Skin Cancer: Minimize Your Risk by What You Eat

 I write a lot about the importance of diet to our health and well being. What we eat – and what we do not eat – has been proven to directly affect obesity levels, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, osteoporosis and even dental diseases.SunWith spring’s arrival heralding warmer weather and longer, sunny days, people will be spending a lot more of their free time outdoors. Ask anyone to tell you what they consider to be the number one cause for the rise in skin cancer worldwide, and I will bet you they will unanimously blame sun exposure.

But guess what? That’s not entirely correct! You see, the sun is only partially responsible for the dramatic rise in skin cancer worldwide.

As with so many other major, life-threatening diseases, our diet has a huge impact on the health of our single largest external organ – our skin. Before I explain how diet is involved, let’s first look at the major types of skin cancer.

The three different “skin cancer” conditions are, from least to most serious: basal cell carcinoma, squamos cell carcinoma (the precursor for which is actinic keratosis) and melanoma, which is the deadliest form because it tends to spread or metastasize. The first two mentioned are the most common forms, as well as being non-melanoma type.

According to the website TopicalInfo.com, during a period of 51 years in the United States, from 1950 to 2001, cases of melanoma rose 690 percent! And though basal and squamos cell skin cancers are not required to be reported to cancer registries as do melanomas, there is still sufficient evidence to support that their occurrence is at least doubling every 20 years.

Very few people know that 40 to 50 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States are skin cancers. Though melanomas make up a very small portion of these incidents, (about 3 to 4 percent,) it’s important to note that 75% of all skin cancer deaths are from melanomas!

These significant rises in the occurrence of all forms of skin cancer have happened despite the increased and widespread use of sunscreens.

Applying SunscreenIt is, however, critical to note that while using sunscreen has been shown to reduce the formation of actinic keratosis, which can lead to squamos cell carcinoma, the use of sunscreens does not prevent the more serious and deadlier form of skin cancer known as melanoma.

So how can we reduce our risk from this rising threat?

Most people know that diet plays a vital role in skin health. During the 35 years from 1970 to 2005, as the incidence of melanoma steadily rose in the United States, interestingly enough, so did, almost equally, the consumption of vegetable oils (margarine, salad, cooking oils.) But the introduction of UVA/UVB sunscreens in 1980 did not show any significant or measurable effect on rising melanoma rates.

It is also important to note that while non-melanoma cancers may not be life-threatening, they’re still quite serious.

The non-deadly forms of skin cancer, especially when left untreated, can be extremely disfiguring. After treatment for localized damage, which can sometimes be severe and widespread, it is often necessary to follow-up with some form of plastic surgery, especially when the cancer occurs on the face.

There are three factors which contribute to the occurrence of skin cancer: cell damage, the presence of certain enzymes and hormones (too many or too few) and a compromised immune system. Most people associate skin cancer with the cell damage caused by exposure to ultraviolet light, either from the sun itself or more recently from the popular, but dangerous, use of tanning booths, or from being exposed to toxic chemicals in our environment.

However, when certain chemicals (enzymes or hormones) are out of balance in our bodies, and/or our immune systems are compromised, skin cancers may also result, especially the deadly melanomas. We know that along with special white blood cells in our body called natural killer cells, pancreatin, produced by our pancreas, also serves to kill cancer cells. Its other responsibility is to aid in the digestion of foods we eat.

When we consume too many protein-rich foods or, even worse, polyunsaturated fats, we overburden deplete the pancreatin in our body, weaken its defense mechanism and increase our risk of developing cancer.

Polyunsaturated fats are unstable, so when they are not digested by the pancreatin, they settle in skin cell structures. Once there, they are very susceptible to damage by contact with oxygen or by ultraviolet light from the sun, and free radicals are formed.

Free Radicals

Once formed, the free radicals are able to damage the cell’s DNA, thus causing genetic cell damage or mutation of the cell into a cancer cell. Therefore, although the ultimate cause for the mutation of the cell can be blamed on exposure to the sun, the underlying or originating cause is the consumption of polyunsaturated fats and too much protein.

Today, most people don’t think about what causes illness or disease in the first place. And what’s way more frustrating to me, is even fewer people practice prevention. Instead, we rely on treatment, which is costly, often very painful, and not always successful.

It’s never too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle! Remember, that by making even little changes you can become a healthier you. By stopping that first mutated cell from ever forming, you can avoid getting cancer. So, the next time you’re smoothing on the sunscreen, why don’t you stop and ask yourself: “What did I eat today?”

If you are ready to be inspired, supported, motivated and encouraged to create a life to love, and to receive a FREE, 45 minute Coaching Consultation, I invite you to contact me at (856) 854-7393 or eileen@midlifeandmenopausecoach.com. I will get back to you promptly, usually within 24 hours.

Empty Nest Syndrome: Truth or Myth?

 

Empty NestEven the sound of its name conjures sadness and loneliness; after all what good is an “empty” nest? You’ve seen them, perched high in the branches of a tree or tucked into the soffits or doorjambs of a building. Empty nests: mounds of twigs, string and muck sitting abandoned, crumbling in the wind, no longer needed; no longer purposeful.

Roughly 38 million women were born between the years of 1946 to 1964, the years known as the baby boom, and many of them became mothers.

That means today, even the youngest of these women, the ones born in the sixties, are now facing the empty nest stage of life, when their children leave home either for college, to get married, or simply to move out and begin life on their own.  It’s something every parent of a newborn knows lies ahead someday, but during the hectic years of child-rearing we rarely have time to focus on its ever-nearing approach.

Then, the kids are gone and your home becomes an empty nest.

Okay, maybe not quite empty: your husband may still be there, dogs, cats, even an elderly parent or two. But your now grown children no longer require day-to-day attention. And for some women, especially those who have been home for years raising their children, the clock’s loud ticking can become something akin to Chinese water torture. Tick, tick, tick, tick…as the minutes turn to hours, then to days, weeks, and months in their now “empty” house.

Women born during the first half of the baby boom years were more likely to experience some degree of empty nest syndrome because their children left home earlier and post-college few of them ever lived home again. And since few of these women worked full-time outside the home, adapting to an empty nest was a more significant transition.

