By Sue Shekut, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

People often are at a loss for words when someone they care about has a serious illness, has a miscarriage, or a chronic condition, like fibromyalgia. Well-meaning coworkers may tell a person with a serious illness or loss, “Everything happens for a reason.” This type of comment is not usually helpful to someone with said illness. It implies that there is a reason the person is suffering or that they deserved their illness/pain.

What is helpful then?

Emily McDowell Empathy Cards

Emily McDowell Empathy Cards

Emily McDowell,  a cancer survivor herself, has created empathy cards for people with serious illnesses.  Her cards spell out humorous messages to friends or family with illnesses like cancer. Simply reading the card sayings is a quick What To Say (and Not To Say) primer.

Emily writes about the tendency for people to avoid those with serious illnesses because they don’t know what to say. Unfortunately, this often makes the person with the illness or loss feel even more isolated.Taking the time to think about what may be helpful and then reaching out to your coworker, family member or friend can be a great help to someone with a serious illness.

It may be helpful to put yourself in the other person’s shoes when you think of what you want to say. Think about what you want from friends and coworkers when you are ill. If you are running a fever and having gastrointestinal angst from the flu, do you want someone to say to you, “Everything happens for a reason.” Or, “Have you tried yoga for that?” Probably not. How about if someone tells you, “I’m sorry you are not felling well.  Would you like me to pick up anything for you from the store/take out your trash/cover your projects at work while you are ill?” The latter statements may be more appreciated.

Aside from the empathy cards and offers of help, one of the most helpful things you can do for someone with a serious loss of illness may be the most difficult thing for many people: Just being there. Listening. Caring. Sharing a humorous story about your day. Letting the person be, however they feel without trying to fix them: cranky, low energy, easily fatigued. And lastly, not taking it personally if the person with the illness or loss is too tired to talk or enjoy your company and wants to rest.

Check out Emily’s Empathy Cards here.

What’s Emily’s Story?

Emily McDowell, Greeting Card Great!

Emily McDowell, Empathy Greeting Card Creator and Spot Caller!

Emily McDowell, former advertising art director, writer and creative director, started her greeting card business on a whim in 2013. She put a Valentines Day card on Etsy and from there her work “went viral,” according to her website. Emily tells her own story far better than I, however so check out her story here.

To view and purchase cards from Emily, click here.

By Sue Shekut, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

This next week, the Rooted Center in Wicker Park, located at 2221 W North Avenue, # 1W,  is holding their first membership drive. Drop in this week to express yourself through visual art, movement, drama, creative writing, expressive writing and/or music all week…for free!


And every Sunday from 1-2:30pm, Rooted offers free self-care playshops! Register here to participate in a free Self-Care in the city Playshop.


What is the Rooted Experience?

When I met Rooted’s founder/facilitator,  Shruti  Sekhri, last week, she noted that Rooted does not provide therapy, but facilitates a way for people to experience connection through creative expression in a safe, non-judgmental atmosphere.  She calls her center, “A gym for the emotions.” The website calls the Rooted Center, “A gym for the emotions where Creative Arts are the weights.”

You do not need to be an artist, musician or writer to join or drop in to the Rooted Center.  The purpose of creating at Rooted is not to produce a piece or art of music, or movement, but to experience the process.

Who May Benefit from the Rooted Center?

According to the Rooted Center’s website, people who may benefit from the Rooted experience include those:

  • Wanting to take care of your soul and emotional well-being so you can rejuvenate and create personal resilience
  • Feeling stressed out from work-life off-balance or difficult events in life
  • Going through a transition in your life (e.g. relationship changes, new to the city, new parent)
  • Feeling creatively stuck or just in a rut and looking to explore new ways to get more out of life
  • Looking to find your path in life – to figure out what you are passionate about
  • Seeking genuine connection and wanting to be part of a community

Rooted schedule and sign up info here.

Try out Rooted next week and then let us know what you thought of your experience in the comments below!

