Wellness Resources for Congregations

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Though Spirited Life has focused primarily on the health of individual pastors, we have heard some inspiring stories about wellness initiatives popping up in health fairmany UMC congregations across the state.  Some that come to mind are: blood pressure screenings after Sunday worship services, walking and running clubs, weekly centering prayer gatherings, support groups for dieters, community health fairs, and church-wide efforts to make communal meals healthier.

For pastors and congregations wanting to implement health programming or to develop a health ministry at their church, here are 3 great resources:

Partners in Health & Wholeness, an initiative of the NC Council of Churches: “provides people of faith with the tools necessary to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives” through:

Church Health Reader, an offering of the Church Health Center: “produces innovative resources on health and healing for lay leaders and clergy.” Some resources include:

 Eat Smart, Move More NC: “a statewide movement that promotes increased opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity wherever people live, learn, earn, play and pray.”  Examples include:

We hope you’ll let us know what your church is doing to promote wellness among your congregants and in your community!

-Katie Huffman

Photo by Flickr user Greater Louisville Medical Society, via CC

Doctor’s Orders: Laugh!

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We’ve all heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine,” but there really is research showing that humor and laughter can improve physical and emotional health.  Here are some of the ways that laughter is good for your health:

  • Relaxes the whole body and even leaves your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes (after a good, hearty laugh)
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Triggers the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormone
  • Increases blood flow and can help protect your heart from cardiovascular disease
  • Decreases pain
  • Reduces anxiety and fear
  • Relieves stress
  • Improves mood- how can you feel anxious, angry or sad when you’re laughing?

Shared laughter is even more powerful than 1205px-Laughter_2_by_David_Shankbonelaughing alone.  It helps build strong and lasting bonds, and it can help heal resentments and disagreements as well as reduce tension in awkward moments.  Laughter also brings people together during painful and challenging situations.

Here are some tips for creating opportunities to laugh:

  • Keep a book of jokes or cartoons on your office shelf.
  • Pull up a funny movie or TV clip on YouTube.
  • Display pictures of you and your loved ones having fun.
  • Pick a screen saver and desktop background that make you smile.
  • Attend a laughter yoga class.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Do something silly with children.

How do you incorporate laughter into your day?

-Katie Huffman

Information from National Humor Month; Image by Frank Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons

Fiscal Fitness

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April is full of so many events and deadlines! Tax Day! End of the semester papers! Holy Week services! And for some pastors, late April and May also will include long overdue vacations and respite.

April is also Financial Awareness Month. Through our research with United Methodist pastors across North Carolina, we know that finances are an incredible stressor for clergy. Factors contributing to this stress include out-of-pocket moving expenses, expenses for the ordination process and the repayment of student loans, just to name a few. Whether pastors are single or married, caring for elderly parents and/or children, the call to ministry is likely to create moments where they feel emotionally AND financially depleted. It’s not just on a Hand Putting Deposit Into Piggy Bankpersonal level either; as church members move or lose jobs and church offerings dwindle, church expenses (and sometimes apportionments) typically remain the same.

There are lots of resources out there to help reduce the strain. One of these is the Society for Financial Awareness, otherwise known as SOFA. This California-based non-profit organization works throughout the country with a single mission: “to end financial illiteracy across America, one community at a time.” The SOFA website is user-friendly and includes short YouTube videos that further outline the organization’s purpose and the services it offers.

While many of you have no doubt taken steps to ensure your fiscal fitness, SOFA is equipped with financial professionals who work pro bono and conduct seminars nationwide to enhance financial awareness. Seminar topics include “Getting fiscally fit,” “Financial blunders: Lessons we never learn,” and “Exploring your options for a quality retirement,” among many others.

If this sounds like it would be a helpful tool for you to try with church members or a peer group, take a look at the SOFA seminars offered near your home or church.  A list of nearby speakers is available here.

Additional Financial Health resources can be found here:

A Baby Step in Saving

Total Money Makeover

Minty Fresh Financials

Free Financial Planning for UMC Clergy

– Angela M. MacDonald

Image by Flickr user Ken Teegarden, via CC

Second-hand Stress

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In a ryoga-mojo-150x150ecent blog post, Jan Bruce, founder and CEO of meQuilibrium, introduced me to the idea of second-hand stress.  A distant cousin of second-hand smoke, which we’ve long known to be hazardous to our health, second-hand stress is a recognized condition that indicates you can actually “catch” stress from other people.  Who knew that stress was contagious?

