How to Use Gratitude for Stress Reduction and Boost Productivity

How to Use Gratitude for Stress Reduction and Boost Productivity

i Feb 7th No Comments by

By Debbie Lyn Toomey, RN, CIPP

Next time, you find yourself in the middle of a project that is too stressful or tedious to do, think of gratitude. Gratitude can help you “hack” into your happiness so that you can reduce your stress and boost your productivity.

What exactly is gratitude?

Gratitude is not only a virtue, it is also a science, one of the 24 Character Strengths in the VIA Classification of Strengths, and a way of living a resilient life.

Researcher Robert Emmons, defines gratitude as a “felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.”

Gratitude trains the brain to look for the good. This heart-felt practice reminds us that we are connected to something bigger and greater than ourselves. It helps us realize that there is also something to be “thankful” in every moment of our life no matter what or how we are feeling.

Here are 5 simple gratitude steps that you can use for stress reduction and productivity.

  1. Take three big deep breaths.
  2. Look around you.
  3. Find three (big or small) things to be grateful for.
  4. State why you are grateful for them. *Hint *If you can’t find anything, you are not looking hard enough. Look for something that if you didn’t have it, your work would be 10 times harder and longer to do.
  5. Notice how much better you feel just after a few minutes of doing this gratitude exercise.
  6. Repeat steps 1 – 5 until you feel better.

If you haven’t guessed by now, this whole “thank you” process is a simple way for you to cultivate the practice of gratitude. Studies have shown that gratitude builds optimism, reduces stress, and boosts happiness. Personally, my life was made even better from practicing gratitude. It’s enriched my relationships, helped me cope during my mother’s cancer journey, and also gave me a positive outlet when I felt overwhelmed. Gratitude is a practice that I enjoy teaching in my workshops and also in my coaching session with clients.

Great news!

I have opened up more slots to coach new clients. If you are looking for coaching to help you live the best version of your life, contact me at info@HealthandHappinessSpecialist.com.

You will be thankful you did.

Debbie Lyn Toomey, RN is the founder of Health & Happiness Specialist™. She is committed to helping busy women by teaching them practical knowledge and skills sets that will best guide them to the road of a balanced, healthy, and harmonious life.

 

 

 

New Year’s Reflection: Slow Down

i Jan 7th No Comments by

By Hiro Nishimura

Living in the chaos that is New York City, breathing the cold, dry winter air, and tumbling around on the subway in rush hour with millions of others, it is often jarring to come to a sudden stop, look around, and realize where I am.

What am I doing? Where am I going in such a rush?

I am a millennial Asian woman, working in a tech start up in New York City.

Every day is a blur as I rush around the city, to and from work, always with my head down, earphones plugged into an audiobook, and making every effort to not make eye contact with anyone, even in the most crowded trains.

In a city that never sleeps and never stops moving, it is very rare for me to stop and take in my surroundings.

I live in one of the most iconic cities in the world.  And yet, I rarely afford myself a moment or opportunity to take it all in and appreciate what my home has to offer.

Thousands of people flock to Rockefeller Center every hour in the evenings to watch the Sak’s Fifth Avenue light show or to take photos of the angels in front of the huge Christmas Tree.

Twice last week, I found myself aimlessly wandering through the crowds of excited tourists and families taking photos of the spectacles.

Some of them in the city for the first time in their lives.  Some of them having saved for years for the special trip.

Some of them on a honeymoon.  Some of them here with their whole family for a much-coveted family vacation.

Why am I not sharing this moment with the thousands of excited visitors here?

——

This past year, I began to embrace the concept of “minimalism.” Not just in the physical clutter in my apartment (which, of course, is still in the process of being dealt with), but in the clutter of my mind and spirits.

I have too many mundane obligations and worries, too many social media apps vying for my attention, and so many relationships that do not serve me or the other parties. It has been a journey, but I am looking to once again find comfort in the most basic things and the simplest joys.

Every once in a while, I find myself needing the reminder to realign my priorities, and to just “stop and breathe.”

It is so easy for me to take my daily life and routines for granted, because of how smoothly every day seems to meld into each other.

Almost as if to chide me for my indulgences, my body periodically reminds me that I am, in fact, on borrowed time, and that I should take a step back and begin appreciating my relative health and the “small things” that make my daily life possible.

I have been very close to having the very essence of having an “independent life” taken away from me many times in the past few years.

Because of it, I have a much closer relationship to the matters of appreciating my body for all that it tirelessly does for me (until it doesn’t).

——

When I was a senior in college, I had a craniotomy.

On December 11, 2011, I lay unconscious on the operating table while neurosurgeons and their team operated to remove life-threatening vascular malformations from my brain.

For 8 hours, family and friends waited nervously in the waiting area, unsure if I would even wake up.

As a 22-year-old, I confronted Death, stared at him in the eyes, and declared, “Not yet.”

In the spring of my junior year of college, I suddenly collapsed and had a grand mal seizure. I was rushed to the hospital, where the neurologist-on-call told us that I potentially had encephalmalacia, also known as “cerebral softening”- an incurable condition of the brain where the brain “softens,” often resulting in death.

Thankfully, he had misspoken, and after months of testing and a half a dozen different brain scans later, I received my diagnosis: Arteriovenous Malformation.

Put simply, Arteriovenous Malformation is a web of overgrown blood vessels, forming a “tumor” of vessels.

It looks like a bird’s nest, and can appear in any part of the body that has… drum roll… blood vessels.

Without capillaries to disseminate the pressure, arteries “shunt” directly into veins, which can cause high blood-flow pressure on the vessel walls, often causing them to rupture. When such a bleed happens in the brain, it is referred to as a hemorrhagic stroke.

