The Benefits of Elderberries Throughout the Year

Benefits of Elderberries

Elderberries are on my mind. In late summer and early fall when I was growing up in southern Wisconsin the elderberries were ripe and ready to pick along the rural roads. It was always such a treat to find them and bring them home to be carefully taken off the stems, washed and readied for pie or jelly.

Elderberries

Elderberries then were a treat which we looked forward to. Until recent years, when I found and began purchasing the jelly and learning more about it, I had no idea of all the health value of these tiny berries. They have become one of the superfoods sold in various forms: fresh or dried berries, syrups, extracts, supplements and tablets, and jellies. There are even gummies now for those who prefer that type of supplement!

During a previous flu/cold season, I posted “What are Elderberries and What Can They Do for Me” . The focus was on how they help during the winter. For many people, elderberry is their go-to to ward off or shorten flu and colds. But there are many other benefits of elderberries. The benefits of this unique fruit can be gained all year-round.

Benefits of Elderberries 

Elderberries help lower blood sugar levels by stimulating glucose metabolism (study in the Journal of Nutrition). This can be both a preventive and assist if you are struggling with your blood sugar levels.

Elderberry is often used as a diuretic, whether as the fruit (fresh or dried), a supplement or syrup. Using it in your food – a smoothie, in tea, in baked goods, or as jelly on bread – or taking it in other forms are all helpful. It also improves digestion and general gut health.

Many berries are high in antioxidants, and elderberries are no exception. They have lots of vitamin C, flavonoids as well as additional immune-strengthening compounds. All of these help us stay healthy and fight off infections by protecting our cells.

Allergy season is actually multiple allergy seasons, depending on what you are specifically allergic to. Allergens tend to increase inflammation in your body, which leads to symptoms like swelling, redness, itching, coughing and congestion. Elderberry boosts your immune system as described above and also helps reduce the inflammation.

And there’s more! Elderberry can improve bone and joint health, thanks to the various natural properties of the plant, including the anti-inflammatory properties and the antioxidants. It can be of value to those with arthritis and osteoporosis.

In addition to the internal health benefits, elderberry promotes healthy skin by improving skin rejuvenation. There are commercial products like scrubs, tinctures, and masks available through shops that sell natural beauty products. These can provide softer, more supple, glowing skin and also help with acne and blemishes.

As the benefits of elderberry have become more widely known, more and more products like syrups, supplements, gummies, etc. have been developed. A variety of them can be found here: https://amzn.to/31dowDg
Dried elderberries and powder can also be purchased: https://amzn.to/2Hkc4sz , as well as teas: https://amzn.to/31U5cK8

These tiny berries pack a wallop! Give them a try and see how they benefit you.

Understanding How Deep Breathing Works to Reduce Stress

deep breathing

Deep breathing techniques are often cited as an important tool that can help you to immediately alleviate stress, anxiety, frustration, and anger. Yet, many people have difficulty practicing deep breathing exercises because they either don’t believe that it’ll help or they try once and then don’t try again. Understanding deep breathing at the biological level makes us more likely to do it.

I’ve written about deep breathing before here: https://carolbrusegar.com/deep-breathing-for-stress-relief/ That article included benefits to our bodies, types of deep breathing exercises and how to fit a practice into your daily life.

What’s going on in our bodies when we are stressed and anxious? How does that change when we employ this practice? Having a basic understanding can increase our appreciation of the practice and motivate us to do it.

The Fight or Flight Response

The body has two systems within the nervous system: the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system. Both of these systems contribute to the reasons why deep breathing exercises can calm us down.

 Our biological systems have a natural ability to react during times of stress, especially in those situations where we’re facing a huge threat. Having this ability has been a matter of physical survival. In prehistoric times, humans came face-to-face with all sorts of wild animals, such as bears or tigers.

In response to such a threat, our body activates the Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response, or FFF reaction. Our threats today aren’t ordinarily of the lions and tigers and bears variety, but the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the physical sensations we get when we feel stress, anxiety, or severe anger and frustration.

These can include sweaty palms, increasing heart rate, and faster breathing. The activation of the FFF response is preparing our bodies to either run, fight the threat, or freeze.

Perceived Threats

The activation of the Fight Flight or Freeze Response can occur whenever we perceive that we’re up against a threat – whether we really are facing a threat or not.

