Showing posts with label Paula O'Neill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paula O'Neill. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

May the Forest Be With You

By Paula O’Neill, MS, RN-BC
Clinical Program Manager

Recently I was visiting my daughter. Hanging on her wall was a framed print she had recently purchased during her trip to Maine. The print read, “May the Forest Be With You”. Little did she know that this print expressed the essence of forest bathing or shinrin-yoku.

According to, shinrin-yoku is a term that means, "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing." Developed in Japan during the 1980s it has become an important part of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine; and it is becoming increasingly popular in the United States.

So what are some of the health benefits of shinrin-yoku? Studies have demonstrated that forest bathing can:

• Lower blood pressure and heart rate
• Improve immunity
• Decreases cortisol (stress hormone) levels
• Improve sleep
• Improve mood and sense of well-being
• Increase creativity

There are a few thoughts as to why shinrin-yoku can produce these health benefits:

• Connecting with nature by walking in the forest, away from technology and our stressors, helps us feel relaxed.
• Trees release natural, scented oils called phytoncides. Phytoncides are responsible to protect trees from bacteria, insects and fungi. Dr. Qing Li, a researcher from Japan, found that exposure to phytoncides leads to increased activity and number of natural human killer cells, cells important to a healthy immune system. Phytoncides were also found to decrease stress hormones.
• There is a microbe in the soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, that when inhaled, helps to elevate mood.

Now that you’re ready to forest bath, here are some tips:
• Leave your phone and technology behind. This is your time and you don’t want to be distracted.
• This is neither a hike nor a powerwalk. Slow down…take your time. Use your senses to experience everything around you. As Dr. Li recommends, “Touch the trees, taste the air, breathe in the fragrance of the forest, behold the multitude of colors, listen to the wind blow and the birdsong.” 
• Immerse yourself in the forest!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Power of Gratitude

By Paula O’Neill, MS, RN-BC
Clinical Program Manager

According to the English Oxford dictionary, gratitude is “the quality of being thankful…readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Gratitude is appreciating what you have and recognizing the simple pleasures of life…things we often take for granted.

Gratitude is a powerful force that can make us happier and healthier. Many studies, including those by Emmons and McCullough, found that people who focus on and write down what they are grateful for every day showed evidence of greater emotional and physical well-being at the end of the study than those who focused on difficulties. Research shows that people who focus on gratitude experience greater joy, get sick less often, are more creative, have less anxiety, and have stronger social relationships.

So how can you develop and nurture gratitude in your life? Here are some suggestions. 
  1. Keep a gratitude journal—each day before you go to sleep, before you get out of bed, or anytime during the day that works best for you, write down three things that you are grateful for. It can be the laughter of a child, the new job you just got, the smell of the spring flowers. What are those things that brought a smile to your face and joy to your heart? 
  2. If you don’t like to write, replace the gratitude journal with a daily reflection or gratitude meditation. 
  3. Write a thank you letter to someone who has had a positive influence on your life. According to Emmons this is a powerful way to cultivate gratitude. Some experts recommend that you read the letter to the person. 
  4. If you do not have time to write or personally thank a person, thank them mentally. 
  5. Change your perception of a difficult situation. Choose to find something positive about the situation. This can be difficult; however, this will help you to move from a negative emotion to one of gratitude. 
  6. Help others who are less fortunate. Not only does this demonstrate true compassion but it will make you more appreciative of what you have. 
"The more you practice gratitude, the more you see how much there is to be grateful for, and your life becomes an ongoing celebration of joy and happiness." - Don Miguel Ruiz

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Self-Care: It’s Not a Luxury, It’s a Necessity

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

Quick…name the top 5 individuals who are most important to you. If you are like most people you did not include yourself in that list. You stay late at work, care for loved ones, drive the kids to activities… the list goes on and on. We often think of ourselves last, if we think of ourselves at all. But caring for ourselves is so important. Anyone who has flown on a plane is familiar with the safety directions given at the beginning of the flight: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs. If you can’t breathe you certainly cannot help anyone else. Likewise, if you don’t take care of yourself, you certainly cannot care for others.

According to Dossey and Keegan (2013), self-care is defined as the “practice of engaging in health related activities and using health-promoting behaviors to adopt a healthier lifestyle and enhance wellness.” Many people think of self-care as a luxury or "fluff." Nothing could be further from the truth. Taking time to care for yourself can help to decrease stress, help you feel calm and relaxed, support your physical, mental and emotional well-being, and help you to be at your best so you can be present for your loved ones. It is a necessity, not a luxury.

