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Make Mindfulness Part of Your Daily Routine in 2019

Be mindful and enjoy the moment.

Now that the busy holiday season is over, it’s a time to reflect on the past but prepare and refocus for the new year ahead. As we focus on the new year, it is always refreshing to have a clean slate.  As the year begins to unfold, there are tips to help you manage your day-to-day stress levels.  It begins with mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”   Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (1991)

Mindfulness is best thought of as a way of being rather than an activity Almost any activity can be carried out with mindful awareness.

Three Key Features of Mindful Awareness:  

  1. Purpose –  intentionally and purposefully directing your attention rather than letting it wander.
  2. Presence – being fully engaged with and attentive to the present moment. Thoughts about the past and future that arise are recognized simply as thoughts occurring in the present.
  3. Acceptance – being non-judgmental toward whatever arises in the moment. This means that sensations, thoughts, and emotions are not judged as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant; they are simply noticed as “happening” and observed until they eventually pass (Naik, Harris and Forthun 2016).

Mindfulness is a mind-body practice that has been found to benefit both psychological and physical health. The primary psychological change that occurs during mindfulness practice is an increased awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present moment. Over time, mindfulness practice can help you to become aware of the space between noticing experiences and reacting to them by letting you slow down and observe the processes of your mind (Black 2010).

The ultimate goal of mindfulness practice is for you to take advantage of this space so you can make more intentional decisions – to wake up from living life on autopilot, based on unproductive habits of mind
(Black 2010; Walach et al. 2007).

According to the American Psychological Association, some empirically supported benefits of mindfulness include the following (Davis & Hayes 2011):

Psychological Benefits

  • Increased awareness of one’s mind
  • Significantly reduced stress, anxiety, and negative emotions
  • Increased control over ruminative thinking (a major cause and symptom of depression and anxiety)
  • Increased mental flexibility and focus
  • More working memory
  • Decreased distracting thoughts
  • Decreased emotional reactivity
  • Increased capacity for intentional, responsive behaviors
  • Increased empathy, compassion and conscientiousness of other’s emotions

Physiological Benefits

  • Enhanced immune system functioning
  • Increased brain density and neural integration in areas responsible for positive emotions, self-regulation, and long-term planning
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lowered levels of blood cortisol (a major stress hormone)
  • Greater resistance to stress-related illnesses such as heart disease

Spiritual Benefits

  • Increased self-insight and self-acceptance
  • Increased acceptance of others
  • Increased compassion and empathy
  • Increased sense of morality, intuition, and courage to change
  • Increased control over automatic behaviors
  • Increased self-discipline

The question is, how many of us would like to benefit from mindfulness if it provides these positive benefits?  All of us should strive to lower our stress level and enjoy our daily lives with a more positive attitude and more attentiveness. So, how can we  incorporate this into our lives?  The majority of this practice is about familiarizing yourself with what it feels like to be mindful, and getting better at “remembering” to maintain mindful awareness.

Experiment with creating your own mindfulness practices throughout your day. Being mindful of the sensation on the soles of your feet as you walk to your car or the taste and texture of your morning coffee can transform routine moments into deeply satisfying practices. However, having a ritualized and structured practice can be beneficial. To find out more about practicing mindfulness and how to incorporate a more structured practice in your life visit read Mindfulness: An Introduction.  

Sources:  Mindfulness: An Introduction. 2013, 2016.  Retrieved from the UF/IFAS Extension Electronic Data Information System:  https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1381.  Publication #FCS2335

 

Healthier, Wealthier, and Wiser in 2019 – Get Organized for a Better You

Did you know lack of organization in your life can affect not only your physical surroundings but also your physical and mental well-being?  Clutter affects your ability to think, to focus, and even to relax.  For children, having an organized space for homework allows for productivity and creativity.  For adults, having an organized work space allows for productivity and efficiency.  Having an organized home for children sets schedules and routines.  For adults, having set schedules and routines make it easier to balance work, family time, and responsibilities such as financial planning and grocery shopping.

To start 2019 off on a positive note, let’s take a look at some easy ways you can get better organized for a better you in 2019.

