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Warning, this article is full of mumbo-jumbo about self care. You probably should pass on this article (it's not like you've read the others). Our lives in service based industries, especially where responding to disasters large or small, bring us into contact with individuals, families and communities in various stages of trauma. While we understand that stress can tax our ability to maintain empathy or others and the strain of emergency response to water or fire related disasters at all hours of the day can cause us to be on edge, we may be neglecting the reality of the overall toll of this exposure. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky is pioneering a methodology outlined in her book Trauma Stewardship which provides An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others.
If you are still reading, maybe you have witnessed the impact of secondary trauma in yourself and/or your response teams. In one profile outlined in the text, Cheri Maples who is the outgoing assistant attorney general for Wisconsin, discusses the revelation in her profession that there was high turnover in probation personnel which wasn’t as much related to training in the skills of the profession but rather a lack of training in personal care abilities. As she notes, “I realized we were losing people emotionally because of secondary trauma (p.138).” This has certainly been true with our teams, we know how to teach and master the skills of our professions but we don't always know how to master caring for ourselves so that we can operate at our full capacity in serving others. The value of being awake, present and aware can be taken for granted or even dismissed as being something for the gurus who deal in mythology but not in the real world. Yet the opposite isn’t seen as dangerous as it is often the status quo across multiple professions, I.E. being numb, detached and disconnected from the cumulative impact of professional stress exposure.
As noted in the book, the basis of trauma stewardship is applying many of those same principles that professionals share with their clients and utilizing those methods to care for themselves. In many ways trauma stewardship is simply walking what you’re talking, or living what you preach to others. We seem better equipped to see and respond to the needs of others without taking into account the impact of that distress on our lives as well as those on our team. Cheri notes that there are three key things to taking care of yourself, first understanding the cycle for what it is, second is having friends outside of your profession and third is developing a daily practice of care (p.141). By understanding these principles we can establish methods to lead by example and enable our teams to care for each other.
There is a cycle, whether you can see it or not, where we are tempted to turn ourselves off to what we are experiencing in order to cope with our daily tasks. It’s easily missed as standard operating procedures but this coping mechanism should be a red flag to ourselves and those that care about us that there needs to be a change in how we approach our profession. Key to caring for yourself so that you can operate within your strengths is realizing that you need to do so. Whether you are a professional caring for others in trauma or someone who is helping others in various stages of need, take the same principles that you would share with those you are serving and make sure that you are applying those concepts in your own life. Walk your talk.
If our social circle is only composed of those who also work with us, there can be a negative reinforcement of the us-versus-them mentality that can prohibit you from seeking additional perspectives. While our friends in our field know the day to day stresses and unique challenges that we face, all parties need additional influences that can help them see things in new ways and perhaps can detect unhealthy behaviors that those in our industry would overlook as normative. Helpful insights can come from good peer discussions or they can also come from seeking mentor relationships. As we have noted previously, “Professional athletes have coaches and trainers even though they are at the very height of their professional skills, earning, and influence. Seeking the assistance of someone who can assist you to tug, carry, or chart your way through the murky waters of personal development can be a very positive and fulfilling addition to your professional adventure (Isaacson, 2017).”
Developing a daily practice of care is something Lipsky goes into greater detail sharing the five directives which include inquiry, focus, balance and community. Tools such as breathing, exercising, utilizing music or sounds, rest and other positive habits are important to helping you maximize your capacity to operate within your values. If we find ourselves in a position of leadership it is important for us to be aware of these issues so that we can lead by example and facilitate practices within our teams that help identify, respond and equip our team members to remain healthy. Whether we lead many or simply lead ourselves, failure to recognize these obstacles and the tools available to positively respond to them we are cutting ourselves short of our full ability.
