Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Achieving Ultimate Wellness

By Lisa Wielgomas
Community Outreach Manager

Having grown up, attended school, and lived in Toms River for over 30 years, you could say there is a special place in my heart for this community. When I was asked to represent Hackensack Meridian Health’s Integrative Health & Medicine program on the Toms River Family Health and Support Coalition, naturally, I was honored and up for the challenge.

While this coalition has identified quite a few issues that Toms River faces, as well as potential solutions, in our upcoming blueprint for action, I believe that an upstream approach to wellness is as important as individual mental health challenges and substance abuse needs in the community. While our subgroups address these needs, an overarching theme of wellness fits across all of these focus areas.

Many call themselves “healthy,” making statements such as “I got my flu shot – I’m healthy,” “I don’t have a cold – I’m healthy,” and “I eat my veggies – I’m healthy.” This is what I grew up knowing as the definition of health: “I’m not sick. Therefore, I’m healthy.”

Not so. The World Health Organization defined health in 1948 as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

While we need to address the critical issues and treat those affected, we also need to teach the current and next generation how to swing the pendulum in the other direction and move toward awareness, education and growth to achieve ultimate wellness as a community. This will ensure that there will be less chronic illness, food insecurity, senior isolation and substance abuse – because it’s all connected. An overall wellness initiative works across a continuum to impact all of the challenges that Toms River faces and ensures a lasting healthy future.

It all begins with making the healthy choice the easy choice. The people of Toms River want to be happy and healthy. We can start with promoting the definition of health, then offer education, meet people where they are by refreshing our parks and making them more accessible to encourage community members to participate in physical activities. We can appeal to businesses to provide healthier choices, offer programs, collaborate and partner with our coalition. The possibilities are endless. We need to consider sustainability in our work – that what we are doing will last. We need to address the underlying challenges that prevent our community members from the opportunity to live the healthiest life possible. We need to rally together to be the healthiest community in NJ. And we will.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Just Breathe

By Sharon Yeskel, B.A.
Integrative Health Provider

When I was five years old, my mother signed me up for acting classes. On the night of our end-of-the-season performance, I had a bad case of stage fright. I was supposed to go out on stage all by myself and recite a poem. I don’t remember the poem I memorized, but I do remember that right before my entrance, I froze with fright. With tears in my eyes, I told my mom, I couldn’t go out on that big, scary stage.

My mother squatted down in front of me, put her hands on my shoulders and told me a story: "There was a famous actress named Helen Hayes who used to get scared, too. And do you know what she did?” Of course, I shook my scared little head no. Mom continued, “At every performance, she would take a deep, deep breath before saying her lines. Then she wasn’t afraid.” My mother told me that I should do the same thing before reciting my poem and insisted that I would not be scared either. Then she gently pushed a reluctant little performer toward the stage.

I made my way to my mark, glancing back to see my mother and the director urging me to start. I looked out into the audience of impatient mothers and fathers who just wanted to see their own children take the stage. I was still scared, but I took in a very deep breath and let it out with an exaggerated sigh. The audience giggled. I recited my poem-every word, every line and I went running off the theater stage and into my mother’s arms.

My mother didn’t realize it at the time, but she was on to something. Breathing techniques for relaxation, pain relief and optimal health are commonplace today. Slow, deep breathing doesn’t take our problems away, but it does turn on our parasympathetic nervous system which activates the calming hormones that help us to relax. When we are relaxed, we think more clearly, feel better, and can handle whatever comes our way.

Now that I am all grown up, there are still times I get scared and feel stuck. We all have moments in our lives when our daily stressors become too much for us to handle. Worry and anxiety can cause constricted breathing. This can sabotage healthy breathing and put stress on the lungs and cause tension in the body. It also activates the sympathetic nervous system which then releases stress hormones like cortisol into the body. Prolonged stress can contribute to a myriad of health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, and gastrointestinal problems.

Breathing is the one body system that we can control. We can take slower, deeper breaths to relax our bodies and minds and help us deal with that big scary stage known as life.

