New Year New You: 5 Tips for a Happy Healthy New Year

Congratulations!  You survived 2020!  Whew!  If you are anything like me, it felt touch and go there for a while. 

Welcome, 2021!  After last year, it will be really easy for you to be better. 

But, how can we be better? Better physically? Emotionally? Mentally?

Five days into 2021 and the world was shocked by riots in Washington, DC.  I had a few friends reach out in utter dismal disappointment.  Five days.  That was all it took for them to feel like they had no hope in the world. 

I introduced this group of friends, whom I love dearly and have known most of my life, to one of the five practices I will share with you today.  That group text went from disappointment and fear to light and edifying.

How can we be the best we can be in 2021?  Here are five simple steps I use that may help you.

Photo by Natasha Fernandez on Pexels.com
  1. Live Loved: Don’t be a slave to emotions.  The last year was a roller coaster of emotions – fear, anger, depression, hope, joy, defiance.  We have all felt them in such intensity for so long, it is easy to forget the most powerful emotion, word, magic, verb in the world: Love. As Lysa Terkerst so aptly put it, “No one can soar to the place of living loved when it’s a performance-based endeavor.” It is time to stop treating ourselves like we are reacting vessels.  It is time to start acting.  Time to reclaim the gift you are to the world.  You are uniquely and wonderfully made for a purpose for a time such as this.  Claim this.  Love yourself.  Love all the uniqueness that is you.  Love the quirks.  Love the weaknesses.  Love the strengths. 
Photo by Jennifer Enujiugha on Pexels.com

2. Love your body: It took one hour for my inbox to be flooded with weight loss and exercise tips and workout boot camp invitations from when the ball dropped on December 31, 2020, and January 1, 2021.  First, let me remind you: the weight loss industry is designed for you to FAIL and they KNOW it.  So, ignore that. You know what you should eat and how you should work out. The healthiest thing you can do is start where you are and love your body. I love the above picture – she is so graceful and confident! Find one thing on your body you like and look yourself in the mirror daily and complement it. Eventually, you will come to love it and be able to find more things to love about yourself. When you love yourself, much like when you love a child, you want what is best for yourself.  See yourself as the healthier version of you now and you will find you start choosing the healthier food at the store, ignoring the food table at gatherings, and investing in the people you are with more. 

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3. Speak Life: This past year has brought out the worst in people.  Our language has turned against each other – our politics, our friends, even our families have been divided over how we view the state of things.  Division is high and our language isn’t helping.  Instead of listening to the views of others, we ignore them.  Unfollow.  Unfriend.  We spread hate and insult those who disagree.  We speak negativity and hate.  But, our words have power.  2021 is a time to take our tongues back.  It is time to speak love and life.  We are uniquely made, so we have different opinions.  That does not make one stupid and the other brilliant.  It means our lives are different and the realities of what is happening in them are different.  Stop. Listen. Then speak love.  When we change our language to love and light we open doors to unity, growth, wonderful friendships, and grand love.

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4. Be grateful: If follow me, you know how much I believe in the power of gratitude.  There is a change that takes place in the heart when we recognize things we are thankful for.  This year, thank you body.  Your body does amazing things all day with your consciously thinking about it.  Blood cells move to make sure organs work. White blood cells come to fight off bacteria and viruses.  You have completely new skin every 27 days! Thank your body.  Your family knows the worst of you (you know what I am talking about) and loves you anyway.  Thank your family. Your teachers, therapists, and doctors are working diligently (some more than 60 hour weeks) to help ensure a healthy and smart community.  Thank them.  I practice a discipline of gratitude daily.  I attempt to write out 3-5 things daily I am grateful for.  This is particularly helpful on those days I am tired or short-tempered.  It recenters me.