Situations involving personal relationships, work responsibilities, work promotions, verbal arguments with others, and bad news about your health or the health of loved ones are just a few scenarios that can trigger the FFF response.

Despite the fact that all of these situations may be emotionally hurtful or painful, our body’s nervous system may interpret them as physically threatening. As such, our bodies activate the natural FFF response to get us ready to fight or run away.

Triggering the Opposite Reaction

In order to tell our biological systems that the situations we’re facing don’t require a fight or flight response, we must trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system produces the opposite response to the FFF, causing a relaxation response instead.

The Fight Flight or Freeze Response also diverts your blood flow. To prepare you to fight or to get ready to run from a perceived threat, blood is diverted away from the brain to the extremities in the body, such as the arms, legs, hands, and feet. No wonder when we are stressed or perceive a threat in some way, we aren’t able to think clearly!

Deep Breathing Reverses This Process

Breathing exercises send the blood supplies back from the extremities (since we’re not concerned with running or fighting) to the areas of the brain that allow us to think, reason, and problem solve.

This is why breathing exercises work to calm us when we experience acute stress, anger, or frustration. Blood is returning to the brain and it becomes easier for us to think.

 A Simple Approach for an Immediate Change in Times of Stress or Anger

In the heat of the moment when FFF has been activated, this simple approach can really make a difference:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Tense your whole body for four seconds while inhaling deeply.
  3. Then exhale slowly.
  4. Repeating this three or four times can take you back to a state of relaxation and calm.

The body’s natural ability to fight or flee from a perceived threat has been useful throughout the ages and is still useful today. However, reversing the process through breathing exercises places you in a better position to think more clearly and reason about the stress or issue that you’re facing.

In addition to this on-the-spot approach, consider developing a daily practice that can help you better deal with ongoing stressful and challenging situations as described in my earlier post – https://carolbrusegar.com/deep-breathing-for-stress-relief/

The more you get into a routine of practicing breathing exercises, the better you’ll become at doing so, which will give you the ability to reduce stress, anger, and frustration easier than before.

To explore the topic more, check out these books for adults and children about deep breathing for health:  Deep Breathing for Adults and Children

The Practice of Deep Breathing for Stress Relief

Breathe“Calm down, take a deep breath.” “BREATHE.”  We often give or receive this advice when we or someone else is stressed, irritated or angry.  As the pandemic continues, we have a group of stressors that we may not have experienced before. Expanding our repertoire of tools to deal with them can only be a good thing. The practice of deep breathing is an important one.

A few breaths in the midst of a stressful situation are but a tiny piece of the most effective use of deep breathing for our well-being. How does deep breathing benefit us and how can we gain those benefits?

Deep breathing exercises can effectively invoke your natural relaxation response and change the way your body responds to stress. Here are some details.

Your body can use deep breathing to allow the following body functions to happen:

  • You can increase the level of NO (nitric oxide) in your cells. This helps dilate blood vessels
  • You can lower your blood pressure
  • You can slow your breathing down with deep and meaningful breaths
  • You can lower your heart rate so you can feel calmer
  • You can slow down your metabolism so that it is more relaxed and efficient

Deep breathing exercises can be done anywhere and at any time. By doing deep breathing, you engage your brain so that you experience an increased sense of focus, profound calmness, and relaxation of the body.

While you can do deep breathing exercises anywhere, you need to do it for 20-30 minutes per day to lower your levels of stress and anxiety. That time can be spread throughout the day, as described below. Deep breathing will bathe your brain in the vital oxygen your brain needs at all times.  You can experience calmness, peacefulness, and a better sense of well-being.

