How to Heal the Humbug in your Happy Holidays

As far as the holiday season is concerned, there seem to be two types of people. Type 1 is excited, cheerful, and can’t turn that Christmas music on soon enough. Type 2 already feels the anxiety and winter SADness creeping in. Do you love listening to White Christmas and eagerly await the holiday greetings that pop up in your mail to say “here’s my perfect family and all that we have been up to this year!” If so – you’re Type 1. If you couldn’t read that sentence without a grimace, wince, and the promise of an adult beverage, then you’re probably Type 2.

So, what happens when you’ve got a couple of cheerful Type 1’s, and a few grinchy Type 2’s, and you all work in the same office? For the answer to this hard-hitting question, we turn to Jane Bauer, Payroll Extraordinaire at HealthStar’s Corporate HQ. Jane says:

It’s not about the music, or the decorations, or even the food. It’s all about the feeling of joy that surrounds the holidays, and about sharing that joy with the people you care about!

(But the music is pretty important.)

Jane Bauer, excessive “early Christmas Music” player

Weeeeell, maybe I’m paraphrasing, but I think this is what Jane would say. And technically speaking, she’s correct. But it doesn’t stop the Type 2’s from complaining, does it, Jane?

Holiday Cheer!

At HealthStar, we have a good mix of both kinds of holiday people. But the Type 1 is easier to spot than the elusive Type 2. Type 1’s can’t help but shout it from the rooftops – they love the scents and sounds of all that is related to “the holidays.” Cinnamon spice, Bing Crosby, and some festive decor to really set things off. Garlands, sparkles, twinkly lights – nothing is too over the top.

And it is fun to look at. It’s like when mommy and daddy get dressed up for an ugly sweater and the kids ooh and aah, like “you guys look so fancy.” The kids don’t know there’s sarcasm behind those sweaters, they just see something bright and colorful, and it makes them feel special.

On the other hand…

The Type 2’s are a little less obvious. You might spot a hard eye-roll when the Holiday Music gets turned up just a little too high. Or maybe they mention they’re not that into pumpkin spice on everything. The signs can be very subtle – even as subtle as hiding in the supply closet every time someone mentions doing an office gift exchange. See some of these signs? You may have spotted an elusive Type 2 “holi-grouch” in the wild.

Sometimes, when a cheerful Type 1 encounters a curmudgeonly Type 2, the Type 1 will try to “cheer up” his neighbor by saying things like, “Can’t wait for that family get-together,” or “what are you giving your spouse/kids/other loved ones this season?” Type 1 is so innocent and full of joy, it’s a shocking surprise when Type 2 goes pale and has to breathe into a paper bag after hearing the questions.

Mental Health and Holiday Mania

If you’re a Type 2, you might be facing this holiday season like you would face any other difficult task – “I can do this. I can do this.” The family, the shopping, and the desire to be “as happy as everyone else” can all combine to create a Mental Health Minefield during the stress and chaos of these otherwise cheery months. From November until mid-January, after the fruitcake has been “disposed of,” and the holiday glitter dust has settled, Type 2’s may find their only solace in the knowledge that “this, too, shall pass.”

The Perfect Holiday?

Is there hope for a Type 2 to turn all of this holiday anxiety into a little more enjoyment? Well, before we can start healing, we have to ask ourselves what makes the holidays so stressful. More and more, it seems, we aspire to an unrealistic standard. We’re comparing ourselves to Dick and Jane, the early readers of the 1950’s. Dick and Jane played outside with their father, helped mother in the kitchen, and laughed with the neighbor kids. Dick and Jane weren’t worried about war, or food shortages, or any other “real world” problems. They were the “perfect family” Facebook of the 50’s.

So, what if we toss out today’s unrealistic expectations along with our hammer-tough fruitcake? That might help a little, right? It’s a good start, and here’s a few other tips that might help put a skip back in those holiday steps!

Start the Holiday Humbug Healing

First off – if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the stress and pressure of the holidays, you’re NOT alone. There are plenty of people who feel the same way! But don’t suffer through this alone. If you are bothered by persistent feelings of depression or anxiety, or you just don’t feel like yourself, talk to your doctor or another trusted health care contact. HealthStar Clients, of course you can always talk to HealthStar staff for some advice! You could be dealing with more than just holiday stress.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way – we can work on harnessing the joy of the holidays for all of these troublesome Type 2’s. There’s plenty of advice “on the internet” about how to ditch the crab and embrace the holiday fab. Here are my favorite three suggestions.

1: Volunteer

There are SO MANY causes during this time of year. People are hungry, cold, and lonely. Helping someone else is just about the most wholesome way to help yourself. I challenge you to feel sad after spending a day in service. You will feel GREAT knowing that you’ve made a difference to someone else.

Maybe you take a Salvation Army shift, ringing that tinkling bell outside your favorite store. Or find a homeless shelter and take a turn in the kitchen. Look around your neighborhood, too. This is a fabulous time to connect with someone in your town who doesn’t have much support. If you’re struggling to find a volunteer idea, Google is here to help! Check out this Google search to find volunteer opportunities near you. There are plenty of ideas, just pick something and get out there!

2: Give Up on the “should” and enjoy the “is.”

If you’re like me, you’re constantly thinking about the next thing, or how you could have done something better. Instead of burning yourself out on worries that don’t accomplish anything, give up on some of the “perfect-itis” and rejoice in mediocrity. It’s OK not to be the best at things! You don’t have to search all day/week for the perfect this or that.

To help remind yourself: Make a list of the things that you’re most thankful for. When you’re stressing out about something that you wish you had, or could, or should – take a look at your gratefulness list. Does the wish/could/should really matter as much as those things? If it does, then make a plan to work on it. If it doesn’t, then move on to something that does matter.

