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Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing


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Have a mindful New Year

Practicing mindfulness is an effective way to manage stress and live more joyfully.

Practicing mindfulness is an effective way to manage stress and live more joyfully.

This article will appear in the Winter 2015 issue of the Livewell® Newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

After the rush of the holiday season, the first few weeks of the New Year can feel like the slate has been wiped clean. As winter deepens, life in the natural world slows down, too.

Take this opportunity to enjoy the stillness and consider what’s important to you, said Mary Beth Lardizabal, DO, psychiatrist, Allina Health Mental Health – United Clinic, and a group leader of Resilience Training at the Penny George Institute.

Better yet, find a way to bring that calming stillness into your everyday life.

LIVING IN THE PRESENT

One way to do that is to practice mindfulness. “Mindfulness is simply paying attention and being present. It’s not thinking about the past or what might happen in the future. It’s living in the here and now,” Lardizabal explained.

For many of us, living in the present is surprisingly difficult. “Increasingly, we are overscheduled and don’t have time to relax and reflect,” she said.

Technology may be partly to blame. “Endlessly checking your email or social media newsfeed becomes a conditioned habit. You end up missing out on everything else going on around you.” Patterns like this become automatic. “Until you become aware, you can’t interrupt the pattern,” said Lardizabal.

“It’s like unconsciously eating. We keep walking to the refrigerator without thinking about it. Once we catch ourselves, we can make decisions about the behavior.”

HOW MINDFULNESS HELPS

But practicing mindfulness can have an even deeper impact on our lives.

“Self-acceptance and self-compassion is an important part of mindfulness and being self-aware. In this culture, we always want to be more than what we are without really accepting who we are right now,” said Lardizabal. “It’s good to strive for improvement, but if the motivation is because you dislike yourself, it’s a set-up for failure.”

Research confirms the value of mindfulness, said Jeff Dusek, PhD, director of Research at the Penny George Institute. “People who practice mindfulness see normal life events such as illness as a challenge to overcome rather than a roadblock to good health. They also experience a greater sense of self-control in their lives, have increased commitment to daily life, and believe the world is comprehensible, manageable and meaningful.”

Mary Beth Lardizabal, DO, ABIHM, sees patients at Allina Health Mental Health – United Clinic in St. Paul. For appointments, call 651-241-5959.

HOW TO BUILD MINDFULNESS INTO YOUR LIFE

The Penny George Institute offers a variety of programs to help you explore mindfulness and put it to use in your daily life. To learn more, call 612-863-3333.

Program Best suited for:
Resilience Training – Eight-week intensive program that teaches mindfulness-based coping skills in combination with an individualized program of exercise and nutrition. Individuals who have experienced depression, anxiety or other stress-related mental health conditions and are currently in recovery or wish to prevent relapse.
Mindfulness Training – Four-week experiential program offering tools to help manage stress and achieve a higher state of well-being. Individuals who wish to explore new ways to manage stress and optimize their health and well-being.
Guided imagery MP3 albums – Three guided imagery albums focusing on pregnancy, stress management and pain management. Individuals who would like to learn how to benefit from the mind-body connection using electronic tools to improve health and well-being.


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Live well, live happy: how exercise increases happiness

Even a small amount of exercise can make a difference in your happiness and health.

Even a small amount of exercise can make a difference in your happiness and health.

By Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

This is part five in a LiveWell blog series on happiness that launched with “Live well, live happy” in January.

I am excited to share more great news about happiness. As noted previously, most happiness comes not from our circumstances, but from how we think and what we do given our circumstances.

Recently my mother has experienced joint inflammation and pain. She had to cut back on activities, including running around with her grandchildren. I was able to recommend to her a supervised, gentle exercise program. After just a few weeks, she is moving better and is also experiencing a shift in her mood. Her confidence has grown, she feels more hopeful and optimistic, and the return of her joyous laughter makes everyone around her smile.

My mother is experiencing what Sonja Lyubomirsky describes in her seminal publication, “The How of Happiness.” She says “exercise is the single best thing that you can do to improve your happiness.”

Documented benefits of activity include:

  • Enhanced ability to manage stress—Exercise releases norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the body’s stress response.
  • A boost in “happy chemicals”—Exercise releases endorphins, which produce a feeling of happiness and euphoria. Additionally, exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety and can sometimes be just as effective as anti-depressants in treating depression.
  • A profound positive effect on your brain—Exercise helps create new brain cells and protects certain brain structures, thereby sharpening memory and focus, and preventing cognitive decline.
  • Improved self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • Increased focus, creativity and energy.

Despite these benefits, you may still have obstacles to building more movement into your life. These tips may help.

