November…The Perfect Time for Storytelling

With the Thanksgiving holiday just a few weeks away, November is the perfect time to celebrate National Family Stories Month. 

Family memories and traditions hold a special place in our hearts, especially during the holiday season. So, National Family Stories month, celebrated throughout the month of November, is a great way to kick off the holidays by gathering your loved ones together and taking a trip down memory lane. This annual celebration provides an opportune time to share fun stories from the past as well as revisit some of life’s historical moments that can be passed around and down to future generations.

Whether it’s a funny story about your then teenage brother who was met with the seething look of the neighbor lady as he’d just finished toilet papering her house or a sad story about unexpectedly losing someone dear to you at a young age or the story of the strength and courage of your grandfather who immigrated to America by himself at the tender age of 13 or a romance story of how your parents or grandparents met, your loved ones will surely treasure these anecdotes for years to come.

So, as you gather your family (big or small) together this Thanksgiving holiday, start a new tradition, family storytelling. I’m sure you’re already coming up with some great ideas to celebrate National Family Stories Month, but just in case, here are a few suggestions to get the dialogue started:

  • Prepare a list of questions ahead of time and email them to your family members who will be attending your Thanksgiving celebration. Here are some prompts:
  • What is your favorite story about your childhood?
  • What was the most impactful invention/breakthrough in your lifetime and why?
  • Who was your first crush?
  • What did you want to be when you grew up, or for kids, what do they want to be when they grow up and why?
  • What was the scariest thing that ever happened to you?
  • What was the bravest thing you ever did?

  • Grab an elder in the room and ask them to share some stories about the “good ole days.”

  • Share stories about your children with them – their birth, funny things they said and did as a kid, their first words, etc.

  • Add photos, when possible, to complement the stories.

Every family has a story to tell. Stories that teach, inspire, bind and give us a sense of belonging. These are family heirlooms to be held on to long after the holiday dinner leftovers. So, celebrate this National Family Stories Month and the Thanksgiving holiday by opening your family’s book and sharing the first of many memorable chapters.

From our Intracoastal Family to yours, have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving holiday!

The Power of Your Vote

We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate. Thomas Jefferson

We are entering the home stretch of the Tuesday, Nov. 3, Election Day. This election may be the most contentious – lines etched deeply in the sand – in our country’s history. Yet, no matter what your party affiliation is or who you are rooting for, what’s important is exercising your right to vote.

With the voter registration deadlines looming across the country (Florida’s deadline – Online: Oct. 5, Mail-in: Postmarked by Oct. 5, In person: Oct. 5), time is of the essence to ensure your vote counts.

Strong voter turnout is essential to a healthy democracy. Sadly, voter turnout in the U.S. is much lower than most established democracies. Typical voter turnout in presidential election years is approximately 60 percent of the eligible voting population. During midterm elections, voter turnout drops to about 40 percent. Local elections tend to be decided by a much smaller group, with fewer than 15 percent of eligible voters turning out.

These percentages are troubling because it reflects the political disengagement of the U.S. voting population. People who are eligible to vote and don’t are renouncing one of the most effective ways to shape the direction of our country and the local communities in which we live.

If you think your one vote doesn’t make that much of a difference, you’re mistaken.

In 2000, Al Gore narrowly lost the Electoral College vote to George W. Bush, with the election coming down to a recount in Florida. Bush had won Florida’s popular vote by such a small margin that it triggered an automatic recount as well as a Supreme Court case (Bush v. Gore). Bush ended up taking Florida by only 0.009 percent of the votes cast or 537 votes.

In the 2016 election, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a close Electoral College win. Clinton had won the popular vote by nearly three million votes, however, the concentration of votes for Trump in the key “swing” states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan gave him enough electoral votes to win the race.

Every vote counts! Participating in elections is one of the key freedoms of being an American. Your vote is your voice. It’s a powerful way of telling lawmakers, on community, state and national levels, what you want and what issues are important to you.