By Sue Shekut, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Image credit: mediumclay http://imgur.com/JibDPTV

Image credit: mediumclay

Dog owners (and veterinarians!) will tell you that dogs are loveable, loyal and great companions. Service dogs have been used as an aid to the visually impaired for many years, acting as a human’s eyes out in the world. Those with emotional expression impairments and traumatic experiences now increasingly use service dogs to allow them to feel a non-judgmental connection with another living being, which can aid in recovery from post traumatic stress disorder. Service dogs also help keep children with autism feel safe and feel a greater sense of freedom and responsibility as the dogs allow the children to interact more easily with other people, according to an article in NJ.com, Service Dogs Can Benefit People Struggling with a Variety of Disabilities.

A new study sheds some light on the attachment between dogs and their owners. According to a study described in Science magazine,  “Comparisons of humans and dogs before and after they interact with each other have revealed notable increases in circulating oxytocin, as well as endorphins, dopamine, and prolactin, in both species.”

Dog comforts little girl.  - image credit: http://imgur.com/ql1pZ

Dog comforts little girl. – image credit: http://imgur.com/ql1pZ

Study authors, Nagasawa and colleagues, note that the changes in oxytocin levels in humans and their dogs as they gaze at each other may be similar to the effect that creates the bond between human mothers and their infants. Researchers posit that possibly one reason assistance dogs are able to help people with autism or post traumatic stress disorder is that oxytocin is increased through partly through this social gazing pathway.

Interestingly, while owners gazing in their dogs eyes increase oxytocin in both the dogs and their owners, female dogs show a stronger reaction to oxytocin effects by gazing longer at their owners when given oxytocin. However, pet wolves  and their human owners do not show the same reactions in oxytocin and gazing at each other.

For those with difficulties in healing from trauma tic events, or communication and social disabilities, service dogs are available. However, untrained dogs can benefit most anyone who wants to feel non-judgmental connection and puppy love!

Image credit: Elena Shumilova, Russian photographer

Image credit: Elena Shumilova, Russian photographer

For more in-depth details about this study and a similar study about dogs human and the relationship of oxytocin, click on this article from The Dodo: Dogs, Humans and the Oxytocin-Mediated Social Bond.

Where Do I Find a Service Dog?

To obtain a service dog in Illinois, contact Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, or check out the Service Dog Central website for links to other service dog providers and tips on selecting a provider.

Ami Moore, Chicago Dog Coach, from Ami Moore's website www.chicagodogcoach.com

Ami Moore, Chicago Dog Coach, from Ami Moore’s website http://www.chicagodogcoach.com

If you want dog training in Chicago, or to learn more about medical conditions which with service dogs may be used to aid humans, Ami Moore, Chicago Dog Coach has an excellent website and blog. She shares her knowledge about service dogs and children with autism here and about service dogs for those with PTSD here. 

By Sue Shekut, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Massage & Fitness Magazine

Massage & Fitness Magazine

I am super excited to report that today the first issue ever of Massage & Fitness Magazine became available!  This magazine is the brainchild of Nick Ng, BA, CMT, and a host of other nationally known science-based massage therapists including Ravensara Travillian, PhD, LMP, Eric Keith Grant, PhD., Brett Jackson, BS, LMT, Alive Sanvito, LMT, and Rebecca Bishop, AS, CMT, (I’ve written about Nick’s work before, here regarding Cranial Sacral work,  and here regarding best sources for science based news. )

I am excited about this new magazine because, up until now, most massage therapy magazines provide frighteningly little science-based information.  I tend not to read them anymore because some of what is published supports myths that have been discredited in the past 5-10 years or is simply inaccurate scientifically. Health care providers have an ethical obligation to provide the most up-to-date, accurate information to clients and regurgitating pseudoscience or perpetuating potentially damaging myths does not serve massage clients well, nor does it serve massage therapists.

The first issue of Massage & Fitness has an excellent article by Alice Sanvito that explores some of the myths around massage and pregnancy. For many massage therapists, becoming certified in pregnancy massage has meant learning that massage can ‘accidentally” induce labor  yet there is no scientific evidence to support this). During my own prenatal massage training, I was told that it was best to avoid giving women massage in their first trimester  to avoid being sued if the woman miscarried. At least that instructor was honest about her reasoning. However, Alice points out that for many women, receiving massage helps them handle some of the symptoms of pregnancy including reducing feelings of nausea and giving women a feeling of being nurtured and supported

Other articles include an exploration of the science behind touch, explanations of when and how much exercise is acceptable for pregnant woman (quite a bit if already fit and the mom-to-be has no health complications), a truly wonderful explanation of massage education and the partnership of massage education and conventional medicine.

