Where’s the Sodium? And Why Does It Matter?

by Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Sodium, generally in the form of salt, is a mineral that is regularly added to foods for flavoring and preservation. It is a necessary mineral for the human body, so you do need some sodium (a very small amount) in your diet. Your nervous and cardiovascular systems cannot operate properly without it. However, the average American gets too much sodium. Too much sodium increases a person’s risk for high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

High blood pressure and stroke may seem a long way off for teens. However, many young people are already consuming large amounts of sodium. According to the American Heart Association, children with high-sodium diets are almost 40% more likely to have elevated blood pressure than those with lower-sodium diets. About 1 in 7 youth aged 12 to 19 years old had high blood pressure  (hypertension) or raised blood pressure. Youth with high blood pressure are more likely to have high blood pressure when they are adults. Raised blood pressure is a major cause of heart disease. Therefore, eating a diet lower in sodium can help lower blood pressure, and thus may prevent heart disease later in life.

Some sodium is necessary because it has many important jobs — sending nerve signals throughout the body, tightening and relaxing muscles, and maintaining proper fluid balance. The kidneys regulate the body’s sodium level by getting rid of any excess. But if there’s too much sodium in the blood, the kidneys can’t keep up. Excess sodium in the blood pulls out water from the cells; as this fluid increases, so does the volume of blood. That means more work for the heart just to do its everyday job of pumping blood, which increases pressure in the blood vessels. Over time, this extra work takes it toll, and a person’s chances of suffering from heart disease goes up.

How much is enough? The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend Americans ages 14 years old and older eat no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. For comparison, 2,300 mg is the amount in about a teaspoon of salt. Lower consumption — no more than 1,500 mg per day, about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt — is recommended for younger children, middle-aged and older adults, African Americans, and people with high blood pressure. With most Americans getting much more than they need — 3,400 mg of sodium per day, on average – it easy to see that there is room for improvement in the American diet.

Sodium by the Numbers

1,500 mg Recommended limit for young children, middle-aged and older adults, African Americans, and people with high blood pressure
2,300 mg Recommended limit for Americans ages 14 years old and older
3,400 mg What most Americans get in their diet

Sources of Sodium

Most of the sodium in our diet comes from salt. The words “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. The chemical name for salt is sodium chloride; salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride; therefore 1 teaspoon of salt is equivalent to 2,300 mg of sodium.

Salt is the source of about 90% of sodium in the diet. But most salt doesn’t come from adding salt during cooking or at the table — it comes from processed foods and restaurant meals.

 

According to national data about Americans’ eating habits, these foods are the leading contributors to the sodium young people eat:

  • pizza
  • breads and rolls
  • processed meats (such as bacon, sausage, cold cuts, and hot dogs)
  • savory snacks (such as chips and pretzels)
  • sandwiches (including burgers)
  • chicken patties, nuggets, and tenders
  • pasta mixed dishes (like spaghetti with sauce)
  • Mexican dishes (like burritos and tacos)
  • cheese

High-Sodium Foods Commonly Consumed by Children

Did any of these foods surprise you? Sometimes it’s easy to tell when foods taste salty. But other higher sodium foods are deceptive, such as bread, because they don’t taste salty. Then there’s my snack of salted mixed nuts: they taste salty, but with 120 mg per 1/4 cup serving, they have just 5% of the daily value for sodium. These examples mean that you have to pay special attention to sodium content when shopping and eating out.

The sodium content can be found on the Nutrition Facts label. You can find the percentage of daily value (% DV) on the label, or by dividing the amount of sodium in a serving by 2,300 mg. As a general guide:

General Guide for Low- and High-Sodium Foods

Sodium Scavenger Hunt

Do you know the amount of sodium in  your diet? Time to go on a scavenger hunt in your cupboards and refrigerator to locate sources of sodium. Collect at least five or six different foods, and try to get different types of foods. If you want to include a food that doesn’t have a food label (such as fresh fruit or vegetables), you can find expanded nutrient profiles in FoodData Central of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Download the Sodium Scavenger Hunt, and then use the information from the labels to complete this activity.

