NPR: How Americans Really Experience Stress

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During the month of July, as I’ve been traveling from here to there, I have caught bits and pieces of NPR’s latest series on stress.  There have been some really interesting stories, and I’m sharing a few of my favorite highlights below.

For starters, there’s a piece on the overall picture of stress in America.  NPR teamed up with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health to conduct a survey of 2,500 Americans.  They found that 49% of respondents had experienced a major NPR stress image_Josh Neufeldlife stress within the last year, with the most frequent type of stressor being health-related.

When broken down by demographics, there were some interesting findings.  For example, young adults were more likely to name “too many responsibilities” as their primary stressor, whereas older adults named health problems.  Looking at income, people making below $20,000 named (perhaps unsurprisingly) finances and work problems as their biggest worries.  People making over $50,000 named work problems and too many responsibilities.  The most common response to stress? Seventy percent of people reported sleeping less than usual.  For more on these statistics, click here.

Another segment focused on the connection between food and stress.  A Harvard University researcher says, “When we feel stressed we seek foods that are going to comfort us immediately, but often times those foods lead to surges and crashes in hormones and blood sugar that increase our susceptibility to new stresses.”  Other researchers are looking into foods that make us more resilient in the face of stress.  For example, foods that are nutrient rich, specifically those that are high in omega-3s, help bolster against stress.  Some good stress-busting foods include:

  • Eggs
  • Dark, leafy greens like kale or Swiss chard
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like sardines, salmon or canned tuna
  • Flaxseed
  • Dark chocolate

For more on the food-mind connection, click here.

One of the more upbeat and fun segments was about how Americans deal with stress.  Seventy-one percent of respondents said that connecting with friends or family is their go-to form of stress relief.  In terms of what works for people, turning to hobbies and time outdoors were reported as being most effective.  Click here for the article.  Actually, just watching this short video, put together using animations and live interviews of people talking about their favorite stress-relieving activities, sent me into a state of relaxation!

Other articles and radio pieces in the NPR series include:

-Katie Huffman

Top Image by Josh Neufeld for NPR

Seminar Opportunity: “True Resiliency”

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seminarThe Davidson Clergy Center will be offering a professional development seminar called “True Resiliency: Transforming Pastoral Stress into Ministry Success” on August 12 or September 18, 2014 (1:30 to 5:30 p.m.).

Success in ministry is one thing; achieving a clergy identity that is personally satisfying may be something else altogether. In place of a diatribe about clergy’s near legendary high levels of impairment and distress, relative to other occupations, this interactive seminar adopts a decidedly positive stance: how holistic health—including the often undernourished emotional and spiritual dimensions—is garnered in spite of the stressors unique to ministry professionals.Key concepts from the contemporary behavioral science of positive psychology include:

  • Chronicity- the role of timing in career stress, success, and well-being
  • Personality- how the so-called “clergy personality” aids (or hinders) career success and life satisfaction
  • Resiliency- three components of resiliency counteract common clergy-life stress points
  • Spirituality- the contribution of spiritual vitality to the wellness of contemporary clergy.

Participants will leave with several self-assessment checklists, each containing core elements promoting the psychological and vocational well-being of today’s emotionally and spiritually healthy minister.

About your Faculty:
Michael E. Hall (Ph.D, Counseling Psychology-Penn State University) has been a part of the “helping professions” as a psychologist-executive coach, and professional development trainer for over three decades. Service to the faith community spans the mid-West/Atlantic regions to Nevada in the US, to the West Indies.

This seminar will be held at the Davidson Clergy Center, 455 S Main Street, Suite 200, Davidson, NC 28036 with a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 12 participants. The cost for the seminar is $350.

To register, please provide the following information to Gordon Jacobs–gordonjacobs@davcp.com or (704) 895-6487–  Name, email address, phone number, and seminar date selection (pick one) – August 12 or September 18.

CHI Tour of the Tarheel State

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The Clergy Health Initiative health screening staff took to the highways in April and May.  From the mountains to the coast and everywhere in between, they got to meet lots of Group 1 and Group 3 Spirited Life pastors, and they also had the chance to experience some of North Carolina’s finest treasures!   Below are a few examples from their adventures.  For more pictures, click here: Spring 2014 CHI Tarheel Tour Slideshow. 