1.  SET GOALS

Goal-setting is an important life skill 4-H focuses on through the essential element, Independence.  4-Hers are taught goal-setting – an important tool that helps them state how, what, and when they are going to achieve something.  To get started organizing and decluttering your home:

  • Set 2-3 short-term goals
  • Set 1-2 long-term goals
  • Write them down – make them visible

Anything more than this will be too overwhelming and cause you to not start at all.

2.  MAKE LISTS

Making a handwritten detailed to do list is important in staying organized.

Written lists are very important in accomplishing tasks.  Most importantly, hand-written lists are more powerful than typed lists.  Why?  Handwriting requires more thought and motor skills which requires more cognitive and memory function.  By having written to do lists, your memory can conjure up the tasks quickly and prioritize them with little effort even when the list is not directly in front of you.  This allows you to plan your schedule to work on the list throughout the day, when time permits.  In addition, writing lists allow the satisfaction of achievement.  When you accomplish a task, cross it off the list and feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with getting things done.

3.  DIVIDE AND CONQUER

One of the worst things you can do when attempting to organize a cluttered home is to look at the disorganized mess as a whole.  This can be overwhelming, defeating and make you give up before you even get started!  Don’t do this…instead, divide and conquer!

  • Start by dividing your home into sections.
  • Choose one room to start with.
  • Start with just one section of that room – like the top of the dresser.
  • Organize just that one area.  Donate or sell any items you do not want or use.

Once you have organized your first area in that room, congratulate yourself and move to the next area.  Begin the process again!

CUT CLUTTER WITH A CLOSE FRIEND

If you think getting organized is complicated, invite an organized friend over, and ask them to help.  Organized individuals will help you stay on track, discard what you don’t need, and help you find a place for those random items you don’t know where to put.  Some people just have a natural ability for organization, but for others, it’s just plain work.

ELIMINATE DUPLICATES

I’ve moved several times in recent years.The last time I was unpacking (for what I hope is my last move), I discovered I have nine hammers.  Nine hammers!!!  Apparently, each time I moved, I couldn’t find my hammer, so I just bought one.  Over time, that gets expensive and takes up space.  As you begin to organize and declutter, eliminate duplicates.  Think about what you need and begin to downsize.  You’ll be amazed at what you truly need versus what you think you need.

SAY GOODBYE…

If you haven’t used it in the last six months but don’t want to get rid of it just yet, box it up and label it with the date.  If three months goes by and you don’t miss it, donate or sell it.  Yard sales, selling apps or social media are a great way to make some extra money , BUT don’t hang on to it until you “get around to it….”  Donate it to charity, or you’ll end up back in the cluttered mess you started with!

Simply taking the time now to put these few actions into place will help create a more efficient, better balanced and stress-free environment in the home and workplace.  I hope that you find yourself healthier and happier in 2019!

To find out more information about 4-H programs that can offer essential life skills such as independence, organizational skills, and goal setting, to your children or to volunteer your time to work with children in your area, please contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office, or visit http://florida4h.org.

Handling the Holiday Blues

Christmas tree

Aim to find JOY in this holiday season.

As the holiday season quickly approaches, many people are filled with extra holiday cheer and enthusiasm.  Some are jolly but still overwhelmed with all of the activities, decorating, and shopping that needs to be completed.  Then, there are those that find the holiday season as a reminder of things such as the death of a loved one, family feuds, divorce…the list goes on. If you are feeling this way, here are a few tips to make getting through the season a little bit easier.

