Jan 09

My friends and family call me "amped up." I'm the restless type—always going, doing and moving. I have a hard time sitting still, taking it easy and relaxing. So it's no real surprise that since high school I've dealt with sleep issues.

For me, and probably a lot of people like me, laying down in bed for the night is my mind's first time to stop. And that's when we start recounting our day, thinking of the things we forgot to do, things we have to remember tomorrow, and conduct an internal debriefing session. 

My inability to wind-down quickly made me nervous about sleep in general. "Will I sleep tonight?" "I hope I feel rested for my big day tomorrow!" "Is there something WRONG with me?" were questions that nervously bounced about in my head.

It wasn't until recently that I started to get a handle on my sleep issues. I realized that sleep is a very complex thing, and that instinctually, many things have to be perfectly in place for a refreshing night of sleep. In the wild, sleep makes us vulnerable and risks death, so it's no surprise that stress would cause our instincts to prevent sleep.

I had taken Ambien on occasion, before those "big days" when sleep was critical. It worked well, but I didn't like the idea of taking medicine for my sleep problem nightly. It felt like treating the symptom, but not the problem.

A good friend recommended a naturopathic doctor, and a natural approach to my sleep habits. I figured a natural approach couldn't hurt—the worst that could happen is it wouldn't work. I'm not into new-agey, herbally, witch doctory stuff at all. But, what I heard from my friend is that this doctor LISTENED, and approached your problems holistically and attempted to get to the core of the problem.

I was surprised when my first assignment, before any tests or bloodwork, was an analysis of my diet. My naturopath stopped dead in her tracks when she saw "Pop Tart" listed two days for breakfast. 

"You MUST eat protein for breakfast. And NO sugar!" I was surprised! Everything that's quick and easy for breakfast is either sugary or made with processed flour. What she explained is that the first order of business in correcting my sleep problem was starting the day with protein, and breaking the sugar cycle.

My test results later confirmed what she had suspected. Around midday, my sugar came to a crash. And so did my energy, my good neurotransmitters, and my ability to focus. She was right in hypothesizing that my energy plummet caused me to re-amp with caffeine, sugar and other unsavory things.

I noticed immediate improvements when I began my mornings with eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt. I had so much more energy in the morning, and became more tired in the evening. And while I was probably consuming more fat in the morning, I found I was more regular, became more trim and more focused.

It is still a challenge to find quick, high-protein morning meals, I'll be honest. But after a few months of being fairly rigid, I broke my routine and had pancakes for breakfast, and actually felt woozy by about 11:00. She was really on to something!

Bottom line? If you want to sleep better, you have to start with breakfast!

Mar 18

I've had issues sleeping since my senior year of high school. I was always an achiever, a straight-A student and hard worker. But, on top of that, I was also a people pleaser, and one of those types that always feels the need to be "on." That combination gives you plenty to worry about at night when you'd rather be getting some proverbial Zs.

When the occasional sleepless night turned into more than that, I began worrying maybe there was something medically wrong with me. This fueled more worry, more anxiety and more stress. But, my sleep issues always eventually seemed to right themselves temporarily, so I convinced myself I was fine--just an "amped up" person.

What I learned is that insomnia, anxiety and depression are closely linked. They all stem from off-kilter brain chemistry that is often treated by serious prescription drugs that tend to numb, rather than cure.

A decade after my first sleep struggles, a friend introduced me to a naturopathic doctor. (Which I thought mean "witch doctor.") Intrigued, I figured it couldn't hurt to see what she had to say. I liked that better than the alternative of taking prescription sleep aids (which have a tendency to be addictive.) 

As I mentioned in Part I, her first order of business was to assess my morning routine. She scoffed at my breakfast log for the week, consisting of pop tarts, sugared cereal and white toast. Assigning me to eat protein in the mornings was huge for me, and got me started on the right track.

I needed more help than that. My naturopath did a hormone and brain chemistry test and unlike myself, she wasn't surprised at the outcome at all. Turns out, my adrenals (the fight or flight mechanisms inside of our brains) were haywire. At nighttime, when things like cortisol are supposed to be fading out, my brain was in panic mode. "With cortisol levels this high, there's no way anyone could sleep!"  she told me. The fact I was sleeping at all was a bit of a miracle.

Her treatment plan for me was pretty simple. Some supplements for the morning and the evening. Both high in B vitamins, and including amino acids to encourage calming serotonin production in the evening and energy-providing cortisol during the mornings. While I'm still a night owl, mornings have become at least tolerable for me. 

After about two weeks, I began to experience more consistent, more restful sleep. I would wake up feeling refreshed, and I found myself way more productive in the morning. By bedtime I would become drowsy, and had little trouble falling asleep. My sleep schedule naturally became more regular, and waking up early wasn't nearly as hard. And my overall mood, attitude, etc. were vastly improved.

My research on the topic taught me that B vitamins are a critical component to sleep and adrenal health. Those vitamins (as well as the amino acids I was taking) are precursors to our bodies naturally creating the chemicals they need to sleep at night and be alert in the morning. 

Because insomnia, anxiety and depression are so closely linked, many of these principals apply to all three. The brain, with a little help from vitamins and supplements, can heal itself, rather than depend on prescription drugs to ease the symptoms.

My conclusion? While I'm glad to be sleeping better, I'm also amazed at our bodies' ability to heal themselves. And I'm grateful for doctors who approach medicine holistically, instead of just treating the symptoms!

Mar 18

Sleep should be easy. You just lay there, and you should fall asleep. But for me, and probably a lot of people like me, sleep has been one of the hardest things for me to do well.

I guess when you realize that instinctually, sleep makes you 100% vulnerable to prey, it makes it easier to understand why stress would prevent us from getting a few Zs.

As I mentioned in Part I, addressing my diet and adding protein for breakfast was a great first start. In Part II, seeking a naturopathic doctor to allow nature to help me sleep better helped me make huge strides.

But, the underlying issue for me was rooted in my personality. An overachieving people-pleaser, I feel the need to constantly prove myself and my worth. To constantly succeed and never fail. That's what keeps me up at night.

Getting my brain chemistry back on target was essential. This is often done medically with prescriptions. But, I liked the natural approach of supplements, vitamins and diet. 

Despite getting my brain chemistry back on track, I would have an occasional relapse in my poor sleep. And I started to realize that no matter how high my serotonin levels were, or how much cortisol was curbed at night, there would never be a shortage of things to stress me out, worry me, or fight me for sleep.

As a business owner, stressors are never in short supply. Bidding on projects. Sending invoices. Hiring subcontractors. Paying exorbitant taxes. CLIENTS. Any given night, there could be as many as 27 huge potential stressors just for my business. That's not counting family, friend and personal stressors. 

Every stressor in my life seemed to have one thing in common. The question "What if?" 

"What if taxes are double what they were last year?" "What if my 401K balance isn't high enough?" "What if I can't meet that deadline?" "What if not sleeping makes me get dark circles under my eyes?"

Then it dawned on me. These "what if" stressors become much more stressful if I allow my mind to fantasize about them. And, they're almost always out of my control, and unpredictable.