Looks like fun!  Did you see your part of the state represented?

Embrace the Shake

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In this inspiring TED talk, multimedia artist, Phil Hansen, describes how a physical limitation actually helped him become a better artist.  He uses his personal story to encourage us to look to our own limitations as a source of creativity.

Click on the image below for the 10-minute long video.

Phil HansenFor other TED talks to “kickstart your creativity,” click here.

 -Katie Huffman

Image courtesy of YouTube

 

Clergy Health in the News

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Recent news articles in The Christian Post and The Anniston Star (Alabama) mention the Duke Clergy Health Initiative’s findings of increased depression rates among North Carolina Methodist pastors alongside other studies that show similar mental health concerns among clergy. As possible theories for these high rates of clergy depression and burnout, both articles point to the 24/7 nature of the job and pastors’ hesitancy to nurture themselves.Beach_chairs_Curacao

The solution? Experts and clergy in both articles recommend regular time off and taking vacation.  (Did you know that on average, Americans forfeit four of their allotted annual vacation days?)

-Katie Huffman

Image from Wikimedia Commons via CC

Living in Gratitude

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The following post is offered by Spirited Life Wellness Advocate, Lisa MacKenzie.

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“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us- and He has given us everything.”  -Thomas Merton

One of my children recently gave me a book entitled Living-in-Gratitude_imageLiving in Gratitude.  We’re a family of readers and often talk about what we’re reading or what we think the other person might like.  But when I started reading this book I wondered if it was given as a secret message for Mom.  I kept hearing in my head “Are you grateful? Is gratitude part of your life”?  Then I would say back to the voice, “Of course I practice gratitude…..well, I think I do…..well, maybe I don’t all the time…. well how do you practice gratitude anyway?”

The book is a month-to-month guide for the practice of gratitude. The author, Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist, says that “practice is meant to be active, rigorous, and dynamic.  To practice is to take action that supports change and provides a discipline for incorporating and strengthening new values, skills and character qualities.”  I was especially interested in how a practice of gratitude might affect health in particular, since health and well-being are pretty important to most of us.  Our first thought may not be about gratitude as a basic health practice.

Even though it’s July, I started at the beginning of the book with January.  I worried that this was all going to be very shallow like “in January be thankful for a new year—a fresh start.”  Then I realized that the message from my daughter might be: give up on the cynicism for just a bit and read the book.  Right off the bat the author quotes Hopi Elder Thomas Banyacya who reminds us to vision and in visioning one must stop, consider, change and correct.

Arriens details this practice, which offers a way to align our vision with our choices.  This makes sense.  I was already feeling a tiny bit grateful for a new tool.  Unfolding in this January chapter are also the concepts of blessings, learnings, mercies and protections:  what they mean and the importance of paying attention to them.   As we identify blessings, learnings, mercies, and protections we have additional tools to develop a framework of intentionality, which as the author states, “helps us enter frequently and joyfully into the life changing state of being which is gratitude.”

Further into the book is another important question that addresses all areas of health and wellness.  Dr. William Stewart, author of Deep Medicine and the medical director of the Institute for Health and Healing at the California Pacific Medical Center, suggests that we ask this question:  Are the choices I am making health enhancing or health negating?  And he’s talking about all realms of health from the spiritual to the financial. Dr. Stewart and many others have demonstrated that health improves or declines according to the choices we make.

Arriens points out that it is well documented that the daily practice of gratitude increases health and well being.  Genuine expressions of gratitude reduce stress, develop positive attitudes and performance, strengthen the immune system and increase our experience of joy and happiness.

This book encourages gratitude through reflection, questioning, action and practice.  It recognizes the importance of research and intellectualism but then goes to the deeper meaning found only in the heart. I’m only up to March but I’m beginning to think that Living in Gratitude might just change the way I think about wellness.

(Book cover image from KPCRadio.com)

Lisa-MacKenzie-90x120-Lisa MacKenzie

Get in touch… with massage therapy

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As part of our final farewell to Group 2 pastors, the Spirited Life team offered chair massages during their concluding workshops. Throughout that entire day, pastors were able to sign up for ten-minute chair massages provided by local massage therapists. While a few were hesitant, many absolutely enjoyed it! Some even signed up for a second (or third!) massage as time permitted.

