Between squeezing extra activities into your schedule, finding time to bake holiday treats for your children’s classrooms and organizing a mini family reunion, the holiday season might be causing you a bit of stress. And if that stress is affecting your sleep, you could be caught up in the vicious cycle of exhaustion causing stress and stress causing more exhaustion.
Creating a personal sleep sanctuary will help you meet your needs for rest and rejuvenation and give you plenty of opportunity to count your zzz’s and not lie awake wishing for sleep.
By improving your quality and quantity of sleep, you are able to better handle all the stresses of the holiday season, and instead share in the fun activities at this time of year.
"A lack of sleep negatively impacts our mood and outlook, as well as our physical health," says Terry Cralle, a registered nurse and certified clinical sleep educator. "Sufficient sleep, a good diet and regular exercise are the three ingredients to staying healthy all season long."
You may be surprised at how many people experience issues sleeping. The Better Sleep Council reports that 66 percent of people 18 to 34 claim that they have trouble falling and staying asleep. That number drops to 53 percent of people ages 35 to 54, and just less than half of people 55 and older. If you fall into the portion of the population experiencing sleep troubles, consider these tips from the Better Sleep Council:
• Build a good sleep environment – A good sleep environment is imperative when it comes to counting zzz’s each night. Start off with a quality mattress.
"A mattress is an investment, not only financially but for your health," says Karin Mahoney, director of communications for the Better Sleep Council. "To help improve your sleep – and your quality of life – it’s a good idea to compare the mattress you are sleeping on to new models every five years and to consider replacing your mattress if it is more than seven years old."
• Sleep in your ideal bedroom – Light, noise and even temperature can disrupt sleep or make it difficult to fall asleep. Purchase light-blocking shades and install them in windows to keep the sun, streetlights and passing car headlights from shining in.
Consider finding a source of white noise – such as a fan or sound machine producing soft ocean sounds – to cover up other noises happening in the house like the heater kicking in, or someone getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Finally, you should consider turning the temperature in the bedroom down a degree or two – or getting it as close as possible to the ideal bedroom temperature of 65 F. A cooler temperature can help the body relax and fall into sleep much more easily.
• Count your sleep – not sheep – Track your sleep using a sleep app. Several apps reviewed by the Better Sleep Council provide users with a variety of benefits.
For example, some are designed to monitor your breathing and movements, and they encourage you to wake up when you’re in the lightest stage of the sleep cycle. Others can record your snoring and breathing habits to help determine if you are experiencing any distractions mid-slumber.
Catching the right number of zzz’s can lead to better health and more energy this holiday season, helping to reduce your stress level. Make good sleeping habits and creating a sleep environment a priority, so you can wake up feeling refreshed every morning.
Learn more about how to give yourself the gift of a better sleep this holiday season at www.facebook.com/BetterSleepCouncilOrg.
Pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide and one of the main reasons Americans miss work. For example, 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time, according to the American Chiropractic Association, with experts estimating that as many as 80 percent of Americans will experience a back problem at some point in their lives. Meaning it is quite possible you may have symptoms right now.
Dealing with chronic pain in your back, arms or legs can be frustrating and costly. The aches and tenderness can cause you to stop doing the things you love most like playing with your children and participating in your favorite activities, like gardening or golfing, or even doing regular exercise.
"Some people accept lower back pain as a way of life, but it doesn’t have to be that way," says Brian Elsemore, who has practiced as a registered physical therapist for a decade in Florida and New England. "There are simple things that everyone can do to treat their pain without resorting to drugs or surgery."
Here are five drug-free steps Elsemore recommends to reduce the pain:
A body in motion tends to stay in motion, according to Isaac Newton’s laws of motion. This notion applies to the human body and back health as well, so fight the urge to sit or lay for lengthy periods. Exercises that maintain the natural spinal curve and help strengthen the core (abdominals, back and pelvic area) to support the spine are key to eliminating back pain naturally. Even if your back is hurting, increasing blood flow and stretching can help provide relief.