I decided it's time to take control of these "what ifs." To force myself not to worry about them so as to diminish their apparent size. Even if it means consciously forcing my brain away from the topic when it pops into my head, it's a start. 

Another big thing for me is consciously telling myself that my achievements, successes and failures, accolades and accomplishments are not ME. At least not the central part of me. Each of us should experience the freedom that even an abysmal failure means we're still a worthwhile person. We're loved. We're talented. And we've got lots to offer. That's hard for me to remember.

Two conclusions. First, don't allow things out of your control to stress you, and don't fantasize about them. Second, remember your value is separate from your accomplishments. There's way more to you than that. 

Now go get some sleep.

With increased work demands, people are expected to work longer hours and be more productive with fewer resources, sometimes without much verbal praise or monetary rewards.  Compound this with the inevitable stressors of home and personal life and you can find yourself swimming in a morass of anxiety and a feeling of being overwhelmed. 


Under the weight of the stress you decide to go for a routine check-up and your doctor tells you “Your PSA is elevated.”  You wonder, “What Do I Do Now?!”  And worse yet…


Does this mean I have prostate cancer???


When my client, Jim, a 50-year-old, married father of two young boys and a high-level executive in a Fortune 500 company, came in for his session, he clearly look frazzled.  Four months earlier he entered treatment to deal with the loss of his mother with whom he was very close. 


Being composed and compartmentalized, Jim talked a lot about how sad he was about his mother’s death and what she meant to him, but he never showed his sorrow.  So it came as quite a surprise when he walked in to my office shaken and teary blurting out, “I think I have prostate cancer.” 


As we talked he explained that he had seen his doctor for his annual physical and that his Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test came back elevated — it was a 4.0.  He was distraught and hadn’t been sleeping since.  His mind raced with thoughts of his own death, leaving his second wife a widow at 42 with two young sons to raise, how hard he worked to build up his career. And, for what? 


After asking questions about what the doctor said, exploring the “evidence” that he has cancer, and next possible steps, it was clear that Jim had shut down after hearing the doctor’s voice say that his PSA was elevated.  To him it was a pronouncement of doom.


First, we addressed the negative messages and beliefs he was telling himself — “My PSA level is elevated meaning I am going to die and leave behind my wife and sons.”  Recognizing that he didn’t have nearly enough information to make that statement, he reframed it by saying, “My PSA is elevated and it doesn’t necessarily mean disaster; there are many options and possibilities and I have to get more information and stay in the present moment.  Take it one step at a time.”


Knowing some about the topic, I began to educate him about the fact that as men age, it’s natural for their PSA levels to increase and that the Borderline range was 3-5 but that the test has limitations.  There are false positives where the level is elevated but no cancer is present. In addition, there are false negatives when the level is normal but cancer is actually present. 


Exploring further I pointed out that there is no family history of prostate cancer, another predictor of the likelihood of one getting prostate cancer. He was then able to remember the doctor telling him not to worry, that another test should be taken in four to six weeks since he never recommends a biopsy based on a single elevated test result. Jim looked visibly more relaxed.


Once the calmness had set in, he also remembered the doctor telling him that there are a number of other non-cancerous causes of an elevated PSA level.  Thinking more clearly, he realized that two of the causes applied in his case.  Being an avid bicyclist, his physician mentioned that a strenuous bike ride could increase the PSA level (he had taken a 40-mile ride the day before his appointment) as well as any recent ejaculation (he and his wife had made love the night before seeing the doctor).


We discussed the value of mindfulness practices since as he could see from our session, once he was able to approach this upsetting information from a calmer, centered place, he was more focused and could remember more of what the doctor said. Not only would the practice of mindfulness and relaxation techniques help him later to deal with the concerns around his PSA level, but it would also give him more tools to manage his work and daily life stresses.


Being more holistically minded as a therapist, I suggested to Jim that perhaps he could make some important meaning of this new medical information, that maybe it was an opportunity to take stock of his otherwise, harried life and think about his priorities.  He might want to examine how he was or wasn’t taking care of himself in his life, I added.  This could be the wake-up call he needed.


Since he knew that I have an expertise in food and weight-related issues, we began to discuss his diet.  There is research that shows that a diet high in fiber with many fruits and vegetables and low in animal products and dairy can lower the PSA level.  Also helpful is decreasing the intake of fatty foods and avoiding overeating.  Plus, foods like strawberries, tomatoes and garlic have powerful antioxidant qualities and can also decrease high PSA levels.


I suggested that he discuss with his doctor other natural alternatives like herbal supplements such as saw palmetto, known to reduce PSA, and green tea.  I could tell that by the end of the session, he was back in the driver’s seat of his life, no longer feeling like his life was coming to an end, but perhaps, a new beginning. 


We ended the session agreeing to do some mindfulness techniques that we would also record next time so he could practice them at home. With a little education, learning to reframe his negative thoughts into positive ones, and some mindfulness training, Jim had started to build a whole new set of tools to cope more effectively.


And just so you know, his PSA was normal the next time and has been ever since and this wake-up call changed his life.


Allyn St. Lifer has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years and specializes in teaching clients mindful eating to determine physical hunger and the point of satisfaction.  She is the founder and director of Slimworks, a mind/body, non-diet approach for managing weight and transforming one’s relationship with food, body and self.  To find out more about Allyn, please visit her website: www.slimworks.com.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. 


Read other Allyn St. Lifer columns here


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC



Jun 05

Since this week’s ShareWIK topic is prostate cancer, I’m taking a week off from couples/sex therapy to address another area of interest for me as a psychologist: the role of mental health in physical health and response to illness.

There’s been plenty written in the popular press about the role of psychological well-being in the development of illness. There was a time in the not- so-distant past that people believed sin or ignorance of God’s teaching brought on illness.  Needless to say, this belief only contributed to the suffering of people who were already struggling with illness.   Today, some extreme New Age beliefs about “creating your own reality” can be just as guilt-inducing for those suffering from disease.

 A more nuanced approach is to recognize that Nature and Nurture operate together and influence each other.  These days research indicates that most illness has a genetic root if not cause.  At the same time, as we grow older “lifestyle factors” (diet and exercise) start to strongly influence our health. It can be helpful to think of psychological well-being as another one of those influential “lifestyle” factors.

 The name of the field that explores the role of psychological well-being in physical health is “Psychoneuroimmunology.”  Basically, the brain controls the bodily systems that are critical to our health: namely, the nervous system and the immune system, which includes the endocrine system. The ways that we think about, process and react to information around us influence all of these systems. 

We know that one person might be relatively unaffected by an experience that another finds highly stressful (ever watch dads at their kid’s baseball game?) Thus, our experience of “stress” is highly influenced by the way we think about our experiences.


Basically, our thoughts and interpretations of life events can create stress reactions (e.g. anger and fear), which can increase cortisol production, blood pressure, muscle tension, bad cholesterol and heart rate. Thus, chronic stress can lead to illness, including various cancers.  One can see how psychological interventions that reduce negative thinking, stress and anxiety can clearly improve physical (as well as mental) well-being.


Okay, so I can use my brain to have some control over my health. What can I do to help prevent or delay prostate cancer?