Types of Deep Breathing Exercises

There are several ways you can go about deep breathing to reduce stress:

  • Visualization with deep breathing. This only takes a few seconds to complete the exercise. You consciously relax the tenseness in your shoulders and neck, which is where many people tighten up during stress. Then you take a deep breath and visualize the bottoms of your feet as having holes in them. Imagine that, through those holes, warm, comforting air is flowing up from the ground to fill up your entire body. The warmth is relaxing and you’ll feel less stress within seconds. Imagine your muscles soaking up the warmth and relaxation under the feeling. Do this several times a day when you feel the most stress.
  • Breathe with a stuffed animal. This exercise takes a little bit longer but it can be extremely soothing. The purpose of the stuffed animal is to remind you to breathe through your abdomen. As you take those deep breaths, it will rise and fall with each breath. If it isn’t, you aren’t breathing deeply enough. Lie down on a couch or bed and put one hand in the area of your chest. Place your stuffed animal in the middle of your abdomen. Keep your eyes closed and allow your body’s muscles to sequentially relax from the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet. Breathe in a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and slowly breathe out. Try this for about twenty breaths and repeat throughout the day when you feel the most stressed out.
  • Escape breathing. Escape into your mind by seeing yourself in a calm and serene place. Use all your senses to imagine yourself in this place. Breathe deeply and imagine yourself as calm as possible in this place. It may be a beach with the crashing waves of the ocean, the forest with its rustling leaves and the sounds of birds, or a meadow, where the wind is blowing serenely on your face as you breathe in deeply.

Fitting Deep Breathing into your Day

Try these tips:

  • Do the deep breathing exercises while engaged in other daily activities: while stuck in traffic, waiting for an appointment, sitting on the train or bus. You can even do deep breathing while walking around.
  • Set one or two deep breathing sessions per day, perhaps in the morning and just before going to bed. This will allow you to de-stress so that you can start your day stress-free and end your day stress-free.
  • Practice mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness is when you use your brain just to notice the world around you without any type of judgment or criticism. This will increase your focus on the here and now so that you aren’t dwelling on past stressors.

To explore the topic more, check out these books for adults and children about deep breathing for health:  Deep Breathing for Adults and Children

Nature and Fractals Reduce Overwhelm and Stress

Fractal 1Many of us have times of overwhelm and stress during these times of uncertainty. It may be only sporadic or more pervasive. Overwhelm is the consistent state of feeling in over your head, overburdened, and unable to sustain manageable control over the various expectations in your day. It has a domino effect. Usually beginning in one area of life, it can extend to all areas as the body begins to fatigue from the chronic stress.

If your overwhelm becomes more than occasional, you may notice that you develop chronic headaches, stomach aches, body aches, and can’t seem to get enough sleep.  These are symptoms of adrenal fatigue and your body’s natural reaction to chronic stressors.

Mother Nature’s Surprising Antidote to Stress and Overwhelm

As we continue forward, it’s helpful to expand our strategies for coping with the stress, not only of the immediate but of all the unknowns of the coming months. Most of us find that being out in nature is one of those strategies. What is it about a stroll in the woods or going for a walk along a country lane that seems to bring a sense of inner peace?

Or perhaps walking barefoot on the beach, watching the waves and collecting seashells brings much joy into your heart.

Is it simply because you’ve “got back to nature”? Is it because you are outside breathing fresh air for a change instead of being stuck in the stress box you call your office?

Those are all true, but there is another perfectly natural one-word explanation for why you feel so calm and content. FRACTALS! They’re all around you, wherever you look.  They are even inside you – your body is full of fractals: Your veins, nerves and even your bronchial tree is fractal.

What are fractals and how do they reduce stress?

The simplest way to describe a fractal is a pattern that repeats itself over a decreasing scale.

Take trees for example. The branches are copies of the trunk, only smaller.  The smaller branches are copies of the larger branches they stemmed from. Twigs are copies of the smaller branches. Each part of the tree is a smaller copy of the whole.

If you were to look at a snowflake under a magnifying glass before it melts, you would see that it is made up of the same complex repeating pattern.

Since the beginning of humanity, we have been surrounded by fractals.  They are Mother Nature’s building blocks and our evolutionary comfort zone. More examples include fiddlehead ferns, broccoli, aloe vera plants, crystals, angelica flowers (and many others), lightning, and seashells.

How do you use fractals for stress relief?

  • Don’t spend so much time inside. Get outside more. Stand and watch the clouds, or sit on a park bench and watch the trees swaying in the breeze for a few minutes. Do some deep breathing and fill your lungs with fresh air while you’re there. You’ll soon feel your stress melting away like a snowflake that lands on a surface.
  • If you can’t go outside when you feel your stress levels rising, just look out the window for a few minutes instead.
  • Add fractals to your indoor environment and take breaks to view and appreciate them and their soothing patterns.  These can be houseplants like fractal succulents or aloe vera. They can be seashells that have those patterns.
  • Fractal art and other man-made fractals, according to research, are equally effective. You can just as quickly lower your stress levels by watching a fractal screensaver on your computer for a few seconds or watch a video like this one:
  • Fractal Coloring Books can serve this purpose, too. These are distinct from mandalas and are labeled as such. Here are some examples:

Yes, it might seem incredible, but studies have shown the calming effects that fractals have on the mind really do take effect very quickly.

