1440 Minutes Per Day

A Guilt-free Self-care Tool: Your Edge to Greater Health, Happiness, and Productivity.

By Debbie Lyn Toomey RN, CIPP

I am so busy that I don’t have time to enjoy the nice weather.

I am so busy that I don’t have time to read a good book.

I am so busy that I don’t have time to take a break.

I am so busy that I don’t have time to yadda, yadda, yadda.

If you are like so many others who are stressed from working hard and have little time to tend to your basic needs, then you are not alone. It’s important to take time throughout the day to take care of yourself so that you can become more positive, productive, and have greater peace of mind. It’s simpler than you think. Instead of removing yourself from work to take care of your needs, all you have to do is infuse micro-moments of guilt-free self-care so that you feel good and are able to do good.

1440 minutes/day

I hate to break it to you but no matter how busy you are, you
do have time for self-care. If you don’t claim it, nobody will do it for you. Did you know that you have exactly 1440 minutes a day? So, why not mindfully take a few minutes of self-time so that you can work smarter instead of harder.

Self-Care is “Self-Time”

Some hardworking people haven’t fully grasped the importance of self-care at work. They don’t understand that it is a key component of stress management. Some feel it’s a selfish act or that it’s a waste of time. I disagree. As a Health and Happiness Specialist, I believe that self-care is our edge to a greater health, happiness, and productivity. For those who have a difficult time understanding the significance of self-care, try viewing it as self-time to collect yourself mentally and physically and to take care of your basic needs so that you can be fully present and impactful for the rest of the day.

Self-Care Restores Health

While nobody has the ability to stretch time we do have the power to make time for ourselves. Whether it is 2 minutes of quiet time or one personal day, it’s important to take time to restore your mind-body health. Micro-moments of self-care quiet our busy minds and refuel our bodies.

Self-Care Makes Us Happy

A little bit of self-care can go a long way. It can shift our mentality from feelings of sadness to happiness. Think of the last time you heard your favorite workout tune while sitting in traffic. How did it make you feel? Although you weren’t working out, didn’t it make you happy and feel re-energized? The few minutes that you took listening to that song was self-care! Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. It just needs to be claimed and appreciated every chance we can take it.

Self-Care & Productivity

My new tagline is “Happy Person. Healthy Workplace.” Positivity in the workplace is created by happy workers (leaders included). In order for happy workers to exist, the workplace must make it the expected culture of the workplace for its employees to take breaks and to take time for self-care. According to the Harvard Business Review (March, 2015) Positivity in the workplace leads to greater productivity in the company. Many companies like Google, Yahoo, and Proctor and Gamble are investing money to provide their employees with wellness programs for stress reduction because they understand the importance of having a healthy and happy employee and their impact on the company’s bottom line.

The Edge

Even though you may not be working for companies like Google or Yahoo, here is a quick tip that many of my clients enjoy. I like it because they can do it anywhere and anytime. You can do this technique while getting ready for the day, waiting in traffic, or sipping from your first cup of coffee. All you have to do is to remember to do it. You can begin right now by asking yourself this question.

“What does self-care look like for me today?”

Once you answer the question, allow it to be your self-care promise to yourself that day. Every day may be different depending on what you are doing and who you are with. Self-care for you might be going outside for a 5-minute walk to clear your mind and get some fresh air or it could be closing your office door and turning off all electronics for 5-10minutes for quiet time. Or it could be taking deep breathes on your way to your next meeting. Trust in the answer that comes to you and notice how much better you feel during the day.

Just Ask

Asking this question is simple yet powerful and it can make a huge difference in your day. Try this guilt-free self-care tool for the next week and notice how much better you feel. If you are interested in learning more ways to boost your health, happiness, and success visit www.HealthandHappinessSpecialist.com to learn how we can work together.

 

 

Five Self-Care Tips for the Sandwich Generation & Caregivers

Five Self-Care Tips for the
Sandwich Generation & Caregivers
By Debbie Lyn Toomey


Do you remember your first job?

I do. My first job was working at a local sub and pizza shop. It was great! I gained so much from that job that if I didn’t work there, I wouldn’t have had a Junior prom date, met my future husband, or learned how to make a killer sausage, pepper and onion sub. The wide range of multitasking life skills that I learned from making subs prepared me for what lay ahead in life as a wife, mother, professional, and daughter of aging parents. It helped me accept being sandwiched. I am a part of the sandwich generation, a generation that has her own family and aging parents.

Sandwiched

The term “sandwich” generation was coined by social worker, Dorothy A. Miller MSSW. She described them as a generation of adults who are “sandwiched” between their own parents and their grown children and subjected to mental, emotional, or financial stress. The Pew Research Center states that, “one out of every eight Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 care directly for an aging parent while an additional seven to ten million Americans help their parents or other aging relatives even from a long distance.” This number is expected to increase due to the number of aging baby boomers.