3: Scale back and say no!

Do you feel like you can’t skip a family event? Don’t want to be “the one” who doesn’t go to the office party? I’m not saying to skip the most important time with your loved ones, let’s be clear. But if you can say “no” to one thing in order to say “yes” to something restorative, then sometimes that’s a healthy choice.

For example – maybe this year, you don’t have to go to every single big, wild, extended family get-together (or at least you can just drop by for a short visit), and instead you’ll plan a special night in with just your spouse and your kids. Or maybe, instead of going to the office party, you want to spend that night volunteering at a local animal shelter. As long as you’re trading out for something that’s good for you, and not just to sit at home and mope, then I’ve got your back.

Relax. You’ve got this.

So if you’re a Type 2, don’t get all worked up and wacky just yet. There’s hope for a great holiday season, if you can set aside some of your “shoulds” and make time to do something wholesome. You might even find yourself hanging up garland or humming “little drummer boy.”

No, not little drummer boy. Anything but little drummer boy.

Wrapping it all up

There’s not a lot left to say, I just wanted to work in the wrapping pun. Happy Holidays, from a Type 2 who is working toward Type 1 level enthusiasm! One note – if you really want to up your Type 1 game, take up Cross-Stitching. I have it on good authority that you could be cranking out a Christmas Stocking as quickly as one every 19-years. Again, Jane Bauer is the resident expert:

Beth, it did NOT take me 19-years.

Jane Bauer, Cross-Stitch Expert

For more information, and to see a few other articles with the same general idea, check these out:

NAMI Holiday Blues

Embracing Mediocrity

Beat Holiday Stress

Spotlight: Magan Olson, Clinical Supervisor

Here I am, hoping to write a great blog post about Magan, one of HealthStar’s Mental Health department superstar Clinical Supervisors. She has this great HealthStar history that goes back to the beginning of the Mental Health program (spoiler alert – she was one of our first interns!). But I keep catching myself looking out the window and thinking about, well, lots of other stuff. It’s not that I don’t like what I’m doing, I just sometimes can’t get myself to buckle down and do one task at a time. My brain wants me to think about grocery shipping, what my kids are doing while I work, and a whole list of “other duties as assigned” when I’m trying to complete a task. Please tell me I’m not alone in this?

While writing the post that was published earlier this month, I talked with Magan about health and wellness ideas (she is a great resource for mental health wellness!). My conversation with Magan reintroduced me to mindfulness, which is basically paying more attention to where you are in the moment, instead of splitting your attention with all those other distractions. For me, this is a true exercise – it is very difficult at times. Some days, I swear my brain tries to purposely stop me from checking off my list. I’m still able to accomplish a lot, but just think of what I could do if this wasn’t happening!

Wait, what was that again?

Truth is, this distraction is normal to some degree. While it’s hard to overcome, we can learn to make peace with our distracted nature. Magan says that a focus on mindfulness has made a big difference for her – just taking those few minutes to breathe and be present has helped her to stay grounded. Magan also says that exercise has helped her with her personal health and wellness journey. A little extra energy and a boost in serotonin can go a long way to improving your mood and state of mind, especially in this long and snowy MN winter!

Here’s the thing – if I can learn these things from Magan by asking a few general questions, just imagine how amazing it could be if we knew all her secrets! Oh, OK, maybe not all of them, but at least a few? Well, I am lucky enough to tell you three amazing things about Magan right now! Magan, the HealthStar spotlight’s on you!

Responsibility, much?

Magan is one of those people who you just know will get back to you. Maybe it’ll take a day or two, but you never question that the response will be coming your way. She knows how to prioritize, and she absolutely understands responsibility and attentiveness. I assume that this comes at some cost to her, personally, because there are times when all of us are overwhelmed… but I don’t see her letting things go. To Magan, it is clearly important to meet the needs of others and to follow through on her commitments.

Her focus on responsibility makes Magan an amazing resource for her team. She has been a go-to on many projects, going back to her days as an intern! I won’t bore you with the details, but there are plenty of good reasons why Magan was hired as our first Mental Health Practitioner. We just couldn’t let her escape after her internship here! Tim Plant, former Executive Director at HealthStar, may not be here today, but his good hiring judgment still hangs around wherever Magan gets assigned. I’m sure Sherry Fridlund, current Director of Mental Health Services, would agree that this was one of Tim’s greatest decisions.

The eyes!

It happens so quickly – you might think you’re just shooting the breeze, and then, all the sudden, you get the look. If you’ve talked to Magan, you know what I’m talking about. It’s all in the eyes. It’s the look that says “I’m here for you, I’m listening to you, there is nothing else that matters right now, and I will help you fix all of your problems.” If you’ve never experienced this before, let me tell you, it’s quite the feeling. She listens like no one else I have ever known. No judgment, no unwanted advice, no interruptions. Just listening. It’s a kind of being heard that you might not realize you need until it happens. The kind that just validates you as a person and says “it will all work out OK.”

Honestly, this is the look that I want to see when I just have that “I want my mommy” feeling. Yes, I still get that even though I’m a mom, myself. I just want someone to calmly validate that my feelings are my own, and to tell me, in a soothing voice, that things will work out. I’ve never been Magan’s clinical patient, but I think this is exactly how it would feel.

Magan says that she feels honored to have someone tell her their story and to support them through whatever it is they’re going through. She considers it a privilege to connect with people and help them to find their strengths, whether they’re HealthStar team members or Clients in the field. I feel Magan’s honest commitment to as her co-worker, and I know the staff at the St. Paul office all feel it, too! If Magan is also serving warm milk to the Mental Health staff and Clients, I wouldn’t be surprised.

