Archive - May 2019

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Small Pleasures
2
Sweet Dreams
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Milestones Matter
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The Power of Positivity and Reflection
5
Fresh Air

Small Pleasures

By: Dan Regan

It’s undoubtedly true, as we all know, that “the best things in life are free”—love, truth, beauty, honor, among them. Material things, however, do play a part in the quality and enjoyment of our lives. Our experience of the material world can contribute to a sense of satisfaction and hence of wellbeing. If you are among the many for whom this is true, I suggest that you freely indulge in small pleasures.

This message applies to people of all ages, but it is especially intended as a manifesto for older readers not enticed by calls to create a dramatic bucket list, go on a lavish cruise or round-the-world trip, or purchase a fancy automobile. I have no quarrel with those who are so compelled, but the advice about aging and retirement has overwhelmingly spoken to the true luxury-seekers among the older population. 

But what about those of us for whom joy and certainly contentment in advancing age is not found sitting in airport waiting lounges, scrambling to change planes? Or who don’t find ourselves in situations able to “get away,” perhaps because of responsibilities to kids, grandchildren, or parents? How do we find our retirement pleasure?

Of course, the “big” answer resides in deep relationships, meaningful activities, close community. But a partial – though no less compelling – response may reside in the more regular consumption of what I am calling “small pleasures.”

When you go to the supermarket, indulge a little. Purchase—and savor—that expensive chocolate instead of the cheaper variety. Or do the same with coffee. Or go to a bath and beauty store for high-quality soap. Such examples could be multiplied many times. Find your own favorite areas for occasionally foregoing your usual economy in favor of indulging in small pleasures.

The Jaguar that most of us will never own costs a little less than twice what our Toyota or Subaru does. So how do “small pleasures” compare to their more economical counterparts?

“Economy” Brand“Pleasure” Brand% Greater
Car$25,450 $44,800 76% 
Chocolate$1.99 $3.99100%
Coffee$4.35 $12.99 199%
Soap$1.65$7.99384%

As you can see, in percentage terms it’s actually more extravagant to purchase the “small pleasures.” Feel like a millionaire and enjoy all of them! You’ll still only be out a total of 25 bucks, as compared to $45,000.

So, indulge yourself a little, if you are able to do so. You deserve it.

Finally: Please remember that 68,000 Vermonters, 11.3 percent of the state’s population, live in poverty. At least 8,000 among them are Vermont senior citizens. For those below the poverty line, our neighbors among them, subsistence is the currently reachable goal, not—sadly—these small pleasures.


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. He writes for a variety of publications about whatever interests him, including—recently—climate change, living with arthritis, the NFL players’ protests, and higher education.

Sweet Dreams

By: Julie Bomengen

While most of us have an intuitive drive and love for sleep, many of us don’t understand how a good night’s rest impacts our mental and emotional well-being. Today’s blog is going to unpack Sleep as a Pillar/Foundation for Mental Health. A compromised sleep-wake cycle alters brain activity and the neurochemicals that directly affect our mood and executive functioning (ie: working memory, cognitive flexibility, and self-control), and undermines the processes intended to restore our minds and bodies to a normal, healthy baseline. Protecting the quality and quantity of our sleep is one of the most critical interventions we can do to improve overall mental, emotional, and physical functioning.

Our sleep-wake cycle is controlled by the HPA (Hypothalamus, Pituitary, Adrenal) Axis which controls cortisol production on a 24-hour Circadian Rhythm.  When our sleep-wake cycle is rhythmic, cortisol drops at night to help us fall asleep and increases in the early morning hours to help us wake up. Acute or chronic stress, unresolved trauma, drug and alcohol use, pain, blood-sugar dysregulation (hypoglycemia), misuse of caffeine, illness, and hormone imbalances, among other things, can all impact the level of cortisol in the body, affect our sleep patterns, and exacerbate symptoms of or lead to depression, anxiety, PTSD, PMS, ADHD, dementia, and Bipolar disorder. Ongoing disruption of this essential psychological-biological rhythm reinforces mental distress and becomes a vicious cycle of symptoms that disrupt sleep patterns and sleep disturbances that often develop into mental health disorders.

Research has shown that sleep, and REM sleep or dream sleep, in particular, plays a major role in mood regulation and that increasing our time in REM sleep reduces depression. When we are sleeping, our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) gets a chance to be in Parasympathetic Mode – time to put the brakes on and rest, digest, relax, restore, renew, detoxify, and integrate information and experiences from the day. All important reasons to safeguard sleep.

Our use of technology exerts a considerable impact on both the quality and quantity of our sleep. The blue-green wavelength that screens emit depresses melatonin, the sleep hormone that is released when the sun goes down. For this reason, blue light acts as a stimulant to the brain, making it hard to feel relaxed, settle down, and fall asleep. Easily accessed devices create an all-too-easy and convenient distraction for most people, often leading to a disconnect from real-time experiences and relationships, misuse of time, and a disruption of the circadian rhythm. Behavioral habits of checking and rechecking our devices can often set a negative or anxious tone for the day, and as stress hormones are released, feelings of anxiety increase. Often, even before people are getting out of their beds in the mornings, they are tired, stressed, and irritable from their dysregulated sleep. Beginning the day with a deficit is no fun for anyone!