  1. Feel your emotions – Many people want to suppress their sadness or anxiety, but this only makes it worse. We are all allowed to grieve, cry and feel mad at times.  If you feel this way, let yourself feel your feelings.  You will feel better once you have accepted and worked through the emotions. You also do not have to force yourself to feel happy just because it is the holiday season.
  2. Reach out to others – Instead of secluding yourself, spend time with others whether it’s at church, a community group or with family and friends. Spending time with others and socializing is good for the spirit.
  3. Volunteer – There are tons of volunteer opportunities during the holidays.  Try something new and volunteer your time to a worthy cause.  You’ll feel great about helping others and contributing to a cause.A national survey commissioned by UnitedHealth Group talked to 3,351 adults and found the majority of participants reported feeling mentally and physically healthier after a volunteer experience.
    The research showed:
    *  96% reported volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life
    *  94% of people said volunteering improved their mood
    *  80% of them feel like they have control over their health
    *  78% of them said volunteering lowered their stress levels
    *  76% of people said volunteering has made them feel  healthier
    *  About a quarter reported their volunteer work helped them manage a chronic illness by keeping them
    active and taking their minds off of their own problems
    *  Volunteering improved their mood and self-esteem
  4. Be realistic – Realize that times and traditions change as families grow and age. Do not focus on things having to be the same every year.  Be willing to accept changes, such as adult children may not be able to attend the family gathering, so utilize technology and talk through video conferencing, share pictures on email and/or Facebook.  Find a way to make it work.
  5. Set aside differences for everyone’s sake. Aim to accept family and friends the way they are, even if they do not meet your expectations. Leave grievances at the door for the day and enjoy your family and friends. Share those grievances and talk at a more appropriate and private time. Also, remember they could be feeling the stress of the holiday too. So, be patient if someone is grouchy or sad as you celebrate.  You may both be feeling the same way.
  6. Learn to say no – Be realistic in the number of activities you and your family can participate. Do not feel guilty because you cannot attend every party and event you are invited too.  Graciously decline an invite and share that your schedule is booked, but thank them for thinking of you. A host does not expect that everyone will attend their parties.
  7. Take a breather as needed – If you start to feel overwhelmed with anxiety, anger or sadness take a few minutes to be alone. Take 15 minutes to spend in the quiet to reduce the stress and clear your mind. For example: listen to soothing music, do a few mindful breathing exercises to slow yourself down or read a book to temporarily escape the stress.
  8. Seek professional help as needed – there are times when the emotions are just too overwhelming to sort through on our own. If you continue to feel sad, anxious, angry, etc. there is absolutely no shame in seeking the help of a doctor or mental health professional. It will only help you work through your feelings with a non-bias person. Helping yourself feel better will improve your quality of life and those around you.

Learn to take care of yourself first. Learn your limitations and accept them.  Don’t t let other’s expectations overwhelm you.  Just remember when you start feeling extreme levels of emotions and/or stress, take a few deep breathes and remind yourself to relax and feel the moment.  Be mindful of your surroundings and remind yourself of your many blessings even when going through difficult times.  Make it your personal goal to feel your feelings and enjoy what you can about the holiday season whether it is the twinkling lights, time with friends and family, the food or any of the many special holiday traditions.

Striving for and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is an achievable goal and a National 4-H Council mission mandate for all of our 4-H members, families and volunteers.  To learn more about healthy lifestyles and 4-H, find your local UF/IFAS Extension office.

Sources:

Healthy School Snack Ideas

Youth prepare salsa

Youth making blender salsa during Leon County’s 4-H Culinary Camp

Are you having a tough time finding kid-approved snacks?  With a little extra planning, you can add extra fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your child’s diet.  The following snacks can be included in lunch, enjoyed as an after school snacks or as a great addition to any 4-H club meeting!

Stovetop Popcorn
It’s quick, easy, delicious AND a whole grain. Stove top popcorn is delicious just with a sprinkle of salt, but kids can get creative by adding toppings like sugar/cinnamon, Parmesan cheese or lemon zest with pepper.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends making half of your grains whole grains each day.  Here’s a simple stovetop popcorn recipe for you to try.

Snack Mix
This is another great way to get kids involved in creating their own snack mix using a variety of items.  The key is to change it up every few weeks to keep kids interested. Suggested items include: chex mix, dried blueberries, raisins, chocolate chips, walnuts, pretzels, whole grain crackers, popcorn, and more. Use this snack mix recipe as inspiration.

Fruit or Vegetable Kebabs
Kids can help put together this great afterschool snack. For fruit kebabs, try grapes, apples, blueberries or kiwi. For vegetable kebabs, try green peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes or yellow squash. They can be simple with only two items such as strawberry and pineapple or cherry tomatoes and broccoli. You can dip the fruit kebabs in vanilla yogurt or drizzle them with honey. A side of ranch or hummus pairs perfectly with vegetable kebabs. The key is to purchase fruits and vegetables that are in-season to make this snack budget friendly. Here is a resource to find out what is in season in Florida.