An object in motion

The rules of motion tell us that an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. In Magan’s case, she can be both the moving object and the outside force, depending on the situation. If you need help getting motivated, Magan can apply a little force. But when Magan herself gets moving, she’s a force all her own. Magan says that she loves running, walking, hiking, and just generally being outdoors. It’s not hard to guess that she’s an active person – she looks great, and always has pep in her step!

Keeping physically active is just one of the ways that Magan stays healthy. I also mentioned earlier that she has a personal focus on mindfulness. Magan says that for her, this means concentrating on just being present in the moment throughout the day. She expressed the need for mindfulness really well:

“It’s easy to feel like you’re missing your own life… Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself to be present.”

Magan Olson

I know that feeling! Going home after a busy day, I just don’t want to engage. The problem is, the evening is the only time I have with my family. If I disengage, I’m missing out on that little bit of time which is the most important part of my day. Learning a little more about mindfulness from Magan has helped me to find that if I spend a “mindful moment” on the car ride home, I can re-center and be more present by the time I get back to my loved ones.

Each of us has different obstacles to wellness, but the goal is the same – continue moving towards our personal goals. This is why Magan is just the ticket – she can help you identify your unique obstacles and show you just the right force to apply to get those obstacles moving out of your way!

Magan, all wrapped up

There you have it – Magan Olson, in three parts. Responsible, attentive, engaged – she’s a triple threat! She’s a go-to when you’re in need, on so many levels! If you know someone who could use a little wellness help, check in with us and find out for yourself what Magan and the St. Paul staff have to offer!

Spotlight: Jessica Downs, Clinical Operations

HealthStar’s Corporate team is a very diverse mix of all walks of life. Today, we are nurses (like Jessica), medical billers, and office support staff. But many winding paths have converged to bring this team together. With history in auto maintenance, real estate, finance, marketing, teaching, and even some folks who moved to the continental US from abroad, we really keep things interesting!

We are all problem solvers in one way or another, but the thing that really brings us together is our love of caring for others. We may not be direct, hands-on care staff, but we show our helping hands in other ways. There are lots of treats and shared meals, plenty of “feelings Friday” discussions where we show our support for each other, and lots of inside jokes. There are no cliques – we all get along. No, seriously! It’s not always easy, but because we truly care about each other, we give each other grace and try to understand where others are in their own unique battles.

As awesome as Corporate is, if you really want to see what makes HealthStar shine, what sets us apart, and what we are all working for every day – you’ll need to look outside our colorful and multi-angled Corporate walls. Look out into “the field,” where the rubber meets the road. Can you see our clinicians, our practitioners, and our front-line caregiving staff? Maybe you also see our service office locations and some of our Clients – they’re the reason Corporate exists! We work to serve, and we work hard to make sure that we serve well!

Who else do you see?

While you’re looking out there, do you see a blonde? Not just any blonde, but a blonde who really OWNS IT? Maybe you see her climbing out of a big pickup truck with her hair flowing in the wind. Her broad, radiant, feel-good smile touches everyone she walks past. That blonde hair is a statement, and the shoes and smile are the exclamation point. Her red shoes reflect her true passion – love for all people, and a strong desire to take care of those who need it. Watch out, now – she’s a hugger, but her hug melts your worries away and leaves you feeling lighter. Just who is this happy, high-heeled hugger, you ask? I’m proud to say, this bright and bubbly blonde is Jessica “Jess” Downs, HealthStar’s Director of Clinical Operations.

Talk about winding roads to HealthStar Corporate – prior to her decision to become an RN, Jessica had worked as a CNA in HealthStar’s Duluth office. Jess even once considered becoming an attorney! We’re sure glad she didn’t go that route. Instead, while working as a CNA in a nursing home, Jess was encouraged by a mentor to pursue a career in nursing and decided to give it a try.

What a great fit for her caring personality! After getting her degree, Jessica’s career in nursing kicked off in her home town of Duluth, MN, working in a surgical center and hospital. She later worked in Wisconsin, Nevada, California, and Arizona, in a variety of clinical roles including corrections nurse, hospice case manager, and Director of Nursing. Then, in 2014, Jessica’s winding road led her full-circle right back to HealthStar. Some things are just meant to be! Because we are in the “month of love,” we thought it would be a great time to tell you a little more about Jessica and her big-hearted ways. Jessica Downs, the HealthStar spotlight is on you!

Happiness is contagious

One of the first things that I noticed about Jessica is that she always seems So Happy. It’s an overwhelming happiness, like I imagine it would be if everyone’s Facebook self was real. She projects positivity and happiness into the world in front of her, like a blinding pink tractor beam, daring sadness to cross its path. If ethereal auras were visible, Jessica’s would be pink and fuzzy, and it would probably sparkle in the sunlight.

Cass Lake 2018 Holiday Party.
Left to Right: Barb J, Michelle C, Julie S, Jessica D, Jean B.

Her happiness is wonderful in meetings, which are otherwise often dull and boring. Jess has a great laugh, bursting straight out of her heart; it is the glorious sound of freedom, a bird’s song of warm sunshine and wind ruffling his feathers as he soars through the open sky. Try to be stressed and frustrated in front of Jessica, I dare you. When you start to explain your problems, they suddenly won’t seem so bad any more. She’ll tell you “it’s OK, we’ll get through it.” And, poof – she’s right. It’s that simple. We will get through it.

Shine on, Jessica!

It’s easy to understand Jessica’s success in hospice, and as a nurse in general. A ray of sunshine in a cloudy and often difficult time, she’s exactly the type of personality to lift everyone’s spirits. Picture her sweet-talking her patients and showing them there’s nothing else that matters in the world. To Jessica, that’s the truth! She loves our HealthStar clients and pours her heart and soul into making sure that our team has the tools to deliver the best possible care!