Well, YOU probably knew — pastors are among the most empathetic people out there, a trait which allows you to connect with your parishioners, coworkers, friends, and family and support them in so many ways. However, Ms. Bruce suggests that “being attuned to others’ emotions means that you’re potentially leaving yourself wide open to their frantic, messy, grousing, all-around unpleasant feelings, too.”

Humans are biologically wired to mirror each others’ emotions. Stress management expert Joe Robinson says, “Even if we’re not physically imitating what we see, mirror neurons still fire off a simulated version of the activity in your head as if you actually did it. It’s all designed to help us learn, understand, empathize, and connect with what others are doing and feeling.”

Okay, so your kid slams the door on her way in after school, stressed studentthrows her book bag against the wall and starts pacing back and forth in your kitchen, all the while muttering (or yelling) about the injustices of middle school, teachers, fickle friends, and life in general. You, once a teenager yourself and now a caring mother/father, notice the hair on the back of your neck prickling, your heart rate speeding up, and your palms getting sweaty.  You’ve picked up a case of stress from your daughter!

meQ recommends building “an emotional buffer zone, [which] allows you the space to feel, acknowledge, and name your reactions as they are happening.” This will protect you from the harmful effects of your own stress response and help you channel your energy into a positive reaction.

Here are meQ’s 3 tips for buffering against this second-hand stress (some will work better than others in certain situations):

  1. Trap it, Map it, Zap it: Be aware of your body and emotions. Figure out where these emotions are coming from and what thoughts are behind them. Then, decide if these thoughts are based on reality, or are they just your own interpretation of the situation?
  2. Relaxation Techniques: “The more you practice simple relaxation techniques, the faster and more powerfully they come to your aid when you need them.” Check out these quick-fix relaxation techniques from meQ.
  3. Boundaries: Know what your boundaries are and make sure to stick to them. Are there topics you need to avoid with certain people? Are there times of day that should be off-limits for serious discussions with your spouse? Here are some other examples of personal boundaries.

To read the entire meQuilibrium post on second-hand stress, click here.  How do you protect yourself from it?

-Katie Huffman

First image courtesy of meQ; second image courtesy of Flickr user CollegeDegrees360 via CC.

Caregiver Support

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Last week, the Alzheimer’s Association announced new research that indicates Alzheimer’s disease affects more women than men. The reason is two-fold: more women suffer from the disease themselves, and more women serve as caregivers to loved ones with the disease. With more than 5 million Americans already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and new diagnoses predicted to triple by 2050, it is becoming increasingly important to raise awareness about the disease and to provide support to the families and caregivers of Holding Hands with Elderly PatientAlzheimer’s patients.

Regardless of your gender, or whether you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or you know someone who is, here are 10 tips for family caregivers (from Caregiver Action Network):

  • Seek support from other caregivers.  You are not alone!  Click here to find a support group near you.
  • Take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
  • Accept (and request) offers of help; suggest specific things people can do to help you.
  • Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors.
  • Take respite breaks often — care-giving is hard work!
  • Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay in getting professional help when you need it.
  • Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
  • Organize medical information so that it’s up to date and easy to find.
  • Make sure legal and financial documents are in order.
  • Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!

Many more resources for caregivers are available through the Alzheimer’s Association.

-Katie Huffman

Taking a bite out of eating slowly

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Many of our readers are familiar with the mindful eating program called Naturally Slim, which has been offered to all three groups of Spirited Life participants. Most of our participants tried Naturally Slim personally; still others may have found themselves at a conference event, hearing their peers talk about “orange water, 10-5-10, and sugar island,” a few of the concepts in Naturally Slim.

One of the Naturally Slim tenets that seems to be most sandwichchallenging for people is eating slowly. I know it is for me! In fact, I would be embarrassed to share with you the number of minutes I spent eating lunch today (fewer than 10 fingers would be needed). Think about your last meal; how long did it take you to finish?