Fractals are all around, hiding in plain sight. Focus on them and relieve your stress and overwhelm!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Superfood Smoothies For Health And Energy

smoothiesAccording to the calendar, summer is winding down as kids start returning to school in just a few weeks. But the weather is definitely SUMMER! I have noticed my early summer focus on healthy eating has diminished. Perhaps you have also. This is a good time to re-look at some options and boost our health and energy as we move into fall with all of its unique 2021 challenges.

If you’d like to refresh your memory of options of summer superfoods and what they offer, I wrote about them here:  https://carolbrusegar.com/great-superfood-choices-for-summer/

Why are smoothies such a good way to consume those great superfoods? Here are three good reasons.

Quick and Easy Preparation

Superfood smoothies are very quick and easy to prepare. They take literally 5-10 minutes at the most to prepare. Gather your ingredients, do any chopping, throw the ingredients into the blender and within a minute the smoothie will be ready to drink.

If you are preparing for one person, I hope you have a personal blender which makes the process easier. There are many varieties; check them out here: Personal Blenders

They Taste Delicious

You can combine ingredients to fit your taste preferences, either of green-based or berry-type smoothies. Eating or drinking something “healthy” that we don’t enjoy means we likely won’t continue consuming it very long. So experiment with recipes and variations to find combinations you love and look forward to drinking. (I suggest a great recipe book below.)

Drinking Your Smoothie in the Morning Starts Your Day With Energy

Although smoothies are great whenever you choose, there can be benefits to having one for breakfast. Of course, they are a healthier alternative to sugary cereals and high-calorie pastries. And they deliver lots of nutrients which will help you to feel more alert and energetic and ready to start the day.

Now, let’s look at a few tips for creating healthy superfood smoothies.

1) Use either fresh or  frozen ingredients

Fresh ingredients are great when they are easily accessible and economical. But frozen ingredients can contain just as many nutrients as fresh. If they were picked and frozen right after being harvested, they’re going to maintain the same level of nutrients as they had when they were fresh. Many times frozen ingredients are cheaper to buy, and there is less waste too.

2) Use natural flavorings

If you find your superfood smoothies to be a little bland, always use natural flavorings to enhance them. Did you know for example, that dates can help to add sweetness to a smoothie instead of sugar? Honey is also an excellent natural flavoring to add sweetness.

3) Add water to thin the smoothie out

If you find the smoothie is too thick, water is the best thing to use to thin it out. It’s healthy, readily available and will help to thin the smoothie out without adding additional calories.

4) Tailor your ingredients to your needs

Any superfood smoothie will provide a healthy alternative to many of the other things you might eat. Perhaps you would like to boost your immune system or want to take off some pounds. If you have those goals, you can research ingredients or recipes that will work for that.

5) Pair your superfoods carefully

Not all superfoods will go well together. So, when thinking of what to add in the smoothie, be careful to match the right superfoods together. Orange fruits and avocado or kale and almonds, are great examples of superfoods which work well together.

This cookbook will help you with both tailoring your ingredients to your needs and in deciding on combinations of superfoods. It provides recipes, indicates what they offer your health, and is a great reference. http://Simple Superfood Smoothies: A Smoothie Recipe Book to Supercharge Your Health

smoothy book

 

Great Superfood Choices for Summer

Superfood - Cherries

Many of us eat differently in the summer, particularly when the temperatures are hottest.  We eat lighter, and often healthier.  We can make intentionally improve our nutrition by making great superfood choices.

Superfoods are foods that contain more nutrients than average: very high in vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and more. Here are 13 that you can benefit from and enjoy during these summer months.

1. Cherries
Cherries have multiple amazing antioxidants. One of them is anthocyanin which provides easing of inflammation in your body and can help with joint pain. You can eat either fresh or frozen cherries.