——

Because of my relatively young age, there was a fairly high chance of me having a stroke at some point in my life. While many people live out their fullest life’s time without ever realizing that they have an AVM, in my case, it began causing problems when I was 21. If left untreated, it was likely to cause further issues in the future.

Alongside that, even though I was getting medicated with double or triple my body weight’s dosages of anti-convulsants, I had break-through seizures every few months, which sent me to the emergency room (which, as you can imagine, comes with hefty price tags).

As a young adult, still in college, and about to start her “adult life,” this was definitely not an optimal situation.

I was never the type to “sit back and wait,” so constantly being on the edge for the rest of my life, waiting to have a stroke didn’t seem like a good quality of life for me.

So I elected to have open brain surgery.

Leading up to the surgery, every step was a struggle. Walking became difficult, sitting in classrooms became difficult, and by the end of the semester, I had to withdraw from my teaching internship and a few of my more intensive classes as my drug dosages increased, and I could no longer travel the distance from my student housing to the classrooms.

——

Perhaps because Death was so close to me every day, not knowing if I would wake up in the next day in my own bedroom, the emergency room, or perhaps not at all, I began to take every step with gratitude.

I took my time, expressing my wonder for nature, crying over a flower I saw growing from a crack in a sidewalk, and marveled at the peacefulness of hundreds of foxtails all gently swaying in sync with the wind.

With Death whispering into my ear every day, I was finally able to appreciate Life for what it was: an Enormous Web of Miracles.

Without Darkness, there is no Light, and I was suddenly appreciative of the smallest miracles, extending to my ability to walk unassisted, and still enjoy study sessions with my friends in the library.

I woke up from the surgery a different person, but as my own small rendition of a Miracle. I woke up from the surgery with brain injury, unable to move a finger, much less sit, walk, or feed myself.

But I woke up from surgery, and immediately spoke to my mother in Japanese, and her friends and the doctors in English. I told them that I was feeling ok, and hoped they didn’t actually shave my whole head like they said they would.

I woke up from surgery, and despite spending the rest of the night puking up blood in the ICU, declared to the world that I wasn’t ready to go just yet.

In the upcoming months and years, I came to learn that because of the location of my brain injury (frontal lobe), I would be experiencing mood instabilitiesexecutive dysfunctionmemory issues, and cognition problems.

My background in Special Education served me well, as I became my very own student with special needs that required my support.

Life took on a huge struggle, but I was determined to keep on moving forward. I had found a light within myself demanding to continue living and pursue more for myself, and I wasn’t about to give that up after so much was done for me to allow me to live.

I modified, accommodated for, and worked around my new-found limitations and disabilities, and a year and a half later, graduated with my Bachelor’s of Science in Special Education. The year after that, I graduated with a Master’s of Education in Special Education.

Having spent the previous 2 years being told that I will never achieve independence or full-time work because of my brain injury-related deficits, I decided that the only way for me to “break out” of the grip of society to label me as “unable to work” and limit my potential was to literally move myself out of the insulated bubble that had formed around me.

After my graduate school graduation, I packed up my suitcase, backpack, and favorite pillow, and moved to New York City on a bus.

I spent half a year looking for a job, and almost by accident, received an offer to work in IT despite my complete lack of experiences. I ran with it, and it has turned into an exciting and engaging career since then.

I fought so hard in the first few years to establish my independence and ability to function, despite my disabilities. I always felt like it was me against the world, with the world always trying to tell me, “No, you can’t.”

Along the way, trying so hard to convince the world that “I can, and I will,” I lost sight of the Light and Darkness, and the small miracles of the world that makes it so beautiful.

I began to take my abilities that I fought so hard for, and the life’s routines as a self-sufficient adult with a work life for granted, and forgot to remind myself that I was here, living this life, only because I was once so close to Death.

So with the new year, I want to promise myself to take a step back, “stop and breathe,”
and allow myself to marvel at the simple and yet amazing miracles that feed the reality of Life and this world.

It’s so easy to become caught up in the whirlwind of life, whether it be relationships, careers, family, or health.

But when was the last time you had the opportunity to just step back and marvel at the fact that the sun comes up every morning, and the birds know it’s coming?

When was the last time you had the opportunity to watch a sunset happen, from beginning to end?

When was the last time you stopped and looked up at the sky, just watching the clouds sail slowly across the sky?

When was the last time you sat back on your chair, and marveled at all the fine-tuned ways your body works for you every day, tirelessly pumping blood, and coordinating with your brain to allow you to read this text on your phone or computer, and scroll through the text?

——

My body and mind reminds me to take it slow, and appreciate everything that my “borrowed time” has to offer to me.

Recently, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

RA is thought to be hereditary, but often triggered by stress. Half-year into my chemo treatment, I am embracing meditation, minimalism, and appreciation for nature and life.

It is definitely difficult to assess what we take for granted until it is stripped away from us.

When moving became so painful that I was crying every morning as I tried to brush my hair and open the bedroom door, I was overcome with appreciation for how hard my body had been working all my life, even to make the simplest tasks possible.

Take it from me, whose body seems to be very good at reminding me when I forget:

In 2018, we owe it to ourselves to slow down, take a breath, and appreciate the small things in life, and fully appreciate what our body does for us.

Our society tells us to worry about the superficial, the “big idea,” the chaos that is our ecosystem.

But really, what is more important than our health and happiness? Despite what society tells you, it doesn’t lie in more money (though, to be fair, it’s definitely easier with more money!).

It’s found within, by learning to appreciate the simple Miracles of Life and Death, and your relationship with the fleeting.

