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Sunset

Pause and Look Back: 2020 Wellness Themes

Sukham Blog – A monthly column focused on health and wellbeing.

As we draw the curtains on a tumultuous year and look forward to better times in 2021, we should pause to take stock.  Let’s reflect on the year we’ve endured; acknowledge and accept the tough, troubling, earthshaking times we’ve lived through – buffeted by the pandemic, and the economic, social, and familial hardships so many of us have endured.  Grieving for the loss of a loved one and for the forfeiture of a way of life, while living through a rising tide of social and racial injustice, intolerance, and hate. Let’s acknowledge these difficult times and accept them. Accept, acknowledge, then look forward.

Let us prepare ourselves for the better times ahead with a new sense of purpose. Determine to look after ourselves and those whom we love better than we did this year. Let’s not make another New Year’s Resolution that is sure to fall by the wayside in two weeks; instead, let’s make an implementable plan we can follow every day.

Each of you knows where you must look to develop your own personal, tailored wellbeing plan – one that addresses Body, Mind, and Spirit.  To get you started, I offer some learnings from the Sukham Blog articles I wrote for India Currents this year for your review and reflection.

Article: Mitigate Chronic Inflammation (Image by Hal Gatewood at Unsplash)

In Love Your Body: Mitigate Chronic Inflammation (February 2020), I described how inflammation is part of our immune system’s defensive mechanism, playing an essential role in healing and controlling infection. However, when this immune response is constantly and repeatedly triggered, this chronic inflammation can cause cumulative damage that could lead to diseases such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and depression. I described what we should do to prevent chronic inflammation or mitigate its effects. Social isolation, psychological stress, disturbed sleep, chronic infections, physical inactivity, poor diet, obesity, and exposure to environmental toxins all contribute to increased chronic inflammation. Review this article, consult your doctor, and create your own 2021 roadmap to combat chronic inflammation and make lifestyle changes for a better tomorrow.

Article: Just Write, It’s Good For You

I discussed writing as therapy in Just Write, It’s Good for You! (July 2020). Research tells us that writing can improve physical wellbeing by boosting immune functioning as well as mood. Writing about your thoughts and feelings for just 15 to 30 minutes a day, three to four days a week can ease stress, grief, and loss. The benefits include better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness among both adults and children.

The following month, in Learning to Embrace Aloneness (August 2020), I described the difference between Loneliness and Aloneness. While loneliness is a manifestation of missing someone or something, aloneness is a state of mind where one takes advantage of being by themselves and uses the opportunity to draw strength, peace, and connectivity with oneself and with nature, to seek our own inner light. Take steps to explore your aloneness!

Article: Lonely In a Crowd (Image by Aziz Acharki at Unsplash)

Loneliness that is left unaddressed, on the other hand, can be harmful. It is an epidemic in our society, as discussed in my second February 2020 article: Lonely in a Crowd. We now understand that loneliness is an emotional state created when we have fewer social contacts and meaningful relationships than we’d like; when we feel no one knows and understands us.  We feel disconnected from people even though they are all around us.  Research shows that it is a risk factor for many illnesses.  Understanding this and learning to watch for signs of loneliness both in ourselves and in those around us should be part of our wellbeing action plan for the coming year, paying special attention to both the young and the elderly in our lives.

An increasing number of us are becoming caregivers for a family member or a friend, as I describe in my May 2020 article The Caregiver Crisis, becoming responsible for his or her physical, psychological, and social needs. While caring for a loved one can be an enriching and rewarding experience that brings out the best in us, long-term care demands sustained attention and is physically exhausting and emotionally draining for both the giver and receiver of care. This leads to increased stress and anxiety and affects relationships.  Understanding this, and planning ways to get respite and avoid burnout is an essential part of any wellbeing roadmap.

Article: Can I Find Happiness? (Image by Zac Durant at Unsplash)

Finally, an upbeat note to round out this brief survey. Earlier this month, in Can I Find Happiness? (December 2020), I talked about my own quest for this elusive state of being. While it is different for each of us, happiness is a combination of frequent positive emotions, plus the sense that your life is good. Each of us can develop that sense by seeking to build a life of meaning and purpose—to move beyond just surviving to flourishing. By building practices into our lives such as cultivating kindness, regular exercise, healthy eating, pursuing goals, discovering spiritual engagement, staying positive, and showing gratitude, we get improved life satisfaction and wellbeing, and learn that the happiness we seek is not out there – it is within ourselves, waiting to be found!

