Category Archives: Giving Back

6 Ways to Give Thanks this Thanksgiving

Five orange pumpkins sit in a row in front of a distressed, wooden background.

Thanksgiving is about expressing gratitude for the blessings we have in life. Gratitude puts everything in a fresh perspective and allows us to see and appreciate all of the things we grateful for.

The more you practice giving thanks, the better you’ll be at it over time. Like anything else, you can turn being grateful into a habit and a way of living. The fall and holiday seasons are an especially good time to practice being thankful.

Here are 6 ways you can get creative and give thanks this holiday season:

Invite others to your dinner
Many people are alone on Thanksgiving. If you know a neighbor, friend or someone at work will be by themselves during the holiday, welcome them to join your dinner. Your guests will appreciate the invitation and your gathering will be happier with a sense of fellowship and togetherness.

Share Thanksgiving memories
You can remember Thanksgiving’s past and ask family members to tell fond stories about Thanksgiving memories. You can invite your guests to join in and share their warmest Thanksgiving memories and family stories.

Create a thankful atmosphere
Decorating your home with lovely crafts can create a thankful and comfortable space for family and guests. You can incorporate organic materials, such as greenery, pine cones, stones, leaves or acorns, to create a festive atmosphere. Put out a platter of fruits, veggies, cheeses and nuts to embellish your table. You can even use scrapbook paper and have guests create Thanksgiving card placeholders, sharing the things that they are grateful for.

Do a good deed or volunteer
While Thanksgiving is considered a time for enjoying family and friends, it’s also an opportunity to share your blessings with others. You can do a good deed or volunteer to express your gratitude. Visit a hospital or nursing home. Put together gifts or treats to share with the patients. These small gifts can mean a lot to someone who may not have family to enjoy the holiday with them. You can also donate to a church or charitable organization to help provide for others at Thanksgiving.

Write handwritten notes to friends
When was the last time you received a real letter from a friend or family member? Or the last time you wrote one? You may have family and friends you’re unable to visit during the holidays. A handwritten note sent by mail is a precious way to show your appreciation and love.

Appreciate the little things
A kind word, heartfelt hug or peck on the cheek can express your gratefulness better than expensive gifts. Give compliments to your family and friends on Thanksgiving day. Hugs and kisses are a delight to the young and old alike.

Thanksgiving is a great time to share kindness, thankfulness and appreciation. Get your family involved in doing something good on this day. Teach the younger generous to be gracious and giving. Express your gratitude and say “thank you” to everyone you know!

A Day of Thanks and Recognition

labordayLabor Day has been celebrated for over 100 years. It’s a day to pay tribute to the hard work of the men and women who have built this country.

As we reflect on this weekend’s Labor Day celebrations, we encourage you to thank all of the laborers, leaders, and visionaries who make sacrifices and dedicate themselves to working hard all year long to shape our great nation!

9 Simple Ways to Handle Stress

relaxOur lives are filled with stress. It’s impossible to avoid. You’re already late for an appointment and get slowed down by road construction. Your boss dumped a proposal on you that’s due tomorrow. Your schedule is hectic, and you need to be in two places at once.

Research shows that some stress can be good for you. However, if you’re dealing with persistent – long-term stress, such as a sick parent or a demanding boss, it can actually lead to a variety of health issues.

Here are 9 simple and practical ways to copy with stress in your daily life:

Enjoy some fresh air
Make it a point to get outside every day. Research shows that vitamin D from sunlight can elevate your mood by releasing feel-good serotonin. Taking in the sights, sounds and smells around you will take your mind off your worries or frustrations. Even feeling the wind on your face can lift your spirits.

Take a walk
When you’re stressed, it’s easy to turn to bad habits to make you feel better, such as a candy, cigarettes or caffeine. Next time you’re feeling anxious, go for a quick stroll. Studies show that even 10 minutes of exercise can provide a mental boost. Better yet, climb a few flights of stairs. Climbing stairs requires you to pay more attention to what you’re doing and helps vent frustrations.

