Go Gentle with Grievers

Death and grief are as much a part of life as living. If we, ourselves, live long enough, we will encounter loss and grief and so will people we love and care for. Learning how to be a good support system for a grieving loved one is a skill worth building.

Death is so personal and it can feel and seem awkward to be around a person experiencing deep and possibly private pain. A good tip is to take cues from the griever. Depending on their personality, they may benefit from talking about their loss. Some would rather have the burdens of daily living divided. Refrain from asking the person an open ended question like what do they need. Grief can be all consuming and drain energy quickly. Ask instead, “Would you prefer I bring dinner tonight or help you with housework tomorrow?” Or a similar type request based on what you know about this person’s needs.

Another way to help a griever is to touch base frequently. This is even more important at and beyond the six week mark. In my personal and professional opinion, a person who has suffered loss has a six solid weeks of support. Then life goes on for most people. This is not judgement as many people are not trained in grief support and can be at a loss. While the world moves on, the griever may feel stuck. This is not the time to expect a quality give and take friendship. The griever’s needs are more immediate and acute. It helps when you reach out by email or text, say your supportive words and then add- no need to respond. You may not always get a response but it may just be what your friend or family member needed to hear. With consistent contact, they will respond and with gratitude. You may be their unspoken lifeline.

Pets. Pets are like family to so many people. When someone loses a beloved pet, it can be a deep and impactful loss. A dog or cat or another creature will become such a sweet part of every day life. We give to them and they give back all that and more. There is no need to distinguish what loss is more severe. It depends on the situation and the person and there is absolutely no way to categorize how another human grieves. Even different deaths are grieved in different ways. I grieved the death of my Mom and Dad so uniquely that is was shocking to me.

A griever needs help, support and a judgment free zone. In time, you may be the griever and will be acutely aware of what helps and heals versus what is hurtful or less than helpful. A word to the wise. Never declare to know just how they feel. Rather, state you are there for them no matter what they are going through.

How Chemicals in Our Diet Affect Our Mental Health

Most consumers realize that what kind of food they eat affects their physical health. Fewer people give much thought to the fact that eating habits can also affect mental health. However, scientists have recently begun to uncover an insidious connection between the chemicals found in food and recent increases in serious mental health disorders.

Diet and Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that over 17 million American adults have suffered at least one major depressive episode. The connection between depression and brain chemistry has long been accepted in scientific communities, but it is only recently that researchers have begun to evaluate how what people eat might be affecting depression. Turns out, there’s definitely a connection.

What people eat affects their gut microbiomes, meaning the beneficial bacteria that aide in digestion. Certain foods, including chemical-laden processed goods, kill off those beneficial bacteria, but it doesn’t just cause digestive problems. According to researchers with the Flemish Gut Flora Project, it also affects mental health.

The researchers studied the gut microbiomes of over 1,000 participants and correlated the concentrations of different microbes with quality of life and incidences of depression. What they found was that people with depression had consistently lower levels of two bacterial groups, Coproccus and Dialister, than happy people.

The Pesticide Problem

One 2014 study performed by the National Institute of Health further illuminated the problem by uncovering a connection between the pesticides in food produced with conventional agriculture and mental health. They studied 84,000 farmers and their spouses over the course of 20 years, documenting which pesticides they used and what physical and mental health problems they developed. What the study found was that the use of organochlorine insecticides and fumigants increased the farmers’ depression risk by between 80 and 90%.

Since then, over a dozen further studies have shown that it isn’t just farmers who suffer when these chemicals are used in food production. Even low-level of exposure can impair cognitive function, meaning that consumers of non-organic foods are also at risk.

Pesticides and the Endocrine System

The body’s gut microbiome isn’t the only thing that suffers when exposed to chemical pesticides. Ingesting chemicals, even in very small doses, also disrupts the endocrine system, responsible for hormone regulation. More specifically, 30 out of 37 tested brands of pesticides either increased or decreased levels of the male hormone androgen.

