Picture of family walking down path

The Practice of Gratitude

We’re wired to focus on the negative or what is missing in our lives. By intentionally focusing daily on what is good and right in our lives, our habit of negativity weakens, and appreciation strengthens. If we can make gratitude a habit, it becomes a default setting. When life unravels, our grateful attitude can help us pull through. But it doesn’t just happen, it comes with practice. We need to consciously apply and repeat, deliberately and daily. As our practice grows, our level of contentment rises.

Benefits of practicing gratitude

Although there are still many unknowns about the impact of gratitude on health, there is agreement that it makes you feel good! Overall, practicing gratitude creates positive emotions which can reduce stress and improve wellbeing and life satisfaction. Other benefits may include:

  • Feeling valued which increases our self-esteem
  • Minimizing negative thoughts and feelings
  • Preventing worry and frustration
  • Feeling inspired which improves motivation
  • Being hopeful for future
  • Building stronger relationships
  • Coping better with stress
  • Being more alert, enthusiastic and productive
  • Experiencing higher levels of love, happiness and optimism
  • Having stronger immunity, lower blood pressure, and better quality and duration of sleep

Simple exercises can be used every day to practice gratitude

  • Gratitude countdown– Take turns with a friend, spouse or child to count down from 10, listing 10 things you are grateful for. Be specific. For example, rather than saying “I’m grateful for my dog”, say “I’m grateful for my dog snuggling up to me tonight and making me feel loved.” This will help evoke an authentic feeling of gratitude. You can also do this solo.
  • Gratitude journaling– Each day, write down 10 items you’re grateful for, including bigger things that are easier to notice and the day to day things that we tend to overlook. Putting pen to paper helps to organize thoughts and deepen their impact. Do this exercise at the same time everyday to establish habit. Don’t worry about grammar or writing a well written sentence. The idea is to let writing flow naturally without too much thought to channel gratefulness from heart to pen to page.
  • Gratitude reminder– This is a simple cue to remind you to tap into gratitude during the day. It could be an audio (a squeaky door, an alarm) or visual (a bracelet, a pet) reminder to practice gratitude. When you hear or see that cue/reminder, pause, take a deep breath, and find gratitude in that moment.


picture of a boy standing next to a christmas tree

What Does Your 2020 Holiday Decorating Look Like?

Holiday decorating may look a little different for you this year. It has taken an interesting turn – not for the better or the worse. It’s just, well, different.

Read some of these stories our Excellus BlueCross BlueShield team members have shared, and you’ll see what we mean.


A Tale of a $99 Branch

Picture of a twig

Aida’s Twig

In my home this year, the Christmas trees, lights outside, and house filled with gnomes are all traditional.

What’s not? The enormous twig on a rope my husband decided to “gift” me after I attempted to convince him I was buying the notorious “Twig on a String” for $99 at Crate and Barrel that went viral on social media.

The best part of this décor is the fact that the original story is that I bought six of these twigs on a string and had my very calm, cool, collected husband so frazzled he believed me… and I got it on video! The video has made its way around to friends and family for their viewing enjoyment.

Well, the joke was on me when I was welcomed earlier this month with a surprise of my own. The very same twig on a rope – about 10 times the original size – was there hanging from my garage – he even included some festive ribbon!


A Tree of Faces

Picture of a tree topper

Crystal’s Tree Topper

“Our tree is a collection of memories: ornaments the kids have made, we bought on vacation or from memorable moments in our lives,” said Crystal Gallagher, of Monroe County.

Every year when her family puts up their tree, they talk about all the different ornaments and what they mean.  Years ago, her now 17-year-old Dillon’s ornament he had made with his picture on it disappeared.  “We thought he had thrown it away and we were mad,” she said. “This year we moved, and I found it at the bottom of our coat closet!”

So, to change things up for 2020, Dillon’s 16-year-old brother, Ian, decided to make his photo ornament and Dillon’s the tree topper.

“We thought it was so funny we left it and packed our usual bow back up for next year!” Crystal said.


Decorating – or Not Decorating – Your Way

Picture of a holiday tree

Roxy’s holiday decorations, now and then.

In 2016, Roxy Greninger from Monroe County wasn’t feeling well and the thought of putting up the Christmas tree was crippling. Instead of guilting herself, she got creative and decided she would cut herself some slack that year.

“I told my family that Santa was going to pour the presents down the chimney. My son, Riley, was a teenager so he didn’t mind, and my husband was supportive, though he enjoys the tree but wasn’t prepared to put it up himself,” she said. “We enjoyed our holiday in a fun new way and it got me through a rough patch.”

This year, as Roxy felt the depression creeping in, she turned the chore of putting up the Christmas tree into something she enjoyed doing – designing. She had a vision in mind, so she ran to the craft store and got to work – even decorating the banister!

“I hung the stockings but left the other Christmas décor in storage for 2020,” she said reminding us all that “Tree or not, both Christmases’ were and will be special. It’s about doing what’s best for you.”


Making Trees Out Of… Trees

Picture of a man standing next to a tree made of dowels

Peter’s Dowel Tree

Peter Kates, of Erie County, made a very unconventional tree this year. He made a Christmas tree out of dowels and a wooden closet rod. As he said, he made a tree out of a tree!

