Reflecting on yesteryear

 

Ring in the new year in joy, sail to new destinations and deal with the “rough seas” of life.

This past year was quite difficult for many with losses (financial, personal), past months we captured some of the tragic news happening in the US, in Greece, Spain see Keeping Afloat Seemingly Chaos even some “bad luck” like 20+ people dead in a flash flood, a ceiling caving in on the main entertainment DJ and another case of a snow avalanche killing one snowboarding tourist  — granted the news never emphasizing that homes were allowed to be built illegally in the valley, or that the snowboarder went to a closed ski resort, where were the safety precautions? Others dying in shootings or intentional terror type acts in the name of their “identity”, or losing their homes in hurricanes throughout Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

You might say “life happens”, indeed. Some things could be preventable. As some are building beachside sandcastles in Southern Hemispheres others are awakened in early morning hours with our beds shaking — no it wasn’t Santa’s sleigh landing on our rooftop — indeed experiencing a small earthquake enough to get our hearts active again. When it comes to man versus nature, the latter will always win.

The morning of the last day of December, a favorite uncle beloved by all family, colleagues, friends for his kind and creative nature, lost a painful fight with liver cancer, just short of his 70th birthday. For me he was one of the great life philosophers and taught us about overseeing negativity and being humane. Coincidentally my recent writing about aging and the end of life and how being or building health literacy can help us all adjust to life’s ups and downs, helps to reflect on the sweet memories of yesteryear. Last year’s New Years post was plenty full with thinking of resolutions, and today’s CNN article really summed up what many of us health educators, counselors, teachers have been saying for years including mindfulness, balanced eating with plenty fruits and vegetables, and the vitality of drinking plenty of water!  Some other intentional resolutions to make it simple and real:

1) clean up your home and your environment, keeping in mind the 3 “R”s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle ♻️

2) be light of heart and kind in spirit …forgive and move on, remember doing good goes a long way!

3) daydream, dream small and big, this is what gives us hope. Yes the reason we had a tinker bell in Peter Pan or find “hope” in Pandora’s box is really the gift of “light”. This is necessary for our taking steps forward and believing in ourselves. So where is your dream catcher?304f034f-bf59-43bc-ad30-2b19a27e0f0c.jpeg

4) Accept both sides of joy and sadness — the movie “Inside Out” made this simple, plausible, that even children can understand the necessity of melancholy; it is OK to talk about the darker sides of human nature (even stubbornness, stupidity, and narcissism) but learn to work on yourself and either accept small faults in others or realize life is short no one is perfect. Do not dwell in inner darkness very long and if it gets too bleak seek support!

There is more reflecting to do, Leider and Shapiro’s book “Repacking Your Bags” will   help you do just that so consider it for one of this year’s “must reads” and we’ll get into that later in another posting….so much to say!

Enjoy each moment, and have a wonderfully brilliant new year!

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Pomegranates, bittersweet moments

Demeter, goddess of agriculture,harvest and fertility, is a reminder of seasonal changes, human bounty, and potential loss. As the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece mirrored human nature, one may say as a mother she surely felt a great emptiness when her daughter Persephone was lured by Hades into the underworld disappearing from beloved earth grounds. Hades, a dark figure (may be something like a modern Darth Vader) convinces the kind-hearted Persephone to fall for him offering her a pomegranate. By eating a few seeds she consummates this relationship so that even the great leader-god Zeus could not intervene, thus Persephone travels to Hades part of the year, and as she re-emerges her mother, Demeter brings flowers and the budding of Spring —  a beautiful myth! Writers talk about the necessity of change, darkness being a necessary part of our healing (Thomas Moore “Dark Nights of the Soul”).

The continued pagan tradition of the pomegranate, a bittersweet food of seeds or squeezed into juice, rich in vitamin C and anti-inflammatory properties, is added with barley / bulgar wheat, to commemorate death of loved ones as part of the memorial services of several Eastern Orthodox traditions (called “kolyva” κόλλυβα). There’s a great list of benefits including helping weight loss indicated in a popular fitness magazine, Shape (pomegranate info).

Late this past August through September we experienced several losses — mainly through accidents —filling us with shock, sadness and grief. Perhaps due to fate, some incidents may have been preventable. One great loss was of a couple, namely Dr. Chris and Ms. Claudia Lolas, also promoters of Greek Culture and history in bridging cultures (Ancient Persia – Iran & Ancient Greece … book written in Greek and edition in Farsi and in English forthcoming). These were great friends or family to some as their losses were amidst many other tragedies happening around the globe during those weeks. Prevention is key and such an intricate part of building health literacy.