The EPA now runs a program called the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program. The program has tested over 200 chemicals found in both food and drinking water to determine their effects on the endocrine system. However, the program does not ban those pesticides and other chemicals that disrupt hormone regulation. It only offers information about their risks, leaving consumers to make the decision as to whether it’s worth the risk for themselves.

The Bottom Line

Just a few decades ago, those few nutritionists, doctors, and scientists who pointed out the potential dangers of non-organic food to mental health were considered a fringe movement. Today, research is supporting their ideas and more people than ever are going organic. Anyone who suffers from depression should absolutely consider getting their gut microbiomes back in balance by making the switch to organic, pesticide-free food.

Marvelous Mutitasking Myth

Multitasking. This subject creates debate whenever I mention it. People overestimate their power to multitask. Almost everyone is familiar with the term multitasker. Who among us has heard of a mono-tasker?

In a society that values productivity, multitasking has become a badge of honor. The neuroscience does not lie and a mere 2.5 % of us are able to do this effectively. I have known for decades that I am not one of the gifted 2.5 %.

In my profession, I offer up assignments, tasks and exercises for clients to do between sessions to further their goals. When in person, I write these down on note cards. Try as I have, it is impossible for me to write and talk simultaneously. I have said the word I meant to write and written the word I meant to say.

The distraction that attempted multitasking causes is the reason texting and driving is outlawed in many states; it compromises safe driving. These driving regulations are based on science and statistics.

Think you can multitask? Find out. Take this short quiz devised by advisor and coach Avik Chandra.


Spoiler alert! I failed.

Task switching, a science word for multitasking, is detrimental to our productivity and our brains. The truth is that if you try to task switch throughout the day, a loss of up to 40% efficiency is the price you pay.

When did the word multitasking make it’s debut? I was curious and my friend google helped me. In 1965, when IBM was singing a new computer’s praises, this word was coined. This term was never even meant to be applied to human beings.

There is one possible exception where we can do two things at once. Research has discovered that if you are doing a physical task that you have done many times and are good at, you can pair that physical task with a mental task. Mental tasks require concentration and the specific physical task has become automatic. This is why I can talk to a sweet friend on the phone while we are both preparing dinner and not lop off a finger.

A client and I were talking about this recently. We must use our powers of discernment to know which we can do together. She can do laundry as she listens to a work webinar and neither task will suffer. She is less confident about her ability to have a coaching call with me and check important emails at the same time.

One way to combat this culture of trying to do two things at once, is to identify our one most important work priority of the day. We can singularly focus on that and make all else secondary. After that, we can pick the next important one. This blog post is my task of the night. After this is done, I can choose another.

A wonderful friend whose son suffered a terrible brain injury and was touch and go for many days, did survive and is thriving. My friend tells me the only thing that her son lost was his uncanny ability to concentrate when several noisy things were happening together. Now, he must have quiet and less background noise to focus well. Given all the ways he could have suffered permanent brain damage, this is a blessing.

Focus on the task at hand
For you are not a one man band
You will increase productivity
Live it, do it, you will see

The Wild Winds of a Well Worn Life

My adventure buddy and I are sharing a fitness challenge for 2020. An accountability partner makes the task more fun and successful. We are more likely to let ourselves down than another.

So, in the spirit of starting a new fitness routine, there are several forms of exercise I choose from. One, is taking my aging and blind yet young at heart dog for a three mile walk. This walk is part nature preserve and part neighborhood, nicknamed the Darth loop.

We had been in the lull of a three day winter storm and I checked and double checked my weather app to make sure it was not too harsh for my 11 pounder. Wind speed 13 miles an hour. Temp- low 30s. We have both endured walks with worse weather than this. Let’s go!

The first part of the journey was in an unsheltered wide open field where the wind can be other level strong. But it was not. Until it was.

When we reached the wooden bridge, the wind picked up. Still seemed doable. Instead of the three mile loop I made the decision to switch to the two mile one. Okay. Done.

Bad choice. As we continued, the wind picked up velocity and blew us about. Because of the mixture of snow and rain, deep puddles on the path resembled mini lakes with whitecaps. Then, the temperature dropped severely. My face became raw and wind burned. Darth did not stop to take his 100 territory marking sessions. That was something new. It now felt a version of the arctic tundra.