Here is an example:

Food Item

Serving Size

Sodium Content     (per serving)

Sodium Level

%DV

Sodium Swap
Carrots, fresh 3 oz 65 mg 3% Low sodium food – no swap needed
Tuscan-Style chicken & white bean soup

1 container (15.5 oz)

1,420 mg

62%

Lower-sodium soup

Homemade soup using no-salt added beans

What conclusions can you draw from your table? Were you able to come up with sodium swaps?

Today’s Takeaway:  Sodium is a necessary nutrient, but most Americans consume more than is recommended. Now that you know the dietary recommendation for sodium, look for our follow-up post on more sodium swaps and ways to reduce sodium in your diet.

Subscribe: Don’t miss out on our health living posts. You can subscribe by clicking on the “Subscribe” button in the lower right corner of your screen. You can also check out all the other Grab and Go Resources.

Adapted from:

American Heart Association. (2018). Sodium and kids. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/sodium-and-kids

Frank, A. P., & Clegg, D. J. (2016). Dietary guidelines for Americans—Eat less salt (JAMA Patient Page). Journal of the American Medical Association, 316(7), 782. https://doi.org10.1001/jama2016.0970

Harvard Health Publishing. (2009). Sodium, salt, and you. Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sodium-salt-and-you

Harvard Health Publishing. (2014). How to stay in the sodium safe zone. Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-stay-in-the-sodium-safe-zone

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). Sodium in your diet. https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/sodium-your-diet

Additional References

American Heart Association. (2016). Why so many African-Americans have high blood pressure. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/why-high-blood-pressure-is-a-silent-killer/high-blood-pressure-and-african-americans

Arbuto, N. J., Zoilkovska, A., Hooper, L., Elliott, P., Cappuccio, F. P., & Meerpohl, J. J. (2013). Effect of lower sodium intake on health: Systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ, 346, f1326. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f1326

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Leading causes of death. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm

Hardy, S. T., & Urbina, E. M. (2021). Blood pressure in childhood and adolescence. American Journal of Hypertension, 34(3), 242–249. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajh/phab004

Jackson, S. L., Zhang, Z., Wiltz, J. L., Loustalot, F., Ritchey, M. D., Goodman, A. B., & Yang, Q.  (2018). Hypertension among youths — United States, 2001–2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 67, 758–762. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6727a2

Leyvraz, M., Chatelan, A., da Costa, B. R., Taffé, P., Paradis, G., Bovet, P., Bochud, M., & Chiolero, A. (2018). Sodium intake and blood pressure in children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental and observational studies. International Journal of Epidemiology, 47(6), 1786–1810. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyy121

Kit, B. K., Kuklina, E., Carroll, M. D., Ostchega, Y., Freedman, D. S., & Ogden, C. L. (2015). Prevalence of and trends in dyslipidemia and blood pressure among US children and adolescents, 1999-2012. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(3), 272–279. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.3216

Rios-Leyvraz, M., Bovert, P., & Chiolero, A. (2020). Estimating the effect of a reduction of sodium intake in childhood on cardiovascular diseases in later life. Journal of Human Hypertension, 34, 335–337. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41371-01800137-z

U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020).  Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 (9th ed.). https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials

 

4-H Healthy Living Resources

The fourth H in 4-H represents Health. When reciting the 4-H pledge, members pledge their health to better living. Health as the 4th H can mean many things, including:

  • Taking a health-related project
  • Learning more about health through reading and hands-on learning
  • Adopting healthy behaviors
  • Encouraging one’s family and friends to do things to be healthier
  • Teaching others about a health-related topic
  • Making changes in the food served at club meetings and county events to reflect health recommendations
  • Learning about health-related careers
  • Talking to community leaders about health issues
  • Creating a plan to address a health-related issue in the community

Health is very important to the overall 4-H program. Whether members take a health project or not, we want involvement in 4-H to include educational experiences focused on health.

Ohio 4-H has some new healthy living resources, brought to you by the Ohio 4-H Healthy Living Design Team. These resources can help club officers and 4-H professionals add a dose of the 4th H to their meetings.