Lipsky, L. v. D., & Burk, C. (2009). Trauma stewardship: An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Isaacson, J. (September 5, 2017) How to identify the right mentor. The Daily Positive. Retrieved from https://www.thedailypositive.com/identify-right-mentor/#sthash.N759aPeB.dpuf
I could wish that I was cool enough to discover thoughtful gems such as this video by myself. I have Portland State University to thank for bringing me into contact with something that I viewed as a means to an end but ended up learning a thing or two. The attached video is about an hour long, so you may need to review it in a few settings or listen over an extended commute as I did.
This material came to me as a component of my undergraduate studies in Criminal Justice but the parallels to the industry in which I have devoted more than 15 years of my life are rather astounding. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky is a respected author, the speech follows the material in her book Trauma Stewardship, and speaker, including a TedTalk on this subject matter. Her keynote speech was given before service providers including hospital staff, counselors, teachers and various practitioners who come into contact with people in trauma and how those professionals ensure that their tanks are fueled enough to continue to respond. We have always said, that our team members have to remember that while we restore damaged properties for a living and have seen "a thing or two" (to borrow the tag line from Farmers Insurance), many of our customers, if they are lucky, are experiencing their first water or fire damage. When water, fire or other disasters strike home or business, there is emotional, mental and at times physical trauma. Something deeper than building materials is impacted when a structure is damaged. Our teams are meeting and responding to people in stages of trauma, most obviously when they are responding to conditions such as the recent hurricanes or the sad reality of a crime scene clean up.
My interest in the parallels was peaked as so I jotted a few notes as I listened, so my unpolished review includes these thoughts:
1. There is a collective toll from serving those in trauma which can be exacerbated when the system that is supposed to be supporting those on the front lines is compromised, broken and/or dysfunctional. Our job as leaders in our fields, at whatever level we find ourselves, is to work towards a system that enables, encourages and empowers our team members to care for themselves, care for the team and care for our clients. Emotional intelligence and empathy are key (more thoughts on this HERE).
2. Many people respond to repeated trauma by attempting to numb themselves. Numbing has consequences as a) shutting yourself down is removing the one thing in your power which is your ability to "be present" (you will have to listen to hear a more eloquent explanation of this by the author); b) shutting out increases the likelihood that you are losing awareness of doing harm to self, others and those you are serving; c) you cannot selectively numb out and numb back in, if you numb out in the professional arena it will have collateral damage into other arenas of your life. In contrast to numbing oneself or shutting things out, which have negative long term effects, we want to find ways to expand our capacity to be present. The author/speaker present simple concepts such as breathing exercises and provides other tools as well. Leaders should be aware of these consequences and lead by example in practicing positive measures as well as presenting these tools to their teams.
3. A major component of personal health relates to your ability to effectively move trauma through your system. When we regularly are caring for those impacted by trauma there is a toll on our selves and our teams known as vicarious trauma which we should be aware of so that we can address in positive ways.
4. For those that think Laura is just "rainbows and unicorns" spreading psycho babble, foremost she brings her experience from being on the front lines of trauma response and she has some rather stern warnings to those who might pigeon hole themselves as victims in there roles of responding to trauma. The speaker shares the power of an attitude of gratitude and shares how those principles can practically be applied to meetings to weave this vision throughout an organization. At one point the speaker gets rather pointed with the audience reminding them that this job is not being done to you, you have chosen to serve in this field, some people may need to find other lines of work and those that remain need to connect with what brought them to the field and carry on.
Trauma isn't always about one major event but rather can be cumulative which includes vicarious trauma from serving those who are in trauma. Those in positions of leadership in service fields should be aware of these concepts for themselves as well as for their teams. Investing in a holistic approach to personal and group health can go a long way to strengthening individuals while building a group that is poised to help themselves, the team and their clients.
How can we connect and collaborate to combat the trajectory of our communal nutritional defects?