2. Kiwi
Kiwi is sweet with a little tartness and includes many essential vitamins and minerals. It is a potassium powerhouse: a cup of sliced kiwi has the same amount of potassium as a cup of bananas. It also is lower in sugar and calories than many potassium-laden fruits and veggies with 7 grams of sugar – along with 5 grams of fiber – in a serving.

3. Bell Peppers
Choose all colors of bell peppers, such as green, yellow, orange, and red. In fact, using multiple colors adds vibrancy to your meals and often gives you a variance in the nutrients you get. Bell peppers contain vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and phytonutrients. Plus, they are very low in fat and calories.

4. Herbs
Most herbs are considered superfoods since they contain so many wonderful vitamins and minerals, but here are some of the best ones to find in the summer:
Basil – Nutrients in basil include vitamin A, vitamin K, manganese, vitamin C, omega=3 fatty acids, magnesium, iron, folate, and calcium.
Cilantro – Cilantro is extremely low in cholesterol, but it contains vitamins like C, E, A, and K. It also has dietary fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Parsley – Like many other herbs, it contains a good amount of folate, iron, vitamin A, vitamin K, and vitamin C.

5. Swiss Chard
Swiss Chard is another type of dark, leafy green vegetable just like spinach and kale, except it is a little more bitter. It is full of phytonutrients, especially in the red-purple stems and veins of this vegetable. That is where you get a lot of the nutrients. Swiss chard also contains potassium and magnesium, two nutrients that are essential for a healthy, well-balanced diet. Eat it raw or cooked; if you cook it, it will be less bitter.

6. Lemons
Lemons are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants and also contain fiber and micronutrients, as well as being very low in calories. There are endless ways to use them, but here are a few ideas:
Infused Water – Add lemons to water (as well as other fruits you may choose). A simple sugar-free strawberry lemon water tastes like lemonade, without added sweeteners.
Lemon Ice Cubes – Just add lemon juice to an ice cube tray and cover with filtered water. Add these to every glass of water you drink for nutrients and flavor.
Garlic Lemon Sauces – Make a citrus sauce or dressing and use them in a casserole with chicken, over a light salad, on pasta, or even to coat veggies.

7. Spinach
Spinach is more nutrient-dense than romaine or iceberg lettuce and makes a healthy salad on its own or combined with other greens. The top nutrients in spinach include Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Vitamin B2, Iron, Folate, Copper, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, Manganese and Magnesium.

8. Avocado
Avocado is actually a fruit, and often considered a “superfruit” – or a superfood fruit. You get a lot of great fiber in avocados, plus vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, vitamin K, beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and potassium.

9. Watermelon
Watermelon is relatively low in calories, is fresh, sweet, and has a high water content so a little bit goes a long way. It is also loaded with nutrients including Vitamin C and Vitamin A, which help reduce inflammation, lower your blood pressure, and even protect your skin from UV rays thanks to the lycopene.

10. Strawberries
Strawberries have a higher-than-average amount of vitamin C. They are very antioxidant-rich to help fight illnesses and boost your immune system, and contain an excellent amount of manganese, a mineral that helps improve your health and vitality. Other important nutrients in this fruit are potassium and B vitamins.

11. Summer Squash
There are many different varieties of squash, from yellow squash to zucchini, but not all of them are available year-round. Summer squash have a good amount of vitamin C, as well as lutein and xeaxanthin. You can get help preventing a summer cold thanks to some squash in your diet. You can eat them raw, make a roasted veggie side dish with other veggies, saute with olive oil and seasonings, and include them in a pasta dish.

12. Peaches
Peaches not only have vitamin C, but peaches also contain potassium and fiber. Besides eating them fresh and whole, they can be added to salads, served over ice cream or yogurt, or grilled for a sidedish.

13. Blueberries
Blueberries contain vitamin C, fiber, vitamin K, and manganese. They are low in fat and calories as well. Enjoy your blueberries many different ways, such as on your salads, mixed in with yogurt or granola, as a side dish, or just a light snack.

Check out these cookbooks – one especially for children. Eat light and healthy with these Summer Superfoods!!

Easy Superfoods Cookbook

Superfoods for Super Kids Cookbook

Creating and Sustaining an Effective Wellness Routine

Wellness

Do you have a wellness routine? Creating or recalibrating a wellness routine is a do-it-yourself project that addresses our individual, unique needs. Cultivating wellness in our lives is a mindset as well as specific actions and routines.