Ohio 4-H Healthy Living Officer Resource Guide

Healthy Living officers have the opportunity to lead activities that will be both fun and educational for their 4-H club. The Healthy Living Officer Resource Guide is a new 20-page resource designed to accompany the Healthy Living Officer’s Record Book. Both can be found on the Ohio 4-H Officer Resources page. The resource guide includes background information on the healthy living area, tips for planning your part in club meetings, evaluating sources of information, and a list of current healthy living projects. The remaining sections are organized by the core topics covered in the national 4-H Healthy Living mission area:

  • nutrition
  • physical activity
  • mental, emotional, and social health
  • safety and injury prevention
  • prevention of tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use

Each section includes a brief description, sample activities, and sources of additional resources to learn more about the topic. You’ll find ideas for icebreakers, roll call, displays, presentation, guest speakers, and community service projects.

Healthy Living Grab and Go Resources Page

We’ve created activities that go along with many of our blog posts, and now they are organized on the Grab and Go Resources page. On the grab and go page you’ll find lesson plans that you can download and use at your next meeting. You can use one activity, or combine several related activities to create the plan for an entire meeting. The lessons are grouped together by topics that correspond with the Healthy Officer Resource Book: nutrition; physical activity; and mental, emotional, and social health.

Additional topics include:

  • The newest section is Mindful Moments, which are short, 5-minute activities that can be used at the start of any meeting.
  • COVID-19 activities address situations brought on by the pandemic.
  • Creative Well-Being activities are fun activities that exercise creativity in different ways.

As we write new blog posts, we will continue to add resources to the grab and go page, so check back often. Click the “subscribe” button to receive an email notification about new blog content.

And don’t forget that we have Ohio 4-H Mental Health Month resources on our 4-H Healthy Living webpage.

Five Keys to Virtual Connection

by Tyler Kessler, 4-H Educator, Adventure Central

Our entire world is connecting virtually now more than ever, and it is safe to say that virtual platforms like Zoom and Google Meet are here to stay. This move from in-person school classrooms and offices to online video-call sessions has left many people asking if we are truly able to experience meaningful personal connections during this time of isolation and heavy ‘Zooming.’ A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of many produced by various sources over the last year, supports that the loss of in-person connections is linked to increases in mental health struggles and feelings of hopelessness, particularly among young people.

Clearly, we need to be more intentional about connecting with others now more than ever before, and the good news is that we can use our online platforms to do just that! With a little creativity and intentional thinking, we can absolutely use technology in new ways to meaningfully connect with our own emotions and with our friends, teachers, and co-workers! Making time for fun activities, laughter, and getting to know one another before trying to learn can have a huge effect on how we feel and what we are able to remember. Not to mention that virtual and in-person activities that involve joy and laughter lead to the release of dopamine in our brains, which helps fight anxiety and depression!

Below are five keys for virtual connection that can help to jump-start your virtual connectivity during online sessions. Read through each and think about how you can use one or more keys to bring connections back to your virtual spaces with friends, family, and co-workers:

computer screen with list

  1. Connection before content – Fun, social-emotional interactions using games, and even GIFs found using your cell phone, at the opening and closing of virtual meetings can bring better connection with content through connections with peers and meeting hosts.
  2. Use time to make space – The world of virtual connection deprives us of much needed transition time. Coffee breaks with co-workers, walks with friends between school classes, and daily commutes typically provide our brains time to transition between tasks. As we travel quickly and efficiently from Zoom-to-Zoom, it is more important than ever to add time to assess our feelings so that we can create space for mindful transitions and connectivity.
  3. Hands-on learning is minds-on learning – We know STEM activities provide excellent opportunities for ‘hands-on, minds-on’ learning. Additionally, STEM-related concepts often parallel social emotional teaching. It is time to use out-of-the-box programming to form connections that reach across topic areas.
  4. Keep activities simple and adaptable – Have you ever heard the phrase, “Less is more?” Screens can make it harder for us to focus for long periods of time, and big learning can often come from simple activities. Do not be afraid to choose a 10-minute activity to teach that new lesson!
  5. Safe spaces create connection – Common video meeting platforms allow participants to mute their voices, turn off their cameras, and simply use ‘chat box’ features to communicate. These features can make it feel like connection cannot be powerful in the virtual environment, but they also provide users a unique way to make aspects of connecting with others feel less ‘risky,’ particularly for young people. We know that feeling safe is crucial for genuine trust and connection, and activities that utilize chat box features can create safe spaces for sharing that are not available in person.

