The definition of insanity is doing the same thingover and over again andexpecting different results. The New Year calls for change. Out with the bad habits and in with the healthy ones.
There is no doubt that 2020 knocked everyone off their feet on some, or many levels, but especially emotionally. A recent study published in JAMA Network Open highlighted the severity of the pandemic on mental health. It found that three times as many Americans met criteria for a depression diagnosis during the pandemic than before it.
Because the fight against the coronavirus is far from over, you’ll need everything in your arsenal to stay healthy mentally. Here’s how to achieve that goal in the New Year.
“Ten to 30 minutes a few times a week is enough to make a difference in your mental health,” says Prianca Naik, an M.D. and life coach in Garden City. The mental health payoff can be huge. Exercise boosts energy, enhances sleep, and builds self-esteem, not to mention adding physical benefits. Make getting six to nine hours of sleep a priority as well.
IMPROVE YOUR DIET
Nutrition plays an important role in our mental health, says Lin Sternlicht, a licensed mental health counselor and co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist in Manhattan. Nutritional deficiencies have been correlated with mental health issues such as low mood, anxiety, and stress. Eating a healthier whole foods diet — one that consists of unprocessed and unrefined foods — can improve not only your physiological health but your psychological well-being.
CONNECT WITH PEOPLE
“It is hard with the pandemic, but texting, calling, or Zooming with others gives us a sense of support and belonging during this isolating time. Human beings need a sense of tribe and community for their well-being,” says Naik.
Better still, set a New Year’s resolution and connect it with another person or group.
“This can help you achieve your goal or resolution because you motivate each other,” says Rachelle Scott, M.D., medical director of psychiatry at Eden Health in Manhattan.
FIND A HOBBY
Find a healthy way to de-stress regularly.
“If you want to read, knit, learn how to play chess or listen to music, dedicate fice to 10 minutes a day several days a week and you will be able to achieve your goals,” says Naik. “Doing something outside of work and household chores is an easy way to do something for yourself.”
This can be you taking a friend out for coffee, asking someone to keep you company, or volunteering at a soup kitchen.
“Community care has its basis in collectivistic support and can allow you to practice compassion, empathy, and appreciation,” says Joicy Salgado, a psychotherapist in Valley Stream.
Choose a safe place such as therapy, support groups, journaling, or spiritual guidance, where you can express yourself.
“When we keep it all inside of us, it can get messy and heavy to hold,” says Salgado.
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to mean sitting in stillness for 30 minutes to get rid of uncomfortable thoughts.
“It’s about purposefully connecting with ourselves in the present moment, wherever we go,” says Kendra Kirane, director of creative arts therapy and wellness at Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research in Calverton. “Mindfulness can lead to self-compassion and insight, qualities that seem especially vital after such a stressful year.”
Studies show that regular meditation practice helps reduce stress. When life feels especially uncertain, it can be helpful to connect with the basics: Sit and feel yourself sitting, breathe and experience each breath cycle.
“For beginners, set a goal and routine that can be experienced successfully, such as five minutes per day,” says Kirane.
“Take a few minutes to list what you are grateful for while you’re brushing your teeth each morning, or jot it down on a bedside journal,” says Naik.”Doing this consistently makes us appreciate the life we already have and increases fulfillment.”
Don’t suffer in silence. Turn to a friend, relative, health care professional or counselor.
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Joan Lunden always wanted to be a doctor, like her father. She also thought about teaching for a time. When she became an award-winning journalist and bestselling author, she fulfilled her earlier dreams, through her work as a motivational speaker and a women’s health and wellness advocate.
Long before Lunden was a household name, she started humbly as a trainee for KCRA-TV’s news department in 1973. Within two years she was a weather person, reporter, and anchor for the station. Next stop, New York City, for a job at WABC-TV and then Good Morning America. Her nearly two decades as a television cohost are legendary.
She reported from 26 countries, covered five presidents, several Olympic Games, and told us how to care for our homes, families, and health. Life after GMA has included, among other positions, working as a special correspondent on the TODAY Show, host of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and CBS television station’s series Your Health, and starting in January, she’ll be at the helm of PBS’ Second Opinion. She created a women’s summer getaway camp in Maine, designed a line of home goods, and wrote 12 books.
When I make the drive between my home and the office, I notice the sun coming through the trees. In my 30s I was too busy to see the sun.