Woman on PayphoneAs a freshman in college, I called home once a week and we just had one option – a costly pay phone. Though regular mail was a far cheaper form of communication, it was not nearly as satisfying as hearing a person’s voice. In the 70′s, sharing photos required film and time consuming processing, so it was very expensive. Today, we snap pictures by the hundreds, upload them to our computers in minutes, and digitally transmit them in seconds.

I never felt depressed or even mildly sad about my daughters leaving for college.

Okay, maybe I had a wistful moment or two, during which I resorted to looking through their baby photo albums! I do, however, have a few friends who had a pretty tough time when their kids left. Some cried, not just when they hugged goodbye at the dormitory before climbing into their car to return home, but for days after their children were gone.

One friend told me, with a look of confusion and disbelief on her face, that she didn’t know what she was going to do without her daughter at home. This from a woman who owns a thriving business, so she isn’t exactly sitting around all day with nothing to do!  While my heart certainly went out to her, I readily admit I was mentally kicking up my heels at the thought of my own impending solitary status, but kindly refrained from saying so at the time.

Somewhere, deep underneath my happy thoughts, I could feel a smidgeon of guilt trying to bubble up to the surface, but I realized my mild case of guilt was because I felt bad for not feeling bad. Social pressure was getting to me! I wondered if I was “normal” for not feeling more than excitement and anticipation about my newfound freedom.

“Normal,” I silently assured myself, “is kids growing up, moving out and creating their own lives.”

I know part of my happiness around my girls starting their own lives is because I’ve been the only parent for the last 12 years. After my husband died, there were times when I literally wanted to run away from home. NOT because my kids were rotten, miserable kids. My girls were really great growing up, very easy to raise and I love them both very much. But I still found myself occasionally wanting to escape, because raising even good children can be stressful, exhausting, and rampant with constant decisions.

Do you take them to the doctor or let them ride it out? When do you let them cross the street by themselves? Are they strong enough to climb the monkey bars alone? Should I force them to get braces on their teeth? When is it the right time to let them get their ears pierced, wear makeup, go out with a boy? How late can they stay out? Should they be allowed to go the shore after prom? When they come home from college, should they still have a curfew?

Yes, raising kids involves making lots of plans and decisions.

Stuents on CampusNo matter what phase of life we’re in, we must make plans and decisions. Whether it’s welcoming our first baby home or packing the last child off to college, we’ll make the transitions that much smoother and less traumatic when we anticipate and plan for these passages. For example, thinking ahead about what we want to do once the kids are gone will help us to avoid long, empty hours when the time comes.

I urge my clients to think about the hobbies or projects they’ve put on hold during the child-rearing years. What trips or vacations have you postponed because the timing wasn’t right for the kid’s school schedules? What dreams have you long ago forgotten about, or what ideas seemed too crazy to pursue with kids in tow?

The time is now to resurrect these thoughts, ideas, and dreams. No matter how far-fetched or impossible they once seemed, now that your child-rearing years have wound down, you have a second chance to embrace these possibilities. And even though the empty nest years can be challenging to couples who have spent years focused on their kid’s needs and wants, the opportunities to re-connect with each other mentally, physically and spiritually can be deeply rewarding.

With my daughters away at college, things that seem so small make a big difference.

I don’t toss and turn in bed anymore, wondering when they’ll be home, so my sleep is finally sound. If I feel like vacuuming at 6:00 AM, I don’t worry about waking them up. If I’m happy eating the same thing three nights in a row, I know I can, without hearing complaints of “not this again!”

My daughters still come home for holidays, breaks and summer vacations. I’m always happy to see them and look forward to our long mother-daughter talks over cups of tea at the kitchen table or stretched out on my bed late at night. But I also look forward to the door closing behind them and waving to them as they drive away, knowing that once again, time will be my own.

Having an empty nest isn’t such a bad thing. I may be “home alone” with an “empty nest” these days, but I assure you, I am far from lonely! Oh, by the way, did I mention I have three dogs?

Goodbye Winter Blues; Hello Spring Fever!

This week’s weather prediction is for temperatures to go as high as 65 degrees, possibly even more, this week! 65 degrees! That’s jacket weather…not coat weather…jacket weather!

I realized I’m really restless with a severe case of Spring Fever.

I’m tired of seeing my breath escape in white puffs every time I step outdoors. I’m weary of bundling up in several layers to take my dogs for a short walk. I’m tired of shoveling snow and scraping ice off my car’s windows. I’m ready to say goodbye to chapped hands and lips, fly-away hair, and dry, itchy skin!

And I feel something else, too. I feel guilty for wishing these long days of winter to be over already. I know that soon enough, spring will be here accompanied by its own drawbacks. I really don’t like wishing my life away, just because “now” has some negatives or I’ve become bored with the sameness of the days and nights.

I know that springtime frequently delivers rain for days in a row, which means I’ll be wiping off three sets of muddy paws every time I bring my dogs in from the yard. And springtime means a yellow haze of pollen blanketing the deck furniture and clinging to my clothes whenever I work outside. It means scratchy throats and eyes, while sneezing and sniffling through much of the day.

But springtime also means bright splashes of yellow daffodils dotting my yard and pink cherry blossoms and white dogwood trees in bloom all over the neighborhood. It means the sun will rise earlier providing us with longer days as an incentive to get outdoors for welcome activities and exercise. It means afternoon picnics and backyard weekend barbecues with friends.

I really try not to put weight on in the winter months, but the pounds often creep on despite my best intentions. Especially since menopause, just looking at certain foods makes the number on the scale climb! So right about now – mid-February each year – I feel sluggish and frustrated by the extra weight. I really dislike that it makes my clothes tighter and less comfortable.

By March, I’m so ready to hop on my bicycle for a long ride, take my dogs for a fast-paced afternoon walk around the lake at the park, or clean out garden beds that you’ll often find me outside even when the mercury has dropped again. I am not easily daunted by the brisk March winds when the sun is shining strong.