The wet path started to freeze so I slipped and lost my footing several times so I moved us to the ice crusted grass. I alternated carrying the dog with having him walk to keep his blood flowing. We were a good mile away from home.

That was a long and miserable mile. There was no speeding it up as the wind seemed to blow from all directions and the ground was too slick to run.

This is an analogy for very tough times. I often speak about the power of positivity. Yet, there are times when positivity won’t cut it and we simply must endure. In any way we can.

Winston Churchhill has been credited with the quote, “If you are going through hell, just keep going.”

And for Darth and I, there was no other option. Freezing up in this case could result in our potential freezing.

Sometimes all we can do is take one little step forward followed by another little step forward. And eventually, we will get to a new and better destination.

For us, it was a warm house where it took me hours to feel warm again. Thankfully, very short lived.

For some, it could be getting through a tough loss like a death or a divorce. A health crisis that is like nothing we have ever experienced. Seeing a loved one struggle with mental illness or addiction and feeling powerless. No amount of positive words seem to ease the tremendous burden and ache.

We do have a singular choice. And that is to keep going. Bit by bit often with no grand plan.

The winds of change swirl and freeze
When we prefer a mind at ease
Find the strength to move ahead
Even with a sense of dread
At some point, no one can know
The sun will come out, the wind will slow

Wondrous and Wise Words

Here we are well into 2020! Both a new year and a new decade and a great chance to reset. Historically, resolutions fail and are very hard to sustain. The antidote I suggest to clients is simple- words.

I have been a lover of words (real and imagined) since Dr. Suess was a childhood entryway to my long love affair with books. Words have power- for good and bad effects. Gary Chapman, famed author of the book, The Five Love Languages referred to words as either bullets or seeds in a lesser known book- Love as a Way of Life.

This cautionary tale reminds us to be careful with our words both to others and how we speak to ourselves. Bullets tear through flesh. Seed take root and grow when they are given the proper conditions for growth.

Rather than create yearly resolutions, why not create a word or phrase every month? This is a successful practice I utilize with my clients- children and adults.

A dear childhood friend and I share our new word/phrase as one month closes out and a new one begins. For January 2020, she chose Conscious Consumption. After the indulgences of the holidays, this was her pick for a couple reasons. One, for her to eat more healthy, consciously and mindfully and two, to use her current resources wisely. She planned to use up pantry and freezer food items and buy only fresh produce and perishables to save money. Bet there will be some fun mystery meals on the menu. Instead of buying the two family dogs much needed new dog beds, she crafted beds from old pillows and blankets. She sent me a picture of both pooches blissed out on their plaid beds.

Holidays are centered around celebration and that often leads to excess. Focusing on this phrase reminds her that her health and finances can and will recover. The phrase has potency as well as simplicity.

How can we choose a word or phrase that makes an impact?

Try this.

1- List ten important values in your life. They can be broad like family or specific- two nights of quality, screen free family time per week.

2- List some goals that would make an impact in your life. Better eating. Managing stress. Exercise. They can be professional, spiritual, personal, physical or emotional in nature.

3- Narrow down the one goal that would make the biggest impact in your life now.

4- Pick the word or phrase that best reflects this goal and honors your stated values.

5- Several times per week, reflect on how well you embody this word or phrase. See what you can do to improve. Acknowledge what you are doing well.

Pick an accountability partner. My friend and I discuss our words throughout the month. It is a fun way to bond and a powerful practice to share with people in our lives.

Words, words, they’re everywhere

Choose them wisely and with great care

Serious Stress? Serious side effects? We’ll see.

We live in an age of abundant (often too much) information. That will be the subject of a future blog. Today, I am going to address one of the most important pieces of information I Iearned back in 2013, when I discovered Ted talks. I have passed it along to countless clients.

Nearly seven years ago, Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, gave a compelling talk about stress. Other people agreed as it has amassed almost 22 million views. It is worth watching.

