Wellness with Whitney: What are You Willing to Change?

August 24th, 2016

When healing — of body, mind, or spirit — happens, it’s never by magic. Healing happens by relationship, through decisions to grow closer to God. Too often, we pray for better health and then passively wait for something to improve. But God always asks us to participate actively our healing. Saint Brother André Bessette (who became famous for many healing miracles that happened after he prayed for people at Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada) often asked people seeking healing one key question: “What are you willing to change in order to grow closer to God?”

The power to heal ultimately comes from God. So when we want to be healed in some way, the most powerful step to take is to move closer to God — Creator of our bodies, minds, and spirits; and the source of all healing.

Brother André, who spent many decades praying for people in need of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing, challenged people to open their hearts when approaching God. Rather than seeing God as some sort of magician they hoped to convince to help them with a trick for their health, people should engage in personal conversations with God in which real love is exchanged, Brother André advised. “When you pray,” he said, “you talk to God the way you do to a friend.”

I visited Saint Joseph’s Oratory (named for Brother André’s patron saint, St. Joseph, Jesus Christ’s father during his earthly life) recently to learn more about this humble man who believers say God worked through to heal thousands of people in different ways. What was the meaning of wellness to him?

It was simple, yet profound. Wellness means being connected to God in relationships where we’re willing to do whatever God asks, because God loves us and we love him.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect; only to be willing to say “yes” to what he asks us to do. What are we willing to change in our lives that we know is currently putting distance between ourselves and God? That’s a challenging, yet worthwhile, question to consider. If we dare to ask in prayer or meditation with God, we’ll get the insights we need.

For instance, I was moved after my visit to ask God to show me one specific bad habit I could change to move closer to him. What came to mind was my tendency to yell at people around me when I’m under stress. That was something significant enough to be worth working on, yet manageable enough for me to handle. So, with God’s help, I’m working to grow beyond that. What motivates me is simply love for God, not an attempt to convince God to give me something I’d like to have in my life. Just like I want to do whatever I can to keep my friendships with other people healthy, I want to do the same with my relationship with God, just because I love him. The next time I ask God to heal something in my life, I know that whatever he decides to do will also be based on love.

We can’t predict what will happen when we ask God for healing, but we can be confident that God will respond with love, and we can best receive his love when we’re in close relationships with him.

— Whitney

Whitney Hopler writes about how to pursue wellness in body, mind, and spirit.

Wellness with Whitney: Olympic Endurance

August 17th, 2016

Riding my bike for 10 miles, mostly uphill, in the rain recently at Mont Tremblant national park in Canada, I found myself thinking about the athletes competing in this summer’s Olympics in Rio. What incredible endurance they have! My bike ride was challenging for me, but it was nothing compared to what Olympic athletes endure. What is it that motivates Olympians to keep practicing their sports faithfully, over and over again, and to keep going in competitions even during the toughest challenges?

I think their inspiration is similar to what inspired me during my own athletic exertion: appreciating the benefits of the journey itself, no matter what results end up coming from it.

That’s what inspires my favorite Olympian of the Rio games, USA beach volleyball champion Kerri Walsh Jennings. Just last night, Walsh Jennings’ long winning streak (she had never lost a match in three previous Olympics) was broken when Brazilian team Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas won a late-night match over Kerri and her teammate April Ross. Kerri didn’t like to see the gold medal she was expected to win slip away, of course. But as much as she works hard to win matches and medals, she keeps the healthy perspective that the journey of playing her best is what offers the ultimate value.

Kerri has lots of wise advice for how to endure our journeys like champions. A key strategy she has for her own endurance during matches is: “Breathe — be in the moment. Believe — have faith that you can rise above it. Battle — you gotta be prepared to go for as long as it takes.”

So often, when we’re faced with a choice about whether to endure or quit in a situation, we consider only what we hope the results will be. We decide based on the likelihood of good results happening from our effort. Should we keep loving that difficult person we know, or just give up on the relationship if he or she isn’t responding the way we’d like? Should we keep volunteering for that cause we support, even if all the hard work never leads to the paying job we need? Should we keep praying about that chronic health problem when we don’t see any healing taking place?