  1. Fill in the blank: “I’m too ________ to exercise.” Is it busy? Tired? Old? Overwhelmed? Understanding your primary barrier will help you to work through it.
  • If you are too busy, what is the smallest amount that you could do?
  • If you are tired, experiment with just a bit of activity and see if you get an energy boost.
  • If you are prone to black and white thinking, i.e. “unless I am running, I may as well not bother,” know that research overwhelmingly shows the benefit of even a small amount of movement.
  1. Understand your exercise personality and preferences.
  • Do you love the great outdoors or prefer the climate-controlled comfort of your home?
  • Do you crave time alone or do you do best when with others?
  • Do you prefer joining a class or sports team, or is it easiest to weave in movement during your day?
  1. Start slow, be gentle and build gradually.

Even if it has been a while since you’ve been active, it is never too late to start, or restart. Here’s to happiness through movement!

Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, is an integrative health & wellness coach and an exercise physiologist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. Call 612-863-5178 to make an appointment with her.

Past entries by Mary Farrell in the “Live well, live happy” series:


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Embracing winter wellness

???????????????????????This article originally ran in the Healing Journal newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

If you have a strong opinion about winter, you are not alone.

Love it or hate it, a Minnesota winter is always there to remind us of its presence. Many of us struggle with the season’s shorter days and the challenges of plunging temperatures, snow or ice.

For some, staying healthy seems more difficult in the winter months. The annual ritual of a flu shot reminds of us what’s next: more time indoors and more chances to catch the latest cold, cough or flu. Others struggle with the darkness and expectations of the holidays. For some, seasonal affective disorder brings a constant struggle of more than just the winter blues.

“Around the holiday season many of us set high expectations for what we think we should and need to do,” said Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, a cardiologist and vice president of Allina Health’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. “These expectations are challenging for many of us, but there are ways to remain active and embrace the winter season. There is beauty in the change of seasons, and winter is a time for us to reflect upon and creatively enjoy what is beautiful about our region.”

Eight ideas to help you embrace winter

1. Head outdoors. Embrace the change of seasons. If you dress appropriately, the cold shouldn’t stop you from enjoying time outside in the crisp, cool air. As a physician scientist with the National Institutes of Health, Baechler spent time studying preventive health initiatives in Finland – a country with long, cold and snowy winters. She observed people fully embracing the outdoors during the winter, bundled up and running, walking, socializing and even biking year-round.

2. Make activity part of your holiday rituals. Spend time after a traditional holiday meal doing something active as a group. Going for a short walk or spending time outdoors playing a game is a great way to embrace the change of seasons and create a new tradition.

3. Be mindful. Winter gives us an opportunity to reflect, listen to our bodies and slow down. Be mindful that if you are moving less during the season, you should eat a little less.

4. Think like a kid. Most kids are excited by the first snowfall. Part of the mind, body and spirit approach to enjoying what is beautiful about winter is to enjoy and appreciate the changing landscape.

5. Think small rewards. If you get outdoors and enjoy a winter activity such as walking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or ice skating, take some time to reward yourself with a cup of hot tea or some time in front of a fireplace. Taking time for reflection is also a great personal gift.

6. Get creative. There are many options for staying active and fit during the winter. Find an indoor place to walk such as a local mall or sports center. Many schools or community recreation centers offer indoor swimming. Or, try something new such as warm yoga or a community education class.

7. Back to the basics. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays what people remember most is the time spent with others. Most people put too much pressure on themselves to find the perfect gift, to prepare the perfect meal, when what matters most is time spent with others.

8. Think three. Remind yourself of three things you are grateful for each day. Gratitude helps you stay in the moment and be present.

Courtney Baechler, MD, is a practicing physician with and the vice president of the Penny George Institute. Make an appointment with her by calling 612-863-3333, or learn about classes offered by the Penny George Institute


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Gratitude — not just for Thanksgiving


78650799_webBy Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

Part of me wishes I had written this in March, or perhaps July. Gratitude is such an amazing tool. It is unfortunate that it gets relegated to Thanksgiving. Nonetheless, November is a great time to talk about the power of gratitude.

Why is gratitude important? Gratitude has been called the “metastrategy” for happiness, and research backs that up. In fact, gratitude has been shown to:

  • help in seeing the positive and savoring the good
  • increase self-worth
  • aid in coping with stress and trauma
  • strengthen bonds with others
  • obliterate negative emotions, including greed, anger and fear
  • reduce physical symptoms, such as headache, nausea and colds.

