My simple season

When my kids were small, they had a Little Golden Book called My Book of the Seasons. This book had an appealing way of using alliteration and repetition to bring to life the change of seasons. For each season, the book described traditional, iconic imagery, such as pumpkins and snowflakes, and then asked, “Can you see it, can you hear it, can you smell it?” It was wonderful to read out loud.

I think of the book fairly frequently, especially now when I am enjoying the  transition from late spring to early summer. At the beach for Memorial Day weekend, I have had my first local peaches and strawberries of the year. I’ve been basking in the warm sun on the sand. I’ve been taking in the aromas of the plants, as well as the smells of backyard barbeques. I’ve been listening to the birds calling to each other and the children splashing in the waves. Yes, I can feel it, I can smell it and I can taste it. Summer is here!

There’s something incredibly elemental about using the senses to experience the change of seasons. And while a lot of change can be unsettling to people, there is something comforting in the cycle of the seasons, and in knowing that these simple pleasures of summer (or any other season) will be available year after year.

This is also the easiest time of year to simplify and improve how we eat. John Schlimm, the author of a couple of vegan cookbooks, described his style of cooking recently on a radio program. One of his criteria is that all the ingredients he uses have to be available in any neighborhood supermarket, even in the smallest towns. The point is, we don’t need exotic ingredients to make a wonderful-tasting, healthy meal. And with summer here, the farmers’ markets are open, the fruits are ripening, the tomatoes are full of flavor, and there is an abundance of choices. Mmmm…I can see it, I can smell it, I can taste it….

Summer offers itself to us as a lesson in simplicity. It’s not just that the food is fresher and more basic. Our pace slows as we take school breaks and work vacations.  We don’t need to wear heavy clothes so our bodies feel lighter and easier. We can be more in touch with nature because it’s so easy to step outside. All that is required of us is to pay attention and make the choice to enjoy the simple pleasures without asking for more.

Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about voluntary simplicity as “seeing less  so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so that I can have more”. I see the truth of his words today when I feel so incredibly rich because of the simplest things I have – good, fresh food, beautiful surroundings, warm air, blue skies, and loving people.  

People often talk about simplifying their lives. But what they don’t realize is that there’s no “doing” involved in it. It’s all right in front of us already. Like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”, who realized that she could go home any time she wanted, all we have to do is say, “I can see it, I can hear it, I can feel it…”

Earth Day 2012…

…and it’s raining a steady, drenching rain. It is cold and miserable, yet nourishing to our plants and soil, which were snow-deprived all winter. It’s a good day to sit inside and think about what the day means and how I can do my part to make my piece of the Earth a healthier place.

When Earth Day started 40 years ago, it was in response to an an oil spill, and it ignited a new focus on environmental activism and political action. Much of the Earth Day messaging has been about energy use, clean air and water, and more recently, climate change. The theme for Earth Day last year was “A Billion Acts of Green”, and currently the counter on the EDN web site shows over 999 million acts of green submitted by visitors to the site.

The theme for the Earth Day Network this year is “Mobilize the Earth”, calling on people worldwide to unite their words and actions to create a sustainable future. “A Billion Acts of Green” and “Mobilize the Earth” speak to the idea that small actions can add up to a large impact, and that it will take all of us together to make the world a better place to live and grow.

So I’ve been thinking about what acts of green I can add to my life. I already recycle as much of my trash as I can, freecycle some unwanted items and donate others, try to use gadgets as long as possible before buying new ones, responsibly recycle my electronics, use an electric lawn mower, combine errands in the car when possible, and respond to appeals from Clean Water Action and other environmental groups. What’s left?

  • Being more mindful of water use. My local water company says that 70 gallons is the typical daily per person water usage in our area. My household is a little lower than that, but it’s still vastly greater than people use in other countries. Millions of people in the world don’t have access to a reliable source of clean water at all.
  • Riding my bike instead of driving. Last summer I bought a pannier for my bicycle, determined that I was going to start riding to the grocery store. I did it exactly once before the weather got cold. (I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to riding in cold weather). I am going to set a goal of substituting the bike for the car once a week this spring and summer. This has the added benefit of being exercise too!
  • Making “meatless Mondays” a habit. We’ve been gradually incorporating this idea in our house and 2012 could be the year to solidify it. The meatless Monday trend has the benefit of being good for the environment (lots of CO2 comes from cattle), saving water (it takes a lot more water to raise animals for meat than it does to grow plants) and making us healthier too. The Meatless Mondays web site has lots of great recipe ideas and other tips on how to incorporate this idea into your life.
  • Volunteering. Yes, I belong to environmental organizations, write letters occasionally, and send them money sometimes. But I used to do more, such as cleaning up my local stream and volunteering for environmental organizations. I can do that again.