She’ll tell you quickly where her heart is. Health is her passion. She knows firsthand about health challenges. In 2014, Lunden was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which required chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. She turned her experience into a teachable moment. She shared her cancer battle in her memoir Had I Known: A Memoir of Survival. She advocates for cancer patients on Capitol Hill and elsewhere and engages with the cancer community through social media and her website, joanlunden.com.
At 70, the wife and mother of seven, including two sets of teenage twins, is hardly slowing down. Earlier this year, she published her latest book, Why Did I Come Into This Room? A Candid Conversation About Aging. Her take on the female aging process is as informative as it is entertaining. She keeps it real, talking about the guts and glory of growing older.
What was it like in the beginning of your career in such a competitive industry? I was a young woman on local television news in New York when I got a call from my agent saying that I had gotten an offer to cohost Good Morning America. Twenty minutes later I got a call from my gynecologist telling me that I was pregnant with my first child. This would be new territory. I was one of the first anchors to appear pregnant on television. The network was great. When I told them that I was breastfeeding my daughter Jamie and that she needed to be with me, I got a dressing room for her next to mine. It had a crib, and a baby nurse would look after her. She was even with me when she was 1 year old, and I had to cover the royal wedding of Diana and Charles. I felt like I was helping make things change in the workplace for women. ABC got a lot of letters from viewers in support of what they saw happening for me. But also there was the realization that while it was wonderful that my workplace was accommodating, what about other women? This set me on a path to be an advocate for women. Earlier this year I testified before Congress urging them to support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act.
As a wife and mother of seven, what’s your advice to women about work-life balance? Don’t feel guilty. Guilt is the bane of working women. We’re always asking ourselves, “Am I at the right place at the right time?” When people ask my three older children what it was like when I was working at GMA, I love what they say: “That she showed us that we can do a lot with our life. We can be a mom, raise kids, and do other things.” I was relieved to hear them say this — you’re always worried that you screwed them up.
You’ve had an amazing career. What are some highlights? It was thrilling to cover the royal weddings of Diana, Fergie, and Kate, to cover presidential inaugurations, the Olympics, and do things like fly in a fighter jet that landed on an aircraft carrier. But then there are stories that I still carry with me. One of them was a story with the American Lung Association. In the segment a pregnant woman who was a smoker was hooked up to an ultrasound machine and when she took a puff, we could see the baby cringing. We saw how a baby feels when it’s not getting oxygen. We got boxes of mail about that show. That was more than 20 years ago. Back then the dangers of smoking when pregnant weren’t well known. It brought home that you can’t smoke and drink when you’re pregnant. Another story was about a woman whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. We interviewed her on the day the driver was being put to death. She said the first few years after her daughter’s death she was filled with hatred. It consumed her so much that her marriage fell apart and she got a divorce. We asked her how she felt about him being put to death. She said she forgave him. She said something I’ll never forget. “A heart filled with anger has no room for love.”
You’re a longtime health advocate. In 2014 you had to fight for yourself when you were diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. How did your life change? Breast cancer is viewed as a horrible thing, but within 24 hours of my diagnosis I realized it was an opportunity for me to carry on my dad’s legacy. He was a cancer surgeon. I didn’t become a doctor, but I could pass the baton. I could help get information to women and offer emotional support. Breast cancer changed the trajectory of my life and career. When you survive a crisis you get a new appreciation for life. Getting cancer pushed me to learn about my body. I felt empowered by what I found out and I wanted to share what I learned. It gave me new purpose.
What inspired your latest book, Why Did I Come Into This Room?After cancer I wanted to age successfully. I like to write about what I want to know more about — that’s my North Star. It took six years to write because something always got in the way. But I had to get this done. This book is for all my sisters. We age differently than men because of estrogen. We don’t talk enough about aging. I want the book to be a conversation starter. I went there, talking about what’s frustrating, annoying, embarrassing as we age, everything from a decrease in libido, leaky bladders, the forgetfulness, and expanding waistlines. I mean, I know I didn’t eat more Tostitos last year. Women need to know that what they are going through is normal, otherwise they think what the heck is happening to me and go down the path of thinking, I am less relevant, less sexy. That’s a terrible path. I want them to know what to expect and offer fixes, small tweaks they can make in their life that will have a big impact.
