Showing posts with label Lisa Sussman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lisa Sussman. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Intentional Recovery

By Sara Scheller BSN, RN, CCRN, NBC-HWC
Integrative Nurse Health Coach

What thoughts come up if I ask you about your work-life balance? Work-life balance isn’t always about how much yoga you do or how often you take a week’s long vacation (although both of these are really important!). Work-life balance is more how often we are we allowing our mind to feel safe so that it can repair, recover and rest on a regular basis. If I told you that we need an equal amount of rest as we do work, would you believe me? 

Let’s begin by unraveling the idea of “work”. You can define work as your job or career, but what about all of the other work we do as human beings? Caring for others, tending to our household duties, and even some hobbies can be work! When we look at our job or career, is it something we enjoy? There is a saying that goes, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This is something as simple as a mindset. Are we feeling like the work we do is fulfilling a need, serving a greater good, and connecting us with our purpose? This does not mean we have to do world changing things! I’ll share a story about a recent interaction I had with a diner waitress. On several occasions, I went out for a weekend breakfast at a local diner. It did not take long to notice this one waitress in particular. She always had a great big smile on her face that could easily light up a room and she almost floated through the restaurant with her energy as she happily asked if I needed a refill on my coffee. Observing her, I could tell she just loved what she did. I took a moment to affirm that to her, “I can’t help but notice you look like you really enjoy your job.” She replied, “I really do, I have been working here for more than 20 years and even in times of my life that were really difficult, this place always gave me a sense of joy.” Her energy was infectious and her attitude was so motivational. What if we change the way we look at the work we do in our lives? Are we doing something because we want to or we have to? How can we find moments of joy in the work we are doing in our lives?

Next, are you setting aside time to actually rest and recover? I know your first answer or at least thought is probably, “But where do I find the time?” What if you set an intention to actually make the time? It may not be easy, but I assure you it will be worth it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be scheduled, but don’t just set it aside for “someday” because we all know someday may never come. You should not be stressed out about sticking to your schedule to get rest in, because that defeats the whole purpose! Internally, can you recognize when your mind is on overload and you need to find a moment of calm? Deepak Chopra recommends using the STOP technique to insert a pause to combat the cycle of stress: first Stop, then Take 3 deep breaths and smile, Observe how you are feeling in the moment and Proceed with awareness. Recognize that there may be times you may have to grind to get the work done that you need to do, but there are still small moments you can insert a pause to keep you going in order to prevent burnout. Externally, what are you doing in your free time? One way to create balance is to do the opposite of what is causing the stress. For example, if you have a busy job where you have to be on your feet and you are physically drained, rest for you may look like lying down and reading a good book. Or if you work a desk job where you are sitting at a computer all day, maybe you need to be active like going for a walk or a run in nature. Also, are you prioritizing sleep? Physiologically, sleep is a time when our brain gets rid of toxins, allowing our brain and body to repair, recover, and prepare for the next day. So, a good night sleep may literally clear the mind. A 2011 study in Sleep reported insomnia to have an estimated cost to U.S. companies of more than $63 billion a year in lost productivity.  Furthermore, how are you fueling your body? Are you feeding your body and mind high quality, fresh, nutrient rich food? When we allow our brain’s parasympathetic nervous system (think opposite of our stress response) to operate, we are able to rest and digest. Our body can make optimal use of the food we feed it.

Balance is not an endpoint, it is ongoing. Just when you think you have it all worked out, something changes. The only constant in life is change, and how we handle or react to the change, the more we can build our resilience. When we practice tools to build our resilience it allows us to bounce back with more ease, preventing dis-ease. We believe practice makes progress, not perfect. In health coaching, we guide you to find what stress management practices you can use to build your resiliency. We look at what has worked for you in the past and we hold you accountable for consistently using your strengths to live your best life. Together, we can co-create a life where you feel empowered to manage your own health.

To learn more about health coaching, visit our website at HackensackMeridianHealth.org/IntegrativeMedicine or call 732-263-7999.   

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Beat the Heat 5 Pillar Style!