Try this simple, yet effective, breathing technique:

Take a nice deep breath in through your nose and then blow it out slowly through pursed lips. Make your exhalation twice as long as your inhalation. For example, breathe in to the count of four and breathe out to the count of eight. Repeat slowly and steadily for a minute or two, a few times a day.

To learn more techniques like breathing work, guided imagery, and grounding exercises, sign up for Sharon’s free “De-Stress to Feel Your Best (Holiday Edition)” class on November 15 (Raritan Bay Medical Center Perth Amboy) or November 16 (Raritan Bay Medical Center Old Bridge). Call 1-800-560-9990 or register here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Guided Imagery

By Richard Lund, M.S.
Integrative Health Associate

Guided Imagery uses the power of your mind to help to ease pain, give relief from conditions such as asthma and diabetes, help fight cancer, promote successful surgery, and reduce anxiety before medical procedures. In practicing guided imagery, you focus on images and the relaxed feelings that these images bring.

Your mental images of calmness and peace produce the same feelings in your body. If you think sad thoughts, you feel sad. If you think of anxious thoughts, you become anxious. To reduce stress, focus on calming images and feelings. As an example, imagine yourself in a calm, pleasant scene you’ve experienced in the past. Slow your breathing, making it even and deep. Think about relaxing your muscles and they will relax. As you move into a very relaxed state, you can introduce messages and ideas of any desired behavior or goal. This becomes a powerful way to change your attitudes and behaviors to promote health.

Below is a script you can use to make a recording using your own voice or have someone read it to you. It can be very effective in treating headaches, reduce muscle tension, anxiety, pain, or stress, and to promote sleep.
  • Sit comfortably and let your arms and hands rest at your thighs, or folded on your abdomen.
  • Close your eyes, and bring your awareness to your breathing. Bring your awareness to an area just below your navel, in the very center of your abdomen. 
  • As you inhale, expand and your abdomen rises. As you exhale, relax and let it sink gently, while your chest remains still. This is a more relaxing form of breathing. Make your breath slower, smooth and continuous, soft yet deep. 
  • Calm your mind, so when any distracting thoughts enter your mind, gently bring your awareness back to your breathing, making your breath more comfortable, more relaxed. 
  • As you exhale, begin to release tension from every muscle in your body, from the top of your head down to the bottom of your feet, just let the tension go. As you think about relaxing your muscles, they will relax. 
  • Starting at the top of the head, exhale, and think about relaxing all of the muscles in your head and face. Relax your temples, your forehead, and as you exhale, let go and completely relax these areas, and rest your eyes. 
  • Next, relax the muscles in your neck and shoulders. Inhale deeply, then exhale, letting go, and as you continue to breathe deeply, completely relax this area. Your shoulders are relaxing more and more, letting go of any tension there. Then feel like a wave of relaxation flowing down from your shoulders, down your arms, to your fingertips. 
  • Bring your awareness to the center of your chest, take another deep breath, as you relax all the muscles surrounding the center of your chest, inhale deeply into this area, let go and relax this area. 
  • Now bring your awareness down to your abdomen. Continue to feel the abdomen expanding as you inhale and gently sink as you exhale. Make the breath longer, deeper, soft and quiet.
  • Bring your awareness downward…., to your hips…..continue down the inside of your legs, to the inside of your knees, to your ankles, then continue down to the bottom of your feet. Feel any tension or stress flow out through the bottom of the feet. 
  • As you exhale, feel relaxation spread throughout your body. Feel your body immersed into a calm, tranquil state of relaxation, until you feel light, more comfortable, more relaxed. 
  • Now, as you continue to relax, imagine a beautiful place, a very peaceful place from your past, real or imagined. You can imagine it to be any place you choose, perhaps by the ocean with clean fresh air, or the mountains with a stream -- anyplace is perfectly fine. You are alone and there is no one to disturb you. This is the most peaceful place in the world for you. 
  • Imagine yourself there, see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt. 
Imagine yourself there and feel that sense of peace flow through you and sense well-being and enjoy these positive feelings, and keep them with you for the rest of the day and evening, and tomorrow. Allow these positive feelings to grow stronger and stronger, and each and every time you do this kind of relaxation you will be able to relax deeper and deeper. Regardless of the stress and tension that may surround your life, you may remain more at peace, more calm, more relaxed. And these positive feelings will stay with you and grow stronger and stronger throughout the day as you continue to relax deeper and deeper.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Trick or Treat!