Check out Massage & Fitness Magazine here!
Disclaimer: Neither I nor Working Well Massage benefits financially from Massage & Fitness Magazine, but I do know some of the people mentioned above from social media and massage therapy advocacy. from my interactions with the editorial group, I am pleased to see that they live up to my expectations of being well-informed, clear and professional in this first edition!

By Susan Shekut, MA, Clinical Professional Psychology, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Stress management is a big concern for most people. There are a lot of different activities we can do to help us calm down our nervous systems, help us to refocus and feel less frazzled. We can go for a walk, do deep breathing, mediate, do yoga and…we can color. What do I mean by coloring? Coloring as in using crayons or colored pencils to color a picture or in a coloring book.


Huffington Post author Elena Santos explains the psychological benefits of coloring in, Coloring Isn’t Just For Kids. It Can Actually Help Adults Combat Stress.  Coloring is a great distraction activity when you feel overwhelmed or need a brain break from heavy-duty worries or concentration on difficult mental processes (like doing your taxes!). Ms. Santos states that, “In simplest terms, coloring has a de-stressing effect because when we focus on a particular activity, we focus on it and not on our worries.” In her article, she cites a number of sources for adult coloring books and notes that one expert recommends leaving magic markets with alcohol content aside and using good old crayons to color.

Great Adult Coloring Books For Relaxation

Color Me Calm: 100 Coloring Templates for Meditation and Relaxation (A Zen Coloring Book). On Amazon for $12.23. Click here to order. (Note the Amazon Prime copy may be out of stock, but other sellers have new and used versions available.)

Dover Creative Haven Art Nouveau Animal Designs Coloring Book (Creative Haven Coloring Books).  The art nouveau designs are intricate and give your mind a fun place to spend some time as you add color and bring the “animals” to life. On Amazon for $3.78. Click here to order.

Creative Coloring Inspirations: Art Activity Pages to Relax and Enjoy! This book combines  inspirational messages with art to color. on Amazon for $6 or less. Click here to order.

Mystical Mandala Coloring Book (Dover Design Coloring Books). Some mandalas in the book are very intricate and others are more simple. Each design provides excellent samples of meditative art.  Click here to order.

If you type “adult coloring book” into Amazon’s search engine, you can find coloring books on just about any topic you can imagine from ponds, natural parks, Victorian homes and flowers, to books with drawings of zombie, dragons and muscle cars. Whatever type of topic you find relaxing or distracting, you can find a coloring book to suit your needs. Or you can also simply go to your nearest department store like Target and buy a box of crayons and your favorite superhero comic coloring book or simply use your crayons to color black and white comics or ads in the newspaper. Or use your own black and white artwork or doodles to color.

What are some of your favorite color books or designs to color?

By Susan Shekut, MA, Clinical Professional Psychology, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Today I came across an article about the effects of giving up sugar in our brains, Here is What Happens to Your Brain When You Give Up Sugar For Lent, published in The Conversation. Author, Jordan Gaines Lewis, who is a Neuroscience Doctoral Candidate at Penn State College of Medicine, explains the role of neurotransmitters and the body’s reaction to receiving pleasurable stimuli in the form of sugar. Unfortunately, as the brain becomes addicted to sugar, stopping your sugar intake such as by fasting for a religious reason, can have withdrawal effects similar to kicking the habit of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. Although the article may be a bit complex as the author explains the neurological reaction of the brain to sugar, it is an excellent explanation of how our bodies react to the sweet stuff and why we crave it so much!

In another article in The Conversation, The Amount of Hidden Sugar in Your Diet Might Shock You, authors Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Sonia Pombo, Nutritionist at Queen Mary University of London, explain just how much sugar there is in food you might not think had sugar, including bread and cereal, nonfat yogurt, flavored water and even soup!  Check out their short article and chart to see just how much sugar is in the food you consume every day.