Notice how it’s all interconnected? 

I wish each of you peace, joy, good health, and success in developing and implementing your wellbeing roadmap. See you in 2021!


Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. He is also a columnist for India Currents. 

With sincere thanks to Dawid Zawila at Unsplash for the use of his beautiful photograph.

The Caregiver Crisis

Are you caring for someone – perhaps an elder – who is seriously ill? Do you look after a disabled son or daughter? Perhaps you’re in the ‘sandwich generation,’ raising children while you worry about and care for a parent? If you answered yes, you’re already in the Caregiver Club. If you said no, consider changing your answer to no, not yet.  To quote Rosalynn Carter, President of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, and former First Lady of the US:

“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”

The Caregiver Crisis in the United States is rapidly getting worse. Each day another child, spouse, relative, or friend is faced with providing care for someone who can no longer look after themselves because of increased frailty, illness, or trauma. They become responsible for that individual’s physical, psychological, and social needs. Experts warn of the increasing strain this trend will place on society in the coming decades. About 43 million friends or family members in the US are primary caregivers today for adults and children with disabilities, or someone recovering from surgeries and illnesses, or coping with Alzheimer’s and other chronic diseases. Many are themselves aging. Caregivers – primarily women – provide 37 billion hours of unpaid care annually – $500 billion in economic value, according to one estimate. 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day. The growing population of people who will need 24-hour personal care has been likened to an approaching “slow-moving tsunami that has no end.”

Caring for a loved one can be enriching and rewarding; the experience creates opportunities for personal growth. Caregiving brings out the best in us; we approach it with love and compassion and are devoted and determined to do our best. However, long-term care demands sustained attention and is physically exhausting and emotionally draining for both the giver and receiver of care. Relationships are affected. Significant changes need to be made in daily lives to adapt to new realities. Caregivers are frequently unable to pursue normal relationships or lead normal lives. Life can become stifling with increased stress and anxiety. Caregivers themselves need support, without which they face burnout or become ill. Caregivers in the South Asian community additionally deal with unique social and cultural issues that need to be addressed in a targeted and sensitive way, making the problem more challenging. 

As we grow older, we all want to “age in place;” live safely, comfortably and independently in our own homes and community, in our comfortable environments. The reality is that we will lose this ability at some point. Many of us also worry if another: an aging parent, relative, or friend can continue to age in place.  We worry about the day when their ability to manage their own lives independently begins to diminish, and about what would happen then. The question is not if this will happen, but when. These concerns are often triggered by changes we observe in their behavior. 

Gerontologists, geriatricians and other aging experts offer excellent advice on how to prepare for such an eventuality – advice we should heed.  The first consideration is the elder’s ability to independently care for him- or herself – to carry out what are known as the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Can they feed themselves? Move about on their own, get in and out of a bed or chair? Bathe or shower? Use the toilet? Dress and groom themselves? Next, evaluate other activities necessary for independent functioning, known as Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs). These include remembering things, cooking and preparing meals, cleaning and maintaining the home, shopping and buying necessities, running errands, managing money and paying bills, speaking or communicating on the phone, and correctly taking prescribed medications. If any of these present challenges for your loved one, then he or she needs some kind of support and/or care. 

When a concern is identified, experts recommend a family meeting with everyone involved, including the elder, to have open and honest discussions with the goal of getting the best possible care for the elder.  Discuss his or her requirements and anticipate future needs. Consider all the available options and constraining factors to meet those needs. These discussions should include financial and estate plans, care planning, and Advance Directives. The costs of keeping the elder at home together with professional assistance if required, have to be weighed against the financial and emotional cost of moving him or her into an assisted-living facility. Perhaps a phased approach could be implemented. If dementia or serious illness are considerations, medical professionals should be consulted and their advice factored into the decision making. The more prepared we are, the more advance planning we do, the less stressful and more rewarding caregiving will be.