Rely on rituals
You probably already have rituals that help you relax, and you may not even realize it. For example, you may read the newspaper as you eat breakfast, listen to music while you clean or take a bath before going to bed. Our bodies naturally crave routines, so focusing on regular rituals can help you relax physically and mentally. If you’re feeling stressed, make sure you stick to your regular routines.

Put down the junk food
Do you handle stress by eating? In hectic times, you may choose comfort foods, such as refined carbs or sugary snacks. You will most likely experience a sugar crash, leaving you feeling tired and sluggish. Extra calories can also quickly add up to extra pounds. The next time you’re feeling anxious, make sure you have healthy snacks on hand, such as fresh fruits, vegetables or a handful of nuts.

Get out of your head
Stress likes to mess with your mind. Do you ever get stuck in an ongoing loop of negative thoughts or playing back conversations in your head? A great way to get out of your own head is to engage in fun activities that put your focus on your hands or body. For instance, you can cook, knit or crochet, climb a rock wall or play a sport. When you do something creative or an engaging activity, you fall into a rhythmic pattern and your brain helps you relax and feel more grounded.

Visualize calm
Find a quiet area and create a happy place for a few minutes each day. Just sit still, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Clear you mind and concentrate on thinking about nothing stressful. It’s harder than you think! Find a comforting and calming image that works for you and helps you relax. Read more about relaxation techniques.

Focus on the present
It’s easy to get sucked into worrying over things that have already happened or imagining what could happen in the future. Let go of thoughts about the past and future, and focus on the present moment. Be aware of where you are and what’s happening right now. Think about how the air feels on your skin, the sound of your kids laughing or a friend telling you about their day. Being mindful of the present can help you let go of stressing about the past and future.

Express your gratitude
Take a few moments each day to express gratitude. It can be as simple as going over the good things that happened that day before you go to sleep. You can write your feelings in a journal. Or, you can let friends and family know you are grateful for them. Research has shown that showing more gratitude releases hormones that make you feel good and lowers stress levels.

Connect with your spiritual side
Spirituality can boost happiness in times of stress. Many religious groups and native tribes use prayer beads to guide their spiritual practice. Having something to hold while communicating with a higher spirit can provide comfort and routine. Prayer can also help you pass your worries over to God and give you peace.

Learning how to cope with stress on a daily basis can help you improve your overall health and well-being. Take the time each day to acknowledge stress and find ways – like the tips above – to help you let it go and live a more balanced life.

6 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health

crossword_background_001I worry about my brain. As the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia increases, I want to do more to protect my memory and cognitive function.

While we wait for a cure for Alzheimer’s or better treatments for dementia, what can you do to help prevent the diseases? You can lead a more brain-healthy lifestyle that can slow down the process of deterioration. No matter what your age, you can take steps now to keep your brain healthy.

Here are 6 ways to start improving your brain health today:

Stay active
Physical activity is a valuable part of living a more balanced life and can also lower the risk of cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50%.

In addition to protecting against Alzheimer’s and dementia, creating a regular exercise routine can also boost your mood, increase energy levels and reduce stress.

Read more about the benefits of exercise.

Eat a healthy diet
Your brain needs a nutritious diet to perform at its best. Make sure you are eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Focus on creating good eating habits that reduce inflammation and provide a steady supply of fuel.

Here are more diet tips to keep your brain healthy and protected:

  • Follow a Mediterranean diet – This approach to healthy eating includes a balanced diet rich in fish, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and fresh produce.
  • Avoid trans fats and saturated fats – You should reduce your intake of full-fat dairy products, red meat, fried foods, fast food and processed foods.
  • Eat heart-healthy options – If you’re following a diet plan that’s good for your heart, it’s also going to be good for your brain. When you reduce your risk of heart disease, you’re also helping protect your brain.
  • Add omega-3 fats – Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Eat cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel and sardines.

