Social connection is the healing bond that keeps us centered. When we disengage from the world, withdraw from our loved ones or wander down the path of isolation, we aren’t able to cope as well.

According to the new book, Manage Your Stress: Overcoming Stress in the Modern World, love heals. We all know this, but what is surprising is that a lack of social connection is more toxic than smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, obesity or a lack of exercise. That’s pretty significant when you think about it. You could be the physically fittest person on the planet, but without someone to love, and be loved by, you’re in bad shape after all.

A dear friend of mine entered the hospital yesterday for a fairly routine operation, but before he did, he reached out to me to tell me how scared he was. He needed reassurance and I was so glad to give it to him. It helped him manage his stress better and I felt good for being there.

That’s what it’s all about. Being there for each other to manage the ups and downs of life.

So if you are feeling stressed, reach out to someone you love today. It’s the best win-win situation you could create for yourself. And you’ll live longer, and better, for it too.

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The Weight of Words

August 20, 2012

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Wanna make a bet? I’ve never agreed with that saying. For anyone who has been bullied before, words can do more damage than a machine gun.

Words have more power in the material world than we think. Japanese researcher Dr. Masaru Emoto  revolutionized how we think about the energy of words when he published his work on how water crystals react to certain terms, photography or music.

The reaction the water had to the word peace looks like this:

The word truth had this response:

The negative term you fool gave the water crystal the following form:

I’m beginning to see a pattern here, are you?

Words in the form of fiction can also have an amazing influence on our lives. Through books, screenplays and short stories, we get to travel to far off worlds without leaving our easychair. In fact, Annie Murphy Paul reported for the New York Times about a York University study in Canada headed up by psychologist Ramyond Mar, that found “individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.”

Darmouth College’s Geoff Kaufman teamed up with Lisa Libby at Ohio State University to prove that literature can truly have a profound impact on our self-understanding, attitudes and even behaviors. In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 103, No. 1, 1-19, 2012), they report on the phenomenon they’ve termed “experience-taking“. Essentially, you take on the fictional character’s experience as your own.

The neat thing is our brains can’t distinguish between reading about an experience and actually encountering it in real life, which is maybe why the more teary-eyed folks among us cry so easily when reading a good book or seeing a good movie (I am one of them. I admit. You know that scene in Spielberg’s 2011 flick, War Horse, where the British and the German soldiers gather together in no-man’s land to free the horse from the barbed wire fence in a momentary act of peace and purpose? Yea, I was bawling, people. Bawling I was!). If a book is good, I cry at the end too. It’s that empathy thing, like saying goodbye to a dear friend you won’t see for a long, long time.

Because in your mind, you are. Those characters are real, dammit! Who needs reality TV when you can enter a fantasy world by opening a book at any time?

If you have ever written fiction, you will know that those characters come knocking at your door at all hours of the night, wanting to be heard, formed and plopped into the storyline of your own creation. They can be pretty adament, too. I have a few slumbering in my head myself. Maybe I’ll let them out to play on the page a little more.

And when I do, you’ll get to be a part of the fantasy too.

For now, I offer you this three-minute video to illustrate the power of words. May you choose yours carefully and with all the kindness you possess.

Mind Mapping the Slow

August 17, 2012

The folks at MindMaple approached me with an irresistible offer to try out their new mind mapping software. Having never created a mind map before, I felt a little daunted, but the software was so easy, even someone as non-technical as myself could grasp the concept quite readily.

If you are looking for a snazzy way to shape up your power point presentations,  your office walls or even your screen saver, check out MindMaple. They offer a lite, free version so if you don’t want the bells and whistles, try it instead.

And for those of you who are curious what I came up whilst trying out the software myself, I offer you this. Slow. In true colors.

 

You can’t argue with the American Heart Association when it says leisure-time activities are good for you. Especially when it plunks down a longitudinal study that proves it.

In a new study that was just published in the AHA journal, Circulation, more than 4,200 participants (average age 49) reported the duration and frequency of their leisure-time physical activities such as brisk walking, vigorous gardening, cycling, sports, housework and home maintenance.

“It’s not just vigorous exercise and sports that are important,” said Mark Hamer, Ph.D., study lead author and associate professor of epidemiology and public health at University College in London, U.K.

