week class and is designed for people who use behavioral health services. Click here and go to the Solutions Suite self-directed recovery tools.
Some readers may remember the old song, “Though April showers may come your way, they bring the flowers that bloom in May. So if it’s raining, have no regrets! It isn’t raining rain you know, it’s raining violets!”
April is often a month many people start working in their gardens. Gardening is a great hobby and many people start off the spring by planting new flowers, vegetables, and herbs.
Growing your own produce can be quite personal, rewarding, and tasty. For some people, it can be cheaper to grow your own produce and it often tastes better. It gives you something to do and keeps you physically active. It also encourages you to eat healthier.
There is even evidence that gardening can have a positive impact on your mental health. [v] Gardening can help with our mental health because it gives us a sense of responsibility, it gives us something to nurture, and it can be very relaxing.
Many people find a sense of spiritual connectedness in the garden. Looking at your garden can bring peace, appreciation for the beauty and wonder of each plant, and a sense of accomplishment.
Environmental Wellness involves being and feeling safe, in safe and clean surroundings and being able to access clean air food and water. Your environments include where you live, like your neighborhood, and other places where you spend time, like your community or workplace, as well as your larger environment—the country and our shared planet.
Earth Day, which started in 1970, is a perfect day to reflect on your environmental wellness. On Earth Day (April 22, 2019), we have the opportunity to reflect on what we can do to create a healthier planet. Communities around the country use this day to mobilize citizens to appreciate and be kind to Mother Earth.
We each can do our part to make more of an effort to reduce, reuse, and recycle,
as a way of conserving our natural resources.
We are reminded that we should be mindful of driving and consider walking or riding a bike. Recycling, composting, walking, and cycling not only helps protect our planet but can contribute to our physical wellness as well.
Another way to play your role in caring for the earth is planning to carpool to work, on the way to visiting family or friends, or when taking your children to school or afterschool activities. It cuts back on pollution and provides other great benefits as well. Carpooling reduces your carbon footprint, [vi] it saves you time by allowing you to use the carpool and it saves you money on gas and tolls. By carpooling you are reducing the amount of pollution and helping to save the planet.
Rate Your Environmental Wellness
Put your total score here: ______
(out of a possible 40)
Use this scale:
4 If the item is Always True for you
3 If the item is Sometimes True for you
2 If the item is Rarely True for you
1 If the item is Never True for you
___ I regularly clean my living environment.
___ I make use of sunlight, fresh air, and/or live plants.
___ I discard garbage regularly and clean spoiled foods out of the refrigerator.
___ I keep my work/home space clean and /or organized.
___ I conserve energy (such as heating, electricity, water, and fuel).
___ I recycle (including glass, paper, plastic, metal, clothing, and furniture).
___ I do not litter.
___ I set aside time to enjoy nature.
___ I set aside time to reflect quietly.
___ I participate in community garden activities, cleaning events, and other activities, such as neighborhood watches.
Environmental Wellness Self-Assessment Scoring Key:
If you scored from 29 to 40 points, that’s excellent! Your environment and habits are contributing to your wellness.
If you scored from 14 to 28 points, you’re doing great though you can look over the items again and see if there are areas you want to strengthen.
If you scored from 0 to 13 points, review your responses, to see if there is one area you may want to strengthen, read over some of the tips in this issue of Words of Wellness. What is one things you may want to do? Build on what you are already doing well.
Download a copy of April’s Words of Wellness HERE
References and Resources
[i] For more on the origins of April Fool’s Day, see https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/april-fools-day.
[ii] Hilaria is described on https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hilaria-Greco-Roman-festival
[iii] You can learn more about the history of Tax Day at http://time.com/3772455/april-15-history-tax-day/
[iv] For information on credit reports, see https://www.usa.gov/credit-reports
Here we go again! On March 10, most of the US will reset their clocks for Daylight Savings Time. Changing the clock often means changing your sleep, too. For this reason, March 10-17 is promoted by the National Sleep Foundation as Sleep Awareness Week, meant to raise awareness about the importance of sleep for health and safety. Too little sleep, or poor quality sleep, can affect your physical, social, and emotional wellness and many of the other wellness dimensions. This issue reviews some sleep tips (page 2), since sleep is critical to overall health and wellness health. We also focus on the symbol of the shamrock associated with St Patrick’s Day (March 17).