Keep mentally active
When you continue to learn new things and challenge your brain throughout life, you are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s a good idea to follow the “use it or lose it” approach. Activities that involve multiple tasks or include different types of stimulation, such as communicating, interacting and organization, will offer the greatest benefits and protection.

Here are more ways to exercise your brain.

Have a social life
We are social creatures. Relationships are important to our health. If you are isolated, you’re not thriving and neither is your brain. Studies show that the more connected we are and the more relationships we have, we test better for memory and cognition.

Do you have trouble making friends? Here are a few ways to build a strong support system and develop new relationships.

  • Volunteer – There are so many great causes you can support and giving back is good for your health!
  • Make weekly plans with friends – Take the initiative and get together with friends. You can go to the movies, visit the park, creating a walking group, or check out local museums.
  • Take a class – Join a gym or sign up for classes at a local college. It’s a great way to meet new people and stimulate your brain.
  • Get to know your neighbors – You may have people nearby who have similar interests to you. Make it a point to know your neighbors.

Manage your stress
Chronic stress takes a toll on the body as well as on your brain. Stress can lead to shrinkage in key memory areas of the brain, hamper nerve cell growth and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

There are many things you can do to prevent stress and keep your stress levels in check. Even the foods you eat can help you control stress.

Get plenty of sleep
Your brain needs to rest. A good night’s sleep helps your brain function at maximum capacity. When you don’t get enough sleep, you are cranky and tired. Lack of sleep also impairs your ability to think, solve problems and store or recall information. Deep, REM state sleep is important for memory formation and retention. Most adults need at least 8 hours of sleep per night. If you’re getting less sleep than that, your health, productivity and creativity can suffer.

To protect your brain health, embrace a balanced lifestyle that will improve your overall health. A balanced life includes exercising, eating a nutritious diet, establishing good relationships, reducing stress, and getting plenty of sleep.

12 Ways to Indulge Yourself on a Budget

Have you been struggling with deadlines or a demanding boss all day? Fighting with the kids or your spouse? Do you just need a break and some self-indulgence?

As I start to see a glimpse of spring and warmer weather, I feel like it’s time to have a little fun. There are many small and unexpected ways to put a little bliss back into your life. Part of finding your balance is also about taking care of yourself.

Here are 12 small ways you can indulge yourself without breaking the bank or feeling guilty:

Go outside
Take a stroll in the woods. Research has found that being out in nature for as little as 5 minutes benefits your mental and physical health. If you can’t get outside, then at least look outside. Even a window view of nature can elevate your mood. Just think about it – it’s unnatural to spend our time in windowless buildings when we used to spend our whole existence outdoors.

Clean out a drawer or closet
To me, cleaning for fun seems to be in opposition with my basic nature of avoiding housework. However, I have to say, there is something relaxing about organizing a part of your life when everything else is feeling chaotic and out of control. So, organize a closet, desk, pantry or junk drawer – and enjoy the feeling of peace.

Play your favorite song
Listening to a favorite song can trigger the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine in the brain. All that matters is that it’s a melody that stirs you. Repetition nurtures the pleasure – so play it again and again!

Have a glass of wine
If you enjoy a glass of good wine or even sipping a cold beer, then indulge your senses with new flavor selections or drink it along with a great meal. You can soak in the pleasure of simply relaxing with your favorite beverage.

Keep a momento on your desk
Do you eat a small snack in the afternoon to boost your energy? Try placing something emotionally important to you on your desk where you work for a mental boost. You may have a souvenir from a special vacation, a favorite photo from your wedding or a keepsake from when your kids were small. Glancing at this momento during the work day is sure to give your spirits a quick lift.

Soak in the tub in the dark
Run a really hot tub full of water, dim the lights, burn a candle and give yourself a full hour to unwind. You can even use some mint or lavender oil to add a lovely scent to the bath. Close your eyes and relax in the warmth.