By Lisa Sussman, Psy.D.
Health Psychologist

Here we are in the dog days of summer. Typically, July and August are the warmest times of year in the U.S. While it’s great to have warmth and longer days, by now we may be itching to cool down a bit, or at least regulate our bodies amidst relentless heat. At times, we may find ourselves overheated, both physically and mentally. At Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine, we view health from our Five Pillar model: Sleep, Activity, Purpose, Nutrition, and Resilience. Let’s take a look together at how we can beat the heat through the perspective of the Five Pillars of Health and Well-Being.

Sleep: The ideal room temperature for sleep is between 60 – 67 degrees Fahrenheit.  Studies have shown that temps above 75 degrees can disrupt sleep.  To stay cool through the night and foster a good night’s sleep, use air conditioning, fans, cotton sheets, a light blanket, and light cotton pajamas. Pack up that winter quilt! There are also mattress pads and gel mats that can be purchased which provide a layer of coolness on the mattress.  Another point to consider about sleeping in summer is that our eating, exercising and overall activation time may happen later in the evening due to vacations, longer days, and increased socializing.   Try to put at least 3 hours between eating a meal and exercising before going to bed to optimize your sleep.  Alcoholic drinks also impact quality of sleep and tend to disrupt sleep.  When socializing, we can be mindful about what we are consuming, when, and how that may affect our sleep that night.  Carve out a wind-down period of 30-60 minutes between the evening activity and going to bed to relax the body and mind and initiate our melatonin production for sleep.

Activity: Current guidelines (American Heart Association and others) recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both. How can we get this in during summer while minimizing our risk of getting overheated or having heatstroke? Exercising outdoors and participating in social or team sports gives an extra boost to our mood, releasing endorphins and even oxytocin, so plan to get out there either early in the morning, or after dinner, when the weather is cooler. Summer is also a great time to change our exercise routine, so try things such as biking and swimming. On stormy days or when it doesn’t work to be out in the cooler parts of the day, hit the gym with a fun class, yoga, or strength workout, or break out a fitness DVD in the house.

Purpose: While managing the dog days of summer, it’s important to infuse sparks of joy and meaning into the hot and sometimes energy-draining days.  What can we do in the summer that we can’t do as easily the rest of the year?  There may be more time for meaningful volunteer work and giving back, and enjoying more gatherings with family and friends.  Take that vacation or stay-cation!  Go watch the sunrise and take a walk on the beach (my personal favorite thing to do in the summer) before heading to work. When it’s too hot to be outdoors, stay in the cool house and enjoy that book we’ve been meaning to read or tackle the home improvement or craft project that’s been on our list.

Nutrition: Summer = more sweat = drink more water! Every day we should be drinking water equal to at leaset half of our body weight in ounces. Here in August, we need to make sure we are staying hydrated, and cool water does that best. Keep it fresh and appealing by adding slices of fruit or cucumber. Drink or make sparkling water for a change up, flavoring it yourself to stay away from chemicals and sugar. Ayurvedic teachings point us in the direction of consuming cooling foods in summer while staying away from spicing it up too much. Naturally sweet, bitter, and astringent foods are good choices. Go for ripe fruits such as cherries, peaches, pineapples, avocados and mangos, as well as green leafy veggies, asparagus, sweet potatoes, and green beans. Spices like mint and cilantro will help keep us cool.

Resilience:  Prolonged heat not only affects us physically, but can impact our mood as well.  The term “hot and bothered” comes to mind.  Emotionally, we may feel drained and irritable when it seems like there’s no escape from the heat, or when the events we attend are overly crowded.  To get balanced, incorporate daily activities that increase joy, and spend some quiet time in thought, meditation, or listening to music.  Whatever it takes to “cool down”!  Try some activities such as taking a cool bath with lavender essential oil, riding the waves in the ocean, digging your feet in the sand, walking in a shady park, or chilling on a raft or kayak.  Take a few minutes to breathe slowly and deeply, then imagine with all of your senses being at the beach, in the water, or somewhere cool.  The brain will get the “cooling” message and the body will physiologically start to respond, providing a respite and balance.  

We can use the Five Pillars of Health and Well-being to make the most out of the last few weeks of summer, keeping cool, healthy, and happy.   Enjoy!

For further information about the Five Pillars of Health & Well-Being and taking care of your mind, body, and spirit, visit our website at HackensackMeridianHealth.org/IntegrativeMedicine or call 732-263-7999 to make an appointment! 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

What is Your Morning Routine?