While similar care is provided in both hospice and home care, there is a much more personal aspect to home care, because of the need for service to be provided in the Client’s living space. Jess has a great understanding of what this means to Clients. She expresses gratitude and compassion toward HealthStar’s Clients and says that she is honored to be invited into their homes. Her humility and friendliness help set Clients at ease.

Flexibility, much?

Some things are critical to a successful career at HealthStar. A sense of humor, I say. A love of food? Probably. The gift of patience? Can’t hurt. How about the ability to roll with the punches, to re-prioritize when a target shifts, or to “be the willow,” as our long-time employee Cathy Rivas-Carballo says. In my opinion, this is critical. HealthStar staff have an informal motto: “Give it a minute, things will change!”

Cass Lake 2018 Holiday Party.
Left to Right: Michelle C, Karen M, Jean B, Jessica D, Julie S.

Why is flexibility important? Take Jessica’s HealthStar history as an example. In her RN role, she started at HealthStar shortly after our transition from PCA/HMK agency to Medicare-certified agency. In the time Jess has been with us, the layout, structure, and focus of HealthStar’s branch offices, the organizational chart, and even our office addresses have changed. We have added and subtracted service offerings, and we have changed software programs many, many times. Staff have come and gone, sometimes more than once. (We joke about a revolving door. In a good way!) Throughout all these changes, Jess and the rest of our Corporate staff have flexed and sometimes flailed in the wind, but with flexibility on our side, we haven’t broken. We almost never make jokes about having a new priority. Instead, we come together as a team, again and again, and figure out how to continue.

But wait, there’s more…

Jess has also ridden the wave of change in her personal journey at HealthStar. Not including her time as CNA, Jessica first worked at Corporate, transferred to Duluth, transferred back to Corporate, and now lives in the Duluth/Cloquet area but still represents the Corporate office. Wait, what? Don’t worry about the details; the moral of the story is, she’s plenty flexible, and she goes with the flow. Jessica’s humility and “true to your roots” attitude make her approachable, and she always talks us down off the branches when things get a little too windy in that willow tree.

Open heart, open mind

Something that not everyone may know about Jessica is that, in addition to being an RN, she embraces a very unique skill set of healing. She is a Certified Level II Reiki Practitioner and says that blending western medicine and alternative medicine helps her to treat people holistically. Reiki has been around for thousands of years and is sometimes called “the laying of hands.” In practice, Reiki focuses on the transfer of healing energy from practitioner to patient, to revitalize the healing energy in the patient.

Maybe this explains why Jess has such grace and love for all of us – by sensing the energy around her, she sees more than just a single facet of a person, giving her a greater understanding of what makes us all tick. By keeping an open mind, and trying something different, Jessica is bringing a new perspective to HealthStar. There is something different about Jessica, and maybe this explains a little bit of that difference. There’s a lot that we can’t fully understand, but instead of dismissing those things, Jessica has embraced possibility and puts healing energy to great use.

But what about those shoes?

Yes, Jessica has some of the cutest shoes that I’ve ever seen. With my big clompers, I won’t be wearing anything like her shoe wardrobe. She’s not shoe crazy, she just has good taste. I know, this is four things, and usually I only do three, but this one is short. Great shoes. Hardly counts as a fourth.

By the way, Jess – how do you drive that big pickup truck with those fashion forward shoes on? And do you still wear heels when you go ice fishing?

Thanks for the positivity!

Corporate is lucky to have Jessica’s happiness, positivity, flexibility, and open mind on our side. Her love of HealthStar’s Clients shines through in every meeting. She is absolutely a strong advocate and spokesperson for the Client’s perspective and needs in receiving care. Jessica has brought a wonderful attitude of love and acceptance to HealthStar Corporate, and she has extended that attitude to the branch offices and to all of our Clients. We can’t wait to show you the benefits of this sense of love and caring!

A Little Love Makes a Big Difference

While Hallmark concentrates on sales of greeting cards and florists work their fingers raw arranging bouquets, we thought it would be interesting to learn how love can help improve our health. It’s something that we often overlook when choosing to “be healthy.” We think about our diet, how much exercise we can squeeze into our schedules, how much water we drink. But we rarely consider our social relationships and interactions when thinking about New Year’s resolutions or healthier lifestyles. Many studies have shown, however, that healthy personal relationships are just as important to good health as are exercise and good eating habits.

Why isn’t everyone talking about this?

The conspiracy theorist in me says it’s because no one makes money off of my making a new friend or my relationship with a loved one. There’s no way to make that into a pill, a vitamin, or a quick fix. Our relationships are something that we have to develop for ourselves. Sometimes, maintaining a relationship can even be harder than breaking it off. But after you hear about all the health benefits of healthy social interaction, maybe you’ll be the first one to start talking about the benefits!

Where science meets those warm, fuzzy feelings

Several studies have shown that the support system involved with our personal relationships helps to build better physical and mental health. It makes sense – you feel good when you have the support of people who care about you. And it feels good to support them in return. But even a small gesture, like a smile from a passing stranger, or the “good morning” you say to that guy who works on the floor below you, can have a ripple effect that leads to improved health and well-being.

These interactions remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves; a community, a town, and a whole world full of other people. Maybe that stranger will smile at someone else and pass on the good feeling. Maybe the guy downstairs was having a tough week, but now he feels just a little better.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

John Watson

The good kind of contagious

This quote is more than 100-years old, but still speaks as a reminder that we are surrounded by people who are, like us, struggling in some way. By supporting each other, we make those burdens feel a bit lighter. Sometimes we forget our trouble, if only for a minute. Even when remembered, a burden shared is far easier to carry than burdens borne alone.