Hummus
Let’s be honest, hummus and vegetables might not be at the top of the list of your kid’s favorite snack item. The key is to allow kids to make the hummus and serve it with a variety of items to dip. You can dip carrots, celery, radishes, pretzels, or crackers in hummus.  Hummus can be made ahead and stored for a few days sealed tight in the fridge. Here is my favorite hummus recipe.

Blender Salsa
Here’s another fun way to get kids in the kitchen to make a perfect snack for after school. You can put together this recipe in less than 5 minutes – it’s so easy  Try this basic blender salsa recipe, but feel free to add your own inspiration by adding extra ingredients.

Smoothies
Endless recipes make smoothies a great after school snack. You can even pack a smoothie for lunch. To ensure the smoothie stays nice and cold, place the thermos in the freezer the night before. In the morning, pour the freshly made smoothie into the frozen thermos.  A personal favorite smoothie of mine is: 1 frozen banana, 1 cup milk, 1 scoop of peanut butter, 1 small scoop of cocoa powder and a handful of spinach. The spinach blends right in (you can’t even taste it), and the cocoa powder hides the color of the spinach.

Whole Grain Muffins
Whole grain muffins are an easy snack to make ahead and enjoy throughout the week. Muffins freeze well and still taste delicious when thawed. You can make chocolate chip, strawberry, blueberry, banana, pumpkin and more. Muffins can also be used as a quick breakfast while you are running out the door. For some extra protein, just add some nut butter, such as peanut or almond. Here is a delicious whole grain blueberry muffin recipe.

To learn more about 4-H’s healthy living goal, find your local UF/IFAS Extension office.

 

FALLING INTO A FA-BOO-LOUS OCTOBER

Youth dressed as a green 4-H clover

A happy 4-H member’s smile is contagious in this face-friendly clover costume.

While Walmart has already jumped to Christmas season, many parents are still scrambling to figure out their children’s costume for October’s Halloween party.   Now, all of us have the cutest pumpkins in the pumpkin patch, but none of our children want to dress up as pumpkins anymore!  Gone are the simple days of our generation when white sheets with eye holes were the extent of our Halloween attire.

With the hectic schedule of the world and the complicated costumes of today, here are a few guidelines to follow when helping children choose Halloween costumes (and keep them safe safety during the spooktacular holiday season).

This little pumpkin has comfortable walking shoes for trick or treating.

If it Fits, it Flies Past Inspection

While cute or scary may be what the children are striving for, well-fitting costumes should be the goal for all parents. Ill-fighting costumes are a disaster waiting to happen.  Costumes that hang loosely become a distraction.  Capes, gowns, or any material in length that drags the ground can be a tricky thing to maneuver at any age so be sure to trim above the ankle.  Speaking of ankles, shoes that are too high can cause unexpected hospital visits so keep shoes low to the ground and comfortable to walk in.  Children (and parents) do a lot of walking to collect their candy treats.  Shoes that are too large or too small can cause blisters and cranky children, all things to avoid on a fun night.

Can You See Me Now?

One of the scariest things about Halloween is not what you can see but what you can’t see!  Not being able to see children in costume in poorly lit areas of the neighborhood can be scary for adults.  Parents, remedy this by using inexpensive reflective paint or tape to make children’s costumes visible or giving them glowsticks to wear or flashlights to hold.

Be sure to think about if your children can see well in their costumes.  Masks can be difficult to wear if they don’t fit well.  Be sure that eye and breathing holes are extra-large.  If a costume can be complete without a mask, consider skipping it and use makeup.  If costumes are come with hats, scarves, or capes, secure them down with velcro to keep from hitting others.

Does my Makeup Look OK?

Children love face paint and makeup, and hair dye appears to be the latest trend.  Halloween seems a good fit for these outlets, but use them with caution.  More and more children are sensitive to pigments found in everyday items – makeup included.  Your children may be going for the spooky look but not at the risk of it being itchy and painful.  If your children will be using face paint, makeup and/or hair dye, do a simple test run at least a week before use to ensure there are no allergies to the ingredients.

