Archive for January, 2017

Well-Being with Whitney: How to Show Respect without Agreeing (President Trump)

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

Now we have President Trump here in the USA — and I’m not thrilled about it, but I accept it with grace. My concerns have to do with Trump’s character, which seems far from presidential. Trump often speaks (and tweets) mean-spirited comments about other people. He has been involved in all sorts of scandals, from financial lawsuits to sexual harassment cases. I didn’t vote for him and can’t imagine doing so.  However, despite how I feel about Trump, I’m committed to learning how to show respect for him. Why? Because all people are worthy of respect (because God made them) and our national leader is worthy of respect (because of the dignity of the office).

Trump has made plenty of mistakes, but his bad choices don’t make him a bad person. He’s still a valuable soul who is one of God’s children — no matter how much I (or anyone else) disagrees with his decisions. The “hate the sin but love the sinner” adage definitely applies here. Learning to respect all people is a vital part of our well-being.

Many people seem to enjoy bashing Trump and just leaving it at that. But where does that get us as a country? We’re already so polarized that fear and anger have become the default ways of communicating about our political issues. We can keep shouting at each other forever, but still not make any progress toward solving our nation’s problems.

Or, we can be graceful with each other, as God is with us. We can learn how to respect each other, and actually learn from each other, and move forward as a nation to accomplish good goals together. Maybe it takes an experience like electing a firebrand president to motivate us to do that.

One of the qualities I most appreciate about a person is his or her ability to listen. Others have told me that I’m a good listener, too. I think listening more than talking is like a spiritual workout that strengthens our respect muscles. We might hear a lot that we disagree with — but we all can learn valuable lessons from each other.

So when President Trump’s outrageous behavior bothers us, let’s think about what better choices we can make in our lives that are more respectful. Instead of letting our anger trigger us only to complain, let’s use the energy of our anger to do whatever we can to understand each other better and work together on solving problems.

Well-Being with Whitney: Stress and Broken Hearts

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

The recent deaths of Hollywood mother and daughter Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher just one day apart spotlight the powerful connections between the body and soul. Overcome with grief after Fisher died from a heart attack, Reynolds had a stroke after telling her son Todd that she wanted to be with Carrie. The two famous women shared a close bond, and the stress of Fisher’s passing was apparently too much for Reynolds to bear. Just like longtime married couples who pass away close together, this mother-daughter duo also showed how powerfully the emotional can affect the physical. While Reynolds had a stroke, others who are dealing with emotional stress may suffer a medical condition called broken heart syndrome, in which a surge of stress hormones can cause heart enlargement and damage.

“It’s horrible, it’s beautiful, it’s magical they are together; it’s beyond words,” Todd Fisher said in a television interview about the deaths of his mother and sister. “It’s beyond understanding.”

Part of the mystery surrounding the effect of stress on our hearts is the fact that we can’t see what’s going on inside our bodies when we go through stress. But we can measure the electromagnetic energy that our hearts and brains both emit through magnetic fields. That energy vibrates to frequencies that reflect the current state of our health — both body and soul. We can sense and respond to those vibrations from others, as well.

I used to struggle with anxiety before learning techniques for overcoming it (turning worries into prayers and practicing mindfulness meditation). Every time anxious emotions flooded my mind, my heart began racing wildly. Sometimes my heart would beat so fast that I had to sit down and breathe deeply to try to avoid fainting. One of the last conversations I had with my mother before she passed away involved her cautioning me about getting too stressed about her illness. “Relax, Whitney,” she told me. “Stress will hurt your heart.”

Finally, I’ve come to understand how important it is for all of us to protect our hearts from the damage by managing our stress well. We can’t prevent stressful circumstances from entering our lives, but we can choose how to respond to those situations carefully. Here are some basic ways we can do so:

  • Stay connected to a strong support system: When stress shocks our systems, loving relationships with God and other people act as shock absorbers. They give us the guidance we need to see the crisis from a clear perspective and navigate through it wisely. They also give us the support and encouragement we need to remain confident. Keep communicating with God through prayer and with loving people through conversations.
  • Express thoughts and emotions freely. Rather than denying or suppressing difficult things we think or feel, we can let them out so they don’t build up in our systems. Instead of numbing ourselves against the pain of uncomfortable thoughts and emotions (through addictions or other forms of escapism), we can face them and learn from them. We can find whatever method of expression works best for us: writing in a journal, talking to a trusted friend, reflecting on what’s on our minds while walking or running, or something else that helps us release challenging thoughts and emotions.
  • Make time for nurturing activities. Building our resilience by taking good care of ourselves on a regular basis will help us deal with the stress of crises when they occur. We can do that by getting enough sleep and exercise, eating well, and doing what we most enjoy whenever we can — from listening to music to taking trips.