Pet a dog
It doesn’t even have to be your dog. Pet any dog or cat to enjoy the benefits. Physical contact with animals increases the chemicals in the brain associated with pleasure and decreases those associated with stress.

Eat some chocolate
Few things feel as indulgent as eating dark chocolate. Make sure you eat it slowly and savor the flavors. Make the experience last! Plus, dark chocolate may lower your blood pressure, increase blood flow and improve your “good” cholesterol levels.

Put the kettle on
Even with a coffee shop on every corner, the average American drinks more than 9 gallons of tea a year. Drinking green or black tea can reduce stress hormones over time. And, there’s just something indulgent about sitting down with a warm cup of tea.

Create a soothing scent
People have been using aromatic herbs for centuries to create great smelling scents. Now research shows that aromatherapy may be good for you. Breathing in natural perfumed scents can lift your mood. You can also stop and smell the flowers, literally. You’ll be enjoying the outdoors and taking in nature’s own aromas!

Take a nap
One of my greatest pleasures is to take a short nap during the day. Snuggle up in a comfy spot with pillows and a fluffy blanket. As we’ve mentioned in past blogs, naps are good for your mind and body. They can help improve your concentration and lift your mood. Taking a 10 – 20 minute nap in the afternoon can give you the boost you need to enjoy the day.

Humans are altruistic by nature. When you act generously, you will feel joy. Find a charity or cause to support and make a donation. In addition, volunteering and helping others – without expecting anything in return – is actually good for your health.

Happiness can be elusive at times. You can create your own small pleasures and put some joy back in your life. What are your best tips for rewarding and refreshing yourself without spending a lot of time or money?


9 Ways to Create a More Balanced Life

Are you overworked? Stressed? Tired? Feeling grouchy and unhappy? If you’re out of balance, you will feel it in every aspect of your life – from your mental and emotional well-being to physical fitness, relationships and stress levels.

You can achieve and maintain balance in your life. A well-balanced person has a greater ability to focus their attention and energy in order to be more productive and live a more meaningful life.

Here are 9 ways to make little changes that can help you achieve a more balanced life:

Turn it off
When the weekend comes (or when you have days off work), disconnect. Put the phone down, turn off the computer and ignore the emails or texts. It’s important to give your body, mind and soul a rest. You should be able to set aside two consecutive days per week with no work at all. These two days will leave you refreshed and recharged for the next week of work.

Be fully present
By shutting completely down from work, you can also spend more time with friends and family. You can spend more time connecting with them and have fun together. You can be more physically and emotionally present in their lives. If you’re thinking about work or doing work while you’re together, you are missing out on opportunities to create lasting memories.

If your life is overflowing, you will never be able to achieve balance and manage it all. Say no to everything that isn’t either essential or doesn’t add value or enjoyment to your life. If you’re working more than 40 hours a week, it may be time to examine your job and see if you can manage your time to get done faster. You may also want to evaluate what you’re doing for a living if it monopolizes your time, causes chronic stress or isn’t bringing you joy.

Connect with others
Your relationships matter. In fact, you may even live longer when you have strong, healthy relationships. Make time for your significant other, kids and friends. Set a date night with your spouse or partner. Take time to truly connect with your kids, especially if you have multiple children. Talk to them on the way to school, sporting events or practices. Spend a few minutes talking about their day at dinner or when getting ready for bed. Be there for your friends and family, and you will all benefit more than you realize.

Take a walk
Take a walk and pay attention to what’s going on around you. Enjoy nature or people watch. Simply take some quiet time each day to appreciate the good things and enjoy life. It’s also good to get moving and increase your heart. Here are more benefits of exercising.

Get creative
Take a class, learn to paint or try something new. Read a new book that sparks your interest, watch a movie or listen to music. Find what interests you and makes you happy – and then do it more! Even better, find things to do with friends and family and strengthen your relationships at the same time. You are likely to end up smiling and laughing, which are also good for your health.

