Connect with Nature  

Connecting with nature is how I have been spending a lot of my time lately (instead of writing the blog in a timely manner). Performing the yard chores of spring: weeding, pruning, mulching, planting and mowing. It is strenuous and time consuming, however, I always itch at every chance to be outdoors.  For many, this is the reason we chose to live in Nelson county because the mountains and rolling landscape are so beautiful. Taking time to connect with nature and take care of our surroundings is important.

There are interesting moments even during a mundane activity such as weeding.  A colorful salamander scoots by or a tiny frog hops about in the dirt. I’ve come upon a baby hummingbird buzzing -curious about me. The senses are overwhelmed in Spring: the warm air, the fragrant smells, the birds singing, the falling raindrops. The longer days invite us outside.  I chide myself when I take numerous photos of sunsets, sunrises, flowers, landscapes -the same scene each season. Those are the moments where I paused long enough to appreciate the beauty.

There are many opportunities to connect with nature even with a busy schedule:

Sit quietly listening and observing without your phone.

Take a walk during your work lunch break or after dinner.

Eat a meal outside.

Appreciate a spectacular sunrise or sunset.

Read a book outside in a hammock.

Feel the fresh air and warm sun on your skin.

Weed the flower beds and and feel the dirt in your hands.

Listen to the beat of raindrops on the roof.

Take a hike.

Play a game outside.

Go to a ballgame.

Go to the beach.

Cut some flowers to put in a vase for the indoors (especially if your workplace doesn’t have windows)

Research reveals that connecting with nature a few minutes daily lowers blood pressure, reduces the output of cortisol and reduces stress.  As we nurture our environment, we are caring for ourselves and that promotes calmness.

In addition, connecting with nature allows us to leave the electronic world of cell phones, ipads and laptops for a little while. That is vital for optimal health and reduction of stress. The continual beeps during the day “alerting” us that there is a new email or text compounds the stress. There is a false immediacy that has been created  in which we feel compelled to respond to everything in the next 15-20 seconds. That type of stress accumulates throughout our lifetime inflaming the mind, organs and cardiovascular system. It is important to be aware of our habits to foster wellness. Connecting with nature cultivates peace in our hearts and minds just as we would cultivate the growth of a beautiful rose.



February's Habit: The G.L.A.D technique

Practicing Gratitude

February’s habit is practicing gratitude, which is timely, as Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. The “Hallmark” holidays remind us to appreciate our loved ones, but it may seem silly to “practice” gratitude. It is easy to see the sunsets and enjoy the company that surrounds us when life is flowing smoothly, but mix in having an illness, caring for a sick parent or an ailing child, losing a job, a government shutdown, a house fire, a car accident,  a home foreclosure, or death of a partner and suddenly the skies are gray and cloudy. Immense trauma can blind our ability to experience joyful moments.

I often wonder if being an eternal optimist is somehow wired into my DNA. I have certainly encountered permanent pessimists during my travels. Thanks to research and the science of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change has gained more focus in recent years, helping those with depression and other mental and emotional challenges. The book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley reveals the exciting potential of the brain’s capacity (and is a fascinating read).

Very simply, practicing gratitude daily changes the neural firing of the brain and releases “feel- good” endorphins. It also reduces the cortisol output that causes the fight, flight or freeze reaction, which is heightened when we are under stress.  If we practice gratitude daily, even 1-5 minutes, we will learn to cope better and can gain some perspective on our life events. What about our day to day woes? Life’s little storms can accumulate and overwhelm us. Will the mindfulness practice of gratitude help at all? The answer is a resounding yes.  The small acts of gratitude and kindness that we practice each day are shown to improve equanimity and resilience.

One short-and-sweet method to incorporate this into your busy day is the G.L.A.D. technique developed by David Altman, M.A., LPC. Record one item under each category daily in your journal.

G - Gratitude: Write one basic nugget that you are thankful for today (the sunshine, your spouse, food, a working body).

L - Learn: Write one thing that you learned about yourself today, whether it's a new insight or a little discovery.

A - Accomplishment: Notice something you accomplished today- it may be as simple as a good night’s sleep!

D - Delight: Consider anything that makes you laugh or smile (a bird chirping, a cuddly pet, a funny joke, or the kindness of a stranger).

The G.L.A.D. technique only takes 2 or 3 minutes of your time for some pretty profound changes in your brain.

Practicing gratitude does not lessen the chaos in our lives, it just changes our outlook when we are in the midst of it. It allows us to see all aspects of the situation clearly and respond to others around us with care. It is a life-long practice and isn't always easy, but the small moments we appreciate start to add up in our lives. That is joy!

Still practicing and forever grateful,


Phone Addiction

                          Phone Addiction

The phone has become more than a communication device; it is the personal computer, the calendar, and the information hub in our lives. It is common to see people on the phone all the time, oblivious of their surroundings and others. Individuals are using their phones when driving a car, walking on the sidewalk, waiting in line at the grocery store,  and even during mealtimes. It appears to be the norm now to be on the phone rather than conversing with others. There is even a term for it now: phubbing. Phubbing refers to snubbing others in favor of the mobile phone. No one can argue that the mobile phone is an  excellent tool to connect us, to check the internet and to check our email. It directs us in traffic, it helps us locate a gas station and it alerts others that we need assistance. It helps business owners conduct transactions when not in the office.

But have we let it take over our lives?

More and more research demonstrates that long term use of the cell phone, and computer has harmful effects on youngsters and adults. It harms relationships, creates anxiety, increases resentment, increases depression and increases loneliness. It becomes an addiction.

The definition of addiction from the American Society of Addiction Medicine is: Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.

Here’s how it works: We hear a “beep” notification from the phone alerting us that someone has emailed, texted, or posted something on facebook. We pick up the phone, check it out and may think, “Oh that’s neat.” We get little “brain rewards” when we are on the phone; checking email, searching the web and looking at facebook. This motivates us to keep checking the phone throughout the day. Our brain “remembers” these little biscuits and we want more. So, we keep checking the phone, social media and internet. Sometimes we spend so much time on the internet that we neglect our own self care needs.

Research also reveals that the  perception that we are connecting with friends via internet does not replace actual live human connections. The less human contact we have with each other isolates us and increases depression, anxiety and loneliness. The phone/internet addiction adds to the loss of real relationships. It also lowers self esteem, increases resentment and compounds the loss of original and creative thoughts.

A balance can be achieved with the use of the phone/internet and other areas of our lives. Very simple changes can be implemented. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Turn off notifications.

  2. Use an old fashioned alarm clock instead of your phone.

  3. Stop use of all electronics one hour before bedtime.

  4. Avoid bringing the phones to the table at meal times.

  5. Connect with nature.

  6. Arrange friends/family game night.

  7. Place the phone in your desk drawer at work or keep it in your briefcase/purse.

  8. Make eye contact with others when talking with them.

  9. Have lunch with an friend.

If you find yourself struggling to keep the phone on a table away from you  and scoff at the above suggestions, consider that you may have an excessive attachment to your phone (made of metal and plastic). The phone cannot console you, it cannot hug you and it cannot provide the essential aspects of human connection (eye contact, affection, empathy, friendship, compassion).  Interact with the people and life around you as opposed to letting the phone rule your life. Remember it is tool and just a tool.