The Shamrock [i, ii, iii]
Many of us who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day have ancestors who came to the US from Ireland. As we know, they were not welcome at first. They were stigmatized and discriminated against in negative ways, much like the experience of other immigrant groups today. The US is a melting pot, having opened its arms to people from many cultures who have contributed to the fabric of the US in so many positive ways. We hope this tradition continues, as every immigrant group has enriched our society in so many ways.
In March each year, we have the opportunity to celebrate Irish immigrants. For those of us of Irish descent, it is a day to be proud of our heritage—and wear a bit of green and a shamrock. For everyone, it is a day to celebrate the wealth of diversity among us.
The shamrock is a symbol associated with St Patrick’s Day. Legend has that, if you carry the four-leaf clover it not only brings you good luck, it can thwart bad luck. The three leaves of an ordinary clover symbolize Faith, Hope, and Love. When there is a fourth leaf, you add Luck!
Faith: Faith is complete trust and confidence—often meaning certainty in the absence of proof. This can include the beliefs that most certainly do contribute to well-being, such belief that tomorrow will come, that other people usually can be trusted, and that our lives have value.
Hope: Hope is one of SAMHSA’s recovery principles (SAMHSA), defined as the belief that challenges can be overcome. As we mentioned in the February issue, research on hope has consistently shown links to good health, longer life, productivity, academic success, and well-being.
Love: A tender and passionate affection for ourselves and others. People who we love and who love us can help support recovery and healing.
Luck: When positive things fall our way, and we had little or nothing to do with that outcome, we say we are lucky. But luck also is in the eye of the beholder. Michael J. Fox called his memoir Lucky Man. While he clearly would prefer not to have Parkinson’s Disease, he still describes what he has learned and experienced as a surprising gift. Without developing this disease, he says, he never would have received that gift: “I would never have opened it, or been so profoundly enriched. That’s why I consider myself a lucky man.
Sleep Tips [vi]
- Set up a calming routine for the evening to help you prepare for sleep.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This helps your body predict and take advantage of your sleep time.
- Dim the lights before bed. Make your bedroom dark and as quiet as possible while you sleep.
- Stop your intake of caffeine after a certain time (say 2:00 PM).
- Plan physical activity or exercise daily.
- Find effective ways to reduce anxiety and manage stress during the day.
- Try a physical sleep aids like a sleep mask, a weighted blanket, or an app like Insight Timer (meditation / relaxation) or Sleepio.com
- Try using a sleep diary. Click here for a free one you can use:
Rest [iv, v] refers to taking a break from the day’s physical and mental activity, through quiet and effortless actions. By slowing down, shifting your focus, and interrupting a busy or stressful day, rest and relaxation can provide a few calm moments that restore your energy, interest, and motivation.
Rest can you physically and mentally. Try switching gears from your usual train of thought to a relaxing mental activity. Listen to music, do a puzzle, take a “mindful minute break” or do a one-minute meditation.
In addition to moments of rest throughout your day, consider building rest into your exercise routine. This can include time when you lower the intensity of your activity by slowing down, stretching, or working a different part of your body.
The same idea of active rest can apply to other changes in activity. Do you spend a lot of your day sitting at a desk or standing at a counter? Take a break to walk around to help you rest and relax.
Download a copy of March’s Words of Wellness HERE
References and Resources
- Illustrations are from pixabay.com
- [i] On the botany of the shamrock: https://ingeniousireland.ie/2013/03/why-is-the-shamrock-a-sham/
- [ii] The symbolism of the shamrock: https://tenontours.com/shamrocks-and-four-leaf-clovers-whats-the-difference/
- [iii] Research on the relationship between religion and health is limited. Sources used include Ngamaba, K. H., & Soni, D. (2018). Are happiness and life satisfaction different across religious groups? Exploring determinants of happiness and life satisfaction. Journal of Religion and Health, 57, 2118-2139; and the Lancet Series on faith-based health care (October 2015).
- [iv] The definition of rest was adapted from the AOTA Practice Framework.
- [v] Research supports the need for rest: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/
- [vi] The sleep tips are adapted from https://sleepfoundation.org and https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Professionals/HW/Sleep.aspx AND Ho, E. C. M., & Siu, A. M. H. (2018). Occupational therapy practice in sleep management: A review of conceptual models and research evidence. Occup Therapy International. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/oti/2018/8637498/
Although no one is sure exactly how the groundhog came to symbolize this day, February 2 has a long history as a significant calendar day. Most likely, the groundhog was a stand-in for the badger that was more familiar to the German ancestors of settlers in Pennsylvania. Legend has it that a cloudy Groundhog Day means spring will come early, while a sunny day predicts a longer winter.