Interestingly, when we take the explanation of how we can become addicted to sugar and look at the amount of hidden sugar in our diets, it is easy to understand how people have difficulties curbing their sugar intake. And too much sugar intake can be part of the process that leads to Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome. Not to give us an excuse to overeat sugar, but before we can do something about a problem, we must first understand it!

Overcoming Sugar Addiction

If you do find that you have a sweet tooth or a full on sugar addiction, I hope these articles help you understand that resisting the sugar craving is not just a matter of will power. Just like being addicted to drugs like cocaine and heroin, people who feel they are addicted to sugar need help to overcome their sugar addiction. There are some drugs being tested to help reduce cravings, but cognitive behavioral therapy is also widely regarded as a helpful tool in combating addictions, including sugar addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy does help people fighting addiction in a few keys ways. First a pychotherapist uses CBT to help clients to evaluate how thoughts and beliefs may be impacting  behavior and allowing the addiction to persist despite potential harm caused by excessive sugar consumption and then helps clients learn how to modify or change those beliefs and habitual thoughts which make it difficult for the client to manage the sugar addiction. Secondly, a psychotherapist uses CBT to work with clients to determine  a means to modify or change food consumption and other behaviors in specific ways to overcome the addiction. And according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, (NAMI), “Individuals who undergo CBT show changes in brain activity, suggesting that this therapy actually improves your brain functioning as well.”

Psychology Today has an easy step by step method you can try to curb our sugar addiction on your own in their article, How To Get Over Your Sugar Addiction. Sherry Pagoto, Ph. D. explains how to “train your palette to prefer less sweet.” Her approach is in line with a CBT approach. However, if you feel your sugar addiction is beyond self-help, it is best to consult a licensed psychotherapist who can help you make the changes in your life that will allow you to overcome your sugar addiction. Living in a culture that provides not only an abundance of sugary food at every corner, even in Starbucks, professional help is often needed to build a support system and a behavioral plan to help fight the addiction.

By Susan Shekut, MA, Clinical Professional Psychology, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Random Acts of Kindness Week

Random Acts of Kindness Week

This week is officially International  Random Acts of Kindness Week! And to celebrate, one of our corporate social media clients is treating his staff to 20 minute chair massages! We decided to join in on the fun and we will be randomly giving away free chair massage gift certificates in the Chicago area for use in our two Chicago area chair massage stations this week. We think that giving a massage is always a kind thing to do, but giving away a free massage to someone in need is one great way for WWM to do our part and practice what we are preaching!

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation encourages us all to take this week to step out of our normal routines or comfort zones and try a new random act of kindness each day of this celebratory week.

What are random acts of kindness? Spontaneous acts of generosity, sweetness,  or kindness done without regard to getting anything in return beyond the satisfaction of helping others and doing good. Beware, if you decide to participate, because your acts of kindness can be contagious!

How To Get Involved: The RAK Foundation gives great ideas for random acts of kindness and explains three ways you can get involved.

1. DO: an act of kindness. Follow the motto: “do what you can… with what you have… where you
are.” Simply think through your daily routine and find one opportunity for kindness each day.
Maybe it’s complimenting the first three people you talk to or surprising coworkers with treats!
2. POST: your act of kindness on social media using #RAKWeek2015 – Help us flood social media with kindness and reach our goal of 100,000 acts of kindness documented worldwide by Feb 15!
3. SHARE: spread the word and share #RAKWeek2015 with one other person.

How does being kind help the person being kind?

According to the RAK Foundation website: “Scientific studies show that performing acts of kindness actually improve health and life satisfaction. They increase: energy, optimism, self-worth and our sense of belonging and connection in the world. PLUS they decrease anxiety, depression and blood pressure.” At Working Well Massage, we call that stress relief!

For Idea on random acts of kindness you and your family and friends can do at home, at work, or at school, check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website here.
And keep in mind, you don’t have to wait for Random Acts of Kindness to do something nice for other people–and for yourself! You can make it a habit every day…and make yourself a little more energetic, feel a greater sense of belonging and connection to the world and decrease your anxiety, depression and blood pressure!

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