As the saying goes, “March comes in like a lion, but goes out like a lamb.”

By April, I’m often so antsy that I tend to overdo my bike rides, long walks and vigorous yard-work. I end up paying the price for my over-exuberance with a few sore, achy muscles. But honestly, after so much sedentary time over the winter, I sort of relish those aches and pains because I feel more alive and in some odd way, even younger! Plus, it makes me crave more exercise because I know the fastest way to feeling better is to get moving again!

What causes this surge in energy and the increased craving of physical activity in most people at this time of the year? Long ago, poets and artists alike recognized the effects of “spring fever” on people’s behavior, though they had little scientific evidence to back up their perceptions that people in the spring act differently. Dozens of poems, songs, plays and paintings pay homage to the effects spring has on people.

There is, however, actual science behind the rise in our libido and energy levels during the months of March, April and May.

Specifically, hormonal changes in our bodies are triggered by the increased daylight being taken in through the retinas of our eyes. As the days grow longer and we take in more light, a very significant hormonal change occurs. Our levels of melatonin begin to drop. Melatonin is a hormone responsible for our moods and how much sleep we need. In winter months we produce more melatonin, but as the days lengthen melatonin production slows.

With that drop we feel greater energy, require less sleep, have an increased sex-drive and desire less food. Additionally, with more exposure to the sun, we get more Vitamin D which is vital for strong bones and teeth. All these changes have a direct impact on our desire to be outdoors which inevitably increases our physical activity and for some people, those winter pounds simply melt away.

Spring is a time of renewal and is felt by people of all ages.

Children yearn to be out of the classroom and want to play outdoors well into the evening hours. Adults of all ages feel bitten by the “love bug” and romance abounds. And Mother Nature responds with animals of all types turning to procreation and plants bursting forth with extraordinary speed from heretofore barren looking soil.

I am always overjoyed and amazed by the transformation in my yard day-by-day. I look forward to strolling around in the early morning or evening. I make mental notes about which plants grew the most, which trees have buds popping open and which shrubs have new shoots appearing. Seeing these noticeable changes gives me great satisfaction and high hopes for the coming growing season.

All my restless and pent-up energy from the winter doldrums causes me to feel what my mother would have called “ants in the pants.” I literally can’t sit still sometimes! One of my favorite ways to channel my spring fever is to do a major spring-cleaning. That’s right! I’m one of those oddballs who just love to turn everything in the house upside-down and inside-out to freshen things.

There’s nothing like airing out the house, dusting off the window blinds, freshly laundered window treatments, sparkling clean window panes, steam-cleaned carpets and maybe even organizing a closet or two to make one feel alive! I get into every nook and cranny, room-by-room and by the time I’m done, the house looks and smells refreshed and I feel so satisfied with the results of all my hard work.

No, Spring Fever is not just in our heads!

Go on! Get out there! Order plenty of seeds from the catalogs. If you’re not an avid gardener like me, then join a CSA this spring. Nothing is better than fresh produce in the summer! Pull out the lawn mower and the bicycles for tune-ups. Pump up the basketballs, buy some new tennis balls, and pull the garden hose out of the garage. Buy a new pair of sneakers and break them in.

Toss some bright, splashy throw pillows on the sofas. Put some fresh cut flowers from the market in vases throughout the house. Retire the cinnamon scented candles for something light and citrusy. Hang a colorful wreath on your front door and plant some pansies at the doorstep.

Go ahead: Think Spring. It’s right around the corner!

The Benefits of Friendship

Having a network of friends is one of the single, most important aspects to a happy and healthy life. Unlike family relationships, our friendships are formed by personal choice, without the formality of legal ties or ceremonies. Like family relationships however, friendships can span our entire lifetime.

There are many kinds of friends. Some are quite casual and may center on a common hobby or pastime. Other friendships form due to participation in an organization or club, but never extend outside those boundaries. We have best friends, close friends, childhood friends, good friends, work friends and school friends.

Frequently, the friendships we make during our youth fade or dwindle as we grow up and move on to new places in life. Yet when our childhood and school-year friends stay with us into adulthood, they are often the most important friends we have. Our common history and the length of time that our connection has continued becomes the glue that keeps us together, even if we’ve changed significantly from when we first met.

Our most valuable friends are the ones with whom we feel the deepest connection and greatest trust. It is with these friends that we share our fears, secrets, desires and problems and dreams. There are many unexpected benefits from this type of relationship, including such things as lessening stress, limiting depression, lowering blood pressure, keeping our minds agile, and lessening the debilitating effects of old age. Research has even shown that people with close friendships are more likely to exercise regularly, avoid excessive alcohol and even be more inclined to quit smoking.

Having multiple groups of friends increases our physical and mental activity levels, raises self-esteem and self-confidence, creates fun and pleasure, and provides us with support and security. Prior to the late 1960s there was little attention paid to the study of the effects that friendship can have on the quality and length of our lives. In more recent years, however, researchers in a variety of fields, including sociology, psychiatry, anthropology, immunology, psychology and communications have realized the significant role that friendship – good and bad – can play in our lives.

Generally speaking, friendships between women are stronger than those between men. This is likely due to the fact that friendships between women include a greater degree of emotional bonding and spiritual support, whereas friendships between men are more focused on physical activity and mental connection.

And because men and women are biologically hard-wired differently, women also “tend and befriend” when under stress. Whereas our male counterpart’s response to stress, pressure or crisis is the familiar “fight-or-flight” pattern. In research done by Shelly Taylor, PhD and five other colleagues, they discovered that women turn to nurturing, being supportive and empathetic or “tending” and strengthening bonds and reinforcing connection “befriending” when they are in similar circumstances.

Hormonally, women respond differently under pressure by releasing oxytocin, which is a calming hormone. Sometimes also called the “love hormone,” its release into a woman’s systems raises the desire for companionship. And with the comfort and support of friends, her body releases even more of this feel-good hormone, ultimately creating a sense of calm and well-being, even when the underlying problem, strife or crisis has not changed.