 Try to reduce the unhealthy stress in your life.

     a. Eliminate events or activities in your life that cause you to react with anger and fear.  (I know, easier said than done…)

     b. Learn to monitor and manage your anger and fear responses. (Something you can actually accomplish TODAY!)

 Educate yourself concerning lifestyle factors that might contribute to cancer. (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cancer-prevention/CA00024). Proactive health oriented behavior is a key psychological factor in health.

 What if I’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer?

 One’s psychological response to a diagnosis can also make a difference in the potential outcome. Responding to a prostate cancer diagnosis can be extremely challenging for a man.  Men (who may see themselves as invincible) tend to have more denial surrounding health issues than women.  They may also have difficulty coping with the strong feelings of fear such a diagnosis about cancer down there can engender.


 The two most common responses are:

     *Naïve optimism: “I’m fine!” which may amount to denial and lead to avoidance of medical help 

     *Helpless pessimism: Giving oneself over completely to the doctor but doing nothing pro-active. (“We’re all going to die anyway, I might as well go out eating whatever I want!”)

Your optimal response is somewhere in the middle.

Adopt the stance of the Empowered and Educated Optimist! Work directly and actively with your physician: recovery rates from prostate cancer are high when patients follow the proper medical protocols.

But don’t just leave your recovery up to your doctor: become an expert in the factors that are in your control (diet, exercise AND mental health).  

Not only will addressing these variables improve your health during treatment, but it will improve the quality of the rest of your life.


Gerald Drose is an Atlanta-based couples sex therapist.  He is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. Visit Dr. Drose at Powers Ferry Psychological Associates, LLC.  


More Gerald Drose articles, click here.


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 


For most people, New Year's resolutions are about improving life, about making a fresh start. Perhaps we want to lose weight, exercise, or a number of other self-improvement projects. However, when we are grieving, our tendency is to look backwards, not forwards.

Here are some softer resolutions that may work for you as you begin to learn from your grief and understand your emotions.

CARING - Allow yourself to accept expressions of caring from others even though they might be uneasy and awkward. Support groups may be beneficial to you.

GOALS - For a while, it may seem that much of life is without meaning. At times like these, there are two seemingly contradictory rules of thumb: “live one day at a time” and “small goals can help.” If you try to plan something to look forward to — like a movie, going to lunch with a friend or a small trip next month — it can help you get through the immediate future.

HOPE - You may find comfort and hope from those who have experienced a similar loss. They can describe some things that have helped them. The realization that they have recovered and that time does help, can give you hope that sometime in the future your grief will be less raw and painful. 

BALANCE  Take care of yourself and work to obtain balance in your life.  Try to find  a balance of work, play, rest and relaxation.

SECURITY - Try to reduce or find help for stresses in your life. Allow yourself to be close to those you trust. Getting back into a routine helps. Remember to do things at your own pace.

SMALL PLEASURES - Do not underestimate the healing effects of small pleasures. A walk, reading a book or magazine, preparing a favorite food all are small steps toward regaining your pleasure in life itself.

TIME - Take time to be alone. And, take time to be with others whom you trust and who will listen when you need to talk. Allow time for the feelings that accompany grief and time to understand those feelings.

Wishing you peace in your heart in 2012.

Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog

Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here.

©2012  ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Feb 08

When seeking healthcare, most patients are seeking both health and care.

Health is the medical well-being or clinical condition that has caused you to seek a healthcare provider. You are at an emergency room because your child had a bicycle accident and appears to have a broken arm; that is health.  

Care is the emotional part of your visit; emotions like empathy, concern, compassion and assurance are important signs that your provider cares.  In the case of your injured child, this could include the provider listening intently to your concerns, making your child as comfortable as possible, managing the pain, setting expectations related to wait times, introducing themselves and establishing a personal connection with you and your child.

Unfortunately, our healthcare system has evolved into a mostly production line model for treatment.  As a patient, you or your loved one is the ‘widget’ being produced.  Your child in the ER is quickly assessed as a ‘possible broken arm in treatment room 3’ as opposed to a frightened 5-year-old named Marcus who has never been to a hospital before today.  You are a worried first-time mother who is concerned about her child and wondering if the break will require surgery, therapy and how painful the treatment may be for your precious, fearful son.  

No separate ER is available for children at your hospital so you sit next to a police officer with a drug-impaired prisoner awaiting treatment wondering how much longer you will have to wait to see a doctor.

Most nurses and doctors along with their support staffs chose to be in healthcare. Most truly want to deliver an exceptional and personal care experience; but many barriers prevent them from truly delivering health and care on a consistent basis.  The production pressure in healthcare settings produces an unstated tension between efficiency and effectiveness: between health and care.  

More hospitals, clinics and physician offices are seeing more patients than ever before due to financial pressures with the same or fewer staff to handle the extra load.  Stress and burnout are becoming increasingly commonplace in the healthcare professions.  

Compassion fatigue can develop among providers.  Compassion fatigue is a combination of stress from witnessing the suffering of others and burnout.  A recent study of stress among nurses reports that 27 percent of nurses who left the nursing profession, say that stressful environments and burnout were the major factors for leaving.  

If one-quarter of nurses are ‘burned-out’, how can they adequately provide care to you or one of your family members?  

So, the next time your provider is short with their answers, gives you limited eye contact or is generally dismissive, think about their personal well-being.  If they’re not emotionally ‘safe,’ you could be at-risk.  Ask about the nurse-to-patient ratios in your local hospital inpatient settings. What are their absentee rates?  How much of the nursing staff is agency (temporary) staff? What is their nurse turnover rate?  All these indicators could be the difference in being an object of care or a healthy and caring experience.

Steve Powell is an experienced facilitator, practitioner, communicator and proven leader with over 25 years of experience in human factors education and teamwork training. For more information, go to http://www.healthcareteamtraining.com/bios/stephen-powell-ms/  

Read other columns by Steve Powell here.   

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC  

Feb 19

What do you do when you cannot run from something that is not good for you?  This is an ongoing issue with which I struggle.  In my quest to manage my life with Crohn’s disease, I’ve had to acknowledge that try as I might, I cannot out run my omnipresent nemesis: stress.  

For me, stress and anxiety are like gasoline on a Crohn’s flare-up.  While stress does not cause Crohn’s episodes per se, it certainly exacerbates my symptoms.  I learned this lesson the hard way while I was working at a law firm a few years ago.  I had already been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease before I started the job, and I thought that taking my prescribed medication would be sufficient to stave off flare-ups.  I hadn’t given much thought to how I would manage the stress of working long and often unpredictable hours.  Or that I might be so busy working that I would skip meals and not get enough sleep.

It all came crashing in on me when I experienced a painful flare-up.  I was running out of meetings to vomit in the bathroom, but I continued to press on with my job, without attending to the stress in my life.  While I ultimately realized that a partnership track at a big law firm was incompatible with my health needs, I also knew that I would not necessarily be leaving stress behind.  Life is inherently stressful, and try as I might, I cannot outrun it.

I struggle with that lesson on a daily basis: while I can choose to mitigate the stress in my life, I cannot eradicate it completely.  Nor would I want to.  Sometimes even really wonderful things can be stressful - an exciting new job or an adventurous vacation.  Stress comes in all shapes and sizes.