Watch your health
Your physical health affects the quality of your life in so many ways. Make it a habit to get yourself moving. Find fitness and exercise routines that inspire you to do more. At the same time, pay attention to what you eat. A healthy, balanced diet will give you more energy and can improve your mood and concentration.

Treat yourself
Get a facial or a pedicure, or even splurge on a massage. You can also find inexpensive ways to treat yourself to a little fun. Have a glass of wine or a cup of your favorite coffee or tea. Light a scented candle that smells wonderful to you. Snuggle up on the couch with your kids, a blanket and a movie. Just be sure to make the time to enjoy the little things!

Pay it forward
You can start out small and simply make an effort to perform one act of kindness a day. Maybe it’s opening the door for someone whose hands are full, or letting the person with only a few items cut in front of you in the check-out line. You can also look for opportunities to do something more meaningful to you, such as tutoring kids, volunteering at the hospital or fostering animals. You’ll find that you benefit as much as those you help.

It’s a balancing act to keep all aspects of your life on the right path. Take a few minutes each week to evaluate how you’re doing. If you find that one area needs work, make a plan to correct it. Living a balanced life is a life-long journey!

14 Easy Ways to Lift Your Spirits

To me, the winter months always seem to drag monotonously toward spring. The weather is cold, dreary and gloomy. I may not see the sun for days – or even weeks – at a time. Let’s just say I can get a bit grouchy during this time. (My family would probably say A LOT grouchy.)

You can find quick and simple ways to lift your spirits. Remember that true happiness doesn’t come from a paycheck, material goods or warm weather. A good part of the joy you find in life comes from finding easy ways to make yourself happy.

Here are 14 tips to help you lift your mood and boost your happiness level:

Drink coffee or tea in the morning
Regular, modest caffeine intake can help regulate your mood. Research shows that when you enjoy four cups of black tea a day it leads to fewer stress hormones being released. Or, if you’re more of a coffee person, you can drink a few cups of java. In fact, coffee has additional health benefits.

Spend time with friends
Good friends are good for you and your spirits. Your friends foster a feeling of belonging, purpose and boost your self esteem. Strong friendships can help keep you on a mentally even keel. Whether you get together for drinks or dinner, call on the phone or text about the ups and downs of your day, friends can improve your mood. Here are more reasons why we need friends.

Eat mood-boosting foods
To help boost your mood, you can eat foods that are naturally high in serotonin, such as walnuts, tomatoes, kiwi, bananas, sour cherries, plums and pineapple. Tryptophan is also a natural mood booster. Tryptophan is found in proteins, including turkey, fish, chicken, nuts, cheese, eggs, cottage cheese and beans. Learn more about foods to boost your mood.

Get a massage
Massage can be good for your physical and mental health. When you get a massage, your body releases endorphins. Massage also reduces stress hormones, lowers anxiety and raises your immunity. Shut out your surroundings and the chaos, relax and let some happiness seep into your day.

Break your routine
Sometimes I feel stuck in a rut. Get out of your regular routine, and your mood may lift with it. Go out for dinner on a Tuesday night instead of Friday. Have lunch at a new place once a week. Take a different route to work or wear something that is normally “not you.” A small change can make a bigger difference in your outlook for the day.

Open your shades
I have a huge picture window in my living room and then patio doors in my dining room. I like to leave the blinds shut in the winter because it helps cut down on the cold air. Yet, I realized it felt like I was living in a cave or dungeon. Make sure you open the shades in your bedroom, living room or office even when it’s cold. Studies show that morning light exposure can benefit your mood.

Take a walk outside
If you work in an office without windows or sun exposure, make sure you step outside a few times a day to soak up the sunshine. Even if it’s overcast, fresh air can help lift your spirits.

Bang on something
Researchers believe that drumming helps to relax the body. I personally think that kicking and punching things can help you feel better, too. You can use a punching bag or take a kickboxing class.