However, merely casting your vote is only part of your civic duty. You should be an informed voter as well. Not knowing anything about any of the candidates or issues isn’t an excuse for haphazardly or apathetically voting, or not voting at all. Bring yourself up to speed on political issues, local and national, and determine where you stand. It’s not too late. Fortunately, we have the power of the Internet today, and finding out who each candidate is and what he or she stands for couldn’t be easier. Check out candidates’ websites and social media pages as well as news articles about them. The posts of your Facebook “friends” shouldn’t shape your opinions of candidates and issues.

Voting is not just a right, it’s a civic responsibility. Voting only takes a few minutes but has an impact for years to come.

National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September is designated National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, with the week of September 6 – 12 National Prevention Week and September 10th World Suicide Prevention Day. During the month, suicide prevention organizations around the nation will be holding events to raise awareness of what has become the leading cause of preventable deaths in our country.

Suicide is a significant and often unaddressed public health problem in the U.S., and it’s getting worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an average of 123 suicides each day, making it the tenth leading cause of death, and it is the second leading cause of death for ages 25-34 and third leading for ages 15-24 in this country. The CDC also reports that the rate of suicide has spiked by 35 percent since 1999.

Suicide doesn’t discriminate by race, age, gender, or ethnicity, notes the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The NIMH cites the following main risk factors for suicide:

• A prior suicide attempt
• Depression and other mental health disorders
• Substance abuse disorder
• Family history of mental health or substance abuse disorder
• Family history of suicide
• Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
• Being between the ages of 15 and 34 years or over 60

Since late June, mental health professionals have been reporting a significant increase in depression and anxiety, with many mental health clinics overrun with new patients and increasing visits from existing patients. They are attributing this recent increase to the coronavirus pandemic. With daily doses of statistics of new virus cases and related deaths and record unemployment numbers, and increasing fear and isolation, mental health experts are growing concerned that the pandemic is pushing American into a mental health crisis.

The CDC found that about 41 percent of adults surveyed in late June “reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition.” Additionally, this report shows that the number of Americans suffering from depression and anxiety has tripled compared to the same time last year. Approximately 1 in every 10 of the survey respondents indicated they’d started or increased their use of alcohol or elicit drugs, and twice as many respondents, as compared to this same time period in 2018, reported serious consideration of suicide.

These are extremely challenging times. But, we can all do our part during the month of September (and beyond) to help those in need by drawing attention to the problem of suicide and advocating the prevention of this terrible, preventable tragedy.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Spread the Message – Spread awareness during the month of September by taking time to reach out to those in need via social media, wearing and sharing suicide prevention pins or starting your own suicide awareness and prevention campaign.

2. Volunteer – Volunteer at your local crisis center.

3. Record and Share a Supportive Video – This is an easy way to help that doesn’t cost money or time. Simply record a video promising your family and friends that you are there for them if they need to talk about anything. Then upload the video to your social media sites using hashtags such as #suicideispreventable #800273TALK.

If you are concerned that someone you know may be suicidal you should:

1. Ask the Tough Question – Even though it’s uncomfortable, be direct…ask them if they are thinking about suicide.

2. Listen – Be sure to let them know that you are there for them, day or night, and you want to hear and care about what they have to say.

3. Perform a Safety Check – If you’re concerned about their well-being, try to remove things in their immediate environment that they could use to harm themselves.

4. Don’t Keep This a Secret/Help Them Seek Professional Help – Let them know you will help them come up with a plan that involves finding and talking to a mental health professional.

Although these are great ways you can help all year-round, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is the perfect time to get started! For free and confidential emotional support 24/7 for those in crisis or emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Creating a Memorable Staycation

Who’s ready for a vacation? After the past several months, the better question is, who isn’t? Many families, however, are putting their travel plans on hold until the coronavirus outbreak subsides and their financial situations stabilize. But, you can still take a break from the stress and tension of everything going on around you and recharge and rejuvenate, all while creating lasting memories with your family, with an affordable staycation.

The key to the perfect staycation is to research, plan and prepare for it like you would for your traditional, out-of-town vacation.