By Lisa Sussman, Psy.D.
Health Psychologist

Do you start off your day feeling stressed, overwhelmed, reactive, and/or foggy in your brain?  Is your mind racing with things to do, dread about a challenge you must face, or self-deflating thoughts?  Is your body feeling sluggish, achy, or resistant to getting up?  How you start off in the morning sets the stage for the day, and there are things you can do to cultivate intentionality, balance in your mind and body, productivity, and resilience to the day's challenges.  Whether you have 2 minutes, 15 minutes, or an hour, there are a myriad of self-care activities to choose from which research has shown to be effective in giving yourself that best shot at making the most of your day ahead and feeling good about it.  It all starts with being mindful that when you open your eyes in the morning, you know you will be taking a little time to calibrate your mind, body, and energy to prepare yourself for the day ahead.  
In an ideal world you would do this before your kids wake up, the dog needs to go out, and before you check your email and social media (but also be flexible with the timing as things will come up that you cannot control).  Feel free to use your smart phone as a tool for accomplishing some of the activities below such as listening to a favorite song or doing a guided meditation from YouTube or an app.  Here are some activities to consider as you start to put together your custom morning routine. How long you engage in each activity and how many you do will depend on how much time you have in any given day.  You can be flexible and don't have to do the exact same thing every morning. There's always time for something, and even doing 1 thing for a minute is better than doing nothing at all.  If you don't have a morning routine yet, start by picking 1 or 2 things from this list, or another activity you come up with that interests you and you can see yourself trying.  

1.   Meditation/guided imagery

2.   Deep Breathing (eliciting the Relaxation Response)

3.   Considering your top 2-3 priorities for the day and imagining yourself accomplishing them and overcoming possible obstacles

4.   EFT/Tapping

5.   Stretching/yoga poses/energy routine

6.   Application of mood regulating, tension reducing, and/or immune boosting essential oils

7.   Journaling

8.   Prayer

9.   Reading a spiritual/inspirational passage

10. Reading/audio of your self-development book
11. Listening to a favorite song that energizes you and makes you smile. You can even sing along and/or move to the music. 

12. Aerobic exercise, HIIT exercise, and/or strength training

13. Get outside, take in some fresh air and nature, look up at the morning sky, go barefoot on the earth (grounding)

14. Gratitude and compassion practice

15. Drawing/coloring

16. Mindfully preparing and eating a nourishing and healthy breakfast

17. Smile at yourself in the mirror and say "I love you" or 3 qualities your like about yourself.

18. Text your accountability buddy what you did that morning and how it made you feel. Or tell your partner, your kids or a friend.  

19.  Meet a friend for an early morning walk 

20.  Listen mindfully to the sounds outside your home (or window if you're inside) such as birds chirping, the weather, cars and people going by.

21. Snuggle or play with your pet, your partner, your kids or a friend.  Really pay attention note the connection you have to one another.

22.  Congratulate yourself for taking whatever amount of time you could today to intentionally prepare your mind and body for your day.

As you can see from this list, which by no means is exhaustive, there are so many self-care activities to choose from in creating a morning routine that's right for you.  Although it may seem awkward at first, and that you are crunched for time, please stick with it.  Commit to doing a morning routine practice for 2 months, and then check in with yourself on how you feel in the mornings and throughout your day, and what's different than before you started.  If you miss a day (or more), don't panic, just pick back up on your intention and morning routine the next day, without being critical of yourself.  The new neural pathways and habits need time to take hold and create lasting change in your body and mind.  It's well worth the wait!   Please comment below about your favorite morning routine self-care activities and how you feel after doing them. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Get Better Sleep in 2018!

By Lisa Sussman, Psy.D.
Health Psychologist

While celebrating the New Year, we often think about what we want in the upcoming year ahead. We set goals for better health and fitness, increased satisfaction and happiness, improved relationships and job performance, and so forth. What if we could focus on one thing to change, knowing that if we work on this one thing, we could create sweeping benefits across all of these desired areas of change? I am referring to the quantity and quality of sleep. Yes, sleep! The very thing we normally cut short because we have other more important things to do with our time, don’t think much about during the day, or prepare ourselves for as evening sets in. Society has pretty much ignored sleep until recently as something that is important for us to focus on and understand better.  