Clear the clutter
Disorganization can make me anxious. Clutter reminds us of the things we should be getting done but haven’t taken care of yet. For a quick fix, straighten up a few surfaces in your office or in the areas of your house where you spend the most time. Feeling more ordered in your personal spaces can help you feel more at ease and give you peace of mind. Here are some tips to organizing and decluttering.

Watch something funny
Studies show that a good laugh gets rid of stress, boosts your immunity, improves your heart function and lowers your blood pressure. A good chuckle can also keep blood sugar levels low and aids in better digestion. You can watch a comedic movie, a funny TV series or goofy YouTube videos. Laughter and even simply smiling can be good for your overall health.

Do a good deed
There is nothing like the act of giving to help us feel more appreciative of what we have and give us a mood boost. Do some research and find a group that could use your talents and skills. Learn more about the health benefits of doing good.

Indulge your senses
Sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile senses can quickly change your mood. Aromatherapy can be good for your health. Breathing in natural perfumed scents, such as lavender, can lift your spirits. Bake cookies and enjoy the yummy smells and warmth of the kitchen. Listen to soothing music. Soak in a scented bubble bath, or put flower arrangements around the house.

Give a kiss or hug
It’s a good feeling to be loved. Kiss your spouse, your kids or your mom. Smooching your significant other may even help reduce your cholesterol. You can cuddle up and watch TV together or give your family members and close friends a hug – just because. You can also hug and pet a furry friend to lower blood pressure and bring on a sense of calm.

Do something you love
You may like listening to music, dancing, taking photos, working on craft projects or tending a garden. You can even sit on your deck, take in nature or read a novel. To lift your spirits, make time to do something you enjoy – even if it’s just for 15 or 20 minutes.

Your mood goes a long way to helping you achieve a more balanced life. If you’re grouchy or feeling down, you may not have the motivation to exercise, eat right or hang out with friends. Take a few minutes each day to lift your spirits and appreciate the little things in life.

Giving Back is Good for Your Health

present-3-673648-mOne of my favorite holiday stories is the Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol. It captures the true meaning and spirit of the Christmas season – putting others before ourselves and doing good deeds.

At the beginning of the story, Mr. Scrooge is a selfish, bitter, mean, miserly old man. As he looks back on his life, he realizes the error of his ways. He learns that compassion, generosity and kindness are much more rewarding than being greedy and narcissistic. His spirit is reborn, and he is a changed man.

While we should be altruistic all year long, the holidays are a great time to volunteer and give back to others. In fact, helping others – without expecting anything in return – is actually good for your health.

Here are 6 health benefits of doing good deeds:

Combat depression
Volunteering can help reduce your risk of depression. A key risk factor for depression is social isolation. When you give back, you are regularly in contact with others and that helps you build a solid support system. If wintertime gives you the blues or if the holidays are getting you down, doing good deeds can help ward off depression.

In addition, you can actually experience a “helper’s high” when you do a good deed for someone else. Giving back can create a sense of euphoria that may also be accompanied by a surge of energy. The emotional rewards of doing good can boost the mind and soul.

Improve heart health
One of the many benefits of helping others includes better heart health. Acts of goodness are associated with the release of oxytocin – a hormone that is known to be linked to improved heart function. Since heart disease is still the number one killer, it’s important to protect your heart every way you can.

Increase self-confidence
Volunteering can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence and self-esteem. You may feel more satisfied with life and be happier with your place in the world. When you do good in your community, you have a sense of accomplishment. By feeling better about yourself, you have a more positive outlook on life overall.

Reduce stress
Being happy and positive can also help you reduce stress. Getting out, spending time with others and making new friends is also great for alleviating tension and stress.

Live longer
If you feel better about yourself and experience less stress, you may also live longer. Volunteers tend to be more conscientious about their own wellness. Your positive outlook can reinforce your desire to become more physically fit and eat a healthier diet.