Here are few research ideas and planning ahead tips to help you make the most of your staycation:

  1. First and foremost, your staycation, like a traditional vacation, requires you to take the time off work, blocking off your schedule just like you would if you were leaving town.

  • Make a list of your favorite local restaurants that deliver and plan a few staycation, take out dinners.

  • Load up your DVR or WatchList queue – Catch up on a series you’ve wanted to watch or download a marathon of your favorite movies. Have them teed up in your watch list for easy access and don’t forget to have plenty of popcorn and candy on hand!

  • Check out books at your local library or download a good read on your Kindle or Nook.  Your staycation is the perfect time to relax on the couch or in the backyard hammock and immerse yourself in a great novel.

  • Download some recipes you’ve been interested in trying out and add the necessary ingredients to your staycation, grocery shopping list.

  • Set up an area in the backyard for a bonfire. Make sure to have a generous supply of seasoned wood and kindling on hand, and don’t forget to add graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars to your shopping list for those yummy, campfire s’mores.

  • Pull out your favorite board games and a deck of playing cards. Add your favorite snacks and drinks to the grocery list and be ready for a marathon board or card game tournament night. Get your competitive family spirit going by keeping score and offering the winner a gift card to his or her favorite store for the prize.

  • Visit the websites of places of interest and see what they have to offer virtually. Numerous museums, art galleries, zoos and parks offer very inexpensive or free ways to take virtual tours. In addition, sites like Google Arts & Culture offer the opportunity to explore cultural institutions across the globe like the British Museum in London, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Guggenheim in New York City for free.

  • Get the supplies needed for a water park in your backyard. Sprinklers, slip and slides and buckets of water balloons will create some great hot weather fun for the whole family. Buy or build your own cornhole board game for some additional backyard fun.

  1. Plan to truly unplug and disconnect. Your staycation is for you and your family so do your part to make it a real vacation. Set up an out-of-office email response, silence your phone, turn off your computer and let your colleagues know not to bother you unless it’s extremely urgent.

  1. Get the chores done before you begin your staycation. Pay your bills and do the laundry, house cleaning and lawn work, and stock up on the groceries and essentials for your staycation activities.

  1.  Build excitement for your staycation. Like a traditional vacation, put the dates on the calendar and begin counting down to your staycation. Print out a staycation calendar and as you and your family decide on your plans/activities, mark them on your calendar.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Get your family together and add your own creative, out-of-the-box activities to make this is a fun and memorable family staycation!

June: A Celebration of the Men in Your Life

The month of June celebrates the men in your life. Not only is the third Sunday set aside to honor dads, but the entire month of June is dedicated to taking stock of the health of the men in your life as well.

Men’s Health Month, a national observance anchored by a Congressional health education program and recognized by the White House and the official symbol, a blue ribbon, is an annual observance to raise awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of diseases including cancer, heart disease and depression. Health fairs and other health education and outreached activities will be held across the country to encourage men to take care of their bodies by eating healthy, exercising and working to prevent disease.

According to menshealth.org, men, on average, die almost five years earlier than women. This is due, in part, to the fact that men are more reluctant to go to the doctor. Studies indicate that women tend to go to the doctor twice as much as men. Consequently, Men’s Health Month provides the perfect opportunity to motivate, promote and support healthy habits in the men in your life.  Here are a few ways you can do this:

Encourage him to get a physical – Most of the contributors to men, on average, having a shorter lifespan than women are preventable. This prevention begins with a physical with a primary care provider. This establishes baselines for factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and PSA (a screening test for prostate cancer risk). These visits should continue annually to monitor how these factors change over time, consequently, catching potentially dangerous conditions early, while they’re still treatable.

Encourage him to exercise – The benefits to physical activity on our health, especially as we age, are extensive. However, most of us are not motivated to exercise on our own. So, make it a partnership…find fun ways to get fit together. Join a gym, sign up for personal training or make walks part of your regular routine. Adults need about 2.5 hours of physical activity each week.