In America we have a paradox of seemingly polar health issues where our population suffers simultaneously from obesity as well as food insecurity. According to the USDA the statistics used to note that one in six Americans suffer from hunger but in 2006 the wording was changed from hunger to a more scientifically explanatory term of food insecurity (Schulzke, 2012). While food assistance, often understood as food stamps or SNAP, is available the link between access to food is not always a clear connection towards elevating health in our communities through the distribution of these resources. Whether it confounds logic or not, those who are at highest risk for food insecurity – the poor or under privileged, can simultaneously be at high risk for obesity. What we want to explore is what are the potential causes for this dichotomy, for which we would ask readers to hold your assumptions for just a few moments, as well as what our communities may do to generate a better overall health for our neighbors as a healthy Lane County is of benefit to our social, communal and economic well-being. Making an impact in this arena of food insecurity which impacts children, generations and our society as a whole may be simpler than we think. Think connect, collaborate and combat.
If you took a survey of why people think that others are obese, what would the bulk of the answers be? Poor eating choices and habits would likely top the list of most informal surveys, regardless of whether there is research that supports this public perception. What about this headline, “Soft Drinks No. 1 Purchase by Food Stamp Recipients,” where CNS News relayed a report by the Food and Nutrition Service showing that over $350 million dollars were spent on soft drinks as a grocery selection that far surpassed any other food commodity (Jeffrey, 2016). The headline is catchy and would be a confirmation bias for anyone who would want to prove that those on government assistance are perpetually making poor choices with regards to health, as though to say it was their own fault and/or they reap what they sow. Yet, in this same article the study notes that purchasing patterns were similar between households receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) funds and those that were not, so much so that, “The top two commodities were the same for SNAP and non-SNAP households.” The veil between those on assistance and those who are not receiving help from the government isn’t that thick, we share many of the same bad habits when it comes to our purchasing patterns, our meal planning and our utilization of healthy food resources. The first step to effective connection, collaboration and combat of this issue is to understand that we are connected whether we like it or not.
Households utilizing SNAP benefits, synonymous with food stamps, on average are taking in the same amount of calories as non-SNAP households, yet many of those homes receiving assistance are eating less nutritious (even if in some cases only marginally so). Individuals and families who do not receive government assistance for food don’t score remarkably higher than those on food stamps, as according to University of Connecticut researcher and author Tatiana Andreyeva, “The average American scored 58 out of 100 – a failing grade – on the Healthy Eating Index (Godoy, 2015).” Our habits are more similar between socio-economic classes than we may want to admit. For many individuals and families, vegetables often are consumed in the form of delicious pizza toppings and the preferential preparation of starches is through deep frying. In the same study for the Healthy Eating Index the average food stamp recipient did score lower than non-SNAP individuals, but marginally so as their scores were 47-51 out of 100, a 7-9% variance between groups. If there is a common thread of low health scores between citizens who receive food assistance as well as those who do not receive these benefits, how can our communities work to elevate our overall knowledge and commitment to health? We understand that we are connected whether we like it or not, so to build upon that connection we need to recognize that everyone could benefit from understanding how to identify healthy options as well as how to prepare them in a way that is appealing.
Regardless of your economic status, if you were handed a beautiful eggplant would you know what it was as well as how to prepare it? For most people if a recipe has eggplant in the title or the ingredients list it would be an automatic swipe left to reject that meal. The fear of the unknown can be powerful, especially when it comes to food. There is a gap in the general knowledge base for how to meal plan as it relates to working within the budget you have available for groceries, whether this budget is supplemented by assistance programs or not. Meal planning can save time and money as well as contribute to health while reducing waste. It is estimated that as much as 25% of the food purchased in America is thrown away (Garrett, 2014). Think of how much effort goes into a family making it to the grocery store - making some kind of list, getting the kids in the vehicle, traveling to the store, making it through the store with all members of the family intact and in the same condition they arrived in, waiting in line, getting all the items and people back into the vehicle, returning home and putting everything away – only to throw away a quarter of the products that were procured during that expedition. Wasted time, money and resource, all of which we have an ever reducing supply of. Meal planning can help you plan your calories to achieve your nutrition goals, trim needless waste and save you money/resources that could be more effectively spent for personal or family financial goals. We know we are connected, we know we need to expand our food education and as we build upon that we need to strengthen our connection with resources that assist us to function within our means. There are resources available online to assist with planning as well as people or organizations within your community that can provide assistance for resource allocation as it relates to meeting your nutrition, health and financial goals, connect.
