1
Busting Stress for Mental Health
2
Volunteer!
3
Safety in the Dark
4
Proactive Self Care
5
Wait to Worry
6
Promoting Healthy Technology Use for Youth
7
We Are Sweet Enough
8
Five Easy Minutes
9
Making Connections for Mental Health
10
Summer Blueberry Cake

Busting Stress for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

Much of my work as a mental health counselor has focused on how to help my clients identify the root sources of their distress and to learn adaptive and effective means for managing these stressors in their lives. According to a 2017 report issued by the American Psychological Association (APA), “nearly two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) say the future of the nation is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, slightly more than perennial stressors like money (62 percent) and work (61 percent).” Since I don’t have a magic wand to wave to make these and many other of my clients’ stressors disappear altogether, I focus instead on how to help them understand the detrimental impact of stress on their overall health and wellness and look at small, yet meaningful steps they can take every day to help mitigate its impact on their lives. Because stress management is such a critical component of mental health, it is one of the Pillars that I will be discussing in today’s post.

As humans, we have evolved to manage short-term bursts of stress (ie: public speaking, taking an exam, competing in an event, etc.). What we are less-equipped to deal with is the longer-term nature of elevated stress that is now a common occurrence in our modern societies. When stress levels are high or chronic, the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, increase which can interfere with memory and learning, compromise immune function, increase blood pressure, and lead to an infinite number of physical health issues, as well as contribute to mood swings, depression, and anxiety disorders. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur with both short-term and long-term exposure to traumatic or stressful events and can alter neurotransmitters, hormones, and brain structures such as the amygdala, which processes our fear response. Please note there will be a more extensive post in the future related to the treatment of trauma.

Regardless of its origin, it is always important to help empower people to know how to identify and effectively respond to how they are experiencing stress in their lives. Here are some points that I work with my clients on:

● Make a list of stressors in your life and prioritize the top 3 you’d like to address first. Taking actionable steps towards root cause resolution is an integral part of your work as all other stress management strategies will otherwise remain band aid solutions. For example: if you know that you are stressed about test-taking, seek out help in how to feel more comfortable with this task; if you are stressed in social situations or public settings, consider contacting a local counselor to learn about social anxiety and how to better understand its origin and how to work through it.

● Learn about how useful taking slow, deep and intentional breaths can be. We hear it all the time, “Take a breath – Just relax!” As annoying as it may be to hear this from others in the moment of our distress, there truly is something to this idea. When we take longer, slower breaths from our bellies (diaphragmatic breathing), we are taking in more oxygen than when we breath in a more shallow way from our chests. Physiologically speaking, this increase in oxygen sends a message of safety and relaxation to the brain and body, allowing a feeling of ease to occur as the stressful feelings decrease. This 15-minute audio recording offers a wonderful educational overview on how breath can be a mediator to help us manage stress and learn to relax.

mental health tips to combat stress

● Learning about meditation or mindfulness techniques will help you pay attention to the moment, increase feelings of calm and focus, reduce jumbled anxious thoughts, as well as symptoms of depression and pain, and increase mental clarity and memory. Meditation extends the space between stimulus and response, helping us choose to respond versus react in any given situation (think about how helpful this will be with kids, partners, parents, colleagues, neighbors, the person in traffic, friends, etc.). I recommend “bookending” your day with a 10-minute meditation in the morning to set the stage for your day and 10 minutes at night to help you decompress and unwind for the day, setting yourself up for a truly restful, restorative night of sleeping – another essential component for reducing stress!

● Research various Meditation Apps that can be used easily from your phone or computer: Insight Timer, Breathe, Calm, and Headspace are a few I often recommend. They are easy to use and many of them are free. I have one client who sets a chime on her phone to go off every 30 minutes at which time she does a 2-minute mini-breathwork meditation. She finds this regular practice an essential component of how she remains calm and responsive (versus reactive) throughout her day. Also, check out this 15-minute segment on meditation.

● For more in-depth mindfulness training, check out Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBSR was developed by clinical psychologist Jon-Kabat Zinn to cultivate greater awareness of the ways unconscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can undermine emotional, physical, and spiritual health. It has been studied extensively at the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center for over 30 years, and is clinically proven to relieve chronic pain and illness.

● Consider trying yoga or tai chi, getting regular therapeutic massages, body-centered psychotherapy, enjoying daily walks in nature, connecting with people you enjoy and can relax with on a regular basis, laughing more, and working to find joy in simple pleasures and moments throughout each day.