Encourage him to eat healthy – Help him make healthy eating choices by including a variety of fruits, vegetables and lean meats in your diet. Limit foods and drinks that are high in calories, fat, sugar, salt and alcohol.

Encourage him (if he does) to quit smoking – Set the example for him by choosing not to smoke and encourage him to quit. Quitting smoking has immediate and long-term benefits such as lowering the risk for different types of cancer as well as other cardiovascular and lung diseases.

Encourage him to recognize and reduce stress in his life – Physical and emotional illness are often a byproduct of long-term stress. Encourage him to learn how to manage stress in his life through finding support, eating healthy, exercising regularly and avoiding alcohol and drugs.

Encourage him to seek help for depression – Depression is one of the leading causes of disease or injury for both men and women worldwide. Learn to recognize the signs, which include persistent sadness, grumpiness, feelings of hopelessness, fatigue and decreased energy, and thoughts of suicide, and how you can help the men in your life. If someone in your life is in crisis, seek help immediately by:

  • Calling 911
  • Visiting your local ER or healthcare provider
  • Calling the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) to talk to a trained counselor.

And lastly,

Let him know you care – Men often disregard their own health because they’re too preoccupied with taking care of everyone else. So, remind him how much he’s loved and how important he is to you and other family members, and that you want and need him to stay alive and healthy as long as possible.

Life After Covid-19 – Scenarios of Economic Recovery

As the cases of Covid-19 begin to level off, many states are cautiously reopening and beginning to loosen their social distancing restrictions in hopes of jumpstarting their economy.

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the U.S. and world economy, plummeting economic activity and causing soaring unemployment rates. Social distancing policies designed to slow the spread of the disease have resulted in an economic decline that rivals the Great Depression.

So, what can we expect over the next several months? Will the economic recovery be as painful as the coronavirus-linked lockdowns or will there be a bounceback or possibly a scenario in between these extremes?

Currently, economic analysts are debating the following scenarios of recovery:

The “Z-Shaped” Recovery – This most optimistic scenario predicts that the post-pandemic economy bounces back above the pre-pandemic baseline due to pent-up demand, creating a temporary economic boom. In other words, once the risk of the pandemic passes, we will come out in full force, shopping and dining and taking those trips we postponed.

The “V-Shaped” Recovery – The next best recovery scenario suggests that although the economy permanently loses the production that would have occurred absent the pandemic, it will quickly return to its pre-pandemic baseline once social distancing restrictions have been lifted. In other words, the economy will go back to its pre-virus state.

The “W-Shaped” Recovery – This double-dip scenario suggests that there will be a surge in COVID-19 cases after the initial re-openings, causing another round of closures, causing another downturn in the economy prior to a recovery.

The “U-Shaped” Recovery – This scenario suggests that GDP remains low for some time, possibly more than a couple of quarters after the lockdowns have been lifted, resulting in the economy recovering, returning to its baseline slowly.

The “Swoosh-Shaped” Recovery – Borrowed from Nike’s logo, this scenario suggests that after a sharp downturn the economy will gradually bounce back as restrictions are eased and consumers, businesses and state and local governments are willing to spend. Many economists believe this or the U-Shaped recoveries are the likeliest scenarios.

The “L-Shaped” Recovery – This most pessimistic scenario suggests that the pandemic has a permanent affect on GDP, causing growth to continue to decline and not recover for some time. This is pretty much what the Great Depression recovery looked like. Most economists believe this scenario is unlikely unless the number of global coronavirus cases continue to rise, forcing more lockdowns.

The common thread that runs through these various scenarios is that they contain some variation of the tradeoff between the physical health response and economic response. As the economy reopens, measures will still be in place that will curtail economic activity to some degree – businesses will have to space workers and customers further apart, travel will be less common, restaurants will be serving fewer customers at a time, and activities involving large crowds will remain off limits for possibly a long time. Many people will be reluctant to return to life as it was prior to the pandemic, settling into a new “normal.”