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5. Take Chances:  The new year is a great time to evaluate where we are and decide where we are going.  What will your path be this year?  One of anger and hate? One of love and acceptance?  One of accomplishment? One of excuses?  Be honest with yourself when you make this evaluation, and start moving those dreams to goals. Dreams are passing thoughts – goals are paths to reality.  Goal setting can be easy and fun. So dream big and start making the reality you have always wanted. If you are new to goal setting, pick a small goal.  Maybe you want to lose weight and have yo-yo dieted for years.  Instead of a diet, set a goal to drink more water daily, or eat less sugar.  This is quantifiable and you can it in baby steps. The single change will have a big change.  Maybe your goal is to write a book – but you are not sure you’re an author.  Set a goal to write 10-15 minutes two days a week.  This is measurable and will get you in the practice to write the book later.  Whatever the goal, if you survived 2020, you are set up with more grit, strength, and perseverance than you ever had in the past.  Claim that and use it as fuel to take chances of making your dreams a reality.

If 2020 taught me anything, it is that I am stronger than I ever knew and able to do great good.  I want you to know: you are loved.  You are smart.  You are important. You can do all you set your mind to. You are uniquely made for such a time as this. 

I would love to hear your goals and thoughts on how you are going to make 2021 the best year yet. Drop a comment.  If you like what you read, please share.  Together, we can make this world a positive one.

10 Tips to a Peaceful Christmas Season

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Quartine.  Sickness.  Riots.  Arguments.  Politics.  Tantrums. Deadlines. “I wants.” 

Kids home most of the year. Routines completely out of whack. Families apart for the holidays.

It seems like Christmas 2019 was a different world.  This year peace seems so much farther away than usual.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are some of the things my family does year-round to help us remain in peace.  May these simple tips help you and yours this Christmas season.

  1. Deep Breathing: Breathing is essential to life.  Deep breathing is essential to self-control and calmness.  Along with regulating blood pressure, helping relax muscles, deep breathing decreases the stress hormone cortisol – and who doesn’t want less stress? When things seem out of control, take a deep breath.  Recite a favorite verse or proverb and remind yourself, this too will pass.  Here is a great article for Harvard Health on how to make deep breathing a routine.  this more a routine.

2. Go to bed on time (maybe even a little early): For my followers, you know how much I value sleep and the many benefits it gives.  In addition to improving concentration, lowering health issues (like heart and diabetes), sleep is good for emotional response. A study done on this by the Mental Health Foundation found that people that didn’t get enough sleep were four times as likely to suffer from lack of concentration, have relationship problems and 3 times more likely to be depressed, and 2.6 times more likely to commit suicide.

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3. Go outside: Something is calming about being out in nature.  Seeing the colors, feeling the warmth of the sun, or the comfort of a cool breeze, it a sensation unlike any other.  More that, being outside lowers depression and stress, is social, and increases short-term memory and concentration.  But, more than that, it gives the brain a minute to take a break and process the day.  For those who need it, it is also a safe way to take a break from family members or use it as a way to talk through a situation.

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4. Make a list of things you’re thankful for: I am a big proponent of counting blessings. There is something about writing them out that does help shift the mind from a “Woe is me” to a “Blessed is me” attitude.  Gratitude helps physical and psychological health and is a benefit to getting good sleep.    

Reading

5. Read/watch something uplifting:  What we put before our eyes affect what we think and feel.  Ever walk out of the theatre after watching a suspense movie and take extra precaution walking to the car?  This year there has been so much negative news and more movies and shows of intense drama, fear, and, call it what it is, poor behavior.  When I talk to friends and family who have been reading and watching these things, their anxiety and fear are much higher than those who have chosen to spend that same time watching and reading positive and uplifting things.  Positive words are healthy for one’s body and mind.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

6. Listen to uplifting music: Some of us do not have time for books and TV shows.  Instead, we spend our days working and running the household and driving kids to this appointment or that.  But, during that time, we are still taking in messages.  Use this time to listen to what is uplifting.  In the car, limit how much news and talk radio you listen to.  Set a specific time frame and then move on to uplifting audiobooks or music.  At work, create a playlist or station on Spotify or Pandora that is designed to help focus and still brings in good vibes.

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7. Write down your worries…then burn them:  This is one of my favorite things to do.  There is something powerful about writing down the worries.  It gives them a concrete feeling.  And concrete can be destroyed.  Once they are written down, it allows me to see the worry as a challenge with limits.  Once there are limits to the fear, that means there is a way to conquer the fear.  Once I can see the worry is not abstract, I then pray over them and then – burn them. 