Olympians know that the journey is more important than the destination. Sure, they’d love to win medals for their efforts. But the most important lessons they learn come from simply experiencing the journey, no matter the results.

When we choose to endure a situation that we sense God wants us to stick with, we can’t predict how it will ultimately turn out. But we can be sure that just by going through process, we’ll emerge as stronger people. As the Bible says in Romans 5:4, perseverance (another word for endurance) produces character, which in turn produces hope in us.

I certainly wouldn’t have won an Olympic medal for my bike ride, but because it challenged my endurance, it did make me stronger. I’m glad I didn’t give up, even when high hills loomed and mosquitoes swarmed around me. Once I decided to finish the trail, the rain didn’t seem annoying; it was exhilarating. My legs were sore when I stepped off the bike, but I felt encouraged that I could endure the problems in my life with more resilience afterward.

While you enjoy watching athletes compete in the Olympic games, try to notice the ones who don’t win medals, yet still do their best and stay strong until the end of their competitions. Let them inspire you to stay strong as you face your own challenges. Their examples of endurance can motivate all of us!

— Whitney

Whitney Hopler writes about how to pursue wellness in body, mind, and spirit.

Wellness with Whitney: Olympic Resilience to Overcome Challenges

August 10th, 2016

Olympic athletes are masters of a skill that’s vital to wellness: resilience. As we watch them compete in their sports at the summer 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we can learn a lot about how to overcome challenges by tapping into the inner strength that comes from resilience.

Everyone pays attention to the Olympic champions who end up on the podiums, winning gold, silver, or bronze medals. Yet regardless of how well the athletes perform during their brief time to compete at the games, all are champions of character. They all worked intensely and made significant sacrifices to dedicate themselves to be the best they could possibly be at their respective sports — from swimming and gymnastics, to running and biking.

I visited Montreal, Canada — site of one of the most popular summer Olympics — to learn about Olympic resilience and how we all can apply those lessons to our lives.

The brightest star of those games was Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who at only age 14 became the first person to win a perfect score at an Olympic gymnastics event. Not only did Nadia set that world record, but she won three gold medals at the games and became a celebrity for her athletic accomplishments and girl-next-door-charm. But even Nadia, who seemed perfect, had significant challenges to overcome. Around the same time that she was shining in the world’s spotlight, she was dealing with the stress of her parents’ divorce and having to switch coaches.

A Japanese gymnast from those same Olympic games, Shun Fujimoto, didn’t quit even after he broke his right knee during floor exercises. His determination to complete his routine helped his team win a gold modal.

Other athletes who didn’t make the awards podium still showed incredible resilience. One of them was Canadian race walker Alex Oakley, who at age 50 became the oldest track and field Olympics competitor but didn’t let his aging body discourage him from trying out for his fifth Olympics. Another was Princess Anne, an accomplished equestrian who broke a long tradition of remoteness in the British royal family to join and compete with the British horse team. Entire national teams who failed to win the medals they wanted still won at resilience. For instance, after Australia’s Olympic team returned home without winning any gold medals at the Montreal games, they worked together to create the Australian Institute of Sport, a training organization that has helped other Australian athletes learn how to sharpen their skills.

We all face significant challenges on a regular basis. Whether life hits us with a broken relationship, a job loss, a health crisis, or some other challenge, resilience will empower us to navigate the situation with strength. Let’s aim to be champions of resilience!

— Whitney

Whitney Hopler writes about how to pursue wellness in body, mind, and spirit.

Wellness with Whitney: Brazil, the Olympics, and Trying to Solve Overwhelming Problems

August 3rd, 2016

Sometimes problems grow so large that they overwhelm us. That’s when we especially need resilience to stay hopeful and keep trying to find solutions. Watching the people of Brazil host the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this year shows how hope and progress can still emerge from a mess of overwhelming problems.

