Stumbling on Creativity
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
Most of us have some form of unhealthy behavior that has been with us for quite some time and that we want to change. I am certainly very aware my undesired habits. I also know the importance of turning this awareness into mindfulness to create sustained personal change. Without stepping on a scale, getting a cholesterol test, or putting on a blood pressure cuff, I know when I don’t feel well in my body. At the same time, I know when I feel balanced. For instance, after several days of physical exercise, I may feel pain in muscles I didn’t know I had, but I also feel a sense of well-being. A much different experience than the malaise I experience after overdoing food and drink.
There are varying definitions of awareness and mindfulness. I personally think of awareness as having a sense of my experience and feelings as they occur, whereas I think of mindfulness as observing my experience from a non-judgmental perspective. Awareness allows for a richer sense of experience, but I can be increasingly aware of the behaviors I engage in and still have a negative judgment. While I might know I don’t need that extra glass of wine or portion of food, getting down on myself just perpetuates the same cycle of behavior. It is when I take an unflinching look at my actions, and at the same time I am kind to myself, that I arrive at mindful solutions. To this end, I continue to practice proactively reminding myself that I can enjoy the finer things in life more frequently and in moderation or pay the physical and mental price of overindulgence in the moment.
CINDY WANG MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
It caught my attention as soon as I walked through the doorway. In the refrigerator case, next to the stacks of fruits and vegetables is an early sign of the holidays to come. Eggnog. Through the glass containers, I can see flecks of nutmeg suspended in a thick, creamy liquid. Yum. If you can’t already tell, I LOVE eggnog. I pull my grocery cart up next to the case and pick up one of the heavy glass bottles. Then, I hesitate. My mind grinds to a halt. I stop to think about the eggnog I had last year. Did I really enjoy it as much as I think I did? I remember it being really sweet. I also think about my recent decision to decrease my sugar intake after watching the documentary, Fed Up, with our team (If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend it). So slowly, I put the bottle back, feeling wistful.
Before I checkout, I circle back around and find myself reaching for the eggnog again. In my mind, I’m finding ways to rationalize my purchase. It’s a seasonal item. I don’t drink it very often. And so on. But I know better. No matter how tempting it is, I know that if I give in on this, it’ll be that much easier to give in on something else. Then I’ll be back in the habit of eating foods that don’t really make me feel good. I straighten with a sense of resolve. I put the bottle back into the case and walk away.
CHRISTINE GARVER-APGAR, Ph.D., Research Associate
The past week has been one of extremes (both good and bad) concerning my family’s physical wellness. Last Sunday, my husband and 9-year-old daughter climbed their first “14er” together. They have been training all summer, taking progressively more challenging mountain hikes. Despite being late October, they reached the summit of Mount Bierstadt with my very determined daughter leading the charge up the final, snowy scramble. I’m so proud of their accomplishment!! To all my friends, neighbors, and colleagues who seem to achieve these sorts of physical challenges in their sleep, I want to say, “See? People in my family climb mountains, TOO!” Since moving to Colorado, I think this may be the first time I feel like my family and I could have something in common with that particular element of Coloradoans – the health conscious, fitness junky type (I know, one mountain doesn’t make a fitness junkie, but humor me).
That was last weekend. This weekend was Halloween, and my kitchen counters have become a dumping ground for an awe-inspiring (gag-inducing? shameful?) amount of candy. This is an excellent time to reflect on my own recent and more modest adventure: sugar elimination. For the record, I have a history of eating dessert after almost every meal except breakfast (for breakfast, dessert is the meal). Not surprisingly, I have been reluctant to face the horrifying conclusion that no amount of kale is going to arrest my expanding waistline and that the most likely culprit is sugar. This conclusion seems unavoidable, however, so for the past three months I have been working to dramatically eliminate added sugar from my diet. And the results? Drum roll please…
After three months of eliminating almost all added sugar from my diet, along with over 50 grams of simple carbohydrates per day (goodbye cinnamon raisin bagels), sitting down with my pants fastened is still mightily uncomfortable. Sigh. On a positive note, eliminating major sources of sugar from my diet was not as hard as I thought it would be. Although results were less than inspiring, I will not go back to my old ways. If recent research is to be believed, sugar has been negatively affecting me in ways I cannot detect. No, I didn’t climb a 14er, but walking past those bagels in the grocery store is its own small victory.
Working It Out
JAMIE PFAHL, B.A., Community Liaison
I recently returned to dance class after a bad ankle sprain forced me to take a summer-long hiatus. Coming back wasn’t easy. Years of sitting at a computer for 8+ hours a day coupled with sporadically running long distances without adequate “base building” or cross training has weakened and stiffened my muscles and joints. With inconsistent stretching and strength training, I feel like I’m just slowing my inevitable decline, rather than making any real progress.
