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Have you had dinner yet?

There are so many reasons to eat with your family but studies are now suggesting that eating with your family regularly could be the best thing you can do for your children’s health and lifestyle.

In 2000 researchers found that adolescents and preteens who eat dinner with their families generally eat more fruits and vegetables and less minerals/soda and fried foods. Their food choices were usually more nutritious.

Studies have al so shown that households were family dinners are common are less likely to have children who get depressed, or suicidal, have an eating disorder.

Family dinners at least five times a week can drastically reduce the chances of your teenager smoking, drinking, and using drugs. Teens who have fewer than three family dinners a week are 3.5 times more likely to have abused prescription drugs and to have used illegal drugs other than marijuana, three times more likely to have used marijuana, more than 2.5 times more likely to have smoked cigarettes, and 1.5 times more likely to have tried alcohol, according to the CASA report.

So today, get home early and have dinner with your kids!

Are you a Superwoman?

Yesterday I met this wonderful woman. And she was a mess.

She came to me because she had been having trouble sleeping. She had tried tranquilizers but hated the zoned out feeling they gave you and they actually made her more anxious because she was scared about what they were doing to her.
So I asked her what was really going on in her life. Was her inability to sleep a response to stress or to her body being ill? As we started to talk, within seconds, she completely broke down, weeping profusely and shaking uncontrollably. My heart went out to her immediately. I gave her a hug and I told her, it was really all going to be alright.
We sat down to talk. Me, her and our box of tissues; you guys should know by know that I am a crier. She was carrying a huge burden.
Now here’s the part that got me. She felt guilty and ashamed that she was unable to handle her problems. She was so mad at herself. She told me she was a woman of faith and that she knew God was with her and that she knew how to pray and as she said these things, she cried all the more. I rubbed her back; passed her the tissue and I asked her, “Do you feel like you are failing God?” She nodded emphatically yes! “Do you feel like your faith is too weak, that’s why you are having trouble coping?” She cried out “Yes! I do, I do! I know I should be able to handle this, I can do all things through Christ!” And then she became inconsolable.
After some time, she calmed down and we talked. I took off my health hat and put on my sister-girl baseball cap and t-shirt that said, “Look, y’all! I am not superwoman! And I am ok with that!”
I reminded her that she was composed of spirit and flesh. I asked her to understand and accept that flesh is limited and at times, it can fail you. I urged her to forgive herself for not being perfect. I encouraged her to accept her own limitations. I celebrated her for trying and then I asked her to get real and get help.
She wasn’t talking to anyone, she wasn’t sharing her burdens. I can understand praying to God, but fellowship with other people can allow you to feel God’s love in the flesh. She told me she felt guilty of taking medicine to sleep. I reminded her that the impetus for most pharmaceuticals come from natural sources on the planet that God himself placed here to help us. So if drinking some valerian tea will calm your flesh enough for you to connect with your spirit then why not?
Can we all just give ourselves permission to be human? It is arrogance to hold ourselves up so high that we feel guilty when we fall. Because fall we will. We are not God, simply created in his image, which means that while we can tap into His creative power, we are not the source, simply conduits.

We have many resources to help us be our best. Not the least of which is each other. Being stoic is not always the best course of action and pretending like we have everything under control when we are a mess inside, is propagating a lie.
I told the woman about the benefits of adding herbal and vitamin supplements to her diet and I also reminded her about Vitamin P – People. She needed to connect with the resources – the people supplements that had been placed in her life for a reason. Lean on her sisters, her pastor, whoever, but share the load.
She smiled. “Do you feel better?” I asked her. She nodded yes and gave me a hug and a kiss and said “Thank you! I really needed that!” I hugged her back. “No worries! By the way, my name is Ekene, what is yours?

Fight off the blues.

Photo credit AOL/black voices

We know by now that exercise is a useful tool to help fight depression; it releases endorphins into your blood stream which help you feel euphoric. However what we may not know is that there are other things we can do to help fight off depressive states.

Work it out
The first is to engage in working with your hands. There are those people that when they are upset, they tackle cleaning projects around the house and they work until they are physically spent. Studies have shown that this can be an effective tool as it fosters a sense of accomplishment and also physical labor can provide a neurobiological lift to a person.
Housework, gardening, organizing, projects ranging from the more intricate to sewing your own clothes to the mundane like ironing all have added mental benefits and can help you stave off those melancholy feelings.

Remember, reflect and move on.
When things are not quite right, some of us have a tendency to ruminate; it is this rumination that can lead to sadness and disappointment as we go over the hurts and pains over and over in our minds. We add to the story and add to the negative emotion surrounding it by bringing up past pain or self flagellating constantly about mistakes we have made. We engage in negative self dialogue and initiate self destructive patterns.
When the temptation to indulge in these negative thoughts occurs, deal with it with this three point plan.
1. Remember what happened as accurately and dispassionately as possible, like a third party recounting the events.
2. Reflect on what you could have done differently or how the event made you feel.
3. Move on by accepting the current state of affairs and deciding to choose a more constructive path for yourself going forward.

Self care
When one is in the throes of depression, the tendency is not to take care of oneself. One either hardly eats or indulges in foods that are damaging to the body in large amounts. Sleep becomes a difficult proposition as the quiet time sometimes allows the person to ruminate on the problem. When bad things happen or emotional pain takes over, this is when you should make the effort to be loving and caring to yourself, by eating well and healthfully, whether you feel like it or not, food is nourishment and should be treated as such. Exercise lightly, for example take walks, or go swimming, and as much as possible, sleep or at least lie in a relaxed state on your bed and rest.

Be creative
Creativity is a natural barrier to depression. When you engage in a creative pursuit, the focus is taken off your problem and placed on your project. Even if you have no great talent in this area, doing something creative will force your mind to move from the pain to a more positive place. Art therapy, music therapy are all popular in the western world, but even if you don’t have access to formal programs you can do this on your own. Attempt to draw or paint a picture, better still do it with your child, write a poem or a story, doesn’t matter if you don’t finish, it is the process that is healing. Cook something new, try a new recipe, or bake something, or simply rearrange your furniture or come up with some new clothing combination. All of these are examples of creative pursuits that can be healing to our spirits and bodies.

We all feel depressed from time to time, some of us have actual depressive disorders that require medical assistance but for the rest of us that are trying to fight off the blues, these can be effective tools.

Protect your skin from the sun

A lot of people feel like Africans don’t have to protect their skin from the sun because of the melanin in our skin. However while it is true that the increased amount of melanin in darker skinned people offers some protection against the UV rays that can lead to skin cancer, it is not always enough and the current recommendation is that everyone use some form of sun protection, even Africans.

The recommendation from the The American Academy of Dermatology is to use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15. SPF stands for sun protection factor which measures how much the sunscreen protects you from ultraviolet (UV) rays. So the higher the SPF is, the more protection it offers.

However SPF 15 is really designed for temporary exposure, like just walking to your car from your house or office or just generally running errands and being out and about. If one is going to spend large amounts of time outside, for example gardening or watching sports etc then the recommended SPF is 30 or higher. In addition people with fair skin, or bleached skin should use SPF 50 and higher.

The thought is that you experience most of your sun exposure as a child so parents should be mindful to make sure that children are protected by wearing sunscreen. Sunscreen should be applied at least 15 minutes before going outside and it should be reapplied every 2 hours while outside.

The sun can also do damage that causes wrinkles and age spots as we grow older. Dermatologists recommend using antioxidant-rich face and body lotion at night, in addition to sunscreen, to reduce inflammation on skin resulting from exposure.

There are many brands of sunscreens available in the market, however some people prefer using natural products to protect themselves. The good news is that there are some readily available oils that offer some sun protection. Sesame oil is purported to block out 30% of the sun’s UV rays while coconut oil and olive oil block out 20%.

Vivawoman magazine offers the following recipe for natural sunscreen.
“3 tbsp. Grated Beeswax
3 Tbsp Shea Butter
1 Tbsp. Avocado Oil
1 Tbsp. Coconut Oil
1 Tbsp. Sesame Oil
1 tbsp. Canola Oil
3 tbsp. Aloe Vera Gel
3 tbsp. Lavender Hydrosol
1/2 tsp. borax powder
1 Vitamin E Gel Caplet
Take Beeswax, Shea Butter, Avocado Oil, Coconut Oil, Sesame Oil and Canola Oil and melt it in a double boiler. (Do not boil). Add Vitamin E Gel Caplet to the melted oil/butter. Now warm the Aloe Vera Gel, Lavender Hydrosol and borax powder in a separate pan until the powder is mixed well with the other 2 ingredients. Mix it with the melted oil and butter. Whisk properly until you get a creamy texture. Store it in an airtight jar and keep it refrigerated.
You can refrigerate it for up to a month if you have not used any preservative but if you use 5-6 drops of Grapefruit Seed Extract(Natural Preservative), it will last more than a year. You can take it out of the fridge 10-15 minutes before applying.”

Lullaby and goodnight!

Most people think that not having enough time to sleep or not being able to sleep well is simply part of a busy professional or student’s life. However not getting enough sleep wreaks havoc on our bodies.

Some of the effects of lack of proper sleep include

Reduced performance and mental alertness
: When sleep time or sleep quality is decreased, mental alertness during the daytime is significantly decreased, which can result in poor performance at work. This can also affect things like driving and operating heavy machinery, a significant number of accidents occur because of sleep deprived drivers.
Impaired Memory: Lack of sleep can hamper your ability to recall events, facts etcetera, ever found yourself constantly searching for your keys that are in your hand? It can also impair your ability to think analytically and process information.
Emotional instability: Insomnia can lead to mood swings and an inability to handle emotional stressors. It can also result in exaggerated emotional responses, such as irrational anger and being hypersensitive.

Long term effects have been associated with cardiac disease, obesity and mental and psychiatric problems.
So we can agree that sleep is necessary for the proper functioning of the body, but for many the issue is that they are willing but simply can’t seem to get to sleep. So for them the question is why can’t I get to sleep?

There are many things that we do regularly in our lives that impact our sleep, things that are part of our diet and lifestyle.
1. Exercise. Exercise in general is great for the body and can actually help you sleep better, but if you do cardio right before you go to bed then it can interfere with your sleep because of your increased heart rate and more.
2. Eating high fat foods. High fat foods have been linked to a myriad of problems not the least of which is insomnia. In Brazil, researchers noted that high amounts of dietary fat can be linked to tossing and turning at night, increased risk for sleep apnea or dyspnea and also it reduces the amount of time spent in REM sleep.
3. Alcohol. While a glass of wine with dinner may not affect your sleep, that nightcap right before dinner might. Alcohol does slow down the body and act as a sedative; however it also causes wakefulness a few hours later.
4. Frequent jet lag: Constant travel through different time zones can impact your internal body clock.
5. Stress or anxiety: Significant stress or anxiety can be detrimental to your sleep cycles. When your mind is racing, it is difficult to get calm enough to rest.

What can you do to sleep better?
Adults should aim for an average of 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Here are some tips for helping you get a better night’s sleep.
1. Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible. Clean sheets, adequate ventilation, low lights or darkness and reduced noise level.
2. Reserve your bed for sleeping or relaxation. When you associate your bed with working then it can affect your sleep.
3. Create a bedtime routine. This signals to your body that it is time to wind down. Have a bath, read a book, pray, meditate; listen to music or a book on tape.
4. Manage your stress and anxiety: Get a notebook by your bed and write down things you are afraid to forget. Practice relaxation breathing techniques, visualize peaceful and positive places and interactions.
5. Have a light snack before bed if you are often hungry. A small low fat snack, like a banana or a glass of warm milk.
Rest well.