Speaking of aging, you just celebrated your 70th birthday. What was it like to hit that milestone? I like to say I got off the age train at 45. When I look in the mirror and how I feel, I’m between 45 and 50. But I was a little freaked out. We grew up thinking 70 is old. Back when my mother was young, 59 was the average life expectancy. We grew up hearing our parents talk about helping Uncle Charlie who can’t keep up, so in the back of our minds aging means decline, and that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It doesn’t have to be. It’s about attitude. You can extend that third stage of your life if you’re willing to do the work.
Are you slowing down any? Not at all. I don’t want to. I’m incredibly busy and there are a lot of opportunities. I play tennis and hike. During summers in Maine I’m into the climbing wall. I’m good at it. I pride myself on getting up that wall. The first time I did it my arms hurt so bad it hurt to brush my teeth. I learned the trick is using the lower half of your body for strength. But what has changed is how I view the passage of time. From my 30s through my 50s I was gunning at a rapid pace against the clock. I don’t do that anymore. I’m not in a race. I do what I damn well please. When I make the drive between my home and the office, I notice the sun coming through the trees. In my 30s I was too busy to see the sun. I have a sense of freedom.
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For more than 35 years, Richard M. Kessel has been clear about his mission to serve the public. He started down that path as executive director of the New York State Consumer Protection Board. Kessel spent decades on the Board of Trustees for Nassau Community College and served on the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority. He has held leadership positions with the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) and the New York Power Authority. In 2018 he became chairman of the board of the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency (IDA). Kessel worked in various capacities for six New York governors, but he’s particularly stoked now. The Merrick native says, “Nassau County is my first love. I want to do some good things.”
For those who aren’t familiar, can you share what IDA is and its mission? We are a state authority that works with the county to promote economic development and jobs. Expanding the tax base is a priority. We work to attract new businesses to Nassau County, keep existing businesses here that might want to leave, and help companies expand.
What’s essential to keep companies here and attract new ones? Everyone recognizes that we need more housing and more affordable housing, especially to encourage millennials to work and live in the county. We’re working with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on new housing projects like the one we just got approved in Lynbrook. Another issue is taxes. We can’t lower taxes but can provide tax stability. For example, we can set up a 15- or 20-year pilot plan where taxes are frozen at a certain rate and then slowly raised, or there can be a sales tax exemption, for things like building materials and mortgage recording. There’s a well-known company in Freeport that’s outgrown its space. Its dilemma is deciding whether to go to another state with cheaper property taxes or stay here. But they can’t afford to stay. Our job is to work with them, so they stay and continue to grow. The chief challenge is the high cost of living on Long Island.
You have extensive experience in government; what fueled your interest? I’ve always been curious. I recently spoke to my sixth-grade teacher who told me I was his only student that read Newsday and The New York Times. I am an only child. When I was in college my mother was sick with cancer. I couldn’t understand why the government wasn’t spending more to search for a cure. That lead me to politics and government. At 24, I did a run for cancer in Washington, D.C. Curing cancer became my focus. I majored in political science and ran for the state senate but lost. My parents encouraged me to pursue public service over money.
How did you wind up leading IDA? I’ve known Laura Curran for a long time. She asked my advice on energy issues in the past. When she became county executive, she asked me to do IDA. It’s opened up another world, it’s a great way to help the county. She’s really engaged. She has gone with us to meetings. Her presence is incredibly helpful as we put together projects.
What’s your vision for IDA? We need to significantly increase the housing stock. I foresee hundreds of new housing units over the next three to five years, especially affordable housing near LIRR stations and local downtowns. Freeport’s and Lynbrook’s downtowns need help; what better way than with new housing? We will be sensitive, not putting up something 10 stories high. We will work with local officials and the communities to get their input. I also see a tremendous opportunity for us to become one of the centers for streaming. It’s expensive for studios to operate in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Let’s make it cheaper for them to do it here, and provide union jobs. I am excited. Over the next six months we will have big job-creating projects popping out all over.
What is the IDA doing to confront the coronavirus crisis? The Nassau County IDA is working in conjunction with our partners on the Nassau County Economic Advisory Council to monitor and measure the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on employers and employees alike. We continue to actively monitor announcements from both the federal and New York State governments for availability of resources to support businesses, large and small, during this downturn and will communicate with them accordingly. Lastly, we are encouraged by the willingness of Nassau-based businesses to offer their own support for those in need at this time whether it be for specific medical/emergency donations, re-tooling of companies to produce needed items, available warehouse space, or food donations to name a few. Working together as a business community will be critical to our future success once the crisis subsides.
