Women’s Health Week

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

The month of May welcomes blossoming lilacs, budding apple trees and more sunshine. Along with the second Sunday of May, set aside in in recognition of the mothers, and women who have been like mothers, in our lives. The week that follows has been designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as, “National Women’s Health Week,” May 9-15, 2021. A time to acknowledge and celebrate the strength, resilience and health of women. Check in with ourselves and ask, “How are we doing?” especially these days. 

One of my oldest friends, who will be turning 100 years old this coming October, has lived by this simple wisdom, she reminds me, “Put your oxygen mask on first, otherwise, you’re not going to able to care for anyone else.” How true are these words. As women, we often put ourselves last while taking care of others. Whether that be the care of children, elderly parents, community, even our pets. Sometimes we forget the importance of our personal care. In no way is selfcare being selfish; rather, it is self-preservation.  

This past year, while enduring the pandemic, we have altered, adjusted and reinvented ways of engaging.  At times, this has been exhaustingly stressful, wearing on us in various ways. Maybe we haven’t kept up with our routine healthcare checkups, or the isolation from family, friends and community has taken its toll on our mental health. We have all been affected in one way or another.  

Let’s pause, acknowledge the challenges we have experienced, and reevaluate our present state of health. Are we finding a balance in our days? Are we getting outside and moving our bodies in the sunshine? Are we getting enough sleep? If we are feeling out of balance, it is never too late to regroup and start fresh. Selfcare is an ongoing daily practice.  

During this week (and every week!), let’s make our health a priority. The Office on Women’s Health has listed a few important points and suggestions for our ongoing selfcare and preservation during this critical time in our lives. 

Here are some important considerations for our wellbeing, taking care of our physical and mental health: 

  • Continue to protect yourself from COVID-19 by wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth, watching your distance, washing your hands often, and getting a COVID-19 vaccination when available. 
  • Schedule your COVID-19 vaccination or any vaccinations you or your family might have missed during the pandemic. If you have questions about vaccines, talk with your healthcare provider. Making sure to get information from reliable sources. In addition to Skagit County Public Health, you can find locations to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at: https://vaccinefinder.org/search.  
  • Keep up with your preventive care, PAP smears, mammograms, stress tests, cholesterol and blood pressure screenings.  
  • Stay active! Spend time outside, especially in the sunshine (don’t forget the sunblock!) and be active for 30 minutes a day. This is great for our well-being. Move your body, incorporating exercise that builds and strengthens your muscles. Find what works for you based on your abilities, age and stage of life. Explore and have fun. 
  • Eat well-balanced meals and snacks. Heart-healthy eating involves choosing certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables, while limiting others, such as saturated and trans fats and added sugars. It’s important to ensure you are getting enough vitamins in your diet, like vitamin D. Good dietary sources of vitamin D include fortified foods such as milk, yogurt, orange juice, and cereals; oily fish such as salmon, rainbow trout, canned tuna, and sardines; and eggs. Calcium is an important nutrient for your bone health across the lifespan. 
  • Practice good sleep habits to improve your mental and physical health and boost your immune system. Follow a routine for going to sleep, and be consistent going to bed and getting up, even on weekends. Try to get at least seven hours sleep. 
  • If you are experiencing stress, anxiety or depression, please reach out to a health professional, especially if this is getting in the way of your daily activities. Pay attention to your mood changes. If you or anyone you know is experiencing changes in thinking, mood, behavior, and/or having thoughts of self-harm, reach out for help: SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. 
  • Monitor alcohol intake and avoid illicit drugs, including drugs that are not prescribed to you. 
  • Look out for your lungs: quit smoking or vaping. Smoking weakens your lungs and puts you at a much higher risk of having serious health complications, especially if you have COVID-19. 
  • Seek help if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a 24/7 confidential service that supports victims and survivors of domestic violence. The hotline can be reached by phone at: 1-800-799-7233(SAFE), by text by texting LOVEIS to 22522, or via online chat at https://www.thehotline.org, select “Chat Now.” Highly trained, experienced advocates offer support, crisis intervention information, educational services and referral services in more than 200 languages. The website provides information about domestic violence, online instructional materials, safety planning, and local resources. 