Accessorize Everything…Or Not
Girl with face painted like a skeleton

Makeup that does not obstruct children’s view is essential to their safety.

You’ve probably heard that “accessories make the outfit,” but in the case of Halloween and children, accessories can be highly overrated.  Parents usually end up carrying the accessories that went with their children’s costumes before the night is over.  But if children insist their outfits are not complete without a Ninja sword or Katniss Everdeen’s bow and arrow, be sure they are easily distinguished toys.  Those accessories should be soft and flexible.

Spooktacular Adventure Awaits!

Whether you get into Halloween with costumes or not, these tips are good reminders for all of us to look out for children and keep them safe.  Enjoy the upcoming holiday seasons!

To find out more information about 4-H programs that can offer essential life skills to your children or to volunteer your time to work with children in your area, please contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office, or visit http://florida4h.org.

Preparing for a Disaster – Keeping Your 4-H Project Animals Safe

Preparing for a Disaster – Keeping Your 4-H Project Animals Safe

Be Prepared and Have a Plan

This time last year, we were helping our 4-H friends all over Florida recover from Hurricane Irma.  Hurricane season has been quiet in Florida so far, but that doesn’t mean we need to let our guard down – we still have two more months of hurricane season.

So,what would you do if you didn’t have electricity?  How will you care for your 4-H project animals?  Do you have an evacuation plan?  Answers to these questions become major issues when dealing with disasters.

Disasters can be natural/weather-related, man-made or accidental.  Regardless of the type, it’s important to be prepared and have a plan for you and your animals.

Plan for Your Animal’s Safety

Whether you evacuate or shelter in place, here are a few considerations:

  • Be ready to leave once the evacuation is ordered.
  • Evacuate animals as soon as possible.
  • Your project animal won’t be able to stay with you in a shelter like a dog or a can.
  • Know where safe  livestock facilities are in your area or along your evacuation route.
  • If you can’t evacuate, decide if you’re keeping animals confined to a barn or turning them out into pastures.
  • Barn confinement may become dangerous and take away the animal’s ability to protect themselves.
  • Pastures should be at least one acre in size with no potential hazards (barbed wire, power-lines, polls or items that can be picked up by the wind).

Disaster Preparedness for Livestock – Why Livestock Owners Need to Be Prepared

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) has some suggested guidelines about preparing livestock and horses for disasters:

  • Check with your local humane organization, extension office or local emergency management agency to read about your county disaster response plans.
  • Determine safe evacuation routes for trailers and livestock.
  • Prepare a Farm Disaster Kit and Basic First-Aid Kit.  Remember, supplies during or after the disaster may be in short supply, or roadways may be blocked.  Keep kits up-to-date, keep them on-site and in your vehicle.
    • A vaccination and test records (Coggins, health certificates, etc.)
    • A list of all animals, where they are located on the farm and feeding instructions/records
    • Sanitation items, cell phone, flashlights, portable radios and batteries.
    • Have feed, water, handling equipment, tools, veterinary supplies and a generator (with fuel) on hand if possible.
  • Make a list of emergency numbers – veterinarian, neighbors, state veterinarian, animal shelter, county extension office,local volunteer organizations and someone outside of the disaster area.
  • Make sure you have proof of animal ownership. Have temporary ID supplies on hand like permanent markers and plastic bands that are safe, durable and visible.  ID should  include your name, address, and telephone number.
  • Poultry need access to high areas to perch if you’re in an area susceptible to flooding. Provide access to clean water and food.
  • Remove barbed wire or other fencing so animals can move to areas of safety during flooding or high winds.
  • Store water in large containers (enough for a week) suck as troughs, swimming pools or boats
  • Secure items that might be picked up and thrown by the wind like pieces of metal, troughs, tanks or trailers.
  • Ensure there is safe shelter, fencing or pens.
  • Keep animals in groups they’re used to where they are securely contained and protected from the elements.

Resources:

For more information about 4-H, contact your local  UF/IFAS County Extension Office.  If you are an adult or teen with skills or knowledge you’d like to share, ask about becoming a 4-H volunteer!