Although economists have different recovery theories, they seem to be in agreement that the economy isn’t going to rebound overnight. The key question, however, is whether the damage to our economy will be long lasting.

Maintaining Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

As you navigate this alien world of surgical masks in the grocery stores, the shortage of everyday household supplies, the overcrowding in our healthcare facilities and the bombardment of news that our world has become a dangerous place to live, you may be beginning to feel overwhelmed and anxious. The novel coronavirus outbreak has created unprecedented levels of anxiety for most of us – for some who are actually battling the virus, but for the vast majority who are facing the unknown, the disruption of their everyday routine, loss of employment and serious financial concerns.

This is unchartered territory for most of us, and it is frightening! For many people, the fear of the unknown and the incessant doom and gloom headlines make it all too easy to spiral into overwhelming dread and panic. But, there are many things you can do to self-care – manage your anxiety and fears – during this unique crisis.

Take Care of Yourself First – Like the announcement we hear each time we get on an airplane, “In case of a cabin pressure emergency, put your own mask on first before assisting others.” This is a metaphor for life. You can’t help others for very long if you don’t take care of yourself first.

Keep a Routine – Even if you’re stuck at home, try to maintain your normal routine by sticking to your regular sleep, meal, and school or work schedule.

Eat Well – Proper eating is one defense against most diseases. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid eating out of boredom or anxiety, eliminate or reduce alcohol consumption and other intoxicants and stay well hydrated.

Exercise – Although we can’t hit the gyms like we used to, there are many safe alternatives you can do in the comfort and safety of your home. If you don’t have any exercise videos, use YouTube and Instagram to help you find ways to stay fit or just take long walks.

Limit News Intake – Limit your media consumption to only the information you need to know to stay safe…then turn it off! This advice goes for financial information as well. Watching the stock market go up and down (mostly down) all day can have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing.

Have Fun – Enjoy the extra time you have with your family by talking…and laughing, playing board games, cards, putting together puzzles and cooking.

Connect – Take this downtime to reach out to those you care about, making sure they are staying safe and letting them know how important they are to you. Take advantage of the many technical (FaceTime) and social media resources to stay connected during this time of social isolation.

Engage in Positive Activities – Read a good book, listen to uplifting music, watch the sunrise or sunset, get out in nature, practice yoga or meditate. Limit your interactions with negative people. Remember emotions are contagious and right now fear is rampant.

You can also counteract distress over the loss of control by straightening up what you can. This is a great time to clean and organize your home or to attack a home improvement project you’ve been meaning to get to.

Reflect – The sudden halt in our daily lives, caused by this unprecedented crisis, has forced us to sit still. We can spend this time by being overwhelmed with negative thoughts and a sense of despair or we can use these quiet moments to reflect on the positive changes we want to make in our lives when this pause button is removed. Try to think about the activities in your life you’ve come to realize are important and you want to resume, start making a mental list of the ones you don’t, and above all, focus on the many blessings you have.

The national Disaster Distress Helpline is available to anyone experiencing emotional distress related to COVID-19. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to speak to a counselor.

February: American Heart Health Month

With Valentine’s Day less than two weeks away, many of us view February as the month of love. However, February is also designated as American Heart Health Month. In addition, on the first Friday of every February (this year is February 7th), the nation comes together, donning the color red from coast to coast, for National Wear Red Day, celebrating one common goal: the eradication of heart disease and stroke.

American Heart Health Month is a federally designated event that was proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on December 30, 1963 to encourage Americans to join the battle against heart disease. This annual, month-long celebration helps remind Americans to focus on their heart and encourages their involvement with family and friends, and within their communities.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death of Americans. According to the American Heart Association, approximately 2,200 people die each day from heart disease. In addition, about 1.3 million adults have high blood pressure and 6.5 million are living with heart failure.

Heart disease is being diagnosed in younger adults more and more often. High rates of obesity and high blood pressure among young people are putting them at risk of heart-related diseases at an earlier age. Although genetic factors play a role in heart-related conditions, nearly 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases may be preventable with education and lifestyle changes.