Now is the time to take care of ourselves, so we can be supportive and present for our families and friends, and so we can contribute to our community with healthy, loving kindness. Stepping outside to smell the lilacs, soak up the sunshine and celebrate each day for the gift it truly is.  

“Lilacs” 
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021 

Heartful Care

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, Contributing Author 

“Beneath the skin, beyond the differing features and into the true heart of being, fundamentally,  
we are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike.” 

-Dr. Maya Angelou 

As communities across the globe face ongoing challenges of the pandemic and need for vaccinations, we know each of us is affected. Dr. Angelou’s quote, reflects, no matter what our differences, underneath, we all have hearts. Hearts that are vital and keep us moving forward during these unprecedented times. 

Both our physical and emotional hearts need care—especially now, as we are almost a year into this time of drastic change and adjustments. It is important to maintain good heart care, as best we can. Making sure to reach out to our family, friends or professionals, if we experience any physical or emotional concerns or challenges; remembering we are not alone.  

A few months before the pandemic, I participated in a spiritual activism class. One of the exercises was a meditation on our hearts. We were asked to sit quietly and place our hands on our hearts. Breathe in and out at our own pace, and focus in on giving thanks to our hearts. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of thanking my heart for keeping me alive, blood pumping and all the emotions it holds. It was a moving experience and a good place to start for heartful care and appreciation.

Here are some heartful care suggestions: 

  • Hold our hearts and say, “Thank you!” 
  • Be gentle with ourselves. 
  • Remember to take a few focused intentional breaths. 
  • Get outside as much as we can. 
  • Connect with the earth. 
  • Move our bodies: dance, yoga, hiking, biking, whatever makes us feel good. 
  • Notice the beauty. 
  • Reach out, if feeling isolated. 
  • Check in on family, friends or neighbors. 
  • Continue with regular health check-ups. 
  • Eat some dark chocolate (professionals say it’s good for the heart!). 
  • Keep wearing our masks, good for everyone’s health! 
  • Look into someone’s eyes. 
  • Smile from our hearts. 
  • Drink plenty of water, stay hydrated. 
  • Keep it simple! 

Let’s take care of our health in all ways, so we can show up wholeheartedly for our loved ones, friends and community.  

“Heartful of Seeds,” ©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert 2021 

Keep It Simple: Self-Care in the New Year

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Article and image contributed by Rosemary Alpert.

The calendar has turned,
a new year’s begun,
here we go 2021!

Stepping into this new year with hope and resilience, slow and steady movement forward, one day at a time. No resolutions, rather, deciding to keep it simple, focusing on daily self-care and compassion.

At least three times a week, I call a dear friend who turned 99 years old last October. She lives in an assisted living facility in Connecticut. Our conversations are brief and meaningful, for both of us. Almost guaranteed, with each call, especially during challenging days of separation and isolation, my friend, Sylvia, shares two pieces of advice: “Put your oxygen mask on first,” and, “You’re dealt a hand, play it out the best you can.” Daily wisdom from an almost centenarian.

The simplicity of this advice resonates within. “Put your oxygen mask on first,” does not mean being selfish, quite the opposite. Rather, it is true self-care. Being full of care for ourselves is vitally important, especially these days. What works for you?

Keep it Simple. Besides making sure to get enough rest, drink plenty of water, wash our hands, and wear our masks, here are a few keep-it-simple self-care thoughts: Let’s notice our breath; be gentle with ourselves; learn our limits; be our best advocate; ask and reach out; express daily gratitude; get outside; however it may be, take super-duper care! Then, we can show up for one another, with more presence and awareness.

Each day, we are gifted 86,400 seconds, a fresh start. Over these many months, when my mind started to turn into a hamster wheel, spinning out of control, I would stop whatever I was doing. Pause, focus, take a few breaths, remember what my friend Sylvia would say, “You’re dealt a hand, play it out the best you can.” One of my daily practices has become starting fresh with each new day. As with any practice, it is an ongoing learning experience. Some days, it’s not so easy. What this advice has offered is a way to appreciate, notice, and celebrate the littlest of moments within the progress of each day. Our accumulation of seconds count!