Given that I cannot outrun stress, nor do I want to, I’ve had to learn how to outfox it.  While I can’t control most of the external factors that give rise to stress and anxiety, I can control how I respond to them.  I think of this as a two-fold process, at once preventative and also remedial. 

On the prevention side, I try to meditate for 10 to 20 minutes every day.  I turn my phone off, sit in a quiet room, close my eyes, and try to concentrate on one thing only: my breath.  It’s amazing what that daily practice has done for me.  It has helped me to become so much more aware of my body and how it feels to be truly calm.  I now notice the physiological symptoms of stress much sooner - like when I hold my breath or when my heart rate increases, etc.  If you’re interested in developing a daily mediation practice, I highly recommend the books and audio lessons of Jon Kabat-Zinn.

This ounce of prevention sets the foundation for the second way in which I deal with stress - mindfulness of the moment.  When I am conscious and mindful of what’s happening in my body, the faster I realize that I’m stressed or anxious.  Quickly identifying the situation is half the battle.  Once I notice it, I can take deep breaths, acknowledge what is within or outside my control, and perhaps offer up a little prayer for guidance.

While this may sound odd, I’ll share a specific remedial technique to foster mindfulness when you’re in a stressful situation.  (A friend of mine came up with this idea.)  I carry a small, smooth stone around in my purse.  Any garden-variety stone will do.  When I start to feel overwhelmed, I hold the stone in my hand, close my eyes, and meditate on how the stone feels.  I think about the weight of it in my hand, whether it feels cool, the texture of the stone’s surface, etc.  Somehow it anchors me and brings my awareness to something tangible, which is especially helpful when I feel like everything around me is at loose ends.

Stress affects our health, whether you have a chronic illness or not.  I hope that some of my techniques for learning how to live with stress, rather than run from it, will help you as well.


A former Duke-educated attorney, Jena Reger shares her roller coaster ride with Crohn's disease.  She hangs on with irreverence, compassion, and a lot of hope. She is a regular columnist for  ShareWiK.com.  You can visit her on the Web at www.jenareger.com.


Read other Jen Reger columns here


©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

"To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak."

~ Hopi Indian Saying ~

     Last week, I was honored to behold an amazing dance.  The graceful movements expressed more than mere words.  Hundreds of children watched the dancers, their eyes open wide… smiling brightly, then gasping, then laughing… their hearts touched by the lyrical flow of the dancers’ bodies.  

     The experience was especially powerful for me because it was born of a poem I wrote many years ago.  At that time, I never could have envisioned how this simple story would eventually touch so many lives. Here’s a short backstory of a mouse story.      


     Years ago, as I worked with patients trapped in the torturous prison of their eating disorders, I often wished that I could turn back the clock on their lives. Changing an entrenched belief system in a teen or adult is tougher than trying to develop a strong and healthy belief system in a child. I thought if only someone could have inoculated them to the toxic cultural messages about food and fat, perhaps they would not be suffering today.  

     I wanted to plant some seeds… and plant them early.    

     The most potent way to get a message to stick to a kid’s brain is to use a simple story with relatable characters, colorful visual images, rhyme and music (tools which are used quite effectively by the Media Monster!).  So I wrote a poem called "Full Mouse, Empty Mouse" about two bright, sensitive and very stressed-out mice.  Like all children who try to shore up their parents, these mice did not wish to add to their parents’ stress by talking about their own feelings. So they did their darnedest to make their bad feelings go away and, like so many kids today, used the one mood-altering substance they could find: food.  

     I found a talented artist and turned the poem into a children’s book, including a catchy song at the end.  Then I turned the book into a play. After watching the play, I collaborated with a playwright and composer and turned it into a musical.

     It was thrilling to watch this simple story evolve in these new directions. When I’d walk down the halls of my boys’ school, kids would wave at me and sing “Listen to your body!”  These moments lit up my heart: maybe this strategy was working!     

     After the musical, I figured we’d taken these mice as far as they could go.  Then, a few months ago, I learned that CORE Performance Dance Troupe in Decatur, Ga., had taken the story into yet another realm.  They had teased out some key points from the story and created a dance program around these messages, which they’d be presenting to children in Conway, Ark., during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.  This I had to see!   

     So I arrived at an elementary school and watched as the third and fourth graders politely took their seats in the cafetorium.  Excited to get out of class for a special program, they lit up when the performers came on stage.  Three dancers played the roles of the Heart, the Tummy, and the Mind of a fourth dancer representing a girl who was being bullied by a mean girl at school.  When the girl felt sad and hurt, her Heart forced her Tummy to eat in order to make the bad feelings go away.  Throughout the show, the Mind character stopped the action and spoke with the kids, asking them for advice about how the girl should deal with her feelings and with the bully.  

     Seven elementary schools in Arkansas hosted the dance program over the course of the week, reaching almost 1500 kids.  And the kids got it!  It was so heartening to see, once again, that even young kids can understand the idea of “Emotional Eating,” a concept that is rarely addressed in childhood obesity programs.  Since these programs are typically developed by dieticians and physicians, the social-psychological piece is often missing.  But through the story and the movements, these gifted dancers were able to plant some new seeds: “Listen to your Body” (e.g. don’t stuff your belly when you feel sad!) and “Talk about your feelings” (e.g. there are healthy ways to cope with painful emotions).  The children were energized and delighted by the program.  The teachers, many of whom probably wrestle with their own food demons, were smiling and engaged.  And because the messages were conveyed through a creative medium that tapped into universal emotions, I imagine these messages will not soon be forgotten. 

     During my time in Arkansas, CORE’s artistic director Sue Shroeder spoke of  “rhizomes,” horizontal underground root systems that send out shoots that grow into new plants.  I remembered learning that aspen trees grow in colonies that derive from a single seedling that may be 100 feet from the parent tree.  This image of rhizomes was a more evolved way of imagining my urge to “plant seeds” years ago.  Little did I know that Full Mouse, Empty Mouse would be the seedling that sent out such far reaching roots and shoots.  

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and at MyEdin.org.


More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.


©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

May 22


Sometimes the clearest indicator of a family’s dysfunction is, unfortunately, illness in its children. Like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, it’s the children who are most susceptible to the toxicity of family addiction and dysfunction. Hurt people hurt people, and literally scare the life out of little kids.

Fear – the kind of terror felt by children who live in toxic situations such as alcohol abuse, child abuse, family violence, the upheaval of divorce, concern about a parent’s depression or mental illness – impacts a child for what may well be his or her abnormally short life. 

The science to support my claim is documented in a study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE Study) – research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente. This study documents the undeniable link between toxic stress caused by experiences such as family addiction, abuse, dysfunction, violence, and divorce in childhood, and adult diseases such as heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes, some breast cancers, and a host of autoimmune diseases. It also shows a strong link between the adverse experiences and depression, violence, being a victim of violence, and suicide. 