I’m always amazed by the ingenuity of our bodies to protect us from ourselves! Women simply crave connection when we’re stressed, which is exactly what our bodies need in order to maintain our physical and mental well being. I now know that instead of distancing or cocooning myself when I am depressed or troubled about something, that the best choice is to “reach out and touch someone.”

It is critically important to our health and well-being to connect…not isolate! There have been many studies done that confirm the importance of psychosocial support to help women to better manage pressure and let off steam. Simply put, women prefer being with others when they’re stressed, while men prefer being left alone.

Over 45 years ago, when I was a Girl Scout, I remember learning a song that I still hold in high regard today. The author is unknown, but I’ll bet it was a woman! And to this day, when I think of the lyrics, especially the 6th stanza of the song, I get teary-eyed. Friendship is a treasure that we must appreciate, protect, and work hard to maintain.

Make new friends,
but keep the old.
One is silver,
the other is gold.

A circle is round,
it has no end.
That’s how long,
I will be your friend.

A fire burns bright,
it warms the heart.
We’ve been friends,
from the very start.

You have one hand,
I have the other.
Put them together,
We have each other.

Silver is precious,
Gold is too.
I am precious,
and so are you.

You help me,
and I’ll help you
and together
we will see it through.

The sky is blue
The Earth is green
I can help
to keep it clean.

Across the land
Across the sea
Friends forever
We will always be.

Author Unknown

Curb Your Hunger with this Delicious Breakfast Food

All About Oatmeal

Quaker Oats LogoAs a child in the 50’s and 60’s, the oatmeal my mother prepared was the most familiar “Quaker Oats” brand. Back then, Quaker Oats came in a red, white and blue cardboard canister and still does today. Bearing the image of a friendly-looking man with long, gray hair under a wide-brimmed hat, (at the time I thought he was a pilgrim, not a Quaker,) this canister held what is referred to as rolled oats.

Rolled oats is a term applied to oats that have been cleaned, toasted, hulled, steamed and flattened into flakes. Depending on the thickness of the flakes, they are labeled either ‘old-fashioned’ (thicker flakes which take longer to cook) or ‘quick-cooking’ (the more ‘instant’ variety.) Don’t, however, confuse quick oats with the instant packaged oatmeal that has become so popular today. They have a ton of added sugars, so they are NOT your friend!

According to the official website for the Quaker Oats Company, the oat kernel consists of the following four parts: the hull, bran, endosperm and germ. The hull is the protective covering on the outside of the oat kernel. It’s very tough and fibrous, so tough in fact that it is inedible and therefore removed during the milling process. One amazing fact from the site states that after being removed the hulls are burned for fuel at the University of Iowa. That’s a lot of hulls!

Once the hull is removed, what is left is called the “oat groat” which is comprised of three parts. The exposed outer layer is called the “bran” and is what provides the heart-healthy, soluble fiber. The “endosperm” is the largest part of the oat and gives us with the energy boosting carbohydrate and protein, essential for healthy muscles. And finally, the “germ” or heart of the grain, which contains many essential nutrients our body needs.

Of course, back when I was a youngster sitting down to a piping hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, I knew nothing about the biology or nutritional quality of the breakfast in front of me, nor did I care. What I was interested in was how it tasted, and quite honestly, it was not the oatmeal itself that I relished, but rather the added ingredients I generously lavished on the bland looking mound of mush in my bowl.

First, I’d create a sizeable crater in the center of the mound, then I’d spoon on brown sugar, after which I’d pour ice-cold, whole milk in a moat around the mound before methodically eating each sweet spoonful. I’d finish by scraping the bowl to get every bit. I will even admit that once in awhile, when my mother was not looking, I’d lick my bowl clean!

Basically, there are three types of oats from which to choose: rolled a.k.a. old fashioned, quick or steel cut. Whatever type you prefer, the milling process or preparation of the whole oat grain is the same: first they’re hulled after which the groat is cleaned and then the groats are heated to 215 degrees Fahrenheit which deactivate their enzymes and stabilizes them for storage. Without this heating process, the oils in the oats would oxidize, turning them rancid and making them inedible in a short amount of time.

Once the groats have been hulled, cleaned and stabilized they are ready for the next step. Steel cut oats are the closest form to the whole groat, except they’ve been cut into small bits that look like a lot like little broken kernels of brown rice. To make rolled oats, the groats are steamed to soften them, then flattened or rolled out into flakes. Quick oats are either rolled oats that have been chopped up a bit in order to make them cook faster, often in less than 5 minutes. Some quick oats are whole flakes, but they are rolled thinner for the same purpose, faster preparation.

Today, I no longer eat rolled oats, nor do I dress the oatmeal I eat with brown sugar or whole milk! The oatmeal I prefer these days is called steel cut oats, which have a much heartier texture. They also take longer to cook (approximately 25 to 30 minutes simmered on the stove top or half that time if you pre-soak them) but in my opinion from the standpoint of flavor alone, they’re well worth your time to prepare.

Nutritionally, there’s no real difference between the three basic varieties of oats. 1/4 cup of Quaker steel cut oats has 150 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar and 5 grams of protein. A side-by-side comparison to ½ cup of rolled oats will show that the only difference is ½ gram more of fat than the steel cut variety. This is certainly not enough to be of any concern.

The advantages of eating oatmeal are certainly great: they’re heart healthy, reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol without lowering HDL (good), are rated low on the glycemic index (slows digestion of starch which becomes sugar), insoluble fiber and phytochemicals in oats provide cancer-fighting properties, good source of essential nutrients including, zinc, selenium, vitamin E, manganese, phosphorous, iron, calcium, and are a good source of protein (important for vegan and vegan wannabees like me!)

Oatmeal can be added to many other foods to increase fiber and nutritional value, too. Rolled or quick oats make a delicious and welcome addition to cookie, muffin and bread recipes. People add them to recipes like meatloaf or casseroles as a binder or thickener instead of bread crumbs or pasta. And they can be toasted to make your own granola mixes, or sprinkled on fruit, yogurt or ice cream for a nice crunchy topping.

If you haven’t tried steel cut oats, I highly recommend them! But whether your taste preference leans towards the more traditional rolled oats, or you stick with quick oats because they fit your high-paced lifestyle, just be sure to eat oatmeal often…preferably several times a week because the bottom line is this: Oatmeal is healthy and delicious!

Getting into your “Flow”

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge fan of the Internet and Social Media. I’ve learned so many incredible and empowering things by accessing and using both of these mediums. They’re an unlimited source of awakening for me through the things I learn when surfing the Net or sharing and reading in forums and social media sites. More and more often today, when I learn amazing new things or am introduced to incredible people, it’s through one of these two sources.

I’m also a BIG believer in the power of The Universe. Over and over in my life, especially when I’m struggling with a problem, I’ve personally experienced and benefitted from the messages sent directly to me by this higher, ever present power.

This week, the message sent to me by the Universe was about being in “FLOW.”

According to Wikipedia, “flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Colloquial terms for this or similar mental states include: to be on the ball, in the moment, present, in the zone, in the groove, or keeping your head in the game. In an extreme state of being in the zone, time slows down and unusually higher physical performance may be achieved.”

When we’re young and learning new skills, it seems easier to get into the flow, to block out distractions and lose ourselves in the process of perfecting new skills. But as we grow up, and especially for adult women, increased responsibilities and tasks make it harder for us to maintain the laser focus necessary to quiet our minds.

And laser focus and a quiet mind are absolutely necessary to achieve flow.

Watch the following video – in fact watch it two or three times!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s47xQeswUjg

I love that Vishen Lakhiani has created his own word to describe the practice of keeping yourself in flow: “bliss-ipline.”

“Bliss,” according to Wikipedia “can be a state of profound satisfaction, happiness and joy, a constant state of mind, undisturbed by gain or loss.” Note that bliss is not disturbed by “gain or loss.” True bliss, in other words, is unaffected by external factors because it’s an internal state of being. When we experience bliss, our physical condition is irrelevant, and the normal “racket” in our brains is switched off.

And “discipline” according to Merriam Webster is “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.”

“Blissipline” is the perfect word for getting into true flow, isn’t it?

In Vishen’s video, he also referred to meeting a member from his audience, and the profound words he spoke to Vishen: “Sometimes you have to destroy your life to let the next great thing happen.”

Finally, at the end of the video, the very last sentence spoken shot through me in an intense, explosive ray of illumination. Vishen said, “When you love what you’re doing and you have big dreams, you’re in that state of flow and your impact is amazing.”

“WOW!” I thought. And then immediately…”Thank you and I hear you, Universe!”

It is so important to love what we are doing…it’s not just about making money or the prestige that comes with winning awards. We need to feel that our lives matter and that the contribution we make is important and valued by someone. Whatever we do in our work, our play and in the relationships we have, they must feed our souls and spirits to bring us closer to the state of flow.

Set Goals but Work on Small Moves over the Short Term

The last day of the year has arrived – again! For many people, this is a time for review and reflection about the year now drawing to a close. Besides being the end of another year, an entire decade has passed since the turn of the century in 2000. Ten years ago, the start of this new millennium was a significant moment marked by all sorts of hoopla, but now it’s just another memory, another tick on history’s timeline.

I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s Resolutions. The broad, general goals set by most people – lose weight, quit smoking, start to exercise – rarely happen because they often lack a deadline. And without specifying the action steps needed to accomplish the desired goal, it’s highly unlikely the goal will be met.

But for some people, just making a resolution or two as a way to start their New Year is empowering, and a small minority actually succeed in reaching their goals. But according to one national survey, 88% of all people who make resolutions end up failing within the first 3 months of the New Year.

Many articles and books have been written about how to set and successfully reach goals. However, instead of looking at all the surefire ways to reach a goal, it might be more helpful (and perhaps amusing) to look at many of the ways we can be sure NOT to reach our goals.

Set unrealistic or unreasonable goals.

For instance, a very simple way we can self-sabotage is by setting unrealistic or unreasonable goals. If your goal is to lose weight, and you have a lot of weight to lose, it does not make sense to set your goal too high and your deadline to short. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Don’t write your goals down.

Another obvious but frequently skipped step is to not write your goals down. By writing them down, you are, in effect, making a proclamation or contract with yourself. And by taking it another step further and sharing your goal with as many others as possible, you will add accountability into the equation. Nobody likes to announce their intentions only to fail miserably.

Stay unfocused, pessimistic and lacking in motivation.

It takes a lot of effort to break patterns and habits that are deeply ingrained in us over years. In order to consistently put effort towards reaching a challenging goal over a period of time (few goals are reached in a day, week or even a month!) requires tremendous focus. In addition to laser-like focus, we need to be highly motivated and most motivated people are positive, can-do thinkers.

While you’re working towards fulfilling your goal or New Year’s resolution, commit to optimistic thinking, even if you need a coach or buddy to help you maintain that attitude.

Concentrate on failure. And throw in bad luck and fate while you’re at it!

According to the Law of Attraction, what we think of most – consciously and especially subconsciously – is what we draw to us. Often, people who concentrate on failure also believe that bad luck and fate are what draws failure to them, and therefore that failure is, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

Don’t have a contingency plan. Just wing it.

Even the best laid plans go awry. Even people with tremendous stamina, determination, optimism and faith have set-backs. By not considering options and alternatives ahead of time, we are far more likely to abandon our goals when we hit a bump – or bumps – in the road. And just like writing our goals down adds to the likelihood that we’ll reach them, having some alternate actions or plans written down will give us confidence to overcome the unexpected.

Be prepared to quit, or better yet, admit defeat before you’re defeated.

In the final episode of the TV show The Biggest Loser, the final 3 contestants are challenged to complete a full marathon, which is 26.2 miles and grueling even for a physically fit person. What has impressed me most is not that they attempt the race, but that everyone so far has completed the race. Many of them have had to walk the majority of it, sometimes with support and encouragement from a family member, trainer or past contestant at their sides for part of the distance.

But each contestant to reach that point in the competition has expressed similar thoughts as they’ve struggled – sometimes in excruciating pain – to finish the race. And the consistent theme has been, “Failure is NOT an option.”