The list of problems the Brazilian people are facing right now is a long one.

An outbreak of the dreaded Zika virus in Brazil stopped some Olympians and spectators from coming to the games, and Brazil’s residents continue to fight the illness. It’s transmitted through a means that’s hard to avoid: contact with mosquitoes, which are prevalent outdoors.

Then there’s the severe water pollution in Brazil. Brazilians are placing their health at risk whenever they use their polluted water for basic needs like drinking, cooking, and bathing. The site of Olympic sailing and windsurfing events, Guanabara Bay, is so polluted with sewage and garbage that scientists warn anyone coming into contact with the water risks contracting infections or diseases like hepatitis.

Brazil’s economy is on the brink of collapse, as well, with widespread poverty as Brazilians endure the worst recession there since the 1930s. The financial crisis has led to increased crime like robberies and gang violence, creating security concerns.

On top of all that, Brazil’s government is facing the problem of how to deal with corruption issues. Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, is going through an impeachment process after being accused of breaking financial rules. The interim president during Rousseff’s suspension, Michel Temer, is trying to lead a government in turmoil, where people don’t agree over how to deal with the nation’s many challenges.

Yet despite all the overwhelming problems Brazilians face, they still welcomed people from all over the world to the Olympics in Rio this summer, and they’re still living with faith and hope as they work on solving their country’s problems. Many Brazilians are meeting their challenges with resilience — just like Olympians do.

We, too, can face any problem we encounter with resilience. Rather than complaining or worrying, we can focus our time and energy on trying to solve the problem, and remain hopeful through the process. As American inventor Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.”

Sometimes problems are beyond our ability to solve ourselves, but even in those cases we have a choice to be resilient — to persevere and adapt in adversity — or not. What overwhelming problem are you facing right now? How could you let the stories of this summer’s Olympic-size challenges in Brazil inspire you to tackle that problem with resilience?

— Whitney

Whitney Hopler writes about how to pursue wellness in body, mind, and spirit.

Wellness with Whitney: Alcohol Detox for Your Body

July 27th, 2016

The health risks of drinking alcohol — from brain and liver damage to weight gain — are well known, yet alcohol use remains widespread. Popular culture portrays alcohol as a harmless way to relax and have fun. An occasional glass of wine with dinner or beer in the backyard isn’t too bad, but even one alcoholic drink does some damage to the body, and it can be challenging to stop at just one. So if you’ve been drinking alcohol lately, you can detox your body’s system from its effects by completely abstaining for a while.

I go weeks or even months between drinking any alcoholic beverages. From time to time, I enjoy a hard apple cider at an Irish pub or a glass of sangria wine at a social event. But I always stop at one drink only. I’ve never  gotten drunk. If I never drank any alcohol beverages again, I wouldn’t miss them much, either. Since I barely drink any alcohol, my body isn’t desensitized to it, and just one drink is enough for me to feel that pleasant “buzz” that many people enjoy from alcohol. Most importantly, I keep my mind clear. Mental impairment is too high a price for me to pay for any type of enjoyment. By exercising self-control with alcoholic drinks, I make sure they don’t control me.

Many people I know and love, however, struggle to control their alcohol consumption — especially when they’re drinking as a way of trying to escape from stressful problems. It’s easy to become addicted to alcohol. When I worked for The Salvation Army’s national magazines, I edited story after story about people working hard in rehab centers to rebuild their lives from the destruction that alcohol caused.