As I fumbled my way through class, I couldn’t help but watch the girl next to me – a solid decade younger and far more graceful than I am – elegantly twisting, lifting, and folding herself into shapes I can’t even name, let alone imitate. At the end of class, as I sat on the floor grimacing my way through what was supposed to be a wide straddle, I glanced over to see the rock star next to me fold over and melt into the floor, as smooth as Nutella on hot toast. I huffed and squinted and tried to point my toes in hopes of looking a little less challenged. A glance at my reflection in the mirror confirmed that it wasn’t helping.
“How are you so bendy?” I finally asked, exasperated. “My hamstrings are impossible!”
“Girl, you gotta stretch that [stuff] out”, she responded matter-of-factly.
Her advice, although obvious, struck a chord with me. I noticed myself making all sorts of excuses on the drive home. “I blame working at a desk job. She’s a former gymnast. I’ll never be that flexible. My body isn’t built like that. I’m too awkward and inflexible to be a dancer.”
There are two things majorly wrong with that line of thinking. First, comparisons are the devil, and second, awkwardness and inflexibility are subjective and transitory states, not eternal, immutable, objective descriptors. Clumsily executing a move doesn’t mean I am a perpetually clumsy person with no hope of improvement.
It’s easy to forget that success often comes after considerable effort and that inaction is the straightest, smoothest road to failure. Like any other goal, the only way to improve is through regular practice and a positive mindset. What that means for me is no more negative self-talk and setting some reasonable S.M.A.R.T goals. In fact, no more procrastinating – I’ll set one, right now! By next Sunday, I will have a written list of stretches and strength goals to work on at least twice weekly through the end of the year. I’ll record some baseline data now, and on January 1st, I will measure how I’m doing and re-adjust my goals accordingly. Hopefully, I’ll be able to reach my goals (or my toes, I’ll take whatever I can get). And even if I continue to struggle, at least I’ll be moving in the right direction.
Guest Contributor: KATHIE GARRETT, M.A., Clinical Program Associate
I was what some might refer to as a “fragile” child. I entered the world with a small hole in my heart and a mitral valve prolapse. In my first year, I was diagnosed once with malnutrition and twice with life threatening pneumonia. In my growing years, I was significantly underweight and frequently anemic. Many of these ailments were the result of poverty—never a shortage of love in my young life but most definitely a paucity of tangible resources. My siblings, parents, and I (twelve people) lived in a five-room cold water flat. We had no heat, and sometimes we did not have quite enough food. But the theme of this short personal piece is not tragic; quite the contrary, it is a short message of resiliency and physical strength—a missive of hope.
Medically speaking, I was a child with severe iron deficiency anemia. Metaphorically speaking, iron symbolizes male energy and has historically been connected to physical power. And what does a poor, fragile, female infant lack? Well, a sense of physical power, of course. So mine has been a life-long quest for those foods and experiences that nourish and bring me strength, physically and metaphorically. There is no scientific evidence to support the notion that people crave foods based on nutritional deficiencies, but I have come to trust an innate intuition about what my essential needs are.
When I first suspected the power of beets and their bountiful trails of greens, I had just picked them fresh from my brother’s garden in New Hampshire. I will never forget the wonderfully sensuous aroma that called me to the stove where they simmered. The robust taste of beets still hums on my tongue, and I have yet to feel as satisfied after eating anything. A close second on the list of essential nourishing gastronomic experiences began with a single blue point oyster, which I slurped, drenched as it was in horseradish and Tabasco, while dining alone on a work trip in Seattle. For me, it was as powerful an experience as being tossed by a tsunami wave and having my lungs literally burst with the taste of the sea. Chick peas, lentils, spinach, and more each carry a memory of unreserved deep nourishment and satisfaction, rooted as they are to specific moments in time when they first revealed to me their iron-clad strength.
As fate would have it, I am also a moon lover. Did you know that the moon has an abundance of iron? If the moon were made of cream cheese, I would most certainly crave a nibble. Amusingly, the moon is symbolized by silver (not iron). It represents female energy and is associated with philosophical traits of intuition, self-reflection, inner wisdom clarity, persistence, and subtle strength.
On this chilly October evening, the full moon begins its wane—a perfect night to dine on the deck. I think I’ll have a beet, pear, and spinach, gorgonzola salad sprinkled ever so lightly in moon shimmers and complemented with a fine earthy bowl of lentil soup.
SUSAN YOUNG, Ph.D., Research Director
As I continually read nutritional science materials and shape my family’s eating habits accordingly, I’ve developed a reputation at home as the sugar sheriff. It’s not that I have banned pancakes with maple syrup or the occasional trip to Ben & Jerry’s, but I have been trying to sneak in those teaching moments about healthy snacks after school and desserts that involve berries picked from the back yard. In September, I was pleased to learn that my daughters’ 5th grade curriculum included a lengthy unit on wellness. Small teams of students studied and presented information on topics including sleeping habits, ‘screen time,’ concussions, stress, exercise, steroids, and the toxicity of SUGAR. My girls began to bring home facts and tips including what to look for on packaged food labels and nuggets of wisdom like, “Mom, did you know that chronic stress causes your brain to shrink? You’ve got to relax more!”
But just as we’re gaining some traction on these healthy habits, the season of naughty eating arrived. I felt particularly conflicted on Halloween as I distributed about 25 pounds of refined sugar and mysterious additives to all of the small goblins, witches, and princesses at my doorstep. As the sheriff, should I be handing out kale chips or protein bars? Should I just turn off my porch light so I don’t have to be a hypocrite about the treats? I just can’t. I love Halloween, and I refuse to be an ogre. Actually, holidays are a great time to talk with kids about being mindful about their edible indulgences. If I can teach my kids to make thoughtful decisions about when to enjoy sweets and when to pass, I will have earned my badge.
Guest Contributor: KEN SCHADE, B.A., Community Liaison
Play. Sounds like something kids do, right? Not us, not grown-ups, we don’t much play anymore. But why not? After all, I’ve found that most of us are really more grown-up on the outside than we are on the inside. On the inside, we’re a lot more childlike than we often admit, even if we make that childlike part of us inside sit quietly most of the time.
If we recognize a childlike part of ourselves, with an inclination to play, we can maybe draw our best lessons on how to do so by looking to children themselves. I watch my niece and nephew at play, on the jungle gym or monkey bars, and I see a significant distinction between the physical movements of children and grown-ups. The movement of children is more fluid and free, characterized by immediate presence and embodiment. They have greater familiarity with their own movement and abilities. While it may terrify me to watch them swinging around on the monkey bars, they are probably much more aware of their abilities and limitations because they live with an immediate bodily presence moment to moment.
By contrast, we grown-ups have largely forgotten what this experience is like (bodily presence and the monkey bars, too). A body is something we have, but not something we inhabit. Our physical actions have become so repetitive, automatic, and reflexive that they are generally executed with little to no conscious awareness or, for that matter, fun and play. How much of our day is spent in physical activities – brushing our teeth, climbing the stairs, even exercise like running or cycling – during which our conscious mind is almost completely detached, off in the realm of deadlines and finances and responsibilities? Would we now know how to re-inhabit our bodies, even if we wanted to?
Physical play is, in no small part, about being physically present in our own bodies, experiencing sensations, aware of our own movements. I think there are, thankfully, a variety of different ways we can redevelop a sense of playful embodiment. We can dance, practice tai chi, or take on those monkey bars (for myself I have a standing New Year’s resolution to learn how to do a cartwheel). Whatever activity we choose, we can bring to it a spirit of play and a sense of bodily presence, an attention to how we feel in movement, rather than how we look. Our inner children have been sitting quietly for long enough. It’s time to play.
The mission of the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program is to improve quality of life by facilitating evidence-based health behavior change for communities, organizations, and individuals.
The Behavioral Health and Wellness Program (BHWP) offers training, consultation, and program evaluation to organizations, administrators, healthcare providers, and peer specialists. We have worked in over 25 states and provided services internationally. Our offerings include:
Training Programs and Workshops
We provide comprehensive training and education for administrators, healthcare providers, and peer specialists to build awareness and knowledge, enhance motivation, facilitate wellness groups, and create positive social networks. Training participants learn to facilitate their own wellness while increasing their ability to build, administer, and sustain effective wellness interventions. We developed multiple evidence-based training curricula to increase health and wellness for the general population as well as many at-risk priority populations. Programs include:
DIMENSIONS: Peer Specialist Program – Core and specialized skills for peer specialists
DIMENSIONS: Tobacco Free Program – Tobacco cessation and tobacco-free policy
DIMENSIONS: Well Body Program – Physical health and well-being
DIMENSIONS: Work & Well-Being for Physicians – Interventions and strategies for promoting physician wellness
Motivational Interventions for Behavior Change – Increasing motivation to change
Rocky Mountain Tobacco Treatment Specialist Certification Program – ATTUD-accredited TTS certification program
We assist organizations and their employees to create, implement, and maintain wellness programming. We offer education regarding the importance of maintaining overall wellness and evidence-based strategies for improving individual and workplace well-being. We provide comprehensive feedback and recommendations to support implementation of pragmatic and case-specific wellness solutions.
Program Evaluation and Technical Assistance
We provide consultation and technical assistance to organizations across the nation. We work with organizations to help them evaluate their current programming, define new goals, and implement effective wellness solutions. Our goal is to build the capacity for positive change through our ongoing, creative partnerships.
We work with communities, healthcare organizations, and government agencies to develop wellness policy initiatives that meet local needs. We have proven expertise in aligning policies and procedures with federal and state legislation on topics such as tobacco-free policy and workplace wellness initiatives.
We develop evidence-based materials to assist those working in health-related fields. Our resources focus on information about health behavior change, health risks of certain behaviors, enhancing motivation to change, and strategies and solutions to support movement through the change process. We develop resources for the general population as well as for priority populations who face health disparities or have specialized healthcare needs, including behavioral health conditions, criminal justice involvement, low-income populations, youth, and pregnant/postpartum women, among others.