The Center for Disease Control reports that insufficient sleep is a health epidemic. Over 70 million Americans have difficulty getting the sleep they require. (The exact number of hours a person needs can vary individually, but generally is between 7-9 hours, with under 5 hours of sleep per night on average seriously increasing their risk level for illness and even mortality). Chronic insomnia affects 10-15% of adults at any given time, is more common in women and people who do shift work, and becomes more frequent with age. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain, motor vehicle accidents, decreased quality of life, and impaired performance, including poor decision making and interference with learning. It is also a risk factor for mood and anxiety disorders, stroke, dementia, osteoporosis, and heart disease. One tidbit about insufficient sleep that I find fascinating is that, when we haven’t slept well, we tend to rate our daytime functioning and performance as normal, even though objective testing shows a decrease in processing speed, reaction time, and problem solving. We don’t even realize that we are functioning sub-par! But we are. Even just one night of getting 1-2 hours shy of our normal sleep affects our reaction time, our mood and frustration tolerance, and the way we process information. 

We are learning more and more about the purposes of sleep and why we need to make a good night sleep a top priority. Each stage of sleep does different things for us. For instance, when we are in slow wave, deep sleep, our bodies can repair and grow, and growth hormones are released. When we are in REM sleep, we are mentally restored and information gets consolidated and organized so we can better retrieve it later. Our bodies require that we go through 5 cycles (about 90 minutes each) of sleep to get these full benefits. Sometimes the medications that we take, the food that we eat and drink, our exposures to toxins or excess stimulating content or screen time, our activity levels, how we manage stress, and the environments of our sleep space impact our sleep quality and disturb our sleep cycle. We can even wake up from what we thought was a good quantity of sleep, and still feel physically tired and mentally sluggish.  

Imagine a world where we all value and protect our sleep, making it a priority, and modeling it for our children. If institutions altered their cultures and policies to reflect our need for a full night’s sleep, we would find it easier to carve out these 7-8 hours and not feel guilty or that we wouldn’t get our to-do list checked off. We would know that when we got the right amount and quality of sleep consistently, we would be more effective and efficient at our jobs (or school) and more patient, tolerant and kind with others, cultivating stronger bonds. We would be sick less often, miss less work and school, and healthcare costs would decrease. We would be happier and more satisfied with our lives and our relationships and our level of functioning. Sleep can do all that and more! We can all play a role in making our sleep a priority in 2018. It starts with shifting our mindset around sleep, which then will help us make the behavior and lifestyle changes we need to implement to give us the chance to get the best quality and amount of sleep that is optimal. 


The Integrative Health & Medicine program offers Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. Please call me at our clinic at the Hackensack Meridian Health Village in Jackson at 732-994-7855 to find out more. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

EFT: A Powerful Tool for Change

By Lisa Sussman, PsyD
Health Psychologist

What if I told you that you have an amazing stress-buster and life-changing tool right at your fingertips that you can learn quickly and use at any moment, as often as you need? YES, you can literally use your fingertips to calm your body down, neutralize intense emotions, link the emotional part of your brain to the rational decision-making part of your brain, reach your goals, and enhance your wellness and happiness! Adults and even young children can easily learn the basics of this self-care and self-regulation strategy, and it can be used in conjunction with other health-enhancing lifestyle tools such as meditation, good nutrition, getting quality sleep, and exercise, to catapult your results.

Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), or Tapping

I am very excited to tell you about EFT, which is also referred to as tapping. EFT uses a combination of acupressure points from Eastern Medicine and modern psychology from Western Medicine. In its basic form, you focus on a problem or something you want to change while lightly tapping on certain acupressure points, and this gently facilitates the body’s healing (in part through downregulating the stress response) and the ability to reduce feelings, thoughts and behaviors which are getting in the way of you living the life you want to live. While you can tap at home, at work, at school, or anywhere and get good results on your own, you can also work with a certified practitioner who can help you take your tapping to the next level or address a problem or issue that may be more difficult to tackle alone. The research and evidence that tapping and other forms of energy psychology are effective interventions are continuously building. EFT has been studied in over 100 clinical trials, and recently the U.S. Veterans Administration system approved EFT as a “generally safe” therapy. EFT is a safe and effective mind-body treatment and can be a helpful noninvasive, non-pharmacological strategy for many problems.

