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.

 

“Seasonal” and all that Falls…

Four seasons, all with their special blessings. Every Fall as school and academic year starts we always start with reminders of what the words “seasonal” can mean, depending on your interest or conditions…move to enhance our own and others’  health literacy!

    • seasonal reminders like “World Mental Health Day” (Tuesday October 11th) or focusing on eye exams through campaigns line “World Sight Day” (2nd Thursday monthly —  this year October 12th)  are good ways to brush up our skills and increase our health education  and social marketing approaches
    • seasonal allergies — most happen in spring and Fall so good for us to remind families or school of warning signs and think of allergy tests for awareness and prevention
    • seasonal eating — farmer’s market, choice of vegetables or fruit, thinking of compotes and other goodies to last us through the winter months ahead.

A day of reminders of seasonal fruit like quince (κιδώνι), pomegranates,  olives (the ones we eat, and the ones later made into olive oil…so many varieties!)

We visited a wonderful place that is open to the public offering an escape for families, all ages, sizes as there are plenty of physical and cultural activities to do and the best part? Getting in our 10,000 steps daily walking. The Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center in Attica, Greece is one of many similar places around the globe that are accessible and free to the community.  Today was particularly good as the smell of petroleum has subsided from last month’s disaster oil spill in the nearby Saronic Gulf. The bounty of vegetables and fruits that have been creatively and strategically planted was evident — more on Fall to winter seasonal  fruit later!

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!

April showers bring May flowers and..?

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We all know the quote “April showers bring May flowers” and indeed we are happy when all the rain subsides into beautiful rainbows and the blossoms of Spring.  I particularly liked this woman’s creation of Alice in Wonderland in MyFairyGardens.com. Alongside all the birds chirping their mating songs, our little insect friends (lady bugs, bees, ants) and perhaps “foes” (mosquitoes etc.) many people suffer from seasonal allergies that have some symptoms similar to colds do you know the difference?

How many are health literate about how insects pollinate and know that many are useful and needed for a healthy ecosystem? As a matter of fact big companies like Bayer-Monsanto may be taking insect reppellent “killer” chemicals too far ….some accusations of altering the genetic mix of mosquito and thus creating dangerous illness like the Zika virus.  I’ve been thinking of all those years of preparing for summer nights with harsh mosquito repellents only to find that there are more natural ways to help us and our children — as a matter of fact do people know we can easily plant both lavender and citronella plants to both attract bees and to repel unwelcome mosquitoes?

Many of us are educated about allergies but do we know to consult with professionals who can help us determine what we suffer from most and how over years this may change? Understanding how our immune system works and the basics of allergies like hay fever which may “look like a cold” is important health information, as also understanding and recognizing potential allergens (common food allergens are peanuts or shellfish, many people are allergic to bee stings), accessing necessary servies.  The last part is critical as we can potentially have life threatening reactions, some may need to always carry with them an Epi-pen or syrups/medicine like anti-histamines. Terms that enrich our fundamental literacy such as ‘allergen’ ‘intolerance’ or ‘sensitivity’ can help us better communicate with our healthcare providers or find relevant information on the internet, there is so much for us to know…. Mayo Clinic has a good basic description of the difference between a food allergy vs. food intolerance and generally good reputable sites are ones to look up in enhancing our own health literacy.

Come into May with a good healthy Spring attitude… you owe it to yourelf, your family, community to:

  • learn more about how to attract good insects and repel those not-so-friendly or good for our health ones
  • understand allergies (seasonal, food) and potential allergens to avoid
  • advocate for healthier ecosystems and responsible corporate practices

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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