So much of “healthcare” in our country is sick care – identifying what is already affecting us negatively and figuring out to treat it.  The prevention that we are encouraged often focuses on things like eating right and getting enough sleep and exercise. Of course, these are important. But there is more.

Beyond the physical practices, mental and emotional self-care are key to wellness. Sometimes self-care is seen as self-centered and even selfish. I hope you see how important it is to staying healthy and strong and available for others in your life. Having a wellness/self-care routine that fits your needs is important to the totality of your life.

Reject Extreme Goals, Adopt Sustainable Habits

I recently found an inspiring article which summarizes the approach used by wellness coaches Manda and Meleah Manning. They advocate “forming intuitive, sustainable habits rather than chasing extreme goals.” (You know, like eat no sugar or carbs, workout every day, no pain no gain approaches, meditate for thirty minutes or more daily, etc.)

The article describes four practices that can bring more balance into every part of a wellness routine: start a morning routine, make time to meditate, journal mindfully, and try energy cleansing. The first three are ones we’ve all heard about before. They are described in the article in some unique ways that you may find helpful.

The last one, energy cleansing, is new to me.  It is simple, doesn’t take a long time and is highly effective according to coaches.  They recommend this daily morning and evening routine: “Begin the day by ‘visualizing yourself safe and protected within a golden egg of light, almost like a forcefield’…. At the end of the day, think about releasing anything you don’t need anymore. ‘You can do this be visualizing yourself standing underneath a waterfall and feeling the cleansing water wash over you, cleansing your energy from the crown of your head out through the soles of your feet.’”

These energy cleansing practices are meditative techniques using the power of visualization and centering. Perhaps you find that many recommended techniques involve more time than you are willing or able to commit. These do not require much time at all. I love the image for each – golden egg of light in the morning and waterfall in the evening. No need to refer to a source article or book – remember the images and the accompanying thoughts will come to you once you have done it a couple of times.

If you lack a self-care/wellness routine, or are ready to revamp what you have, check out the article,  “Build Balance Into Your Wellness Routine With These Expert-Recommended Practices” by Annalise Mantz.

In addition, here’s a possible tool to consider. A Year of Self-Care, Daily Practices and Inspiration for Caring for Yourself by Dr. Zoe Shaw provides a daily practice that will take you about 15 minutes. Start whenever you want and see where it takes you.

The Year the Hugs Went Away

Hug

 

“A hug is a wonderful thing. It’s a marvelous gift to share. It’s a grand way to say; ‘I care.’ A hug communicates support, security, affection, unity, and belonging. A hug shows compassion. A hug brings delight. A hug charms the senses. A hug touches the soul.”

~  Unknown

2020 – the year the hugs went away. What a year it has been!  As a person living alone, I have lacked anyone in my own safe-at-home household to hug for all these months. A few “back hugs” – arms around the shoulders from behind – have been a brief taste of the real thing. Are you in that situation? Who do you know who is?

Individuals have different attitudes about hugging. Some reserve it for intimate relationships within the family – and may even be limited in that expression there. Others – like myself – identify themselves as huggers and apply them generously.

A major venue for hugging for me in the past several years has been within my faith community where we are unapologetic master huggers. Across all the boundaries that often separate us, we hug – genuinely and warmly. The hugs express acceptance, affirmation, inclusion and love. In these months, the hug deprivation is real.

We have stayed with virtual gatherings all these months in commitment to the safety of all of us and of those with whom each of us is connected. We have rejected the modified form of gathering has been adopted by some churches – fewer people, distanced and masked. The risks are not worth it. It’s nearly impossible for me to imagine being in the same space with these dear people and not hugging them. And so the physical separation continues for the well-being of all.

What is so powerful, so profound about hugs? There has been much research done, and the conclusions include the physiological and the psychological impacts. According to “The Power of Hugs: Benefits to your Health” in SteptoHealth.com, hugs release several hormones in our bodies. Hormones are substances produced by one tissue and transported by the bloodstream to another tissue to affect physiological activity. Oxytocin, the attachment or bonding hormone, is released by hugging, as well as serotonin and dopamine, which have a sedative or calming/wellness impact. The impacts of hugs can even be as specific as reducing blood pressure and easing a headache, strengthening the immune system or helping you overcome fear. It is also noted that these effects can persist long after the end of the physical contact.

