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Featured Lifestyle People

Sheetal Sheth Says Honesty Helps Kids Through Hard Times

Actress and children’s author, Sheetal Sheth, writes about “real things in a real way.”  She says that she doesn’t do abstract stories about “unicorns and dragons.” The “real things” in her children’s books include illness, death, racial differences, and conflicts between the sexes. Her characters—including an Indian American girl in Sheth’s popular Anjali series—deal with these real-life situations.

Sheth herself has had her own poignant experiences with these topics. Growing up in small-town America as a first-generation Indian immigrant, she felt uncomfortably different. She understands how important it is for children, including her own, to see book characters who are similar to themselves. “I make a point to curate books and the things that [my kids] watch so that they do see themselves. We’re watching stories of people who are us, and not us, because we want to … create empathetic kids,” she said.

As a woman in Hollywood, she has faced #MeToo situations, and therefore, understands how important it is to teach children respect between the sexes. She is also a cancer survivor. Her children were 2 and 4 when she was diagnosed, and she understands how important it is to help children cope with serious illness.

(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)

On Illness

“I looked for [children’s] books about illness and death, and I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t abstract,” Sheth said. Her newest book, “Making Happy” (set to publish in the fall of 2022), is about a girl named Leila whose mother is battling illness. Leila’s family gets through these hard times by finding joy and laughter together. Sheth’s advice to anyone helping children cope with illness is: “Tell them as much as you think they can handle. I’m all for being honest, but also in an appropriate way. Tell them that you’re feeling all the same things they are, that you’re scared too, and that you’re going to go through it together.”

As a young mother coping with cancer, Sheth had her unique challenges. One was the recovery from her double mastectomy. “The hardest part was that I couldn’t hug my kids for a long period of time,” Sheth lamented. “It’s really, really difficult not to hug your children.”

She received her diagnosis in 2018, on Christmas Eve. “I was with family, and so I wasn’t really ready to talk about it—but I was in it, so I kind of had to,” she said. During the holidays, things were closed, and medical staff were out of the office, so it was hard to get answers at a time when she had so many questions. That struggle is in her past, yet always present. “I don’t think you ever really overcome cancer,” Sheth explained. “I think you live with it. Once you have cancer, it’s part of your life.”

On Racial Differences

Earlier that same year, Sheth had published her first children’s book, “Always Anjali.” Anjali struggles with how different her name is. It’s not on any of those novelty items you see in gift shops with names printed on them: like Jennifer or Joanne or Sarah. Nobody knows how to spell Anjali, and one boy makes fun of her, calling her “peanut butter ‘and jelly.'”

Anjali wants to change her name to Angie, but her parents teach her about her name’s beautiful Sanskrit origin. It means “a gift, the most precious kind, just like you,” her mother tells her—and Anjali learns to wear her name proudly. People in showbiz have also asked Sheth to change her name to something more “American,” and she has always refused.

(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)

The issue of changing names is something many children go through across the board, Sheth said. She has volunteered at children’s organizations and, she says, “I worked with kids on a regular basis who told me they didn’t fit in, or they had to change something about themselves to fit in, and that narrative is something I heard over and over and over again. And I thought, ‘Is there a way to put this into a book?'”

Anjali’s experience has resonated widely. “Always Anjali” won the 2019 Purple Dragonfly Storybook Grand Prize, voted on by teachers and librarians.

Growing up Indian American, Sheth said that she felt “a push and pull. Are you Indian enough? Are you American enough? Who are you?” Her parents wanted to protect her from being too “Western.” But that was impossible, growing up in the West. Also, she felt they had a romanticized vision of how India was when they left. It had changed since the 1960s. Her parents raised her with a strong sense of community, which led her to a service-oriented life, always working with nonprofits.

She learned the magic of Indian culture, as Anjali does in her book, but she also appreciated being American. When Sheth’s first child was born, she started looking for books that featured children of various ethnic backgrounds. But the books she found were “inaccurate, insensitive, or just plain wrong,” she said. That’s what motivated her to create Anjali.

(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)
(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)

On Boys, Girls, and Big Feelings

Sheth’s second book, “Bravo Anjali” (published in September 2021), has Anjali learning to play the tabla, a traditional Indian drum. It’s usually played by males, and the boys in her class are jealous of her talent. She tries to hide her talent to avoid jealousy, but she also becomes angry and hurt. Anjali and the boy who was most jealous and mean, talk to each other and resolve their conflict, healing their friendship.