There is growing research to support Naturally Slim’s recommendation to slow down at mealtimes. One recent study out of Iowa State University found that chewing each bite of food more times is likely to result in fewer calories consumed at a given meal. Another study showed that slower eating at lunch resulted in less snacking later in the day, and yet another suggests that slowing down can reduce your risk of diabetes. On the flip side, waiting to stop eating until you feel full and eating too fast can triple your risk of being overweight. A researcher at the University of Rhode Island described it this way: “If you are eating for 20 minutes at 100 calories a minute, that’s a lot. But if you are eating for 20 minutes at 20 calories a minute, that’s not a lot, and it gives your body time to realize it’s full.” There’s also evidence to show that eating too quickly can contribute to digestive problems, acid reflux, and complications after surgeries.

Convinced yet? Maybe you are, but it’s hard to slow down! Naturally Slim offers a free smartphone app with meal timer that chimes when it’s time to take a break in the middle of your meal.

And now there’s a new technology on the market to help you monitor and track your chewing hapiforkhabits. It’s called the HAPIfork, and its slogan is “Eat slowly. Lose weight. Feel great!” The fork measures how many bites it takes to eat your meal, how long the whole meal lasts, the fork servings per minute, and intervals between fork servings. This data can be uploaded via USB or Bluetooth to your smartphone or online account where you can track your numbers. Not only does the fork collect information, but it even lights up and vibrates when you eat too quickly!  Check out this short NYTimes video review; and this Newsweek review for the practical pros and cons of the HAPIfork.

-Katie Huffman

First image from OpenClipArt user rg1024 via CC and second image from Flickr user David Berkowitz via CC

Walking Lenten Devotional

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With Ash Wednesday just a week away, here is some information about a new Lenten practice you might want to consider.  Published by Church Health Center, Walking to the Cross is a devotional designed to be used during the 40 days of Lent.  The guide Walking to the Crossencourages you to incorporate walking, along with reflection and prayer, into your daily Lenten practices.  From the booklet: “Just as Jesus traveled the long journey to the cross, we believe that walking is an act of spiritual and physical devotion.”

Each week of the program starts with a psalm and the chance to set a “movement goal” for yourself.  This goal is entirely personal and can range from simply increasing physical activity to a specific daily number of steps/miles goal.  You could challenge yourself to try types of physical activity you’ve never engaged in before, such as yoga, a Zumba class, or even jump roping in your office.

You can purchase print copies of Walking to the Cross for $4 each (bulk discounts are available) here or here.  A Kindle version for $2.99 is available here.  An abbreviated online version is available for free here.

-Katie Huffman

To do, or not to do….a To-Do List

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to do list--redSo here we are a couple of months into 2014, and my wife and I are still discussing our goals, our vision and our plans for the year. We have talked about finding more ways to keep ourselves and each other on track.

As parents who both work full time, the To-Do-List is an important tool for getting things done in our home. If you ask my wife, she might say that the Honey-Do-List is the only way things get done in our home. Sometimes The List is an actual list written on a notepad or on the dry erase board, or even a post it note. Other times, it involves her leaving me a voicemail message, sending a text or an email, or just telling me.

Without task or to-do lists, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of things you have to do, and it is also far more likely that you will forget things. Many of us are familiar with the phrase, “There’s an app for that.”  Recently Forbes magazine released its list of The 9 Best To-Do List Apps For 2014. When it comes to managing, scheduling, prioritizing, sharing, and completing tasks on a To-Do-List, taking advantage of these digital apps can help you organize and juggle multiple to-do-lists, meet tight deadlines, and make better use of your valuable time. By being creative with your To-Do-List, you can provide yourself a healthy framework for accountability, affirmation, improved focus, motivation, organization, prioritizing, time keeping, and increased productivity or efficiency.

One example, Wunderlist, is a free app that I have really grown to like. Wunderlist syncs across iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, Windows and the Web to keep you on top of your to-do’s from just about any device. It has several options and features that allow users to customize their experience, maximizing the app’s usefulness:

  • Share your list with a colleague, a friend, your spouse
  • Include a note, a photo, or web content
  • Add recurrences to capture your daily, weekly and monthly tasks
  • Break big tasks into smaller achievable goals through sub-tasks
  • Print your list with just one click
  • Assign To-Do’s, start conversations, or attach spreadsheets, PDFs, videos and sound files to a task (requires an upgrade to Wunderlist Pro, $4.99/month)

Developing a daily routine is one of the most powerful ways to become better at keeping and completing To-Do-Lists. You might find some inspiration from these seven famous entrepreneurs and their routines. When you flip your perspective by reflecting on what you actually got done at the end of the day, you’re looking at real, concrete evidence of productivity rather than thinking about all the should’ve, could’ve, would’ves. At that point, the To-Do-List, becomes the Done List.