As all good researchers do, and after an “unfair” speeding ticket I realized that we CAN do something to helping individuals and communities learn about safer driving and advocacy for better roads. In a small but winding distance from one town to another town in Southern Peloponnese (Greece) we counted 39 small memorial “churches” (10 were in straight others on curved road) clearly speeding, two-way traffic, bad weather conditions, malfunction of vehicle or motorbike, inadequate visual cues doesn’t help. GIS mapping can help track possible driving areas that need more attention.

Schools need to promote health literacy via health education, promotion of community health goals. Police can offer special trainings in conjunction with municipalities on good driving, but they must also be consistent in ticketing (speed traps, alcohol testing) and their police cars manned with appropriate equipment.

As individuals we should model good driver behavior for our younger citizens soon-to-be drivers! Here are some ways:

  • Mind our speeding (great articles such as prevent speeding or one by mechanics).
  • Wear seatbelts and ensure passengers are secure (children with safety car seats, etc,).
  • Follow Road Rules and demand clearer road signs as well as some helpful solar powered signs that “show” our speed.
  • Mind the drinking  cup !
  • Remember even if it’s not obvious, pedestrians DO and should have the right of way.

After my speeding fine and finally getting my license back (rules are very strict in this part of the world) I’m definitely checking my speedometer more often. Last night an expensive car went whizzing past me, only to be caught in a police speed trap further down and this time it was justified…as for me, a safe and guilt free ride home, in thinking of my lost friends, truly a bittersweet moment.

 

Survive the heat wave!

This last week seems many major cities, in several countries have been having unbearable heat waves. One can take some advantage of vacation/ holiday time and spend your day next to the actual beach waves, lakes, ponds, rivers, trying to gather as much moisture, drinking much water and steering clear from most alcohol (see last post), all the while minding your sun intake and wearing sunscreen under an umbrella with preferably a scarf or hat. Stop by a trendy or well-known ice cream parlor in the popular range of Haagen Daz or Ben and Jerry’s to area local business like Cape Cod Creamery — support local economies. I particularly like the CCC’s Truro Turtle, their classic French vanilla, and the Dennis Double Chocolate ice cream (enjoyed separately with mindfulness eating of course). I then played some mini golf and did some extra walking to burn those extra yet amazingly tasting calories!

Typical advice. Stay cool, protect, replenish.

Listening to favorite tunes? Into reading? We are visual creatures of fantasy so many of you can think of great summer tunes to take you to that “Isla Bonita” as you imagine drinking that non-alcoholic pina colada right? My latest was to read a novel part of a book series called “Deep Blue” by Jennifer Donnelly (soon to be made into a Disney film I’m sure as we haven’t had any mermaid sequels since Ariel!). Even though this book was in the category of “Young Adult Reader” the cover was enough to draw me in to forgotten worlds like Atlantis, while introducing language including English, Romanian, Greek, and Gaelic. Adventure books may lead some to sweat but it had enough “cool” water scenes to keep me refreshed, and I learned something to increase my own literacy!

Anyone denying we have climate change and it is getting both hotter and colder? Hmm. Well then Mr. U.S. President we beg to differ…..when you have power outages due to overuse of air conditioning and cannot access clean beaches since the plastics and various garbage has affected large ecosystems let’s chat again shall we?

Take care, mind the cup!

As summer sets in at full swing, remember the quote “take care, mind the cup!” when it comes to alcohol… this blogger’s alternative suggestion to the British Tube slogan “take care, mind the gap.”

Enjoying the summer sun, swimming, and enjoying cool refreshing drinks are “musts” for most of us who have been working hard and mostly indoors this past year. Some may not drink alcohol, due to taste or not being legal drinking age (in U.S. 21 years, Europe 18 years) and indeed this is a controversial issue. Others may enjoy a wine cooler, a cold beer, tropical pina coladas or other similar cocktails,  among other great alcoholic beverages. My all time fave summer drink is the “Cape Codder” as these ‘light’ drinks when taken in moderation is fine, however many people may take it too far and in essence lose control of their head!

IMG_9647Take a hard look at yourself and your friends and family…some may have a healthy relationship with alcohol and know your limit, while others wind up putting themselves and others in uncomfortable situations or even in danger.

