Monday, July 29, 2013


Being lucky is a state of mind

A few times a year we have a raffle at work, whether a fundraiser or a "team-building" incentive.  At the sign-up table, a colleague and I were filling out the ticket stub for the latest raffle when we both spoke up at the same time.  She said, "I'm not a lucky person ... I never win anything."  At the exact same time I said, "I am a really lucky person — and I just might win that grand prize." 

Later, I thought about that encounter and our relative perspectives. She has a beautiful, young family and supportive and caring parents that live nearby.  She has a good job, lots of friends, and enjoys good health.   Certainly a lucky person by my definition. 
On the other hand, I also have a supportive husband. My two grown children and grandson live thousands of miles away.   I have a good job and still enjoy good health, even though I am more than 25 years older than my colleague.  Yet I self-identify as a lucky person and she doesn't. 

Christine Carter, PhD, is a sociologist at University of California at Berkeley.  She reports research shows that people who believe themselves to be lucky are far more satisfied with their lives than people who think of themselves as unlucky.

 Lucky people are happier with their family life, their personal life, their financial situation, their health and their career. How lucky we feel is connected to how much gratitude we have, as well as to our confidence and optimism — incredibly important positive emotions. Luck is hugely related not just to our success, but to our happiness. In fact, the word happy originally meant lucky — hap meant "chance" or "fortune."

Well, you guessed it, my colleague won the grand prize and I didn't win any of the prizes.  I still think I am generally a very lucky person, and she thought it was a "fluke" that she won.  It's all a matter of perspective.

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, July 22, 2013


Use your head when dealing with concussions

Kasey collided into another soccer player hitting her head on the ground. She was a “little shook up” but still wanted to play. When the game was over she felt “sick and had a headache.” Should Kasey have kept playing?

According Anthony Alessi, MD, a member of the Backus Medical Staff and Neuro Diagnostics of Norwich, Kasey should not have continued playing. Kasey could have had a concussion and it was a bad idea for her to stay in the game.

Dr. Alessi explains that the brain is made of soft tissue and is cushioned by spinal fluid, within the skull. When a head injury occurs, the brain can move around inside the skull and even bang against it. When this happens, a concussion occurs — a temporary loss of normal brain function.

Most people recover fine from concussions with appropriate treatment. It’s important to take the proper steps if you suspect a concussion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a few signs and symptoms of a concussion include:

•  feeling dazed, dizzy or light headed
•  not “feeling right”
•  nausea or vomiting
•  headache
•  blurred vision.

An additional source of information is a free app for your smart phone, provided by The American Academy of Neurology (AAN), a trusted authority in managing sports concussions. The app “AAN Concussion” is a valuable resource for coaches, athletic trainers, doctors, parents and athletes to quickly evaluate the individual.

If you or a teammate has a hit to the head inform your coach or an adult immediately. Dr. Alessi says the best treatment for a concussion is rest. Individuals recovering from a concussion should avoid activities that require a lot of thinking and concentration.

Concussions can be prevented by taking simple precautions, such as wearing appropriate safety equipment.

If you are uncertain if you have a concussion, the best advice is “When in doubt, sit out!” It’s better to miss one game than the whole season.

Lisa Cook is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cook or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, July 15, 2013


Paying attention to present will pay dividends in future

Mindfulness is a relatively new term for a relatively ancient concept: Being present and grounded in the moment.  It is an attentive awareness of the reality of things, especially of the present moment.  It simply means paying attention to what you are seeing and doing. 
For example, I was not being mindful when I picked up and applied my glue stick instead of my deodorant stick.  That was a wake-up call for me: I decided to research the concept of mindfulness.

My friend Amy Dunion, RN, Coordinator of the Backus Center for Healthcare Integration (CHI), suggested I start by exploring the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.  He is internationally known as a meditation teacher, author, researcher, and clinician in the fields of mind/body medicine, integrative medicine, lifestyle change, and self-healing. He is an expert in stress reduction, relaxation, and the applications of mindfulness meditation in everyday living to improve the ability to face stress, pain, and illness across the lifespan.

On his website, he offers some very basic advice to cultivating mindfulness. It says “In order to live life fully, you have to be present for it.  To be present, it helps to purposefully bring awareness to your moments — otherwise you may miss many of them. You do that by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and being non-judgmental. This requires a great deal of kindness toward yourself, which you deserve.”