You can use Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine’s Five Pillars of Health & Well-being as a guide to self-care. By selecting activities in each category you will be on your way to a great self-care plan. Below are some suggestions, but it is important that you find things to do for yourself that you enjoy. That way you will be more likely to continue doing them and maintain your self-care routine.
  1. Exercise—The benefits of exercise include improving your physical and mental health and well-being and it can help reduce stress. Try a yoga class; take a walk or a run; dance; garden; when you shop park at the parking spot furthest from the store. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes, 4-5x per week. Remember to check with your physician before starting an exercise routine. 
  2. Nutrition—Food provides the nutrients for a healthy body and mind. Therefore, the quality of the food we eat has a tremendous impact on how we feel, physically and mentally. Eat three meals/day; eat a variety of fruits and vegetables (a rainbow of colors); limit the amount of sugar you consume; prepare your own meals (make meals on the weekends and freeze them so you have them readily available during the week); limit your salt intake; use herbs and spices (which have health benefits of their own) to flavor your food. 
  3. Sleep—Good quality and quantity of sleep benefits your body and mind. According to the National Sleep Foundation, being well rested contributes to being more productive and happy, and being in a better mood. Lack of sleep can contribute to heart disease, inflammation, and depression. They recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults and 7-8 hours per night for adults over 65 years of age. Create and stick to a sleep schedule; dim, or better yet turn off, electronic devices-even small amounts of light can interfere with sleep; try Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 Relaxation Breath Exercise to help you relax and fall asleep: inhale through your nose for a count of 4…hold your breath for 7 counts…exhale for a count of 8…Repeat 3 more times. 
  4. Resilience—The ability to adapt to adversity and respond to stress. Managing stress is key to well-being and self-care. Try yoga; meditate; 4-7-8 Relaxation Breath Exercise; listen to music; exercise. 
  5. Purpose—“There’s no greater gift than to honor your life’s calling. It’s why you were born. And how you become most truly alive.” - Oprah Winfrey. Knowing your purpose leads to a more meaningful, fulfilling, and satisfying life. Determine your life purpose. 
There is no better time than now to start your self-care plan. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones.

“The best health care plan is a self-care plan.” ~ Nina Leavins

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, August 1, 2017

How to Start a Vegetable Garden…It’s Not Too Late

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

Just imagine. You decide you would like a salad for lunch. You walk out to your back yard or terrace and pick a ripe, juicy tomato off the vine. Next, you select tender, succulent lettuce leaves and crisp red radishes. Delicious! There is nothing like the taste of fresh picked vegetables. And this is just one of the many benefits of having your own garden. Other benefits include:

1.     Exercise. When you are weeding, digging and planting you are also stretching, bending, and moving...all forms of exercise. 
2.     Stress relief. Studies have shown that gardening can help lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and improve mood.
3.     Connection to nature. Putting your hands in the dirt and working with the earth, nurturing life through the growth of plants, herbs, and spices has been reported by some to be a spiritual experience.
4.     Improved health. Growing your own vegetables provides you with fresh, nutrient-dense food. And an extra benefit is helping to reduce your grocery bill.

It’s not too late to start your own garden. All you need is a small area in your yard or a few containers. Choose a location that gets a lot of full sun and has good drainage. Vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sun per day. If you are planting in containers, make sure that the bottom has drainage holes. Next, select your soil. If you are a beginner you may want to start by purchasing commercial soil made specifically for growing vegetables. Now you’re ready to plant. Make sure you space your crops properly. You can follow the directions on the plant tab or seed packet. Lettuce, radishes, kale, Swiss chard and broccoli are some examples of vegetables that can be planted in August. At this time of year, it’s best to plant seedlings.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.” - Alfred Austin

If you would like more information about gardening, including how to start your own garden or maintain your current garden, join us and our Master Gardener at The Learning Garden at Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center - Perth Amboy every Thursday, weather permitting, from 12 pm- 1 pm. Call 732.324.5257 for more information and to let us know you’re stopping by.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tai Chi Qigong for Health and Wellness

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

Activity, one of the Five Pillars of the Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine Care Model, is an important part of your health plan. But does the thought of exercise make you cringe? Do you feel that you’re not in shape or that you are too weak to exercise? Well, I may have the answer for you…Tai Chi and Qigong. Tai Chi and Qigong are examples of two activities that you can do regardless of your fitness level.

Tai Chi is an ancient mind-body practice that originated in China as a martial art. Sometimes referred to as "meditation in motion," practitioners move slowly and continuously through a series of motions while breathing deeply and meditating. Qi (life force energy) Gong (the skill that develops with consistent practice) is a practice that incorporates postures, breathing techniques, and awareness.

Tai Chi and Qigong promote the balance and smooth flow of Qi throughout your body, which can help you maintain or improve your health.

Both practices are low-impact and consist of slow gentle movements that can be adapted for anyone, from those who are fit to individuals who are confined to wheelchairs or recovering from an illness or surgery. They are perfect for people of all ages and fitness levels.

Studies have shown that Tai Chi and Qigong can improve balance and stability, help manage the pain associated with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, back and neck pain, and improve quality of life in individuals with cancer and those with chronic illnesses.

There’s no time like now to start an activity routine. You and Tai Chi/Qigong may be the perfect fit!

For more information about Tai Chi and Qigong at Hackensack Meridian Health, please email