To summarize the first part of the talk, Kelly referenced a landmark study involving roughly 30,000 adults over an eight year span. It focuses on the death rate of people based on their self described stress levels coupled with their belief about the impact stress has on them.

Most people DO believe stress is harmful so some results are in line with that thought. People were asked how much stress they had experienced in the past year and the choices were- a little, a moderate amount or a lot. So it would stand to reason that the higher the stress level the higher the risk of death. And those who believed stress negatively impacts health had a 43% increase in death when they had rated their previous year as high in stress.

Here is where is gets interesting and hopeful. Some people also rated themselves high on stress but they did NOT perceive that stress would negatively impact their health. These folks had the lowest mortality rate of the study even lower than those who ranked themselves to have a low level of stress but a high belief that stress is damaging. Behold, the power of a strong belief system. Whether positive OR negative.

If we currently believe that stress is harmful, what can we do to shift that mindset? A first step is to address the steady stream of thoughts flowing through our minds. Many of us have abundant negative and self critical thoughts. Sometimes that inner critic is the loudest voice- which may be the voice of a parent who was hard to please, peers who were unkind, a teacher or coach who was negative. Then, we adopted that voice as our own. One of my clients has a parent who was so disparaging with words, it has taken him decades to drown our that voice and replace it with a positive and encouraging one.

When our self talk becomes more positive, we can shift outdated thoughts that we now know can be dangerous to our health and well being.

I compare the untrained mind to a not yet housebroken puppy. With consistency and persistence, we can train the pup to be a joy not a nuisance.

Sometimes, our first thought when confronted with an unexpected crisis is- “I cannot deal with this situation!” Better to replace it with, in your own words, a phrase like, “I will find the resources to handle my challenge.”

Affirmations like this work but they have to be believable. A brain will call fraud if you go overboard and say, “I am the master of the universe and I will zap the stress away!”

Find your positive inner voice. Change how you view stress. Work at this daily. And see how you transform.

The power of the mind is great
Turn it into a positive state

Chop, Craft and Create to Cope and remain Calm

I read a fascinating book a few years ago, co-written by a husband and wife team. I remember that he was a hand surgeon and she was a psychiatrist and analyst. But as much as I wracked my brain, I could not remember the title. But, I did remember the main point of the book- using your hands to create or fix things reduces depression and anxiety.

Enter my good friend Google where I found the title. The Creativity Cure by Carrie and Alton Barron.

The hands are intricate pieces of the body’s machinery. So much that 60% of the brain’s outer surface (the cortex) is dedicated to the hands. Far less is devoted to big areas like the back, and legs and arms.

And in this age of take out and texting and passive forms of entertainment, we are collectively using our hands less and less. The two authors have 40 years of combined professional proof that using your hands daily can bring feelings of well being and happiness.

You do not have to consider yourself creative to get on board. Chopping veggies, putting together puzzles, adult coloring books all qualify.

I have never understood why cursive handwriting had been taken away from school curriculum. It is an elegant hand motion and fires up those brain neurons. Alton Barron (the surgeon) stated in an interview that we need to keep using our hands to keep stimulating our brains.

Now I understand why chopping fruits and veggies and fruits HAS always had a calming affect on me. And each blog that you read, started out in longhand form first. On paper with a smooth writing pen.

Many of my clients have seen this link themselves. One of my clients gets to feeling down if she does not get regular time in her studio crafting paper art. Another client has started a morning hand written journaling practice and has kept it up for two years and counting. When he misses a few days, he feels out of balance.

Back in the old days, many women would sew or knit at night and men would tinker and fix things. Kids were more hands on as well.

When I work with kids and teens, I bring along things for them to do with their hands. Coloring or tracing or sticker art, etc. This has a positive and immediate impact.

Modern life is taking this away but there is a movement to bring it back. Many millennials are becoming DIY people and Pinterest proves this.

Why not explore how this can be beneficial in your life? Find a hobby or practice that utilizes use of your hands. And see how it impacts your sense of satisfaction and well being. This can become a family project, too and you can pass on fun traditions to the next generation.