Personal Experience
I first learned and tried tapping about nine years ago, and the possibilities blew my mind. Since then I haven’t stopped learning, I hold a level 2 EFT certification, and I use tapping every day in my own life and very often with the patients I work with, both individually and in group/class settings. To show you a bit about the variety of issues you can use tapping to work on, I’ll share some of my experiences. When I first learned how to tap, I had been struggling to take off the last 10 pounds of “baby weight” for 5 years. EFT was the missing piece for me, and I was able to shed the weight within a few months and maintain my ideal weight. I also incorporated EFT in helping me to realize my goals of running a half-marathon and completing sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. I’ve taught my children how to tap, and they use it to help focus, boost their performance, calm nerves before auditions, and they’ve even showed their friends how to tap. Teaching people how to tap and seeing their positive responses has been a joy for me over the years. Often patients and class participants feel a difference very quickly in how their bodies and minds feel. Tension visibly eases, and there’s more space between thoughts. I love to see quizzical smiles spread on people’s faces as they tune in and realize that something just shifted. Some have commented that it’s like a short cut to the end of a yoga class when you’ve worked for an hour and then peacefully lie in the restorative Shavasana pose!

Learn how to Tap!
If this resonates with you, and you’d like to learn more about EFT and how to tap, please check the Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine website for our class schedule and contact information at HackensackMeridianHealth.org/IntegrativeMedicine. Register here for my upcoming class on October 12. You can also make an appointment to meet with me at your convenience at our Jackson office.  In addition, if you do not live within driving range to our center, or to quickly get started, there a number of informative websites which provide research articles, information on how tapping works, and free online tapping audios, videos, webinars and podcasts. Some of my favorite websites are www.innersource.net/ep /, www.thetappingsolution.com, and www.tappingquanda.com. Happy Tapping!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Essential Oils Part 2

By Lisa Sussman, PsyD
Health Psychologist

For today’s blog, I will continue with one of my favorite topics, essential oils, specifically focusing on the three methods of application: aromatic, topical, and internal. I’ll also discuss why you might choose one method over another and give some examples of the types of essential oils you can use with each method.

If you missed my earlier blog, which provides a basic understanding of what essential oils are, how they work, where to find research, and how to check for quality and safety for use, check it out here before reading this one.

Aromatic: In aromatic application, you breathe in the tiny volatile essential oil molecules as they are dispersed in the air. This is a quick way to improve mood (uplift and calm) and energy levels (stimulate, sedate, and ground), as well as affect quality of breathing and clear the air of pathogens. Diffusing with a water-based diffuser, putting a drop or two of an essential oil on a cotton ball, or a lava stone bracelet, or spraying the air and sheets are all great aromatic options. Even inhaling the aroma from the bottle or taking a drop in your palms and cupping your palms near your face and taking a few deep breaths are effective ways to get the therapeutic benefits of essential oils. I caution against using scented candles or a diffuser which works via heat, as although the room may smell nice, you won’t get therapeutic benefits. I wouldn't dream of going to sleep without my routine of diffusing immunity and respiratory boosting and sedating essential oils such as eucalyptus, clove, wild orange, vetiver, lavender, and cedarwood. I also keep my calming, uplifting, and energizing essential oils with me at work and in my purse for deeply inhaling on the go when I'm starting to feel tired, stressed, or upset. One of the things I love about diffusing essential oils is that everyone in the room benefits!

Topical: Massaging essential oils directly on the area of concern, or on the reflex points or on bottoms of the feet, can provide comfort and relief, as the essential oils quickly absorb into the skin and then distribute to the body. Topically applied oils also boost the immune system. Soaking in a bath or applying a warm compress with a couple of drops of essential oil are other forms of topical methods of use. Please take precautions as needed: dilute with a carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba oil or unscented body lotions for hotter oils such as oregano, for sensitive skin, and for young children and older adults. Diluting also slows down the rate the essential oils are absorbed and minimizes evaporation. In addition, avoid getting essential oils in your eyes or ears, and avoid direct contact with sunlight for up to 12 hours when applying citrus oils on exposed skin due to photosensitivity. Every morning I massage essential oils into the bottom of my feet, and I add a drop or two of an invigorating and skin-enhancing essential oil to a dollop of nontoxic, unscented lotion and apply as my daily body lotion.