● Remember that nutrient deficiencies and imbalances put a physiological strain on the body which adversely affects the way we think and feel. These physiological stressors can manifest as anxiety, nervousness, depression and anger. Remembering the connections between Food and Mood is a core component of stress management as research has proven that you cannot separate mental health from physical health. When the body is stressed, our emotional and mental wellbeing may be compromised. Eat and drink in ways that nourish the body and brain and produce endorphins and neurotransmitters that help us better cope with the stressors of daily life.

● Be aware of the mindset you bring to each day, remembering that this world doesn’t owe you happiness and peace. Become more conscious of your contribution to the stress you are experiencing and learn to tease apart what is worth being worried about and what has become habituated. Remembering that there is an impermanence with everything helps us understand that even our difficulties are passing through. This perspective can help us with cultivating contentment and feeling gratitude for what is instead of focusing on what is not. This, in turn, will help reduce some degree of stress. Consider this from poet Mary Oliver, “Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body out into the morning and sang.”

● Cultivate contentment and gratitude as a way to gain perspective on your stress. From The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, the 8 Pillars of Joy are discussed: 4 Qualities of the Mind (Perspective, Humility, Humor and Acceptance) and 4 Qualities of the Heart (Forgiveness, Gratitude, Compassion and Generosity). I’ve chosen a few quotes from the book, which I highly recommend:

“Grateful people report more positive emotions, more vitality and optimism and greater life satisfaction as well as lower levels of stress and depression.”

“Scientists have long known that our brains have evolved with a negative bias. It was no doubt advantageous for our survival to focus on what was wrong or dangerous. Gratitude cuts across this default mode of the mind. It allows us to see what is good and right and not just what is bad and wrong.”

“There is always the choice available to us and an ability (if we choose it) to reframe any given situation more positively — With our Mind we create our World.”

By virtue of being human, some degree of stress is inevitable but chronic stress that undermines your mental health is not. Pick one bullet point from the list above and get started on your way to reducing the impact of stress on your emotional and mental well-being. Lastly, consider the following short mindful meditation from Nobel Prize winner, monk, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hahn’s book, Being Peace:

“Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.”

Additional resources to further your education and information:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967

https://www.nami.org/find-support/living-with-a-mental-health-condition/managing-stress

https://www.mqmentalhealth.org/posts/stress-and-mental-health

https://chriskresser.com/your-gut-microbiome-and-anxiety-whats-the-connection

http://www.buddhanet.net/audio-meditation.htm

https://www.soundersleep.com/


Julie Bomengen is a Vermont Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with 22 years of experience in the field of mental health. Julie is also a Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC), a certification of the Nutritional Therapy Association. She lives, works and plays in Lamoille County.

Volunteer!

By: Dan Regan

To volunteer is to do something willingly, without compulsion or generally without compensation, for someone or something. In volunteering, the focus, rightly, is beyond oneself. The goal is to serve others, helping them accomplish their desired ends. Volunteers serve on fire crews and rescue squads, mentor youth, serve on non-profit boards in the arts and family services, build Habitat houses, deliver meals to seniors, help govern our towns and schools, and deliver meals to seniors. These forms of volunteerism, and countless others, contribute to the health of our communities and help make the world a better place. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service’s 2015 report, a third of Vermont’s residents volunteer, contributing over 20 million hours of service annually, ranking the state eighth among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

The interesting thing I want to focus on, for purposes of this Live Well Lamoille blog post, is that volunteering also benefits the volunteer and may contribute significantly to his or her own wellbeing. Research affirms the positive connection between volunteering and the physical and emotional health of those who participate. But the connections are sometimes hard to tease out. After all it’s possible that healthier people may volunteer, without their volunteer activities exerting a real impact upon their wellbeing. With that in mind, here I will present only a few findings that come from studies (most from the early 2000s) that can truly claim the effect of volunteerism on volunteers:

  • Older adults who gave social support to others had lower rates of mortality than those who did not, even when controlling for socioeconomic status, education, marital status, age, gender, and ethnicity, according to a large survey.
  • An over-time study of older married adults found that those individuals who reported providing support to friends, relatives, and neighbors had lower rates of mortality five years later than those who had not reported providing support.
  • Volunteering can provide a sense of purpose, especially for those who experience a major change of identity, such as retiring or becoming an empty-nest parent.
  • Volunteering leads to lower rates of depression for older adults, even when controlling for other forms of social interaction.
  • Individuals suffering from chronic pain experienced declines in their pain intensity and decreased levels of disability and depression when they began to serve as peer volunteers for other chronic pain sufferers.
  • According to a Carnegie-Mellon University study (2013), “many people [found] volunteer work to be helpful with respect to stress reduction,” and of course stress is very strongly linked to health outcomes. The same study also posited a connection between volunteering and lowered blood pressure, and thus a reduced risk of hypertension.