I read back over the steps I’m proposing to take, and I see how intertwined my well-being is with that of the Earth. Eating less meat, exercising more and being connected to my community will all benefit me while I am getting “greener”. My individual future is inextricably linked to the future of my world. As Aldo Leopold once said, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Finding my balance

After two long weekends in a row away from home, I am still struggling with a feeling of disequilibrium. Don’t get me wrong – both weekends were a lot of fun, and I don’t regret going away. It’s just that I feel off-balance from having so little time at home in between.

In the language of stress, this is what is called “eustress”. It’s the good kind of stress, the kind that comes with a happy event or something else that is desirable. But it still throws us off balance in a way that is similar to negative events. It knocks us out of our usual routines, and makes demands on our bodies and minds.

For some people, travel might be routine, but for me, not so much. The first thing that goes off-kilter when I travel is exercise. My careful routine of running, yoga, and weight-training two times a week is out the window. If I’m lucky, I get in one run and maybe some quick yoga.

Eating also changes. Sometimes the food choices aren’t so healthy, or the mealtimes are erratic, or there’s too much or too little of something. Fruit is something I don’t eat nearly enough of when I am away from home.

Sleep habits might also suffer. Strange or uncomfortable beds, noisy rooms, and time changes can all cause problems.

Mentally, the demands can be more subtle. If we’re traveling for pleasure, we try to shift to vacation mode, but work might still be on our minds, especially if we think about all the things that aren’t getting done while we’re away. If the trip is business-related, we might feel like we are missing out on family time. So we are not fully present in the place we’re supposed to be.

Then, just when we’re getting used to the place we’re in, it’s time to go home!

Now we’re faced with the work that is undone, the people who need our presence and the myriad details of our lives that need to be dealt with. Sometimes it can take days to catch up. Essentially, we are trying to regain “homeostasis”, our steady state.

David Agus, who has a new book out called The End of Illness, argues that to be healthiest, people need to keep to a regular daily schedule of eating, exercise, sleep and relaxation. Most people might find it difficult to eat meals or exercise at the same time every day as he suggests, but I can see how it might be very helpful during times of stress, whether that stress is eustress (good) or distress (bad).

When I get back from a trip, my sense of focus is poor. I don’t know which task to tackle first. The temptation is to skip exercise or sleep, and to use the time to catch up on all I’ve missed. That’s probably the worst thing that I could do. Getting back to my regular schedule will ultimately make me more productive.

Here’s what I’ve observed during my first days back:

  • Right before I left for my first trip, I started doing a 21-day meditation challenge on the Chopra Center web site. Although I missed a couple of days while I was away, I have been pretty diligent about doing the meditations once or twice a day since then. That has helped to keep me grounded and calm.
  • I’ve gone back to reasonably healthy eating, although I find that I am unusually hungry at odd times of the day. That’s probably the result of not eating on a regular schedule while I was away. But I’m expecting that in a couple more days, I’ll be back on track.
  • The exercise habit is kicking back in. It helps that the weather is warmer this week and I’ll be able to run outside over the weekend. That will also help with sleep and appetite.
  • By tomorrow, I’ll probably be caught up on my work, and I’ll feel good about that.

Am I looking forward to my next trip? Yes, but I’m glad it won’t be for at least a month. While I relish the challenge and stimulation of travel and new experiences, I’m happy now for the comfort and well-being of home and habit.

5 Intentions for a Happy Thanksgiving

Six days and counting until Thanksgiving…what will your holiday look like? Calm or frantic? Happy or conflicted? Holidays can be stressful, often bringing out the worst in us if we let them. In yoga class, our teacher sometimes asks us to “set an intention” for the practice: something that we would like to focus on or work toward. In that spirit, here are my intentions for the next few days; maybe they will work for you too:

1. Spend time each day planning for the next one.

Time management gurus like Brian Tracy say that each minute spent planning will save 5 to 10 minutes in carrying out the task. This can be accomplished by sitting down each evening for 5 minutes to make lists, check the next day’s calendar, and block out time for priority tasks. Focusing on the most important tasks for each day, dividing them up to correspond with blocks of free time, and eliminating unnecessary tasks will help each day be more productive.

