LiveWell®

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


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Six tips for reducing school year stress

Family eating dinner together

During the school year, commit to one healthy habit like eating dinner together.

By Courtney Baechler, MD

This is one of my favorite times of year ― cool mornings followed by hot, sunny, summer afternoons and the excitement of a new school year.

While some parents feel good about this, others get anxious thinking about the faster pace of the school year ― carpools, deadlines and the possibility of more commitments.

Here are some tips to help keep you and your family healthy and to reduce stress this year:

  1. Choose one thing that your family wants to commit to, such as:
    • eating breakfast at the kitchen table instead of in the car
    • eating dinner together
    • not overcommitting
    • having dedicated family time
    • sticking to a bedtime schedule.
  2. Create your “team” of support. Just as CEOs need a lot of support to do their jobs, you as the “chief wellness officer” of your family do too. Create a list of the team members who help meet your family’s needs, along with their contact information. Keep this list in a central place so that everyone can see how to get a hold of the back-up players. Team members may include:
    • family members
    • neighbors
    • babysitters
    • kids’ club leader
    • back-up babysitters.
  3. Don’t forget about your social needs and connections. Make time for:
    • friends
    • date nights
    • activities that help you thrive, such as book clubs, exercise, and spiritual groups.
  4. Get outside. Nothing is quite as calming as being a part of nature. During the week, simply take a family walk around the block or a trip to the neighborhood park. Add in a few hikes, bike rides or canoeing trips to make the most of the beautiful and calming scenery of autumn.
  5. Say no. It’s OK to do this, and it can actually be empowering. Try to do more by doing less. Commit to and enjoy the things you are interested in doing, but don’t feel the need to do everything. You will find that you get more joy from experiencing a few things in entirety. That holds up for kids’ activities as well. It doesn’t make you a bad parent to have your kids in only a few extracurricular activities. Trust me, their futures don’t depend on being over scheduled.
  6. Limit screen time. Take a family poll and see how much time your family (including you), is spending using technology. Most families admit that these devices can eat up time. Consider setting clear limits for when and how much screen time is allowed. You don’t need to eliminate screen time entirely, but limits can have the benefits of increased movement and improved sleep.
  7. Rejuvinate on the weekends. Crazy concept, huh? Turns out weekends were never really intended for all of our errands and household chores. While I know it’s impossible to stop running errands, designate at least part of the weekend for rest and relaxation. I would argue that one of the greatest skills we can teach our children is how to relax. It turns out that it’s easier to do all the difficult things in life (choosing healthy foods, exercising, and being productive) when we return to work and school on Monday after recharging our batteries.

 

Courtney Baechler, MD, is a practicing physician with and the vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She has a master’s degree in clinical epidemiology from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

 

 


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Looking within: Rediscover joyful living through mindfulness

Calm.Centered.Happy.v2

Multitasking once described what computers did. Now it describes us – living in a world transformed by mobile technology, 24/7 connectivity and instant communication.

“Many of us are in a state of ‘continuous partial attention,’” said Maureen Doran, RD, LD, Mindfulness Training facilitator, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern Hospital. “In fact, we are taught to splinter our attention and focus on many things at one time.”

We are also trained to look outside ourselves for happiness. “It’s having the right partner, the right job, or the right house and believing that this will bring us happiness and fulfillment, or at least help us avoid suffering,” said Doran.

Yet this way of life may create suffering in the form of chronic stress, said Doran. “There can be a feeling of disconnectedness, that you are living a little outside yourself.” If you develop an illness, have chronic pain or go through some major life stress – like job loss or a death in the family – it compounds the issue. Joyful living seems all but impossible.

Mindfulness is a practice that many see as an antidote to fragmented, crazy-busy lifestyles. Participants learn to stabilize their minds and increase resilience through mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga. “It’s a way of being present to one’s life, learning to notice what’s going on right in front of you and bearing witness to it in a non-judgmental way,” said Doran, who teaches a four-week Mindfulness Training class.

“Our class participants have overwhelmingly said that Mindfulness Training has improved the quality of their lives and has provided them with tools for living with greater ease, joy, engagement and balance,” said Doran. “We help people recognize and mobilize their inner psychological resources to take better care of themselves, learn new ways of calming themselves, and become more centered and clear-headed.”

Mindfulness research
Research in the field of mindfulness has shown that:
• Consistent mindfulness training can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, decrease blood pressure and increase the immune response.
• Those who practice mindfulness experience a greater sense of control in their lives, have increased commitment to daily life, see life events (including illness) as challenges instead of obstacles, and believe that the world is comprehensible, manageable and meaningful.

Mindfulness Training, a program of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, is being offered this May in Minneapolis and New Ulm.


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Passions and priorities – avoiding being overwhelmed

185421595.OverscheduledCalendarBy Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, massage therapist, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

It was my junior year of college, and I had big plans. On the slate for fall term were 16 credit hours, a campus job, two volunteer positions, a romantic interest, and spots in at least two performing choirs. On the side, I also was to teach a weekly yoga class, tutor Italian language students, and participate in a twice weekly science internship.

Several friends told me that it seemed a bit much. But I was excited and confident that my passion and drive would see me through.

It was an impressive juggling act for the first few weeks, and ultimately my passion did carry me through, just not to my planned destination. I scraped through the term with 11 academic credits, many frayed nerve endings, and an application for academic leave.

The job, volunteerism, romance, choirs, additional credits, and much of my social life disappeared by November.  My attempt to “get it all done” had run me into a nervous breakdown.  I remember feeling confused about why it hadn’t worked out.