Block the pain signals
Technology called Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) has been used for decades by health professionals to safely block nerve pain in patients. Now, this clinically proven, drug-free technology is available without a prescription in an affordable, portable device called Rapid Relief Electronic Pain Relief Pad from HoMedics. Simply apply where it hurts and the discreet pad that easily fits under clothing emits a controlled micro-electronic current through the skin to block the nerves from transmitting pain signals to the body’s pain center. The result is fast, effective relief for aches and pains without drugs, creams or messy applications. The device, available in versions calibrated for the lower back as well as the arms/legs, offers 15 levels of adjustable intensity and includes one standard lithium battery, one set of self-adhesive, replaceable gels and a travel storage case. At $29.99, Rapid Relief is one of the lowest cost-per-use topical pain relief options sold without a prescription at CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Amazon.com. Learn more at RapidReliefPad.com.
Stand, sit and lift smart
Being aware of how you use your back throughout the day is important to reducing lower back pain. When standing, particularly for long periods of time, maintain a neutral pelvic position. Be aware of your posture, keeping the back straight when standing and sitting. Stand up or walk around at least once an hour if you’re job requires long periods of sitting. Hunching and poor posture eventually cause soreness. When lifting - whether a load at work or your child at home - let your legs do the work, according to MayoClinic.com. Additional lifting recommendations include bending only at the knees, holding the load close to your body and avoiding lifting and twisting simultaneously.
It’s common knowledge that fashionable high heels are terrible for back health, but it’s not only stylish shoes that can cause extreme pain. Ill-fitting shoes without proper support can shift a person’s center of gravity, causing him or her to walk out of alignment and put undue pressure on the back. To relieve back pain, only wear supportive shoes that fit well. Keep in mind, shoes should never require a "breaking in" period; if they fit correctly, they should be comfortable right away, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association.
Sleep is important for overall well-being, allowing the body to recover from daily activities. Inadequate sleep and back pain go hand-in-hand, quickly creating a vicious cycle. To get a good night’s sleep and encourage pain relief, it’s wise to take a few steps before lights out. Start by placing a pillow under your knees if you sleep on your back or between your knees if you’re a side sleeper - this helps reduce stress on the spine. For a firmer, more supportive mattress, place wood supports between the mattress and base, or place the mattress directly on the ground. If back pain still persists, it may be time to go shopping for a new mattress.
"Lower back pain is so prevalent in our society, but drug-free relief is an option for many people," notes Elsemore. "From proper exercise and sleep to relieving pain using innovations like Rapid Relief, a few simple steps can dramatically improve quality of life."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last year’s flu season began four weeks earlier than expected, resulting in the earliest flu season in a decade.
While the early arrival proved to be tough on families, it was especially difficult for small businesses and start-ups that rely on their staff to stay profitable and productive during the holidays and tax season.
The CDC estimates that each year the flu results in 75 million days of work absences and 200 million days of diminished productivity for businesses nationwide. Cumulatively, the flu costs businesses an estimated $6.2 billion in lost productivity each year, with small businesses proving to be no exception.
To keep your staff healthy and business booming, Sam’s Club and the Sam’s Club Pharmacy offer the following tips to avoid catching the flu this season:
• Encourage employees to get immunized
Immunizations are a simple and effective way for adults and businesses to protect themselves from catching and spreading the flu. The CDC recommends getting an annual flu immunization as the first and most important step in protecting yourself against the flu.
Get immunized early and persuade your staff to do the same.
Encourage your staff to get immunized by taking them out for lunch and immunizations.
Find a location near you that administers the flu shot. This year, your local Sam’s Club Pharmacy offers scheduled and walk-in immunization appointments for all adults age 18 and over - no membership required. Sam’s Club has also implemented additional options for adults to increase flu protection convenience including increased inventory, trained pharmacists to administer immunizations and a privacy screen at each pharmacy for a more comfortable experience.
• Stop the spread of germs
In addition to getting the flu immunization, simple daily measures can protect you and those around you from getting sick.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to prevent the spread of germs.
• Stay home when sick
If you or a staff member begins to exhibit flu-like symptoms, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from spreading the flu and infecting others.
If you are sick with a flu-like illness, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities.
Additional information about the flu, last year’s outbreak and how to avoid catching the flu this season can be found on the CDC website or by visiting SamsClub.com/healthyliving.
Leah and Scot Simpson lost their son to suicide in 1992.
Trevor Simpson, 16, was a promising and seemingly well-adjusted teenager at Edmonds Woodway High School: popular, charismatic, an honors student and star member of the varsity football team. But one night in January, he left home in the Chevy Nova he bought with the savings from his paper route and never came back. The next day, the Simpsons would find out their son had killed himself.