To take care of your body, and showing appreciation for the tireless ways it works for you day in and day out. And to take care of your most important relationships.

Because nothing and no one is “forever,” and no matter how young or old, there is not a day to waste.

I learned this as I faced Death at 22.  And even I need to remind myself.

I hope you crush all those goals and plans you set for yourself for 2018.

But also remember to step back once in a while to ask your body how it’s doing, and what you can do for it so it can continue to work for you.

 

This post first appeared on Twisted Paths.

Hiro Nishimura is a TechOps Engineer in NYC, an M.Ed. in Special Education, a Web Designer, a Disability Advocate, and a blogger. Through her personal blog, Twisted Paths, she shares her experience of growing up as a First Generation Asian American and some specific topics, including Disability, Personal Finance, Women in Tech, and Self Care.

Staying Mentally and Emotionally Healthy During the Holidays

i Dec 9th No Comments by

By Phyllis Myung

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

 

I’ll admit it here: I hate November and December. Actually, what I hate about these two months is the general sense of frenzy and the plentiful opportunities of forced interactions with family, friends or acquaintances that we don’t generally spend time with. Don’t get me wrong—there are many things that I do enjoy about November and December: I love the decorations, the decadent food and drink and the photo holiday cards that come in the mail.

But with all the holiday parties, get-togethers, family time and general sense of frenzy combined with the shortened hours of sunlight and the cold weather, it can get overwhelming. Here are some ways that I have tried to do to stay mentally and emotionally healthy during the holidays. These things have worked well for me, but I’m always open to new ideas and suggestions!

  1. Observe the three day rule for stays with family: Whether it’s your side of the family or your partner’s side of the family, the maximum number of days you should stay with family is three. If you are traveling a far distance, though, make sure you schedule time with either friends, sightseeing or some other activity that gives you space. You might need more space than your partner—make sure to discuss before making plans about what your (or your partner’s) needs are. My side of the family likes to move and do everything as a herd. My husband, though, is an introvert and it takes a lot out of him to constantly be surrounded by family. We usually take a day or two (if it’s going to be longer than three days) to schedule some down time and I make sure to communicate that clearly with my family. And the adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder? It’s definitely true for family.
  2. Say no: You are in control of your calendar and your feelings. So say no, don’t feel guilty and enjoy the peace that comes from that two-letter word. This is a really difficult thing for me, but every time I say no, I feel a little bit freer. We don’t really have to be at every party, family gathering, school event, and community event or even send out holiday cards. Do the big things that matter to you during this holiday season and all the small stuff? Let it go.
  3. Schedule time for yourself: Put yourself on the calendar. Take an hour and go grab coffee with yourself. Watch a movie by yourself; get that manicure you’ve been meaning to get; take a walk around the frozen lake; go to the beach and watch the waves crash against the sand; go get a massage; grab a drink with your best friend; binge-watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; finish that last chapter of the book you’ve been reading. Whatever it might be, do something for you to recharge, renew and refresh. It doesn’t have to be a big thing or a time-consuming thing, but put it in your calendar and make it happen. Actually, why don’t you do that right now? Think of something to do and put it in your calendar right now. You are never too busy for you.
  4. Make another appointment with your therapist or make an appointment with a therapist: Sometimes, talking to a stranger (or relative stranger) is just what you need. If you are already on a schedule with a therapist, throw in one more for this month. If you don’t have a therapist, go find one. It is one of the best things that I have done for myself. Sometimes, there are things that I can talk to my therapist about that I can’t even talk about with my best friend about. Maybe you just need to process it out loud (I know I do!) or maybe an outside perspective will help you to see something in a different light. Therapy is an amazing tool and help—everyone should have one.
  5. Sleep: Someone once told me that sleep was for suckers and that we can sleep when we are dead. Well, I have to disagree with both of those statements. Sleep is essential to life. If I’m dead, I won’t need sleep. Our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health depends on rest. We generally need somewhere between seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Make it a priority. And if you need it, take naps. There is a great playlist on Spotify that I use called Power Nap and they have guided nap times that range from 20 minutes to 60 minutes. They also have one that has no voice guidance.
  6. Choose fresh, whole foods: This may sound a little silly, but when I am overloaded with all the cookies, cakes, pie and sweet treats (even my drinks!) that surround me during the holidays, I feel sluggish, cranky and out-of-sorts. The temptation is great, I know, but balance yourself out by also eating fresh, whole foods. I also know that since it gets colder here in Boston, I crave a lot of comfort foods that can be heavy. Balance that out, too. Your body will be much happier and so will you!
  7. Do something creative: Do you like to journal? Then write away. Maybe you enjoy painting, doing pottery, decorating, singing, baking, cooking or crafting—whatever it might be, do something that’s using the creative side of your brain. It could also be something like gardening (maybe with succulents or indoor plants if you live in a colder climate) or rearranging furniture. Just get your brain doing something outside of what it usually does.

Most of all, remind yourself that this is just a season. It isn’t going to last forever, but doing some or all of these things can help to keep you emotionally and mentally healthy during this time. I wish you the best during this holiday season!

This post first appeared on The Napkin Hoarder.

Phyllis Myung is a freelance writer, consultant and speaker. Through her personal blog, The Napkin Hoarder, she shares her experience ranging from growing up as an Asian American with immigrant parents to raising a child of her own.

Art Heals: Express Yourself and Reduce Stress with Art

i Nov 10th No Comments by

By Debbie Lyn Toomey

Ever have a terrifying nightmare from childhood that sneaks up on you?