Ways to protect and improve your sleep and mental and emotional wellbeing:

  • Discontinue use of all technology at least 1 hour prior to going to bed and ideally, leave your device charging outside of your bedroom in order to reduce distractions, increase intimacy (by the way, snuggling releases oxytocin – the human bonding/relational hormone!), and protect the quality and quantity of your sleep.  Use blue light blocking glasses at night and consider installing the f.lux program onto your devices which makes the color of your computer screen adapt to the time of day, thereby modulating its stimulating impact.
  • Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual (we create them for our children, why not for ourselves?) which might include reading, showering, a magnesium-rich (the relaxing mineral) epsom salts bath 30 minutes before bed, gentle stretching, listening to music, drinking herbal tea, aromatherapy, massage, herbs such as valerian root tincture, hops, passionflower, or with the support of an experienced practitioner use supplements that support circadian rhythm which include melatonin, B12, and lithium orotate.
  • Establish a regular sleep-wake cycle 7 days a week, choosing your be-in-bed-by-time and your lights-out time. Doing your best to stick with this cycle every night will better support the 24-hour rhythm that will ensure healthy sleep patterns and improved mental, emotional and physical health. One of the reasons why it’s often difficult to get going on Monday mornings is because people change up their bedtime routines over the weekend which throws off the sleep-wake cycle and makes for a sluggish start to the week.
  • Consider pairing your dessert or alcohol (a.k.a. “liquid sugar” – more on this in a future blog) with food earlier in the evening or omit them altogether to help in eliminating the impact of blood-sugar dysregulation on your sleep patterns. When we consume sugars before bed, our blood sugar levels spike and then come down 2-4 hours later in the middle of the night, waking the individual up as a result of our body’s alarm sensing what it perceives as concerning or dangerously low blood sugar levels. Eliminating sugars and alcohol several hours before going to bed and/ or enjoying a protein or healthy fat snack before bed (ie: avocado, nuts, cheese, egg, turkey and other high tryptophan foods) will help individuals fall asleep and stay asleep more successfully.
  • Limit your use of caffeine to earlier in the day, remembering that caffeine (including energy drinks) that is consumed in the late afternoon for that pick-me-up boost often contributes to insomnia.
  • Because elevated stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine) can lead to memory and attention problems, irritability, and sleep disorders, work diligently to manage stressors by engaging in some form of relaxation, meditation, breath work, or progressive muscle relaxation exercises. Apps like Insight Timer, Calm, and Headspace can be helpful aids for meditation and stress management. Another tip is to write down your worries or to-do’s on a piece of paper that you leave outside of your bedroom, creating a boundary between your “doing” self and your “being or sleeping” self.
  • Keep your bedroom dark (consider an eye mask and room darkening shades) and cool (60-67 degrees F, adjusted to personal preferences) to ensure a restful night’s sleep.
  • Limit the bedroom to sleeping or intimacy.  Your bedroom is not your office!
  • Daily, regular exercise, particularly high-intensity workouts, but ideally before 4 p.m. Physical activity helps relieve stress, reduces cortisol production and helps normalize sleep patterns.
  • Exposure to bright natural light or use of a full-spectrum lamp on a daily basis is helpful in supporting quality sleep patterns, particularly for people who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Getting outside every day helps – even when it’s cloudy, which Lamoille County often is!
  • Use habit-forming sleep medications as a last resort as they will further interfere with your body’s ability to restore a natural Circadian Rhythm.

Resources to Further your Education and Information:


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.

Milestones Matter

By: Wendy S. Hubbard, RN, MCHC

Children grow so fast and as parents, we want to make sure they are developing well.

Skills such as taking a first step, smiling for the first time, and waving “bye bye” are called developmental milestones. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, act, and move (crawling, walking, etc.).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the Milestone Tracker, a free mobile app for children from birth to 5. The app provides information, photos, and videos on each milestone your child should reach in how he or she plays, learns, speaks, acts, and moves. The app helps you track your child’s development and will help you to act early if you have a question or concern.

Click on the age of your child to see the milestones they should meet:

CDC’s Milestone Tracker app offers:

  • Interactive milestone checklists for children ages 2 months through 5 years, illustrated with photos and videos.
  • Tips and activities to help children learn and grow.
  • Information on when to act early and talk with a doctor about developmental delays.
  • A personalized milestone summary that can be easily shared with care providers.
  • Reminders for appointments and developmental screenings.
  • The ability to enter personalized information about your child(ren).
  • Milestone checklists for a child’s age.

