Archive for the ‘Health’ category

Helping kids cope with uncertainty with Dr. Christine Carter

December 22, 2020

As a parent of a teenage boy, starting high school in the middle of a pandemic, I was thrilled to listen in on a Team Up! conversation between author and sociologist Dr. Christine Carter and Dr. Michael Latham, president of Punahou School.

Dr. Carter begins by acknowledging that the pandemic has changed the way children learn and socialize, and the way that we parent them.

One of the most powerful ways to cope with the overwhelm we feel is gratitude, she shares. Instead of focusing on the things we cannot do, we can appreciate the things we have, the people we know, and the things we can do.

Dr. Carter shares three key parenting skills that we should practice:

1. Help kids connect and learn social skills. “Family connections are a good predictor of mental health,” Dr. Carter said. More than ever, we need to have dinner as a family and build at least one good friendship to sustain them. In a way, introverted kids can do better because they can focus on a single relationship.

2. Help kids focus and command their own attention. Technology is designed to distract, Dr. Carter warns, so we need to set up an environment where it doesn’t disrupt learning. For example, put device chargers in a parent’s closet (not in a child’s bedroom or even a common room), turn devices off during family meals, and encourage kids to read books.

One suggestion is to give children freedom within limits, so they have the security they need and the choice to make mistakes safely, knowing that parents will stop them before things get dangerous.

3. Help kids rest and get enough sleep. This is one of the easiest practices, and for the parents of teenagers, may be the hardest to follow through on. I remember wanting to stay up later and wake up later, and it’s a struggle.

One of the most important reminders is that as parents and teachers we should acknowledge that things are hard, and help children label what they are feeling. Validate their emotions, and listen without trying to fix their problem.

“It’s very hard to witness pain in our children, and it’s also the most helpful thing we can do for them when are struggling, is to bear witness to their pain,” Dr. Carter admits.

Asked about what has changed since she wrote “Raising Happiness.” Dr. Carter shared, “Happiness isn’t the most important thing –having meaning is much more important, having a connection to something larger than yourself.”

How have your parenting practices changed in response to the pandemic? What challenges do children face? How can we help children recover from difficulty?

Less health insurance, not more

December 15, 2020

Many people have lost their health insurance, because it was employer-sponsored, and many people have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

Even before the pandemic, my family has been reducing our coverage and benefits – and accept higher copays and deductibles – in order to keep our health insurance premiums affordable.

The debate about who pays for health care has become critical – whether it is health insurance companies, government, individuals, or a mix of all three.

Our current health care system means that individuals don’t need to take a lot of responsibility for their own health. Healthcare providers and insurance companies approve authorized procedures on set schedules. In most cases, individuals don’t know how much an office visit or procedure really costs.

Just as the true amount of taxes we pay are “hidden” in automatic deductions from our paychecks, the true cost of healthcare is “hidden” by employers, government, and health insurance companies.

Insurance is protection against risk. The relatively small co-pay or co-insurance for routine visits, often between $12 and $20, but increasing to $30, $40, or even $50 recently, means that the true value of health services is a mystery – until we lose our health insurance.

Maybe if we see the true cost of healthcare, we would take better care of our health. Maybe we need less health insurance, not more health insurance.

This could mean that health insurance would cover a) preventative care from prenatal to age 18, including infant and youth check-ups and vaccinations, vision screening, and dental exams; and b) catastrophic care for emergency care and life-threatening illnesses and diseases. Everything in between would be paid for out-of-pocket.

Another thought is that we reduce our reliance on health insurance. Some healthcare providers are already offering their own monthly or annual plan for people who don’t have health insurance, offering discounts on procedures. For example, a healthcare clinic could offer a one-stop annual physical for check-ups, vaccinations, vision screening, and dental exams in one visit, for one flat rate, paid monthly. If additional care or lab tests are needed, they would refer patients for additional services.

Doctors and hospitals could publish their rates for basic services and procedures. Individuals would know the costs up-front, with no surprise bills, and would be able to choose a provider that they are comfortable with and can afford. Providers would get paid up-front, without filling out complicated claims and waiting months for reimbursements.

Are you satisfied with your health insurance plan? How could the healthcare system be improved? What are your thoughts about a universal health care system?

Artwork courtesy of BSGStudio on

Cures for loneliness, boredom, and helplessness

December 8, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic and “stay-at-home” orders have given all of us a glimpse of elderhood. Like people living in care homes or assisted living communities, we feel the isolation, boredom, and helplessness that some elders may feel.

Last year, I attended a presentation by Dr. William Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative and Eden at Home. He was the keynote speaker at the Project Dana 30th Anniversary Celebration and Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon. (Project Dana provides services to the frail elderly and disabled to ensure their wellbeing, independence, and dignity.)

Dr. Thomas talked about elderhood, a stage in life that involves grandparenting, teaching, and storytelling. He taught us that there are three “plagues” of old age – isolation, boredom, and helplessness – and they are absolutely curable.

Today his insights are more relevant than ever. I am so thankful that we live at a time when we can live, work, play, and serve from home.

The cure for loneliness is companionship. There is a big difference between being alone and being lonely. We may be alone, but we can be connected to each other by phone calls, video calls, and letters or care packages in the mail. We might be reaching out to people we lost touch with, or appreciating time with our family more.

The cure for boredom is variety. The pandemic has given us more time at home, and an opportunity to make a new space for learning, imagination, and creativity.  Instead of commuting to work, we might attend a webinar to brush up on old skills or learn something new. Instead of a workday filled with people, we might work remotely or care for children. Instead of going to the mall, we might shop online – or spend less money on things we don’t need. We may even consider going back to school, finishing a degree, or volunteering for an internship to gain new experience.