Many look forward to going to the dentist about as much as visiting the auto repair shop. With either, few are quite sure what they’re in for. The visit can result in pain, physical or financial, or both.
Some folks are so squeamish about the dentist they don’t go. According to the Cleveland Clinic, between 9 and 15 percent of Americans say they avoid going to the dentist because of anxiety or fear. However, going to the dentist is a must, the sooner the better. The onus is on parents to get their children started on a healthy oral hygiene journey.
“The best thing a parent can do is not scare the child,” says Dr. Elizabeth Abrams, a dentist with Manhasset Dental Arts who works with children. “Don’t say that the dentist pulls teeth. They will be afraid; that’s not a good beginning.”
Here’s a guide to help you get them there.
FIND A DENTIST
Many parents cherish their child’s pediatrician. Apply that same reverence to the dentist. Parents who search far and wide for a pediatrician should exert the same efforts to find a pediatric dentist.
What’s a pediatric dentist? They are the pediatricians of dentistry. They have two to three years of specialty training following dental school and only treat children. They are primary and specialty oral care providers for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health needs.
While a general dentist can treat a child, having someone whose expertise is children is a bonus. Parents know their little ones are in a kid-friendly environment.
TAP LOVED ONES
Nothing puts parents at ease like a referral from a friend or family. But parents without personal references can ask their pediatrician or turn to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (www.aapd.org). Search its directory for a dentist in your area.
“Sometimes parents go strictly by who takes their dental insurance,” says Dr. Benjamin Dancygier, founder and CEO of Valley Pediatric Dentistry in Jefferson Valley, N.Y. “This can backfire because that dentist may not be the best fit. There are online reviews and online parent groups where one can find candid accounts of experiences. Word of mouth is key!”
Care for a toddler’s teeth should begin as soon as the child’s first baby tooth comes in. This typically occurs at 6 months but can vary both earlier and later.
“Proper care and good habits can set the tone for your child’s dental health for a lifetime,” says Dancygier. “Take your child to a pediatric dental specialist as soon as their first tooth erupts into their mouth or by the age of 1 year.”
What should parents expect? He says at this early visit, a risk assessment is normally done to determine what specific recommendations are needed to best assist you in preventing tooth decay for your little one.
SET THE TONE
When a child is one year old, getting them in a chair may be easier because they are clueless. But as they get older, it can get trickier. How best to handle a child’s qualms?
“Don’t relay any personal fears or memories of past experiences,” says Dancygier. “A positive attitude by you sets a good tone for them.”
He suggests reading books to your child or watching videos of good dental experiences made for children to get them ready. Avoid words like “hurt, pain, needle or shot,” which will scare the child before they set foot in the dental office.
Look for a dentist who is sensitive.
“A general dentist can sometimes be intimidated by children. They get impatient and frustrated when the child starts crying,” says Dr. Abrams. “A pediatric dentist is used to working with children and knows how to approach them. They also have smaller instruments for their mouths.”
A year can be short or an eternity. Much depends on what’s going on. And if you’re talking about the 365 days after graduating high school, the time can be sacred.
Some say keep the momentum going and go directly to college. Others believe living a bit before taking on advance academia is ideal. How best to decide whether you should take a gap year?
“Make a pros and cons list,” says Igor Mitic, co-founder of Fortunly.com. “Figure out things for yourself instead of following the expected path. It’s much better to lose one year when you’re young than to struggle with choices you felt forced to make.”
“A gap year can be the best or worst thing for someone,” says Syed Rizvi, M.D., online medical educator and founder of Rev Med in Woodbury. “Students who plan ahead of their gap year to do courses, travel for career purposes, and research, could define their interests.
“Many times though, some students cannot bounce back from gap years,” she continues. “Those who weren’t productive or didn’t do anything that year to build will face it in the future.”
William Taylor, a career development manager at MintResume.com, says that that year can allow students to earn cash via jobs and internships that can help fund college.
But for all the positives, there are downsides.
“There could be a gap in your CV, especially if you didn’t do anything worth mentioning,” says Taylor. “Also, many students who start earning money consider it unnecessary to continue their studies. For some people time off breaks their tempo.”
Know too, that gap years will hurt a job candidate, “if they just ‘take time off to travel’ (eye roll),” says Jackie Ducci, founder of recruiting firm Ducci & Associates in Manhattan. “You must articulate your purpose in a way that logically supports your career track or growth. Anything less, and employers will assume that you are scattered, or just plain lazy.”