Full

Don’t get me wrong! I am not complaining. In fact, I consider myself extremely lucky. My life is full. It’s wonderful to live close to my parents because we get to look out for each other. For example, my three boys help out with the garden, snow shoveling, and heavy lifting. At times, I make extra food to drop off to my parent’s house and vice a versa. It’s a win-win situation. I get to look after all the people that I love closely. I consider it an act of love, a duty, and a blessing; not a burden.

Burnt

Life is good when everyone is healthy. It’s not so good when someone gets sick or needs surgery. I remember getting a case of “walking pneumonia” after helping to take care of both my mother who had her first hip surgery and also my father who needed emotional support. The stress from worrying about my parents, working a full-time job and taking care of my own family made me get sick. It wasn’t until I saw the doctor weeks later, after feeling weak and short of breath, that I found out I had pneumonia!

Stress

The stress of it all made me sick. I felt worried about my parents. I didn’t sleep well from working different shifts at the hospital and also from being worried. I became impatient and irritable with my family about little things because I was tired. I would cry when no one was around because I didn’t want people to think I was weak or afraid. This negative spiral of stress and worry eventually made me ill. I will never forget that time because it was then that I realized how important self-care is for caregivers.

Five Tips

My bout with pneumonia gave me a self-protective and self-loving view of health for the caregiver. Here are five tips that can help the sandwich generation or caregivers become more stress resilient:

1. Positivity: See this time in your life as special because you are at the peak of your life. A time when you know better and can do better for those you love. The more you see the good in this situation the better. It will fuel your spirit instead of making you feel bitter and burdened. See all the good in your life.

2. Sleep: The more sleep you can get the more you will be effective and emotionally fit. Sleep is your best ally during these stressful times. Take naps when needed. Close your eyes and rest.

3. Savor: Open your eyes to all the love you have around you during this time in your life. Be grateful to have your kids, your spouse, and your parents around. Someday, someone will not be there and everything will change. Open your eyes and your heart.

4. Outlet: Give yourself permission to feel angry, frustrated, or resentful. You are human and these are normal feelings to have when something is not right in your life. A great way to let go of these emotions is talking with someone who cares about you. Give yourself permission to be human.

5. Exercise: Physical activity is great outlet for stress. It is a great use of your energy and it will make you feel better about doing something proactive towards your health. Take walks or go for a run to clear your mind.

Privilege

Next time you are eating at the dinner table with those you love, think about how lucky you are because life can change in a single moment. It’s a privilege to be a part of the sandwich generation because it’s an opportunity for me to help out my parents and also a way for me to further demonstrate to my boys how families take care of each other. I hope you enjoyed these the five tips. If you need further support on how to take care of yourself during these difficult times, contact me at info@HealthandHappinessSpecialist.com for coaching.

50 Shades of Pink: Learn 3 Winning Ways to Make Hard Decisions Easier

Hot pink.

Wild strawberry.

Deep pink.

Oh, MY!

These where just three of the many shades of pink I was teased with yesterday as I waited to get my long-awaited manicure and pedicure. Since it’s been many years since I pampered my nailbeds, I wanted to pick the perfect shade of pink that will make the experience amazing.

Minutes Later

As I sat on the chair waiting for my turn, I was told to look at the different array of colors to choose. Because I’ve already decided on the color pink, I immediately discounted other colors that were not pink, since I thought it would make it easier for me. I was surprised 30 minutes later when it was time to pick my color that I still could not make up my mind because there were over 50 shades of pink to pick from!

Pink Enough

Even though I had a half an hour looking over dozens of shades of pink, I still could not make up my mind. After a while, I started laughing at my inability to make a choice fearing it wouldn’t be the pink for me. The perplexed and patient nail technician started to give me advice.

“No.” she said, “that’s too light for you skin.”

“No. That’s too dark.”

“I like this one.” She said as she pointed to pink color number 27.

Tyranny of Choice

What was supposed to be an hour of peace and pampering, became a moment of fear of making a mistake. In my mind, I didn’t want to make the wrong choice and pay for it in more ways than one. This is an example of the tyranny of choice that Barry Schwartz has discovered in his research. According to this researcher, while having some choices can make our lives better, there can be a psychologically paradoxical effect when we have too many choices.

Barry Schwartz’s research states that having too many choices can be linked to unhappiness. Moreover, your decision-making personality can lead to regret and depression. There are two basic personalities according to his study. There are the “maximizers” who need to research and contemplate their decision to death in order to make sure their choice was the perfect one. On the other hand, there are the “satisficers” who easily find and make their decisions based on their standards and needs. The “maximizers” tend to waste a lot of time and gain little happiness while the “satisficers” are able to go about their lives more efficiently and with more enjoyment.