Reflecting back, I see that I had talent, inspiration, youth, intelligence and energy on my side. I set goals that seemed reasonable, and planned my time accordingly. The trouble was that I gave equal importance to everything. When things got hairy with my classwork, I didn’t let other responsibilities go — I just stayed up later. Things started to slip and that didn’t fit my self-expectations, so my emotional stress hit the roof.

Years later, the number of responsibilities, passions, and demands on my time hasn’t decreased—quite the contrary. The lesson of that semester, though, has stuck with me: Many things can be important, but only a few can be central. I took spring semester off, and came back with three clear priorities ― school, yoga, and music. Once those were taken care of, my remaining time would be unstructured.

In truth, there was little unstructured time and focusing on three things was almost boring in comparison to my fall semester. But at the year’s end, I was a happy, healthy biology major on top of things. I felt successful, and I had found a new way to approach my passions and priorities.

As you consider resolutions, goals, and plans, what are your top priorities? What is filling your time but not supporting your values? What people, ideas, or activities excite you? Acting on your values provides what I call the “second paycheck.” These are things that money can’t buy, but that have immeasurable worth –  like time spent with the kids, painting, hiking in the woods, or close friendships.

Here is my challenge to you in four easy steps:

  1. Buy a stack of 3 x 5 index cards. Each night this month, draw a blank card before going to bed.
  2. On the front, write down three core values and/or important goals.
  3. On the back, note three small things you will do the next day to meet those values or goals.
  4. The next day, do those three things again.

Repeat these steps until you can’t think of anything else that is important to do. Sound easy? Let me know how it goes!

Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, is a massage therapist with the Penny George Institute. He works with hospitalized patients.


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Accumulating stuff and letting go – reorganizing to relieve stress

By Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, massage therapist, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

My wife and I consider ourselves to be thrifty folks who place a higher value on relationships and time spent together than on stuff.  Even so, it’s astonishing how many things accumulate in our home.

Perhaps you can relate. With three children under seven, our house was one busy place last summer. Like many families in Minnesota, we spend the summer months getting out as much as we can ― day camps, bike rides, camping trips, swimming, boating and climbing. These activities all require equipment that takes up space.

During the summer months, this stuff can live on the porch, in the garage, or even in the backyard.  But come autumn, we need to find places inside our home for it.  Enter my basement  … dah dah dah Daaah.

Because we had been so busy, our basement maintenance and storage system became overwhelmed to the point that you could barely walk down there. I found myself avoiding it so I didn’t have to look at it.

It wasn’t until a cold, rainy, Friday evening in October that I finally found time to sort, organize, and discard my way through that pile. The emotional weight lifted in putting my things in their place was startling. I remembered how valuable it is to feel this way.

In the Chinese calendar, autumn is about letting go. Leaves fall, summer fades. The harvest is in, and we look back on the year with appreciation for its fullness, and in some cases for its messiness.

Fall is a time to consider what is meaningful in our lives. Ideas, objects, relationships and habits may be reconsidered, revised or replaced with things that are more relevant and life-giving. When we take time to organize, sort, and care for our space and our possessions, we have an opportunity to consider what is meaningful.

For example, while sorting through my basement, I came across several crates of books that I’ve stored for almost 20 years in hopes that I would someday read, reread, or pass them on to my children. I overlooked them many times during these sorting episodes, but this year I found I was ready to begin letting go. I took nine grocery bags to Magers and Quinn, added $140 to my kids’ college fund, and freed up some space in my basement and my subconscious mind.

Now the holidays have just passed with the typical infusion of more stuff. It’s clear that my space and the things in it affect my stress level. When my home is organized, I feel more relaxed, creative, and able to plan, sort, and breathe. Still, I know that stuff is an essential part of living and raising kids.

I wonder, though, what it would be like if letting go of stuff became as enjoyable and habitual as acquiring it?

I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions:

  • What are your experiences with accumulation of and clearing out of stuff?
  • How do you balance acquiring and letting go?
  • How do you handle accumulation over the holidays? Are you happy with that approach?

Here’s to our stuff! Happy New Year from all of us at the Penny George Institute.

Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, is a massage therapist with the Penny George Institute. He works with hospitalized patients.


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Stressed for the holidays? Consider giving yourself the gift of mindfulness

FLowersAndCandlesBy Maureen Doran, RD, LD

We are in the height of the holiday season. If you’re not feeling so “ho, ho, ho,” it could be because the holiday season can be one of the highest stress times of the year.

The season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is associated with what Zorba the Greek described as “the full catastrophe” ― joy, hope and optimism, and adversity. We experience crowds, deadlines, bills, high expectations and endless to-do lists. 

The American Psychological Association has reported that more than half of Americans report being more irritable at this time of year, and a majority of us say we are more fatigued.

On the other hand, the holiday season can provide an opportunity to consider the way stress affects your body. Does it manifest in overeating and drinking in excess? Feeling extra tired, or wired? More body aches? Headaches? Feeling empty or sad? Elevated blood pressure?

For many of us, holiday stress can diminish our health or happiness.

Yet there are ways to draw on your inner resources to find vitality and healing in the face of great stress, even holiday stress. There are skills you can acquire to do this.

In fact, in the new year, I will be teaching a class called Mindfulness Training. It is a four-week course focused on quieting and stabilizing your mind to help restore your natural state of well-being. It includes yoga, meditation and discussion to develop inner wisdom, transformation and healing.

Class participants have said that it has improved their quality of life and given them tools for living with greater ease, joy, engagement and balance.

Learn more about the class and how to register by visiting this class listing.

Maureen Doran, RD, LD, is an integrative nutritionist at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing who maintains a teaching practice in Kundalini yoga and mindfulness-based meditation, providing therapeutic instruction to both individuals and groups.