The best-case scenario is that you show that you achieved your goal during your gap year.
For sure there are some risks, but the truth is, the onus is on you to maximize your break. So if you decide to go for a gap year, here’s how to make the most of it.
Ben Watson is virtual CFO of DollarSprout. He took a gap year and then some.
“I got a much better idea of what I wanted my career to become by taking some time after high school,” he says. “I would have never found my career path (or my wife) if I had gone straight into college.”
He worked and taught English overseas. He says he received more scholarships and financial aid from taking time off than if he hadn’t.
He worked and also taught English overseas. He says he received more scholarships and financial aid by taking time off than if he hadn’t.
“Once I returned to the states, I received nontraditional student scholarships and awards because I was focused and knew what I wanted to do,” he says.
As for what you should take into consideration, he asks, “Do you know what college can do for you? If you’re simply following the herd without any real direction of major or career after college, take a break and learn what’s out there.”
Furthermore, if you can’t afford college without taking on heavy debt, think twice if you don’t have a clear idea of what you’ll do after college.
“It’s kind of like taking out a mortgage and hoping you’ll find a house you like in four years,” he adds.
He says that while education is a great thing, “Life skills and real-world connections are worth more than an “A” in English literature. If you decide to attend college, pick a school and major that will advance your goals, not just to earn a degree.”
But be savvy, however. He adds, “If you have scholarships that you otherwise wouldn’t get, don’t waste the opportunities in front of you.”
The holidays are all about spending time with family. You’ve seen all the movies, families caroling, opening gifts, or seated at the large dining room table full of food and smiles. Everybody’s happy, happy, happy.
But then there’s reality. Truth is, getting together with family can pose challenges, especially when most people are already stressed from the hoopla surrounding the season. You want those family moments to be magical, not miserable. Here’s how to keep the holidays merry.
Despite movies and commercials, families are not perfect.
“Be realistic about who your family is and what they are capable of,” says Gwen Uss, a life coach and founder of Hopeful Heart Solutions in Commack.
Many families are dealing, or not dealing, with strained relationships, past hurts, and loss, making family time interesting to say the least.
“Having realistic expectations of yourself and your family will help set the bar where it needs to be and can minimize disappointments,” says Uss. “When you see your family for who they are and not what you wish they were, you can accept them in a way that may even shed some light on their good qualities.”
HAVE A STRATEGY
Bring your own car.
If you know from past experience that things may take a turn for the worse at some point during the day, (perhaps when the alcohol has been flowing a while), having your own car is key just in case you need to extricate yourself, says Uss. Also, resist the urge to feel as though you have to stay the whole time.
She says, “Give yourself permission to leave early if need be.”
Get some friendly games going.
“It can be difficult for families to be together with unstructured time,” says Rachel Perlstein, a psychotherapist with InFlow Wellness in Manhattan.
“If it’s hard for your family to get together without getting into it when left to their own devices, plan some activities that involve being on the same team and working together,” she continues. “This can foster cooperation, team building, and provide an opportunity for people to get a bit silly and out of their comfort zones. If your family isn’t into games, get everyone to participate in cooking and give/assign jobs.”
POSTPONE PAST DISPUTES
If there’s an existing family beef, though you all may be in the same room together, some experts don’t advise settling it during this festive time.
“The holidays are fraught with expectations,” says Mark Borg, Ph.D., a psychologist in Manhattan.
“There is no reason to more heavily burden them with the resolution of some previous family conflict,” he continues. “In fact, I would see that as a setup and more indicative of someone’s mixed feelings about actually resolving the existing conflict. The best way to address the existing conflict (and avoid putting it into the category of elephant in the room) is to acknowledge it and, if you are willing, suggest a moratorium on dealing with it and set up a time — a time unburdened by holiday stress — to do so.”
While you don’t want to come off as cheap if you’re hosting, you also don’t want to provide too much fuel for a family feud.
Limit alcohol availability. If you’re a guest, decide that this is not the time you are going to drink yourself silly.
“If your family is often argumentative or easily agitated, less alcohol may be better,” says Perlstein. “Although it seems counterintuitive, people may get along better if they are more in control of what they say and how they interact with others.”
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
Get off on a good foot.