Similar to the usual “falling” dream that some people have, I have one that I call the “Tidal Wave” dream and it happened last weekend. Thanks to art, I was able to rise above the lingering feelings of dread. By drawing and coloring, I literally “drew” out the feelings of uncertainty that stayed with me all morning long.

Nightmare

I hadn’t had this type of nightmare in a long time. I was confused as to why it occurred again. Frankly, I thought I was over that type of dream a long time ago! The last time I had the “Tidal Wave” dream I woke up happy! I was so proud of myself because, instead of being swallowed up by the Statue of Liberty size wave, I was riding the wave with a big smile on my face boldly going where ever it took me.

Transformed

I woke up feeling transformed. That was about 5 years ago when I started to feel more confident and clear about my life’s work (the big “W” work/life purpose one). That was around the time when I started my company Ultimate Healing Journey, LLC, a company focused on motivating and coaching today’s busy people with happiness and mindfulness skills to fuel their success. It was an exciting time!

Wave

Why did the wave dream come back? That dream first occurred when I was much younger; when I didn’t feel strong or sure of myself. Back then, this tsunami size wave would come out of nowhere and swallow me up causing me to gasp for air and fight for my life. I hated that sinking feeling of fright that always stayed with me for days. Although, the Tidal Wave in my recent dream disappeared way before it got to me (thank God!), it still shook me up.

Morning

I thought I was done with this dream! I wondered what could have brought it on. At breakfast, I told me family about it. I always encouraged my family to share their nightmares because I feel it was a good way to chase the nightmares away. In other words, the dark always disappears in the light.

River

After breakfast, my family and I took advantage of an unusually dry and cool August morning and went for a walk down along the Neponset River. The nice day and the cool breeze made it a great day for boaters and fishermen to be out on the relaxing waters. It was such a beautiful scene to watch. I really enjoyed that walk.

Tsunami

Later that day, I found myself sitting at my desk with a blank white piece of paper and a pencil. I decided to draw. The image I started with was the Tidal Wave. It took up 95% of my paper! At the bottom of the page was a tiny stick figure of me as if looking up at the gigantic body of water. I was taken aback when I saw it right in front of me. As I colored this all-consuming wave with my light blue colored marker my breathing soon became fast and shallow. It brought up feelings of frustration and powerlessness and of being overwhelmed! It was strange (and interesting) how my kindergarten looking drawing reflected how I’ve been feeling for the last few weeks.

Stress

The last few weeks have been tiring and tough for me. I did my best to stay afloat of what was going on. I had self-imposed stress such as creating the coloring book companion for my book and trying to get my mindfulness study approved. I also had other stressors that were beyond my control which included dealing with a strange water leak that happened on my birthday and having to go without my car for 2 weeks, helping my 79-year-old mother after having total knee replacement surgery, coping with the fact that my oldest son was ready to move out of our house, and helping my nervous 12-year-old son get excited for his week-long boy scout camping.

Depressed

Thank goodness it wasn’t a typically month for me. Despite my self-care routine of yoga, mindfulness meditation, and gratitude practice, I still felt down and depressed. I hadn’t felt like this in a long time. This became clear as I looked at my finished drawing.

Peace

I decided to draw the image that I saw during my morning walk. On a separate piece of white paper, I drew the river and the boats that were on the water. I found peace in that piece. I outlined the bench that my husband and I sat on and added the shrubs and flowers that were at the river’s edge. As I colored, a deep and soothing breath filled my lungs. It made me smile. Although, my art work was far from being a Renoir filled with pastels and pretty color, it was a relaxing work of art! I noticed my breathing change. It was slower and deeper. There was nothing stressful about my drawing. Then, I took another step.

Feelings

I compared both pictures. I noticed how different they were and how they made me feel. Then, I wrote down on one side of the Tidal Wave picture how the image made me feel. I wrote down my stressors and what caused me sadness. As I listed them, I was surprised at how many I had. The more I wrote, the more my head nodded with agreement.

Balance

I did the same thing with my other drawing. In that one, I wrote down how it made me feel. I wrote that I wanted to have balance, fun, and time to relax and be with my family. Then, I wrote down I how I would like to feel. A couple of ideas came to mind. One was to simplify and slow down my calendar. I created a schedule that included activities and projects that I needed and wanted to do. I made sure I allowed for extra time to rest and have fun. Another idea was to invite my parents over for a homemade pizza dinner so we can see each other and catch up.

Tides

These two drawings were such an eye opener for me. While they were opposites, they gave me an important insight into my internal and downward turbulence. This visual expressive exercise healed me! It freed up so much of what I was feeling in such an innocent and tangible way. I highly recommend this exercise to anyone who is feeling stressed. While a nightmare was the motivator behind my experience, you can start doing this now to determine how you are feeling.

Express

Allow art to heal you from your pain and reduce your stress. All you have to do is express yourself. According to the American Art Therapy Association, art is a form of therapy that helps people “explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.” Don’t let the simplicity of this practice fool you. Art heals and you don’t have to have any artistic talent for it to help you. Any expressive medium can help you such as clay, paint, wood, music, dance, photography, etc.

Benefits

There are many studies that show the beneficial effects of art for healing, stress reduction, and personal growth. Art as form of therapy has helped people with ADD/ADHD, Autism Spectrum, Age management, Abuse, PTSD, Cancer, and so much more. Art as a form of therapy is found in many settings such as: hospitals, wellness studios, schools, and home. While it is becoming more widely used, it is always recommended for people with mental health problems to seek professional advice before undergoing any sort of treatment.

How?

For those of you who are not under the supervision and care of mental health professionals, there are simple ways to get started. Here’s how you can express yourself and reduce your stress with art.