It was so gratifying to watch as pastors allowed themselves to enjoy such a gift. Some pastors were even inspired to discuss the origins of their tensions, and many left the experience considering the possibility of setting up future massage appointments.

While massages are typically wellness massage-285590_640perceived as an indulgence, they are actually centuries old in existence and provide a variety of benefits to a person’s mental and physical health. For instance, people use massages to relieve pain, rehabilitate sports injuries, reduce stress, increase relaxation AND reduce anxiety and depression.

It is true that massages can be expensive. However, there are cost-effective ways that you can occasionally treat yourself to this amazing form of self-care. For example:

  • Seek out Massage Schools in your area. To eliminate the guesswork of finding a reputable massage therapist in your area, the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy has a list of schools that provide licensed instruction for massage therapy. Some of the schools offer discounted rates because the students are in the process of being licensed. A list of those schools can be found here.
  • Contact your local Community College. Another good resource is your local community college as they occasionally offer massage classes for individuals, independent from a degree program. Taking a massage class through a community college’s continuing education department is a great way to pick up some basic pointers. I mention this option because it’s one that can be enjoyed by you and your significant other.
  • You can locate a massage therapist in your area through this locator.  When you call for an appointment, ask about special pricing packages.  Some places offer deals where when you buy a certain number of sessions up front, you get a session free.  

If you have never had a massage before – treat yourself! If you’ve enjoyed a massage in the past – maybe it’s time for another!

-Angela MacDonald

Image from pixabay.com via CC

A Summer Treat

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Using frozen bananas to make ice cream seems to be all the rage lately.  Even though I’ve ice creamsnagged several recipes for this non-dairy frozen delight from Pinterest over the last several months, I had never made it until last night.  I’m here to tell you that if you need a sweet treat this summer that won’t leave you feeling guilty, this ice cream will do the trick!

The general idea is that you take some frozen bananas and use them as the base.  When pureed in the blender or food processor, frozen bananas become soft and oh-so-creamy.  From there you can use as many different mix-ins as you can dream of.  Want strawberry ice cream?  Throw in some chopped frozen strawberries.  Want chocolate ice cream?  Mix in a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder and a little vanilla extract.  While a subtle taste of bananas remains, the flavors of the mix-ins are what stand out.

In addition to being low calorie, this “faux” ice cream is also great because it is gluten-free and vegan!  The recipe I used was for Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream from The Lemon Bowl blog.  For each 1/2-cup serving (this recipe makes 4 servings), there are 108 calories and 4.4 grams of fat.

Step-by-step instructions for making one-ingredient ice cream along with some more flavor ideas can be found here. Once you get the hang of it, you won’t even need a recipe!

-Katie Huffman

Photo by Liz DellaCroce of The Lemon Bowl

Click here for another healthy summer treat recipe

To Not Feel Deprived

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Gretchen Rubin, a happiness author and blogger whom we’ve featured on the blog before, has taken on a new challenge: figuring out what’s behind a habit and “how to make good habits and break bad ones (really).”  Ms. Rubin will reveal her findings in a book due out in 2015.  In the meantime, she has been blogging about her research into questions such as

  • Sometimes, people acquire habits overnight, and sometimes, they drop longtime habits just as abruptly.  Why?
  • Do the same habit-formation strategies apply equally well to everyone?
  • What are the overarching strategies that allow us to change our habits?

Ms. Rubin suggests that when in pursuit of a good habit, one of the most important things to do is to avoid deprivation.  When we feel that we have been deprived of something, we often compensate by giving ourselves permission to break the desired habit, even if by just a little.  For example, I’ve been known to say, “I was really good with my calorie counting this week, so I’m going to indulge in this brownie tonight.”

Ms. Rubin points to a recent study published in the NY Times.  In the study, participants were split into 2 groups before going on a 1-mile walk and then eating lunch: 1 group was told that the walk was for exercise and that they should focus on their exertion; the other group was told the walk was for pleasure and that they should enjoy themselves.  Afterwards, the “exercise” group reported feeling more tired and grumpy, and they ate more sweets at lunch.  The study results suggest that if you view a habit or activity positively, you’ll be more likely to stick to it and less likely to feel deprived.