Which one are you?

Knowing which one you are will help you with your decision making. The more you are aware of your tendencies to more you can work with them.

3 Winning Ways

While it’s good to have choices, it doesn’t have to be a time-wasting and overwhelming ordeal. Here are three winning ways to make hard decisions easier and better for you.

1. Choose your battle. Realize that not all choices need to be scrutinized under the microscope. This will give you more control over your decision-making and allow you to enjoy the situation.

2. Prepare a game-plan. Create a decision-making plan that has wiggle room for you to be satisfied. Have plan A, B, and C that you will be happy with.

3. Limit your time. Time yourself. Sometimes, the best decisions are made when little time is at hand because it causes us to focus on what is truly important.

Pretty in Pink

Next time you find yourself in a bind and can’t decide what you want, try these three suggestions, so you can come out feeling good about yourself. If you’re wondering about which pink shade I decided to go with for my nails, I chose the one that the nail technician suggested – number 27. Why? It was pink, and the basic color I wanted in the first place. It made me happy. I left the nail salon with a smile on my face and thinking about the next color I want to try.

More Happiness

Looking for additonal ways to gain more happiness in your life? Get my book, The Happiness Result, More time, More health, More love, More success. It could be the best choice you make today. Click here to get the book, http://thehappinessresult.com/

Emotional Intelligence (EQ): Important for Work/Life Success

Emotional Intelligence (EQ): Important for Work/Life Success
By Debbie Lyn Toomey

“What really matters for success, character, happiness and lifelong achievements is a definite set of emotional skills – your EQ — not just purely cognitive abilities that are measured by conventional IQ tests.”  — Daniel Goleman

When I was a little girl, I spent much of my time watching movie classics such as The Ten Commandments, The Sound of Music, Little Women, etc. I loved the stories and admired the way the main characters managed themselves during trying times. I marveled at the way the characters controlled their temperaments and were able to sense how to communicate effectively with their families and their foes. I believe they used emotional intelligence (EQ) to succeed in order to survive.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

I believe these main characters had high EQs. They all had a great sense of self and were able to use that knowledge to control and manage how they related to others. They demonstrated in their own way wonderful leadership qualities such as charisma, humor, and humility. According to Psychology Today, “Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.” While traditionally a high IQ was thought to be the determining factor for success, researchers have recently discovered that people with high EQ have a much higher chance of personal and professional success.

Work and Life

In today’s fast-paced world of anxiety, aggression, and distraction, emotional intelligence has never been more important both at work and in life. EQ can boost levels of happiness, enhance relationships, deepen connections, and improve quality of life. EQ helps you become more resilient and separates the “star performer from the rest of the pack,” according to Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

Get Started

Everyone has a certain level of EQ.  Even though there are people who are born with a higher EQ than others, there are ways to increase this talent. Fortunately, experts like Daniel Goleman believe EQ can be learned. When practiced, these skills will strengthen your character and enhance the story of your whole life. While there are many ways to boost your EQ, here are three ways to get started.

  1. Mindfulness– be present. Notice the body language of others and be mindful of your own as well. Listen fully to what they are saying and allow them to talk. Ask questions and relay back what you just heard. Doing this will help them know that you are fully engaged with them.
  2. Self-awareness– know thyself. The more you know and accept your strengths, weakness, and triggers, the more you can manage how you act and interact with others. This will help you during any unforeseen conflicts in life.
  3. Empathy– be in tune. As you talk with someone, pay attention to what the other person is saying and how they are saying it. Tune into the slight changes in their body language, vocal tone, and listen to the words that they are saying. Notice the emotions that you are picking up from them during the interaction. Study the other person carefully.

More

Have fun with these skills. Practice them when at home and at work. Allow them to become a positive habit for you so that you will gain the success that you are looking for. To learn more ways to become more mindful, self-aware, and empathic get my book, The Happiness Result. More time, More health, More love, More success. This book covers seven simple techniques to create your happy and awesome life. For coaching support or to bring a positivity in the workplace program to your company, contact me at info@HealthandHappinessSpecialist.com.

7 MINDFUL GIFTS: “The Present IS the Gift”

7 MINDFUL GIFTS: “The Present IS the Gift.”

How to Reduce Stress and Save Money this Holiday Season.

By Debbie Lyn Toomey

just-for-you

Stop!

Look.

 Listen.

Breathe this holiday season.

Just because it is the busiest time of the year, it doesn’t mean you have to be hustling and bustling. Don’t you do enough of that the rest of the year anyway? One of the best practices to do this time of the year is mindfulness. What better way to fully enjoy the spirit of the season than to combine this graceful technique with gift giving?