Healthcare providers can also use the app to help with developmental surveillance as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and early care and education providers, home visitors, and others can use it to better understand children’s skills and abilities and to engage families in monitoring developmental progress.

To learn more about developmental milestones and access helpful resources, visit https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/index.html.

 

The use of this app is not a substitute for the use of validated, standardized developmental screening tools as recommended by the AAP. This app was developed by the CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program with contribution from Dr. Rosa Arriaga and students from the Computing for Good program at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA.

CDC does not collect or share any personal information that can be used to identify you or your child.

The Power of Positivity and Reflection

By: Leah Hollenberger

Northern Vermont University recently held its “Dinner with the Boss,” an event that welcomes students and alumni to give students experience in networking. Alumni were asked to share one “gem” they felt would be most helpful to students just beginning their journey in pursuing their chosen career. The advice was excellent, thought-provoking, and inspirational.

Common to each piece of advice was the importance of being authentic to yourself, using reflection to determine what is truly meaningful to you, and the strength of community. In short, embracing your heart as well as your mind and nurturing connectivity.

It reminded me of an exercise I did years ago as a participant in the ALIGN pilot program at Marlboro College. Through self-examination, careful observation, and reflection, I was able to develop a short specific list of what I need to have in my life on a monthly basis to stay healthy, positive, and engaged – what I would define as a successful life. I keep this list, typed out, in my desk drawer and I refer to it when I am frustrated, overwhelmed or stressed out. Typically, I quickly determine that I’ve neglected one of those items and refocus my actions. The exercise effectively improved my ability to reframe challenges in a positive, nurturing perspective instead of from an unhealthy, negative framework. Change is constant and I continue to use these tools that embrace heart and mind, my “attitude of gratitude,”  to guide me in meaningful action.

There are many programs, books, blogs, and Instagram accounts available today that embrace this authenticity and provide tools to individuals and communities.

  • Marlboro College continues to offer a similar leadership program to the pilot in which I participated.
  • The Positive Education movement, based on the work of Martin Seligman’s work in positive psychology, embraces heart and mind via curriculum and in-school programming.
  • Resiliency efforts, including the Resilience Beyond Incarceration program with the Lamoille Restorative Center and programs at the Lamoille Family Center that address Adverse Childhood Experiences, utilize this work.
  • Whole Heart, Inc. has a wellness model, similar to the exercise I did, that gives you a way to personally define your successful life.
  • Ted Talks has several presentations regarding positive psychology.   

My favorite piece of advice from “Dinner with the Boss” was a spur-of-the-moment adlib from an experienced educator. It demonstrated heart and mind by showing how a simple action can guarantee inclusivity without making a person declare a need while at the same time increasing the odds that her key message would be heard. What was the advice? “Always use the microphone.”

What tools do you use to encourage authenticity? What advice would you give a young person starting to pursue their career? 


Leah Hollenberger is the Development and External Relations Officer for Northern Vermont University. She helped create the Live Well Lamoille Blog while serving as Vice President of Marketing, Development, and Community Relations for Copley Hospital. A former award-winning TV and Radio producer, she is the mother of two and spends her free time volunteering, cooking, playing outdoors, and producing textile arts. Leah writes about community events, preventive care, and assorted ideas to help one make healthy choices.

Fresh Air

By: Caleb Magoon

benefit of fresh air

There is something beautiful and brilliant about- you guessed it: fresh air. No, not the radio program, the actual air you breathe in on a beautiful day where you are afforded the luxury of quite literally inhaling and exhaling clean air. But there is more to fresh air than just that.

This past week, spring suddenly sprung. This past weekend I spent some time watching, chasing, and playing with my 15-month-old son as he experienced the joy of a warm sunny day after a long Vermont winter. I can’t effectively describe the youthful joy of exploring a world you have only had a taste of, and doing so with the mobility that you have only realized in recent months. His response was purely instinctual and a clear reaction to his circumstances. What a joy to watch him!

Whether it was the fresh air, the sun, or the youthful exploration of the great outdoors, it was infectious. My wife and I had more fun because of it. But there is more to those things that meet the eye. Study after study has shown that kids need to get outside, see the sun, and breathe fresh air.

It doesn’t stop with kids. Just as we know well about “seasonal depression” for folks who need more light throughout the winter, adults too need recess. I see it in every smiling face, grins ear to ear, in the first few beautiful days of the spring. That’s because we can’t help it – our bodies instinctively respond to the rush of air and warmth and sun and we can only smile.

So if I give you any advice for the spring, it’s this: take recess. It doesn’t matter if you simply go for a five-minute walk on your lunch or coffee break, a loop around the block from your car to the building, or whatever! Put those inside cleaning projects on hold and weed the garden. It almost doesn’t matter what you do, just do it outside. If you are lucky enough to have the joy of a little physical recreation, all the better. Your physical and mental help will be the beneficiaries and your neighbors, friends and family will thank you for your sunny disposition.

Enjoy your spring!


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.