What is your relationship with To-Do-Lists? Share what works for you in the comments below.

-Dwight Tucker

Image courtesy of Straighten Your Paths.com via Creative Commons

February Wellness Calendar

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Back at the beginning of January, I came across a new kind of calendar where you focus on a different wellness goal every day of the month.  For each day, a healthy activity is suggested and you customize it by setting a goal that makes sense for you.  The daily goals can be very simple and include things like hydration, having fun, eating healthy, staying active, and self-care… good habits that many of us in Spirited Life are striving for.

The blogger who creates these calendars says, “A healthy lifestyle is made up of a whole collection of small daily decisions… and when spread out over a week, month or year, it adds up to a healthy, happy you.”  I found that even though I might only focus on hydration for one day, those actions I set up carry over into the following days and without meaning to, I’ve started a habit of drinking more water every day.

I enjoyed this exercise and plan on trying it again in February.  Click here or on the image below to download a copy for yourself.  And the good news is that this is for YOU, so if you don’t like one of the recommended activities, replace it with something of your choosing!

feb2014-Katie Huffman

(Find more calendars and healthy recipes at back to her roots)

Snow day

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With snow in the forecast for much of Central and Eastern North Carolina today, this is a timely reflection from Wellness Advocate, Lisa MacKenzie.

Last week I visited my daughter, her husband, and my 5-month-old granddaughter in Pennsylvania.  It was bitterly cold and snowy, and I realized that I had been missing the crisp mid-winter chill and crunchy snow and the hush that comes with January storms in the northeast.

Looking out the kitchen window one morning, holding baby Guin, I watched cardinals in the cardinal in snowfront hedge against the pure white of fresh snow and thought about the 2 months of winter ahead and the storms that would inevitably come along with the disruption and inconvenience of slippery roads, school closings and frozen pipes. But in all the chaos of storms comes the blessing of solitude and stillness.  I thought that morning that I had been given this gift of space and solitude many times but often didn’t acknowledge the gift—maybe it was the warmth and cuddliness of a baby and the smell of wood smoke along with the softness of the gentle light at dawn that became prayer in the quiet kitchen. That morning I didn’t miss the gift.

I read a recent post about snow days on a blog called the Busted Halo by Christina Gebel. She writes:
What I realized, or perhaps simply remembered, is that snow is a reminder to take pause, with others or even just with ourselves. The presence of snow can be a great spiritual exercise for us, inviting us to quiet down and be with ourselves.
If you want to accept the invitation to pause and go deeper, you might consider a few of these suggestions:
•    Read a good book. Though it might sound cliché, how often have you “been meaning to” read something but never gotten around to it? Maybe there’s a spiritual read you’ve been meaning to pick up. Try starting the book on a snow day and then reading five pages each night as part of your nightly prayer.
•    Have fun. There is no rule that only kids can have fun in the snow. When was the last time you went sledding? Went for a walk in the woods during winter? Went ice-skating? Built a snowman?  A snow day is the time.
•    Take a good look at snow. Snow is symbolic of so much of the spiritual beauty in our lives. Why do you think God made snow the way it is? Would it convey the same feelings if it were a different color? Different texture? Each snowflake is unique, reflecting the diversity of God’s creation. It’s made of water, which can be both soothing and powerful, reflecting the humility and omnipotence of God. Take a glove-full of fresh snow and meditate on the beauty and paradox of God’s creation.
•    Be still. Be quiet. Snow has the ability to quiet a city, but it can also quiet our inner self. Go outside and stand in front of a winterscape. Or stay inside and feel the warmth and the absence of sounds outdoors. Repeat, to yourself, the line from the popular hymn, “For You, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

So now I am home in Apex and it seems to me it’s time for a snow day… maybe you think so too.

-Lisa MacKenzie

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Image by Flickr user rkramer62 via Creative Commons