Since the ShareWIK topic for this week is asthma, let’s explore how these experiences manifest themselves as pulmonary distress – the kind of distress that leads to childhood asthma and continued pulmonary issues into adulthood. To do this, I invite you to join me in being a little kid again. In being a tiny person in a tiny body. Of being totally dependent on your mom or dad or grandparents. Of looking to them for food, shelter, clothing, nurture, love, joy. Their joy is your joy. Their victories are your victories. If your mom is happy, everyone is happy. If your mom is miserable, chances are pretty good that everyone is miserable, especially you. Because if you’re a little kid, you don’t have the “filters” and distractions adults can use to deflect another person’s dark behaviors.

Adults can seek and find ways to distract themselves from their pain: a glass of wine, a cigarette, a piece of cake, a pill, the “need” to work late. Or they can create their body’s own drugs: the adrenaline rush from risky behaviors such as spending money they may or may not have, gossiping, becoming overly involved in the lives of others; the endorphin rush summoned up with sex, compulsive exercise, or a perfectionistic-driven cleaning binge. Or they can seek healthy solutions found in therapy, support groups, light-hearted team sports, a family outing or peaceful dinner, or prayer and meditation. But you, a little kid, are simply stuck. Dependent, you must stew in the toxic brew of your family’s addictions, mental illnesses, and never-ending chaos that you want to stop, but cannot. Instead, you sit in terror, taking shallow breaths through sleepless nights as the same behaviors are repeated. And repeated.

And so your frustration is not unlike the frustration a chained puppy feels as it sits in the hot sun, no water, no relief, no protection, pulling against the chain again and again, fearful and vulnerable when bigger dogs circle the yard to attack. Like that puppy, you are trapped, afraid, panting. Like that puppy’s body, your body generates all manner of stress hormones that do not go away the minute you find comfort, or even days – or years – after you’ve “grown up.”

As Peter Gergen, MD, MPH, a senior medical officer at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shares, “Scientists have documented a range of stressful events that have been associated with asthma symptoms. These include school exams, public speaking, family conflict, public disasters, and exposure to violence. Stress may directly affect the body or cause people to manage their asthma less effectively."

Dr. Gergen continues, “First, stress and anxiety can cause physiological changes that may provoke an attack. These strong emotions trigger the release of chemicals, such as histamine and leukotrienes, which can trigger the narrowing of your airway.” Gergen adds that stress can also cause people to forget their medication while at the same time stress-related hormones reduce the body’s ability to fight off colds and other respiratory infections.  “Viral infections are very important causes for triggering asthma,” he says (1).

So as a defenseless child, your toxic stew of stress hormones bubbles up when there’s fear, and seeps into your cells, weakening them. Your body is torn down at the same time it is trying to grow; at the same time your little spirit is trying to trust and love and be childlike. Your lungs need to expand. You need to be able to take deep breaths to oxygenate your blood and feed your brain and organs. But fear – the fear you feel when your mother drinks; your dad is depressed; your teenage sister cuts herself – keeps you trapped like that puppy on a short chain. In “fight or flight” mode, adrenaline constricts blood vessels; breathing is shallow. You hurt in your heart and you don’t know how to stop it. 

Maybe the swelling in your airways would have happened even if you’d been born into a family without traumatic stress. Maybe. Or maybe, like the thousands of middle class Americans in the ACE study mentioned earlier, if you are growing up in a family where there is addiction, abuse, divorce, caustic criticism, violence, etc, you are among the 28 million adult children of alcoholics terrified and stricken by toxic stress. If that is the case, you are, according to the study, almost four times more likely to have chronic pulmonary disease.

As Vincent J. Felitti, one of the authors of the ACE Study writes in his own article, The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Health: Turning gold into lead (2), “The ACE study reveals a powerful relationship between our emotional experiences as children and our physical and mental health as adults, as well as the major causes of adult mortality in the United States. It documents the conversion of traumatic emotional experiences in childhood into organic disease later in life. How does this happen, this reverse alchemy, turning the gold of a newborn infant into the lead of a depressed, diseased adult? The study makes it clear that time does not heal some of the adverse experiences we found so common in the childhoods of a large population of middle-aged, middle-class Americans. One does not `just get over' some things, not even fifty years later.

“Clearly, we have shown that adverse childhood experiences are common, destructive, and have an effect that often lasts for a lifetime. They are the most important determinant of the health and well-being of our nation. Unfortunately, these problems are painful to recognize and difficult to deal with. Most physicians would far rather deal with traditional organic disease. Certainly, it is easier to do so, but that approach also leads to troubling treatment failures and the frustration of expensive diagnostic quandaries where everything is ruled out but nothing is ruled in.”

My interpretation of what Dr. Feletti has written?  It is far easier to treat the symptom – be it asthma, a stomach ache, a backache – than it is to address and heal the root cause: whatever it is going on at home that could be evoking the anxiety that is the likely trigger to illness.

Again, I know adverse childhood experiences are not the cause of ALL asthma and childhood illness. And, as an advocate for children of alcoholics, and as an adult child of an alcoholic myself, I must raise the question: What if pediatricians would ask about what’s going on at home? What if they would recommend a course of action that would help the parents create a home life with more joy and less terror? What if their prescription pad said “Mom: 90 AA meetings in 90 days; Dad: cut up the credit cards, quit spending, and catch fireflies with this child for 30 minutes each night for the next three months; Grandma: take an anger management class MWF and a yoga class on alternate days”?

Perhaps then caring for these heart-sick children – these innocents trapped and vulnerable in their own families – would lead to a society that works to reduce the toxic stew that drains, strains, and causes the death of childhood when children are supposed to be children, and the early death of so many still-terrified adults.



 1.  http://www.webmd.com/asthma/features/asthma-stress-and-anxiety-a-risky-cycle

 2. http://www.empty-memories.nl/science/felitti.pdf

There is help for Children of Alcoholics at 


(National Association for Children of Alcoholics)



 (Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization Worldwide, Inc.)  


Carey Sipp's first book, The TurnAround Mom – How an Abuse and Addiction Survivor Stopped the Toxic Cycle for Her Family, and How You Can, Too, guides fellow “children of chaos” to create the kind of sane and loving home life that helps prevent next-generation addiction and abuse. Her book is available here

Read more articles by Carey Sipp here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Jun 21

When I get overwhelmed because of my ADHD and get to that point when I feel like I can’t do anything, nothing good gets accomplished. Stress clouds my mind and makes it even harder to get anything done, so I’ve found that taking a few minutes to do some stress reduction techniques helps me feel more balanced and capable. When I’ve taken a short break to relax and reassess, my problems never seem as bad. 

Some of my favorite techniques are:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: 

Lie on your back on a bed or on the floor with your limbs outstretched. Take a deep breath. Scrunch up your toes for ten seconds, and then release for 20 seconds. Then tense up your calves for ten seconds and release for 20 seconds. Do the same with your butt, then your abs, then your hands, then your shoulders, and then squeeze your jaw tight and release, and then squeeze your eyes closed and release. While you’re tensing and releasing, try to focus only on the feelings your movements create. Try not to think about what you need to do after this, or how much time you’re wasting, or if this stupid exercise is even working. Just take lots of deep breaths and think about how nice it feels to release your muscles. As you release, imaging the tension and stress leaving your body. Once you’re done, get up slowly and get back to work feeling more empowered and balanced. 