Never create an action plan. And forget about making small moves over the short term!

We all know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Hell, we even know it took Mother Nature millions of years to carve the magnificent Grand Canyon. Why oh why, then, do we mere mortals think that we can reach a goal in one giant step? It just doesn’t work that way!

In reality, it is ALWAYS the small, incremental steps that add up and get us to our goal. And even when we encounter a single obstacle or experience many set-backs on the path to our goal, if we keep moving forward, we will eventually succeed.

Reaching our goals is a lot like playing the childhood board game called Candy Land. Remember that? When playing the game, I often thought it would never end, that I’d never reach Candy Castle. With all the chutes and ladders, taking two moves forward and 5 moves back, the game just went on and on. Even if you were fortunate enough to land on one of the two shortcuts, Rainbow Trail or Gumdrop Pass, the journey to Candy Castle looked endless.

So now that I’ve outlined all the sure-fire ways to NOT reach your goals, I want to give you what I think is the most important TO-DO TIP:

Make Many Mini-Moves!

Even saying it is fun…try saying that 5 times fast! And to make it even more powerful, perform these mini-moves over as short an amount of time as possible.

This is perhaps the most valuable piece of advice I can give to insure that you reach your goals.

Why? We like to “win” the game. We like to feel we’ve accomplished something at the end of the day. We like to check things off our lists. We like to get a pat on the back. We like to see measurable results. We thrive on action, not inaction.

By defining small tasks that can be done in a short amount of time but which cumulatively still move us along towards our long-term and final goal, we will remain motivated because we’ll see things getting done. We’ll be able to handle set-backs when they come because our focus will be on the now, instead of only on the future. It’s much easier to shift small gears than try to turn completely around.

We won’t be as tempted to quit, because we won’t feel like we’re running a 26.2 mile marathon, when we’re just walking around the block. Without just long-term, unreasonable or unrealistic goals looming ahead, we will be much more likely to feel capable of reaching the smaller, interim goals we set for ourselves in our master plan.

Small steps over the short term can generate huge payoffs over the long term.

  • Losing just 1/2 pound a week of weight loss equals 26 pounds over a year.
  • Increasing your savings annually by 1% over 16 years can quadruple your nest egg.
  • Regular moments of quality time with a loved one add up to a better relationship.
  • During the heating season, every degree you go down from 72 F saves three percent over a 24 hour period.

Whether you always wait for January 1 to start afresh setting new goals or making new resolutions, or like me, you find any day of the year perfect for turning over a new leaf, I wish you success in accomplishing what you set out to do.

As one of my favorite authors, T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem Little Gidding: “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

Humor and the Holidays

Preparing for the holidays can be a bit overwhelming. There’s gift shopping and wrapping, decorating, holiday meal planning, baking, visits to Santa, church services, parties and special events and frequent get-togethers with family and friends. Many women don’t get enough rest because we’re on the go from morning to late at night tending to our endless lists. Often, we find our energy, patience and wallets stretched too thin and the festivities end up being not-so-festive.

Since I’ve always been a great believer in the restorative value of humor, I want to urge everyone to look for reasons to laugh, or at the very least to smile a lot, during this very special, but often stressful, time of the year. When mishaps or misunderstandings do occur, choose to laugh them off or make light of them.

I hope you’ll get a few good – or even great – laughs from the following couple of “funny emails” I found on a website called www.bestfamilyadvice.com.

The first one is about 9 words women use differently than other people. The second “funny email” is actually a great recipe I think you’ll appreciate for these coming weeks of celebration. Wishing you and yours a joyful, happy and laugh-filled holiday season!

FUNNY EMAIL #1
Subject: 9 WORDS WOMEN USE

(1) Fine: This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.

(2) Five Minutes: If she is getting dressed, this means a half an hour. Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.

 (3) Nothing:This is the calm before the storm. This means something, and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with nothing usually end in fine. (Refer to #1 for the meaning of fine.)

(4) Go Ahead: This is a dare, not permission. Don’t Do It!

(5) Loud Sigh: This is not actually a word, but is a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men. A loud sigh means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you about nothing. (Refer back to # 3 for the meaning of nothing.)

(6) That’s Okay: This is one of the most dangerous statements a woman can make to a man. ‘That’s okay’ means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.

(7) Thanks: A woman is thanking you, do not question, or faint. Just say you’re welcome. (I want to add in a clause here – This is true, unless she says ‘Thanks a lot’ – that is PURE sarcasm and she is not thanking you at all. DO NOT say ‘you’re welcome’. that will bring on a ‘whatever’).

(8) Whatever: Is a women’s way of saying a really bad word.

(9) Don’t worry about it, I got it: Another dangerous statement, meaning this is something that a woman has told a man to do several times, but is now doing it herself. This will later result in a man asking ‘What’s wrong?’ For the woman’s response refer to # 3.

FUNNY EMAIL #2
Subject: HOLIDAY CHEER

Dear Friends: Since the Season is upon us, I thought I would share one of my favorite recipes with you. Feel free to share it with your friends and loved ones.

Happy Holidays!

CHRISTMAS CAKE

Ingredients:
1 cup of water
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup of brown sugar
lemon juice
4 large eggs
nuts
1 bottle Jose Quervo
2 cups of dried fruit

Sample the Quervo to check quality.
Take a large bowl, check the Quervo again.
To be sure it is of the highest quality, pour one level cup and drink.
Repeat.

Turn on the electric mixer.
Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.
Add one teaspoon of sugar.
Beat again.
At this point it’s best to make sure the Quervo is still OK.
Try another cup…just in case

Turn off the mixerer thingy.
Break 2 leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.
Pick the frigging fruit off floor.
Mix on the turner.

If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers just pry it loose with a drewscriver.
Sample the Quervo to check for tonsisticity.

Next, sift two cups of salt. Or something.
Who giveshz a crap. Check the Quervo

Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table.
Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink.
Whatever you can find.

Greash the oven.
Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.
Don’t forget to beat off the turner.
Finally, throw the bowl through the window,
Finish the Jose Quervo and kick the cat.