Sheth says “Bravo Anjali,” is “really about teaching our kids, boys and girls, how to talk to each other when they’re having big feelings.” Many children feel like crying and bursting out with anger, though we often tell them to calm down, she noted. Sheth tries instead to recognize those feelings and help children work through them. “Having big feelings is a good thing,” she said.

(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)
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Mind & Body Mindset

Virtues: Our Best Bet for Happiness

“What constitutes a good life?” “How should one live?” “What kind of a person should one be?” In their answers to these perennial questions, history’s great minds have frequently invoked the concept of virtue.

Philosophers ancient and modern have argued that the road to a happy, thriving, worthwhile life is paved with virtues. Aristotle, for one, believed that anyone willing to lead a virtuous life could achieve fulfillment. More recently, philosopher Rosalind Hursthouse posited that possessing and exercising virtue is the only reliable bet for a happy and flourishing life—just as adopting a healthy lifestyle is the only reliable bet for a healthy life.

There are no guarantees in life. Yet, if we commit to living virtuously, the argument goes, we are doing all that is in our power to maximize our happiness.

Is there any merit to these claims? Are more virtuous people indeed happier? If we cultivate virtue, could we become happier too? Fortunately, the scientific study of virtue has seen an awakening in the last couple of decades, providing us with fascinating insights into the relationship between virtues and happiness. Before we delve into these, let us briefly examine how psychologists think of virtue.

While virtue is an elusive term, most psychological definitions agree that virtues represent extraordinary character strengths in the service of optimal intrapersonal and interpersonal functioning. Consider honesty, kindness, sincerity, wisdom, courage, justice, and diligence. These are our noble attributes, and act as powerful resources in dealing with the difficulties inherent to human existence and social living.

Given the critical role they play in optimal functioning, it is not surprising that people who lack virtues generally do not fare well. When we think of people who make life difficult, either for themselves or others, we often notice conspicuously low levels of certain virtues, whether integrity, mercy, or self-control.

The Relationship Between Virtue and Happiness

The burgeoning empirical literature on virtue and happiness offers strong support to the age-old argument that virtues increase happiness. One line of support comes from studies showing that doing good is associated with feeling good.

For example, one study using a daily diary method found that engaging in behaviors that allow the exercise of virtues (e.g., expressing gratitude, giving money to a person in need, persevering at a valued goal even in the face of obstacles) was associated with significantly higher well-being than engaging in purely hedonic behaviors, like getting drunk or high on drugs, or having sex with someone one doesn’t love. Furthermore, daily virtuous—but not daily hedonic—behaviors predicted greater life satisfaction and greater sense of meaning the following day, attesting to their causal role in fostering happiness.

Relative to pursuing hedonic or egoistical goals, pursuing more virtuous goals has similarly been linked to greater well-being. In one study, those who endorsed other-oriented and altruistic life goals, such as commitment to family and friendships, helping others, and being socially and politically involved, reported higher life satisfaction both concurrently and over time. Commitment to competitive goals related to wealth and consumption, in contrast, was associated with lower life satisfaction. The picture emerging from these and similar findings is that virtuous, self-transcending priorities in life are linked to greater happiness.

Studies that assess to what degree a person possesses certain virtues, and how happy they are, further testify to the positive relationship between virtue and happiness. These studies have benefited from the Values in Action (VIA) classification that specifies 24 measurable character strengths, such as love of learning, bravery, forgiveness, fairness, and gratitude. It is possible to take the VIA survey online (free, but registration required) and see what your top virtues are.

Which Virtues Are Most Closely Linked to Happiness?

Studies using the VIA framework reveal a positive relationship between virtually any character strength and happiness. That said, certain strengths turn out to be even more closely connected to happiness—specifically, the strengths of love, gratitude, hope, curiosity, and zest.

Research on adolescents and young children (as described by their parents) similarly reveals love, zest, hope, and gratitude as the character strengths most closely affiliated with happiness. Cross-cultural studies, and studies that assess people’s strengths by asking knowledgeable others instead of relying on self-reports, further reinforce the robustness of these findings.