Thankfully, our friends and neighbors offer their services voluntarily, with others—not themselves—uppermost in mind, and our communities are the better for it. But the connection—between volunteer service and the wellbeing of volunteers—may be perceived without being articulated. In fact that connection may help make sense of the seeming paradox in the way the US has historically been described: as both an intensely altruistic as well as individualistic nation.

To give is, truly, to receive. So do yourself a good deed and volunteer to help others!


Dan Regan, a sociologist, is the former dean of academic affairs at Johnson State College and continues to work part-time for Northern Vermont University.

Safety in the Dark

By: Caleb Magoon

Fall is here and all Vermonters are starting the countdown to winter. Our long to-do lists of outside projects take top priority as we prepare for the cold and dark months. But we also want to squeeze out the last bike rides, hikes, and other outdoor activities with the few nice days we have left. As LED light technology has improved by leaps and bounds, we increasingly are pushing those recreation activities into the evening hours.

Here are a few tips to take advantage of the dark hours and stay safe.

First off, be aware that dusk is a far more dangerous time than full dark. Drivers can’t see safety lights as well and the flat light makes obstacles much harder to see. So be prepared and ready to turn on those lights earlier than you think.

When going for a run or bike ride, reflective clothing and material is a great place to start. At the minimum, wear a reflective vest or add reflective tape to your arms or shoes, which are always moving and hence more visible.

But remember that reflective material on your clothing isn’t necessarily enough. For those to work effectively, they need to be hit by car headlights. People often don’t have their headlights on at dusk, making the reflective gear ineffective. So make sure you have lights, preferably in a strobe or blinking function on your body.

Adding lights to your setup greatly increases your safety. You can get clip-on strobing lights very inexpensively – under $20 for a set of two or $40 for a nicer set that is rechargeable. These can easily clip onto your clothes, belt, a bag you carry, or reflective vests.

If illumination, not just visibility is your goal, a two light setup is ideal. Lights pointed away from a car can be hard to see. But having lights pointed in both directions, ensuring one is pointed at a driver in each direction increases visibility dramatically.

Many bike companies are now offering daytime running lights. As dusk becomes longer and more prominent, consider adding these to your setup so you are always visible. When biking, adding one light on your handlebars to illuminate where the bike is going and one on your helmet to see where you are looking provides excellent coverage.

As you get out in the dark more and more, keep adding to your safety setup and looking for more options. Drivers will thank you for being as visible as possible. I love getting out this time of year when the weather is perfect for outside exertion. But as the darkness comes, we all have a responsibility to make ourselves as visible as possible.


Caleb Magoon is a Hyde Park native who grew up hiking, hunting, biking and exploring Vermont’s Green Mountains. His passions for sports and recreation have fueled his career as the owner of Power Play Sports and Waterbury Sports. Caleb encourages outdoor activity and believes it is an essential element to a healthy lifestyle and the Vermont way of life. Caleb serves the Lamoille Valley by volunteering on numerous community boards such as the Lamoille County Planning Commission, The Morrisville Alliance for Commerce and Culture, Mellow Velo, and the state chapter of The Main Street Alliance. He lives, plays and works in Hyde Park with his wife Kerrie.

Proactive Self Care

By: Emily Neilsen

The term “self care” is everywhere, yet its definition is squishy, at best.  The term often conjures images of stressed out moms taking group trips to the spa, getting massages, and going on yoga retreats. Certainly, these things can be self care. But, self care can be much simpler and is often most effective when it is integrated into everyday life. It also does not need to cost anything.

At its most basic, self-care is simply taking care of oneself and one’s needs.  It stems from the idea that we cannot give endlessly (to our loved ones, our careers, those in need, etc.) without also taking care of ourselves. In fact, self care is much more effective if we approach it proactively, instead of reactively, by incorporating simple routines into our lives, and maintaining them even when we feel good. These habits can also be renewing and energy conserving, allowing us to move through the world more calmly and peacefully.