Each time you smile or wave, you silently tell the person you smiled at, “you matter.” You’re signaling that the person is worth your time. And that feels good, too – we all need a reminder sometimes that we matter. I’m telling you right now – you matter to me. If I see you on the street, I will smile and wave at you, and I hope you do the same back. I’m smiling at you right now, in fact. And I bet you just smiled back. Isn’t that just the coolest!

Put it into action!

So much of our time is spent in solitude; driving alone in the car, sitting at a desk, waiting for appointments. Even when we’re together, sometimes it still feels like we’re alone. The supercomputers in the palms of our hands lead us to a paradox. We spend so much time communicating that we have no time to communicate.

This month, put your newfound knowledge about the importance of relationships to use. I challenge you to notice the difference that a smile, a wave, or a good conversation with an old friend might have on your health. If we all make an effort to show someone how much they matter, maybe we can even painlessly shed those extra holiday pounds… Hey, a girl can dream, right?

For more information about how love and relationships can help you build a healthier future, check out these resources and studies:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/12/well/live/having-friends-is-good-for-you.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/

https://academic.oup.com/aje/article-abstract/109/2/186/74197

Spotlight: Cristina Hernandez, TC Skilled

Checking her list

Turn the computer on, then check in with “the boss,” Deb Allen in Twin Cities Skilled. Another check-in with “the other boss,” Donna Smith in HR. Pull up Outlook and check Tim’s schedule. Check Barb’s schedule. Make sure there’s enough paper, water, plastic silverware, pens, and post-its. Check the main fax. Sit down and check Corporate voicemail. Check email. Look for IT inventory to check in or check out. How much checking can one person do in a day! And it’s only been 15 minutes.

This is the beginning of a typical weekday for Cristina Hernandez, Office Assistant at HealthStar’s Corporate and Twin Cities Skilled office. She keeps us all organized, on-time, and well-stocked with legal pads. She has a great sense of humor and loves practical jokes, but be warned; if you pick on her way of eating fried rice, one grain at a time while picking all of the vegetables out, you might upset her. She does have her sensitive side.

A little history

Cristina started at HealthStar in June of 2015. She worked as a HMK/HHA/PCA for the Minneapolis South office on Franklin, and she provided administrative support to the office between visits. In October of the same year, she applied for a position at the Corporate office. Corporate snapped her up before the ink dried on her application.

Cristina has been a great addition to the Corporate team, and is now working most often with the Twin Cities Skilled team. There is a lot to love about Cristina; just ask her. She’s not shy about her talents and will tell you the same. She has three unique and special talents, though, that make her really stand out from the crowd. Cristina, the HealthStar Spotlight’s on you! Let’s see what makes you shine!

Love yourself, first!

Cristina is very confident and self-assured. This makes her a great fit at the front desk, because she doesn’t shy away from meeting new people, and she is very comfortable in new situations. Cristina easily befriends any person in her path. She is charismatic and speaks her mind, but her sense of humor and kindness help to temper her strong personality.

Cristina can liven up a dark day, and she uses that skill to help motivate the Corporate and Skilled teams, from the lowest member right up to the very top. We have all witnessed the effect of her motivational skills on Tim Lively (owner/CEO). Only Barb Jezorski, Executive Director, can compete with Cristina when it comes to motivating power. When Barb and Cristina combine forces, Tim stays on schedule, on time, and on target! Corporate staff love it, because without Cristina, we wind up playing “oh where oh where has my boss’s boss gone.” It’s a lovely tune, but when you’re trying to plan your day, it can be a challenge. We like Cristina’s way much better.

Tell us a story

My personal favorite thing about Cristina is that she is an amazing source of information about Latino culture, and she’s a captivating storyteller. It is fun to learn about her Puerto-Rican background! I love when she tells us about the sights, the smells, and the sounds of Puerto Rico. I especially like learning about the food that Cristina’s family used to cook for her when she was growing up. Cristina is also willing to give me tips about speaking Spanish. She’s not afraid to correct my grammar or pronunciation (she’s brutally honest, have I mentioned that?). I have also learned this very important lesson from Cristina: just because two people might both speak Spanish, they don’t necessarily speak it the same way, or share the same cultural background. It is very interesting to learn of the many differences between Spanish-speaking cultures!

Cristina sometimes provides backup to the lovely and talented Nilda Garcia, Program Manager of Sagrado Corazón. Thank goodness for them both, because according to Cristina, my Spanish skills are not quite ready for prime time. HealthStar’s Spanish-speaking Clients might not be as patient as Nilda and Cristina when I take 5 minutes to think of the right word for Cucumber. (By the way, Concombre is French, not Spanish. You can guess who corrected me on that…)

But how are you feeling, really?

This is a special skill that I really admire in Cristina. She knows how to read people. She can be the most caring and patient person, if that’s what you need her to be. But in a heartbeat, she can turn on a fiery personality and liven things up with her high energy and flair. She takes the time to really listen to our Clients’ needs, making each Client feel like there is nothing else going on in the world. Clients would never know that she is also being pulled by multiple departments to help with their workloads. Cristina’s honest and open communication style sets people at ease in difficult situations. Most of all, she is passionate about meeting our Clients’ needs, whether it means translating at visits, providing direct care with grace and a gentle touch, or just listening and being compassionate when someone calls with an issue.

Family Connections

Some fun facts about Cristina’s family: Cristina’s mom, Marisol, has also worked at HealthStar. She provided HHA service out of the Minneapolis South office starting in 2011, and she reigned supreme as temporary queen of Corporate file retention in 2018. She is our favorite employee mom, because she makes the most amazing cakes. We miss you, Marisol – please come and visit soon!