  1. Choose:Pick the expressive art medium that you like and start creating. Allow the medium to move you.
  2. Compare:Do a comparison. Have a before and after version of how you are feeling. It could be a past vs. present or bad vs. good version.
  3. Clarity:Accept the different feelings that come up and view them with no judgement. This will help you to avoid clouding your mind with any self-limiting or more negative thoughts.
  4. Control:Notice how much a sense of calm, control and confidence comes to you with this exercise.
  5. Create:Be creative in how you do this practice. Make this practice your own.

Coloring Book

Go forth and express yourself through art. You will be surprise at just how much better you will feel afterwards. A great way to get started is by coloring and to help you along, The Happiness Result Art Therapy Coloring book will be available to you by the end of the summer. Coloring books have been proven to calm the mind and reduce stress. It’s a great way to combine art with mindfulness. To learn more about its companion book, The Happiness Result. More time, More health, More love, More success go to www.TheHappinessResult.com.

Online Class

Master trainer and coach Patrick Howell and I just published our new online class. It’s called, Therapeutic Arts: Arts Therapy Based Practice for Self-care, Self-healing, and Mindfulness. I have a special price just for you so that you can access the course right away and experience the healing effects of art.

Click here for more class information!

 

This post first appeared on the Huffington Post.

Debbie Lyn Toomey, RN is the founder of Health & Happiness Specialist™. She is committed to helping busy women by teaching them practical knowledge and skills sets that will best guide them to the road of a balanced, healthy, and harmonious life.

Seasons

i Oct 7th No Comments by

By Phyllis Myung

Photo by Sérgio Rola on Unsplash

 

Growing up on the West coast, I didn’t really get to experience the distinct changes in the season as I do now living in the East coast. There are definitely markers to indicate summer changing to fall and it’s not just on a calendar. The air gets cooler, the days get shorter, the leaves change color and the apples are ready for picking.  Sometimes the change is noticeable and other times, it just comes without any notice or fanfare. The weather in the Boston area has been more summer-like, so I was surprised when I noticed that many of the trees had started turning the beautiful hues of orange, yellow and red.

The trees had already begun their reverie into fall, but I have still been clinging onto summer and wondering why the sun keeps going down so early each evening. As I looked at the trees yesterday, I started thinking about the changing seasons–more accurately–the seasons of our lives. When I was a new parent, I remember feeling the frustration of what seemed like a loss of my identity as me. I grieved the sense that my life was no longer the same and my new identity, as a parent, seemed to replace my identity as a woman, an employee and as a wife.

In those days of trying to discover myself all over again, I met with a mentor of mine who reminded me that I was in a new season of life. And much like the meteorological seasons, it was a temporary time that would eventually change. I wouldn’t always be a parent to a newborn or toddler–my role as a parent would evolve and change, as my child would get older. I also wouldn’t always be a stay-at-home parent as career paths sometimes take us on different journeys than we would’ve thought. There would be new things to learn and new roles that I would take on. Each time, a new season would bloom–sometimes it would go noticed and other times, it would be ushered in so gently, that I wouldn’t realize it until it had already come about.

Sometimes, we will be juggling several seasons at once and it can feel overwhelming. Other times, our seasons will feel dormant like the snowy and long winters of the Northeast. But what I do know is that seasons change and eventually, fall will be distinctly fall even when the beginnings still feel like summer. And in those moments where the snow feels heavy and all we see is barren land, deep down in the ground, spring is starting to sprout.

Today, my season feels more like winter than spring. I wasn’t ready for this change in season, but I do know that it is a temporary thing. I know that for all those parents of newborns and babies, things will change and be different and your sleepless fog (or not) will pass. For those who are looking for jobs or thinking of changing careers, this season will pass. And even those who are sandwiched between taking care of aging parents and your little ones, this season will eventually go to the next. Whatever season you are in, though, we go through these times at different points so that we can testify that the seasons do, in fact, change. And for me, it reminds me that where I am now is not where I am staying for good–it is my season for now and a few days, weeks, months or years from now, I will be in another season and I hope the same for you.

This post first appeared on The Napkin Hoarder.

Phyllis Myung is a freelance writer, consultant and speaker. Through her personal blog, The Napkin Hoarder, she shares her experience ranging from growing up as an Asian American with immigrant parents to raising a child of her own.

Apple Delight

i Sep 5th No Comments by

By: Yukiko Sato

This dessert is a twist on the simple and relaxing macrobiotic dessert, apple kanten. Kanten is a Japanese term for agar agar and can be thought of as vegan gelatin. Traditionally made by freezing and drying extracts of various sea vegetables, agar agar comes in three forms: flakes, powder and bars. This recipe uses agar flakes, which helps make the dessert light and delicate.

Kuzu is a starch added as a thickener to create a pudding-like consistency. You can use it like cornstarch but kuzu is more beneficial to health as it has healing properties and helps with digestion.

The texture of this dessert is surprisingly smooth and rich, considering the fact that it contains no soy or nuts. It’s the little bit of tahini that gives a nice richness. I can’t wait to make this with apples that I picked myself at local orchards this fall!