Do you see a common thread linking the character strengths most strongly linked to happiness—love, gratitude, hope, zest, and curiosity? One might argue that they all have a self-transcendent aspect to them, involving positive connections to things that go beyond the self. Love, of course, connects us to other people. Gratitude connects us to a benevolent higher force, as well as to others. Curiosity connects us to a rich, fascinating world. Hope connects us to a desirable future. And finally, zest represents an energetic connection with all that life offers. Transcending the ego and connecting to something larger than the self are considered essential to psychological health and well-being. It should probably not surprise us, then, that virtues that facilitate these qualities are the ones most conducive to happiness.

How to Cultivate Virtue

The unequivocal relationship between virtue and happiness suggests that cultivating virtue can be a promising happiness strategy. Both longitudinal and intervention studies support this view, and show that increases in virtue are accompanied by increases in happiness. The happiness gains turn out to be even greater if an increase occurs among the aforementioned virtues most closely linked to happiness. As with any character trait, there is a significant genetic component to virtues; hence, we should not expect them to be endlessly malleable. At the same time, the evidence is compelling that we can cultivate virtues to the degree that they give our happiness a boost.

If we are convinced of the felicific powers of virtue, how should we go about cultivating it? The answer to this question goes back at least as far as Laozi (Lao Tzu), and to Aristotle, who argued that virtues can be formed by habit. Accordingly, we become virtuous by acting virtuously. If we want to cultivate kindness, for instance, we need to habitually perform acts of kindness—such as volunteering, checking in on elderly neighbors, or expressing gratitude to others. Or, if we want to cultivate curiosity, we need to create opportunities in our lives to stimulate and satisfy our curiosity. We might, for example, commit to listening to new podcasts, trying new foods, or traveling to new places on a regular basis.

But, of course, virtues are not only habits of deed, but also habits of the heart and the mind. Virtuous actions, if they are sincere, spring from virtuous thoughts and feelings. Hopeful, wise, and loving acts, for example, are preceded by hopeful, wise, and loving psychological states. Although different virtues might require different approaches, one skill can universally facilitate the cultivation of habits of the heart and the mind: mindfulness—paying attention to our present-moment experience with an attitude of openness and acceptance.

The more mindful we are, the easier it becomes for us to recognize our more and less virtuous thoughts and feelings. This recognition, combined with a gentle and compassionate approach toward ourselves, will in time allow us to better regulate our thoughts and emotions, strengthening our more virtuous inner states while reducing the less virtuous ones.

The Role of Culture in Cultivating Virtue

Being exposed to exemplars of virtue is crucial to the cultivation of virtue. When we consider the character development of children, the importance of surrounding them with virtuous role models seems apparent. Yet adults also benefit greatly from contact with those who possess admirable character traits. These people both instruct and inspire us by their sheer being. Critically, exposure to virtue (or lack of it) takes place not only in our daily lives and within our small social circles, but also on social media. A valuable question to ask ourselves is what virtues the celebrities or influencers we follow on social media represent, if any.

This brings us to the importance of culture in the cultivation of virtue. Virtues need favorable cultural conditions to thrive, one of which is the wide availability and endorsement of virtue role models. Another is the cultural salience of virtue—or how much virtues are a part of the public conversation. In a virtue-salient culture, people talk and write about virtues, which itself is an indication of how much this topic is at the forefront of their minds.

Interestingly, there are ways to scientifically capture the cultural salience of virtue. In one such study, I collaborated with my twin sister, Dr. Selin Kesebir, from London Business School. Together, we tracked how commonly words related to virtue appear in American books over the 20th century. Specifically, we came up with a list of 50 virtue words (e.g., love, courage, perseverance, forgiveness) and examined these words’ appearance frequency in books digitized by Google. Our analyses revealed a significant decline for 74 percent of them from 1900 to 2000.

Upon closer inspection, we saw that the decline was more pronounced for certain groups of virtues. For instance, the appearance frequency of courage, bravery, and fortitude—all virtues related to the ability to act and prevail in difficult circumstances—dropped 66.6 percent, on average. The majority of virtues indicating care and concern for others (kindness, generosity, mercy, charity, thoughtfulness, helpfulness, courtesy, love, politeness, gentleness, benevolence) also showed precipitous declines; the average drop from 1901 to 2000 was 55.7 percent for this group of words. Finally, virtues encouraging a modest opinion of oneself (humility, humbleness, and modesty) also showed a substantial decline of 51.5 percent.

Our findings suggest that over the course of the 20th century, the attention paid by the culture to concepts of moral character and virtue in the United States has declined. This is in keeping with the larger trends in the American moral landscape observed by many scholars and social commentators, particularly the increase in individualism.

Virtues, almost by definition, make the world a better place for ourselves and for others. The diminished cultural salience of virtue during the 20th century might thus be a cause for concern. One hopeful development marking the first two decades of the 21st century, however, is the increased popularity of the field of positive psychology. In their endeavor to study what makes people thrive, positive psychologists have turned their attention to virtues and character strengths, in both individual and organizational contexts. The scientific study of virtue has thus been witnessing unprecedented growth, and the lessons learned have been increasingly infiltrating the culture. Think of the popularity of concepts like “gratitude journaling” or “random acts of kindness.” These concepts are only a recent phenomenon and are exceedingly promising developments—especially if we agree that virtues are our best bet for happiness.

Pelin Kesebir, Ph.D., is a writer, speaker, and consultant trained in social and personality psychology. She has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles on the topics of happiness, virtue, and existential psychology. Dr. Kesebir is an honorary fellow at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

 

Categories
Habits Mind & Body Nutrition

Comfort Food and Real Joy

The holidays can pack on the calories, and sometimes the resulting pounds stay with us the rest of the year. This season, give yourself and your loved ones the gift of improved health through empowering new habits. The value of this gift is immeasurable.

One of the ways to give this gift is through sharing the joy of walking, or some other form of mild exertion. Moderate exercise on a weekly basis can add four years or more to your life. There are endless ways to get this exercise, from shoveling snow to walking the dog. You can also build bits of micro-exercise into your day by parking at the far end of the lot when you go to the mall or taking the stairs at every opportunity. Share this habit with those around you and feel better each time you do.

Another way to give yourself this gift is to dial back on the refined carbohydrates. Sugar and refined grains spike your blood sugar and can take a toll on your mood and energy levels, all while adding inches to your waistline.

Your body is a dual fuel system. It can burn fat or sugar, including carbohydrates, and it’s good to switch it up. Most people run their body on sugar the vast majority of the time, thanks to the ingredients in processed foods, whether those are crackers or cheeseburgers. Even though these foods have plenty of fat as well, it’s the wrong kind of fat, and doesn’t get properly burned when all those sugars are present.

Changing from a sugar-burning metabolism to more of a fat-burning metabolism does what we want to do most when it comes to body composition: it burns off our fat. Reducing the carbohydrate load decreases the amount of the hormone, insulin, that you produce. Keeping insulin levels low also allows your metabolism to kick into a fat-burning state.

You’ll experience fewer food cravings as you reduce the amount of high glycemic carbohydrates and grains in your nutrition plan—and your mood and energy level will become healthier and more stable. Friends and family will appreciate the change—even better if they join you in this effort. Just tell them that “your energy will increase as you clean up the fuel you put in your tank.”

But make sure you eat healthy fats. And be aware that fat is calorie dense. The Mediterranean diet is considered to be one of the healthiest in the world, thanks to lean proteins, like fish, and healthy fat from olive oil.

This sugar-fat swap will also help you sleep better. Eating sugarplums is not recommended but dreaming about them is OK. Recent studies show that sleep plays an important role in our immune response and metabolic balance, as well as in such critical mental functions as attentiveness, learning, memory, and emotional equilibrium.

All these benefits, and more, are available to you with just a few simple changes. Let’s look closer at the most important healthcare decision we make every day—what’s at the end of our fork.

Is Food Your Comfort and Joy?

The best way to make healthy changes in what we eat is not to count calories or obsess over the scale: it’s to examine our relationship with food.

Does food make you feel good? Does it give you joy? If someone were to eliminate “guilty pleasure” foods, would you get angry? If any of these answers is “yes,” you may have an improper relationship with food. It’s one thing to enjoy your food; we all do that. It’s another to seek joy through food. If you do that, it’s called emotional eating, and this driver of disease runs rampant during the holidays.

Making healthy changes requires honesty about what we eat and why we eat it. If we don’t address the root causes of over-indulging, a continual cycle of failure, declining health, and weight gain will result. But there’s good news: being aware of why you eat makes it easier to make better choices. Making better choices, meanwhile, will help you and your family enjoy the holidays even more. Share this effort, and you can jump start the new year with a new approach to eating.

7 Ways to Enjoy Healthier Holidays

1. Eliminate SAD Foods

“SAD” stands for the Standard American Diet. Get rid of the boxed or otherwise packaged processed foods that cause weight gain and blood sugar chaos. Here is a list of foods you should eliminate from your fridge, pantry, and table.

  • Sweet beverages (designer coffees, energy drinks, flavored milks, sweetened teas, soft drinks, and “fruit” drinks)
  • Processed meat (breakfast sausage patties, frozen meals, bologna, ham, hot dogs, jerky, pepperoni, salami)
  • Processed foods (granola bars, potato chips, frozen meals, snack products, cheap salad dressings)
  • Sweets (candy, cake, chocolate syrup, cookies, donuts, ice cream, pie, and you know the rest)

A quick point on sweets: They have no nutritional benefit. They are nutrient void and cause an immense release of insulin. Insulin and vitamin C compete for the receptor sites on the immune cells. High insulin levels dampen the immune system.

2. Prepare Your Own Meals

When you eat out, you are usually eating processed food. Restaurants, especially chains and fast-food restaurants, use pre-prepared ingredients that include heavy processing and food additives. A far better option is to make your own food. Not only can you make delicious meals that support your health and immune system, preparing them with friends and family makes holiday memories. A free recipe guide is available at Sherwood.tv/holiday

3. Take Your Brain for a Walk

Exercise is good for the brain, body, and soul. We recommend a variety of exercises to our patients, but for the holidays, we have one simple prescription: Take a walk, twice daily, preferably after eating.

Exercise helps move glucose out of the blood and into the cells and reduces the “food coma” often experienced after a big meal. Vigorous movement also stimulates chemicals that help the brain function better.

You might not feel like getting outside, but once you get in the fresh air, the reward will be obvious. Pajamas are acceptable attire on holiday walks.

4. Water Yourself

Drink pure water, or drinks that are mostly water, like herbal tea, diluted fruit juice, or sparkling water with lemon, throughout the day. Your body is 60-65 percent water and being even a quart low will increase your fatigue. Rehydrate and resuscitate all the cells in your body. Water also fills your tummy and reduces the temptation to swipe a cookie.

Avoid, or greatly reduce, all foods and beverages that contain caffeine, because caffeine pulls nutrients out of your body, and can worsen anxiety. If you can’t completely cut out the caffeine, at least make sure you are getting something for your sacrifice. Green tea offers some nutritional recompense for the caffeine cost.

Also, reduce or avoid alcohol, because metabolizing alcohol requires essential nutrients that your body would prefer to use elsewhere. As the liver decreases its supply of vitamins and nutrients, the blood stream is called upon to replenish the supply. As a result, body cells are deprived of critical nutrients, and normal body functions suffer. Some people do not produce the enzyme required to break alcohol down, and it remains a toxic substance in their system.

5. Move in the Morning

Exercise first thing in the morning, before breakfast. This forces your body to burn stored fat for energy, rather than burning carbohydrates, which are readily available after eating. On feast days—and feast weeks—we can all use a little extra fat-burning.

6. Snack on Protein

Eat a small, protein-rich snack a couple of hours before the big meal. This will help take the edge off hunger and improve your odds of making healthy dinner choices. Raw almonds are a great choice.

7. OK, Have Some Pie

Let’s be realistic. You’re gonna have some dessert, and other favorite recipes, during the holidays. Instead of an all-or-nothing approach to these foods, simply be mindful of portions. Have a third of a piece of pie instead of a full slice and hold the whipped cream. Decreasing portion sizes or having only a bite or two of your favorite indulgences, will satisfy your cravings without expanding your waistline.

And while you’re at it, introduce some new foods to your body, and take them for at least two walks every day. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel.

Dr. Michele Sherwood, along with her husband, Dr. Mark Sherwood, are the founders of a successful medical practice, and help patients from around the world find the health they were created to enjoy, in every area of life. As bestselling authors, podcasters, movie producers, and media personalities, they founded Hope Dealers International to reach beyond their clinic. Download their free holiday recipes here: Sherwood.tv/holiday

Categories
Architecture & Interiors Lifestyle Travel

Farmhouse Charm

Miles away from the ordinary, yet mere minutes from the glitz and glam Ibiza has become world-famous for, is a quaint hotel in a picturesque valley. Nestled amid sumptuous orchards and olive trees, Cas Gasi is a 19th-century Spanish country house that was transformed from private residence to luxury hotel more than two decades ago.

Its whitewashed exterior is surrounded by lush vegetation, while the interior is resplendent in warm hues, handpainted tilework, and Moroccan-inspired textiles. Known for its privacy as well as its proximity to the sparkling nightlife, Cas Gasi is a favorite of loyal visitors who return to the carefully curated 12-room property time and again.

The hotel nestled amid lush vegetation. (Courtesy of Cas Gasi)

“The original farmhouse is from 1880, and it belonged to the family whose name it still has, the Gasi family,” according to Cas Gasi Founder and Director Margaret von Korff. The main house contained five rooms, while adjoining structures included animal pens and spaces to store tools, carts, and carriages.

The decor includes Moroccan-inspired textiles. (Courtesy of Cas Gasi)
A suite bathroom with handpainted tiles. (Courtesy of Cas Gasi)

According to Balearic law, the eldest son of the Gasi family would become the primary recipient of the family’s inheritance, including the farmhouse. He eventually sold the property to a person from Mallorca, who later also wished to sell it—looking for someone who would not simply buy the home, but fall in love with it.

When von Korff and her husband, Luis Trigueros, entered the house for the first time, it was “love at first sight,” von Korff said. “Was it luck, or was it fate?” she thought. They bought the property, a traditional “finca”—literally meaning estate, a piece of land in the Spanish countryside, usually with a farmhouse or cottage—in 1989.

Cas Gasi Founder and Director Margaret von Korff. (Courtesy of Cas Gasi)

Von Korff described the house as being in relatively good condition at the time. Thick whitewashed stone walls protected it from both harsh hot and cold temperatures. Sabina beams held the flat roof, designed to collect rainwater and move it to a cistern. Small windows let in natural light. Yet the roof required restoration, and humidity presented a problem. Neither of its new owners, with two small children in tow, envisioned the home would become the Mediterranean getaway it is today; they initially thought of it only as a private home.

“To build anew is more difficult than to restore,” von Korff said. “The traditional elements and proportions were fundamental to keep the soul of the house. [It was a] partial restoration, lovingly guided … on a day-by-day basis, with the architect integrating their ideas and points of view.”

No effort was too great and no detail was too small, said von Korff, adding that the team wished to stick to the sober character of Spanish farmhouses and avoid fancy elements. Damaged beams were exchanged, yet the originals remained as “an important aesthetic element,” she said. The floors were renewed with handmade terracotta tiles and enhanced with floor heating beneath.

Some of the hotel rooms feature wooden beams that were in the original farmhouse. (Courtesy of Cas Gasi)

Orange groves and almond, fig, locust, and olive trees that were part of the original 9-acre farmland remained—the latter producing organic cold-pressed olive oil for the hotel’s restaurant. The couple also wanted to retain the existing harmony between the property and surrounding countryside, so they added rose orchards, vegetable plots, farm animals, and later, two swimming pools.

Fruits and vegetables from the hotel garden are used in dishes on the restaurant’s menu. (Courtesy of Cas Gasi)

As the idea to build a hotel centered on agro-tourism was born, the goal became to share the beauty of Cas Gasi with travelers from around the world, yet maintain its authenticity, purposeful furnishings, and sustainability. Animal pens were converted into exquisite guest rooms. Gardens, a spa and yoga deck, and a restaurant were added in stages.

(Courtesy of Cas Gasi)

“It is easy to buy new; it is a statement to wear old,” said von Korff, who herself is well-traveled and has a keen eye for detail. “[I am a] strong supporter of everything which has stood the test of time, since it makes it more valuable. It has something to tell.”

To that end, von Korff filled the hotel with antiques from her family home, sourced by her parents from different European countries.

Eclectic pieces of furniture include those handcrafted by local artisans, and others collected via a sophisticated shopping scene among Ibiza’s auction houses and antiques shops. Personal touches are apparent throughout the hotel’s dozen rooms, including a thoughtfully stocked library, a kitchen that draws from the property’s vegetable gardens, and luxuries beyond the first glance, including feather pillows and luxurious linens.

A balcony with a view. (Courtesy of Cas Gasi)

Situated on a sunny hillside, von Korff said she wanted Cas Gasi to represent the idea of “farmers becoming hosts to visitors,” despite the shift toward bespoke accommodations that promise the perfect Mediterranean escape.

“We are ambassadors to the island’s culture and bounty,” she said.

To shop for patio furniture and furnishings inspired by Cas Gasi’s aesthetic, click here.

Categories
Mind & Body Nature

Stressed? Try a Dose of Nature

For Eden Cheng, owner of WeInvoice, success came at the cost of her well-being. She says that founding her company was rewarding, but extremely stressful, and her burden only grew with time.

The stress became so intense that Cheng checked herself into a hospital for a few days. Doctors advised her to find ways to reduce her stress and lower her blood pressure, because if these factors remained elevated it could lead to major health problems. Cheng had heard of exercises and therapies that could help, but the strategy she chose was time in nature.

Cheng started with daily walks into a forested area near her home, and her stressed out symptoms began to fade. She found these regular strolls in the woods gave her the time and space she needed to face all the pressures and responsibilities of running a new business.

“I realized that I was able to think much more calmly and clearly about what to do next in my own personal and work life,” she said. “Gazing at the ancient redwoods and seeing the birds nesting among the trees gave me a better perspective on my own circumstances and reminded me that life is bigger than just my own work.”

Cheng says simply appreciating the wildlife in her neighborhood while she walks her dog can refresh her mind and spirit. She still makes time for daily nature walks, especially after a long, hard day.

Cheng’s experience isn’t unique.

Science Affirms What We’ve Long Known

Researchers have repeatedly documented the benefits of nature experiences, something human beings have treasured ever since the industrial revolution started to pull us into the grind of urban living. Since the 1990s, Japanese researchers have been studying the health effects of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku). It’s a fancy name to describe a peaceful walk in the woods, but research reveals that this simple practice has the capacity to  decrease depression, fatigue, anxiety, and confusion.

Counselor, mental health educator, and author Tanya J. Peterson mentions a long list of other studies that underscore the tangible mental health benefits of nature. For example, researchers at Stanford and Yale both conclude that spending time in nature can help us heal and maintain wellness.

“Immersion in nature, whether it’s a walk along a lakeshore, a hike in the woods, or a stroll around your own yard, has been shown to directly affect changes in the brain and nervous system,” Peterson said. “These physiological changes reduce our body’s stress response, lower anxiety, and boost mood and attention span.”

Of course, you don’t need an expert to tell you that nature has a calming effect. Compared to the pressures, worries, and hectic pace of the modern world, an open field, or even a small garden offer us a more soothing rhythm to absorb our attention. But it only works if we make time for it.

“Personally, I find that for my own mental health and stress management, spending time in nature is a necessity rather than a luxury,” said Peterson. “I’ve lived with anxiety most of my life, and I’ve found that getting outside for a hike, a simple casual stroll, or kayaking in a nearby lake induces a deep sense of calm.”

Peterson explains that a dose of nature doesn’t eliminate what makes her anxious. But it gives her a necessary pause that helps her regroup so she can better handle the problems that come her way. This pause helps mentally, and physically too.

“I also have several autoimmune and digestive disorders, largely caused by stress, and getting outside daily is an important part of my treatment plan,” she said. “Connecting to the energy of the natural world and appreciating the beauty gives me a different perspective on life and expands my focus beyond my symptoms. Nature is a constant, refreshing reminder that there is more to life than stress and symptoms of illness.”

Into Our Unnatural Indoor Lives

The idea of nature as healer and teacher goes way back. In several ancient cultures, the forces of the natural world provide an example to emulate. In traditional Chinese medicine, for example, the ultimate goal is for the patient to embody the same sense of balance, strength, and calm found in the natural world.

Of course, for our ancestors, nature was a fact of life. Back then, everyone lived closer to the land as a matter of consequence. Today, we live in a culture far more interested in cyber space than green space. We have conveniences and comforts our ancestors could never have dreamed of, yet stress, anxiety and depression are at an all time high.

According to Peterson, Americans on average spend over 90 percent of their waking lives indoors, and most of that indoor time is spent with the biggest influence of our age: technology. It may seem harmless, but too much tech time takes a toll.

“Excessive indoor and screen time can negatively affect our total well-being, both physical and mental health,” Peterson said.

Getting Outside—and Into Ourselves

Nature can provide a perfect getaway from the technology that now rules the world. According to Ouriel Lemmel, a CEO of a small business (WinIt) who works remotely, he spends “a ridiculous amount of time in front of a screen.” He tries to counteract this excessive screen time by squeezing some of the great outdoors into his busy schedule.

“Usually, these are long weekend backpacking trips that allow me to turn my phone off and turn my attention to the natural world. I find that when I do get back to the office I am more energized, kinder, and more creative,” Lemmel said.

For regular health maintenance, and to remind himself of the world that exists outside his devices, Lemmel takes daily walks.

“Taking a walk mid-day gives me the chance to look up at the trees and remember that the world is a real place that exists out there,” he said. “I remember that the world is a living, breathing entity and that I too am a part of this ecosystem. My breath mellows, and the stress I had from work lessens as I look at the bright beautiful world around me.”

Just a short getaway can make a big difference. Business development leader Stacey Kane says nearly all her work is online. She takes short nature breaks to balance it out.

“I feel eye strain and sometimes I get dizzy. When this happens, I pause, go outside, and just look at the trees. This might be simple but it helps a lot. After just 10 minutes of staring at all the greens, I feel relaxed and don’t feel any strain anymore. This is my little way of seeking my dose of the natural world,” Kane said.

Small doses of nature can be restorative, but larger doses can be transformative.  Farmer and restaurant owner Erin Wade says her love for the natural world has been a pivotal factor in shaping her career, but she still struggles with the pressures of running a business. Six months after opening a restaurant in Austin, Texas, Wade was burned out from all the travel and screen time necessary to get the project going. To recover, she took her first vacation in years. She says the lessons from that trip still resonate today.

“It turned into a modern-day Thoreau moment,” Wade said. “I didn’t look at a screen once for 30 days. I swapped my smartphone for a basic flip phone which I’ve used ever since. It was a strange and profound experience. I learned about myself and our world in terms of how technology affects our brains and attention, how it influences human interaction, our capacity for empathy and our overall happiness.”

Making Time for Nature

Of course, you can still get some of the benefits of being outside, such as fresh air and sunshine even if you’re scrolling through your phone or worrying about your problems. But to make the most out of your nature visit, Peterson recommends approaching it mindfully.

“That means simply paying attention to your surroundings, taking them in with all your senses. It allows you to experience the natural world completely, with your whole self,” she said.

“Otherwise, if you’re outdoors but stuck in your mind thinking and ruminating about problematic situations, your body is in nature but your mind is not. You’ll gain more and find more joy when you’re mindfully immersed in the nature that surrounds you.”

Setting your mind to the rhythm of nature can resonate through your being, even altering your perception of time. Gaby Pilson, a mountain guide and outdoor educator says she likes to get outside because, compared to the hustle and bustle of daily life, nature “slows life down dramatically.”

“In my mind, this disconnect between the sensation of time when we’re inside and outside comes down to the notion of stress,” Pilson said. “[Inside] everything operates on a schedule. Outside, things just happen.”

Pilson offers a few tips to get people out. First, commit to a daily schedule. The session may be short, but the influence of a routine can help you stay motivated.

Tip two is to look local. It would be nice if we all lived near some majestic example of natural beauty, but not everyone has access to forests, lakes, and canyons. However, we can still have some access to nature’s power if we’re willing to look.

“We often think that outdoor adventures can only happen in far-off places. But, there’s plenty of adventure to be had outside, even if you live in the middle of a city. Seek out local green spaces, parks, and bike trails where you can get some fresh air near your home,” Pilson said.

Finally, think outside the box as you tailor your experience to fit your interests. If walking outside seems a little dull, get a bike. If you seek more of a focus, consider bird watching or stargazing. The goal is to immerse yourself.

“Adventure comes in many forms,” Pilson said.