"We couldn’t believe it," Leah said. "We kept asking ourselves, how did this happen? What did we miss?"
It’s a question too frequently asked by loved ones left behind when someone takes his own life. And when hindsight kicks in, so does rampant self blame. Off-kilter comments, misinterpreted as benign morbidity at the time, seem like obvious warning signs in retrospect. Like when Trevor told one friend just days before his death that "he wanted people to wear purple to his funeral."
But Trevor’s parents, classmates and teachers weren’t taught how to look for and properly address the signs of suicide.
It was a taboo subject that nobody wanted to talk about – much less address head-on. Gathering together after his death, Trevor’s community realized they shouldn’t be asking themselves what they missed, but why they missed it.
"We weren’t educated," she said. "Trevor might still be here if we were."
Driven to fix the gaping hole in suicide-specific community education, the Simpsons spearheaded the creation of the Youth Suicide Prevention Program (YSPP), then funded by the Washington State Department of Health. The program continued as an independent nonprofit in 1999 and has since burgeoned into the state’s leading suicide prevention organization.
YSPP aims to raise suicide awareness, improve parent/teacher education and implement peer-to-peer "Question, Persuade and Refer" training curriculums in secondary schools across the state. The Northshore School District does not currently use YSPP curricula, but Woodinville High School hopes to introduce it this school year.
According to the YSPP website, an average of two youth die by suicide every week in Washington state, while an average of 17 young people per week are hospitalized overnight for non-fatal attempts. That’s excluding any emergency room admissions, which remain unquantifiable under Washington state law. It is the third-leading cause of death in young people ages 10-24, and the second-leading cause in college students in particular, according to YSPP.
Scot and Leah Simpson use an interesting metaphor to explain this disturbing trend. "Suicide is like a slot machine," Scot said. "When you have all ‘7s,’ there’s a suicide or an attempt."
Scot said different psychological, biological, sociological and existential risk factors must all be present at once for someone to attempt suicide – a perfect storm that, like numbers lining up on a slot machine, is pretty uncommon. But he said young people face the added risk of hormone-fueled emotional instability during what is often a "socially traumatizing" point in their lives. Combine this with common mental health disorders, like Trevor’s possible attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (which is linked to low serotonin levels), and the results can be devastating.
"For some kids, one or two of these slots are always filled," he said.
Today, Scot serves on the board of directors of Forefront, a new nonprofit based at the University of Washington. While YSPP works directly with schools and students on a case-by-case basis, Forefront aims to bolster prevention training and education through big-picture legislative action.
Retired YSPP executive director Sue Eastgard and University of Washington Social Work Professor Jennifer Stuber started Forefront to carry out the policies of the Matt Adler Suicide, Treatment and Management Act of 2012. This groundbreaking piece of legislation was coauthored by Stuber and named for her late husband, who killed himself two years ago.
Stuber, who believes early detection and treatment would have saved her husband’s life, was inspired to take action after learning that many health-care professionals in Washington state are never trained in suicide assessment and treatment.
Eastgard said there were no classes on suicide intervention when she was a student at the University of Washington School of Social Work.
"The field has really neglected this as a core competency," she said.
The Matt Adler Act, the first law of its kind in the nation, requires all mental health professionals and social workers to now receive six hours of suicide-specific training every six years in order to retain their licenses.
According to Eastgard, Forefront members are currently organizing to make sure all 26,000 health-care professionals impacted by the new law have access to the training they need.
Forefront is also brainstorming the development plan for a second law it helped pass in June, following the success of the Matt Adler Act. It will require all Washington state public schools to adopt a comprehensive crisis-response plan for the prevention, intervention and "postvention" of suicidal emergencies by the 2014-2015 school year.
"Most schools do have a general crisis plan, but those only cover what to do if there’s an earthquake, or a bomb threat, or a shooter on the school grounds," Eastgard said. "Of course, this happens much more often."
The new law will force all public schools to create concrete procedures for dealing with the reality of teen suicide and depression. Leah Simpson said many schools would otherwise refuse to address the issue of suicide at all, too afraid of "stirring stuff up" and admitting there is a problem.
"It’s a taboo many people don’t even want to talk about," she said.
It will also ensure schools that already voluntarily participate in suicide prevention programs - like the YSPP program Woodinville High School plans to adopt - continue meeting minimum standards, even with future teacher and administration turnaround.