8. Spend time with a close friend: When we are busy (or quarantined), it is easy to forget to invest in other relationships.  We forget to do things that bring us joy and help us relax.  But something is refreshing about spending time with people we love.  As a military family, we have lived all over.  It is still my favorite thing to screen time family and friends, not near us.  The apps Marco Polo and Whatapp are particularly great for this because you can send video, text, and audio no matter the time of day for them to open when it works for them.  But, there is something wonderful about sharing a cup of Joe and playing a game or watching a movie together (either in person or on a Zoom). This also helps us carry each other’s burdens and reminds us we are not alone in this. 

9. Enjoy a delicious, nutritious meal: I love food! I also believe it has a major impact on our health, behavior, and attitudes. Health food helps my body to operate better.  But, more importantly, I feel better.  When I feel better physically, I feel better mentally.  I also respond to information with more logic and less emotion. When we are pressed for time and/or overwhelmed, it is easy to let good healthy habits fall by the wayside (especially with the holiday goodies at every turn).   However, taking a little time to eat nutritiously, will change the impact on your life and the life of those in your household.

10. Be playful and laugh a lot! This year, more than most, it has been easier to forget to laugh and play. But these two things are so important to our relationships, heart, and mental health. Adults need recess too! Play is both fun and motivating. Studies show that people and leaders who laugh are more composed in the face of adversity and have a “bright side” mentality.

This Christmas and holiday season, as we are celebrating with new traditions, different people, and face the coming New Year, let’s remember we can be at peace in the face of adversity.  May these tips help you, as they do me and mine, this season and year to come.

9 Steps to Preventing and Stopping the Meltdowns and Tantrums

When people meet my son, they are often taken aback to learn he has a special need.  We are often complimented on how well behaved he is and how polite.  But, life was not always that way.

When our son was younger, could not speak at age five, and could not communicate to us anything without grunts, hitting, and kicking, we often felt like Annie Sullivan with Helen Keller. 

Helen Keller’s first experience with Anne Sullivan (an ABA therapist if ever I saw one)

One Christmas, when he was younger, I remember walking into a store and my son pulling the most epic of tantrums because he could not get the toy he wanted.  This was literally five minutes into walking into the store.

He threw himself on the floor, kicking, thrashing about, and screaming like a banshee.  Words did not help. 

The stares started.  The condescending looks.  My husband and I were faced with a choice: give in and get him what he wanted so badly or stand our ground.

I am stubborn…we stood our ground.

My son did not expect what I did next.  My husband continued with the shopping trip while I hauled our son (kicking and screaming) back to the car. I then put him in his seat, shut the door, and stood outside in the safety and relative peace and quiet.

My son spent the next 15 minutes kicking, screaming, and hitting everything he could reach, in the safety of the car and seat.  I was there ready to open the door at any moment should he become unsafe, or once he calmed down.  The windows were rolled down a bit (all safety precautions were met).

Once he calmed down (and stopped seeing red), my husband and I were able to talk to him about his behavior and how that was unacceptable.

This was our turning point. This was when I began to dig into every parenting book for strong-willed children I could get my hands on, every podcast, Ted Talk, everything I could find out about our son’s needs, how his brain worked, and how we could help him overcome the challenges he was born with.

Here are the top 9 things we learned about how to prevent and stop meltdowns, tantrums, and mayhem.

1.       Start Small: If your child is anything like mine, then you probably want to tackle everything at once.  Potty training.  Tantrums. Cleaning. Manners.  Unfortunately, we do not learn that way. Pick one to three things you want to focus on.  We chose behavior in a store and classroom and transitions from preferred to non-preferred activities.  

2.       Prep: So often I hear of parents who cave in the market check out line when their child starts a tantrum.  Or parents tell me of how exhausted they are from calls from the school and parent-teacher conferences.  I get it.  We could time the first call from the school to the exact day in the school year (Monday week three).  We once had three parent-teacher conferences in the first week and a half of school.  What we learned, prep.  Prep the child with what is expected of them and what they will earn if they accomplish it. Prep the teachers what is expected of both child and teacher.  Teachers have to be on board.  We had a system where I texted the teacher daily what our son was earning and the expectations.  This was helpful for consistency throughout the day.