This battle against social isolation is a difficult one, but do not forget that you can create healthy connections everywhere you are! Make a phone call to the person you have not talked with in a while. Send a text to a close friend or relative, reminding them about a special shared memory you have. Whether you are on a Zoom call for school or work, or you are sitting in your room at home with your cell phone in hand, remembering you are never alone and making the simple choice to connect with others are the most important keys for virtual connection. So, what are you waiting for? Get connected!

Each key has a downloadable activity that reinforces a connection concept. Check out these and other Grab & Go resources you can use during your Zoom or other virtual sessions!

Take an Imaginary Road Trip!

I love to travel. However, because of the pandemic I had to change most of last year’s travel plans, and I’ll be deferring future travel until it’s safe to do so. Although I can’t wait to get on the road again, there’s nothing to stop us from taking an imaginary road trip in the meantime!

When I got the idea about taking an imaginary road trip, the first thing that popped up in my Google search was Jason Reynolds, who is the seventh National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. First of all, who knew there was such a thing, and how cool is that. Second, it turns out Mr. Reynolds proposes the idea of just such a trip! In one of his “Write. Right. Rite.” videos, he puts forth the imaginary road trip challenge:

  • Pick a person you admire – why did you select this person to go on the trip with you?
  • Describe the best of the trip with this person.
  • Describe what the worst part of the trip would be with this person.

I decided to add a few elements of my own to this challenge:

  • What is your destination?
  • What is one thing that you want to be sure to pack?
  • What vehicle are you driving? Or maybe you’re taking another form of transportation.
  • What will you stop and see along the way?
  • What music will you listen to? Create your own playlist.
  • What are other details of your trip?

We can use the image of a winding road for the ups and downs that COVID has taken us through in the past year. It’s easy to feel disappointed when we can’t do the things we had hoped to do, that COVID kept us from doing. Instead, I’m choosing to reframe this time as an opportunity to think about where I want to go, to plan an imaginary road trip so I can take a real one when the time is right to do so.

Today’s Take-Away: Planning an imaginary road trip can be fun! To help you plan out your trip, I put all of this into an Imaginary Road Trip activity sheet for you to use. Take your creativity one step further and draw or search for images to illustrate your trip. Get your friends or family members in on the act and compare your trips. You’ll be cultivating social connections in the process.

One song that would be on my road trip playlist is Sheryl Crow’s Every Day is a Winding Road. With every passing day, I believe we’ll get “a little bit closer to feeling fine.” And who knows, we might actually make our imaginary trips a reality!

Check out our Ohio 4-H Mental Health Month resources and come back here for more information and ideas.

Yours in Health,

Signature

Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

 

Dealing with Feelings

Surprise, frustration, excitement, disappointment, calmness, fear: Feelings, or emotions, are a normal part of our everyday lives. Everyone experiences them. We should resist labeling our emotions as “good” or “bad”—it’s how we react and respond to the emotion that’s important.

Identifying your emotions, understanding how they influence your behavior, and being able to manage them are considered a foundation of social emotional learning. When thoughts and emotions work together, it’s easier to make more effective decisions, solve problems, and achieve goals.

 Emotion regulation, also called self-regulation, is a term generally used to describe a person’s ability to effectively manage their thoughts and feelings, with the goal of taking actions that are necessary for success in school, relationships, and the workplace. Whether you realize it or not, you are using emotion regulation strategies many times throughout each day.

For example, self-regulation includes being able to

  • resist highly emotional reactions to things others say and do,
  • calm yourself down when you get upset,
  • adjust when something doesn’t go the way you expect it to and you need to change plans, and
  • handle frustration without an outburst. It is a set of skills that that develops over time.

Think about babies – what do they do when they are upset? They cry. This is their way to get attention, to communicate that they are tired, hungry, or frustrated. They haven’t developed many other ways to handle their emotions yet. As they get older, when they are able to talk, they can use words to express how they feel. At first, adults have to help children learn how to do this. Over time, they learn more strategies and to take charge of using them.

Now fast forward in time: How do you react to situations at home, school, and/or work that you find frustrating or overwhelming? Do you ever find yourself in a situation where your emotions get the better of you and you say or do something that doesn’t get the desired result?