Here are some ways you can detox your body from alcohol:

  • If you’re addicted to alcohol, get help now. Reach out to caring, trustworthy friends and family, go to rehab, and participate in counseling or a support group.
  • If you’re not addicted but tend to overindulge, cut back to just one alcoholic beverage every time you drink and notice how good it feels to think clearly and feel fully in each present moment rather than numbing your senses with alcohol.
  • If you drink alcohol just occasionally like I do, abstain completely the next time you feel like having a drink (such as when you’re at a party). Fulfill your craving for an alcoholic beverage with something healthier that you also enjoy, like eating fresh fruit.
  • No matter how much alcohol you usually drink, consider the emotional factors that are fueling your desire to drink it, and identify any unhealthy patterns you can start changing. Why do you drink? What negative feelings are you trying to escape from through alcohol? What pleasant feelings are you trying to experience by drinking alcohol? Prayer and meditation can help you figure out how you’ve been using alcohol to deal with your emotions, and how you can start expressing those emotions in healthier ways.
  • Drink lots of water — at least 8 to 10 glasses every day. Water flushes out toxins from your body’s cells, so it will help get rid of toxins your body has stored from alcohol consumption.

— Whitney

Whitney Hopler writes about how to pursue wellness in body, mind, and spirit.

Wellness with Whitney: Caffeine Detox for Your Body

July 20th, 2016

Caffeine is such a common part of everyday life that it’s easy to forget caffeine is actually an addictive drug. Coffee, tea, and other drinks containing caffeine are popular, and enjoying them in moderation can even lead to a variety of health benefits. Those range from physical benefits (such as antioxidant protection for cells that helps prevent disease) and mental benefits (better cognitive function and mood boosts). But consuming too much caffeine can harm your health, in ways that include insomnia, headaches, and abnormal heart rhythms.

So it’s wise to figure out how much caffeine is really the right amount for you to consume each day — and detox your body of the excess caffeine that you’ve been ingesting.

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system by causing the brain to release adrenaline. That’s fine if the body uses all of that adrenaline (such as for energy to handle a crisis). But if excess amounts of adrenaline hang around in the body, over time, it builds up in the body’s muscles, causing tension and pain. That’s when a caffeine detox can be useful.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with caffeine.

Tea is my favorite drink, and I’m fond of coffee, too. Caffeinated drinks play a prominent role in the experiences I treasure — from having afternoon tea with my daughter to reading the morning news while sipping a cup of coffee. I appreciate the many health benefits of tea in particular, and even made a pilgrimage to a tea plantation on vacation once.

But I’ve also suffered insomnia and a racing heartbeat from drinking too much caffeine. Never once have I ever tried an energy drink, because I’m wary of the unregulated and often excessive amounts of caffeine they contain. Sometimes I worry about people I know and love who have high blood pressure yet consume copious amounts of coffee (and have told me to keep my suggestions about reducing their coffee intake to myself).

So how much caffeine is too much? The Mayo Clinic says that up to 400 milligrams per day (up to four cups of coffee) is generally safe for adults and cautions going beyond that amount.

If you’ve been drinking more than that, here are some ways to cut back on the amount of caffeine you consume:

  • Replace just one of the caffeinated beverages you usually consume every day with a drink that doesn’t have caffeine — such as decaf tea or coffee — and gradually work your way to up to replacing most of your caffeinated drinks with no-caffeine alternatives.
  • Enjoy caffeine in the morning and at lunch, but stop drinking it later in day or in the evening. Give your body a break from caffeine from mid-afternoon on.
  • Drink more water. Water flushes out all sorts of toxins from your body, refreshing you. If you’ve already had enough caffeine for the day and find yourself craving more, drink water instead.

— Whitney

Whitney Hopler writes about how to pursue wellness in body, mind, and spirit.

Wellness with Whitney: Sugar Detox for Your Body

July 13th, 2016

By making just one simple choice, you can lose weight, gain energy, and experience a host of other health benefits that include reducing disease-causing inflammation and boosting immunity. That choice? Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet. Doing so is a powerful way to cleanse your body by detoxifying it from the harmful effects of consuming too much sugar.

A plethora of research studies have linked sugar to illnesses (such as cancer and heart disease) while also showing that cutting down on sugar consumption leads to greater wellness. When children in a large study by the National Institutes of Health reduced the amount of sugar they consumed, they experienced many health benefits (like better blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin levels) after only 10 days.