There is another family connection, too. Cristina’s first experience with home care was when her brother, Jomar, received home care services through another agency. This was several years before Cristina joined HealthStar, and showed Cristina the impact that home care services make! Growing up with Jomar, with her family supporting his unique needs, Cristina developed the patience and compassion that make her such a great fit at HealthStar. Jomar is doing great and now lives in his own place. We all joined Cristina in celebrating his increasing independence, and we always enjoy hearing about his progress!

HealthStar Needs You, Cristina!

Corporate wouldn’t be the same without Cristina. I know, because I was here before she joined the team. It was a dark time, and we certainly don’t want to go back! Cristina has big shoes to fill, but the great thing is, she has big feet, so we never have to worry. She handles all her tasks with determination, and she keeps her sense of humor handy when things get tough. She’s a critical piece of the Corporate team!

Want to know more about what it’s like to work at Corporate? Check out our other articles and see which positions we’re hiring for today!

Footnote:

After reviewing this article, Cristina was disappointed that I didn’t discuss her amazing video editing skills. This is a unique talent, but it doesn’t seem to fit into any of the three very personal talent areas that I have clearly outlined above. Instead of adding a fourth talent category just for video editing, I told her that I would add a footnote. Cristina, I sincerely hope that you are now satisfied with this article. I don’t want to upset you, like that time I picked on your rice eating style.

Spotlight: Nilda Garcia, Sagrado Corazón

Nilda Garcia and Sagrado Corazón: HealthStar’s Spanish-Speaking Support Service

Spanish-speaking Clients of HealthStar are very familiar with Nilda Garcia. She is the warm and caring voice of the Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) program for Latino Clients of HealthStar. For 10 years, Nilda has been putting her “special touch” on everything that she does, from event planning to office organization and troubleshooting IT problems. With her recent promotion to Program Manager of Sagrado Corazón, Nilda is ready for action with renewed energy and focus. Nilda, the HealthStar Spotlight is on you!

A little history

Nilda has been with HealthStar since 2008, when she started as an Assistant Program Coordinator in HealthStar’s basement suite on Bloomington and 21st. Then, in 2009, Nilda helped open the West St. Paul office – the original home of Sagrado Corazón. But don’t get too comfortable, Nilda! Just a year later, HealthStar moved from the location on 21st into another building on Franklin Ave in Minneapolis. The West St. Paul office merged into the new location as well.

Nilda made the Franklin office her new home as an Assistant Program Development Liaison. She worked in the community and continued as primary contact for Sagrado Corazón. During the next 2 years, Nilda helped HealthStar achieve Medicare certification and had a front-row seat for the beginning of HealthStar’s Mental Health initiative. In 2010, Nilda watched Corporate move from Maplewood to a new building in North St. Paul. Then, In 2017, the Franklin office moved to a new location in Inver Grove Heights. Once again, Nilda unpacked and organized a new space. This new location is beautiful, with big windows and lots of wild turkeys outside! It’s a great place to re-focus and re-energize. Throughout all these changes, Nilda’s positive attitude and sense of humor kept her office mates in good spirits!

 Nilda, how do you do it all?

So, what makes Nilda tick? How can she weather all these changes and still be a constant source of positive energy? A secret about Nilda – she has superpowers. Lots of them. I’ll tell you about some, but you must promise not to say that I told you. Nilda doesn’t like to be the center of attention and won’t want everyone talking about her special abilities.

Superpower #1

Nilda’s first superpower is that she is amazing with event planning. She loves to get people together and celebrate! Nilda’s smile and laugh bring light and joy to the group. She is a great cook and loves to try new foods. Nilda says that her favorite thing about HealthStar is the family atmosphere. Working here is like working at a family gathering, because you’re surrounded by happy people who care about each other. Nilda fondly remembers when a special Client celebrated her 100th birthday last year – with Nilda at the party, of course! Nilda especially loves planning events for Sagrado Corazón, because she gets to use one of her other superpowers – the Latina superpower!

Superpower #2

Nilda’s Latina superpower comes from her family in South Texas, on the border of Mexico. Nilda loves to celebrate her Latina roots with the Sagrado Corazón team. She is always willing to help teach a little Spanish on the side, which has been one of my personal favorite things about working with Nilda. She is a very lenient Spanish teacher, unlike Cristina Hernandez, Corporate and Twin Cities Skilled Admin – also a superpowered Latina, but much stricter in the Spanish-speaking department! A little-known fact is that Nilda is close friends with Cristina’s mother, Marisol. Get them together, and I can only imagine the cooking and laughing!

Superpower #3

The last superpower that I will reveal about Nilda is that she is a multi-talented and very organized superheroine. She processes payroll, troubleshoots technology issues, and answers phones in two languages (backing up the lovely and talented Barbara Edwards at IGH), all while drinking her French vanilla coffee and running around in her high heels. Nilda is a positive force at the Inver Grove office, keeping things fun and exciting for the team. She has a fabulous sense of humor and is not afraid to pull pranks to get everyone in a good mood. She once dressed up the CPR dummy and scared RN Sue Schaber by leaving it in the bathroom overnight. Boy, was Sue surprised when she came in early thinking she had the office to herself!

Nilda says that her greatest accomplishment at HealthStar is learning to walk in another person’s shoes. She appreciates learning with her team and is grateful for the opportunities that HealthStar offers for personal and professional growth. She knows that she has great things ahead with Sagrado Corazón, and is looking forward to putting renewed focus and energy into the program. We hope you’ll check out what Sagrado Corazón has to offer, and learn more about our awesome team!