3.       Be Consistent: I am a big proponent of this and will say it again.  Consistency is key.  If your child thinks he plays a parent against the other, if she thinks she can get away with something at school and not at home, if a child sees a weakness in defenses anywhere – they will exploit it! Be consistent and work as a team.

4.       Incentivize: I get the most push-back on this.  “I don’t want to bribe my child.”  “I don’t want my child thinking they get a treat just for making choices expected of them.”  “I don’t want to bribe my child.” I get that.  First, an incentive is not a bribe.  A bribe is reactionary – an in the moment choice: “If you stop throwing a fit, then I will get you the candy you are hollering about.”  This teaches the child that enough public humiliation for you as the parent gets them what they want.  An incentive is a contract.  A contract between parent and child of what is expected on both sides.  If you keep your hands in your pocket in the store/if you use please and thank you/if you finish your homework without asking, then you get a balloon/piece of candy/star on your chart.  This is actually a great way to start teaching finances and economy as this is a practice we adults use daily.  Work an hour and I will pay you $10.00, don’t complete the work well, and you are fired. Instead of hourly work, they are doing task work – like an independent contractor.

5.       Diet: Food affects behavior.  Food was not something we originally tracked. I am so glad we did.  By tracking his food, in combination with behavior, we learned that within 24 hours (to the minute) of having dairy, our son would have very negative behavior.  We learned that when he ate a lot of processed food, high sugar foods, his focus decreased and his attitude was negative. We later learned this was because he was having stomach issues (he couldn’t tell us his stomach hurt).  A great cookbook that helped us get started on a healthier diet for him is The Brain Food Cook Book, written by a mom of a special need’s kiddo.  I have to say, some of our favorite recipes are in this book, and the tips on how to do this without breaking the bank and how the brain works is incredible.  Our son’s neurologist concurred and said it was because of his diet and his oxidated stress regime, our son did not need medication for his migraines and other neurological issues.

6.       Medication: If you can avoid it, I personally recommend avoiding medication.  In our experience, when Kennedy Krieger doctors told us they don’t know enough about the need and effect of medication long-term on children, we were very hesitant.  However, the school system we were in at the time, told us without medication they would not teach our child.  The daycare echoed this.  (NOTE: This is not legal, and we should have fought it, but didn’t know at the time we could).  The medication prescribed was only approved in adults with heart conditions.  The bi-product was helping with behavior in children, but no long-term studies had been done.  We later learned (three years on the mediation), that there were studies showing his medication could lead to cancer long term.  They did help.  If that is what you think is best for your child, do what is best for your child. 

7.       Oxidated Stress: This an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage.  This occurs naturally.  There are some peer-reviewed studies showing this affects everything from thyroids (almost 5,000), cancers (nearly 90,000), ADHD (nearly 2,000), and Autism (nearly 3,000). How do you combat this naturally occurring process? Fruits and vegetables are a start.  We also switched to “clean” cleaning products (chemical free), decreased screen time, and increased time outside. We incorporated Protandim into our life.  After a month on this vitamin, our son’s monthly to quarterly ER visits for stomach migraines decreased to none in the past three years, our son’s focus and attention increased (he is 11 reading at a ninth-grade level and taking a college music course), and he has been completely off medication for three years (taken off under the care of his physician).  We get ours from Life Vantage (patented formula).

8.       Track: It is important to only start one behavioral change at a time.  Introducing too many variables at once will not let you know which ones do anything.  We started with diet, then added medication, then dealt with oxidated stress – which eventually got him completely off medication.  Track measurable things – how often the school calls, grades, attention while reading, how long it takes to complete a task. Below are some great resources we used, and use, to help us. I recommend making them editable and laminating them. This reduces waste and allows you modify based on age and behavior. Dry erase markers work great on these.

9.       Celebrate and Recycle: Celebrate the win! Talk with your child about how proud you are of their progress. Celebrate the hard work it took them to accomplish that goal. Then, start the process over on a new behavior or more advanced behavior.  Humans should never stop learning and growing.  This is especially important for children.  When one thing is mastered, move on to the next level or new behavior. 

For more ideas on how to help avoid meltdowns and mayhem, take a look at my Facebook page.