Using your hands every day

Helps to chase the blues away

There is No Cure for Life

A client and I were discussing the normal but troubling things that were draining her energy.

A thought popped into my mind and out of my mouth- “There is no cure for life.” It resonated so she paused to write it down.

Before I allowed myself full credit for this quote, I Googled it and the closest thing I found was a hip hop song by the Paperboys titled- “No Cure for Life.”

Being the recovering perfectionist I am, probing deeper I found a similar thought by the Irish playwright, poet and novelist Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) stating- “You’re on earth. There is no cure for that.”

My interpretation of this quote is that life is a mixture of joys and sorrows, pain and happiness, doubt and faith and more.

Our natural tendency is to make the negative feelings disappear as soon as possible and to retain or cling to the ones we perceive as positive.

My clients have often heard me say, “We cannot stop the sucker punches of life.” Some of these are temporary and some have an impact for years and even decades. Some of us appear to face more obstacles than others and that, too, is life.

Two personal, horrific sucker punches hit me in 2017 and 2018. Someone who was near and dear to me lost her battle with cancer in the summer of 2017. Her husband, also a dear and treasured friend, was diagnosed with cancer less than a year later and died just six weeks after the diagnosis in the spring of 2018. I miss them both dearly and think of them often. My sorrow extends to their friends and family who have to navigate life without these beautiful people.

What is your recent or deep sucker punch? How do you cope with the pain?

Sucker punches are unexpected, severe and unpleasant. Many of us try to stuff those hurtful emotions down through unhealthy habits- drinking to excess, shopping too much, electronic distraction and many creative but unhealthy ways to avoid the feelings. Yet, what we resist, persists.

When we avoid feeling an emotion, it lingers while growing stronger. I compare deep emotions to unhappy toddlers. A parent of a two year old who is on the phone with a beloved friend understands this well. The toddler comes to us fussy and annoyed and needing something. If we remain on the phone, the fussiness can elevate to a full blown meltdown. Yet, if we hang up the phone and attend to the child’s needs- hunger, thirst, sleep or discomfort, the little one calms down and we can resume our conversation. Feelings behave this way.

What are some ways to deal with sucker punch emotions?

1- Journal about the impact on you. There is scientific proof of the positive effects of this act.

2- Stop and ask yourself what you need now. Maybe it is rest, a good cry, a warm cup of tea, exercise, prayer or good nourishment.

3-Talk to a trusted friend, therapist or coach. You will often gain new and helpful insights.

4- Honor the feelings as a part of your human experience. You can do this in a way that is congruent with your set of values, learning style and personality.

Most people have not had adequate training in how to deal with difficult emotions. Yet, I would argue that it is an essential skill to build for the ups and downs of being alive.

When we feel, we heal

When we suppress, we regress

Seeking the Sweet Spot of Sleep

In my previous blog about distractions, the statistics of the thousands of times most of us touch our phones a day is staggering. Here is another sobering one by the same market researcher- Dscout. 50% of consumers check their phones in the middle of the night.

This makes sense given we are a sleep deprived culture. I see it in my client practice daily. Sleep falls securely under the category of life coaching because it is essential to optimum health, well being (both emotional and physical) and for proper productivity. And, I am about to make a strong case for why we need to address this deficit.

Repairing a sleep issue is not a quick fix and requires a multi pronged approach. Patience and diligence is key. Like any skill, it can be built. There is mounting evidence that 7-8 hours of slumber a night is correlated with slowing the progression of Alzheimers disease. It appears that improper sleep time promotes the development of dementia. A study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg school of public health linked poorer sleep levels in people over 70 with higher levels of beta amyloid- a brain plaque that indicates Alzheimers.

Toxins build up in our brains during waking hours. And amazing cells in the brain called glia clean these toxins when we get a 7-8 hour block of sleep. So, think of those cells as the custodians of our brains that need a full shift to get the job done right. It explains why Alzheimers is sometimes referred to as a dirty brain disease. If sleep can clean the brain, I want a clean brain. I bet you do, too!