While working at the COVID-19 testing site, I asked a few coworkers how they keep it simple with self-care. Here are some of their responses…

  • Relax in bed, all propped up with a bunch of pillows, surround myself with snacks and watch Hallmark movies
  • Take a long hot bath
  • Search for painted rocks on hikes with my son
  • Call a friend
  • Long walks by the river
  • Learned how to quilt
  • Walk my dog
  • Quiet meditation
  • Spend time reading and journaling
  • Go for hikes
  • Spend time gardening, getting my hands in the dirt, connecting to the earth
  • Listen to calming music
  • Make dinner with my partner, then watch a funny movie.

Simple pleasures nourish the soul, keep us in the present, and keep us moving forward. Remember my dear friend Sylvia’s advice: Don’t forget to “put your oxygen mask on first,” and each day, do the best you can with your 86,400 seconds.

Happy New Year!!!


Take Time to Invest in You

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Kari Pendray at Brigid Collins Family Support Center

As we find ourselves well into our sixth month of living with Covid-19, many parents have one thing in common – we are all juggling multiple demands in a time that leaves us feeling more uncertain. The idea of being at home for some is isolating and for others it feels more like a safe haven. No matter which side of the aisle you are on, the role of a parent has suddenly become more demanding. That’s because stressful events, like being in the midst of a global pandemic, adds a layer of unpredictability in our lives.

Whether you are feeling stressed out, burned out, or just plain tired, you are not alone. Stress is sometimes defined as when the need to respond exceeds our capacity to respond. How can you recognize stress and burnout? Stress comes in three forms. Acute stress is healthy stress, like when you have a deadline for work or school. Episodic stress is short episodes of high stress, such as taking on too much work, then, being unable to get the stress out of your system. Finally, chronic stress is one that has been linked to chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Chronic stress is very serious and needs to be managed with care and helping professionals. Burnout is a complete feeling of exhaustion and can make you withdraw from other people. Burnout can lead to cynicism and can cause you to delay tasks.

During our Coping with Stress virtual seminars at the Parenting Academy, we talk to parents and caregivers about managing stress and building our capacity, as parents, for emotional well-being, which centers around three main strategies:

  • Awareness of unhealthy thinking
  • Shifting negative self-talk and automatic thoughts
  • Challenging unhelpful thoughts
Focus on the things that you can control, and let the other things go.

First, ask yourself, “What evidence do I have for this thought or idea?” Then, ask, “What could be another explanation?” Finally, ask yourself, “What can I do to change or shift my thinking that would lead to a positive outcome?

To prevent stress and burnout, it’s important to plan daily activities that alleviate stress, just like you would plan to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks or watch your favorite show on Netflix. It’s important to invest in yourself in ways that add years to your life.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Invest in your heart – Eating heart healthy foods such as leafy green vegetables, lean fish and meat, and minimizing sugar, can contribute to having a good nutritional balance. (See My Plate.gov or Harvard Healthy Eating Plate). You can use cooking as a way to learn math, science, experiment with food and enjoy eating new foods.
  2. Invest in your body – Pumping oxygen into your blood is not only good for your heart it is also good for your mind. Studies show that exercising can release positive “happy” hormones into your body and relieve stress. Children love to exercise with their parents. Families are taking more walks, riding bikes, playing soccer and making the most of their own backyards.
  3. Invest in your brain – Has anyone ever given you a prescription to laugh? Well, if not, consider this your first one. Laughing soothes tension, stimulates organs, re-wires new neural pathways in your brain and alleviates stress. When parents take time to play with their children, this can involve 5-10 minutes of mutual enjoyment, laughter and a break from your day. Children learn from play and play can be a great way to co-regulate.

When you invest in yourself, you will not only improve your own health, you will also be modeling health and wellness for your children; you will be more present for your child, and you will be having fun in the process. That’s a gift that will last a lifetime.

If you would like more information on the Parenting Academy or wish to register for parenting coaching or virtual seminars, please go to www.parenting-academy.org.

Resources:
www.choosemyplate.gov
www.hsph.harvard.edu
www.hhs.gov/fitness/beactive/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html
www.parenting-academy.org