What is proactive self-care? Truly, anything you do that supports your mental, physical, and spiritual health before you feel burnt out or exhausted.

A few examples:

  1. Doing something ahead of time to increase calm and decrease chaos during busy moments: Making your bed in the morning, laying out clothes for next day, meal planning for the week, or doing anything that will help you feel calm, organized, and centered in the future.
  2. Creating a short bedtime routine that allows you to feel relaxed and grounded before heading to sleep: e.g. journaling, meditating, taking a bath, or reading.
  3. Getting extra sleep before you feel over tired or scheduling time in your calendar that is reserved for relaxing, not accomplishing.
  4. Addressing your physical and emotional health before symptoms arise. This could mean changing your diet, incorporating more or different forms of exercise, sleeping more, or seeking counseling, among many other possibilities.  
  5. Self care can also be about asking for help or saying “no” to invitations and requests that are draining or don’t easily fit into your schedule.

As with any new habit or goal, you may find that integrating proactive self-care can be challenging. Start small, by identifying and incorporating one or two small changes that fit well into your life. Be patient with, and kind to, yourself (that’s self-care, too!)

Here are a few articles for additional information: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201810/7-tips-good-self-care

https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/5-tested-tips-battle-burnout-better-self-care


Emily Neilsen is a mother and educator, who loves asking big questions, digging in the soil, swimming in natural bodies of water, and playing outdoors. She is a 500-hour and Prenatal certified yoga instructor. Emily currently plans arts & cultural events and reading initiatives, and works with first-year students at Northern Vermont University-Johnson. She cares deeply about health and believes mental health, movement, and diet play essential roles in wellness. Emily lives with her husband and 2-year-old, as well as a husky and a calico cat in Hyde Park, VT. 

Wait to Worry

By: Michele Whitmore

Life can be challenging. Often our emotions seem like a never ending roller coaster that we did not buy tickets to. This roller coaster symbolizes all of the things in our life, our work, our health, or in our relationships that can go wrong and we frequently find ourselves worrying about those things…

Prevent anxiety mental health

But when you really think about it, more often than not, these things go as planned and we worried for nothing.

One of my favorite messages from a business man who is also a motivational speaker, is about waiting to worry. Unfortunately at the moment, his name escapes my memory. Nonetheless, I share his message A LOT (ask my family and friends!) and when worrying starts to take over for me, I think about his message and it helps me keep things in perspective.

“Why wait to worry? Wait until you actually have a reason to worry—something that is happening, not just something that might happen. When I’m tempted to get alarmed, I tell myself, ‘you’ve got to wait to worry! Until you know differently, don’t worry.’

 Waiting to worry helps me develop the habit of not worrying and that helps me not be tempted to worry. I frequently ask the audience what they were worried about this time last year and I get a lot of laughs,” he said, “because most people can’t remember. Then I ask if they have a current worry—you see nods from everybody. Then I remind them that the average worrier is 92% inefficient; meaning, only 8% of what we worry about ever comes true.”

I hope you can see the worth in the above message. There are so many things in our lives that go well, that go as planned, that are exactly how they should be and there are very few (8%?) that don’t. Let’s try to spend more time focusing on the former and not the latter. Let’s try to wait to worry.


Michele Whitmore is the Associate Dean of Students at Johnson State College. She works closely with Student Service Departments within the College to provide purposeful events to students that will strengthen their professional leadership, personal growth, life skills development and social engagement. Thus far, the College has provided educational programs that cover LGBTQ issues, alcohol and drug use, sexual assault prevention, socio-economic struggles, and healthy choices related to eating well and being fit, to name a few. Michele writes about the outreach and program opportunities that enhance the wellness of a campus community.

Promoting Healthy Technology Use for Youth

By: Jessica Bickford

As kids across the region head back to school, the role of and attention they give to their electronic devices often increases. As parents and educators, this often leaves us struggling to monitor and keep up, wondering,

  • What types of apps are being used?
  • How much time is ok?
  • How do we monitor it?
  • Does technology impact sleep and learning?
  • Technology can be a great tool… how do we balance heathy use?
  • What’s FOMO and Finstagram?
  • Will technology impact learning?
  • Can technology increase substance abuse?
  • Will technology impact mental health and emotional development?
  • And more…

In this post I’d like to share a few highlights from Michael Nerney’s* May 2019 presentation, “Don’t Hit Send: The Impact of Social Media on Brain Development,” that will help to answer some of parents’ questions and take a deeper look about how we engage with our youth around technology. These presentations were hosted by Healthy Lamoille Valley at Green Mountain Technology and Career Center and Craftsbury Academy.