Internal: Internal use of essential oils supports the intestinal tract, aids in digestion, impacts nutrient absorption for brain health, and influences neurotransmitter activity. Be sure the essential oil is safe for internal use (read the label, look at purity, testing, GRAS, etc.), and remember that just one drop goes a long way. Essential oils can be put in a veggie cap (or pre-made in a soft gel) and swallowed, put directly in the mouth/under the tongue, or added to food and drinks. My favorite ways are adding a drop of peppermint, cinnamon, or ginger to my morning smoothie and a drop of lime, wild orange, grapefruit or lemon essential oil into my drinking and sparkling water. Adding small amounts of essential oils to food and drink has both therapeutic value and adds flavor!

There are so many ways to enjoy and derive health benefits from essential oils. While there is a lot to learn, it is a fun journey, and there are countless resources to assist you as you explore how you can bring essential oils into your healthy lifestyle.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Essential Oils 101

By Lisa Sussman, PsyD
Health Psychologist

What do lavender, peppermint, lime, cedarwood and clove all have in common? They are essential oils! What are these potent drops which burst with aroma? Essential oils are volatile, aromatic compounds that are found in the leaves, stems, bark, flowers, and/or peels of plants and trees. They protect the plants/trees and help them in their survival. Essential oils have a long history of human use dating back to biblical times, and even further before that! Today, many people use essential oils as a tool along with nutrition and exercise to promote their wellness and self-care. There are many research studies which show that essential oils can help the body and mind in a number of ways. You may find information on the studies done on specific essential oils at www.pubmed.com or www.aromascience.com.

Each essential oil is comprised of hundreds of chemical compounds which give them their versatile uses and multiple purposes. They are naturally anti-bacterial and anti-viral, and because the molecules are so tiny, they can be absorbed into the skin, pass through cell barriers, and in some cases, pass through the blood-brain barrier. Essential oils are much more potent than herbs. For instance one drop of peppermint essential oil is equivalent to 28 cups of peppermint tea! Essential oils have their own intelligence and vibration, and as they help plants, they can help humans, supporting the body to function optimally physically and mentally.

Using a good quality, therapeutic grade essential oil is a must. Although many essential oils are considered GRAS, or Generally Regarded as Safe for Consumption by the FDA, they are not regulated by the FDA. You need to do your homework to make sure the essential oil is safe to use. The three things to consider when choosing an essential oil are purity, potency, and testing. Purity means the essential oil is free of toxins, fillers, and pesticides, and that it contains only what the bottle says it is. Potency refers to the strength and chemical constituents of a given oil. This can vary with where the plant is grown and harvested, the condition of the soil, and the species of the plant itself. Testing refers to the multiple methods of analysis that the essential oil is subject to before getting the green stamp to be sold, and can include tests such as mass spectrometry, gas chromatography, sensory evaluation, and third party testing.

Certain types of essential oils are known for their different properties and historical uses. For instance, lavender, and most florals, have a calming effect on the skin and in the brain. Mints, such as peppermint help focus, uplift mood, and have a cooling effect. Citrus oils, like lemon and orange, serve as gentle cleansers, in and out of the body, while they uplift. These are just samples of the many properties and uses of essential oils. Go to your nearest bookshop or search online to browse all of the books about essential oils and how to use them. You can learn as much as you’d like about different essential oils and the ways they can be used to support your health.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of what essential oils are, how they work, where to look for studies about the benefits of essential oils, and how to check for a good quality essential oil that is safe to use. In my next blog, I will describe the three methods of essential oil application: aromatic, topical, and internal.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mindfulness

By Lisa Sussman, Psy.D.
Health Psychologist

"Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the 'present.'" This quote about being in the present moment is from Kung Fu Panda, one of my favorite family movies. 