2. Ask for and accept help; take shortcuts when they serve me.

No one can do it all. So let go of the perfectionist tendencies and controlling instincts. Graciously allow others to help with the shopping, cook part of the meal, or set the table. Most likely they will be glad to be asked. Buy some foods already-prepared, especially the ones you don’t excel at or find tedious to prepare (gravy comes to mind!)

3. Take care of myself.

When people feel better, they can be more present for those they care about. During stressful holiday times, it is more important than ever to make health a priority. Exercising will give you more energy. Drinking plenty of water will help fight fatigue and improve appearance. Eating healthy in the days leading up to Thanksgiving feels good and allows for guilt-free splurging on the big day. And if stress catches up with you anyway, take five minutes just to sit and breathe.

4. Have fun each day.

Scheduling time for play or recreation is part of time management too. We all deserve a break to watch a funny movie or play a game with the family. These shared experiences will become part of everyone’s memories of the holiday.

5. Remember to be thankful.

Voltaire once said that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”, and the Thanksgiving holiday is a good time to think about what that means. Don’t strive for a perfect meal worthy of Martha Stewart, but one that will be joyfully eaten with family and friends. If your home isn’t perfectly cleaned and decorated, be glad that it is full of warmth and good cheer. Replace criticism of loved ones with appreciation, even with all of their quirks and imperfections.

As I celebrate Thanksgiving, I will keep these words of Thornton Wilder in mind: “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

How we eat alone

“…Food means pleasure, culture and conviviality.” That’s the message behind the Slow Food movement’s Food and Taste Education program. Do we really need to be educated about something that seems so obvious? Apparently so.

Yesterday in the Washington Post, J. Freedom du Lac wrote about a trend seen in both casual restaurants and more high-end dining spots: people who eat a meal alone, but never put down their smart phones. Some restaurateurs don’t like it because they think their food should be the focus of the dining experience, but most are resigned to it. Even those restaurants that have a ban on devices realize that they can’t enforce it.

In the past, solo diners would often take a book or a newspaper with them to a restaurant to avoid the social awkwardness of eating alone. Is the iPhone or iPad any different? Does it represent a need for constant stimulation, and an inability to be alone with our thoughts; or does it mean that we crave contact with other people, even at a distance?

I’m wondering if restaurants that have incorporated communal tables might have found the answer. The concept emerged first in New York City and on the West Coast, but now most cities have at least one or two restaurants where patrons can dine together.  Some people have been slow to embrace it, and some will never like it, but my experience is that it does have the potential to generate conversation and the conviviality that the Slow Food movement teaches. On-line comments indicate that the communal table might be a boon to the solo diner in avoiding the crutch of the iPhone. The web site solodining.com even posts a list of restaurants that have communal tables.

What about the pleasure of eating?  Dining alone may actually give us an opportunity to savor our food and experience it more fully than when we are with others; but because we feel uncomfortable eating alone in public, we tend to rush through it. If we can resist that urge, and incorporate principles of mindfulness to the act of eating, we could be rewarded with a deeper, more satisfying sensory experience.

Jan Chazen Bays has written what many consider to be the definitive book on mindful eating. When she discusses people’s issues surrounding food, she says that “The problem is not in the food…The problem lies in the mind. It lies in our lack of awareness of the messages coming in from our body”. One of the principles of eating mindfully, according to the Center for Mindful Eating, is “Choosing to eat food that is both pleasing to you and nourishing to your body by using all your senses to explore, savor and taste.”

So, the next time you find yourself eating alone, whether at home or in a restaurant, try making your meal more of a sensory experience. Take a moment to breathe. Think about where the food came from, and your connection to the land where it grew, the person who produced it, the path it took to get to you, the people who prepared it and served it to you. Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “We can see and taste the whole universe in a piece of bread! Contemplating our food for a few seconds before eating, and eating in mindfulness, can bring us much happiness.”

“We owe our children”*

Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” When I consider the somber headlines of the past week or so, I wonder about our soul:

  • Census data show that one in six Americans is living in poverty, including 22% of children last year (40% of black children).
  • Poverty has increased for four years in a row.
  • The proportion of children with at least one unemployed parent doubled between 2007 and 2010, and there is evidence that a parent’s job loss can have a negative effect on children’s academic performance.
  • A new study showed an increase in child abuse, specifically against infants, linked to the recession.

When children grow up in poverty, they grow up with chronic stress. Constant change and uncertainty in their lives causes biological responses that result in wear and tear on their bodies and minds. Long-term stress can damage the part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is essential to learning and memory.