  • We never drink and drive, or drink and dive! Though the group M.A.D.D. has done quite a bit in raising awareness in the U.S. there need to be more community interventions and sharing of stories much early on about “responsible drinking”.
  • We avoid binge drinking as we know it contributes to the above, as well as other intentional or unintentional injury, long-term drinking damages our liver, increases (for women) chances of some cancers (see CDC Fact Sheet on binge drinking)
  • Recall the song by UB40 “Red Red Wine” … which certainly highlights the ‘fun’ aspects, but if you need to drink to ‘forget’ on a continual basis, perhaps some counseling and support would help in the short and long term, there are plenty of free or reduced counseling services around.
    • drink plenty of water! My favorite grandmother wisdom quote was “when the month doesn’t have an ‘r’ the wine takes water”  (“μήνας που δεν έχει ‘ρ’ πέρνει το κρασί νερό”) think about it — May, June, July, August are months we get dehydrated so drinking more than 10 glasses of water a day should be the usual and every time you drink alcohol accompany with water (and something to eat). Have healthy habits throughout the year!
  • Aware of genetics and potential addiction — regardless of the family history (see NIAAA info) it is cultural messages that mainly contribute to reinforcing alcohol use and even abuse of it! If every street corner has a bar or pub, if College is about “partying” drunk and alcohol advertising  shows it as seductive can we avoid falling into traps? Yet in cultures where you drink slowly while you enjoy food and company there are healthier “relationships” with alcohol!
  • A friend of mine is so sensitive to alcohol because indeed they recognize the ugly face of alcoholism which affects both their work and family life, so that everyone he/she comes into contact with needs to be careful not to “trigger” their symptoms by being offered cool drinks and even those delicious for most of us Grand Marnier chocolates.

This summer along with all the recommendations don’t forget your sunscreen, staying cool, wearing a hat and sticking in the shade. There are some great community ideas out there, so be safe, keep your head on straight and enjoy summer. Cheers!

Spring, Fasting & left-over health messages

Lent, Spring, and The “ides of March”?!

This year the tradition of Lent has started for many traditional Christians around the globe and every 4 years the Eastern and Western Calendars “meet” so this year Lent has started together (https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/roman-calendar.html) Carnival marks the last time of “letting loose” with food, drink, dress/costumes and for many a continuing of winter-Spring traditions extending back to the ancient times; whether you are  celebrating “Clean Monday” (Καθαρή Δευτέρα) with kite-flying and a vegetable and fish “diet” or preparing for a 40-day “fast” we focus on getting rid of our negative “habits” temporarily (leaning away from “temptation”)  and perhaps reflecting on being better people as well as preparing for Spring! And since we’re thinking of those left-overs last month was also Dental Care Awareness for kids  month, maybe it’s the chocolate binge and from Valentine’s Day or thinking of those marshmallow sugarcoated “peeps” for Easter …who doesn’t love Easter candy?! Whatever one does reminding ourselves to visit the dentist at least 1-2 times a year is vitally important and brushing teeth, flossing, sugarless gum after meals also helps! Ironically even the more health-literate Greece, due to the economic crisis not only has the dental profession been affected negatively among other health ‘tragedies’  described in an article in the reputable medical journal The Lancet appropriately called “Omens of a Health Tragedy” by Kentikelenis et al. (2011 article).  Indeed, children in Greece now have some of the worst teeth in all of Europe — The latest sign of Greece’s decay: Children’s teeth (identified Reuters article) since not going to the dentist often,   more than just ‘a pain’ in one’s month as teeth indeed affect and even reflect a person’s overall health.

In Spring, Pagan and Neo-Christian traditions come to light…

  • Persephone comes up from Hades after she was lured to the underworld by a pomegranate and her mother Artemis (Demeter) decides she will allow the bloom of Spring and summer hearth before Persephone goes down again into Fall and Winter scarcities.
  • We await for the Groundhog to see his shadow
  • The bracelet of Spring “Martis” (Ο Μάρτης) — Greece and the  general Balkans one will see the unisex wearing tradition of a red and white bracelet supposedly to prevent a sunburn, and we are called to  hang the bracelet on a fruit tree to “grow” the end of the month…remember some superstitious  stuff is ok but don’t obsess…
  • The famous reference about “The Ides of March” which refers to the full moon which corresponds to the 13th of March, May, July, October.  However most of us identify this with March 15th (starting in 44 B.C.) when the Roman ruler Julius Caesar was killed specifically due to his dictatorship rule many of us recall his supposed famous last line at his assassination ‘et tu, Brute’ (Latin for “and you, Brutus” or “even you, Brutus”… said at the time to his ‘friend’)

This special season think of the various messages that can help you integrate actions for better health:

  1. If you feel like a breath of fresh air away from the troubles of everyday life, plus a bit of exercise running in the wind, ‘go fly a kite’ (not just for controlling your anger any more!)
  2. Eat less, remember your 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a dayUnknown-1 for better health. Fast wisely.
  3. Love that candy, but remember to brush your teeth and seek dental care!
  4. Allergies may be around the corner in the new bloom, be aware of side effects and take precaution (not just the ‘ides of March’).
  5. The kids may be waiting anxiously for the Easter bunny, but personally love this quote by a famous late comedian-actor, Robin Williams (1951-2014):

Have a heart & keep your heart healthy… lessons from Snoopy

February is indeed the month of “love” but it is also heart healthy month.  There are many myths and truths about love, heart health, and emotional intelligence… and yes, you guessed it this all ties in with how health literate we are as individuals and as populations. This month I designate Snoopy as my ‘poster child’.

Why? Snoopy is the “man”…  though some of you may like Snoop Dogg (the U.S. rapper and actor) who likely was inspired by the coolest dog, Snoopy, the Charles Schulz Peanut’s character. Though all Peanuts characters that have much to teach us about self-esteem, growing up, friendship, dealing with challenges, there is something to be said about a non-verbal yet very expressive beagle. Some people believe that Snoopy expresses the character of the Beagle breeds the best.

Snoopy knows when to be cool, when to use charm, to express anger at the right times for the right reasons, is cultured as he appreciates art and music, cries and laughs with passion. They have even created Snoopy emoticons calling Snoopy the dog with a thousand faces! He is not a mere bystander when his friend Charlie Brown and gang may experience problems, fear, interpersonal problems, bullying (some countries celebrate February 28th & 29th as Anti-Bullying days though May 4th is the Official U.N. Nations designated date). Snoopy comes to the rescue to teach and handle the situation with the utmost ‘cool’ — one of the best is “He’s a Bully” as how Joe wheels and deals in the bullycharliebrownpower-control arena. The key again in bullying is ‘repeated’ manipulation, teasing, physical altercation (pushing/shoving, hitting, etc.) and yes it occurs from school all through our grown-up lives (in relationships, at work, in communities). Learning about healthy relationships and the power-and-control wheel via The Duluth Model which includes the “equality wheel” — something for all of us to reflect on occasion.

When Snoopy is ‘down’ he also seeks inspiration, friendship, and support from his sidekick Woodstock (named after the 1969 music festival in New York state). Hence why we also need social support and this has been proven time and time again in many psychosocial studies as the one thing that helps us through illness and other life difficulties. As a matter of fact people indeed can die of a ‘broken heart’ (some call it a broken heart syndrome) due to loss of a loved one, lack of social support, or feeling unloved. The American Heart Association gives us the technical names for this syndrome as being stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy — but indeed the reputable organization indicates it is real as it can lead to muscle failure, and more importantly it is treatable.

Getting appropriate blood tests to recognize what we may need to change, dieting, exercising, relaxing, and receiving or looking for support (personal or professional) especially for dealing with our stress or losses, are indeed necessary and can help prevent heart attacks and even death. Most people would benefit from getting in touch with this heart energy, psychotherapy, meditation, prayer, music therapy.  Indeed one of the best experiences both I and others have had in opening this energy, was participating in Insight Seminars. They call their first seminar “awakening the heart” and indeed through facilitation by an experienced trainer and helpful exercises, participants go through a grueling self-reflection… as Michael Jackson said in his song “The Man in the Mirror” — one seeks to change their ways for the better, as an individual and as a community. At no greater time do we need to listen to Michael’s message! Lastly, Whitney Houston reminded us to learn to love ourselves… love yourself but not so much narcissism that you don’t care about others — Justin Bieber’s last hit song hits the spot “love yourself.”

Be healthy, be smart, have a heart…. and stay cool. Thanks Snoopy!

Beyond A New Year’s Resolution

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A new year, a new you. We often hear or see this in self-improvement classes, magazines, blogs. Should the emphasis be on “new” or “renew”?

A New Years Resolution is very much a western idea, however the concept of “reflection” transcends many religious and spiritual traditions. What to reflect on for the last year? Here are some basic questions:

  • Did I learn from my successes and mistakes?
  • Have I changed at least one thing about my consumption habits that will lead to a better health outcome? (Diet, exercise, use of substances, financial spending)
  • Did and do I ask for help when I need it? (Social support, counseling, etc.)
  • Am I learning more about myself and others? Accepting those things I cannot change….
  • Do I better understand love, friendship, family, and society?
  • Do I and have I given thanks for what I have?
  • Did I visualize at least one goal that I managed to succeed at?