“Start the meal by asking each person to share something they are grateful for or appreciate about another person in the room,” says Perlstein. “This gratitude exercise can be done aloud or just silently. This helps build cohesion as well as creates an atmosphere of positivity.”
Olivia Howell has two sons, Weston 6, and Wyatt, 3. Weston participates in theater via the booster club at school. That’s enough for him and her.
“I’m a big fan of letting the kids have downtime to think and play,” says the Northport mom. “We’re not really a huge sports family, but I do anticipate them wanting to try martial arts or theater activities. However, I’m a proponent of taking it slow and not rushing around if we can, so I tend to underschedule rather than overschedule.”
She has friends who do things differently.
“I have seen many parents exhausted from driving around nonstop, all day,” she says. “It’s important to have balance. Do activities, but also remember how important it is to spend time together as a family.”
Finding the right mix of school, extracurricular activities, and free time is a challenge for many families. The book Seraphina Does EVERYTHING!by Melissa Gratiastells the story of today’s families through Seraphina, who with her various hobbies, clubs, and sports winds up overwhelmed and underprepared to succeed in her jam-packed schedule of activities.
Children’s schedules can get out of control from them taking on too much as they explore their often-changing interests, but also from parents who are pushing to prepare them to be ideal students for college, with a bio packed with activities designed to impress.
“There has to be balance: You don’t want to become victims of the schedule,” says Howell.
Here’s how to juggle without dropping the ball.
“I recommend students find out what they’re passionate about and pursue that wholeheartedly,” says Christopher Rim, CEO of Command Education, a New York City company that offers student mentoring, tutoring and other services.
“They should tier their activities from tasks they feel most strongly about and to those that are more cursory extracurriculars,” he says. “That way, when push comes to shove, a student knows where their priorities lie and can choose one commitment over another instead of spreading themselves too thin.”
Parents naturally want to do their part to help their kids get into college, but it can have the reverse effect.
“Don’t focus on making your child seem well rounded,” warns Rim. “That’s how kids end up with rehearsals, practices, and tutoring sessions back to back seven days a week.”
If you want to tweak their schedule, add things that relieve stress.
“Give them a journal to process their thoughts, plan weekly family game nights — not every minute of their day has to be spent résumé building,” says Rim. “As much as your child is preparing to become a college student, they’re preparing to be a person in the world. They should learn strategies to manage stress and how to have fun.”
GIVE TIME FOR TRIALS
It’s hard to know how a new activity will change things. Allowing a trial period for ongoing evaluation is helpful. Set a time period, say six weeks, to evaluate and discuss how your child is feeling.
“Stay flexible, nothing is written in stone,” says Dana Dorfman, a psychotherapist in New York City.
Children exhibit overload in various ways, depending upon their developmental stage and personalities, says Dorfman.
“Some children can express their feelings,” she says. “Others experience physical complaints such as stomachaches and headaches, or resist the activity entirely.”
Take note if your child has significant changes in eating or sleeping, or difficulty concentrating.
Says Dorfman, “They may be overwhelmed, particularly if these things persist for two weeks or more.”
SET THE PACE
Don’t live an overbooked life yourself. The kids are watching.
“Show kids through your actions that life balance is important,” says Gratias. “Our children look to us for guidance. Teach them to say no to opportunities and activities that could lead to an unbalanced life. View each change in season as an opportunity to re-evaluate family commitments.”
Sometimes, after a wicked storm, a rainbow appears. Stacy Miranda knows that firsthand. Six years ago she was battling invasive ductal carcinoma, triple positive breast cancer, an aggressive, fast-growing form of the disease. Today, she’s living her best life.
Miranda was 34 when she discovered a lump on her breast and brought it to the attention of her doctor. That was the beginning of a journey that included radiation, chemotherapy, Herceptin infusions, and three surgeries.
“Chemo hit me really hard, to the point that I was barely leaving the house and was dependent on others for even the simplest of daily tasks,” says Miranda, 40, who lives in Long Beach.
Her life was upside down. By the time she recovered from a second surgery, more than a year had passed and she was able to return to work, says the teacher at North Shore Middle School in Glen Head. Six months later, she was out of work again for a revision surgery. But, with gratitude, she says, “This past June, I celebrated my five-year cancer-free mark, which I call my ‘rebirth.’”
The metamorphosis was painful.
“At times, I have felt isolated and stripped of my youth, femininity, self-worth, and innocence of good health,” she says. “Just as with most cancer patients, I have had my share of dark days. I was a single woman without children.”