The law will further mandate that all public school counselors, nurses and new school teachers (certified after August 2014) undergo a training program on how to competently recognize and respond to suicidal behavior in students.
Eastgard said schools will ideally craft comprehensive plans that focus on educating all "gatekeepers" – including parents, teachers, counselors and peers.
"If your English teacher is worried you might take your own life, he or she will know what to do," she said. "If there’s a child cutting themselves in the bathroom, the school will know what to do. If a child dies by suicide, there is a procedure about how to handle that."
As Forefront works to carry out these macro-level changes, a recent grant facilitated the organization’s launch of "Husky Help + Hope," a campus-wide outreach program geared specifically toward college students at the University of Washington.
"The UW provides counseling and other services to students in need, but, until now we have not had the resources to implement a large scale prevention and education program like that promised by Husky Help & Hope," said Ellen Taylor, UW Counseling Center director, in a press release.
The three-year HHH plan includes improving resource accessibility, partnering with student groups for mental health promotion, and creating mandatory suicide-assessment training programs for graduate students about to enter the fields of health care and social work.
"Education is the key word," Scot said.
(MELANIE ENG is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.)
We all have fabulous essays of how we lived, laughed and loved. Some humorous — others — poignant. Will your children wonder what you saw when you pressed your nose against the window of your childhood home? When you were seven, were Saturday mornings a time for play or chores? What’s the story behind Aunt Kay’s crazy elephant collection? Here are a few tips to inspire you to share a unique gift — your engaging stories.
Begin with an idea.
• Describe your childhood best friend and a favorite activity.
• Tell a story about when you got into trouble. What did you learn?
• Complete these sentences: The most joyful day ever was when ...
Just for fun I…
This time I followed my heart…
• Describe meeting your spouse for the first time.
• Share something profound you learned from a child, a pet, a complete stranger.
• Share an inspirational story of an answered prayer or divine intervention.
• Reflect on something you’ve put off, will you accomplish it in the next year?
Begin by simply putting your history on the page. Don’t worry about being eloquent. Don’t worry about punctuation or grammar. Just get your thoughts down. Write what you saw, what you heard, and how things smelled. Include your emotions. Be authentic. And, use these writer’s principles to make your stories memorable.
#1 Show, don’t tell.
Using sharp verbs and showing action brings stories to life. For example, instead of saying Dad arrived home in a happy mood (telling), you write, "Dad burst through the garden gate with a generous smile and a bouquet of crimson dahlias in his hand."
#2 Make each word, the right word.
When writing a magazine article, I wanted to describe an angry teenager. But the word angry didn’t fit the situation well. I looked in my thesaurus but still couldn’t find the right word. A few days later I was reading Readers Digest’s Word Power and came across sullen. That was it. I jumped up and turned on my computer and replaced angry with sullen which means resentful, sulky and sour. Perfect!
Finding the best word to describe a mood or action can be a challenge. Words have textures, tints and shades. Take the time to check a dictionary and thesaurus to find the right one for the picture you are painting. For example, when describing color use navy, periwinkle or sapphire instead of blue. Find interesting words, but don’t use long or difficult words—just to use long and difficult words. Most readers won’t dust off their dictionaries to read your story; they will lose interest quickly if they don’t understand you.
#3 Clear the clutter.
Next, you can improve your writing by eliminating words that clutter. Instead of: She replied in a very soft manner; use, she whispered. And watch for redundancy; it is not small in size, it’s small. Also avoid wordy expressions. William Zinsser in his classic book, On Writing Well says, "There’s no need to say, ‘At the present time we are experiencing precipitation.’ " How can we simplify? It is raining, or possibly it is drizzling, or maybe we’re in a downpour.
Set your work aside for a day or two and then read it out loud and ask, "Does my writing sound pleasing and natural? Have I included interesting details and chosen the best words possible? What can I eliminate?" You may wish to read to a friend and ask for advice. Then rewrite and reread. Now is also the time to look for and correct punctuation mistakes.
Perhaps you’ll write several stories and put them together with photos for a gift loved ones will cherish. Or maybe like me, you’ll write a story each year and send it along with your Christmas cards. If you wish, you can self-publish your own book online. You hold a wonderful treasure — a library of fascinating history, humorous anecdotes and life lessons. Why not share; you’ll entertain and encourage your family and friends in their life’s journey.