New Tradition

This year, I invite you to start a new tradition. I call it “The Present IS the Gift.” This simple tradition will help you reduce the pressure and panic that comes from little time or energy when getting ready for the holidays and buying gifts. Why not “bag” that old negative feeling and shift to a positive one? Replace stress with savoring the moment. And instead of buying expensive gifts that will lose value after a few weeks, try giving priceless ones that will be treasured by both you and the recipient for many years to come. Too good to be true? Not really. In fact, this tradition is guaranteed to be fun for you and those who are lucky enough in your life to receive this special present. This new practice will help you end the year merry and begin the new one with prosperity.

Fun and Free

The practice of mindfulness is about being in the present moment and savoring the experience. So why not add an element of mindfulness to the way you think about the gifts you are going to give? Be creative with your gifts and challenge yourself to make if fun and free. In this day of instant gratification, many people can get what they want 24/7. It’s getting more and more difficult to buy something special for someone. That is why the more unique you can make your gift, the more enjoyable and exciting it will be for both you and the other person. Mindful gift giving ideas are activities that have the power to boost your communication, increase your level of happiness, and enhance your relationships. In other words, a mindful gift is a gift that keeps on giving.

 The Presents

 Here are 7 Mindful Gifts that will get you started in “The Present IS the Gift” tradition.

  1. Date: Dedicate a day for the lucky recipient. If you can, take a day off from work just to spend quality time with him or her. This will give you a break from your normally busy life and make the recipient feel extra special.
  1. Declutter: Out with the old. In with the new. This invites new and positive energy into your special someone’s life. Got friends or family who have been trying to declutter but are too overwhelmed and busy to do it alone? Present them a homemade card that says you will be there to help get the job done.
  1. Donate: Instead of buying gifts for each other. Suggest to your core group of family and friends to donate and adopt a family. Help others in need.
  1. Deed: Create a homemade coupon that promises to do a nice deed. They can pick from any of the following: to look after baby, ailing parent, house, pet, or plant. This will allow your special family member or friend a way to go away without worrying because they know you are looking after who (and what) they care about most.
  1. Deal: Make a deal with your family member or friend to start a mindful practice. It could be doing a 30-day challenge of some sort that will keep you connected daily for a month. This is a win-win deal that will make both you and the recipient motivated to keep moving forward towards your ultimate goals.
  1. Deliver: Write a gratitude letter to someone that inspired and supported you in the past. Deliver this letter to that person and ask the person to read it out loud. This practice has been proven to have lasting feeling of happiness and wellbeing for both the writer and the receiver of this wonderful letter.
  1. Dish: Dedicate a special evening for your loved ones and make a full course homemade dinner for them. This is a great way to spend quality time with the awesome people in your life. Also, you can make and freeze one of their favorite meals and wrap it up. Your special dinner will surely be appreciated after a hectic day at work.

It’s not too late to begin “The Present IS the Gift” tradition. This practice will help you and those in your life feel less stressed, and more connected to you in the coming year. Remember, mindfulness starts with awareness. The more aware you are of the stressful and wasteful “same old ways” of doing things, the more mindful you can be in giving a more heartfelt and thoughtful gift this year.

If you need support with how to add more mindfulness to your life for stress reduction and productivity, email me at INFO@HEALTHANDHAPPINESSSPECIALIST.COM today to find out how we can work together. Until then, I wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season.

 

 

How Harry Potter Added Mindfulness & Magic to My Family Vacations

How Harry Potter Added Mindfulness & Magic to My Family Vacations

by Debbie Lyn Toomey, author of The Happiness Result

HarryPotter
My family and I recently had a vacation and instead of flying to our destination, we decided to drive. It didn’t take us very long to agree upon Acadia National Park in Maine. We went 3 years ago and had to go back because we had such a blast on our previous visit. Because this road trip was going to be a 4 to 5-hour drive for us, we planned on ways to make it comfortable and enjoyable for my 3 boys, my husband, and me. We made sure to carefully pack all of the essentials. In the trunk went our luggage, beach chairs, and the $1.50 kite that I bought on sale at the end of last summer. Also, within our reach were our sweet and salty snacks and an assortment of drinks that were sure to please everyone on the trip. Finally, in the front, we had our old Harry Potter book on tape. Cassette tape that is.

Mad About Harry

The Order of the Phoenix was the only Harry Potter audio book that we had on tape. Although we had the other ones on CD’s, it was the story that we wanted for our long drive. Luckily, our family minivan had a working cassette tape player that we often used to listen to 70’s music. We had our first experience with listening to the Harry Potter audio book 12 years ago when we did a 7-hour drive all the way up to Toronto, Canada to visit relatives. It was then that my husband became interested in the Harry Potter stories and my whole family fell in love with the audio book series.

I still smile to this day as I recall my husband’s face as he drove us to Toronto. He was listening so intently that our bathroom breaks ended up happening only after the end of the exciting parts of the story. Listening to the Harry Potter audio books made what can seem like a long and boring road trip into a fun and memorable adventure for everyone.