Spotlight: Nissa Fougner, Rehab Therapies

We all have days when we don’t feel motivated or just can’t get going on a project. We’ve all felt sluggish and tired, or maybe even <gasp> a little cranky. Some people are far less obvious about this than others. We know they must have bad days, too, but we can’t tell when it happens. Think about the people you know. There’s probably someone who never seems down and out, and who always has a smile and a little pep in her step. For HealthStar Corporate, this is Nissa Fougner. She is a ray of sunshine from morning till closing time. Quick to smile and always full of energy, she flits to and fro like a healing honey bee, spreading the sweetness of optimism, better health, and rehab plans all along her path.

A little history

Nissa grew up in International Falls, MN. She’s as midwestern as it gets – she has experience giving skating lessons and coaching figure skating. She found a passion for rehab therapy while she was in college at Gustavus. Home care won her heart with the promise of flexibility. Nissa also loves that she gets to see her clients in their own home environment, where she can start making a positive impact right from the first visit. Each client has unique needs as well as a unique situation, and Nissa is proud of the improved quality of life that she helps her clients achieve.

Nissa first worked with HealthStar as a contractor doing therapy case review. After she heard the legend of the HealthStar Potluck, she converted and became one of us! (at least, we think it was the potluck legend…) Nissa has been working in the Corporate office as Director of Rehab Services since February 2018. She is so quiet that a lot of our staff didn’t realize she had moved in until July. Nissa’s favorite thing about HealthStar is the people, because “everyone is so friendly and helpful.” That’s why we call it the HealthStar family! We’re pleased to have Nissa on our team, and we’d like tell you about a few of her amazing skills. Nissa, the HealthStar spotlight’s on you!

The skill to celebrate small victories

So often, we celebrate only after a task is completed, forgetting to celebrate the milestones that pass along the way. Nissa doesn’t let those milestones pass in silence! She has a talent for appreciating and recognizing progress, even small progress, toward big achievements. She breaks down big, challenging goals into smaller, more approachable pieces. There is an old proverb that says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” By looking at the little steps instead of the miles, Nissa gets people moving! Acknowledging progress along the path makes Nissa an encouraging coach and teacher, and helps her clients to stay motivated even when there is still a long way left to go.

The skill of humility

I haven’t known Nissa for a long time, but I have already learned that she is very modest. She is somewhat reserved, although she can crack a joke or two when she’s feeling feisty. Even when she is given a direct compliment, she half brushes it off and half explains it away. For example, the secret to always looking like you just stepped out of a chic boutique – it’s not “yeah, I know, I’m an amazing shopper,” but instead it’s a laundry tip. Wash your clothes on the cold/gentle cycle, and always line dry.

Nissa takes this same sense of place into the community when she meets with Clients. Meeting her for the first time, you might feel as relaxed as you would with an old friend. She keeps a low profile, and never casts a judgmental glance. Gentle, respectful, and mild-mannered, Nissa makes her mark by smiling us all into a calm and tranquil state of comfort and positivity. After being around Nissa, I challenge you not to feel better than you did before!

The skill to be absolutely adorable

Everything about Nissa says, “I’m safe and friendly.” She’s like the human equivalent of a daisy or a kitten. Corporate staff love to see what she’ll be wearing each day, and we all want to know her secrets to beautiful skin and hair! She always looks put together and approachable; she makes people around her smile just by being there. This combination is fabulous, considering that her goal is motivating the heck out of her Clients! Her easy smile and comfortably classy wardrobe set Nissa’s clients at ease, but all the while she sneakily (and very gently) pushes them to meet and surpass their goals.

But how strong is she?

Nissa has demonstrated her strength while also giving a short lesson on proper form for changing out the Culligan water jug in the Corporate office. By size and weight, the Culligan water jug outranks Nissa two to one. Nissa says, the proper technique for lifting something that’s larger and heavier than you are is to hold it close to the body, lift with your legs, brace your core, and hope that you don’t injure anything important. (ok, ok – she didn’t say the part about not injuring anything important, but I think it should be mentioned.)

She’s not just strong in body. Nissa has great experience in therapies, and she provides wisdom and encouragement to HealthStar’s therapy staff. HealthStar’s rehab therapy program is in great hands!

Put it all together – she’s perfect for Rehab Therapies!

Nissa is like a cool, sparkling stream – strong enough to turn a boulder into a pebble, but gentle and inviting enough for a refreshing soak of legs and feet on a hot day. Like the stream, she doesn’t seek credit or acclaim. She takes pride in helping others reach their goals, knowing that their success is her success as well. HealthStar is stronger (and more charming) with Nissa leading rehab therapies! We are so lucky to have her on our team!

 

Be the Best Caregiver You Can Be – Avoiding Caregiver Burnout

If you are a caregiver to a family member and feeling emotionally burned out, you are not alone. According to the Minnesota Board on Aging, an estimated 679,000 Minnesotans are caring for an older or disabled adult. Caregiver burnout is defined by WebMD as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.

A family caregiver who is feeling stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression can be experiencing caregiver burnout and needs to be realistic of their own personal situation. Although similar to the symptoms of stress and depression, symptoms of caregiver burnout can also include:

  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Feeling of irritability, hopelessness and helplessness
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Withdrawal from friends and family

It is just as important to take care of yourself as it is to care for your aging loved one to ensure you are being an effective caregiver. Follow these tips to help prevent burnout and keep your sanity and your own health in check:

  • Build a support team of people you trust and can count on to help you in a variety of ways.
  • Take advantage of professional home based and community services available that will help you take care of a diverse set of daily needs.
  • Educate yourself. You will provide more effective care if you know more about the illness the loved one you care for suffers from.
  • Develop coping mechanisms to help you deal with everyday stresses. Using humor and highlighting the positives will go a long way. Laughter truly is the best medicine – it lightens the mood and releases endorphins which will bring positive changes to your mindset.
  • Stay healthy by eating right, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising regularly.