If you would like to watch the presentation, I have included a GMATV link at the end of this post. Plan an hour and a half or break it up in chunks; there is valuable information throughout!

Why are devices attractive?

We know that they (youth) are not addicted to their device or they’d never get a new device, but they upgrade their devices all the time… it is clear, through the research…that they are emotionally dependent upon the immediacy of the connection to their peers and others.”

– Michael Nerney

Michael explored why the youth brain becomes wired to social media. In short, “Likes” create the chemical dopamine, a positive reward in the adolescent brain. At a certain point, the brain reaches a saturation threshold and it begins to require more activity to get the same “positive” dopamine reward feelings.

Plus, youth are impacted by their peers. Technology provides the opportunity for immediate peer feedback.

Youth need risk for positive development, and they perceive technology as an area of “safe” risk.

Practical tips for monitoring youth technology usage:

1.  Delay accounts/technology. Wait until your child is developmentally ready before introducing new technology.

2.  When preparing to give your child a phone or electronic device, create a contract for legitimate and valid purposes of having the device. Don’t just give phone over and say, “I hope nothing bad happens…” When you are 13, you don’t get to erase what you see. This website shares helpful examples. http://www.theonlinemom.com/

3. Set expectations that parents have all passwords and that students do not share this information with others, no matter how close the friendship/relationship may seem. (“Don’t fall for the ‘If you love me, you’ll show me by sharing your password’ trap”.)

4. Monitor, monitor, monitor. Set phones, devices, and accounts up so they can be monitored or shut off remotely.

5. Check in often about social media use. Look at the phones with your kids. “Show me what this app does.” Talk about manipulation techniques used online. 

6. Keep devices out of bedrooms and place a charging station in a family area, where devices go at a set time in the evening. Sleep is crucial and the light from the screen impacts melatonin production. Sleep cleans our brains and gets us ready for learning new information the next day. Kids who text after 10 o’clock are often getting 5-6 hours of sleep vs. the 9 hours they need. They are missing at least one whole complete cycle of sleep.

7. Know the abbreviations. (For example, ASL = Age, Sex, Location.)  Here’s a list: https://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/textmessageabbreviations.asp.

8. Limit time on devices. The more they play with or use technology, the more likely it is to impact sleep patterns, learning, and mental health.  Research shows having a phone next to you can turn 2.5 hours of homework into a 5.5 hour project; it can take 7-9 minutes to reflect, respond, and refocus after each text.    

9. Model positive device and technology use. As parents and caregivers, we set the tone and expectations by what we do.

10. Remember, not everything needs to be digitized. The act of physically writing increases memory and academic performance.

These tips are not limited to phones. Here are additional areas of digital dependence that can produce measurable changes:

  • Online gaming.
  • Digital pornography is changing lives and relationships.
  • Online gambling.
  • Phantom Vibration Syndrome.

We’d love to hear from you!  What has worked well in your home? Are there ideas that you’d like to try?

Resources

Here is a link to watch Michael’s complete presentation. (Start at about 3 minutes in.)

Here is a link to view Michael’s PowerPoint presentation:https://www.healthylamoillevalley.org/wp-content/uploads/DON%E2%80%99T-HIT-SEND-Presention-Michael-Nerney.pdf

The book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Life of Girls by Nancy Jo Sales explores the impacts of sexting.

The Online Mom website provides knowledge, advice, and tools to help “parents protect their kids and encourage responsible behavior as they make the most of the new digital world.” http://www.theonlinemom.com/

* Michael Nerney is a consultant in Substance Abuse Prevention and Education, with over twenty-six years’ experience in the field. He is the former Director of the Training Institute of Narcotic and Drug Research, Inc. Previous to the Director position, Mr. Nerney held a position as a training specialist for NDRI. His particular areas of expertise include Psychopharmacology, Adolescent Chemical Dependency, and Managing Violent Incidents.


Jessica Bickford works as a Coordinator of Healthy Lamoille Valley, where she has enjoyed writing for their blog. Writing for Copley’s community blog is a natural extension of this experience! Healthy Lamoille Valley focuses on making healthy choices easy choices, realizing that when we have access to healthy options we are less likely to choose behaviors that are harmful. Prevention is really a lifestyle of wise choices that enable us to live life to the fullest.