Psychologically, hugs cause the brain to release endorphins – any of a group of peptide hormones found in the brain that act as neurotransmitters. They promote healing and create feelings of well-being, build self-esteem and bring joy.

We’re missing a lot when we aren’t hugging! Until we can safely hug, what can we do to prevent negative physiological and psychological impacts of hug deprivation? Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW says, ““The paradox of hugs is that though they are quintessentially physical, they can also be enacted mentally. I often invite my patients, if it feels right for them, to imagine someone they feel safe with, including me, holding them. This works because the brain does not know the difference between reality  fantasy in many ways.”

This form of visualization can have a profound impact on us. It flips the script from focusing on the absence of and need for physical hugs to creating at least some of the positive impacts through the power of our minds and imagination. We can remember and recreate nurturing and healing hugs to help tide us over until it’s safe to do in person, in real time.

Will you try it and encourage others who are missing and needing physical hugs to do the same?

Perhaps you’d like to express your virtual hug materially to some special people; check out some options here:

http://carolbrusegar.com/Hugs-Gifts

The Power of Sound to Calm and Heal

Power of Sound

The power of sound to calm and heal has been known for centuries. Sound is extremely effective for helping us manage stress, overwhelm and anxiety. Music is one category of sound, and you may find certain kinds of classical or jazz music calming. While driving my grandchildren from school recently, the local classical radio station played some lovely music and my twelve-year-old grandson commented at least twice about how relaxing it was and asked how to find the station. I was a bit surprised and delighted to hear that.

Nature sounds are another category – waterfalls, bubbling brooks, chirping birds, falling rain, and ocean waves are all calming. Of course, actually experiencing them in nature is wonderful, but recorded and simulated versions are readily available. Perhaps you have used sound machines to help a baby, child or yourself get to sleep. They generally have a similar selection of options to choose from in addition to white noise. Use of a sound machine can be part of sleep training for children that establishes lifelong patterns.

As you noticed in the list above, water is a common inclusion. Taking time alone to simply breathe and allow the calming effect of water to permeate your mind can be powerful. You have probably noticed large water installations in commercial building lobbies. As you walk in, it has a visual and auditory impact. A waterfall or bubbling brook can be included in a yard or garden to add to the ambiance if you have a large space and the resources to do it. There are many options for small indoor fountains/waterfalls that can be used in a bedroom, meditation room, office or any small room at a range of prices. Indoor Water Installations

Discovering the Sounds That Work For You

As with so many things, what is effective for one person may not be for another.  If you would like to try out different sounds to see what is most calming, relaxing, and/or sleep inducing, here are two options:

+ Amazon.com has a variety of CDs, many of which offer a “Listen Now” sample that you can experience immediately.  Some are also available to stream if you are an Amazon Prime member – no CD required. Check it out here: Sound Therapy CDs

+ Free apps are available here, as well as in other places:  https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/10-calming-apps-destress-clear-mind/ Discover what works best for you.

Trying Frequency Sounds to Calm and Heal

The power of sound is reflected and verified in scientific studies. Advanced techniques like frequency sounds which include both healing sounds and binaural beats are available to explore through recordings and apps too. They are effective in reducing stress and in healing. An article in AwarenessAct.com points out that “Frequency sounds can be used to help us as human beings calm down. This is especially important since we’re facing a lot of stressful things right now. We’re seemingly stuck within a huge crisis and it feels like things are going to get worse before they get better…Sound healing, for the most part, is something that uses vibrations through vocal measures or even instruments like gongs to get music that can really work to calm.”  https://awarenessact.com/frequency-sounds-to-calm-you-down-during-times-of-crisis/

At the above link there are several videos holding different healing sounds and binaural beats. Some are hours long so you can have them playing in the background during the day or through the night. Please note the instructions about whether or not headphones are needed to get the full benefit of a particular video.

I am hopeful that this introduction to the power of sound to calm and heal has been helpful and has ignited your interest in using it for yourself and others. Try something new and share what you discover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Developing the Art of Staying In

painting watercolors

We are past the holiday season with winter surrounding us, whatever that looks like where you are. The pandemic has affected everyone. Let’s continue the challenge of developing the art of staying in safely!