HealthStar Home Health understands how overwhelming it is to care for loved ones at home. We offer a variety of home healthcare services in the Duluth and Minneapolis, Minnesota communities to help support your senior loved one to live a more fulfilling life at home. From skilled nursing services to assist seniors with recovering from illness or injury to our homemaking or companion care programs to our comprehensive Alzheimer’s Whisperer program which provides care and treatment needed by those affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia, we have many options to help you care for your loved one.

With access to HealthStar Home Health’s Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS), you and your loved one will learn a variety of skills to help manage independent living and social situations. These skills, along with the services and program options, is a way to prevent caregiver burnout. Take advantage of what we offer to lift some pressure of your shoulders as caregiver. This will allow you the opportunity to take some much needed time for yourself and promote your own healthy habits.

Caring for a family member can be exhausting and overwhelming, there can also be a feeling of loneliness and isolation which will affect your own health and well-being. But, being a family caregiver can also be the most rewarding thing you will do. Learn to let it go by accepting the help of others so you can focus on what is most important and be healthy.

Learn more about the services and programs HealthStar Home Health offers by calling 651-633-7300 or visit our website today:  http://www.healthstarhomehealth.net

Diabetes and the Native American Population

The numbers are alarming. 40% of Native Americans in Minnesota have diabetes according to Lori Watso, a former public health nurse and Shakopee tribe member as quoted in a Star Tribune article. This epidemic will continue to expand as Native Americans are nearly twice as likely as whites to become obese, more than twice as likely to have Type II diabetes and, among children, the rate of obesity and diabetes will soon reach 50% according to a report by the Shakopee Mdwakanton Sioux Community. Not limited to a few tribes living on reservations, the entire northern part of Minnesota contains four of the five least healthy counties where two-fifths of the population in Mahnomen County (least healthy) is Native American, 11.9% in Cass (#2) and 20.8% in Beltrami (#5). This according to County Health Rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin). These numbers are not at all surprising to us here at Healthstar Home Health as it’s a common health issue we treat through our First Nations and Circle of Life Home Health initiatives. Karen Moses, RN Case Manager in our greater Minnesota branch location says that 90% of her clients have diabetes and 99% are Native American. By offering home health care services on the Red Lake, White Earth, Leech Lake, Bois Fort, Fond du Lac and Mille Lacs Reservations, we see firsthand the affects of diabetes and are working to empower patients and their families to be active participants in the solution.

Risk Factors

Obesity
With an abundance of fat cells in the body, insulin cannot do its job which is to take glucose (sugar) out of the bloodstream and pack it into healthy cells. Gaining as little as 10 pounds over 15 years can double your insulin resistance and increase your risk of diabetes. Obese adults are seven times more likely to develop diabetes compared to adults at a healthy weight. But, for the Native American population, what causes obesity?

Poor Nutrition
Prior to the Civil War, Type 2 diabetes was practically non-existent. Following the war, Indians were forced onto reservations and the government began providing food commodities according to Devon Abbott Mihesuah, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma who runs the American Indian Health and Diet Project at the University of Kansas.  Wild rice and grains gave way to flour, processed cheese and macaroni and low fat meats such as fish, deer and rabbit was replaced by beef and pork.

Sedentary Lifestyle
Also prior to the Civil War, Native Americans lived off the land which kept them active with fishing, harvesting, gathering and trapping. With the lack of a replacement to these activities and acquisitions of motorized vehicles, a once active community found themselves sitting often with very little exercise.

Genetics
The thrifty gene hypothesis penned by James V. Neel states that some populations have genes which enable them to efficiently maintain higher levels of healthy fat during periods of food abundance that is depleted during periods of shortage (feast and famine). While this hypothesis has often been disputed, the activity and types of foods involved with storing food for the winter do give credence to a difference in lifestyle. Genetic markers and body type also indicate a genetic predisposition to diabetes.

Alcoholism
According the Indian Health Services, the rate of alcoholism among Native Americans is six times the U.S. average. Alcohol is often high sugar and carbohydrates which quickly turns into fat. Depression is associated with alcoholism which leads to a host of other health factors.

Treatments

Medication
Pills and insulin injections are the most commonly prescribed treatments. It is still up to the patient to take the medication which can be an issue.

Nutrition Programs
Residents at the Little Earth of United Tribes are growing food common to their ancestors which they call the “decolonized diet” according to a Star Tribune article. Nutrition counseling that we offer through First Nations Home Health includes reading labels and eating all 5 food groups in moderation.

Exercise Programs
Childhood obesity is prevalent int the Native American Population. To combat this, the diabetic fitness center at the reservation on Leech Lake, MN holds fitness programs, camps and a walk-a-thon to bring awareness to the issue. Members can get a doctor’s prescription to use the center safely and employees of the tribal government are given a 30 minute break per day specifically to exercise.

Dangers if Not Treated
If diabetes is not treated or properly controlled, the body starts eating away at muscle as it tries to burn muscle for energy. Other health issues that could occur:

  • Neuropathy (numbness) in feet & toes
  • Ulcers
  • Gangrene
  • Blindess
  • Damage to eyes, kidneys and liver

Even with all of these treatments, the epidemic is getting worse. That is why the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is partnering with the University of Minnesota and two other nonprofits to launch Seeds of Native Health whose goal is to offer better access to healthy food which focusing on education and research. Here at HealthStar, our Native American-specific programs (First Nations and Circle of Life) offers equitable access to health care in order to reduce health disparities in diverse communities. Our cultural competence program, the 24ECC, internalizes the values of those we serve.