Making sure we don’t consume unhealthy levels of sugar is challenging when we’re constantly surrounded by sugary food and drinks. But it can do a lot to help our bodies function the way God designed them to work.

Growing up, I ate way too much sugar, like many Americans do. Candy, cookies, pie, ice cream, popsicles, cake, sweet tea, soda, punch — the list of sugary foods and drinks I consumed knowingly was long. Then there were all the ways that I was ingesting sugar without even realizing it, through sugary ingredients (like high fructose corn syrup) hidden in processed foods and beverages. Not only did I consume to much sugar physically, but I also developed an unhealthy habit of eating it for emotional reasons.

Fortunately, when I was training for a triathlon in my early 20s, my boyfriend (who was training with me) challenged me to give up drinking soda. He said that by eliminating as much sugar as possible from my diet, I would have more energy. At first, that didn’t make sense to me, since I had been drinking soda for late afternoon bursts of energy. But I had to admit that those bursts didn’t last long — and that they led to energy crashes later.

So I rose to the challenge and stopped drinking soda completely. It didn’t take long for me to have more energy throughout the day. I also slept better at night. Other benefits included feeling less stressed and being able to concentrate more. That was just what I could tell myself — lab tests, I suspect, would have revealed many more health benefits that resulted from my decision to get rid of sugary soda.

I haven’t missed soda since.

There are many ways you can start decreasing the amount of sugar you consume, including:

  • Decreasing your sugar use one meal at a time (such as by replacing sugary breakfast cereal with healthier food at breakfast) and then gradually moving on to other meals.
  • Replacing food and drinks that have sugar additives with no-sugar added alternatives. For instance, stop drinking sweet tea and start drinking unsweetened tea flavored with lemon juice.
  • Cutting back on the amount of dessert you eat, and choosing natural options over processed food. Enjoy something that’s sweetened naturally (like fruit or honey) for dessert instead of something that’s loaded with processed sugar (like candy or cookies).
  • Avoiding products that contain high fructose corn syrup, a sugar additive that’s often hidden in food (like bread, peanut butter, and salad dressings) and beverages (like juice). Read nutrition labels to identify products that are more pure.
  • Using spices (such as cinnamon and ginger) or extracts (like almond and vanilla) when cooking instead of sugar.

— Whitney

Whitney Hopler writes about how to pursue wellness in body, mind, and spirit.

Wellness with Whitney: Detox Your Emotions by Crying

July 6th, 2016

Just like a refreshing shower washes dirt off your body, a good cry cleanses you of negative emotions stored deep inside you. A great way to detox feelings such as anxiety, sadness, frustration, loneliness, anger, and disappointment is simply to let yourself cry.

Research from St. Paul Ramsey Medical Center and the Primal Institute shows that the act of crying releases stress hormones, detoxifying the body from the effects of storing up negative emotions.

After my mom passed away, I didn’t allow myself to cry about it for several years! I was afraid that if I started crying, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I’d developed a bad habit of suppressing my feelings because of past criticism for being emotionally sensitive. I missed my mom terribly but held back my tears — because I knew that letting one tear trickle down would unleash a torrent of tears that could overwhelm me and others like a gushing waterfall.

So much time went by without me weeping, though, that eventually I felt guilty that I had never cried over my mom’s death. Crying certainly seemed like the right thing to do in that situation. Remaining stoic made it seem like I didn’t care about my mom, and that couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

One day, as I was driving home from an aerobics class at my gym — a route that takes me past my mom’s former apartment — a wave of grief rolled over me and I decided not to fight it. I just relaxed into the grief so I could feel it. Then I gave myself permission to express it by crying. Sure enough, after the first tear fell down my face, a torrent of other tears followed. After pulling into a nearby parking let, I sat in my car weeping for a long time.

Then a wonderful peace settled in my soul, and my body felt refreshed. Crying had cleansed me.