Overall, she remained positive and grateful.
“Cancer has been one of my greatest teachers in life,” she adds. “While it doesn’t define me, it has certainly played a major role in molding me into the woman I am. I feel very lucky to be where I am today.”
While being out of work did eventually make finances tight, she was fortunate to have support from friends and family, as well as extremely good health insurance. Miranda turned to organizations that help breast cancer patients.
What sustained her during the most difficult period of her life?
“I tried everything I possibly could,” she recalls. ”You name it, I probably tried it. Every stage of the journey required different coping mechanisms and means of support. I think a healthy mindset is always key, though.
“It basically came down to gratitude and acceptance,” she continues. “That helped me stay positive and keep the faith that it was a temporary hardship that would lead to good things later on.”
When she was overwhelmed, she went into therapy and leaned on her support network. Physical therapy was also helpful both mentally and physically.
“I went to the only breast cancer physical therapy program on Long Island, Full Circle Physical Therapy,” she says.
To be sure, after the storm there is a rainbow. Although she has some residual side effects from treatment from her current medication, she’s now in very good health. Now, she says, “I am unapologetically myself, living from my heart, and committed to living life to the fullest.”
Living as a cancer survivor presents challenges, but it can create opportunities. Miranda is involved in two nonprofit organizations: First Descents, a group providing adventure trips for young adults impacted by cancer, and Climb For Hope, an organization that raises money for breast cancer and multiple sclerosis research through adventure challenges.
Through all her adventures, such as whitewater kayaking, rock climbing, hiking and mountaineering, she has a new sense of empowerment. She has also shared her cancer story through public speaking engagements.
“If simply by sharing my experiences I can help others, I am honored to do so,” she says. “Giving back while also challenging myself has been so very purposeful and healing.”
Miranda says her first fundraising adventure challenge was climbing the summit of Mount Adams in Washington.
“When I reached that summit, I cried out in astonishment that my mind and body could achieve such a feat,” she recalls. “From climbing the mountains of breast cancer to the mountains of the Earth. I went from barely being able to walk down the block to climbing the second highest peak in the Pacific Northwest!”
It’s never too early to start preparing for worst-case scenarios.
Since 2016, some 30,000 preschoolers through second graders have participated in the BeReadyLI Children’s Workshop, which teaches kids how to prepare for emergencies. Through funding provided by the PSEG Foundation, United Way of Long Island, PSEG Long Island and 2-1-1 Long Island joined forces to create the program and BeReadyLI website.
“PSEG Long Island wants to be sure that the younger people in the community know how to handle emergency situations that could affect Long Island and giving them something to do helps keep them calm,” says Jackie D’Anneo, a BeReadyLI educator who recently ran a workshop in Glen Cove. “We use fun tools like Sesame Street to teach the kids how to identify people around them who can help them and just teach the kids important tools they can use in these situations.”
The interactive 30-minute presentation is given primarily at schools and places like the YMCA.
“We partnered with Sesame Street because we know how important it is to deliver information to children in a way they can relate to, with characters they know,” says George Coburn, PSEG Long Island Manager-Community Outreach.
No doubt it’s much less scary to hear Elmo, Big Bird, and the gang talk about information that could otherwise be overwhelming to children.
“Children learn what an emergency is, to recognize the sounds that are associated with an emergency like beeping, and who to turn to depending on the circumstance — a teacher if they are at school, or firefighter, police officer or neighbor — as well as what to do,” explains Elizabeth Eberhardt, Assistant Vice President of Community Impact for United Way of Long Island.
It can be surprising what children don’t know.
“During Sandy, we saw firsthand that some kids only knew their parents as mom and dad,” says Coburn.
During the workshop, the importance of the children knowing their full names as well as their parents’ and home address is among the information emphasized. They learn what to do before, during and after an emergency.
“Every family is encouraged to have a family plan,” says Eberhardt. “To know where they will meet if they are not together when an incident occurs. We also ask that families prepare a go-pack and we tell them essential items to include, like water, blankets, first aid kit, and flashlight, among others.”
Children take home an orange backpack called a go-pack, safety and preparedness tips, a yellow children’s hard hat, and certificate of completion of the workshop. Educators hope that when the children walk through the door with their goods it sparks a family discussion about safety.
“Generally, people aren’t well prepared for an emergency,” says Coburn. “They don’t think they will be impacted directly. We hope those backpacks are a reminder to parents that they need to have a plan.”