Our hearts are sensitive organs that do much more than just pump blood through our bodies. They reflect what’s happening in our souls. So let’s pay attention, and respond to what they tell us with as much love and wisdom as we can.

Well-Being with Whitney: A New Year Revolution of the Soul

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Have you made New Year’s resolutions? If so, have you already broken them? Change is notoriously challenging. The new year changes we hope to make in 2017 can truly become realities in our lives only when we devote ourselves wholeheartedly to pursuing them. We mean well, of course, by setting goals for greater well-being. But the work of doing what we resolve to do and resisting temptations to quit is hard. It’s not fun, either. So to really change our lives in 2017 requires passion that fuels ongoing commitment. In short, what we need is a revolution of the soul.

This New Year, I visited Boston, Massachusetts, where the American Revolution began in the 1700s and resulted in the creation of a new nation: the United States of America. The stories I researched there make it clear that true change must start in people’s souls — in their thoughts and feelings — and move from there into words and actions that make change happen. Before the first shots of the Revolutionary War was fired in Massachusetts (at Lexington and Concord) in 1775, many American colonists experienced revolutions in their minds that motivated them to try to change their relationship with their British government. Those changing thoughts and feelings toward the British gradually built up prior to outright war, leading to significant clashes between the colonists and the British authorities years before — such as the tragic Boston Massacre in 1770, and the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

It was transformation in the souls of colonists that motivated them to do the hard work of giving birth to a new nation. They took risks and made sacrifices with great courage as they worked toward their goals because they truly believed in those goals and in their ability to achieve them, with God’s help.  Eventually, the nation  they hoped would emerge from the struggle became a reality.

Years later, one of the revolution’s leaders (John Adams, who became the second U.S. president) wrote, “The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”

Let that inspire you as work to change your life for the better this coming year. Now that New Year’s celebrations have faded and the hard work of actually following up on resolutions begins, it’s tempting to just give up. In fact, although about 40 percent of Americans report making New Year’s resolutions, the majority of those who do (60 percent) abandon those resolutions before achieving the changes they had hoped to make in their lives, according to a University of Scranton study published in 2012.

You and I can overcome those statistics, however. The key is keeping our goals connected to our souls. We can stay in touch with God through prayer on a regular basis, listening to his daily guidance and relying on his Spirit to empower us as we slog through the hard work of change. Then, we’ll actually be motivated to keep exercising, organizing our homes, spending less money, getting more sleep, overcoming addictions, building better relationships, taking more risks in our careers — whatever he leads us to do to change our lives for the better!

Well-Being with Whitney: Setting Goals Together

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

New Year’s resolutions are notorious for fizzling out like exploded fireworks. But the 2017 goals we set stand a good chance of becoming reality if we work together to achieve them — encouraging, supporting, and holding each other accountable. Too often, we think of goals solely in terms of individual pursuits. But change doesn’t happen in isolation. Whenever we change our lives, we do so in the context of the relationships we have with others day by day. We affect each other as we interact, so we might as well do so with good purposes in mind.

I just spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in Boston, Massachusetts, where a tradition began in 1976 that has expanded throughout the world since then: First Night celebrations. These are New Year’s festivities that include everyone, offering all sorts of creative events in a schedule that aims to appeal to the greatest diversity of people. It’s not just a dinner and dance with drinks, which usually only appeals to a certain group: couples who have disposable income and like to celebrate with alcohol. At First Night, anyone can find something appealing to do among the free or low-cost activities that are alcohol-free. All ages — from babies to seniors — enjoyed the First Night Boston events we attended: a skating show, concerts, an ice sculpture exhibit, and fireworks.

First Night celebrations emphasize the fact that we’re all entering the New Year together and encourage us to do so in a spirit of unity. That same spirit can help us achieve our New Year’s resolution goals now that the party is over and the hard work has to begin in order to make real progress.

What goals are you working to achieve this year? Maybe you’ve made one of the most popular resolutions, such as losing weight, gaining better relationships, spending less money, or spending more time helping others. Maybe your goals are less common, but no less important.

I don’t make formal New Year’s resolutions anymore. Instead, I simply carry over my goals from the previous year and keep praying for God’s guidance from day to day. Some of the goals I’m working on for 2017 include expanding my career and getting more organized at home. I can’t accomplish those goals alone; I need help from God and other people who care about me. The gratitude I feel for help from caring friends lights the fire of motivation in me to help them achieve their own goals for this year.

It’s the same for all of us. As the Bible puts it in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.”

Working together, we can achieve much more in 2017 than we can apart!