Decrease chronic pain
When you do good deeds, you may recover more quickly from a wide range of ailments, including illness and injury. You may also feel less pain when you volunteer regularly.  The positive energy from giving back can lower the chemicals in your body that contribute to inflammation and other diseases.

Want to enjoy these mind-body benefits of giving back and reach that helper’s high? Here are 5 tips to help you become more altruistic:

Use your talents
What can you do that could benefit others? Can you provide tutoring? Do you know how to paint or create pottery? Are you good at gardening, working with animals or playing sports? You may have skills that could benefit others – and it will be fun for you, too!

Set your own pace
You don’t need to start out volunteering 20 hours a week. Research has shown that just two hours of good deeds each week can boost both your mental and physical health.

Strengthen relationships
Volunteering can be a good way to bond with friends or family members. You can strengthen your relationships while helping others.

Make it a habit
It’s the follow-through that really counts. Set a regular day and time to do your volunteering. If it’s on your schedule, you can quickly turn it into a habit.

Find your passion
It may take you some time to find the best fit between you and your volunteer activity. Try a few things out to see what works best for you. Start out with your skills and interests and go from there.

Good deeds are good for those you help and good for you. And, it feels good to be nice. Doing good guides you on the path to a more balanced life and creating a better version of yourself. Additional side effects include being more physically and mentally healthy, as well as growing as a person.

How do you give back? What are your plans for doing good deeds this holiday season?

How to Make New Friends at Any Age

colors-1174715-mI recently wanted to go see a chick flick, and my husband said he would absolutely not go with me. It was then I realized I have very few close friends. I know hundreds of people – at least that’s what my Facebook page says – but I could only think of a few girlfriends to call up and invite to go with me.

When did I lose all my friends? After high school, we went our separate ways to conquer the world. While I still keep in touch with many of these friends, we live all over the country. I have friends I made at work, but many have moved to different jobs in other cities. Now, I am a freelance writer working at home, so my work friends have become my husband and kids.

I made new friends when my kids started school and now our kids have grown up and taken over our lives. I went to dinner with two high school friends over two months ago. That’s the last girls’ night I remember.

I need more friends! It’s difficult to make and keep friendships in our 30s and 40s. However, having a great group of friends impacts your health and longevity.

Here are several strategies you can use to expand your circle of friends and create a more active social life:

Nurture current relationships
It’s so easy to get caught up in work, your kids’ activities and the demands of having a family. Make an effort to maintain your current relationships by keeping in touch and organizing at least one activity together a month. You may be waiting for friends to connect with you. Take the initiative and reach out to them!

Reconnect with old friends
The same approach goes for old friends. You may have that one friend who is a ball of energy and always makes you laugh. Another friend may love to go shopping or hit the antique malls. I actually have a friend I used to call when I wanted to go to the movies. We joked that we would still watch movies together when we were 80 years old. I need to call her before I am 80!

Change your day
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. We do the same routine every day, and it’s easier to just continue doing it rather than switch things up. I will admit it – I can be plain lazy. It takes so much less thought to simply sit on the couch and watch TV in the evenings than to go do something. Be open to random opportunities to change up your day and hang out with friends.

Think about your interests
It may help you connect with new friends if you have something in common. What are your interests? What do you like to do? I enjoy quilting, scrapbooking, and playing volleyball and softball. I used to belong to a quilting club but quit going when it interfered with my kids’ sports schedules. I am about 5 years behind in my scrapbooking, and I’m sure I could find friends who meet regularly. I could join a local adult sports league. You can also take classes in dance, art, fitness or even join a book club.

Accept invitations
When you’re busy and feeling overwhelmed with day-to-day activities, you may end up ignoring invitations. Try to change this habit. Even if the event isn’t something you would normally attend, it can open you up to a new set of people. You might be able to reconnect with old friends, get to know acquaintances better or meet new friends. Plus, if you keep turning people down, they will eventually stop inviting you.

