Dukes County Health Council: Working for your health

Give yourself the gift of health and well-being this holiday season.

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Dukes County Health Council has formed Island-wide health and human service organizations. — MV Times

Few would argue that 2022 had its challenges, the healthcare field not excluded. The pandemic left us with supply shortages, apparent not only on merchants’ shelves but in our healthcare sector. Many of us waded through cumbersome steps scheduling vaccine boosters, navigating Zoom technology, and having our conversations muffled behind masks during in-person meetings with our providers. We’ve had to hone our skills in patience by tolerating appointment delays or technological impasses. As we move through this delicate time, let us reflect on the simple gifts we can share with others, and those we can give ourselves, to buoy our resilience in processing the past, while fortifying ourselves for the future. Gifts don’t have to be lavish; they can be the gift of time, often the most valuable of all, which bestows a sense of connection and lets others know that we care.

As a gift to you, our readers, members of the Dukes County Health Council were asked what they would like to give others, and themselves, that support good health. Here’s what they shared: Louise Clough, secretary to the council, suggests offering to take a walk with someone who is hesitant to walk by themselves. Enjoying time in one of the Vineyard’s beautiful outdoor settings can calm busy minds, strengthen our bodies, and provide a connection with others and with nature. Also, consider making a donation to an Island organization that provides a beneficial service to the public, such as Hospice of M.V., or M.V. Community Services. It will assist these organizations in continuing to deliver vital services to our Island community. Finally, as a gift to ourselves in a time of increasing obligations, Louise suggests that we should not be afraid to say “no.”

Paddy Moore, founder of Healthy Aging M.V., has several recommendations: giving a gift card for a massage; an invitation for a walk at Lucy Vincent Beach; special cheese from the Grey Barn; making a contribution in a friend’s name to Partners in Health, Save the Children, or Habitat for Humanity; or giving a copy of her new favorite book, “Sacred Medicine,” by Lisa Rankin, M.D.

Cindy Trish, executive director of Healthy Aging, suggests connecting with older adults, especially those living alone, who may be suffering from loneliness and social isolation. Not only will those with whom we connect benefit, we will too. These relationships will help us develop understanding of the challenges of aging. They will give us the gift of empathy for our neighbors, the joy of building a community, and teach us important lessons about the journey of life as we age.

Bob Laskowski, retired doctor, says that the gift of a smile can go a long way in brightening someone’s day. It’s a simple yet powerful gift to others and ourselves. Our smile will make those who see us immediately feel better. And, when regularly practiced, it will stimulate our bodies to produce endorphins, the hormones our bodies make to promote a sense of well-being. Exercise is another excellent gift. Exercise, too, stimulates endorphins, especially if done with a smile. 

Mary Jane Williams, chair of the health council, recognizes the importance of connecting with friends, especially those who are frail. It can help heal the negative physical and emotional impacts of the COVID pandemic. Mary Jane says that phone calls, visits, and small acts of kindness, like bringing groceries and homemade baked goods, are wonderful gifts. Mary Jane’s gift to herself is maintaining a health-promoting diet and exercising moderately. She notes that maintaining a healthy lifestyle helps us to heal when we have been ill. 

Kathleen Samways, chief public health officer at Island Health Care, suggests giving the gift of compassion. She mentioned a video by Brené Brown regarding how empathy drives connection — that we must connect with the emotions within ourselves to drive the connection we make with others.

Joyce Stiles-Tucker, director of the Tisbury Council on Aging, would like us to give the gift of hope. We can do this by showing others that we care, a gift that will make our community a better place. Joyce’s gift to herself is self-care, having a good diet, exercising, and maintaining good mental health.

Lisa Nagy, M.D., suggests that we encourage those suffering from fatigue, anxiety, or sadness, to seek medical advice, a worthy gift to ourselves and others. Medical issues that are often easily treated are too often ignored. We may be victims of hormonal imbalances. Adequate levels of thyroid and adrenal hormones, as well as testosterone, are critical for good health. Replacement therapies can be life-changing. Doing interval exercise training, even for a few minutes, can be a way of naturally releasing these hormones and increasing cellular energy production. Asking our doctor questions and reading to learn about our health is another great gift to ourselves. Cindy Doyle, chair of the Healthy Aging M.V. board, recommends sharing a no-cost mindfulness app with friends, hminnovations.org/meditation-app. Cindy also recommends the Vineyard Conservation booklet, “Walks on Martha’s Vineyard.” A walk is a terrific way to spend time with a friend. A pass to the YMCA is another nice gift. For herself, Cindy will be mindful of paying more attention to what she eats (including taking the time to sit down), getting enough sleep, getting enough (and a variety) of exercise, taking a class or signing up with a trainer, establishing a daily meditation practice, and cultivating a daily practice of expressing gratitude and kindness toward others.

This writer, through insights gleaned from working with older adults at the Edgartown Council on Aging, suggests we give the gift of becoming a better listener. Everyone wants to be heard, and because our world is becoming busier and more complex, fewer people are taking the time to listen patiently, understanding others’ perspectives and responding kindly. She suggests we take time out to enjoy an immersive hobby that nourishes the spirit. Whether it be painting, writing, reading, or walks in nature, time for ourselves can be restorative. 

As early winter unfurls its chill, let us foster the warmth within that comes from being a good neighbor, treating ourselves with kindness, and being a mindful custodian of our beautiful and nurturing Island community, which we are fortunate to call home.