This helps explain why many children who come from poverty don’t do as well in school, and are less likely to graduate from high school. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, they lag in both intellectual and emotional development, and they are more likely to become the poor parents of the future.

Even if your only interest is your self-interest, you should care about these statistics. The longer we have so many children living in poverty, the more our country loses economically from lower productivity, poorer health and higher crime rates.

Last Sunday’s Washington Post ran an editorial titled “Debt Reduction with Compassion”. It argued that we cannot reduce the deficit on the backs of the most vulnerable in society. We have to recognize how much people have suffered and lost during the recession, and not cut off the safety net for them. But how often do we hear the word “compassion” in the current political climate?

I’ve been thinking about what any one of us can do to make a difference for children. Here are some ideas:

  • Think about who and what you vote for. Which candidates are committed to keeping funding in place for programs that benefit children?
  • Be an advocate, in your community and beyond. Speak out about legislation and programs that are important for ensuring a happy and healthy next generation
  • Support teachers and education in your community.
  • Support the organizations that are working to change lives, such as:

Children’s Defense Fund – In existence for 35 years, this organization works to “ensure a level playing field for all children” and to “lift children out of poverty”

Feeding America – Works with a network of food banks to eliminate hunger in America; child hunger is a priority.

HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters) – A parent-involvement, school-readiness program that operates on the idea that parents are their children’s first teachers.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America – Their mission is “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens,” through programs in leadership, education, life skills, sports and fitness, and the arts

What do we want the soul of our society to look like? If we truly care about giving our children and grandchildren a decent life, then “all of us have to recognize that we owe our children more than we have been giving them”.*

 

*Hillary Clinton

Learning to feed ourselves

Chances are that unless you are at least 40, “Home Economics” class didn’t even exist when you were in school, but could it make a comeback?

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Helen Zoe Veit, a history professor at Michigan State University, argued that we should bring Home Ec back to the schools as a weapon in the fight against obesity and chronic disease. She believes that teaching children to cook, and giving them information about nutrition, can empower them to take control of the food they eat.

As someone who loved Home Ec (my siblings called me “Suzy Homemaker”), I agree wholeheartedly. Here are the lessons I learned in home ec that I still use on a regular basis:

  • How to operate kitchen appliances, large and small
  • How to read a recipe
  • The proper way to measure ingredients (level!)
  • How to sew on a button

Those might sound like simple things, but I know many people who cannot do them, or more importantly, think they can’t. The most lasting lesson I learned was that I could do those things and do them competently.

Somewhere along the way, as our focus turned outside our homes, and our society became more technology-driven, we forgot how to take care of ourselves. These days, we abdicate feeding ourselves to restaurants, fast food chains and supermarket kitchens; we give our buttons to the tailor or dry cleaner to sew; and we often hire others to clean our houses, mow our lawns and rake our leaves. Would we be healthier if we took some of that back?

Just in the area of how we eat, here are some sobering facts:

  • Fifty percent of our meals were eaten away from home in 2010.
  • We consume 50% more calories, fat and sodium when we eat out.
  • The daily calorie intake of children is significantly affected by where they eat, and where their food comes from. The percent of calories from fast food is now greater for them than the percent of calories they get from school foods.
  • When families eat together, they eat more fruits and vegetables, fewer fried foods, and less soda. (For tips on making family dinners easier, see WebMD.)
  • Kids who have regular meals with their parents tend to do better in every area of wellness – they get better grades, have healthier relationships, don’t get into trouble as much, and engage less often in risky behaviors such as drinking and smoking.

Some middle schools and high schools do still teach cooking. In my local middle school, there are courses in “Family & Consumer Science” and “Foods & Nutrition”. The high school offers “Food Trends & Technology”. The problem is that these courses are electives, and with the pressure for academic achievement and improved test scores, I don’t think it’s very likely that they are going to become mandatory courses any time soon.

The time and place to start is elementary school, and there seems to be some momentum there:

  •  School gardens are popping up in lots of districts, with California seeming to lead the way (for example, Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard project).
  • Grants for school gardens are available from the Whole Kids charitable foundation.
  • The Slow Food in Schools Project offers many examples on their website of how to integrate food into the curriculum.

Perhaps the most visible advocate for better food and healthier kids is Jamie Oliver. He has brought together a number of organizations for his Food Revolution campaign. He has said, “The only message I keep hearing is that you believe your kids need better food, and that you want help to keep cooking skills alive.”