The ability to choose and control our focus of attention is something worth cultivating. Mindfulness is being fully present in our moment-to-moment experiences without being judgmental of the thoughts, sensations, or feelings we are experiencing. Often, our mind chatter, worries about what is going to happen in the future, thoughts about what we should have or could have done in the past, and judgments about ourselves and others, interfere with our ability to be in the here and now. We get stuck and then miss out on present opportunities. Benefits of mindfulness include increased acceptance, gratitude, and life satisfaction. Mindfulness also allows for increased options and choice in any given situation. When we can step back, observe, and accept our emotions, thoughts and sensations for what they are (just emotions, thoughts and sensations), we free ourselves, allowing for less reactivity and more choices/increased flexibility. Just because we have a thought (and researchers state we have between 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day), it doesn’t mean that thought is true, or that we have to attend to it. In other words, when we are mindful, we are less caught up in the past or worried about our future, and we feel more grounded and able to deal with our stressors. Other health benefits of mindfulness include a decrease in stress, anxiety, depression, blood pressure, chronic pain, and insomnia, as well as an improvement in relationships. 

Mindfulness doesn’t come easy. However, it is a skill that can improve with increased awareness and practice. One way to improve your mindfulness skills is to fully attend to a routine task. Take folding the laundry as an example. Tune into how each article of clothing feels as you fold it. See the shapes and colors. Smell the fabric. Feel the weight of the fabric. If your mind starts to wander, just notice that and bring your attention back to the sensations of folding laundry. Do not judge yourself for "getting off track." Re-attending is part of the process and can happen many times in a single mindfulness practice. You can try this with other routine “automatic pilot” tasks such as washing dishes, showering, eating, and driving. You can even exercise in a mindful way, focusing on an aspect of your workout such as how your muscles feel, your breath, the music, or the scenery. Using all of your senses will help you in your practice.

Another mindfulness exercise I like and want to introduce is called the "5-5-5." When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed emotionally or your mind is racing, first make an observation that this is happening. Then, gently allow yourself to notice and focus on 5 things you can feel/touch, 5 things you can hear, and 5 things you can see. This simple grounding exercise will help you and become less reactive and more open and creative. 

Have fun experimenting with mindfulness. J 

Register for our upcoming mindfulness classes by calling 1-800-DOCTORS. Fee: $30 per class
April 6, 2017 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Meridian Health Village at Jackson
May 4, 2017 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Riverview Medical Center, Red Bank
June 15, 2017 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Meridian Health Village at Jackson

For more information, visit www.MeridianIntegrativeMedicine.com

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

New Year’s Resolutions and Goal Setting


By Lisa Sussman, Psy.D.
Health Psychologist
Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine

Happy 2017! As the start of a new year naturally turns our attention towards taking stock and setting a new year’s resolution, you have probably started to think about what you’d like to accomplish or change over the course of this year. “I want to be healthier” or “I want to be happier” are all examples of the first step of resolutions, yet they lack a focus and a structure, which makes them tougher to accomplish. Goal setting is a great tool to guide you as you hone in on the specifics of your resolution and how to get there.

Before you set your goals though, you want to think about the level of commitment you can make towards achieving this resolution. What are your priorities, and how much time do you realistically have to devote to this endeavor? Current work, family, finances, other interests, and health status all need to be considered, as, from year-to-year, goals change due to these factors. The last thing you want to happen is setting the bar too high and feeling disappointed or giving up. You want to set goals that are challenging and help you rise to the next level, but that aren’t too lofty that you are setting yourself up for failure.

Your goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. For instance, the New Year’s resolution, “I’m going to live a healthier lifestyle” is a good start; however, the lack of specificity may hinder your focus and ability to accomplish this. One way to transform the resolution into a SMART goal is: I’m going to meditate 10 minutes a day and eat 7 servings of fruits and vegetables every day (specific). I will keep a daily log to measure my progress (measurable). I’ve never meditated before so I’ll start by downloading a meditation app, learn the guidelines on how to meditate successfully, and listen to the guided meditations provided. I will pick out and buy one new fruit and one new vegetable to try each week (achievable). I will meditate in the morning before I get out of bed, and I will talk to my family about incorporating more fruits and vegetables into our meals (realistic). I will do this and log my progress for the next six weeks and then assess where I’m at, and make new short-term goals (time-bound). When you turn your resolution into a SMART goal, you will know exactly when you accomplish it, giving you that boost of encouragement to move to work towards the next step as well as the chance to savor the moment and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

So, for 2017, what is an exciting yet realistic goal for you to reach toward? It would be helpful to first brainstorm and write down your ideas, then choose a couple to start with, and rewrite them into a SMART goals format. You can revise them anytime you’d like. Posting your goals in a place you will view them frequently, such as taping them to your computer, the fridge or the steering wheel will help to keep you on task and motivate you.