Beyond “counting your blessings,” here are some practical ways to weave gratitude into your life:

  • Keep a daily or weekly gratitude journal. Benefits come both from writing and from revisiting what you’ve written.
  • Try an exercise called, “What went right and why,” with your family. You can do it around the dinner table or anytime your family comes together. You think about someone who made your day or something you did to make your day go right.
  • Write a gratitude letter. Expressing gratitude directly to someone in a letter is extremely effective. You may or may not send it.
  • Write a list for someone you love that includes “10 reasons I love/like you.” This is a surefire way to reinvigorate a relationship.

I can share a personal experience to demonstrate the immediate power of gratitude. About a year ago, I was doing some advanced coach training. One day, our assignment was to list the 10 things we loved about our partner/spouse/best friend. “Hmph,” I thought, “This is a very bad day for this assignment.”

It was one of those days when I couldn’t think of one reason why we were together. However, I was determined to finish the assignment. After 15 minutes, I came up with, “He makes chicken well.” (You know how easy it is to undercook or overcook chicken.) There! One thing I love about him.

After a few minutes, I remembered that he makes dinner quite often and that is very thoughtful of him. Next I remembered that after a hard day, he is really good about welcoming me home with some of my favorite jazz standards — John Coltrane, Billy Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Next I remembered that he always makes me laugh, even if things get ugly. Next I remembered  …. You can see how this went. I ended up texting this list to him, one at a time, minus the chicken.

To this day, he thinks that is the most romantic thing I ever did. You see, it is impossible to be angry, jealous, worried or resentful when you have gratitude in the mix.

I encourage you to pick one of the gratitude techniques and try it on for size. You may also want to get some support. Is there a friend, colleague or family member that you would like to involve in this endeavor?

Whatever you decide, remember these words from Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk known for interfaith dialogues and his work looking at the relationship between science and spirituality,  “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratitude that makes us happy.”

Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, is an integrative health & wellness coach and an exercise physiologist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center.


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Dealing with stress in our fast-paced, ever-changing world

By Pat Vitale, LICSW

What is resiliency and where does it come from? Are you born with it? Is it a learned response? Can you teach it to someone or build it in yourself? What does meditation have to do with resiliency? These are questions that I often get asked.

Resiliency by definition is our ability to bounce back in the face of adversity. This comes into play when someone experiences a life event that is stressful. That could be the loss of a job, an injury, illness or any major setback.

I think that in today’s world that definition only explains half the story. The other half of the “resiliency story” is one’s ability to adapt to a changing environment with minimal adverse stressful effects.

The second definition refers more to the chronic stressors we experience in our everyday lives that are caused by our fast-paced, ever-changing world. Today, information is immediately available and always changing. Technology is constantly evolving, and jobs are being redefined and morphed every day. We are constantly being asked to learn new things, leaving little time for us to feel masterful.

One of the most powerful stressors occurs when we feel we can’t adjust quickly enough to keep up with this ever changing world. I refer to this as a “chronic world stressor.” This kind of stressor is not often defined as a major life event, so it may go unnoticed and untreated. But it can have a cumulative impact on our health, well-being and overall quality of life.

Take a moment to think about how your life is impacted by the constant bombarding of information, the changing in your routine, or the number of new processes, procedures and policies you have to learn. How about the constant changes in technology … new phones, TVs, computers and even cars? I just got a new car and it has a manual the likes of the Webster dictionary! I am certain I am only using half of my car’s capabilities. There comes a point where you just can’t “download” anymore information.

One of the simplest skills that we can learn to be more resilient to stress is to meditate. Meditation can help us get centered, relax and replenish our reserves so that each day we possess the abilities to start fresh and engage in our ever changing environments from a place of curiosity and not in a way that will overwhelm us. We can improve our ability to learn and be flexible, instead of shutting down with fear of the unknown and rigidity.

Here is a simple meditation you can try called Mind Power for Life™ Technique*:

  1. Begin breathing through the nose, out of the mouth, exhaling twice as long as the inhale (ratio of 1:2). Continue this breathing through out the exercise.
  2. With eyes open, focus your attention on a point in the distance allowing your eyes to relax and your awareness to expand. (Peripheral Awareness)
  3. Begin thinking and saying to yourself, “ I am,” if possible linking it to your breathing.
  4. Visualize your outcome for the moment or day, and let go of the image, while continuing the breathing, saying to yourself, “I am.”
  5. When you are ready to complete the process of the meditation, reverse steps three to one.

This process can be done for as little as five to 20 minutes, once or twice a day. Any one of the above steps can also be done by itself if you are in a hurry or need an immediate de-stressor. Using one part of the technique alone will work better if you are already proficient in the full technique.

Try meditating for at least five to 20 minutes a day. You will see an immediate difference in your ability to manage everyday challenges and to build a reservoir of resiliency.