Re-set During #Socialdistancing

Man laying down on steps of building during daylight hours
Man laying down on steps of building

Before #socialdistancing exercise, eating right, and balance seemed much easier.  Motivation was easy – people see you.  Who wants to look like a louse in public? 

But as #socialdistancing extends, the leggings, carbs and time in front of the TV are preferable to almost anything else.  No one wants to look at the scale.

For kids with sensory needs, this is even more important as the sensory input of a workout resets the chemistry in the brain.  This helps with focus, self-control, and skill development.

Countless studies show exercise is critical to health.  But there is a developing field of study in how exercise actually helps impact the neuron pathways in the brain.  ABA, Occupational Therapists, even parents, can attest to the importance of a regular sensory workout program (SWP) in helping children with special needs, indeed all children, with coping, focus, and development.

How does one do this in the home?  When we can’t leave?

Here are some things that work for us.

Hanging out in the sensory room playing on the ropes, rock wall and rings.
Hanging out in the sensory room

Sensory Room

A sensory room is designed to help someone regulate their brain using external sensory input.  That is technical speak for “help re-center yourself.”  Sensory rooms have been shown to have calming effects, help improve focus, increase socialization, and help with all sorts of development (both neurological and physical.

We discovered this importance when our son was about five.  He needed a place to get all his wiggles out, calm down, and enjoy himself. 

Our room is the garage.  In this room, we have an art table, a basketball hoop, rock wall, ropes, and a punching bag. 

This room is a place where we presently do out occupational therapy, but when it is not used for therapy, it is also a “fort” (which every kid needs).  A sensory room grows with the child.  This room is the “hang out” place for playdates, it is the escape from parents when angry place, and a place for a great work out for parents place as well.

Ideas on how to create a sensory workout program
Ideas on how to create a sensory workout program

Sensory Workout

No one likes working out.  Even those who say they do – don’t.  They like the after-effects. 

That is true for our kiddos too.  Working out is hard.  But a necessity of life.

A sensory work out is not that different than a regular work out. I do recommend getting with your occupational therapist before starting one, as each work out is different depending on the person.

Usually, a workout will consist of some combination of proprioceptive (deep pressure to joints and calming/organizing), vestibular (excites, usually circulatory and rhythmic), touch, smell, breathing, and auditory input.  It does not usually go longer than 30 minutes and can be done easily at home or at school.

We have been known to do wall push-ups and squats in grocery stores, joint pressure at restaurants and them parks, and always have some sort of audio and smell for calming wherever we go.  We like citrus oils for focus before school ad lavender oils for calming after.

Sensory Tent
Sensory Tent

Sensory rest

Just as every fitness instructor will say a warm-up and cool down are important for every workout, sensory rest is just as essential for every person.

A 2018 study showed an average adult (18+ years old) spends over 11 hours a day looking at a screen.  That is 45.83% of the 24-hour day.  If you a lot for 8 hours of sleep (which we don’t usually get), that is 68.75% of our day in front of a screen!   Is it any wonder we need a reset?

In our house, we each have space and activity that works for us.

My husband goes on long runs and he and I will do a kickboxing or boxing workout on the punching bag at least once a week (sometimes more).

My son and I like to do yoga together.  The meditation and combination of proprioceptive and vestibular input are super calming.  I prefer something like YogaShred where he prefers the stories of Cosmic Kids Yoga.

We also both love heavy blankets! 

My son also has a tent in his room he often withdraws to where he reads, draws, plays with Lego. 

Workout gear

I know it is hard to feel settled during #socialdistancing.  It is hard during regularly scheduled programming as well.  Try and find some ways this week to help re-set.  Re-center. Refresh.  Let me know what  works for you and your kiddos or if you want some more ideas on how to use what you already have in your home to make a sensory diet.

COVID-19 and the Real World or How to Survive Social Distancing

Corona Virsu COVID-19 microscope hazmat

In case you have been living under a rock, COVID-19 is a real thing. More deaths than the average flu.  Towns are shut down.  Travel shut down. School shut down.   In just a few short weeks, the world has discovered the #introvertadvantage.