Ingredients (makes four servings in 6-oz parfait glasses)

Apple pudding

3 cups apple juice
4 tsp agar flakes
pinch of salt
2 apples, peeled, cored & cut into chunks 2 TBS tahini

2 TBS brown rice syrup or 1 TBS maple syrup (adjust to your liking)

4 tsp kuzu, dissolved in 2 TBS apple juice

Apple topping

1 cup apple juice
1 tsp agar flakes
pinch of salt
2 apples, peeled, cored & diced

mint leaves and cinnamon stick for garnish

Instructions

  1. To make the apple pudding: Place the apple juice, agar flakes and pinches of salt in a pot and put it on medium high flame to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes until the flakes dissolve.
  2. Add the apples and cook until soft (about 5 minutes).
  3. Place the contents in a blender along with tahini and rice syrup. Blend until smooth. (Make sure you only fill 2/3 of the blender since pressure may build up because of the hot liquid.)
  4. Return to pot on medium high flame, and when it comes to boil, add kuzu dissolved in apple juice and stir until it thickens. Pour it into parfait glasses. Chill to set.
  5. To make the apple topping: In a small pot, place apple juice, a pinch of salt and agar flakes. Cook until the flakes dissolve completely. Add diced apples and cook lightly.
  6. Place a scoop of the topping on the apple pudding. Garnish with mint leaves and cinnamon sticks.

My first cookbook, THE PEACEFUL DESSERT BOOK, features many more all natural, vegan desserts that contain no refined sugar. Look for tips on how to make beautiful apple roses as seen in the photo below!

Yukiko Sato is a foodie specializing in vegan and macrobiotic foods. Interested in the relationship between health and food, she created the Berkshire Vegan blog in which she shares her many delicious creations. She is also the author of The Peaceful Dessert Book.

Stillness

i Aug 6th No Comments by

By Phyllis Myung

It seems like it was just yesterday that Ninjette and I got back from Japan. We had quiet early mornings because of the time change and lovely sunsets that lulled us to sleep while in Japan. We had been in a haze of jet lag until recently. I definitely forgot how the pace of life in summer can almost be as hectic as the school year. My daughter is a good about slowing down and not over-scheduling herself. I should take a cue from my kid about relaxing and enjoying summer for my own life. We’ve been trying to keep it slower, but it seems like we dove right back in with both feet.

In the midst of diving right back into life, I can tell them my head is in a hundred different places at once. For example: I’ve left my wallet at home several times – in fact, I seem to be forgetting all sorts of things all over the place. I’ve had to schedule, reschedule and reschedule again for everything in the next two weeks and in the fall. Most importantly, I haven’t given myself time to reflect and be thoughtful for the upcoming school year or even for the past month. All my habits I started at the beginning of the year have been unraveling at a fast pace as well. It’s hard to write or to keep my concentration when there are a million things in my head and my to-do lists are overflowing and never ending. I have been trying to find moments of quiet and stillness this past week and they seem to elude me. For a brief hour, my music playlist helps me to escape, but then I am snapped out of it by the fact that I had to go pick up my daughter from camp. The whiplash back to reality reminded me of my visit to the Meiji Shrine in Japan just a few short weeks ago.

The Meiji Shrine is located in Harajuku on the other side of a very busy main street. Once you enter the gates, you are surrounded by a thick forest of trees that blocks out the sounds of the city. For the time that you are walking around the grounds of the shrine, you forget that you are not far from cars, thousands of people and all things modern in Japan. The shrine is full of tourists, but as you get closer to the prayer area and the shrine itself, there is a stillness and quiet that blankets you. Calmness, stillness, quiet and peace sit on your shoulders.

I found it fascinating that in the midst of a busy city like Tokyo, there were shrines and temples. Another popular tourist site and temple was the Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest temple, in Asakusa. Not too far from this temple sits the very modern and relatively new Tokyo Skytree Tower. The juxtaposition was striking to me because as soon as you got closer to the inner parts of the shrine or temple, a stillness and quiet would come over you. It didn’t matter that there were hundreds of people milling around right outside – just steps away from you.

It is that stillness that I have been searching for since I’ve come back. It is the first time that I’ve really been searching for it. As a mostly-extroverted person, I’ve always searched for the crowds and the energy that comes from groups of people. My younger self thrived on it and was motivated by it. Lately, though, I’ve been finding that those things sometimes distract me and prevent me from reflecting and focusing. It’s been my excuse to not write and to not pursue the goals that I’ve set for myself. I believe it’s time to change that and revel in stillness rather than fill it or run away from it.

How do you find stillness in the midst of your busy life?

This post first appeared on The Napkin Hoarder.

Phyllis Myung is a freelance writer, consultant and speaker. Through her personal blog, The Napkin Hoarder, she shares her experience ranging from growing up as an Asian American with immigrant parents to raising a child of her own.

Stand Up, Stand Down

i Jul 10th No Comments by

By Phyllis Myung

On my way back from Japan, I had a stopover in Newark. I had to admit that I was a bit shocked at the thousands of iPads that were present at the airport restaurants, shops and sitting areas. It seemed that the whole airport was wired and that robots could’ve taken over as cashiers, waiters and ticket scanners.

One of the most surprising things about Japan was the lack of solid public wi-fi. I expected the entire city (okay, the entire country) to be a wi-fi paradise. I mean, how else was I supposed to play Pokemon Go without an international mobile data plan? But in all seriousness, I foolishly assumed that I could connect to the Internet wherever I went and put my phone in airplane mode and searched for wi-fi. It could’ve helped with translations, communicating with my team and helped me out when I was locked out of house and then got extremely lost trying to find my way back to the house the next morning. (That’s another story for another time!)

But I landed back in the States and was greeted by the glorious internet everywhere I went. During dinner, I ordered via the two iPads at our table – one for each seat. I was able to pay for my dinner, browse the web, play games, watch the news and keep an eye on my flight status through it. How incredible is that? I didn’t have to get up to do anything!