Mindfulness is a great tool for stress management and overall wellness because it can be used at virtually any time and can quickly bring lasting results.

There are several simple and convenient exercises to experience mindfulness in our daily life.

•  Just breathe.  Simply stop what you are doing and sit quietly in a comfortable position.  Then take three slow deep breaths, paying attention to the feel and sound of your breathing. Especially when you’re upset, this exercise can have a calming effect and help you stay grounded in the present moment.

•  Listen to music.  You can play soothing new-age music, classical music, or another type of slow-tempo music to feel calming effects. Focus on the feelings that the music brings up within you, and other sensations that are happening "right now" as you listen.

•  Savor the present.  Why does living in the moment make people happier? Because most negative thoughts concern the past or the future. As Mark Twain said, "I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

Well, this all may seem like an impossible task in these busy times.  It may take a lot of practice, but being focused, grounded and calm should be a great outcome to practicing mindfulness.  And like Dr. Kabat-Zinn says, “we deserve it.”

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


Stress relief tips in our ‘Anxiety Society’

Is there anyone these days who can say these are not stressful times?  In fact, when we were looking for a catchy title for a health education program, we named it “Anxiety Society.”  

And for good reason. Approximately 18% — or 40 million Americans — suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

We all experience some degree of stress on a daily basis. According to The New York Times Health Guide, stress generates from situations or thoughts that make you feel frustrated, angry, or anxious. Anxiety centers on feeling apprehension or fear.

Stress in low doses is normal, and even beneficial, as it motivates you, and makes you more productive.

My colleague Eric Sandberg, PhD, of the Backus Center for Mental Health, has given numerous presentations on stress and anxiety. During the “Anxiety Society” presentation, he explained that stress is external, and anxiety is internal.

That’s an interesting way of looking at it.  The only thing we can control is our response to the inevitable stresses of life.  There are degrees of anxiety.  In cases of severe anxiety, when a person is overwhelmed with deep panic and fright, professional medical help should be sought immediately.

The mild stress that we encounter daily can be managed with some easy techniques, according to Dr. Sandberg. He offers some self-help stress busters:

•  Imagine warming your hands by a fire on a cold night
•  Be nice to someone
•  Recognize one of your strengths
•  Make plans for a great future
•  Read, hear, make a joke
•  Pet a pet
•  Talk to a friend
•  Take a walk
•  Recreation
And my personal favorite:
•  Eat healthy, tasty food 

My colleague Lisa says when she is stressed, “I go to my happy place.”  When I asked her to explain, she said, “I imagine myself at the beach, or playing with my daughters in the back yard, or relaxing in our favorite vacation spot in Maine.”  

All great ideas for relieving stress in these tough times. 

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, July 01, 2013


How do you eat when no one is watching?

Last week, my husband confessed to me that when I am working on a weekend and he has to fend for himself, a friend provides him with the fixings for a peanut butter and grape jelly on white bread sandwich (“none of that all-natural stuff”). Then he washes it down with a diet cola.

I felt a little faint hearing that, but I figure if that’s his worst crime, I have it pretty lucky.  But I am not deterred. I will still continue on my quest to provide healthy, yet tasty meals for the family.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has created an easy to navigate its website, It is chock full of ideas, recipes and advice on nutrition and food preparation. 

The basis of the food guidance system is the “My Plate” program.  This is an updated, easy-to-follow replacement of the previous “My Pyramid” system, which I could never understand anyway.  “My Plate” illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet using a familiar image — a place setting for a meal.

One of the links, “Ten Tips Nutrition Education Series,” provides a wealth of information on all types of topics.  One of my favorites is “Ten Tips to Liven Up Your Meals With Vegetables and Fruits.” I thought Tip #1 might appeal to my husband, especially when I am not home to prepare the meal:
Fire up the grill

•  Use the grill to cook vegetables and fruits
•  Try grilling mushrooms, carrots, peppers, or potatoes on a kabob skewer
•  Brush with oil to keep them from drying out
•  Grilled fruits like peaches, pineapple, or mangos add great flavor to a cookout.

We all know it’s important to eat tasty and nutritious meals for good health and vitality...most of the time.  But it’s also important to occasionally treat ourselves to favorite “forbidden” foods like grape jelly, white bread and cola.

My secret treat is chocolate-covered macaroons, but I am not quite ready to confess that one to my husband.

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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