When thoughts and emotions work together, it supports you in making more effective decisions, solving problems, and achieving goals. However, in teenagers, the parts of the brain that process emotions are more developed than the parts of the brain responsible for good decision-making and future planning. This means that for a while the two parts of the brain are “out of balance.” Those first reactions may come from the “emotional brain” before the “thinking brain” kicks in and regulates your response. Has someone ever said to you, “What were you thinking?” when they don’t understand your reaction to a situation?  If you can’t explain what you were thinking, it may be that you weren’t thinking as much as you were feeling and reacting to those feelings.

While you’re waiting for your brain to sync up, it doesn’t mean that you have to give up – you can learn to manage your emotions more effectively. The first step is tuning in to your feelings. Notice your body’s reactions and take a pause before you respond to a situation. You may notice that your heart pounds, your face may turn red, you clench your teeth, your hands might sweat, your breathing may become faster or slower, or your facial expression could change.

Emotion regulation strategies can help you manage your body’s response and how you follow through on your feelings. Here are some strategies you can you to deal with your feelings in a healthy way.

Examples of Healthy Emotion Regulation Strategies

  • Talking with friends
  • Exercising
  • Writing in a journal
  • Meditation
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Paying attention to negative thoughts that occur before or after strong emotions
  • Noticing when you need a break – and taking it
  • Seeking professional help

If you’ve been reading these posts, you may be noticing some common threads in these strategies. Mindfulness and self-care strategies figure prominently in these suggestions.

The strategies we choose to deal with our feelings are not always healthy ones. They may make you feel better in the short term, but they may work against you in the long run. They can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. Their effect on your relationships with others, a component of your social health, may be undesirable as well.

Examples of Unhealthy Emotion Regulation Strategies

  • Avoiding or withdrawing from difficult situations
  • Physical or verbal aggression
  • Overusing social media, to the neglect of other responsibilities
  • Abusing alcohol or other substances
  • Self-injury

Today’s Take-Away: Emotions are a normal part of our everyday lives. Emotion regulation is not aimed at eliminating emotions from our lives, but rather understanding them and controlling their influence when this influence is undesired. You can download the Dealing with Feelings activity sheet to help you think through a situation, how you respond, and what you could do instead.

See the Ohio 4-H Mental Health Month resources and come back here for more information and ideas.

Yours in Health,

Signature

Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Adapted from:

Murray, D. W., & Rosanbalm, K. (2017). Promoting Self-Regulation in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Practice Brief. (OPRE Report #2015-82). Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Rolston, A., & Lloyd-Richardson, E., (n.d.). What is emotion regulation and how do we do it? Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/perch/resources/what-is-emotion-regulationsinfo-brief.pdf

What Does Your Zip Code Have to Do with Your Health?

map with push pinLast week when I wrote about social health, I did so from the perspective of the individual, that is, what can someone do to cultivate social connections. This week I’d like to expand the concept of social health to include a much larger perspective. But what does your zip code have to do with your health?

What influences your health? The obvious answer is things like the food you eat, how much you exercise, and your family history. But people living just a few blocks apart may have very different opportunities to live a long life, in part just because of the neighborhood where they live.

As an example, let’s look at a map prepared by the Center for Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. This map shows several zip codes in Cleveland, Ohio, with up to a 12-year difference in life expectancy between them.

Map of Cleveland, Ohio, illustrating life expectancy by zip code (Center for Society and Health, Virginia Commonwealth University)

Were you surprised to learn that life expectancy can vary so much in nearby locations? In some parts of the country, the gaps are even larger. And life expectancy is just one of the measures with these sorts of differences. Access to care, access to health information, and quality of life are all affected by where one lives. The first question that should come to mind is, “Why?” Why is there such a difference? Why is a person’s zip code a stronger predictor of their overall health than other factors, including race and genetics? There is no simple answer. Gaps in health status across neighborhoods are complex and stem from multiple factors.

It’s important to understand that it’s not the zip code itself, but the conditions that exist in the area the zip code represents. In that sense, the zip code is the proxy for the social and neighborhood conditions. A proxy means that zip code stands in for something else.

The answer to why is too big for just one post. It starts with understanding social determinants of health. So let’s start there.

 Social Determinants of Health

To understand what’s going on, we’ll consider a concept called the social determinants of health. Social determinants of health refer to non-medical factors that influence health, such as employment, income, housing, transportation, child care, education, discrimination, and the quality of the places where people live. They have a big impact on people’s health, well-being, and quality of life. However, surveys show that most Americans are unaware of the how these factors affect health.