Today, as I sit inside a trusty coffee shop with known good wi-fi, I’m able to connect to work, edit photos and put up a blog post. I didn’t even have to step into my home office to accomplish what I needed for the morning because I was able to do it all through my smart phone. It made me marvel at how far technology has come and it also made me think about how powerful an Internet connection and wired device can be.

Imagine if we could supply those who don’t have access to or are unable to go to school with the same. It’s remarkable how much learning could happen, right? But maybe this is also the step to having a more balanced life? We are able to connect with our work wherever we are and don’t have to be chained to an office. We can be present for the Little League games, dance recitals and dinner with our families.

The biggest danger, though, is that because of this constant ability to connect, we are terrible at shutting down our devices. My husband told me how his colleagues do a “stand up” every day to check in on tasks that need to be completed. In addition to these, one coworker also did a “stand down” at the end of the day to recap how the day went and to signify the end of work.

As a freelancer, this “stand down” idea jumped out to me. I’m not always good at putting boundaries of when I work and when I don’t. I tend to be a workaholic and find myself staring in front of a laptop at 1 am, wondering where the time went. But with modern technology, I find that while I may be present at various moments of parental joy, I’m also furiously answering work emails. It’s been a cause of burnout many times as well as family strife because I don’t seem to be truly present.

How do you balance work and the rest of your life? Do you have “stand downs” or other rituals you do to set your boundaries?

 

This post first appeared on The Napkin Hoarder.

Phyllis Myung is a freelance writer, consultant and speaker. Through her personal blog, The Napkin Hoarder, she shares her experience ranging from growing up as an Asian American with immigrant parents to raising a child of her own.

Scrambled Tofu Recipe

By: Yukiko Sato

Tofu is one of the most versatile ingredients in plant-based cooking. I use this protein-packed ingredient in everything from appetizers to desserts in ways that I would not have thought of when I lived in Japan.

In addition to serving it simply pan-fried or baked, tofu can be deep-fried and stuffed, mashed and reshaped into patties, made into dressings, puréed to make quiche fillings and sweetened to make frostings. In a nutshell, it is a great alternative for those who are avoiding eggs and dairy.

Turmeric is added to give this easy-to-prepare dish a yellow color resembling scrambled eggs. The combination of nutritional yeast and ume vinegar adds a rich cheesy flavor. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast available in the form of flakes or powder and is often fortified with B vitamins. Ume vinegar is a salty, sour and fruity seasoning that is made from ume plums, salt and purple perilla (shiso) leaves. Nutritional yeast and ume vinegar are both staples in my pantry.

This dish is seasoned with Italian herbs, and the addition of artichoke hearts and baby arugula make it extra yummy. Served with whole grain toast, scrambled tofu makes a festive meal to start the day.

DSC_0444

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 TBS olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 yellow onion, sliced into half moons
1 small carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 block extra firm tofu (about 1 lb), drained
1 cup artichoke hearts, quartered (canned or frozen; thaw overnight in the refrigerator if using frozen)
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced
2 TBS nutritional yeast
1 TBS ume vinegar
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 cups packed baby arugula fresh parsley, minced black pepper

Instructions

1. Press the tofu by putting it between two plates for 30 minutes to remove excess water. Crumble the tofu by hand or with a fork.
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and onion and sauté until the onion becomes translucent. Add carrot and cook for a few minutes. Add the crumbled tofu and artichoke hearts and cook 3 to 5 minutes longer.
3. Stir in olives and season with nutritional yeast, ume vinegar, oregano, thyme and turmeric. Cook for 5 more minutes, then add arugula and cook until just wilted. Stir in fresh parsley and finish it with freshly ground black pepper. Serve warm.

Yukiko Sato is a foodie specializing in vegan and macrobiotic foods. Interested in the relationship between health and food, she created the Berkshire Vegan blog in which she shares her many delicious creations. She is also the author of The Peaceful Dessert Book.

Stress Germ™, A New Mindset to Fighting Stress: Learn How It Can Save Your Life

By Debbie Lyn Toomey

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Shhh…

Listen.

Did you hear that?

No?

I didn’t either until it started showing up in my life as irritability, insomnia, and weight gain. It’s stress, and it’s become a silent killer to many people all over the world. I’ve experienced it personally and work with it professionally as a nurse, a coach, and a wellness trainer. There is a simple way of dealing with stress, and it is just a mindset shift away.

As a nurse for over 25 years at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, I have taken care of my share of patients with ailments caused by infections from pathogens. No one is safe when it comes to an infection breakout in the human body. Germs affect people who are young or old, healthy or sick, and even rich or poor. The bottom line is, if you neglect your health, your body will get sick. This principle is as basic as the ABCs in the medical field.

Jane’s Case

Many years ago, I took care of Jane. She had been admitted from the emergency room with complaints of chest pains. She showed the classic signs of a heart attack—chest pressure, shortness of breath, sweating, and anxiety. Her EKG showed changes from the normal heart rhythm. Her blood levels revealed changes that further confirmed the diagnosis of a heart attack. Jane was rushed to receive cardiac catheterization, a diagnostic and interventional procedure, so that the doctors could save her life.

Broken Heart

Upon completion of the procedure, the doctors found that their actual diagnosis was wrong. Jane had not had a heart attack. What she had was “broken heart syndrome”—otherwise known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or stress-induced cardiomyopathy. This happens when part of the heart muscle becomes enlarged and fails to properly pump the blood to the body. This leads to symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms that mimic a heart attack. Although her presenting symptoms were similar to heart attack symptoms, doctors found no evidence of blocked arteries during the cardiac procedure. According to the American Heart Society, “broken heart syndrome” is stress-induced and can happen even when an individual is healthy. It’s an actual medical diagnosis that requires medical management.