Serious Blackness

I recall yet another family vacation where Harry came along with my us. It was 8 years ago and we were staying at our condominium in New Hampshire. My family had just finished clearing off the dinner table after having a tasty assortment of leftovers we collected over the previous days. It was a perfect night to stay in because of the heavy rains that were expected to come. Just as we were about to discuss which “oldie but goodie” movie to watch that evening; the lights went out. In fact, the whole condominium complex was seriously dark all around us. The only light source that we had was from outside: the full moon that came out from the clouds after the rain had stopped.

Lumos Maxima!

Luckily, as if I had my own magical wand, I grabbed my iPhone and it created a source of light for us. It gave us light similar to the charm, “Lumos” that the Harry Potter characters would say when they were in the dark and needed light. Thankfully my mobile phone gave me enough light to help me find my Yankee Candles jars and lighter easily. In order to keep my youngest Max, who was 3 years old at the time, from getting scared we decided to make the most of it by gathering around the kitchen table to play cards and listen to more of Harry Potter in my boom box that had newly replaced D batteries.

Eventually, the rain stopped, but only a few of the condominium complex’s emergency lights went on. Curious about the bright lights from the nearby town that was a couple blocks away, my family and I set out on an adventurous walk to get some much needed ice cream. What a night! What was supposed to be a quiet evening watching old movies became a magical one filled with storms, Harry Potter, and a walk to the nearby town in darkness. I would say it was an evening almost worthy of a Harry Potter chapter.

 To Harry!

As a parent, I noticed how something as simple as listening to an old Harry Potter audio books gave my whole family yet another common interest to enjoy together. Whether it was going for a long drive or listening to it as we played cards, it gave what we were doing together a greater sense of meaning and pleasure. To be silly, my family and I still do a playful toast with our best British accent and say, “To Harry!” mimicking a scene in the book. It never ceases to bring a laugh out of everyone.

 Mindfulness

As a Health and Happiness Specialist, someone who teaches and writes about mindfulness for today’s busy people, I have noticed how listening to a great story can captivate the attention of a group, similar to the practice of mindfulness listening. It’s a kind of listening where one becomes so engrossed in the story that your whole being comes to life with the story. It’s mindfulness concentration at its best. Further, listening to the Harry Potter stories had the power of gathering people together and appreciating their special time. I am forever grateful for the mindfulness and magic that Harry and his stories added to my family vacations.

How about you?

If you’re wondering about how to make your family time extra special? Try this.

  1. Encourage your family to listen to an audio book during your time together.
  2. Involve the whole family to pick an audio book and chose one that everyone will enjoy.
  3. Make sure to have a way to listen it both inside and outside the car.
  4. Hit “play” and start listening.
  5. Notice how your family reacts to the activity.
  6. Intermittently discuss what’s happening in the story.
  7. Share what went well by doing this together.
  8. If your family enjoyed this, repeat next time with another audio book.

I’m confident that once you start a family activity like this, it will become a tradition as it has for me and my family. Enjoy! Please leave your comments below and share with us some ways that you create lasting and meaningful memories with your family.

To learn more about ways to gain more time, more health, more love, and more success in the midst of your busy day, be sure to get my upcoming book, The Happiness Result. This book was created with today’s busy people in mind to help them use 7 simple techniques for creating an awesome life. Go to www.TheHappinessResult.com to read the reviews and sign up to be notified when the book is available for purchase.

a-HAHS Tip #6 Bye Bye Loneliness

 

Do you ever feel lonely and need someone around to talk to or just be with?

Why not try doing something for someone.

When you do a random act of kindness or volunteer for a good cause you are doing something positive for more than one person.

Here’s what happens:

  1. You have a purpose that day.
  2. You make a difference in someone’s life.
  3. You connect with someone.

Next time you are feeling lonely just know that you can get out of rut by just getting out of the house and doing something kind for someone. This is a great way to say bye bye to your loneliness and hello to kindness.

If you are interested in learning more about ways to increase your level of happiness contact us at info@HealthandHappinesssSpecialist.com.

Breathing Technique to Feel Better

Have you ever had one of those days where nothing seems to be working out well and you are left feeling frustrated and fuming?

Next time you’re feeling angry or anxious, try this breathing technique.

It’s called Belly Breathing. This technique reminds you to take deep diaphragmatic breaths. This will help you feel calm, cool, and collected.

Here’s how:

  • Place your hands on your stomach.
  • Inhale through your nose.
  • Notice your hands move as your stomach expands.
  • Exhale through your nose.
  • Notice your hands move as your stomach flattens.
  • Repeat until you feel better.

