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Nourish Your Spirit

My mother’s recipe for “life well lived” included solid family bonds, good friends, good sex, love and laughter. The strong relationships that sustained my mother emotionally were as important to her as the healthy meals she made to nourish our bodies. Her friends nourished her spirit.

No matter how busy you are or complicated your days may be, how independent you feel and organized you are, having supportive relationships and a sense of community are integral to your overall wellbeing.

There are moments in life that are simply too great to experience alone. We all need to share joy and sadness with someone else, hear a second opinion when a confusing situation looms, confide in that person who will to set us straight when we’re off balance or simply join us for a quiet walk, if we’re feeling blue.

I’ve met people with hundreds of “Facebook friends,” some of whom they’ve acquired with the stroke of a computer key. But, they don’t have anyone they can confide in or talk to honestly.

Real friendships take time to develop and work to maintain. They require face-to-face encounters, shared experiences and a degree of give and take. I have been blessed to have the same BFF since the age of 2. That’s right. Rose and I met through our moms. Our first disagreement was over a “show and tell” toy. We’ve weathered first kisses, first boyfriends, med school, law school, marriages, children of our own and even divorce. We can be so busy that we don’t speak for a month or more. When we pick the phone – and we always pick up the phone, we connect like it’s 1984.

A 2006 study, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without observed that if you have a “best friend” at work, you are considerably more likely to be a happy and productive employee. As a workplace wellness expert concerned with the overall health of staff members, I’m aware that our work friends can be as important in our lives as our sisters, treasured neighbors and longtime confidents.

Sometimes our closest confidents are family members – sister or brother, cousin, or beloved aunt. If that’s the way it is for you, what a blessing. Having close, nurturing family relationships throughout life is a significant underpinning of wellness.

We all know, from time to time, family relationships can go awry. Whether you’re struggling with a sibling or a spouse, an aging parent or a feisty teenager, as the saying goes, try your best to “stay calm and carry on.”

I can hear a collective groan of easier said than done. I know! I have two teenage daughters.

A few times a year, my husband, our daughters and I have a family meeting. I’ve found, if we take a business-like approach to family matters, communicate clearly and directly, keep one another informed of our concerns, discuss problems calmly and work together on solutions, life tends to move along more smoothly. There are fewer unwelcome surprises and fewer blow-ups…except for that broken bedroom door!

Every family is different — different pleasures, different pressures, different considerations, and different stresses. What works for my family, may not work for yours. Whatever you and your family’s way may be, your overall wellness as a unit begins with communication.

Though it may take practice, you can learn to talk to each other simply and directly. You can establish common goals. Start slowly…one step at a time. Like dieting and exercise, you can’t change everything at once. As you strive to understand each other’s realities and needs and become increasingly clear about everyone’s expectations and boundaries, the emotional health of your family will improve.

Emotional health, like physical health, significantly contributes to your overall wellbeing. Keeping your mind active, having a positive outlook, maintaining perspective and peace of mind, and enjoying a sense of humor are the emotional building blocks that will enable you to reach your wellness potential.

One aspect of my mom that I truly appreciated was her ability to forgive. Let me be honest…there were many an oversight and infraction for which she was forgiven. And, she did the same. Mom believed that without forgiveness, resentment and anger become cancers that eat away at your spirit and soul.

For mom, it was simple. It was all about attitude.

Everyone should strive to have a positive attitude. From keeping depression at bay to lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease, researchers believe that optimism – and pessimism can impact your health and wellbeing.

In addition to working on your own upbeat outlook, surround yourself with positive people and avoid those who are gloomy and negative.

Over the years, I’ve learned to steer clear of people who don’t have the capacity or desire to forgive, who are negative and “downers”, and who are nasty, divisive and enjoy conflict rather than harmony. These people suck the life out of me.

Needless to say, at one time or another, we are these people! All of us! We’re human. The ones you want to avoid are those who have taken ownership of negative space and live there every day.

Positive thinking doesn’t mean ignoring unpleasant realities. It does mean approaching challenges in a positive and constructive way. A new assignment or responsibility seems too different and too hard to tackle and you’re ready to walk away? Consider it a chance to learn something new…to rise to the occasion…to be creative. If you criticize yourself and easily feel defeated, think about your accomplishments instead.

It may require some effort, but you can develop a positive inner voice to replace your negative one. You’ll get closer to reaching your wellness potential with every successful attempt.

Brain fitness is another critical component of wellness. Being mentally fit means keeping your mind active, pursuing a range of interests and learning new skills from time to time. If playing computer games relaxes you, chose ones that involve strategic thinking and memory skills. Take up a musical instrument or learn another language, if your schedule permits.

Food and fitness have a lasting impact on brain health. Try a Mediterranean diet filled with brain boosting foods – fish, vegetables, grains and oils. Add dark, leafy greens to your menu. They’re full of Vitamin E and folic acid, nutrients that researchers believe reduce the risk of dementia. Walk. Bike. Take a yoga class. Or, like my mom and dad, dance.

Saving the best for last, remember that sex is a great way to nourish your spirit. That good feeling you have after orgasm comes from the release of endorphins, produced by the brain. Endorphins reduce pain and induce euphoria. Exercise, excitement, laughter, consumption of spicy food and orgasms all produce endorphins. So, you can eat a chili pepper, go for a runner’s high or have a good belly laugh. They’ll do the same thing. Or, you can enjoy a lusty encounter with your partner. I vote for sex. It’s much more fun…much more satisfying.

As you countdown to your wellness potential, take stock of your mental and emotional selves along with your physical self.

STRONG RELATIONSHIPS + ACTIVE MIND + POSITIVE ATTITUDE = LASTING IMPACT

Consider the many ways you can enrich your spirit and strengthen your mind and your road to wellness will be paved with balance and harmony.

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