We Are Sweet Enough

By: Cole Pearson

healthy drinks for kids

As children return to school, nutrition can be an important contributor to them enjoying a successful, healthy school year. Many children enjoy sugar-sweetened beverages, but aren’t our children already sweet enough?

Are we talking about soda?

Yes, but soda is not the only type of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed by kids and adults. Sugar-sweetened beverages are any liquids that are sweetened with various forms of added sugars like brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, and more. Liquid sugar, found in sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks, is the leading source of added sugar in the American diet, representing 36% of the added sugar we consume. We know from the research that 6 in 10 youth and 5 in 10 adults drink a sugar-sweetened beverage on a given day, far exceeding their daily recommended maximum added sugar consumption (6 teaspoons max for kids and women and 9 teaspoons for men).

What is the concern about sugar-sweetened beverage consumption?

We know that drinking just one 12-oz. can of soda per day can increase your risk of dying from heart disease by nearly one-third. Additionally, people who drink one to two sugar-sweetened beverages per day have a 26% higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, compared to people who drink less than one per month. Sugary drinks give the body a blast of sugar and produce triglycerides (aka fat globules). Some of those fat globules get stored in the liver, while others will go into the blood stream, lining the arteries and putting you at risk for heart attack.

Why focus on sugar-sweetened beverages instead of sugary foods?

Although too much sugar in any form is not recommended, sugar-sweetened beverages have particular concerns. An important issue regarding sugar-sweetened beverages is the fact that it is very easy to consume way too much. Studies also show that when we drink sugar-sweetened beverages, we don’t feel as full as we would if we had eaten the same number of calories. So it’s easy to down nine teaspoons (38 grams) of sugar in a single soda – about twice as many as in an apple – and hardly notice.

Fruit juice is good for kids, right?

Although fruit juice is often perceived as healthy, it really is not a good substitute for fresh fruit. That’s because fruit juice often contains more sugar and calories than the fruit itself. In recent years, healthcare professionals have begun to advise against juice for children under age one because of its connection to rising obesity rates and concerns about dental health. We now know that fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit to children under age one and should not be included in their diet.

There are lots of swap ideas that can help reduce sugar in your beverages and RiseVT will be launching the “Sweet Enough” campaign in September to give you lots of swap ideas!  For example, it can make a big difference to swap your kid’s sports drinks for water in a cool water bottle they like, or serve seltzer with a splash of juice as a soda substitute. With six teaspoons as the max added sugar your kid should have in one day, it’s easy to max that out in one beverage—so these swap ideas can add up to make big impacts in health and wellbeing.

So remember, for a healthier, happier life, try limiting sugar-sweetened beverages. After all, our families are already sweet enough!


Five Easy Minutes

By: Daniel Regan

I have a simple suggestion that could enhance the quality of your life. It may give you a sense of inner peace and could even, in the long run, prolong your life.

Give yourself the gift of five extra minutes. I don’t mean extra minutes to stay in bed or on your phone; rather, a five-minute cushion (10-15 is even better) before your next appointment, commitment, or task.

Try it. It might lower your blood pressure and change your life. 

Did anyone watch the NBA playoffs in June? Those who did, commentators and casual fans alike, could not help but note series MVP Kawhi Leonard’s unhurried style of play and approach to the game. He seemed always to anticipate and be prepared for what came next. In the midst of a highly stressful activity and setting, he nevertheless appeared—well—at peace.

It doesn’t take his extraordinary skills and preparation to glean an important message for the rest of us, as we live our everyday lives: try to move through life quickly and purposefully, but not frantically. Doing so will enhance tranquility and heighten your ability to focus.

I am realistic. Some will scoff at this simple suggestion, reject it, conclude their lives are too complicated for five extra minutes. (And if truth be told, some don’t care about making good, time wise, on their commitments; but that’s another story.) Why are some of us addicted to stress? It’s more than just an individual refusal to deprive ourselves of anything—even a proven danger like stress to our health and wellbeing.

Ours is a nation developed upon stress. It’s not just the current demands of our fast paced technological era. Much earlier in our nation’s history, the industrial era kept workers on edge so they would work hard and produce. That philosophy may have helped grow the economy, but it did not necessarily contribute to our psychological health. Stress may produce sweat, but not necessarily the best work, much less satisfaction or happiness.