Try the Belly Breathing technique anywhere and anytime you notice you’re feeling out of control or stressed. This technique will surely make you feel so much better and in control of yourself. The more you feel in control, the happier you will be.

Need coaching to help you sustain your feelings of wellness and well being? Contact us at info@ultimatehealingjourney.com today.

7 Lessons Learned on How to Thrive in the Cancer Journey

Do you have someone in your life that models strength and optimism?

Do you know anyone that has risen above adversity and came out smiling and laughing?

Do you know someone diagnosed with cancer three times who still does not define their life around cancer?

My mother Amelia is that person to me. She was diagnosed with three cancers in a little over 5 years. In those years, I witnessed the grace and grit that helped her to cope, connect with her family deeply, and feel in control during uncertain times. She is a three-time cancer survivor. She is the healthiest and happiest person I know – even though she had cancer.

The Healthiest and Happiest Person I know

My mother always valued health and happiness and made living a healthy and happy life, a personal mission. It was a hobby of hers to seek ways to maintain and sustain health and wellness in her family. She was always on her feet moving about and laughing at herself doing something silly or laughing at my father’s funny jokes and stories. She took the subway to work and was on her feet all day long working in a pharmacy until she retired at the age of 75. My parents’ basement resembled a YMCA gym with weights, stationary bikes, treadmills, and the latest Total Gym. I remember growing up hearing her take exaggerated deep breaths as she stretched and marched back and forth in front of the television in our living room while watching Richard Simmons or some other exercise gurus.

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New Medical Diagnosis: Cancer(s)

My mother who always made healthy choices and did not have a family history of cancer was diagnosed with 3 different cancers (breast, endometrial, and lung) over the course of 7 years. She did not define her life with cancer. She defined her life with friends and with family.

In 2008 at the young age of 70, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. This loaded diagnosis was the very first time my family and I had to deal with cancer directly. As a nurse at Tufts Medical Center in Boston for over 25 years, I’ve taken care of many patients after having lumpectomies, mastectomy, and breast reconstructive surgeries. It was a part of my job. However, being a nurse and knowing all of this didn’t help me when my own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The tables had turned and all of sudden I’m on the other side of the hospital bed comforting and supporting my mother—the healthiest and happiest person I know!

One of the things that amazed me during that time was how quickly she accepted her diagnosis. She thanked God for its early detection. She trusted her whole medical team and decided right away to do what needed to be done to take care of her cancer. While she waited for her surgical date, she went to work every day,  prayed, and went to church. She would talk with me and my sisters about her will and proxy. She would read books and articles about what she had and natural cures that she could take along with her medical regiment. She’d spend time with my father by going shopping or going to the movies. By the time her surgery came around, she was ready and prepared. Her breast cancer was taken care of with a lumpectomy and hormonal medication. She only took a few weeks off from work and then went back work at the pharmacy. What I witnessed in her during this whole episode was how she kept a positive outlook through prayer and being proactive with her health, both of which, she was able to control. This made her feel so much better.

In 2013, after she turned 75 years old, we had a double celebration. We celebrated her birthday and being breast cancer free for 5 years! This short lived joyous occasion came to a halt when two unrelated cancers (endometrial and lung) were found during a somewhat routine medical appointment. My mother revealed to her primary doctor that she had been having bleeding and didn’t understand why. After many examinations and testing, our worst suspicion was confirmed. She had cancer again! Needless to say that whole summer was busy with tests, biopsies, and surgeries. My mother, the healthiest and happiest person I know, had two major surgeries that summer. Little did we all know that what was ahead would be the toughest part of her cancer journey.

Fall of 2013

The fall of 2013, although it was part of her endometrial and lung cancer journey, deserved its own chapter in this story. This was a time that truly tested what she was made of. My mother, the healthiest and happiest person I know, was weak from her chemotherapy, her medications, and a lack of sleep due to excruciating bone pain resulting from the effects of her chemotherapy.

Regardless of her suffering when I would ask her how she was doing, I would hear her say, “Dun’t worree dahling. I will be okay.”

My mother, a woman with great poise and pride, had to rely on my father to help her move back and forth to the bathroom, to give her massages in the middle of the night to sooth her itching and her bone pain. Further, it was during this time that she could no longer hide her cancer from the rest of the world as her hair was falling out. She was so convinced that her thick and coarse hair was not going to fall out during her treatments that when it did start to, her faith in God and her trust in her ability to heal would be tested to the max. It frustrated her when she would lay down and clumps from her beautifully thick hair would be left on her pillow case, when she would shower, handfuls would rinse off with the water, and when she would eat, she would notice it falling off onto the plate right in front of her eyes. Although my mother was the one dealing with the cancer and the all the “pain” that came along with it, I still looked to her for strength.

“Hair” it Goes!