As noted by mother of six and San Diego based food planner, Jessica Fisher of goodcheapeats.com, she suggests starting with the meals that your family usually likes, map those out on a calendar and then experiment with recipes you find to add those into your rotation (Garrett, 2014). Tools don’t have to be sophisticated but writing out a mean plan on the calendar can be the first step towards putting and efficient grocery shopping list together. Now we face our second nutritional void – knowing how to cook something tasty with that beautiful eggplant we received in the preceding paragraph. How do we prepare it, what seasonings do we use, what do we pair it with and how long do we cook it for? On the comparison lists of top 20 commodity items purchased by households that receive SNAP assistance as well as those that don’t, fresh vegetables do not make the list for either group (see Figure 1, Delaney & Scheller, 2016), again showing that this issue with lack of food knowledge thins the veil that separates the classes. Statistics like these demonstrate that we as American’s on the whole are underperforming in our planning, preparation and execution of healthy eating. A community that wants to make changes that will impact local health across barriers, sharing knowledge for meal planning as well as tips for meal preparation can make deep impacts to the benefit of all ages, groups and classes on through to the broader application in making for a healthier America. The food resources are there, the knowledge for planning, the skills for preparation and the ability to package this all together is an effort that will benefit all of us as humans for years to come – or we can continue on the trajectory we are on as a nation. We know we are connected, we know we need education, we know we need to live in our means and now we add these pieces of connection and build that into collaboration.
If the SNAP program is creating programs such as the Double Up Food Bucks program which rewards those on assistance for making healthy choices with their food stamps (Godoy, 2015), how can we help teach those recipients to utilize these resources? If we have resources such as food banks, community gardens and food share programs that are energized by grass roots commitment to the idea that we can all connect and collaborate to solve those issues that we can control. Obesity and food scarcity are issues that we can solve, the resources area there. Arguably global hunger is a solvable issues as it is not a matter of resource shortage, according to Joshua Muldavin, a geography professor at Sarah Lawrence College who focuses on global food and agricultural instruction, “We have two or three times the amount of food right now that is needed to feed the number of people in the world (Koba, 2013).” If we go back to the 25% waste for items purchased and could change that through better meal planning by creating grocery lists that fit within our health goals, grocery lists that meet our budgetary realities and combining that with the expanded skills that provide us with the ability to cook food that is nutritional as well as tasty, we could make big changes at the local level. Change ripples as individuals become groups who affect communities who create a movement that affects a region and on to the nation and then beyond. Through connection we can collaborate and with both those elements in motion we can begin to combat the issues of obesity as well as food insecurity, the question is not whether we can do but whether we will do it.
Schulzke, Eric. “A food stamp paradox: Starving isn’t the issue – it’s access to nutritious foods.” Desert News. April 28, 2012, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765572050/A-food-stamp-paradox-Starving-isnt-the-issue-2-its-access-to-nutritious-foods.html
Jeffrey, Terence. “Soft drinks No. 1 purchase by food stamp recipients; $357,700,000 from 1 grocery chain.” CNS News. November 22, 2016, http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/terence-p-jeffrey/357700000-1-grocery-chain-soft-drinks-no-1-purchase-food-stamp
Godoy, Maria. “How America’s wealth gap shows up on our dinner plates.” NPR. September 15, 2015, http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/09/18/441143723/people-on-food-stamps-eat-less-nutritious-food-than-everyone-else
Delaney, Arthur & Scheller, Alissa. “Here’s what people buy with food stamps.” Huffington Post. November 21, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/food-stamps-diet_us_582f4bd7e4b058ce7aaadea0
Koba, Mark. “A hungry world: Lots of food, in too few places.” CNBC. July 22, 2013, http://www.cnbc.com/id/100893540
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