An emergency can be any number of things, not just floods, hurricanes, or blizzards, but also microbursts of wind or heat.
“Be sure you’re adequately covered by insurance,” says Eberhardt. “Listen to reports. Get your go-packs ready. Be proactive.”
In addition to BeReadyLI.org, another good resource of information is United Way’s 2-1-1 Long Island website 211li.org that has links to severe weather and other essential information.
“[The 2-1-1 Long Island] website is comprehensive, and we ramp it up with additional information during and after an emergency,” says Eberhardt. “You can find out what nonprofits are doing to help and other important things to know.”
PSEG Long Island also offers other programs through employee volunteers to first through sixth graders about energy efficiency, renewable technologies, and electric safety — like what to do when a power wire is down, and more. These programs reach more than 100,000 kids each year, says PSEG-LI’s Coburn. It’s better to be prepared and not need than to need and not have.
Says Eberhardt, “While you cross your fingers and hope you don’t have an emergency, you have to prepare for the possibility.”
As another school year begins, no doubt you’re happier about it than your children.
You’re relieved. They’ll be positively engaged getting their education. But don’t get too relaxed, for there may be work in store for you. Sometimes, what goes on in those hallways requires your attention. For a variety of reasons, parents may find themselves advocating for their children. That’s a test you can’t afford to fail. Your child’s education is at stake.
Here’s how to be an effective advocate for your child.
Attend parent involvement or volunteer to chaperone or assist occasionally. This helps the school become familiar with you, which is important should you or your child need something.
“If your child is making poor grades, has a learning or physical disability, mental health diagnosis, has defiance or outburst, or shows aggression for others, ask for more information about IEP (Individualized Education Program) or 504 plans in order to make a plan with the school for any needed accommodations such as class size, extra time on tests, or having an aide,” says Ashton Burdick, a nationally certified counselor providing multi-systemic therapy (MST) for children and teens in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“Go with your gut,” says Lisa Lightner, whose Philadelphia-based consulting business, A Day in Our Shoes, offers resources and information for parents of children with disabilities.
Most children have good and bad days at school. They grumble about an assignment or a teacher or a friend that has upset him/her. The next day or week, everything is fine.
“But when a child constantly complains, or when his report card shows failing or falling grades or indicates behavior issues, investigate,” says Nancy Brigham, education researcher and author of A Fragile Enterprise: Yesterday’s Schools and Tomorrow’s Students.
Problems typically fall into three categories: instructional issues, social emotional issues, and bullying.
Determine what’s wrong. “Children aren’t always the best reporters. ‘My teacher hates me,’ may mean that the child is having trouble doing the work, that the teacher seems to ignore him, or that s/he has behavior issues that cause him to act out in class,” says Bringham.
ASK FOR HELP
If the issue is instructional, start with the teacher. If your child acts out with only one teacher, meet with them. If it is more generalized, try to meet with your child’s cluster of teachers, or speak to a guidance counselor or social worker, suggests Brigham.
If your child has been sent to the office, make an appointment with that administrator.
For bullying, round up every adult involved in his/her education, individually or as a group. See them ASAP.
Follow up via email to document that you’ve been trying to solve the problem.
Get a counselor for your child. They may identify a diagnosis that assists with qualifying your child for an IEP, and they may be able to work in the school with your child.
ASK PROPER QUESTIONS
Don’t be confrontational. You want discussion, not a defensive teacher.
Ask,“What do you see as Johnny’s academic strengths?” This approach focuses the conversation on your child in a positive way.
Find common ground. You both want Jenny to do her homework. If the work is too challenging, ask,“What can I do at home to help?” says Brigham.
Leave with a plan for ongoing communication. This keeps the door open to discuss further steps.
Social and emotional issues are painful for children and parents and are a challenge for schools. The problem often stems from a child’s feelings of alienation.
“As a parent, help your child find a way to connect and urge the school to become an inclusive community,” says Brigham.
Inquire about how the teacher establishes a sense of community. Then ask, “Why do you think Johnny feels left out? What can we do about that?”
“Don’t report your child’s teacher to the dean or principal. Give them the courtesy of communicating first,” says Fran Walfish, Ph.D., family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent.
Keep cool. Warns Burdick, “It might feel good to yell at that teacher who seems to be singling your kid out, but the principal and faculty may take you less seriously.”