I started to get nervous and scared when I saw her looking so weak and tired. I had never seen her so frail and solemn. I recall the phone call when she asked me to come over to her house to shave her head.  She had finally accepted losing her hair.  She wanted to do on her own terms. In the car, outside my parents’ house I had to take five minutes to compose myself. I knew how difficult this was for her. I was so scared but I couldn’t show it! I had to be strong for both my parents. When I got into my parents house, my mother was all prepared. She laid out newspapers on the floor and placed a chair right in the center. There was little conversation, we had a job to do and it needed to be done. She chose an area in her upstairs hallway for me to shave her hair off. It reminded me of when I used help her color her hair but this time, it was different. Surprising, shaving her head was not as difficult as I thought. When I finally got into the rhythm of it, I started to see little scars on her head here and there.

“Mom, what are these scars from?” I asked

“Oh, I was accident prone when I was a little girl and I kept bumping into things.” She said with a smile and a little giggle.

As if each scar was a timeline button, she would press one and tell me when and how she got it. We laughed and laughed after each recollection. The images of my mother getting into mischief and hurting herself while playing with other children made for such a comedy relief. It made this heavy situation lighter.

Life Goes On

I’m happy to say my mother’s hair has fully grown back and she’s enjoyed over a dozen different hair styles and colors since. More recently, she just recovered from a knee replacement surgery. The knee was causing her a lot of pain and it was slowing her down when she would walk along the beach, clean the house or work in her yard. Her doctors, nurses, and physical therapist are all amazed at how well she has done.

debbie and mom easterPicture taken Easter Holiday, 2014

Positive Psychology

Positive psychologists would describe my mother as someone who used her faith, relationships, bravery, love, and innate strengths to become more resilient and to thrive during adversity.

What does Positive Psychology, the science of happiness, have to do with Cancer? I say, “Everything!” The more we can learn from people who have risen above adversities, the more we can cultivate similar practice to make us even better, stronger, and happier.

Positive Psychology helped me understand my mother’s way of being and coping during life’s ups and downs. What is Positive Psychology? Positive Psychology in a nutshell is the “Science of Happiness.” It’s a new field of psychology that, according to its founder Martin Seligman, Ph. D, “looks to nurture the gifted and talented, to learn from the gifted and talented, and to make normal life more fulfilling.”

Some might say it’s coincidental, but I like to think of it as divine timing that Positive Psychology came into my life and when I needed it most. I completed my certification in Positive Psychology with Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph. D through the Wholebeing Institute and, soon after, received my training and certification as a Positive Psychology coach after studying with another leading expert in the field, Robert Biswas-Diener, Ph. D. Positive Psychology gave me the knowledge and perspective for looking at the glass as “half-full”. I put the principles of this science to the test personally as I needed a way of cope with my mother’s disease. I found that it kept me from ruminating, spiraling-downward mentality and feeling like a victim.

7 Lessons Learned to Thrive in the Cancer Journey

I learned so much about my mother and myself during the last few years. While some lessons where easier than others, I am certainly a much healthier and happier person because of them. Here are 7 lessons that I learned from my mother, the healthiest and happiest person I know, who defeated three cancers.

They are:

  1. Accept the diagnosis – The sooner you can accept it, the sooner you’ll be ready to face and handle the treatment plans that are in store for you.
  2. Remember is it YOUR body – Make decisions after you have talked with your health care team and your family. Make peace with your body and give it thanks.
  3. Go to your appointments with a friend or family member – Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as possible until you feel confident and comfortable enough to make decisions.
  4. Use coping skills that have been successful for you – This is a great way to gain control during this overwhelming situation. Recall what worked best for you in the past to make yourself feel better and start doing it consistently until it becomes a habit.
  5. Surround yourself with healing and positive images and people – Watch funny movies. Laughter boosts your immune system and helps release endorphins which will decrease your discomfort.
  6. Connect and confide with those you love A big predictor of peoples’ level of positivity is their relationships with others. Let people know what you need and when you need it.
  7. Give yourself permission to be human – Allow yourself to do what you need to do to feel better. Sleep when you’re tired. Cry when you’re sad. Eat what you want.

Trust that applying any of these lessons will help you during your cancer journey. Here’s to your health and happiness.

Boost Your Health and Happiness with Gratitude

Are you a…

– Half-empty person or a half-full person?

Do you tend to focus on what you don’t have instead of what you do have?

–  “Fault finder” or a “benefit finder”?

Do you tend to find fault in others and situations instead of finding the good in them?

– Are you a Velcro or a Telfon?

Do you tend to let the negative emotions and experiences stick to you or do you let them slide off your shoulders?

According to researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky Ph.D. , 50% of our happiness comes from our genes, 10% comes from our life circumstances, and 40% comes from our choices and what we do with them. While 40% may not seem like a lot, it is enough to shift from a depressed and harmful way of living to a more joyful and hopeful one.