Another way of putting it: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

An apple (or more) a day

“Fruit & Veggies – More Matters” – that’s the slogan promoting the consumption of produce in the U.S., but I don’t think people have gotten the message. In most states, fewer than 15% of adults eat five servings of fruit/veggies a day.  The CDC and the Produce for Better Health Foundation would like us all to eat a lot more fruits and vegetables. And to encourage us, September is designated as “Fruit & Veggies – More Matters” month.

Usually when I think about eating more fruits and vegetables, I think of the peak of summer – June and July – when I can get fresh blueberries, peaches, corn and luscious tomatoes. But there is actually a lot of tradition and evidence for making September the month for establishing new habits, especially the habit of eating more produce.

September is a time of new beginnings. It is the start of the school year and the start of the religious year in some faith traditions. September is also a traditional harvest month. It signals the end of summer and the start of fall. Times of seasonal change can throw many people off-balance or cause illness. That’s why acupuncturists recommend a treatment at the change of seasons, and why Yoga Journal magazine is offering a seasonal de-tox plan in its September issue. So it makes sense to use this month to re-set our eating habits as well.

The great thing about the “More matters” campaign is that it’s all about eating more of something rather than giving something up. Who wouldn’t rather hear “yes” than “no”? In fact, there are several popular weight-loss programs based on the concept of eating more of the right foods, rather than focusing as much on giving up the bad foods. The idea seems to be that if we give ourselves the nutrients that our bodies need and want, we will gradually crave fewer of the toxic foods that are harming us.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association even indirectly supports the “more matters” concept in terms of lowering bad cholesterol. It found that adding cholesterol-lowering foods to people’s diets resulted in significantly greater reductions in LDL cholesterol than reducing fat in the diet did.

Why do more fruits and veggies matter? There is evidence to show that a diet rich in them can help prevent heart disease, bone loss, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and even some types of cancer. Most of that action comes from phytochemicals, compounds that are made by plants. Antioxidants, which clean up “free radicals” in cells, are one important type of phytochemical.

Although summer fruits and veggies like corn and peaches are almost gone, we can enjoy cranberries, beets, broccoli and cauliflower, as well as these tasty treats in the next couple of months:

  • Raspberries – besides being tasty, raspberries contain a phytochemical that helps prevent cancer
  • Apples – have vitamin C and other antioxidants that help prevent cancer; plus the fiber makes you feel full, which can help with weight loss
  • Pumpkins – contain carotenoids, a type of antioxidant; lutein, which is an antioxidant especially helpful to the eyes; plus iron, zinc and fiber
  • Chard, and other leafy greens – important for their carotenoids, lutein, iron and vitamins C & K

If you need help with knowing how many servings to eat each day, how to buy fresh fruits and vegetables on a budget or with how to cook them, check out these web sites:

  • Choosemyplate.gov has an online calculator for determining your specific nutritional needs.
  • For information on buying fresh produce on a budget, click here.
  • A recipe page allows you to select the type of meal and the fruit or vegetable you want to use, and provides a recipe for it.

Happy Eating!

Food for thought

The latest report on obesity rates across the nation was issued last week, and it is pretty sobering. Sixteen states saw their obesity rates go up over the past year, and none went down. In 12 states, more than 30% of the population is obese, and Colorado is the only state with an obesity rate below 20%.

Obesity rates are also higher in racial and ethnic minorities, those with less education, and those with lower incomes.

Why is this happening, and what can we do about it? It is a complex problem with no easy answers. Certainly environmental factors play a big role. Think about the societal changes during the past generation – 24/7 availability of food, acceptability of eating and drinking almost anywhere, huge increases in the number of meals eaten away from home, significant increases in portion sizes, and the difficulty in obtaining fresh fruits and vegetables in certain neighborhoods.

But we also have to consider our susceptibility to becoming “addicted” to the high fat, high sugar diets that are so prevalent. In his 2009 book, The End of Overeating, David Kessler (former head of the Food and Drug Administration) cites research that shows that these “highly palatable foods” actually are addictive for some people. When we eat them, and eventually when we even see or think about them, dopamine is released in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasurable experiences. In addiction, dopamine actually changes the brain, sending the message to repeat the action that leads to pleasure.

Eating should be a pleasurable sensory experience. But why do some people become unable to stop themselves from indulging in the high fat/high sugar/high salt foods, while others (about 15% of the population, according to Kessler) can just say “no”?