How to Take Control of Your Heart Health

Don’t Smoke – Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders including atherosclerosis and a buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. So, if you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, learn how to quit – there are numerous helpful resources out there.

Managing Your Health – Work with your health professionals to manage your weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. All of these factors play a significant role in maintaining a healthy heart.

Stay Physically Active – Heart pumping physical activity helps prevent cardiovascular disease as well as improves your overall mental and physical health.

The American Heart Association recommends five 30-minute exercise sessions each week. If this seems a little daunting, break these sessions up into two or three 10-15 minute segments throughout the day. Walking, jogging, biking and swimming are great forms of cardiovascular exercise. The American Heart Association also recommends adding moderate to high-intensity strength training into your sessions to improve daily functional movements and decrease the chance of injury.

Make Heart-Healthy Eating Choices – A diet low in trans-fat, saturated fat, added sugar and sodium is essential to a healthy heart and lifestyle. Aim to fill at least half of your plate with vegetables and fruit. Salmon, nuts, berries and oats are just a few of the heart “superfoods,” that may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. As a special treat, add dark chocolate, in moderation, to the list – it’s good for the heart and satisfies the sweet tooth.

Reduce Stress – Stress increases cortisol, a steroid hormone, which can lead to weight gain, a key risk factor in heart disease. Stress can also lead to other unhealthy habits including overeating and excessive alcohol consumption. Stress can also increase the risk of anxiety and depression.

Get Plenty of Rest – Many Americans today are sleep deprived. Sleep restores the body, helps decrease stress and anxiety and increases overall happiness.

With all this said, “get your red on” and make this February the beginning of healthy habits and lifestyle changes. Your heart will thank you!

The History of New Year’s

Now that you’ve rung in 2020 with a glass or two of the bubbly and are most likely already rehashing the long list of resolutions you’ve made, and probably not kept, over the last decade, vowing to make a better effort this year, I thought I’d share some New Year’s history facts you probably don’t know. I’m sure you’ll find, like I did, that there’s a fascinating and lengthy history behind this widely celebrated holiday.

Many countries around the world celebrate the beginning of the new year. However, celebrating New Year’s is not new. Celebrations of the new calendar year have been around for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Babylon in 2,000 B.C. The Mesopotamians marked the beginning of the new year by the first new moon after the vernal equinox, which took place sometime in late March. This was celebrated with a huge 11-day festival called Akitu. The festival involved a different ritual every day, celebrating the mythical victory of the sky god Marduk over the sea goddess Tiamat. This celebration also included the crowning of a new king or allowing the current ruler to continue his reign. According to the history books, this was the festival of all festivals and would put our present day New Year’s celebration to shame.

The Roman’s celebration of the new year also originally corresponded with the vernal equinox. Their early calendar, which according to tradition, was created in the eighth century B.C. by Romulus, the founder of Rome, consisted of 10 months (304 days), with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox. However, over the centuries, this calendar fell out of synch with the sun. Consequently, in 46 B.C., with the consultation of the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of the time, Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar. This was a solar-based calendar, instituting January 1st as the first day of the year. Caesar chose this day to honor the month’s namesake Janus, the Roman god of change and beginnings. This calendar resembles the modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.

By the middle ages, medieval Europe considered the January 1st celebrations of the new year pagan and unchristian-like. Consequently, in 567 A.D. the Council of Tours replaced the January 1st date with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25th or March 25th.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XII re-established January 1st as New Year’s Day, after the reform of the Gregorian calendar. Interestingly, although most Catholic countries immediately adopted this calendar, Protestant countries, like Britain and their American colonies, continued celebrating their new year in March until 1752.

So, now that I’ve astonished you with all these fascinating tidbits of New Year’s history, it’s time to begin or get back to the task at hand – formulating this year’s new and improved (LOL) list of New Year’s resolutions!

From our Intracoastal family to yours, here’s to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020…and sticking to your resolutions!

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