Earlier, I offered some ideas for fall that included getting out in nature for activities of various kinds: https://carolbrusegar.com/celebrate-and-enjoy-autumn/ Now let’s focus our plans and activities on things we can do at home safely, possibly with a small number of friends or family.

The art of staying in begins with focusing on activities and pleasures we may not have taken time for in more active seasons. Some will take some time, others are just tweaks of things you may already be doing.

Being Healthier By Using Spices

Many of us are tiring of cooking at home much more than we used to. We may be eating the same few things over and over. New recipes can perk up the rotation; even just adding additional spices can enhance a dish or a beverage. And here’s a bonus – besides tasting great, certain spices are widely considered as “healing spices” that can boost the immune system. Anything we can do to strengthen our body’s ability to fend off colds, flu and other seasonal ailments is especially important this year.

Turmeric is one of the top spices in this category. It is closely related to ginger and has been used for its medicinal benefits for more than 4000 years. It is ideal in rice and chicken dishes. Here’s a simple recipe to try: https://www.food.com/recipe/turmeric-lemon-chicken-19687  Turmeric can be used in teas and other warm beverages. For example, Turmeric Golden Milk which also includes honey and pumpkin pie spice.  https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Turmeric-Golden-Milk-2226958

Cinnamon is a favorite flavor and is used in many fall recipes, especially baked goodies. It is also an antioxidant powerhouse.  Experiment with additional ways to consume more of it this fall. Try adding cinnamon sticks to your water – I like to combine them with apple slices in my infused water – and to hot beverages like apple cider or coffee.

For ideas about using some other immune-boosting spices, go to https://carolbrusegar.com/use-healing-spices-to-boost-immune-system/ .

Scents of Fall DIY Projects

Making your own scrubs, bath salts, candles, etc. is a great self-care activity. The process is enjoyable; the results provide relaxation. In addition, these items are great gifts for others. To get some ideas and “recipes” go here:  https://carolbrusegar.com/scents-of-fall-diy-projects/

Did you make Clove/Orange Pomanders when you were a kid? I did. They add scents of fall, too, and can be artistic projects as well. Check this out for ideas for designs, ways to make them last longer, and ideas for using them. https://www.almanac.com/content/how-make-pomander-balls

Learn Some Watercolor Painting Techniques

At my granddaughter’s birthday party, we had a painting party utilizing a YouTube video to guide us. It was great fun and expanded my interest in similar resources. I found that Jay Lee Painting has a variety of videos teaching watercolor techniques using simple trays of watercolors. You can use heavy art paper rather than canvass and have a relaxing and enjoyable time alone or with others.

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=watercolor+painting+jay+lee

Take Advantage of Online Arts and Other Events

Early in the pandemic, I was intrigued with the number of concerts that were being given online so that musicians and other performers could stay connected with their followers and boost the spirits of anyone who watched. I anticipate a surge of such events as we move into the holiday season. Watch for announcements, check on websites or social media platforms for offerings and enjoy them. For example, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is having its first-ever Virtual Winter Season, December 2–31, 2020. In the spirit of making dance accessible to all, it will be free for everyone to enjoy. What a treat!  For more information: https://www.alvinailey.org/blog/announcing-aileys-virtual-season-dec-2-31 Festivals and other such events are often virtual these days. Find some you are interested in and see what they are planning.

For all of these events, enjoy them alone/with your household, or have some friends tune in at the same time and share the experience by connecting electronically during it.

Developing the art of staying in can be enjoyable and open new vistas and interests at the same time. It can boost your spirits and transform the time at home.

How the pandemic is affecting us continues to change. I invite you to be journaling through these changes if you are not already doing that. I created a free downloadable and printable journal a few months ago at the beginning. It can still be useful.  You can print additional pages as you wish. I also invite you to join this Facebook Group:  http://carolbrusegar.com/Journaling-a-Tool-For-Life

In the journal, I provide some questions/prompts that can help you zero in on your experiences and questions.  So that it is most flexible, those questions/prompts are in list form and you can write about what seems most useful on any given day. Or perhaps you just want to do daily reflections as you go along.

Here’s your link to the direct download: http://carolbrusegar.com/Journaling-Through-Crisis