May you accomplish your resolutions and learn along the way, and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

By Lisa Sussman, Psy.D.  
Health Psychologist 
Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine

We start seeing and hearing it after Halloween. The holidays are coming! And according to the songs we hear, what we see in stores, on television and social media, we are supposed to embrace the holiday season with open arms. We think there’s something wrong if we feel overwhelmed, stressed, sad or anxious around the holidays. Things are supposed to be perfect: happy people, happy families, and happy holiday celebrations. Let’s face it…while the holidays can be fun and uplifting, there is also a big element of stress and pressure involved. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2015 Stress in America™ study, stress levels have risen, with more than 1/3 of adults surveyed reporting that their stress has increased over the last year. And the top 3 sources of stress are money, work, and family responsibilities. We struggle with financial stress, work stress, and relationship stress throughout the entire year. If we are not adequately practicing stress-management, or even if we are, adding the pressure of upcoming holidays to the mix can exacerbate all this stress, or at least topple our balance. As the holidays approach, we need to be aware that we are vulnerable to feeling "less than jolly," and then we can be proactive to increase our stress-busting lifestyle and self-care practices. 

Let’s briefly look at the 5 Pillars of Health and what we can do to strengthen each one during the holiday season.

Sleep: Feeling that we don’t have enough time to get everything done, we may skimp on sleep during the holiday season. Sleep deprivation can make us sluggish, irritable, lead to poor decision making, as well as increase our risk of getting sick. That’s the last thing we want for our holiday. Practice good sleep hygiene such as moving away from activating things like the nightly news and social media, the blue light from our phones, and eating food with sugar and caffeine a few hours before lights out. Also, adding calming activities as part of the bedtime ritual can help us wind down and prepare us for a restful sleep. Some examples include chamomile tea, lavender essential oil, a guided meditation, slowing down & counting your breaths, and reviewing what went well in the day.

Activity: With less daylight and being crunched on time with holiday related activities, we may let go of our precious exercise time. Please reconsider doing this! Physical activity helps to boost metabolism and mood, decrease anxiety, increase brain power, and improve sleep. This self-care practice is so important in maintaining our balance around the holidays. We can get creative with how we get this activity: accumulate it with shorter periods of physical activity or stretching throughout the day, combine socializing with a friend during a walk (bundle up!), try a new class at the gym, or get on your treadmill with some great music or follow an exercise/yoga DVD. You will feel energized, your mind and body will thank you, and you’ll be better equipped to handle the increased holiday stress.

Purpose: Sometimes we think, "Why am I getting caught up in all of this? The meaning of my holiday is buried under shopping and extra obligations." As we approach the holidays, we can take a few minutes to quiet down and reconnect with what is important to us about the holidays. We can ask, how can I make the holidays more meaningful and special this year? Listen carefully to the answer, and then cultivate that activity or mindset. It may be spending time connecting with others, volunteering or making that special DIY gift for someone. Whatever it is will fuel the soul and provide that extra feel-good energy to manage it all.

Nutrition: While we all know how important it is to eat healthy and mindfully, the holiday season can be a double whammy because we may eat reactively due to stress, and there is an abundance of unhealthy food taunting us, and we find our willpower diminished. We can counteract this by being prepared and boosting our awareness around eating. Examples include: bringing healthy food to the party, using smaller plates, and being extra careful with what we eat before we go out, knowing that we may be indulging later. If we take the “food as medicine” perspective, being extra mindful of what we eat around the holiday season can help boost our energy levels, mood, and physical health.

Resilience: Resilience is the ability to actively manage everything that is on our plates throughout the holiday season. It’s an ongoing process which entails both being grounded and flexible. Think of a healthy tree that is strongly rooted in the ground, yet can withstand all kinds of weather and sway with the winds. To build up our resilience, we can do things like find humor in our situation, ask for help when needed, take breaks throughout the day, do mini-relaxations, say kind things to yourself as you would talk to a good friend, keep a gratitude journal and cultivate feelings of gratitude, joy, and love, and practice mindfulness. 

This holiday season, try focusing on a pillar or two, and see how we can expand our holiday spirit!