The above help one gain “insight.” I make it a habit each year to reflect on my journal about what I accomplished in the previous year and what I hope to accomplish or strive for in the next. There are some goals like “exercise more” that can seem unattainable in the strict sense (e.g. join a gym, run a marathon) either for physical or monetary reasons or life circumstances. However, I focus on what I’ve done and congratulate myself for my persistence and alternative course of action. It is not about a “new” approach as working toward “renew” of your outlook. Even Forbes Magazine had a set of New Year’s Resolutions and they said focus more on the ‘we’ and less on the ‘me’… that is a first!

Examining patterns of behaviors will help you recognize them faster. We often think that we will remember everything but our memory deludes us as we know a lot about “false memories.” It is most useful to write things down as your pattern may be more obvious towards that “aha!” moment.

Financial health — do you continuously spend more than you earn? We’re not saying starve here, or not “treat” yourself to something nice like a good bottle of wine, a fancy dinner, a new shirt or dress. BUT, do you really need to buy caviar and champagne, or the most expensive shoes for that night out? The basic rules most financially responsible families pass on to their children are:

Physical health – Can you modify some things? Taking the bus and walking longer distances some days it will help you get more in shape and notice things you would otherwise miss as a driver rushing to and from places. One night I walked 2 miles in the cold from the metro/subway to my house in the middle of the night….crisp January nights can offer one the most amazing ‘star’ features, you just need to be aware of your surroundings and any stray dogs.

Relationship health — Do your relationships fulfill most of your needs? This includes friendships as well as romantic relationships (are these ‘needs’ realistic…. not narcissistic?). The key here is, do these people enhance you overall? are these people  well-intended or do they drain you? (if they are toxic to your health think about setting some limits) Are you able to forgive and put your ego aside and apologize when it is needed? People come into your life to offer something, teach you something, share something and  the Eurythmics song “Sweet Dreams” says it best — some of them want to use you, some of them want to get used by you, some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused… keep your head up!

There are many articles about healthy relationships which includes supporting each other, open or improving communication, reducing our expectations (too many romance novels or unrealistic movie experiences of ‘romance’ or ‘love’ may add to unrealistic expectations — do you really think you will fall in love with someone you meet at a bar? rarely happens…), keeping our bodies safe (no abuse/violence – check out the Duluth Model “Power and Equality Wheels”, preventing STDs/STIs/HIV by using condoms every time you have sex, getting annual check-ups like pap smears). Long-term support and commitment may be better for our health — marriage may not be such a ‘bad’ thing! Are you a commitment phobic? seems to be a trend according to experts, reinforced by our fast-paced societies.  Many people afraid to even take one basic step into the sea of a more fulfilling ‘relationship’ often let their lives pass them by… they are so afraid of being ‘hurt’ again, they simply shut down and close off any chances of love.

  • A very useful book about this was written by a Rabbi,  “Why Can’t I Fall in Love? A Twelve-Step Program” to get you to think about your patterns — do you often pick the ‘wrong’ people, do you sabotage your relationships, do you think everyone is not perfect or you’re too picky? have you closed yourself off to love?
  • A great movie (the book is better) on the reality of our self, potential limitations, and sometimes luck in finding love is “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. The emphasis for me on mindfulness, and especially allowing yourself indulgences like food without guilt, dressing for yourself and not others, are very important in a society obsessed with perfection… and no, you don’t need to travel to Indonesia, India, or hike the Himalayan mountains to find peace. Then again the experience of seeing truth ‘in front of us’ sounds a bit like Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist.

Spiritual health — Do you feel you have a place in the world?  Do you feel you have a healthy relationship with God? (even agnostics or atheists in times of trouble may question if there is something ‘more’, and we know from research that those with a spiritual foundation fare better long-term in terms of their health outcomes).  The turning point for me was when I met a whole bunch of cosmologists and physicists who despite the science they studied, they understand that there is something greater, that we are all interconnected, we simply need to ‘notice’ more and work together.  For counselors and for self-improvement I recommend Scott Peck and Thomas Moore books.  My favorites are: “The Road Less Traveled” by Psychiatrist Scott Peck, M.D. and “Care of the Soul” by a former monk turned psychologist, Thomas Moore.

“Disappointments in love, even betrayals and losses, serve the soul at the very moment they seem in life to be tragedies. The soul is partly in time and partly in eternity. We might remember the part that resides in eternity when we feel despair over the part that is in life.” ― Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life

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