Stress-Induced Health Problems

This stress-induced heart problem, in the case of Jane, possibly came as a result of all of the stress that she had been experiencing. She had just found out her husband wanted a divorce, her job was unstable due a new reorganization, her youngest child was receiving failing grades, and her closest friend had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Jane suffered from a wide range of stress and had no way of taking the time to deal with it or even acknowledge it. She had been experiencing stress in all areas of her life. Fortunately, Jane’s heart condition was diagnosed right away, and her “broken heart syndrome” improved after a few months’ treatment with heart, anti-depressant, and sleeping medications.

Stress is Real

Jane’s story is just one of many that I have seen while working as a nurse. Although stress is invisible to us, stress is real! It can make us sick inside and out. Stress can be as insidious as germs, and as it is with germs, there are good stresses and bad stresses. Good germs help us process food and toxins in our body. Bad germs, to some extent, will not harm us unless we neglect to take proper care of our health and hygiene. Bad germs, when given the opportunity, will take over our whole system. Likewise, there are good stresses and bad stresses. Good stress motivates us into positive action and helps us grow. Bad stress, especially when neglected or suppressed, consumes our mental/emotional/physical body to a point of burnout or even a “broken heart.”

Stress Germ™

What if?

What if there is a simpler way to reduce stress and keep it from piling up?

What if all that is required is a little shift in our mindset to make it happen?

What if we adopt a new point of view for stress and use an old idea, such as germ control, to help us understand the how dangerous stress really is?

In other words, let’s treat stress as if it is an organism that can make us sick and even kill us.

Why not!

Why not treat stress like a harmful pathogen that can make us sick? It’s already called a silent killer.

Why not use a simple mindset shift to help us “wash our hands” to get rid of any negative encounter or emotions throughout the day?

Why not hold stress in the same light as deadly pathogens that that can potentially kill us?

Stress Germ™

One of the best ways to help us remember to get rid of our stress is to associate stress with something that we are familiar with. So, we will associate stress with germs. Stress Germ™ is a new and simple approach to viewing stress as if it is a bunch of harmful microbes. It’s an analogy that I came up with to increase awareness and attention to the power of stress. There is so much focus on germicidal products these days, why not use the philosophy and method associated with them when dealing with stress? If we associate releasing stress to getting rid of dirt and germs, we will be prompted us to release our stress throughout the day whenever we are washing. This practice will help ensure that we are physically clean, but also that we are mentally and emotionally clear, calm, and cool.

Health Benefits

Stress is real, and it is killing us. By thinking of stress as a germ, or Stress Germ™ as I call it, we will find it easier to pay attention to it and to release it instead of ignoring it. This mindset will help you in six ways, all of which will provide health benefits:

1. It will help you pay attention to your stress levels and your stressors.

2. It will empower you with skills that will reduce and release stress levels constantly.

3. It will prevent the build-up of stress that causes burnout.

4. It will help you take care of yourself more easily.

5. It will help you teach others, like children, how to monitor and release their stress.

6. It will provide valid permission and a purpose for preventing unnecessary suffering.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is being present in the moment. There are over 400 trusted studies that prove the positive effects of stress reduction on overall wellness. The practice of mindfulness offers us the ability to pay attention, bring awareness, and accept what is in the moment. These are key components to stress reduction and wellness. By adding simple mindfulness practices with this new approach of releasing the Stress Germ™, we can be highly efficient and effective with not only our time but also our stress management.

Here’s How

Apply mindfulness techniques along with normal hygiene to reduce two potential sources of illness. As you’re lathering up, let go of stress that is weighing you down.

Here are seven steps to increase your sense of well-being by getting rid of your Stress Germ™.

When you are at the sink, or when you are in the bathroom try the following:

1. Wash. As you are washing your hands or your body, feel the water against your skin. Notice how it feels. Is it hot, cold, or warm? Look at your hands and watch how they move as the soap and water do their job.

2. Check in. Now that you are physically cleansing yourself, turn the cleansing process inward. Ask yourself, “How am I doing?” If you are feeling good, that’s wonderful! If not, dig deeper to find out what is going on. Is there something that’s made you feel hot and bothered? Do you feel cold toward someone, or has someone become cold toward you? Do you feel good and warm and fuzzy inside?

3. Be present. Notice your breathing and your body. Is your breathing fast and shallow? Do you have any tension in your body? Are there any unwelcome thoughts that are running around in your head?

4. Breathe. If your breathing is fast, slow it down. Take in some slow, deep breaths. Repeat this until you feel better.

5. Body scan. Do a quick head-to-toe assessment of yourself. Notice areas in your body where you tend to store stress. Recognize that it’s there. Adjust your posture accordingly and breathe.

6. Bothered. If something or someone has upset you, and the problem keeps running around in your mind, simply label the feeling and state the feeling. Keep saying it until you notice yourself feeling better.

7. Begin. Once you have finished the first six steps, take three more deep breaths and go on to begin the rest your day.

Do these exercise as many times as you can during the day to help you stay centered and calm.

Mindset Away

Taking better care of yourself is just a mindset away. Whether you think this concept is crazy or not, I invite you to try it for one week. Let me know if you notice any difference. Although a Stress Germ™ may not be visible under the microscope, it produces very real effects. The more we take small, simple, and consistent actions to reduce them, the happier and healthier we will be.

 

This post first appeared on the Huffington Post.

Debbie Lyn Toomey, RN is the founder of Health & Happiness Specialist™. She is committed to helping busy women by teaching them practical knowledge and skills sets that will best guide them to the road of a balanced, healthy, and harmonious life.