Silence our inner voice
As we get older, we tend to sabotage our attempts to make friends. We may be afraid of being rejected or that others won’t like us. We all have traits that make us unique and interesting. And everyone has their own flaws and fears. Being able to look past someone else’s shortcomings – and have them do the same for you – is often what makes great, long-lasting relationships. So, let your freak flag fly a little bit, and see who waves a flag back at you.

Volunteering is a great way to meet others who have similar interests as you. If there is something you feel particularly passionate about, it will be good for your soul and help you make new friends. For instance, you may want to support cancer research, help the homeless or provide tutoring. Giving back is good for those you help, serves your community and can be rewarding for you as well.

Good friendships take time. Be yourself, keep your head up and embrace new chances to meet people or have fun with old friends. The best friendships develop over time and take energy and commitment. So, call up a friend and do something fun!

7 Easy Ways to Give Back Right Now

helping hands giving back volunteering Have you helped someone today? Did you volunteer this week? Are you waiting to “give back” when you have more money or when someone asks for your help?

Well, there’s no time like the present. You can donate your time and energy to a good cause that needs you right now.

First, think about the skills or services you have to give. Are you crafty and good with your hands? Do you like to work outdoors? Are you organized and detail-oriented? All of these skills can be put to good use helping others.

Next, what do you like to do? Trying to force yourself to help with charitable activities that don’t appeal to you will discourage you very quickly. If you’re introverted and can’t sing, you probably shouldn’t go Christmas caroling. If needles and blood make you squeamish, you may not want to help at a blood drive. Find what inspires you and do it!

And last, make it a habit. When giving back becomes part of your routine and who you are, it becomes easy to find the time and inspiration to volunteer.

Here are 7 easy ways you can give back right now:

Start in your community
Just about every community has an animal shelter, food bank or pantry, homeless shelter or senior center. These organizations can always use more hands. Many times you can get into a routine of helping once a week at the same time and same place. You can build relationships with the staff and those you assist. And, you can turn giving back into a habit.

Donate old stuff
We all have perfectly good items that we no longer use. You can go through your closet and clean out the clothes you don’t wear. You may have a storage area that is just a dumping ground for all those things you never use anymore. Get rid of what you don’t need and donate it to people who will use it.

Exercise for a good cause
You can raise money for a good cause and motivate yourself to be more fit at the same time. Participate in a charity bike ride or a run/ walk event. Many big non-profits hold these types of events all over the country. Simply go online and search for charity walks, runs or rides near you. Signing up for an event will motivate you to train and will help others in the process.

Support local arts programs
You can volunteer at local museums, community theaters or even your YMCA. Local public radio and TV stations may even take volunteers. You may be able to help out at the local library. There are many ways you can support the arts and have some fun, too.

Help in your neighborhood
You can run errands for your elderly neighbors or give them a ride to doctors’ appointments. You can deliver meals to the elderly or disabled. You can offer to rake leaves, mow the lawn or do some painting or home repairs. You may find that your older neighbors just enjoy having company.

Be a tutor
You can volunteer to be a reader at your area elementary school. Or, you might be able to mentor or tutor children. With cuts in school funding, many schools might appreciate having volunteers who can provide additional support and assistance. You may also be able to teach English as a second language or help with adult learning classes.

Connect with national non-profits
Large non-profit organizations need help, too. You can sort clothes at your local branch of the Salvation Army or Goodwill. The American Red Cross can use volunteers to help at local blood drives. The United Way is busy all across the country, and Habitat for Humanity can always use more hands.

It’s time to make volunteering and giving back part of your routine so that it becomes a habit. You can volunteer with friends or family in order to spend more time together and strengthen those relationships. Or, you can meet new people and find friends you might not have met otherwise. Giving back helps you create a greater life balance and overall satisfaction while also doing great things for others.

What are some of the groups or activities that you’ve been involved with? How have you benefited from giving back?