Happiness can be learned. Many experts in the field of Positive Psychology, the science of happiness, work with the 40% margin to provide people with proven skills and tools to become the best version of themselves so that they can thrive and flourish. Like any muscle, cultivating happiness take shape and becomes stronger with daily practice and persistence.

My favorite exercise comes from practicing gratitude. Gratitude is more than just an attitude. It’s a way of feeling alive, awake, and abundant. In fact, according to gratitude researchers, it has been proven to boost our overall health and happiness. Since the history of time, this mother of all virtues has become the subject of many scholarly debates and the theme of many prayers and mantras. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that it became a notable science that has gotten many researchers excited about the powerful and trans-formative results.

What is it?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Gratitude as “a feeling of appreciation or thanks.” But  according to gratitude experts like Robert Emmons Ph.D., gratitude is a “felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” It’s more than just saying “thank you” or feeling appreciative. One of the keys for a successful gratitude practice is to see what you are grateful for with fresh eyes — through the eyes of a child. Since it’s conception in the late 1990’s, there have been 26 studies that proved gratitude boosts, our overall health, happiness, socialization, concentration, and so much more!

Putting it to the test

Between you and me, I’ve always been the half-full, benefit-finder, and…a  Velcro type of person. I am not perfect, but what I am is someone who is determined to use gratitude in all areas of my life to live healthier and happier. Although, gratitude is an evidenced based practice, I wanted to prove that it.  I remember to my surprise a strength assessment exercise that I did during my Positive Psychology studies with Tal Ben Sha-Har Ph.D., Harvard University Professor of Positive Psychology, that gratitude was one of my top strengths. I was disappointed when I learned this because I wanted one of the “cooler” values like perseverance or self-regulation to be one of my top strengths. Determined to make the most of it I decided to see why it was one of my strongest strengths. I wanted to apply it beyond the academic realm. I decided to put it to the test in real life —at home and at work. Here’s what I’ve experienced and witnessed since I started.

The first people that I wanted to start teaching and applying the gratitude principles on were my 3 boys and my husband. As you can imagine my genius plan was met with raised eye brows and grunts from my older boys.  I told them that I wanted to start using a gratitude technique at the dinner table. With persistence and consistency this practice became a natural way for me and my family to communicate and share about what went well in our lives. The gratitude practice provided me with a simple tool to teach my boys to become benefit finders.

As a daughter of aging parents, I experienced and witnessed the grace and gifts of the gratitude practice during my mother’s cancer journey. She had 3 cancers (breast, endometrial, and lung). During her cancer journey of doctor appointments, surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy treatments, as well as recovery, my mother used gratitude to fuel her optimism. Gratitude made her more and more resilient every single moment. She said, “thank you” when she woke up each morning, knowing that she was gifted another day to live. She used it in many micro-moments during the day when she was able to move comfortably on her own, taste her food and keep it down, when her wig kept her head warm and many countless other times when she felt she was gifted with something to make her feel better and look better. For my mother, saying “Thank you” is like inhaling and exhaling. It become her natural way of staying alive.

For Cancer Support

As the founder of Ultimate Healing Journey LLC, I speak, coach, and create programs that inform and inspire with proven health and happiness skills. My overly stimulated and overburdened clients, of all ages, achieve and sustain overall success.  Most recently, I provided programs for the Cancer Support Community – MA South Shore in Norwell, for their Kid’s Cancer Support, parents, Adult Cancer Survivors, caregivers, and health care professionals. Each program focused on ways to use gratitude to boost hope, enhance relationships, and increase overall sense of control and peace during in the cancer journey. The participants came away with the many tools that they can start using at home. The children gave gratitude for the practical and age appropriate techniques that they learned and can apply at home, and the adults left excited with skills that they can use to enhance their overall levels of health and happiness.

In the Schools

Gratitude also has a place in the schools. I created a month-long program for elementary level schools, called The Gratitude Program for Kids. This program has been implemented at the Francis W. Parker Elementary school in Quincy. The Gratitude Program for Kids aims to introduce the science of gratitude at a young age so that children can learn to use language, be appreciative, build stronger connections, and improve communication and concentration in the schools and at home. After the month-long program teachers reported that the students were able to identity appropriate moments of gratitude in other projects and they enjoyed the sense of community that it brought when the children shared with gratitude in the classrooms.

What I know to be true

The practice of gratitude can be applied in all areas of our life. Since mindfully practicing gratitude in my work and life, this is what I know to be true. Gratitude is: a gift that keeps on giving, grace under fire, for the young and old, a fuel that feeds resilience, and an abundant way of life.

Interested in how to apply the proven, practical and powerful practice of gratitude to live your best life? Contact me:  healthandhapppinessspecialist@gmail.com or call 617-433-8814.