CHERRY MISTMAS!

Cortisol, the Stress Hormone

Everything we do has consequences. What we do or don’t do what we say or don’t say…and yes, what we eat and drink or don’t eat and drink makes a difference. Not only do the choices we make impact the quality of our lives, they also impact the condition of our bodies.

The degree of our physical activity, the depth of our relationships and the attention we pay to our diet can have lasting consequences to how healthy and happy we are. Unseen and often totally forgotten by us, if we’re even aware of them in the first place, hormones silently work their magic or destruction in our bodies. When our bodies are working at their best, to a great extent it’s due to the fact that our hormones are balanced or in sync.

Did you know that hormones are the key to our well-being?

Hormones influence our thoughts, emotions, feelings and physical well being. When there’s an imbalance, even if it’s just one hormone gone awry, symptoms can begin sprouting like new grass seed on the seventh day. Often, they’re wide-ranging and can appear to be totally unrelated, contributing to misdiagnosis and improperly prescribed treatments that can worsen our problems.

We have four endocrine glands – the thyroid, pancreas, ovaries/testes and adrenals – that produce hormones upon demand. It is the latter, our adrenals, which are responsible for adrenaline (a.k.a. epinephrine), aldesterone and cortisol. Post menopause, our adrenals also produce estrogen and progesterone, albeit at reduced levels.

Cortisol regulates the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, reduces our immune system’s inflammatory response, and balances the effects of insulin which is responsible for breaking down glucose for energy, keeps our blood pressure in check and maintains cardiovascular function. All of these are vitally important, so it’s easy to see how an imbalance in cortisol levels can wreak havoc with our well being and health.

We’re all wired to respond differently to stress, so cortisol secretion varies between individuals.

By stress I’m not just referring to sudden, intense, life changing or threatening situations like death of a loved one, loss of a job, a serious accident or illness. Stress in our bodies, especially in our modern day world is also created by common, daily problems, petty annoyances, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, financial pressures, difficulties raising children, exposure to environmental toxins, and many other mundane and easily overlooked causes.

Small increases of cortisol for short periods of time have many positive and necessary effects in our bodies. Briefly raised cortisol can create a quick burst of energy for survival reasons, lower sensitivity to pain, heighten memory function, increase immunity and help maintain homeostasis (our body’s ability to physiologically regulate its inner environment) in our bodies.

But when levels of this hormone are raised even slightly for extended periods of time, or too much cortisol is repeatedly produced, the results are far from desirable. We may suffer impaired cognitive ability, raised blood pressure, decreased muscle mass and bone density, lowered immunity, slowed wound healing, blood sugar imbalances like hyper and hypoglycemia, suppressed thyroid function, increased abdominal fat contributing to raised risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, metabolic syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome.

In order to maintain healthy levels of cortisol it is essential that we learn how to relax.

Our ancestor’s cortisol levels were typically raised when they were threatened physically, and this reaction happened occasionally for short spurts. This “fight or flight” response enabled them to ward off danger, after which their bodies returned to normal cortisol levels once they were safe again.

Because we live in a highly stressful, problematic, intense and challenging world today, our fight or flight response is more frequently raised. In some people it’s constantly activated or permanently sustained, which can lead to adrenal fatigue. At this point sufferers often can’t work and even simple activities wear them out to the point they have to stop and rest. Many times this downward spiral ends with them being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia.

After the flight or fight response by our bodies is activated and our cortisol levels are raised, we need to be able to consciously turn-on our body’s relaxation response. Mastering relaxation techniques like guided imagery, breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, exercise, self- hypnosis, repetitive movement, and journaling is vital to our well-being. Even activities we enjoy such as gardening, playing a musical instrument, painting, walking our dog, loud singing, having sex and listening to music can have tremendously beneficial effects on our stress level.

With concentration and practice, it’s even possible to prevent our bodies from responding to stress in the first place!

This, of course, won’t happen overnight. But reducing any amount of stress, or shortening its duration, is preferable to allowing it to continue to ravage our bodies and negatively impact our lives. Take the first step and choose one of the techniques or activities mentioned above and begin to implement it today.

If you have ideas for unconventional stress relievers or productive stress management techniques, please be sure to share them with me. And remember to relax and enjoy yourself!

No Matter Our Age, There’s No Place Like Home

When I was a child, I loved The Wizard of Oz. And since I grew up in an era long, long before DVD, Netflix or On-Demand, we had to wait a whole year between viewings for the movie to be shown again on TV. In our house it became a night for a special occasion!

Not surprisingly, The Wizard of Oz was usually shown on a Sunday night when families would gather around TV, and often a month or two before the holiday season to remind us of the importance of home. Mom always gave us dispensation to stay up past our bedtimes to watch it, even though she knew some of us (my younger sister Ann and I) would most likely suffer from nightmares later in the night.

While my sisters, brother and I watched the movie, we munched stove-popped popcorn and sipped Ginger Ale. Sometimes as an added bonus, we enjoyed a dish of vanilla ice cream with mom’s special, homemade chocolate sauce. To this day, my mouth waters when I think of that decadently rich and fudgey sauce steaming over two big scoops of vanilla ice cream!

That’s certainly a memory worth savoring over and over again!

But it’s not just how the popcorn and ice cream tasted that still brings me pleasure when I think of those treats. It’s the feelings of comfort, belonging and security that go hand-in-hand with them that makes me feel good when I think of them, no matter what might be happening in my life at the present.

As a child watching Dorothy and her eclectic collection of friends battle the wicked witch, I knew no matter how scary parts of the movie might be, I was safe, cared for and loved. No harm could come to me while I happily swirled ice cream and sauce together to make chocolate soup in my dish.

I had many “favorite” parts of that movie, the most satisfying coming from the thrice spoken phrase Dorothy repeated while clicking the heels of her magical red shoes together. From all the trials, she’d finally learned the simple truth needed in order to return to her beloved home where safety, comfort and love awaited her and Toto, too!

“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home!”