So give yourself five extra minutes—to complete that required task, meet that person, show up at an appointment, pick someone up, etc. Not permitting yourself that cushion can have negative consequences. One morning I tested and verified that assertion: Had I backed out of my driveway in a rush, and skimped on looking behind me, I might have struck the little girl from next door or crashed into the car that suddenly made a U-turn and came up the road behind me. Or I might have turned left too soon, onto a busy thoroughfare, which would have added to the long list of accidents by impatient motorists. And that was only in the first five minutes after my departure from home.

So save your reaction to stress for those situations that truly require it. Meanwhile, do yourself a favor and take a few extra minutes. Doing so might even prolong your life, which would make a whole lot of time cushions very worthwhile.


Dan Regan, a sociologist, is the former dean of academic affairs at Johnson State College and continues to work part-time for Northern Vermont University.

Making Connections for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

A client reported to me in session recently that something “just felt different” over her weekend. What she was ultimately able to identify is that she felt like she and her kids were becoming a part of her community. We spent time in session discussing what community means and why it matters. According to Sorab Asora, community means “empathy, inclusion and belonging, a sense of purpose, cultural understanding and exchange of ideas.” This sense of connection or belonging is what helps people thrive physically, mentally, and emotionally, which is why it is another critical Pillar for Mental Health.

According to Martin Seligman – a leading psychologist and founder of “Positive Psychology” – regardless of where you find your community, becoming a part of one is a major factor in being happy and balanced. Seligman asserts that community helps to foster the characteristics (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments) that produce healthy and happy members of society.

Indeed, involvement in a supportive and caring community and having positive personal and intimate relationships that are enduring, loving, and reliable is essential to experiencing true connection – something that humans desire and arguably need on the deepest of levels. While my personal bias is to encourage these connections to be in real-time and in-person, I have learned that quality connections that are being made online have similar positive impacts. Still, my hope is that those individuals who are spending a significant amount of time connecting online also have opportunities for meaningful, face-to-face interactions on a regular basis. There is much being written stating that online relationships are not a direct substitute for the human contact that we all benefit from. Regardless of where the connections occur, the kindness and care that comes from another human being — someone to witness our suffering, validate our stories and experiences, and to simply matter to someone despite our imperfections — can make all the difference in terms of an individual’s mental and emotional well-being.

From a Psychology Today article entitled, “On Belonging”:

“recent neuroscience studies have revealed that the brain uses similar circuits to deal with our social pleasures and pains as with our more tangible delights and woes. For instance, the brain’s reward system has been shown to respond as strongly to social rewards (e.g. social recognition) as it does to money. On the other hand, when social ties come undone and connections are severed, the resulting social injuries may not only become sources of copious ill-effects, but may also affect our brains in similar ways as physical injuries would. Thus, as some neuroscientists have suggested, human beings could be wired to feel pain when we are bereft of social connection, just as evolution has wired us to feel pain when we are deprived of our basic needs (e.g. food, water, and shelter).”

What you can do today!

  • Make a goal to do something with another person in your life at least one time/week. Enjoy a walk and talk or peddle your bike, meet at a cafe for food and drink, visit an art gallery together, see some local community theater, go for a drive, wade in a river, or go for a swim in a lake. Anything goes, as long as it’s done on a regular basis, with another person you feel you can trust and be yourself with.
  • Take a chance and reach out to someone you like, but haven’t spent much time with. Extend yourself and approach the idea of connection, working to deepen the relationship, knowing how it can feed your spirit and boost your mood.
  • Look for ways to become involved in your community, thinking about ways to match your interests with the needs of your specific community. There are an infinite number of areas for engagement. For example, if you’d like to help out with seniors, think about serving on the board of “Meals on Wheels” or volunteering at the Senior Center. If that’s not your preferred population, talk with your local school’s volunteer coordinator to find out whether you can help with their mentoring, after school, or school garden programs. There are opportunities at the North Central Vermont Recovery Center, libraries, second hand clothing stores, your local food cooperative (MOCO), local farms, community food shelf, and more!
  • Think about taking a class in your community. There are endless opportunities to get involved and learn something new – no matter your age! Check out events and activities being offered at such places as Morrisville’s River Arts, Community College of Vermont, Green Mountain Technology Center, Northern Vermont University, UVM’s Adult Learning, music classes with local musicians and educators, pottery, art, or photography classes with some of Lamoille County’s amazing artists.
  • If you are certain that the relationships in your life aren’t serving you and you need to change them up or possibly end them, think about reaching out to a local counselor for support. Talking with someone can truly make the difference between remaining in and suffering in dysfunctional relationships and finding the will and agency to make the changes that can support your overall health (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) and happiness.