Fear is rampant.  Families separated.  Hospitals are overrun.  Is there any other story in the media today?

Kids are home, out of routine, lonely and increasingly scared.  Being a parent has taken on a new back-breaking load – how to keep your kids calm in the middle of this crazy storm.

Here are some tips on how to help your kids find peace and clarity in this colossal hurricane of COVID-19.

What our first home school schedule looked like

Keep a routine. Humans, by nature, thrive on routine.  From getting up and ready to going to bed at night, we operate through a routine.  Take out the most central part of a child’s day and you are set up for chaos.  School is not just a place to learn about math, science, and literature.  It is a place of friendship building, community development, and space.  Space from parents and siblings (in some cases).  So throughout this time, set a routine where school is apart of the day.  Include some breaks from each other.  Include some video telecalls to their friends and family.  And remember, this too shall pass.

My kiddo doing his part sending some love to the Senior Citizens

Find ways to help.  The community is only as strong as its weakest link.  There are many ways to help from home.  Remember, nonprofits and churches still operate their community funds.  They still need income to ensure the homeless have food, the low income can pay the electric bill (which just went up because people are home more), and safe places for an escape from the dangerous.  If you already give, keep giving.  If you don’t, I encourage you to start.  Want to be more hands-on, Neighbors Helping Neighbors is providing training on how to help neighbors safely.  Help the truck drivers with a meal (you are still getting deliveries, but their rest stops are closed).  Even the smallest act of kindness goes a long way.

The little one’s Sanctuary.

Have a sanctuary.  Refuge and safety are more important today than ever.  When people are crammed together, they have shorter tempers and we humans tend to get a bit crazy.  A small space you can call your own, escape to in the chaos of the house, that is simply yours is valuable when there is not a pandemic.  It is even more valuable now.  Ensure some sanctuary and calming time is a part of your schedule.  Outside on the back porch or inside a closet of the house…whatever works for you.

Emerald Coast Sunset

Get outside. Cabin Fever WILL set in and it is a REAL thing.  In 1918, the Influenza pandemic swept through the world much like COVID-19.  There were two ways to treat patients.  Inside and outside.  What a Boston, MA hospital discovered was a combination of fresh air, sunlight, scrupulous standards of hygiene, substantially reduced deaths among some patients and infections among medical staff.  So go outside.  Enjoy the sunshine.  Remember that the sky is blue and the sun is bright and the breeze feels so good on your skin. 

Being creative with #paintbynumber…I haven’t broken my need for lines and regulations yet. 🙂

Be creative and productive.  It is easy to think you are stuck within the cell that is now your home.  But you are in a world equipped with so much to be entertained in – without turning on your TV.  Plan an instrument?  Play it.  Have some paper laying around?  Write.  Legos?  Build.  Paint.  Color. Draw.  Or, for those social media addicts, get online and recite poetry, sing, dance, get goofy!  We all need a little happier.  Depression and loneliness are real things.  These get even worse in isolation.  So, enjoy being a goof for people to laugh at or sing a song for people to love.  It might be the one thing that saves a life.  If you are feeling suicidal or depressed, there is help.  Call the National Suicide line 1-800-273-8255 for help. 

The family that sweats together stays healthy together. Workout run (in safety gear). Quarter miles sprints!

Work Out. Chill Out.  Stress is high and endorphins are low.  Be sure you are fueling your body and your mind as we walk through this new “normal.”   30 minutes of cardio a day is great.  This can be easily accomplished by a walk outside (no neighbors necessary), a run on a treadmill if you have one, or numerous free workouts on YouTube and Amazon Prime.  Just search your favorite activity and you will be bombarded with choices from yoga to kickboxing and dance.  For those of you on Wii – don’t forget about Wii Fit.  There are so many options.  Have fun with it.  For a special challenge, join the 30 Day #5fitchallenge with #SOFLFit5 (Special Olympics Florida).  IT is a great way to hold yourself and your special kiddo accountable to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Use this time to be productive. Whether that means working on those summer abs, catching up on that reading list, finishing those household projects, or whatever, remember, your kids will follow your lead. So, whatever you do, remember this too shall pass.  We are more than conquerors.  We are the light.  Be the light.  Be love.  Choose joy.