Tag Archives: volunteer

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!

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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.

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?

How to decide where to volunteer

Find your passion choose where to volunteerEarlier this year, we wrote about the 5 surprising benefits of giving back. Volunteering can be very rewarding – for those you help and for you.

You may be thinking about volunteering, but you just don’t know how to get started or where to volunteer. It may help you to first take a look at the reasons why people volunteer.

Why do people volunteer?

Knowing why you want to volunteer may help you decide where you should volunteer. Here are a few of the reasons people volunteer:

Give back
The most obvious reason that people volunteer is to give back and do something good for others. You may feel that you have been fortunate and want to help others who are struggling. You may have a personal reason for wanting to volunteer. For instance, you may love animals and want to help out at an animal shelter. You may have had a sick relative who received home health care or hospice care, and you want assist others in that situation.

Do something new
You may like to experience new things and create new opportunities. You may want to do something that is out of your comfort zone. You can gain a deeper understanding of how other people live, the challenges they face and learn something new about the world. Volunteering can even be a way to open up your mind and learn something about yourself.

Make friends
Volunteering can be a great way to meet people and make new friends. You will find people with similar backgrounds and passions. You can feel a sense of belonging working alongside others who are interested in the same things as you.

Learn new skills
By volunteering, you can learn new skills and gain experience that you can use in your career. Many employers like to hire employees who have relevant experience in their field. You can also determine if you might like a particular career by doing volunteer work first.

Have fun
You will most likely choose to give back because it’s fun. Volunteering can be difficult, dirty, stressful, sad and rewarding. You will do it anyway because you enjoy it, or because at the end of the day your accomplishments are reward enough.

Once you know why you want to volunteer, it can help you narrow your choices as you decide where you want to volunteer.

Here are 5 steps to help you choose where to volunteer:

1. Find your passion
What issues do you feel strongly about? You may want to help cancer patients, work with the elderly, foster animals or mentor children. You can find groups that serve the areas you are interested in. Or, you may already give money to these types of organizations. You can take the next step and become a volunteer for them.

2. Identify your unique skills
You may have unique skills that you can incorporate into your plans to volunteer. Maybe you are good at landscaping and can volunteer to help beautify local parks. You may enjoy teaching and can mentor kids or adults. You might be good at sports and could coach a youth league. You can incorporate your special skills into helping a cause you are passionate about.

3. Talk to others
Where do people you know volunteer? You can ask around in your own personal network to find organizations that others might recommend. You may be able to join a friend or colleague where they volunteer to see if it’s a good fit for you.

4. Determine a good fit
Do you want to volunteer on a regular basis or sporadically as needed? What organizations fit your passions and unique skills? Which volunteer opportunities have been recommended by others? Narrow down your choices and find one that best suits you.

5. Get to know the organization
If you aren’t already familiar with your choice, visit their website and read more about them. Call or email the organization to ask any questions you might have. As we mentioned earlier, you can also volunteer with someone who already assists the organization.

You’re ready to give back! So go on and take the plunge. You may find that volunteering means as much to you as those you help.

Do you volunteer? How did you choose an organization?

5 surprising benefits of giving back

give backWhat is giving back? It can be something as simple as opening a door or carrying a package for someone whose hands are full. It can be as monumental as setting up a trust for a charity that’s dear to you.

And giving back can fall somewhere in between. You can volunteer in your community. You can donate money to cancer research, feeding the hungry, disaster relief or helping animals. You can support your church.

I know I have tightened my belt in recent years and become more cynical about donating money. It’s harder to trust that large organizations will spend it wisely. It seems like everyone is asking for money – from my kids’ school and the local fire department to my college and various telemarketers.

But, I can give freely of my time. And I should. One of my goals for 2013 is to give back more to my community. As I was looking into giving back, I discovered some surprising side effects to volunteering.