Think about it: People who don’t have access to grocery stores with healthy foods are less likely to have good nutrition. That raises their risk of health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity — and even lowers life expectancy relative to people who do have access to healthy foods.

Examples of social determinants of health include:

  • Safe housing, transportation, and neighborhoods – for example: Some neighborhoods are unsafe for children to play outside. Lack of transportation may limit people’s ability to get work and health care.
  • Education, job opportunities, and income – for example: Communities with weak tax bases cannot support high-quality schools and jobs are often scarce in neighborhoods with struggling economies. High school graduation is a leading indicator of healthy adult behaviors and health status.
  • Access to nutritious foods and physical activity opportunities – for example: Opportunities for residents to exercise, walk, or ride a bicycle may be limited. Stores and restaurants selling unhealthy food may outnumber stores with fresh produce or restaurants with nutritious food.
  • Racism, discrimination, and violence – for example: Segregation can negatively affect health by creating communities of concentrated poverty.
  • Polluted air and water – for example: Closeness to highways, factories, or other sources of toxic materials may expose people to pollutants.

People’s awareness of social determinants of health has come to the forefront during the coronavirus pandemic. For example, access to testing, the likelihood of having pre-existing conditions, and the types of jobs people have that may increase their exposure affect some groups more than others (e.g., homeless people, racial and ethnic minority individuals).

Just promoting healthy choices won’t eliminate health disparities, because they are embedded in so many aspects of society. It’s a job too big for any one person. The first step is to become aware a situation exists. Then find out what might be happening in your community to address health issues.

Today’s Take-Away: A place to start is with your zip code. You can download this activity sheet to examine Health-by-the-Numbers.

You can find more resources on Ohio 4-H’s Mental Health Month page. Come back for more ideas and information about health.

Yours in Health,

Signature

Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Adapted from:

Center for Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Healthy People 2030. https://health.gov/healthypeople/objectives-and-data/social-determinants-health

Start the New Year with Gratitude – Make a Gratitude Jar

Gratitude Jar, jar with slips of paper

Make a Gratitude Jar

The start of a new year is an opportunity to pause and reflect on what has been and what lies ahead. For many reasons, 2020 is a year many people would like to forget. Stay-at-home orders, the resulting school and business closures, and social distancing guidelines changed how we lived our lives during a global pandemic. It is natural and healthy to be disappointed when experiencing a loss. But it is equally important to recognize and appreciate what we have in our life. Gratitude reverses our priorities to help us appreciate the people and things we do have. As one way to start the new year with gratitude, make a Gratitude Jar.

Gratitude is defined as an appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself; it is a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation. Gratitude has a variety of benefits that help promote healthy development. Research shows that people who think about the good things in their life tend to be happier and less depressed.

Here is how to fill the Gratitude Jar.

  1. Think of at least three good things each day and write each on a separate slip of paper. This “good stuff” can be something great that happened, or it can just be something more ordinary. The point is the reflect and write it down.
  2. Put the slips in the Gratitude Jar.
  3. At the end of the month (or other amount of time), you can look back through the slips and reflect and be reminded of all the “good stuff” that has happened. It is also something to do on a holiday such as Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve. You may be surprised to see how the “little things” have added up.

This practice is easy on “good days.” But on a “bad day” or when you think things are not going so well in your life, the good stuff won’t always be so easy to find. That’s where you may have to do some hunting to find the good stuff. We sometimes refer to this as “finding the silver lining in a cloud” or “turning lemons into lemonade.” Here’s an example: One night I was working late, and as I drove home a song came on the radio. Despite not having heard it in years, I could sing every word. It was late and I was tired, but hearing that song brought a smile to my face. That was one of the things I wrote for my gratitude jar that night. And I still remember it, even though it was 7 years ago!

It may take time for expressing gratitude to become a habit. And you may not feel the positive effects of expressing gratitude right away. But research shows that you should stick with it. Researchers at the University of California Berkeley concluded that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.

If you want to take the next step in expressing gratitude, write a note to express your gratitude to someone. Recent research shows that actually expressing your gratitude to someone else may be particularly effective. Not only will you feel good, but sharing your appreciation to a teacher, family member, or friend will surely make their day.

You can download directions for the Gratitude Jar here.

Gratitude Jar directions

Directions for Making a Gratitude Jar

Adapted from Coping with COVID: Lesson Plans to Promote Mental, Emotional, and Social Health.

Yours in Health,

Signature

Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Actions You Can Take: 4-H’ers in Times of National Crisis

All the recent events and how people have responded have me thinking about a lot of things. I wondered what 4-H’ers had done during other times of national crisis, and how what happened in the past might help us learn how young people can take control in our present time of pandemic. First let’s take a look at what 4-H’ers did during World War II.

A Look at the Past

The 4-H History Preservation webpage documents how 4-H’ers supported the war effort during World War II.

Girl with corn plant

4-H member with corn plant in her Victory Garden

They sold war bonds and grew victory gardens. To raise money to buy war equipment, planes, ships, and ambulances, they collected and sold scrap metal, rubber, and phonograph records. They even collected milkweed pods, collecting enough to stuff 1 million life jackets – no small effort!

There’s even a reference to efforts of Ohio 4-H members on the 4-H history page:

“Winding up 1943 outstanding war services, Ohio 4-H members and leaders purchased $510,041 in War Bonds for which a four-motored flying fortress heavy bomber aircraft was purchased and christened “Buckeye 4-H” at Lockbourne Air Base [now Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base near Columbus] in a special ceremony at which Ohio Director of Extension H. C. Ramsower presided. Junior Stuckey, Circleville, and Betty Brandt, Rushville, spoke for 4-H members. Lt. Dick Brandt, brother of Betty and a former 4-H’er, also participated. He was on furlough after having completed 50 bombing missions over Africa, Sicily, and the Continent.”

From these examples, we see that 4-H’ers were asked to do things, things that involved something outside themselves. They felt like they we doing their part to contribute to the war effort. They could see the tangible results of their efforts. These efforts could be measured – in pounds of scrap metal collected, number of planes sponsored, or amount of vegetables grown. I am sure that if asked, today’s 4-H’ers would do the same.

The Present Pandemic

Enter the coronavirus pandemic. What’s the difference compared with other times of national crisis? It seems like we’re being asked to stop doing things – stay home; no group activities like club meetings, graduations, or birthday parties; stop seeing friends. If we’re going to help, we think we should be doing something more active. We are being asked to do things, but they are more self-focused, at least on the surface. But if you look deeper, we’re being asked to do these things to protect not just ourselves, but to protect others. It’s harder to measure these things. But it’s part of our collective responsibility to our community, country, and world.

What can YOU do?

At times like this, it’s easy to feel out of control. But you have control over your behavior. Here are actions you can take:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. (See Callia’s hand washing video here.)
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover sneezes and coughs.
  • Wear a mask or face covering over your nose, mouth, and chin when out in public. (Go to the Ohio Department of Health for a mask checklist.)
  • Keep a physical distance of 6 feet from others when out in public, even if you’re wearing a face covering.
  • Stay at home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands or after touching surfaces.
  • Keep high-touch surfaces clean (e.g., doorknobs, light switches).
  • Stay connected to others virtually.
  • Spend time in outdoor recreation.
  • Keep a positive attitude and practice self-care (see our recent post on this topic).

There are other things 4-H’ers can do. In one of our previous posts, we featured 4-H’ers using their sewing skills to make masks to donate. Others are making signs or videos to thank essential workers in their community or writing cards to residents living in senior centers. Camp counselors are working on ways to do virtual camps this summer. These things are important too.

many children holding letters to spell thank you

4-H’er’s from Morgan County did a photo collage to thank essential workers

Handmade cards

Cards made by 4-H’ers from Columbiana County

4-H'ers with signs to thank essential workers

Brown County 4-H’ers displaying their signs thanking essential workers

3 4-H'ers with beef cattle and signs thanking essential workers

4-H’ers and friends from Wood County thank essential workers

Some day in the future the coronavirus pandemic will be behind us, part of history, a story to tell your grandchildren. As with other times of national crisis, what will be the story others will read about what 4-H’ers did during this time of pandemic? YOU can be part of writing that story. You can commit to using your head, heart, hands, and health to keep yourself and others safe.

Today’s 4-H Journal page helps you think about actions you are already doing and action you can take.

Yours in health,

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