Pat Vitale is manager of training and development for integrative medicine for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

The Penny George Institute offers Mindfulness Training and other classes to help individuals manage stress through meditation and mindfulness.

*Mind Power for Life™ Technique is a Copyright ©1995, 1996 Neuro-Energetics


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Finding happiness in savoring this summer

Woman savoring the summerBy Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, integrative health & wellness coach and exercise physiologist

“My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate.” – Thornton Wilder

As I write this in mid-July — the height of summer, something we Minnesotans have anticipated for a long time ― I am hearing from many of my clients how quickly summer is going, how fleeting it is.

As true as that may be, particularly as we get older, it is also important to learn to savor. In fact, when researchers study what happy people do, savoring is one of the activities that evidence shows brings true happiness. As the season explodes in color, flavor and other sensations, it is a perfect time for you to dabble in savoring to see what happens to your happiness and well-being.

Here are three tips for savoring moments that make you happy:
1. Relish ordinary experiences. The great thing about this activity is that you don’t have to be wealthy or even in perfect health to experience this. Last weekend I picked basil from our plants and combined that with a tomato and fresh mozzarella from the local farmer’s market. As my seriously ill partner and I experienced this amazing combination of flavors on our patio, we smiled at each other and said, “It doesn’t get better than this.” The next time you are outdoors pay special attention to what you smell, see and hear. When you make your bed with fresh sheets, open a fresh loaf of bread, or pick up locally grown produce, take a few minutes to take the experience in and then to say, “How cool is that?”

2. Savor and reminisce with family and friends — sharing the experience doubles the enjoyment! Think about the top moments in your life — my guess is that most of them were in the context of others. When you share that perfect sunset or burger, or cross a finish line together, your joy is reflected back in those you are with and multiplied. Reliving and retelling the experience creates the same wonderful chemicals in your brain that you gained when you actually did the experience — harness that by retelling or reliving it in your mind.

3. Be open to beauty and excellence. We know that life can be stressful, trying and painful. We also know that beauty and transcendence co-exist with all of that. When we are open to finding pockets, swatches, and moments of beauty, we are happier. I made a point of finding some beauty on my way to work this morning. Just by setting my intention, I saw lovely things, heard laughter and smelled the earth in a way that I hadn’t previously. Nothing had actually changed except for my openness.

Consider some of these savoring ways. We are never too busy for this — give it a try and see what you might discover.

Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, is an integrative health & wellness coach and an exercise physiologist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center.


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Leaving stress behind on your summer vacation

by Mimi Lindell, MAN, BSN, RN, HNB-BC, CHTP

Stress-free vacation

Now that we are heading into summer, many of us are planning time off. Vacations are a great opportunity to relax, spend time with loved ones and see new sights. We usually assume that these experiences will be enjoyable and relaxing. But how many of us have taken a vacation and ended up feeling more stressed and exhausted than refreshed and renewed?

So what gets in the way of a stress-free vacation? Sometimes it’s the financial cost, the hassles of travel, or our inability to leave work at work. Sometimes it’s unrealistic expectations or doing things out of obligation, rather than pleasure. Sometimes it’s a lack of planning, or too much planning. We may abandon our diet and exercise routines, ignore our need for sleep, and come back to work exhausted.

With a little mindful planning and self-care, you can make the most of your time off, enjoy yourself, and reduce the risk of added stress, disappointment or frustration.

Here are some tips:

  • Don’t overschedule your time. Try to balance activities with free time, and allow yourself a good night’s sleep.
  • To reduce food costs, and eat healthier, make your own simple breakfasts and lunches, especially if you have a fridge or microwave available. In the evening you can splurge with a nice dinner out.
  • For car travel:
    – be familiar with a few different routes
    – have maps or GPS handy
    – get your car tuned up before the trip
    – bring water and healthy snacks along
    – take plenty of stretch breaks.
  • For plane travel:
    – arrive at the airport early
    – dress comfortably
    – pack light
    – know the current security requirements for baggage restrictions
    – pack your required medications in your carry-on bag
    – don’t forget the sunscreen.
  • For a staycation:
    – be intentional about taking this time to be off
    – unplug from work and don’t get caught up in the usual routine household chores
    – do things you enjoy that you don’t normally have time for ― seek out fun activities in your own community, explore local parks and museums, plan a family movie night, go on a picnic, or take a day trip to explore nearby towns or natural attractions.

Taking a vacation doesn’t have to be stressful and complicated. Keep in mind these helpful suggestions, get in touch with what is truly meaningful for you about this opportunity for relaxation and renewal, and really give yourself a break.

Mimi Lindell, MAN, BSN, RN, HNB-BC, CHTP
Inpatient Manager
Penny George Institute for Health and Healing