The experiences that come with direct, face-to-face relationships are meaningful in ways that can’t always be quantified. The research is there, no doubt, but more importantly, is the intuitive sense we all have that when we are in a flow with and connected with others, we feel better. We feel we belong and that we matter. In all of my work, with everyone I’ve ever worked with, this is a universal desire and one that is indeed worth pursuing.

References:

Sorab Asora – No Stigmas “Community Engagement and Positive Mental Health” May 2017

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Sydney: Random House.

Pogosyan, Marianna, Psychology Today, “On Belonging” April 2017.

Resources to Further your Education and Information:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-cultures/201704/belonging

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rethinking-mental-health/201603/gregg-levoy-meaningful-work

https://choosework.ssa.gov/blog/2016-05-27-mental-illness-on-meaningful-work-and-recovery

https://nostigmas.org/learn/community-engagement-and-positive-mental-health

Raz, G. (Producer). (June 10, 2016) Becoming Wise (Audio Podcast) https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/481290551/becoming-wise

Summer Blueberry Cake

By: Deb Nevil

Fresh summer produce from The Last Resort Farm at Richmond Farmers Market, Vermont

As I write, we are half way through summer. I don’t know about you, but after the extended winter, I am grateful for the bounties that abound. Currently, we are in the midst of blueberry and peach season. Yes, that’s right, local blueberries and peaches! These photos are from The Last Resort Farm. I vend right next to them at Richmond Farmers Market. As such, I spend a lot of time outdoors at farmers’ markets, festivals, and local community events, which allows me to support local farmers and eat as much in season as possible.

Luckily, I live in beautiful Lamoille County, so even if I choose to pick my own blueberries, there are several locations close to my home. As a mom, an educator, and farmers market coordinator,  I love to share my passion for healthy food.

We just concluded our 6-week summer school program where we planted and tended a garden. We went strawberry and blueberry picking, and we baked pies, muffins, and blueberry cake. Smoothies were also a big hit with local yogurt and the fresh fruit we gathered.

I grew up in a family where everyone loved to cook. My Auntie Del cooked for the Rockefeller family in Bar Harbor, Maine. I used to spend time with her and my mom cooking, baking, and pickling. My Auntie Ethel, whom I named “Auntie Cuckoo” (she gifted me a cuckoo clock from Germany when I was just about 3 years old), was also an excellent cook.

Blueberries at Wandering Roots, Cambridge, VT

Fortunately, I have many of their recipes and I’d like to share “Auntie Cuckoo’s” blueberry cake with you. Being a lover of local food and delicious baked goods, I have tried many blueberry cakes, but this is, hands down, my favorite. I hope you get a chance to try it! Remember, blueberries freeze well, so you can pick or purchase now and enjoy them for months to come. Here are some photos of our blueberry bounty, and of course, Auntie Cuckoo’s Blueberry Cake Recipe. Enjoy it and the rest of this glorious season!

Auntie Cuckoo’s Blueberry Cake

Blueberries at Wandering Roots, Cambridge, VT

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. vegetable shortening
  • 2 eggs yolks and 2 egg whites, separated.
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 c. blueberries

Instructions:

  • Sift flour, baking powder, and salt 3 times in medium-sized bowl.
  • In another bowl, cream sugar and vegetable shortening.
  • Add the beaten egg yolks to the creamed mixture. 
  • Alternately add the flour mixture and milk until fully incorporated.
  • Add vanilla.
  • Fold in beaten egg whites.
  • Lightly flour blueberries, then fold them into mixture.
  • Pour into a 9×9 greased and floured pan. 
  • Sprinkle the top with sugar and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

A mother of 4 with a M.Ed., Deb oversees the after school and summer Enrichment program as the 21st Center for Learning Coordinator at Cambridge Elementary School. Deb understands the importance of a healthy, educated, and engaged community to raise positive and productive children. She is a Vermont Farmers’ Market Advisory (VTFMA) Board Member, Brand Ambassador for Kingdom Creamery of VT and coordinates the JFAM Mtn. Jam Music Series in Jeffersonville in July-August. Deb lives in Cambridge with her family, and babies: her dogs and cats.