And really, there’s nothing wrong with a little boredom – it can help us be more creative and come up with unexpected solutions.

The cure for helplessness is service. There is a tremendous need for help with food distribution days, meal delivery, and community cleanups. There are also opportunities to serve remotely by volunteering as a board member, reaching out to others by phone or email, and sharing your skills and knowledge. Service benefits us as much as those we serve.

Dr. Thomas sums it up this way: “Happiness springs from gratitude and service.”

Has COVID-19 made you feel isolated, bored, or helpless? What do you do to encourage companionship, variety, and service in your life?

Health disparities in Hawaii

October 20, 2020

I’m a big fan of the Hawaii Book and Music Festival – I took my son to the festival when he was young, and I became a volunteer for the first time last year.

The 2020 festival is a month-long event, and the theme this year is “Shaping Our Future,” with discussions on topics like health, education, and tourism. Executive Director Roger Jellinek has done a great job of taking it online and keeping it relevant.

One of the panel discussions I looked forward to was “Disparities in Hawaii Health,” moderated by Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng. It is critical to talking about health disparities, social inequities, and access to health care.

Dr. Kealoha Fox of AlohaCare talked about a 31% increase in Medicaid enrollment applications in Hawaii since the COVID-19 pandemic, reflecting the tremendous loss of jobs and health insurance coverage. Even before the pandemic, 72% of the plan’s members were women, infants, and children.

Dr. Mary Frances Oneha of Waimanalo Health Clinic highlighted the huge disparities in health, food security, and access to telehealth services in Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. She pointed out that 11.5% of low-income adults have no Internet access and introduced the Native Hawaiian practice of la’au, food as medicine.

Dr. Neal Palafox of the University of Manoa, John A. Burns School of Medicine, emphasized the disparities in “health literacy” among Pacific Islanders – the ability to obtain, process, and understand health information, and use that information to make appropriate decisions.

He laid out all of the barriers that Pacific Islanders face, from a lack of translated materials and transportation, to a lack of Internet access and an email address. Just to get tested… You can’t go to a testing site without transportation, you can’t get tested without registering for an account, and you can’t find out your test results without an email account or Internet access.

People of color “bear a disproportionate burden of disease, injury, premature death and disability,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There’s a short video from Beacon Health Options, “When Equality is Not Good Enough,” that discusses about why health equity is not the same as health equality. I encourage you to watch it and think about those differences.

The panelists suggested some things that we can do today to address health disparities: advocate for universal broadband access, provide patients with technical support for the Internet and electronic devices, show people how to grow their own food or support local farmers, help youth stay in school, and advocate for health insurance coverage for translators and transportation.

Have you experienced or seen first-hand health disparities in Hawaii? What can we prioritize to address health disparities?

8 principles to navigate burnout

October 13, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of us to be either overworked and overwhelmed – or underworked and overwhelmed. Thankfully, many organizations, businesses, and associations have been providing webinars, resources, and training to help us cope.

Building our resilience to uncertainty and strengthening our coping skills is not something we do just once. I attend mental health webinars not just to learn something new, but also to refresh my memory. I make the time to attend these webinars because my mental health is important not just to me, but to the people around me.

As part of a series on “Overworked and Overwhelmed: Build Your Burnout Toolkit,” UHA Health Insurance and the Hawaii Health and Work Alliance (HHAWA) presented a webinar with author and researcher Brad Stulberg, “Navigating Periods of Burnout and Disorder.” The webinar was recorded and you can watch it at

Stulberg shared 8 principles to navigate burnout that we can start applying in our lives immediately:

  1. Stop resisting what is happening. “When we are going through periods of change or disorder… the faster we can accept and start seeing reality for what it is, the better.” I admit I was in denial about the severity of COVID-19 at the beginning, even as I followed the stay-at-home order and social distancing mandates. And then I couldn’t deny it any longer.
  2. Focus on what you can control. After the pandemic, I couldn’t control where I worked, the amount of work I had to do, or how much I had to learn, but I could control my work boundaries (not answering the work phone after hours) and set aside time for family and to re-charge.
  3. Nail daily habits. The three daily habits are physical activity (a walk on the beach, a jog in the park, or a workout at the gym all count), sleep (without being interrupted by social media notifications), and nutritious food (chocolate is a fruit, right?).
  4. Stick to routines. My 14-year old son struggles with this, especially with remote learning and more flexible schedules. But that routine is exactly what we need. For me, my morning meditation and evening journal reflection bookend my days.
  5. Stay connected. Community makes us stronger, and the most resilient people have strong ties to other people. Keeping in touch can be especially hard for older people, who don’t do email or video conference. With this in mind, I ask my son to call and write my parents a short note every now and then to show them that he is thinking of them.
  6. Think adaptation instead of change. Change is scary. Taking small steps, and adapting a little bit of the time, is not as scary. I think of it this way: if I had known about all the responsibility that came with my current job, I wouldn’t have accepted it. But I grew into those responsibilities slowly, with time to adapt and adjust.
  7. Respond, not react. Reactions are quick and unthinking and often damaging. Instead, respond with deliberation by following The Four Ps: Pause, Process, Plan, and Proceed. In fact, I follow this procedure when I receive comments, emails, or texts that upset me. Instead of replying right away, I wait a few hours, and sometimes a day or two, until I can reply thoughtfully.
  8. Show up, get through, and worry about making meaning on the other side. “We tend to make meaning on the other side of challenging circumstances.” We might not see how we’ve grown or been changed by this pandemic until months or years later, and that’s okay.

How do you prevent burnout? What strategies do you use to cope with feelings of being overwhelmed?