Diaphragmatic Breathing:

When I’m stressed out in a public place and I need to calm down as quickly as possible, it’s all about taking deep breaths. I sit up in my chair with my feet flat on the ground and breathe in through my nose for four seconds, hold for two, and then breathe out through pursed lips for eight seconds. I do this as many times as it takes until I feel more in control. Closing my eyes helps if I feel comfortable doing that. I make sure that I’m breathing in the most effective way, which means I’m using my diaphragm. 

Diaphragmatic breathing helps you get the most oxygen in your body and it can require focus to do it right, so it’s helpful when you need to calm down and get your mind off of your to-do list. Basically, diaphragmatic breathing contracts the diaphragm, which is a muscle located horizontally between the chest cavity and the stomach cavity. Breathing diaphragmatically means your belly expands when you breathe in, instead of only your lungs expanding. So when you’re taking these deep breaths, sneak a peek at your stomach, make sure it’s filling up, and make sure your shoulders aren’t raising- it’s an easy way to know if you’re doing it right.

Choose some go-to calm-down songs. Whenever I’m feeling really overwhelmed, I grab my iPod and listen to my Calm Down playlist. I usually take a few deep breaths while listening, too, to relax even more. My go-tos are:

- Claire de Lune by Claude Debussy

- Sea of Love by Cat Power

- Any Jack Johnson song

- Make You Feel My Love by Adele (originally written by Bob Dylan)

- Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen

- Anything by Sigur Ros

- Anything by Andrew Bird

Pick your own go-tos and have them on hand when you need them. Music can transform your mood so much better, quicker, and easier than almost anything else. Sometimes I just need to pump up and get ready to work hard on something, and then I choose a song like “We Are Young” by fun. or “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick. 

Managing ADHD is doable, and I’ve found that I’m better off than many people because of the techniques I’ve learned to overcome it. I get frustrated sometimes when I get tired of having to work harder than everyone else, but really, these are skills that anyone can use to ensure that their lives go more smoothly. Because I have these tools in my toolbox, I never feel burdened by my ADHD, and that’s the most important thing to work toward. 

Allie Lemco is a production assistant for ShareWIK Media Group where she not only keeps herself organized but the rest of ShareWIK's staff, as well. She lives in Atlanta.

I had the honor of being involved in the crisis response in the Chardon School systems since February 27, 2012, when three students were shot and killed. The impact of this incident was initially devastating, but the community has undergone a transformation that continues to this day and will hopefully go beyond.


As part of the bereavement center, my team was involved in the initial crisis response as well as many community events and ongoing support initiatives.  Prior to that date, we offered a grief support group to the school and during this school year we are providing additional support services including groups and health classes on death, dying, grief and loss.


Recently, I attended the Chardon Healing Fund’s Journey to Healing Strategic Planning Session. The day utilized Appreciative Inquiry, which is a model that looks at the alignment of strengths to promote change.  At my table in the morning, there was one student, two parents, a mental health counselor, the principal of the high school, and a first responder. 

Our discussion really hit home with me as everyone shared a story of support (community and worldwide). I interviewed the student, who said somehow the school was better, if that was possible, from such a tragedy. ….that kids were nicer to each other and were more inclusive of one another.  Her most memorable moment was walking to school from the square in town, arm in arm with other students, to parents greeting them with applause.  Students were scattered at tables throughout the room and each table shared a similar story. It was awesome.


The goal is to continue to move the community into an ongoing caring culture. The remainder of the day focused on just that.


My takeaway was the confirmation that grief can transform not just a single person, but an entire community.  People and communities are resilient. There is an inner capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe, to adapt and to rebuild after a devastating tragedy.


Please visit our on-line grief discussions groups here.


Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of the Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.

Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here


©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


Oct 05

“Maintain work-life balance.”  “Eat a balanced diet.”  “Do everything in moderation.” These are all common phrases used to describe key elements of a healthy lifestyle.   Unfortunately, balance is hard to achieve in today’s busy world.  Today, we are wired, connected and busy.  Even friends who are ‘retired’ from regular work report having busy schedules and difficulty balancing all their personal commitments.  

When our lives get out of balance, our stress levels can increase.  When our stress levels increase, we can suffer burnout or become anxious or depressed.  When we become anxious and depressed, we may become less productive or choose to self-medicate, abuse alcohol or use illicit drugs to maintain performance.  What does all this have to do with patient safety?  

Healthcare professionals (physicians, nurses and technicians) are especially susceptible to getting ‘out of balance’ due to long shifts, sicker patients and higher workloads.  Patients in hospitals are sicker than ever.  Higher acuity means more complex care coordination.  The increased complexity of care, along with the emotional complexity of dealing with pain and suffering, requires increased personal resilience.

Resilience is an individual's ability to generate ways to resist, adapt and strengthen itself, when faced with adversity.  The American Psychological Association suggests "10 Ways to Build Resilience" with an emphasis on taking care of one's mind and body, exercising regularly and paying attention to one's own needs and feelings (APA, 2012).

Healthcare professionals can use simple ways to assess their personal safety to maintain balance in their work-life.  One tool called I’M SAFE is a self-management tool used to enhance resilience and ensure your caregiver is ‘fit for duty’ (TeamSTEPPS, 2012).  I’M SAFE is easy to use and stands for:

I – Illness (Are you suffering from an illness that is degrading your performance?)

M – Medications (Are you taking medications that may impair your judgment?)

S – Stress (Are you adequately managing the stressors in your life?)

A – Alcohol (Are you using alcohol in excess with negative consequences?)

F – Fatigue (Are you getting enough rest?)

E – Eating (Are you maintaining a healthy diet?)

One fatigue study showed that physician performance after being awake 24 hours is equivalent to test subjects with a blood alcohol level of .10 (legally drunk by most standards) (Dawson & Reid, 1997).  

This tool is designed for your healthcare provider to evaluate their personal readiness to safely care for you.  That said, how could you use I’M SAFE and the principles of resilience to prevent illness, recover faster and enhance your own personal health?  If you are an ‘at-home’ caregiver for a loved one with a chronic illness, you are susceptible to the same pressures as your healthcare professionals.  

Remember, ask one simple question: Am I safe?  Your answers will help you maintain a healthy balance.


American Psychological Association (APA) (2012). The Road to Resilience: 10 ways to build resilience. Accessed at http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx 

TeamSTEPPS®: Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/teamstepps/

Dawson, D. and Reid, K. (1997). Fatigue, alcohol and performance impairment. Nature (388): 235.

Steve Powell is an experienced facilitator, practitioner, communicator and proven leader with over 25 years of experience in human factors education and teamwork training. For more information, click here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Hyper-vigilance is exhausting.  It’s got that double-whammy combination of physical and emotional stress that is durable over the short-term, but unsustainable for the long haul.  The body can only stay on high-alert for so long, without a rest, before the stress begins to take its toll.  It is the lot of the modern-day caregiver.

At the mention of the term “caregiver,” our thoughts generally go to the management of those with chronic or terminal medical conditions. Our mind’s eye tends to leave the community of everyday life, and travel to a remote world of isolation that is relentless in its ongoing sameness. 