If you answered “yes” to my questions above, you’ve already experienced the challenges of caregiving, and I have an important message for you. It’s critical to start with self-care and self-compassion, otherwise, you will burn out. Linda Abbit provides excellent advice in her recent book The Conscious Caregiver. As you take on these roles and responsibilities, she says, it is important that you understand, recognize, and address your emotions. At various times you will feel guilt, resentment, fear, grief, depression, anger, or embarrassment. It is okay if you do. Address your feelings consciously, and discuss them. Be kind to yourself. Make time daily for self-care. Abbit recommends making a happiness list. Put down all the things you like, and make time to enjoy them. Meditate. Adopt breathing practices. Listen to music. Eat healthy and sleep well. Stay active and get exercise. Commune with nature. Practice gratitude. Pamper and reward yourself occasionally. It’s okay to vent; bottling up your emotions will affect your health. It is essential that you accept help – even seek it – from others. You cannot do it all. Delegate to others what and when you can. Be an advocate for both yourself and your loved one. Learn to let go of what you cannot control. By first taking care of yourself, you will be a better caregiver.

The tsunami is coming! Will you be ready?

Sukham Blog – This is a monthly column focused on health and wellbeing.  

Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. 

Lota in the Loo

Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”  But even during the most desperate times, Winnie’s wit carried the day. So perhaps today, while a virus wends its way across the world, we can take a deep breath (while practicing social distancing) and smile.

To be sure, the coronavirus presents a rather serious crisis. It’s so bad that people have convinced themselves that there are shortages that don’t really exist. The opening sentence from Michael Corkery and Sapna Maheshwari’s New York Times March 13, 2020 article titled, “Is There Really a Toilet Paper Shortage?” captured the madness: “If there’s one image that captures the panic sweeping through the United States this week, it might be the empty store shelves where toilet paper usually sits.”

I went to my local Costco to see if this madness could possibly be true. Were otherwise intelligent people actually hoarding rolls of soft, perforated white paper whose only function was arse-cleaning? Were they willing to wait over an hour in line just to enter the warehouse store to buy massive amounts of this Western brainchild of the inventor who named it after himself: Gayetty’s Medicated Paper? Would panicky people contribute to supply chain sabotage and throw demand-planning forecasts out of kilter by emptying store shelves of this quotidian product?

Yes. Yes. And yes.

So what to do about all these affirmatives that presage a rather unsavory negative? Just imagine a world where people don’t have enough toilet paper to do their business! In my line of work, I help organizations make transitions through times of change. I use a rather simple formula to overcome resistance to transformation:  D x V x F > R.

  • Dissatisfaction: Internalize dissatisfaction with the current change
  • Vision: Envision a desired future state
  • First Steps: Take the necessary first steps
  • Resistance: Recognize that there is resistance to change

If it is true that there is always some level of resistance to change, then R is always greater than zero; and in the simple math formula, R will always win out if D or V or F is zero.

Back to the toilet paper crisis, which is actually a metaphor for the paradox of abundance.  

Dissatisfaction

It is clearly unacceptable that people should fight over toilet paper. Similarly, price gouging must be unacceptable, and yet capitalist individuals corral the supply of hand sanitizers and sell their goods on Amazon at obscene markups. And as we climb the ladder of abstraction, we can all agree that authoritarian systems must not exploit the free market by accepting the largesse of other countries in their own time of need but limit the flow of medical products when their time of distress has passed (yes, this is about China limiting the flow of face masks). With each of us surely only six degrees of separation removed from someone inflicted with COVID-19, Dissatisfaction is greater than zero.

Vision

Look around and imagine that we have plenty of resources; we just have to be empathetically resourceful in how we make these resources available to those who need them most. Let’s not become like Joseph Gayetty who watermarked his name on each sheet with which people cleaned what they had shat; let’s be a bit less egocentric and self-centered. The following quote often attributed to M. K. Gandhi, but actually first said by Frank Buchman of Initiatives for Change, can help us all envision a more generous world, thus making our collective Vision greater than zero: “There’s enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”

First Steps

Here’s a more famous Gandhian quote that the so-called Mahatma might or might not have said:  “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” That’s a great philosophical first step.  Now on to the practical matter of what we do to hygienically clean up after we defecate in the loo. I suggest this call to action as part of your morning ablutions, thus making your personal First Step greater than zero:  minimize your dependence on toilet paper by cleaning your backside with water. For those whose toilets are so-quipped, loo like the French do and use a bidet.  For those without fancy ceramic fixtures, loo like billions of villagers do and pour the water from a lota. 