What do you need to cry about? A broken relationship with someone you love? A job loss? A frightening health condition? Whatever circumstances have led you to store negative emotions in your body, cry about them to release those feelings.

Who could you cry for to release compassion into a situation of suffering? Do you know someone going through a divorce, struggling with an addiction, stressed by the demands of caring for a loved one, or facing another type of painful challenge? Hurting people are all around you. Cry for them, and let your tears motivate you to help in ways that you can.

Crying is a powerful way to detox your emotions. When you let your tears out, you welcome healing in!

— Whitney

Whitney Hopler writes about how to pursue wellness in body, mind, and spirit.

Wellness with Whitney: Walking Helps Thinking — Nature Walks and Stress

June 29th, 2016

Facing uncertainty can be stressful. What will the lab results reveal about your health? Who will your friends be after you move to a new area? Which job will you end up getting? You may not be able to predict the future, but you can reduce the stress of uncertainty — and other types of stress — by taking a walk outside in nature.

Walking through a natural environment can change brain activity so people don’t ruminate on negative thoughts as much as they did before their nature walks, according to a research study by scientists from Stanford University and other organizations. The study showed that those who walked outside for 90 minutes experienced less stress as a result.

When we’re anxious about an unknown future, it’s easy to ruminate on those worries over and over. Stepping outside to enjoy a walk is a wonderful way to break that negative cycle.

I took a lot of nature walks when my husband was searching for a kidney donor for the lifesaving transplant he needed. Would he find someone willing to help, who was a compatible match, in time? The uncertainty and stress were intense. Prayer helped me cope, but so did walking, and I often found myself drawn to praying while walking outdoors.

On one of my nature walks, a thunderstorm suddenly moved in, and I watched how the trees around me handled the unexpected change. They swayed gracefully back and forth, staying firmly rooted in the ground while they endured rain soaking their trunks and wind blowing off some of their leaves. They stood strong in the face of whatever weather hit them and simply did their best to adjust to it.

Walking relaxed me enough to stop ruminating on my worries and learn a lesson from the trees. Every part of nature is constantly reflecting something about its Creator. As the Bible describes in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…”.

Whenever you must face uncertainty, your stressful emotions may feel like a thunderstorm. But just like the weather, emotions are always changing. So take a nature walk and soak in the simple yet profound lessons that you can learn in the process — about accepting that you don’t know what will happen, but believing that something good will happen if you trust God, yourself, and others on your journey.

My husband did end up getting that lifesaving transplant — thanks to a caring, generous man from our church who donated a kidney to him. Something good can happen in your unknown future, too, when the timing is right. Until then, walking outside can help you move forward with less stress and more confidence.

— Whitney

Whitney Hopler writes about how to pursue wellness in body, mind, and spirit.

Wellness with Whitney: Walking and Thinking – Moods

June 22nd, 2016

If you’re in a bad mood and want to improve it, take a walk.

Walking for 30 minutes boosts people’s moods by increasing their feelings of well-being, according to a University of Texas research study. Even those who had been diagnosed with depression reported experiencing better moods after taking a walk.

I was in a bad mood one summer night after fruitless discussions with some family members while trying to resolve an issue. Frustration and sorrow hung over me like a wet blanket. So I decided to try to walk it off.

Setting off from my yard, I walked around the neighborhood as thoughts about the conflict swirled around in my mind. I was ruminating on a negative subject, but still found my mood improving after a few minutes. Fireflies flew past me shining their lights, crickets chirped around me, and a warm breeze enveloped me as I kept walking. I hadn’t noticed the wonder of the summer night when I first began walking since thoughts about the family drama had weighed so heavily on my mind. But the more I walked, the more I gained a better perspective. By the time I returned home, I was in a good mood.

How about you? If you’re in a bad mood while you’re reading this, take a walk as soon as you can. If you’re in a good mood, great! Try to walk for at least 30 minutes on a daily basis to keep both your emotions and your body strong.

— Whitney

Whitney Hopler writes about how to pursue wellness in body, mind, and spirit.