By Paula O’Neill, M.S., RN-BC
Clinical Program Manager

Trick or Treat! Halloween is just around the corner and trick or treaters will be knocking on your door looking to fill their bags with candy. And who doesn’t like candy?! But we all know how bad sugar and artificial ingredients are for our health and well-being. So the Trick becomes trying to find Halloween Treats that are healthy, fun, and delicious. 

It is possible to stay health conscious and still provide treats that the kids will love.

If you absolutely must give out candy, keep the following in mind:
  • Organic is always preferable. Although the nutrition profile of sugar and fat may not be different from conventional candy, organic candy eliminates exposure to artificial and genetically modified ingredients. 
  • Choose dark chocolate that has a least 70% cocoa. This chocolate contains healthy antioxidants and does not contain as much sugar as other chocolates. 
  • White chocolate is the least healthy option. It has no cocoa and has a lot of fat. 
  • Go with smaller portions. Select mini-size candy bars that are low in fat. 
But remember, you can always give out non-candy items that are just as delicious or fun as candy:
  • Individual bags of pumpkin or sunflower seeds: Both are delicious and nutritional powerhouses. 
  • Small bags of popcorn — preferably air popped (to reduce fat and calories) and organic. Popcorn is rich in fiber and antioxidants. However, avoid giving out microwaveable bags as almost all bags are lined with a toxic chemical. 
  • Trial or snack size bags of cookies, such as graham crackers, made with whole wheat flour-preferably organic. 
And there’s always non-edible items (which can be purchased in bulk in party stores or on line):
  • Glow sticks 
  • Costume jewelry (plastic rings, necklaces and bracelets) 
  • Tiny decks of cards 
  • Decorative or holiday pencils 
  • Fancy erasers 
  • Stickers 
  • Rub-on or stick-on temporary tattoos 
  • Bookmarks 
  • Bubbles 
  • Mini containers of play-doh 
So don’t get spooked when you try to select healthy and fun items for Halloween. You do have options.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Toxic Emotions

By Emma Stafford, RN, APN-C, ACHPN, APHN-BC 
Nurse Practitioner

We've all had bad days. Think of a time when you experienced a bad day and try to name the emotion you were feeling. Was it helplessness, apathy, depression, fear, guilt, or rejection? Perhaps, it was more like jealousy, anger, hatred, blame, or resentment. These can all be labeled toxic emotions…toxic because these emotions can be harmful to our health.

Within the first 60 seconds of us encountering a negative emotion, our reaction to it will either determine whether we are going to handle it positively or negatively. Research shows that chronic negative thinking that goes on day-after-day creates stress that can damage the body and mind, resulting in disease. The good news is we have the power to change our thoughts and impact our health.

Try these 5 simple steps to release toxic emotions:
  1. Notice when you are having a negative thought. 
  2. Ask yourself if this thought is serving your higher good. 
  3. If the thought is moving you away from who you want to be and how you want to live, then let the thought go. 
  4. Acknowledge that a thought is just a thought and you have the power to change your thoughts. 
  5. Take time to breathe…breathe in compassion and breathe out the negative thought you want to release. Take another deep breath. Now, notice how you feel. 
Our thoughts are very powerful, they become part of our cells, our tissues, our organs…they become who we are. Do not think that your mind is in charge of your thoughts…it is you who is in control of your thoughts. Choose positive thoughts that nourish and support us and create a more balanced life.