Gabor Mate, a Canadian physician who has treated addiction and written about it, believes that all of us are on the addiction spectrum somewhere (not necessarily just with drugs or alcohol). Everyone wants that endorphin rush. Identified addicts are just further along the spectrum because (he believes) they have suffered more, usually from abuse in childhood.

I’m not suggesting that everyone who overeats was abused as a child; but I do think we have to consider the emotional reasons that people become “addicted” to food. After all, the term “comfort food” came from somewhere! What are we lacking? Soren Gordamer says, in Wisdom 2.0, that “Our relationship to eating is often less about nourishing our body or how the food tastes and more about satisfying our desire system…What we crave is not the food, but the satisfaction of getting what we want, of having our desires filled.”

Gordamer suggests mindful eating practices to bring more consciousness to our eating. Kessler says that it is necessary to create a different reward system for yourself, and to structure your environment in order to avoid the cues that lead to overeating. Dr. Mate believes that it is never too late to get the nurturing and compassion that we need in order to change the conditioning of our brains.

So where do we go from here?

    • We need to hold food manufacturers and restaurants responsible for giving us the information we need to make good decisions about the food we eat. Some have a history of combining sugar, fat and salt in calculated ways that are designed to keep people coming back for more.
    • Our society must change perceptions around food and eating. Dr. Kessler says we need a cognitive shift about unhealthy food like the one we had one about smoking. It used to be viewed as sexy, and now mostly it is thought to be nasty and unhealthy.
    • Have some structure around meals. Sit down at the table with family or friends. When you eat, just eat.
    • What are your triggers for unhealthy eating? How can you avoid them? Maybe it means giving up some TV so you don’t see the commercials; or changing your route to work so you don’t see a certain restaurant.
    • Surround yourself with people who support you and make you feel good about yourself. Avoid situations that might trigger negative emotions, something Buddhists refer to as “guarding the gateway of the senses”.
    • Practice self-compassion. Change starts with acceptance of who you are now.

Training for Life

Several years ago, when I was part of a boot camp fitness program, I was running one morning with my group. A woman passing by asked us “What are you training for?” Without missing a beat, our instructor answered, “For life.”

Today I’ve been thinking about this idea that we have to be ready for whatever life throws at us, the curve balls like divorce, job loss, deaths or serious illnesses. Sadly, too many people I know are dealing with some of those big life stressors right now. While we expect in an abstract way that our lives are going to have low points, it still can feel like a ton of bricks when we are hit with it. And when we have to deal day after day with the repercussions of divorce, or caring for a sick family member, it will tax even those of us with deep reserves of strength and good health.

Coming into a stressful situation with high levels of wellness in all dimensions can help people be more resilient and better able to meet the challenges. Physical wellness is very important, but it’s not the whole story. The 6 Dimensions of Wellness model emphasizes the whole person:

  • Physical – Do you have healthy eating habits and engage in regular exercise? Are you getting regular medical exams and engaging in self-care?
  • Occupational — Are you getting satisfaction from your work? Do you feel like you make a contribution to something? Does your choice of work align with your values?
  • Social – How are your relationships with family and friends? Do you feel that you have a support network you can call upon when needed? Do you feel connected to others in a community?
  • Emotional – How able are you to accept and express your feelings? Is your outlook on life more optimistic or pessimistic?
  • Spiritual – Do you feel a connection to something larger than yourself? Do you feel your life has meaning? Are your actions in harmony with your values and beliefs?
  • Intellectual – Are you a life-long learner? Do you take opportunities to be creative, to challenge yourself, and to share knowledge with others?

All of these dimensions make up your wellness path, and contribute to your ability to handle stress. Visualize your path right now, and think about an area you would like to improve.  Focus on enhancing your wellness in just that one dimension for now. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Physical – If your nutrition needs a boost, set a goal of eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Occupational – Evaluate your current job. Can you develop a new skill for use there or in your next job?
  • Social — Reach out to someone you’ve been missing. Make a date to go out with friends. Plan a neighborhood get-together.
  • Emotional – Start writing down your feelings in a journal. Watch a funny movie to lighten your mood with humor.
  • Spiritual – Take a walk in nature. Get involved in helping others. If you have been religious in the past, think about reconnecting with your faith.
  • Intellectual – Set a goal to read a newspaper every day, or a book each month. Perhaps sign up for a class on a subject you’ve always wanted to learn.

Wherever your path takes you, and no matter how many bumps in the road, I wish you ease and well-being in body, mind and spirit. Train for life!