Things that disrupt a good night’s sleep include caffeine, worry, anxiety, lack of exercise and electronic use too close to bedtime. The blue light emitted from electronics suppresses melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, more than any other artificial light. This according to Harvard Medical school.

It is extreme to suggest that we stop using devices that emit blue light altogether. A gentler approach is to stop exposure 30-60 minutes before bedtime. We can do other things to help with what is called sleep hygiene. Creating a calming nightly ritual can become a safe haven of as we wind down. One of my clients uses soothing essential oils and my experience has mirrored her results. Some people swear by reading for near instant shuteye. In my cold Chicagoland winters, a microwaveable heating pack draped across the neck and shoulders starts to put my body in relax mode.

Be creative. Discover what can work for you and your current lifestyle. The success rate is high when my clients are motivated to repair their sleep.

Back to Dscout marketing. 40% of consumers touch their devices within 5 minutes of waking up. I am 100% on board with this practice because the blue light has an awakening effect.

Blue Light at night. Sleep is a fright.

Blue when you rise. Bright, restful eyes.

Coffee, Tea, Energy, and Anxiety: How Caffeine Affects Your Well-Being

Caffeine is the world’s most popular psychoactive drug, and nothing else comes close. Billions of people enjoy caffeine’s uplifting, energizing effects, many of them habitually.

Some even take pills containing nothing more than pure, powdered caffeine and an inert binder. Far more common, though, is to consume caffeine by sipping one of two brewed beverages, each with a long history.

Coffee and tea both have many passionate fans, and each is commonly thought to encourage a distinctive type of caffeine-induced experience. Although caffeine use is generally considered safe for most, it can have both benefits and drawbacks. Being familiar with the latest research into caffeine, coffee, and tea consumption will make it easier to achieve a balance that promotes well-being.

Caffeine is a Gentle but Effective Stimulant

Caffeine’s most notable and widely recognized effects are achieved through direct stimulation of the central nervous system (CNS). The longer a well-rested person stays awake, the more a substance called “adenosine” accumulates within and around the neurons of the CNS.

Adenosine-specific receptors throughout the CNS contribute to increasing sensations of drowsiness the more they get triggered. These feelings build up over time, ensuring that a person whose body and mind need rest will feel sleepier and sleepier.

Introducing caffeine into the CNS will temporarily hit the “pause” button on this important process. Caffeine effectively takes adenosine receptors offline, reducing the feeling of drowsiness even while large quantities of that chemical are still present.

Drinking a cup of caffeine-rich coffee or strong tea early in the morning will buy a person some time until the body’s natural means of adenosine elimination get into gear. That pushes away early-morning drowsiness long enough for genuine, natural alertness and energy to return.

Enjoying a mug of tea or a cup of coffee later on in the day can be just as effective at perking a person up. With adenosine having accumulated within the CNS to any degree, a modest dose of caffeine delivered courtesy of coffee or tea will help mitigate its drowsiness-inducing effects.

The Effects of Caffeine Vary With Dosage

Take too much caffeine at once, though, and unpleasant feelings like anxiety can follow. A Penn State Health report from 2019 described how even a second “grande” cup of Starbucks coffee can cause anxiety-inducing over-stimulation in certain people.

On the other side of the coin, many have also experienced how a cup of caffeinated tea can actually leave someone feeling excessively mellowed out instead of energized. Tea tends to have quite a bit less caffeine than coffee in general, and certain varieties are even lighter on it than others. Couple this with the fact that many types of tea contain natural relaxants, and the boost a small amount of caffeine provides might get lost in the mix.

  • Tea may help with anxiety and still assist with alertness.
  • Try different types of tea and see what works for your palate and situation.
  • Too much coffee may have an opposite affect from what you want.

It can therefore take some experimentation and analysis to figure out how best to use coffee or tea to promote personal well-being. The mechanism by which caffeine works is well understood, but variations among individuals and factors like dosage complicate the equation. Fortunately, tea and coffee are both considered safe–or even beneficial–for most to consume in moderation.

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