Resistance

When I first returned to India in the mid-1970s, I saw all of the Rajasthanis in my native village carrying lotas with them to the “jungle” at sunrise. At first, I resisted this communal cleansing but eventually, I joined the morning march. Perhaps you, too, will resist the idea of using a lota in the loo. But try a little behavior change on just one morning this week. By giving up the urge to wipe your rump with a lifetime of bright white reams of paper, you might see that we’re all in this crisis together.  Regardless of where you land on the economics of globalization, the coronavirus has proven that Marshall McLuhan was right: we all live in a global village.

Dr. Rajesh C. Oza, is a Change Management Consultant working with clients across the world; he also facilitates the development of MBA students’ interpersonal dynamics at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

Young Indian Girl Dies While Crossing Border

Did you hear of the death of 6-year-old Gurupreet Kaur?

Gurupreet’s body was found by U.S. Border Patrol agents in a remote desert outside the Lukeville, Arizona point of entry on Wednesday, June 12th, just days before her seventh birthday.

She died of heat stroke in the Arizona desert where temperatures were 108 degrees Fahrenheit, according to U.S. Border Patrol and the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME).

Gurupreet and her mother were reportedly among a group of five Indian nationals who were dropped off by migrant traffickers in a remote area on the U.S.-Mexico border. Her mother and another woman went in search of water, leaving Gurupreet with two others from the group. Gurupreet’s mother was found by a U.S. Border Patrol agent 22 hours later. Four hours after that, Border Patrol agents found Gurupreet’s body.

Seven migrant children have died in immigration custody since last year. Hundreds more have died close to ports of entry while attempting to make the perilous journey through the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border.

South Asian Americans Leading Together SAALT is sending a letter of inquiry to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, Kevin K. McAleenan this week, demanding an investigation into Gurupreet’s death and information about her mother and the other migrants in their group.

As U.S. Customs and Border Protection has escalated border enforcement and aggressively turned away migrants attempting to cross at ports of entry, deaths have continued to mount. Migrants are forced right back into the dangerous conditions that CBP and other federal agencies often blame on migrant traffickers and smugglers.

Lakshmi Sridaran, Interim Co-Executive Director of SAALT said, “U.S. border militarization, forced migration, and rejection of migrants attempting to cross at ports of entry have created an environment where a child like Gurupreet, can die in the desert, alone. Until this system is completely defunded and a new one is created that upholds the dignity of all migrants – we will continue to see unspeakable tragedies, not withstanding the countless deaths that go undocumented. While ICE and CBP have experienced unprecedented surges in their budgets, their treatment of migrants has plunged to new lows. ”

SAALT has been tracking both the rise in the number of South Asians crossing the border over the last 5 years and their treatment in detention facilities. Between October 2014 and April 2018, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrested over 17,000 South Asians.

Of the South Asians who end up in detention facilities, SAALT has tracked a pattern of abuse including inadequate language access, lack of religious accommodations, medical neglect, use of solitary confinement, and unacceptably high bond amounts.

We urge our communities to stay engaged and active on this urgent issue.

Stay updated and active by following our updates and action alerts on Twitter (SAALTweets) and Facebook (facebook.com/talktosaalt).

You can also support by donating to these organizations that provide immediate assistance:

  • The Fronterizo Fianza Fund is a community bond (fianza) fund based in El Paso and serving Far West Texas and New Mexico. Many detained migrants have no chance to be released while they wait the months or years until their trial. When someone does receive a bond, they are often way out of reach for most families, ranging anywhere from $1,500-50,000.
  • The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project is the only organization in Arizona that provides free legal and social services to detained men, women, and children under threat of deportation.
  • The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas.