Calling a Spade…

The joy of color, practicality and simplicity. This was what U.S. fashion designer Kate Spade inspired. A woman who made it in New York, originally from the Midwest, married for 35 years and mother to a daughter just 13 years old.  Truth is expressed in the phrase “calling a spade a spade” dating back to the times of Plutarch (ancient Greece)… nothing can be further from this in our days. The reality of midlife, excessive stress, the potential for, or reality of suicide. Does it have to be? Do so many people, including their close circle and our society need to suffer? Certainly not. A scary statistic is that in almost every state in the U.S. suicide has gone up since the year 1999 by 25% according to CDC (CNN report).  I believe that Dr. Stephen Ilardi got it right in his TedEx presentation, when he said that this is the modern epidemic of our civilization. Why? He says it is a combination of our physical self (eating habits, sleep habits, improper exercise) and our mental state.

I would further add that we have high expectations for ourselves, constantly comparing our outer ‘shells’ or situations with others (in real-time or on-line time like through Facebook), we don’t do enough self-care, we don’t have the skills needed to manage our life — keeping our life in order, cooking healthier (so many on-line sites to access) or taking supplements (my favorites are from Nutrilite), accessing social support or therapeutic support, less on-line time and more time with family, friends, nature, self-development groups; more on stress management, and financial literacy are important components of health literacy). This is particularly the case of those in the developmental stages of adolescence and midlife.

I recall years ago the movie The Hours which specifically showcased how it feels for one to be so trapped in their depression…hence another phrase ‘whose afraid of Virginia Wolfe.’  These people need to be given support networks, but it is not our job to ‘rescue’ them. But it is our job to teach younger children how to manage their emotions, how to eat better, get rid of negative thoughts, and cultivate love of learning, nature, and spirituality.  This is part of the original concept of Eudaimonia, as Aristotle described centuries B.C. “doing and living well”…. later adapted more formally into spiritual teachings, and some could even say a part of the more formal volunteerism movement. Indeed we need to cultivate this virtue of eudaimonia for a successful life as the author of the site “ARETE” indicates.

The goal in midlife as psychologist Erikson indicated is “generativity versus stagnation” — to ‘make our mark’ by creating and giving back to others and more importantly to younger generations, nicely described in the site link VeryWellmind. Teaching and working with clients in this stage of their life, we see how important it is for mid-lifers to understand and practice the above daily tasks. Else, we simply get stuck in the “swamp” of our negativity and depression. That simple, calling a spade a spade.

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Kate Spade’s designs inspired happiness

Kate was one of my favorites, whether it was eating out of her Lenox inspired cups and dishes, wearing her sunglasses or finding a place to ‘tidy up’ my make-up. Her husband Andy provided a recent statement (see Cosmopolitan article) indicating she struggled with anxiety and depression for years. Most of us know someone who is unable to get out of this ‘funk’ whether family, friend, or foe. We need to become more health literate about personality disorders, clinical versus situational depression, the reality of anxiety.  We also need to understand that some types of therapy for these disorders work better than others (cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy), while we need to move beyond the mind in addressing our spirit/soul with active work using breathing exercises, activity like yoga or taking walks in nature (sea, ocean, forest, whatever works), and believing that a higher power or energy is there to tap into if we need to. Some people just don’t bother to ask, others ask and expect too much…we cannot avoid natural disasters like recent volcanic eruptions in Guatemala but even there could they have heeded the warnings? Our body gives us warnings when we are anxious, suffer from panic attacks, are depressed, can we and do we get help in time?

The Kate Spade employees posted a dedication to her and her family on the company’s website. Sting’s song “The Shape of My Heart” is dedicated from our blog to you Kate, you inspired so many of us with your joy if you simply could see it and have gotten help in time.  Our best to your family and all families who have lost loved ones around the world.

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Cleaning House — beyond Spring cleaning

Springtime for most of us implies flowers, planting and gardening, May wreaths, a spectacular blossoming time of year.  Others keep it as a traditional time for doing the annual Spring cleaning and overall “cleaning house.” A recent psycho-educational session about organizing our living space and ultimately better organizing our life, 738BE095-1BF3-458B-8D44-3970DA58D32Ewas based on more effective methods. This includes suggestions that were made in Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying (first published in Japanese in 2011). As this month is also Mental Health Awareness Month we can find ways to tidy up our own lives, change our way of thinking,  positive overall mental health which is part of being more health literate about what mental illness is and what it isn’t.

Kondo’s method is largely based on “mindful” tidying and extends to a similar philosophy that rings true throughout time — healthy mind and healthy body. And I say why not extend this to a tidier and cleaner society with happier and more health literate people!? One editor nicely shared her “lessons learned” for her own home (and likely her office) after reading Kondo’s book.

Many of us for one always feel better in a clean and tidy environment as it helps us clear and settle our mind. We can start to prioritize and reduce procrastinating hopefully!

  • “Prune your stuff often” is an easy phrase to remember from what I consider to be a classic book, The Rules of Life (Richard Templar). Think of pruning a bush, the same way you then will sort and throw out paperwork to recycling, don’t just pile up clothes and dishes, store and wash your dishes daily, life will be so much ‘easier’ to get a handle on!
  • exercise your dusting, broom and mopping ‘skills’, and how about learning better tips like “How to Clean Your Room” video
  • use biodegradable cleaning products like those by Amway Home, so much better for the environment
  • use a small vacuum for daily messes, and leave heavier vacuuming for once a month.

Key messages she emphasizes are to respect yourself and your property (starting with clothes, books/papers, all closets, collectibles,  etc.), donate or sell as needed — most countries have Salvation Army which works on helping people in poverty and collecting and either re-selling or distributing products like clothes, furniture, collectibles.  There are also many common on-line selling sections like FB’s Marketplace.

Speaking  of clothes, for those of us who love clothes, accessories and shoes among other stuff we can also learn to better organize them (fold and store — for some of us space is a limitation so we have to move out winter stuff bring our spring and summer stuff, what a chore but good to see what we have and what doesn’t fit anymore!). The concept of Natalie’s blog of “wear you are now” fits nicely here!

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White color  is associated with “purity” and cleanliness, best shown with this lily of the valley, hand picked!

We all at some point may experience serious serious mental health issues with friends or family it is important to keep calm, get informed, get support.  Help can come in many forms, and it is not our job to “rescue” people, but you/we can:

  • intervene legally with human services or police if situations get out of hand and people are a danger to themselves (or to others)
  • educate ourselves and others on mental health issues (online, offline in seminars, by trained counselors, etc.)
  • get therapy ourselves if things get out of hand (including feelings of guilt if someone you care for hurts themselves you are never to blame for another’s extreme choice and live with a clear conscience if you’ve tried to help!). I recently came across a great video by handsome Father Mike Schmitz who talks about suicide (this video is part of others a series) — not only talks about the religious side of the matter but clearly differentiated the importance of having a team of professionals! As he says, are all doctors the same? are all religious advisors the same? so why not try different therapists as he puts a heavy importance on maintaining hope and never giving up. I think this song by the group Hurts “Never Give Up It’s Such a Wonderful Life” says it all friends….

A good friend who has years of experience in emergency medicine and writes a fab blog Heal Thyself Heal Thy World  always says “you can only do what you can do…”  There are many sites with great “tips” out there. I particularly liked one by Parent’s Magazine article about 7 Pink Flags to look out for in children with possibly serious mental health issues, and loved the importance of mental health video by the wife of Canadian Prime Minister, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau for May Mental Health Month — key emphasis on self-care and self-compassion.

Enjoy your new spring outlook, be strong and get support as needed, and carry on!

Kick Butts Day…Cigs that is!

12C1AA8C-0E4A-4838-A297-05E878E9A9B9March 21st is the day kids and adults say “no” to smoking and increase awareness. Years ago the “Truth” campaigns against tobacco were started in the US states of Massachusetts, Florida, and California and because of their appeal it helped the entire anti-tobacco movement. However in many parts of the world young people are starting to smoke in early teens, and even though they know it’s bad for them they continue anyway — now “vaping” is another slightly safer but still problematic as toxic chemicals affect the smoker. Love this California ad. 

Studies prove that passive smoking is alive and well and environmental tobacco smoke in non-smoking areas show unhealthy limits (Vardavas, Kondilis et al.). It is amazing how big tobacco keeps targeting smaller and poorer countries including Greece, by funding seaside club-bar venues like this one!

So it’s time for us to set the record straight… besides long term effects on one’s heart and lungs leading to serious and chronic health issues including death, here are some other (of many) issues one needs to think about:

1) Cigarettes make your teeth and fingers yellow, visit your dentist at least once a year (twice is the ideal).

2) Your skin loses elasticity and you age faster. Think of loading up on antioxidants like vitamins!

3) Your hair, clothes, furniture, and home, stink… 17118D71-9187-44AD-B893-96B4832F168Eif you smoke prefer open spaces but pleeeaaase do not expose people to passive smoking or throw your cigarette butts on ground and seas — Don’t pollute !

Ever wonder how some cafes, restaurants, or public places successfully deliver their “thanks for not smoking” messages? Take a look….

Why not enjoy a coffee in peace, as you write about all the money you will be saving once you kick the habit? Places you can travel to, wonderful tastes and smells that come back to you when your olfactory system kicks in. Think of who you need to recruit on your support team to help you quit? Especially in dealing with possible relapse…

It’s time for future generations to bind together and make smoking a part of the past. Power to young people to take back your life and breathe free. 6C8B07D3-6D4A-49CF-94B7-2A1CE4C3ABAC

 

 

Winter Solstice, The old and new

It’s bleak in the winter, cold, we often just want to snuggle up with a hot chocolate a blanket, a book, near a good warm fire, some alone, others with special people, pets, in the comfort of “home”. In  thinking of our physical, mental, and spiritual need of “balance” it is important to remind ourselves about some of the old to new world traditions, and how we may benefit from better understanding towards an improved life.

Celebrating the winter and summer solstice goes back to ancient times in places like Syria where it seems we only hear negative press these days. These traditions were more often linked to astronomy, once linked to the ancient gods of Greece and Rome (the sun-God Apollo); the Celts and places like Stonehenge were thought to keep track of these solstice related equinoxes, and we can learn much from even the Farmer’s Almanac!

Even more interesting this year after about 150 years we witnessed the “Super” Blue Blood Full Moon a rare phenomenon. Indeed it makes Ancient Greek Temples like the Parthenon aglow! Notably our more traditional customs and celebrations are simply, ways to bridge the pagan with the modern religious and cultural world, hence we can learn more about commonality,  tolerance and respect.

d3f76162-02db-474d-8105-c416d523deeb.jpegCelebrate in your own way, and think of adapting the following:

1) Warm drinks  — whether cinnamon spice in warm apple cider, or mulled wine are good “heating” drinks for the body. There are many great recipes.

2) Red red wine — those who live to enjoy wine might like more reds accompanied by heavier foods — and yes you’re allowed more fat this time of year, it is necessary as it burns more easily ! Remember winter fruits like quince and pomegranates (check out more on the latter tradition, here). Enjoying with friends or other special people does wonders for your mental health.

 

3) Keep body covered — take care of keeping warm with hat, scarves, gloves and mittens. I’m a big fan of checking out interesting ideas on Etsy! Wool or wool-blend pants, sweaters, socks are better heat conductors. Though fur is glamorous and warm let’s not overdo it and think of those animals…is it necessary?

4) Keep active — take care when shoveling snow for the back and the heart. Try some winter sports like skiing, ice skating, hockey, or simply making angels in the snow and snowmen, have fun regardless!

5) Embrace the light — you can reflect on yesteryear by adding light in your home (or workplace if allowed) via a fireplace, candles (careful of too many paraffins not good for you to breathe in too many toxins), a favorite brand is Yankee Candles.

Speaking of entrepreneurs, has anyone checked out the story of how this young teen “Yankee” from Massachusetts made his first scented candle from melted crayons for his mom which turned into a worldwide success? Candles indeed make our senses both calming and excitable — not referring necessarily to scenes from the movies “Nine and a Half Weeks” or “Fifty Shades of Grey” though some say the former movie was more interesting and “healthier” than the latter in terms of women’s relationship limits.  Hmmm. It certainly gives a different meaning to physical and mental exercise (!)

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!

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!