In several posts, Ms. Rubin refers to “the strategy of treats.”  This is not about a reward system where you get a treat if you maintain a habit or reach a goal but is instead about giving yourself small, healthy treats on a regular basis:

“Treats help us to feel energized, restored, and light-hearted. Without them, we can start to feel resentful, depleted, and irritable. When we give ourselves plenty of healthy treats, we don’t feel deprived. And when we don’t feel deprived, we don’t feel entitled to break our good habits. It’s a Secret of Adulthood for Habits: When we give more to ourselves, we can expect more from ourselves.”

Some examples of treats that don’t cost much in the way of calories, money, or time are:

  • Rather than saving them for fresh flowersvacation, reading “fun” books regularly
  • Using spa-like hand soap in your own bathroom (not just for your guests!)
  • Lighting candles during a regular-old weeknight dinner
  • Twinkle lights every day of the year
  • Flipping through vacation photo albums
  • Keeping fresh flowers on your desk

What are your favorite treats?

-Katie Huffman

Thoughts inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s June 9, 2014 post, “A Key to Good Habits? Don’t Allow Ourselves to Feel Deprived,” Image by Flickr user Morgan

To Love A Place

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Love makes you see a place differently…

…just as you hold differently an object that belongs to someone you love. If you know one landscape well, you will look at all other landscapes differently. And if you learn to love one place, sometimes you can also learn to love another.” 
― Anne Michaels

sweet lily

Three years ago this summer my family packed up our modest hill-farm in NH and piled everything we owned into the largest moving van Budget would let us drive ourselves.  It took us 18 hours, down the New Jersey Turnpike, navigating through Washington, DC, but we made it–a little worse for the wear, but here.  We were that familiar mix of nervous and excited and exhausted that accompanies a major life change.  When we had purchased our farm several years earlier, my husband and I never could have predicted that we would land on a hot sidewalk in Durham towing the detritus of our life, and our reluctant daughter. But God’s call can be funny like that.

You see, we were happy in NH, but something there started to unfold that neither my husband nor I could have predicted: we found a church that fit us, in which we could use our gifts. Particularly, one in which my husband could use his gifts.  And it became clear that there was more for him to do.  More, that would lead us far from our hillside to that hot Durham sidewalk, looking up at a mustard yellow bungalow that we were to make a home in for the duration of his Divinity School studies.

We came because we were called.  That much was clear.  We would do what we set out to do–Dave would get his degree–and then we would go home again.  We were sad to leave our home and family, but hopeful that God would make a way for us in our new resting place.  What we were not expecting was to find Home here, to fall in love with our new place.

bull cityBut fall in love we did.  With this gritty city that is remaking itself in an abundance of delicious food, funky music, and great baseball. With the trails along the Eno River, only a short drive from our Durham neighborhood.  With the Farmer’s Market and its abundance of produce all year long.  With the mountains and beaches that can be reached in a few hours.  With our neighbors, coworkers and classmates that we formed friendships with. Most of all, with our little church community that drew near to us in what would prove to be a difficult season.

enoThe three years have flown by in a flurry of late nights writing papers, swims in the Eno, stimulating lectures, breakfasts at Monuts, jobs to find, multiplication tables to learn, walks in Duke Gardens, a family crisis to navigate, play-dates to have, deaths to grieve, hymns to sing, births to celebrate, chickens to raise, flowers to arrange…

And suddenly, it is time to go.  My husband has accepted a call to pastor a church in Pennsylvania. The largest truck that Budget will let us drive ourselves will pull away from the mustard yellow bungalow next Saturday, with all our earthly belongings packed inside. I was nervous to come.  I am so sad to go.  The friendships that have been woven, the familiar paths we have worn through this city, all the places to love…  We will miss these and so much more.

Following God’s path can take unexpected twists and turns, as any Methodist pastor knows all too well.  There are seasons of abundance and there are seasons of need. Sometimes those seasons overlap and collide in unexpected ways.  And sometimes we are given the grace to love a place in a way that changes us. When that happens, it can be so, so hard to take the next step, but when we have been changed by love, we can be assured that our hearts will be all the more opened to what lies ahead. Because, “if you learn to love one place, sometimes you can also learn to love another.”

View More: http://urbansouthphoto.pass.us/swanson-family

–Caren Swanson

Images by the author.  Lower image by Urban South Photo, used with permission.

Also by Caren Swanson: The Healing Power of Nostalgia