Going back to medieval times, February 2 [i] marked the mid-point of winter. The day was known as Imbolc to the ancient Celtics (meaning “lamb’s milk” for the beginning of lambing season) or Brigantia, for the female deity of light. Later, early Christians renamed the day Candlemas. The beginning of February is a time to appreciate longer days.
Some see Groundhog Day as a time to choose between a hopeful view (only six more weeks until spring!) and a more pessimistic view (six dreadful weeks of winter to come!).
The movie Groundhog Day, where the character played by Bill Murray had to re-do the day until he got it right, could be interpreted as either being doomed to repeat a disastrous moment or as having a wonderful opportunity for a do-over. With that in mind, we are focusing this month on hope and optimism.
Some people have, overall, a positive outlook on life. This relatively stable expectation that positive things will happen across many areas of life is called dispositional optimism.[ii] This trait is linked to how people explain negative events or outcomes as due to external forces rather than being one’s own fault.
Optimism is important. Research has shown positive links between optimism and physical health. It appears optimistic people tend to live longer and have lower rates of serious diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, respiratory disease, and cancer.
Optimism and hope for the future may help people to cope better. They may also persist at problem-solving longer, maintain good health habits, and view stress in a more positive way.
Optimists seems to have stronger social support networks, since other people may be drawn to their positive outlook.
Experts on optimism differ on whether a person can change this way of viewing the world. Some evidence suggests that people tend to become more optimistic over time. People with extended exposure to very distressing circumstances may become less optimistic.
While very few interventions have tried directly to help people increase their optimism, some studies have shown people can strengthen their optimist views. For example, some gains in optimism were found for people who imagined their best possible self for 5 minutes each day for two weeks.
Hope [iii] is described as a bit more specific than optimism. While optimism is an overall sense that the future will be positive, hope is more a feeling right now of confidence that “I can get where I want to go.” While the two are related, optimism could result from feeling lucky, not capable, while hope includes a belief in one’s own capacity to make a better future. As with optimism, research on hope has consistently shown links to good health, longer life, productivity, academic success, and well-being.
Jerome Groopman,[iv] in his book The Anatomy of Hope, describe “real” hope as having a positive point of view in spite of accepting negative realities. He tells about a woman with cancer who said that she knew the odds were against her—a 90% chance of treatment failure—but chose to focus on her 10% chance of treatment success. Hope exists right alongside doubt and fear—it does not erase them.
Hope seems to come from four core beliefs:
- The future will be better than the present.
- I have the power to make the future better.
- There are many paths to my goals.
- No goal path is free of obstacles.
Building Hope and Optimism
What can we do to become more hopeful in the face of difficulties? Shane Lopez, in his book Making Hope Happen, suggests 3 main strategies that are built on the 4 core beliefs: set meaningful goals based on your strengths, take action towards your goals to increase your sense of agency and control over your future, identify (and follow) many pathways towards your goals, knowing that they will not all be easy or successful.
On February 2, and throughout this month, challenge yourself to see the positive in yourself and events you encounter. Consider your New Year’s resolutions, even if that means adjusting your goals. Reach out for support when you hit a roadblock. Try or create Plan C D or E when you encounter a challenge. Remind yourself of your strengths. Praise yourself for what you do accomplish. Remember, spring will come, and you can take steps today to make a better tomorrow. Regardless of the groundhog outcome during February keep focus on wellness in the 8 dimensions by building hope and optimism for yourself and share with others.
Make a Positivity Calendar!
Use these 50 positive thinking quotes to get you through February and most of March:
Download a copy of February’s Words of Wellness HERE
References and Resources
Illustrations are free for reuse without attribution from various sources, including Wikimedia Commons and pixabay.com
[i] Thanks to the Farmer’s Almanac: https://www.almanac.com/content/groundhog-day-history-meaning-folklore
[ii] The section on optimism was adapted from Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (2019). Dispositional optimism and physical health: A long look back, a quick look forward. American Psychologist, 73(9), 1082-1094.
[iii] The section on hope was adapted from the work of Charles “Rick” Snyder and from Lopez, S. J. (2013). Making hope happen: Create the future you want for yourself and others. New York, NY: Atria Paperback.
[iv] Groopman, J. (2005). The anatomy of hope: How people prevail in the face of illness. NY, NY: Random House.