For most of us, home is where we grow up with our parents and often a sibling or two or more. When I was a kid, TV shows like Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best and Ozzie and Harriet were the norm and exemplified the traditional family unit. Years later, blended families, professional families and large families like The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family and The Waltons gained popularity.

And today, we watch Modern Family, about an endearing extended family with mixed-up and crossed-over everything! Like Dorothy, who was raised in a loving family headed by her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, it doesn’t matter what your “family” is comprised of, or who the “parents” are who raise you or how many people make up the “family” you care about!

When I met my husband Jim, his father had already passed away many years earlier, but his mother was still alive. I grew to deeply love my mother-in-law and cherished the hours we spent with a cup of tea, toast and her delicious homemade marmalade (there’s that food-to-good-memory connection again!) talking about her favorite pastimes of gardening, reading, and cooking and of course, her children and grandchildren.

A couple years after we married, our first daughter was born in 1990. Just two weeks later my mother-in-law Janet died. She was living with us at the time and in hospice care due to her advanced leukemia. It was a bittersweet time, losing our beloved Janet while welcoming our beautiful new baby, Hayley.

At the time my parents were alive healthy and quite vigorous. I ached for my husband, his brother and sisters as I watched them grieve for the loss of their last parent, and I marveled at their strength. I could not imagine life without my mother and father! We still spent all of our holidays together, shared most momentous occasions, talked at least once a week by phone and as young parents, Jim and I counted on my folks for the weekend respites from child-care they offered from time-to-time.

When my mother died suddenly in 1997, I felt like my world had collapsed.

In the first year there were countless times I would turn to pick up the phone to ask for advice or share a funny store with her, only to remember she would not answer. I even caught myself thinking of what she’d like for her birthday, and often about what she might be doing in the middle of any given day.

I have two sisters and a brother, and though we were all close in relationship and physical distance to our dad at the time, I also worried about how he was managing without mom’s watchful eye and companionship. Thanks to our love for one another, our many beautiful memories and our blessed lives, we slowly healed from the loss of our beloved mother and wife.

Recovering from or accepting the loss of the first parent to die can be quite difficult, even for adult children. It’s understandably traumatic to lose a parent or parents before we’re grown, and people expect there to be repercussions when this happens. Yet whether we’re 21 or 61 years old when our first parent dies, we can be thrown off balance then, too.

Prior to that dreadful moment, we’ve only known our lives in reference to two parents, where now there is one.

It matters little if our parent has died suddenly or after a long, drawn out illness, because either way they are gone forever. The adjustment to life without them must be made. But inside of us, no matter how old of an adult we might be, our inner child will be shaken. Our inner child is – and always will be – just a child, and therefore a part of us will experience things from the perspective of the child we once were. Acknowledging this inner, lonely and heartbroken child can help in our journey through grief.

During my struggle with the loss of my mother, I remembered something I learned from a skilled therapist many years earlier. She taught me to talk with my inner child, to assure her that I, the now “grown-up” Eileen, was in charge and that as an adult I would take care of her.

I began to realize that when I felt down, lonely, afraid, confused or just plain heartsick for my mother, I could ask my inner child – my inner self – what was really bothering her/me. By identifying the underlying problem threatening my inner child, I could fix it. And when the problem was not obvious or could not be fixed, at the very least I could provide the attention, comfort or encouragement “she” was seeking from the mother who was no longer there to provide it to her.

Parents can’t always fix our problems.

Yet whether our problem is remedied, the pain relieved – or not – the mere fact of having our parent’s love, support and reassurance makes things better for us, easier to manage, or just to let go and accept.

In May 2008, dad passed away after a valiant battle with bladder cancer. Eleven years had passed, nearly to the day, since our mother had died. And though my siblings and I are very grateful for those 11 wonderful years with dad, (so many baby boomers lose both parents in a very short span of time) I think that up until his diagnosis eight months earlier, we’d all believed he’d live many more years.

However, it’s not just the length of time between losses or the manner of death that can cause the second parent’s death to be more traumatic. Another big reason it’s harder to lose our second parent is because we realize our own lives are no longer grounded by our beginnings.

Our parents, the ones who gave us life, are gone.

For many adult children the death of the second parent precipitates a new, unique sense of loss known as “The Orphan Syndrome.” Common and expected in children who lose both parents, it can cause embarrassment, confusion and even guilt in adults.

For adult children, however, it can be a very real and painful experience. We realize we’re no longer “children” to anyone living. In fact, we’re now the elders in our family hierarchy, and the realization that we are that much closer to our own mortality sinks in.

Additionally, our “family home”, the place with the “open door” policy, the keeper of our childhood hiding places, secrets and special moments is gone for good, and that creates an even deeper sense of loss within us. To complicate matters more, we are now responsible for maintaining the connection to our immediate, as well as extended, remaining family members. Siblings, who may have gotten together at holidays and other occasions “for the sake of the folks” might no longer feel drawn together, and may eventually drift apart.

The last year and a half since dad’s death have been another step in a long process of self-discovery for me. But that’s just it…as long as we live, the process never ends…it just evolves and shifts, giving us new opportunities for self-growth and personal awareness. December 25 will be the second Christmas my siblings and our families will celebrate without our dad and grandpa’s physical presence. I know we all miss him.

Just last week, on December 3 which would have been his 85th birthday, my sister Ann sent an email entitled “Happy (heavenly) birthday!” to us. Here’s her simple message:

Hi All
Just was thinking a lot about Dad today on his birthday.
Then, of course, thinking of you and yours. Bless you all!
Love, Ann

It made me happy to read her quick email.

But not just because she remembered the significance of the day, because even from his place in heaven, dad is still the springboard from which our thoughts jump to each other. It’s impossible for us to think of dad or mom, without thinking of the each other, their children: Marie, Eileen, Ann and Bill. And we will always be the children of Bill and Rose Ellen McCullough.

I still consider the heartwarming message, “there’s no place like home,” to be one of the most important messages we can learn. But there’s another one spoken many centuries ago in Como, Italy by Gaius Plinius Secundas which trumps even that one. It is:

“Home is where the heart is.”

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