I have immense compassion for people when they are called upon to play this role in life. It is the ultimate expectation that we set forth “in sickness and in health” when we commit to a partner in marriage. We know it is a possibility in our future either to care or be cared for.  And, secretly, we all wonder how we will rise to the occasion, or whether someone will be there for us in our time of need.

End of life issues are so difficult for people to consider that critical conversations all too often end up locked away in back closets, unspoken and unaddressed, tucked away in the dark room of our mere mortality.

But we must make sure that we do not lock people away with the fear that we tend to relegate to those dark spaces. Loved ones who are ill, chronically or terminally, must be invited to live fully to the extent of their capability. And, those who care for them must be cared for by the rest of us. 

For the last several years I have watched my mother-in-law care attentively for my father-in-law, who lives in congestive heart failure. The last few months have gotten significantly harder, and the wear and tear on her is palpable. We try hard to support her as she manages the continuation of his life. It is sometimes peaceful, often grueling, exacting every ounce of energy from her, replacing it with a fatigue that is bone-deep and perpetual. 

She dances daily on a fine line between caregiving, and giving herself away. And that is the nature of the caregiver’s experience.

I know that Mom operates from a place of deep love and concern, well beyond any obligation that motivates her. It’s unimaginable to her that she could make another choice. Her caregiving is a direct expression of her love. She rises to the occasion, every day, often following a sleepless night. It is an extraordinary, if sometimes painful, gift to witness.

My husband and I struggle with how to help his mom as she supports the love of her life. With three children and two businesses of our own, we are firmly planted in the sandwich generation. Pulled in a gazillion different directions, we are constantly shifting priorities to meet the next highest need. We would love to be able to provide more relief or more care.  Sometimes, we are able to rise to the occasion, and sometimes the occasion demands our immediate presence.  It is a place of constant uncertainty for the entire family.  That is the nature of loving someone who lives with a chronic or terminal illness.

While we can’t always be there every day to help with the heavy-lifting for Dad, this is what I know we can do that makes a difference for Mom. If you are caught in the sandwich generation, here are 10 tips for caring for the caregiver you love:

  1. Pay attention. Check in, and call, and ask, and try to be as engaged in the experience as possible. Don’t only ask about the ill loved one. Ask about how the caregiver is doing!
  2. Listen. Let him/her talk, or vent, or go into excruciating detail, or problem-solve, or cry, or whatever s/he needs. Give her an ear so s/he knows s/he’s never alone.
  3. Rally the troops. Keep communication going with family and extended friends. Don’t allow the isolation to get to the point that it becomes awkward for the caregiver to ask for help. 
  4. Offer help (this one’s got two parts):
    1. Regularly ask the caregiver what s/he needs. Help break it down and be specific, because it’s likely that s/he doesn’t really know what will help reduce the load, or is hesitant to ask for “little things” that could mean a lot.
    2. Encourage the caregiver to ask for help. It’s often quite difficult for a caregiver to ask for help – the sense of duty and obligation leave them erroneously convinced that they should be doing it on their own. Talk about how you can be there for him/her, and encourage him/her to be clear with what they need. You might even assure him/her that you won’t always be able to do everything, but you want to be able to try (but you can’t always know unless s/he asks).
  5. Relieve the load when you can. Show up. Make dinner. Clean the kitchen. Hire a cleaning service. Empty the dishwasher. Get some groceries. Run some errands. Bring in meals. Little actions have great appreciation.
  6. Acknowledge the caregiver in terms of what s/he is doing, as well as the emotional support s/he is offering. Everyone needs reinforcement and to hear they’re doing a good job. This is especially true for caregivers, who spend 24/7 on call, sometimes with extremely limited positive feedback (or constant criticism, which is unfortunately not uncommon). 
  7. Keep communication going. Encourage the caregiver to share details with you, and help him/her advocate with the medical professionals when s/he starts to feel run down or overwhelmed. Sometimes, it helps if you can be there for conversations with doctors – the complexities can be particularly overwhelming to an exhausted caregiver.
  8. Talk to the ill family member, when appropriate, about the issues that are tucked away in back rooms. Try to be the one who can talk about the difficult issues without avoidance. The ill parent may want to process issues of life and death, and might not want to “burden” the caregiver what that emotional weight.
  9. Encourage the caregiver to do more for him/herself, even if you have to convince him/her to do it in the interest of caring for the loved one. At this stage in life, it is natural for a caregiver to surrender routine life to the management of their loved one’s illness. But everyone has a limit, and it’s important that caregivers be constantly encouraged to eat, drink, sleep and exercise.
  10. Engage the kids and the whole family. As part of the cycle of life, there can be beauty, joy and connection even in times of illness. Rather than shielding children from the pain, you have an opportunity to normalize it for them. Chronic and terminal illnesses are part of the human experience, and we want our children to understand it without fear. Besides, a healthy dose of young energy and love is often MUCH more than the doctor can order!
At the moment of this posting, my family is immersed in immediate caring needs. I offer this column as a gift to other families ...with deep gratitude to my kids for their love, patience and concern; with admiration to my spouse for his commitment to his parents; with prayers of healing and love for my father-in-law; and with all the support and encouragement I can muster for my mother-in-law, who is shouldering so much of this on her own. My respect for her is without measure. Hang in there, Mom.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus coaches parents from around the country, on the telephone, to confidently help their families thrive. She is the co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, a free resource for parents, and works together with her husband, David Taylor-Klaus, in their company, Touchstone Coaching. Elaine is a regular columnist on ShareWIK.com and ImpactADHD.com, and writes for “Living Without” and "Womenetics.com" magazines. Follow her on Twitter@TouchstoneCoach and @ImpactADHD.

Read more columns by Elaine Taylor-Klaus here

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Dec 05

December is a good time of year to prepare to take inventory. On Jan. 1, it becomes a brand new opportunity to start with a clean slate. Re-evaluating what you want out of life, especially with the many limitations during caregiving, becomes an ongoing internal process. Meditation is one very effective method to use to find the answers.

About 15 years ago, I was in Sedona learning Korean Yoga. There I was, on top of a mountain, in the desert at sunset… legs crossed, little fourth fingers touching my thumbs and resting on each knee.

When you’re looking for stress relievers and rethinking what life is all about, Sedona is the definite hot spot... literally.

I was completely alone, sitting there with my eyes closed, listening.  I was sure I had meditated before. I had just never gotten an answer. That didn’t stop me from referring to meditation as if I was an old hand. 

I was an impostor! But that day, as I sat quietly, I was sure it was finally going to happen. Suddenly, I heard a soft voice say, “open your eyes.” I, of course, said no, I’m meditating. Then a few seconds later I heard “OPEN YOUR EYES” really loud in my head. So, against my better judgment, I did so.

There was a tarantella about six inches from my knee. I jumped up, running down the path, leaping over a snake and waving to the jack rabbits as I barely made it out alive.

Little did I know that at the precise moment of sunset, all the creatures of the desert, who have been hiding from the heat all day, come rushing out to find food and water.

Although I am counting this as my first official meditation, I would not recommend the desert at sunset.