However, my motives need to be pure. By being altruistic – showing unselfish concern for the welfare of others – you may be blessed in your own way:

Spread joy
When you give of yourself, you will spread joy to others in ways you may not even realize. And by giving joy to others, it’s hard not to experience some joy yourself. You create a connection that you may not have had otherwise. You make the world a happier place – one act of kindness and generosity at a time.

Be happier
Giving of yourself is good for your soul. When you see a smile on someone’s face, a lightness in their step or gratitude in their eyes, it’s easy to be happy. The worries and stresses of the day drop away. Volunteering can help you feel better overall, increase your self-esteem and give you greater life satisfaction.

Live longer
According to a study published in the American Psychology Association’s online journal Health Psychology, volunteers may live longer if their motivation is truly to assist others. Now, as we mentioned earlier, if you are doing it to help yourself, there is no difference in life expectancy.

Reduce depression
Volunteering gets you out socializing and interacting with others. Research has even shown that long-term volunteering can help lift depression.

Alleviate chronic pain
Volunteering may help you feel better physically, too. Again, this could be because you are getting out, moving around more than you normally might and spending time with others. If you feel like other people are counting on you, you may be more likely to keep moving even when you are experiencing pain. Or, helping others may take your mind off of your pain. Studies have shown that chronic pain may be reduced or alleviated by volunteering.

So, make plans to give back this year. Get out and give your money and your time. You may be surprised that helping others helps you feel good, too. And that means everybody wins!

How do you give back? Do you have goals to give more of yourself in 2013?

How to say NO to holiday stress

holiday stressAs I sit here glaring at the lights on my Christmas tree, I can’t help but think they  shouldn’t be irritating me this much. I have replaced the top string of lights twice this year. Guess what, it’s not working – AGAIN!

I need to wrap presents, clean my house, get my brother’s gift in the mail, bake cookies for school, and address my Christmas cards. Oh wait, first I need to buy Christmas cards.

The holidays are one of the most magical times of the year. It’s a time to gather with friends and family. Memories are made. Traditions are created. We count our blessings and rejoice in the reason for the season.

The holidays can also be one of the most stressful times of the year. We feel obligated to say “yes” to every request and every invitation.

Say “no” to the stress and “yes” to a happy, healthy holiday season:

Keep your healthy routine
It’s easy to drop our healthy eating habits and exercise routines when we become overwhelmed with holiday tasks and commitments. Make it a point to continue eating right. You can indulge in tasty treats while at events and gatherings, but keep up your good habits at home. Find time to exercise. Not only will it help you relieve holiday stress, you will feel good about staying on track.

Shop online
I do almost all of my holiday shopping online after my kids go to bed. You can find good deals and free shipping on most of the items you want. You avoid the stress of malls, crowds and traffic. And it’s so exciting when a delivery shows up at your door!

Give thoughtful gifts
Part of the holiday stress is spending beyond your means or financial budget. Think of gifts you can give that may be less expensive but have more meaning for the recipient. Or, suggest a gift exchange for family members or a group of coworkers. It is the spirit of the season that truly matters, not the material things.

Stay home
If you feel like you are running from one commitment to another, choose a few parties and say no. Spend time at home instead doing something fun as a family. Start a new tradition of having sappy holiday movie night or board game night. You may not remember all of the holiday parties, but you will remember the memories you make as a family.

Get some sleep
When you get enough sleep, your body can rest and be ready for the next day. You will be less sleep deprived and more ready to cope with whatever holiday crises come your way. You will just feel better.

Do something nice
Give your neighbor a hand putting up his lights. Offer to help a stressed-out friend with her holiday cooking or cleaning. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, collect toys for a toy drive, or take homemade goodies to the nursing home. Your generous spirit can brighten the holidays for others in need.

I am constantly reminding myself that these moments are fleeting. My kids will probably tell their kids about the year I couldn’t get the Christmas tree lights to work. They have found it quite humorous. It will make a great story… some day.

It’s the little moments, the memories, and the spirit of the season that make the holidays special. So, say “no” to some of your commitments this year and say “yes” to a relaxing, memorable holiday season.