“These leisure-time activities represent moderate intensity exercise that is important to health. It is especially important for older people to be physically active because it contributes to successful aging.”

Overall, 49.1 percent of the participants met the standard physical activity recommendations for cardiovascular health (2.5 hours per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity). The rate reached 83 percent in subsequent phases of the study as the participants entered retirement.

“We have shown that retirement seems to have a beneficial effect on physical activity levels,”  Hamer said.

The benefits of exercise cannot be denied. It can keep you vital in all areas of your life.

So what activities can you engage in this week to get that body moving? Gardening? Cycling? Something else? Whatever you do, get that blood pumping.

It’s good for you. And your heart too.

 

In Deep Water

July 14, 2012

The other day I read a great saying: “If you get into deep water, dive.”

That says it all.

Courtesy of Orlando Family Magazine

Sometimes we get into situations in which we feel we are over our heads. Last year I was commissioned to write a full-length statistics-laden report for a client. For those of you who know me, I’m a wordsmith, not a bean counter. So when it came to analyzing, dissecting and evaluating all that data, I felt like a fish out of water. Or a person in the deep. Waaaaaay too deep!

So I dove into it with everything I had, asking for help when I needed it and coming out alive at the end. It was, needless to say, one of the most intellectually stretching experiences of my life.

And I got to do it all over again this year. But because I had already been equipped with a level of experience, the deep dive felt a little less taxing. My lungs didn’t feel like they would burst as I scrubbed the ocean floor, mining for meaning in a sea of percentages. We altered the graphics to make it more appealing to readers and I built an overarching narrative to make it more readable (once a writer, always a writer. I couldn’t help myself!).

If you are confronted with a new situation that feels less than comfortable, put on your wet suit and plunge into it with eyes wide open. What do you see? What fears arise? Allow them to be there because they want to be heard. Love them to ease their pain, then let those fears go like water between your fingers.

If you are in deep water, you won’t sink unless you let panic take over. Trust that you have everything you need to make it through. The Universe offers us so many opportunities to grow. So dive right in and give it a try. You might just surprise yourself at what you are truly capable of!

Lessons from the Iceman

June 14, 2012

The season of Ötzi’s discovery (Fall 1991) was a very impactful time in my life. Just three days after stepping off the plane in Vienna, Austria, I heard the news of a married couple who had found a man, frozen in a glacier between South Tirol and Austria, near the Ötztal. The story of the oldest man on earth tore through the media. While I perfected my German that fall, the rest of the world was uncovering the mysteries of man.

A confluence of events led to his discovery. The glacial ice melted away just at the point where the Iceman was found. His belongings, as well as his body, were so well preserved that we were able to learn that the Copper Age started a full 1,000 years earlier than scientists had originally thought. And the married couple? They spontaneously decided to take the route they did.

Fate? Fortune?

In my view, everything unfolds exactly as it is meant to. The magic of life requires nothing other than to simply dance to the unfolding. Why resist new ideas? Brilliance may be just one ice cube away.

New scientific discoveries are exciting and serve as a reminder that we must frequently reconsider our own belief systems. Gallileo and Einstein are two major paradigm-shifters that come to mind.  Challenging the status quo takes courage, but if you know something to be true, then there’s no denying it.

So good Old Ötzi had to wait 5,300 years to be discovered. Obviously, he’s a patient man. And a frozen one. On view at the Ötzi museum in Bolzano, Italy. It’s well worth a visit, if you’re interested. And don’t miss the artist’s sculpture of what they think Ötzi must have looked like. It’s hauntingly realistic. If you peer closely, you might just see him wink!

The Meaning of Leap Year

February 29, 2012

“I wish I had 24 more hours to do all that I need to do,” you say.

Welp, Leap Year affords you just that.

Only it’s not really because you wished upon a star. It’s more because the Earth goes around that star called the sun 1/4 of a day later than our Gregorian calendar allows. So, every four years we tack on a day to ensure spring comes on March 21. Otherwise, at some point we’d be looking at Labor Day before the daffodils started to bloom. And that would be confusing.

Time is embedded in geophysical reality. That is, our construct called time is based on the Earth’s movements. So the next time you’re “out of time”, remember you always have that extra 24 hours in the even years and those divisible by 400. For more information on Leap Year, check out this page.

What are you going to do with this extra day today?