Everyone has to learn what works for them when learning how to meditate, but it can be an invaluable tool. Finding your own answers is important as a caregiver. Even though I like to say, “You are not alone,” you are alone. In fact, you may spend most of your time alone if you are the primary caregiver. The amount of support you receive from friends and family is unfortunately and avoidably small. If you are the primary caregiver, you are 100 percent responsible. It is daunting. The stress this can create, over the course of years, can impact your health, emotional well-being and even your ability to care for the loved one you are trying to help. 

Learning how to meditate can become a life-saving practice, helping you to relieve stress while teaching you to become self-sufficient in these challenging times. A big part of stress is feeling alone and overwhelmed. You have to find a way not to just survive, but to thrive during this time of caregiving. Meditation can help you to call on the inner knowing that we all have, to guide you through. 

As you become more and more comfortable, it will feel not only more natural, but necessary that you are the one answering your own questions. No one can understand you and your situation like you can and the personal decisions you face day to day. 

I found that it became strange to ask someone else what I should do. No one else had my answers. I just had to exercise the tools, go inside and find them. It was a huge challenge to learn how to sit still … and listen. I had been president of a manufacturing company with 80 employees prior to caring for my father. 

Up until then, control seemed to work much better. Letting go when you are trying to control everything is a tricky accomplishment. It is one, however, that can create a life changing shift. Once you are working from the inside out instead of from the outside in… life becomes manageable, peaceful and much more joyful. This was a precious gift I received while taking care of my father. The shift in orientation transformed my life of control and subsequently, what my future held.

When you control, you’re telling yourself that things don’t happen unless you force them to happen.


The power of true peace and possibility does not lie in outward force; it lies inwardly, in surrender.

Author Lee Lambert, CEO of Lee Lambert Cares, empowers family caregivers to know what to do and when to do it, so that they can experience the simple joy of living life normally while caring for a loved one. Visit her at www.leelambertcares.com

Read more columns by Lee Lambert here

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Dec 15

It’s as omnipresent as bad Christmas music: that vague sense of dread for people who’re related to an active addict at holiday time.

“I don’t know when he’ll do it, but I know it’s a matter of time before he’ll drink too much and make an ass out of himself.”


“I used to love Christmas. Then I married into a family with an alcoholic who manages to suck the joy out of every gathering; everyone is so worried that she’ll fall, or pass out, or cuss somebody out. Even if she behaves, everyone else is so busy trying to control everything that there’s bound to be a blowup. It happens every year!”


“It’s hell living with a food addict. They obsess over not binging, then they binge, and then they get mad as hell at anyone and everyone as if we MADE them eat.”


A solution to this family tradition of carried pain and shame isn’t what most folks want to hear. We want a quick fix and the ability to continue blaming and shaming “the person with the problem.”


But judging someone else, and the resulting blame or shame, fear or control, isn’t helping anyone. Especially not the co-addict, or codependent – the “para-addict” – who begins to act like the alcoholic, drug addict, food addict, or whomever, without even using the substance or taking on the addictive behavior. Addiction is, after all, a family disease, meaning everyone is touched by it.


I’ve heard it said that codependence kills more people than alcoholism ever thought about killing.  And I believe it. The stress of living with someone active in an addiction – be it alcohol, drugs, food, sex, spending, work, gossip, whatever – is overwhelming, unless we seek help. Even with help it is a challenge.


I have found relief from the effects of growing up with this pain through a support group for families and friends of alcoholics. For the last 18 years this group – with meetings online, down the street, on the phone, and all over the world – has meant respite and a reset.  I am grateful for this gathering of friends and strangers who share a common concern and learn a common solution: to keep the focus on themselves.


By learning more about caring for ourselves; repeatedly hearing that we didn’t cause the problem, we cannot control it, and we cannot cure it; by learning to be gentle with ourselves and others, we slowly but surely begin to find some joy.


The support group speaks of our “turning our will and our lives over to a power greater than ourselves.”  For me, the Higher Power is the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  And I have leaned so heavily into them of late that despite multiple challenges – each of which is enough, on its own, to evoke overwhelm – I can maintain, most of the time, “the peace that passes all understanding.”


The way people who’re addicted, and the people who live with and love them, change behaviors in an instant – are irritable, lash out, and seem to cast a pall over what should be a time of celebration and love – can trash your holiday or motivate you to make a change within yourself.


Hurting people hurt people. Hurt people hurt people. To keep from joining an addict in hurting the ones you love, take time out to nurture yourself.  Give Al-Anon or Alateen a try for at least six meetings. See if the acceptance, hope, and peace doesn’t bring you a sense of relief.


It can’t hurt. And it may just stop the hurting.



For more information, and to find a meeting near you, visit www.al-anon.alateen.org


 Carey Sipp's first book, The TurnAround Mom – How an Abuse and Addiction Survivor Stopped the Toxic Cycle for Her Family, and How You Can, Too, guides fellow “children of chaos” to create the kind of sane and loving home life that helps prevent next-generation addiction and abuse. Follow her on Twitter @TurnAroundMom.

Read more columns by Carey Sipp here.

@2012 ShareWIK Media Group LLC


Stress and grief can bring out the worst in people. Lately, I’ve been privy to a number of discussions where there is an enormous amount of family fighting after the death of a family member. This is usually around “stuff.”  Adult children, spouse, ex-spouses, and relatives who haven’t been seen in a while show up wanting “stuff.” Some just take what they want without asking.


Other times it’s a bit more involved. Maybe one adult child wants to clean out the closet, but the other sibling isn’t quite ready. Perhaps there was a divorce and the divorced spouse was still the one to provide care. However, the will is changed and other family members have deleted the ex from getting anything. Or, the out-of-town family member is angry at end-of-life decisions that were made in his or her absence. The in-town family members are angry at the person for being away. Sometimes the fights revolve around funeral planning.


The scenarios are endless. The unfortunate part is that in-fighting masks or interrupts feelings of grief that family members experience at the time of death. Not only do you mourn the death of your deceased parent, you may find yourself grieving the loss of your living sibling.


Perhaps we can learn from Aesop’s fable, “The Bundle of Sticks.”


A father had a family of sons who were perpetually quarreling amongst themselves. As an old man on the point of death, the father summoned his sons to give them some parting advice. He had a bundle of sticks, which he placed into the hands of each of them in succession, and then ordered his sons to break the bundle in pieces. They tried with all their strength, but were not able to do so. He next opened the bundle, took the sticks separately, one by one, and again put them into his sons' hands, upon which they broke the sticks easily. He then said, "You see my meaning.”


What is the moral of this fable? Simply put, unity gives strength.  When you stand alone, you are as vulnerable as single stick.  When you stand together, you are unbreakable. 

When a family is united with grief, they are stronger and better able to support one another.


Consider what is at stake during these times. What was the relationship like before the death of the family member? Can things be reconciled? Can relationships be repaired? Do you want reconciliation? How important is the “stuff?”  Just as grief is unique to the individual, the answers to these questions will be different for everyone. Grief is hard work. With family and friends by your side and drawing from each other’s strength, it can become more manageable.


Please visit our on-line grief discussions groups at http://www.hospicewr.org/discussions/grief/.


Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.

 Read more columns by Diane Snyder Cowan here

©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

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