Peter’s daughter has many allergies, including to pine trees. And recently, she developed a chemical sensitivity to many man-made materials, so their artificial tree is now outside the kitchen on the back deck…fully strung with lights, and rusting. Peter’s homemade tree will be inside and loaded with all their favorite ornaments.

What does your 2020 holiday decorating look like? Share your decorating stories in the comments section below. 

Picture of a dad and baby girl dancing

Get Moving With Your Family

Engaging your kids in a health-promoting lifestyle can be a fun way to enjoy time with your family!

The more you move, the better off you are! It doesn’t matter how wacky your antics, if you are moving and having fun, you’re getting in shape. It’s that simple.

Go on a treasure hunt

Here’s a great way to keep the family fit and teach your kids about trust, teamwork, and problem solving at the same time. Take them to a local park and set an expedition course on a map, circling various “checkpoints.” Take turns navigating to each point on the map and leading the team to each destination. Sound too complicated? Then merely go hunting for bugs, animals, or flowers. You can’t entertain a young kid much better than finding a colorful salamander under a log or rock.

Plan 10-minute spurts of activity

Follow spurts of activity with 5-minute rest periods. Don’t force your adult exercise program on your children. That’s a recipe for disaster. Instead, take advantage of their natural tendency to participate in intermittent and sporadic play and exercise bouts. A game of tag is a perfect example. Children’s bodies are designed to sprint and rest, sprint and rest. Because they are easily distracted and incapable of long periods of focused activity, they will resist long exercise sessions that don’t include rest periods.

Train for school fitness tests as a family

Learn which fitness tests or activities your child is doing in physical education class and train for them as a family. Set goals, such as running a quarter-mile and then a half and then a full mile in a certain amount of time — and reward each family member for meeting each goal.

Play follow the leader with one or more children

Line up single file and weave your way through the house or backyard. Every few steps, hop, skip, do the grapevine or some other movement that your followers must imitate. Once the kids get the hang of the game, let them take turns as leader. Their naturally creative minds will come up with all sorts of fun movements for the followers to imitate. You’ll be out of breath before you know it.

Give your child a head start — and race around the house

You can do the same with calisthenics. You do 10 crunches, and your child does 5. See who can complete them first.

Spend an hour doing yard work together

Raking leaves, pulling weeds, shoveling snow, and spreading out mulch all help to build strength and endurance. Plus, when your kids help, it doesn’t take as long or seem as much of a chore (depending on the age of the child, of course). There are numerous ways to make yard work more fun for kids. For instance, when you finish raking a pile of leaves, you get to jump in them.

Wash the car together

The scrubbing is good exercise, but everyone getting wet and soapy is just plain fun for kids.

Give your kids a list of indoor chores — then join them

Younger children often like to feel helpful and will enjoy helping you with household chores. Ask them to help you make the beds, fold the laundry and put it away, set the table, and put dishes in the dishwasher — all physical activities that can help get your heart rate up, stretch your body, and build your muscles.

Take a hike

Grab a backpack, plenty of water, and a light lunch and head to a local trail for a hiking expedition. Wear hiking boots for rocky terrain or sneakers for smoother trails, and pack sunscreen and insect repellent. To make this more fun for kids, make it about something else, such as looking for a particular animal or bird, climbing to see a lake or pond, or seeing how many rocks you can scamper over without touching the ground. Kids like hiking much better when they don’t realize it’s about hiking! Bring a picnic; of course, this is a great opportunity to share a delicious but healthful meal and cultivate good family eating habits.

Dance during commercial breaks

Make it a family rule that whenever you watch television, you have to stand up and dance around during the commercials. This goes for everyone! Whoever gets caught sitting on the couch during a commercial break must perform his or her least-liked household chore for one week.

How do you get moving with your family? Share your ideas in the comments.

Picture of mom hugging a daughter

Expert Q&A: How to Support Your Child’s Mental Health During the Pandemic

We sat down (virtually) with Dr. Saba Abaci, medical director for Safety Net Behavioral Health Children Services at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield to learn some tips for how to best support a child’s mental health during the pandemic.

What are some signs parents want to look for to indicate their child may be struggling to cope with the pandemic?

(Dr. Abaci) I think it is important to look for any changes in regular daily activities, including some regressive or new behaviors, changes in appetite, motivation, energy, sleep issues, or mood shifts. Stress can cause changes in all these areas. A child’s age also plays an important role in how they can express their feelings. Sometimes engaging in some play time and activities like drawing can be very helpful tools to facilitate communication about thoughts and feelings.

What are some healthy ways for kids to cope with stress?

Depending on your child’s age, you could encourage your child to take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. Instead, encourage your child to do other activities they enjoy, like spending time outdoors or playing a game. Connecting with friends and family can also help with feelings of stress. You can help your child to brainstorm ways to stay connected safely, such as through phone calls, video chats or mailing cards. Everyone is in an unusual situation right now, so it’s important for all of us to be intentional about caring for our mental health.

How can parents help their child build resilience during the pandemic?

There’s a lot that is outside of our control right now. But some things we can control are taking care of our health, including getting enough sleep, ensuring good nutrition, and being physically active. Keeping a consistent daily routine, when possible, can also help increase that sense of control. Helping children find ways to feel in control can improve resilience, which can improve mental health.

Any tips or approaches for dealing with kids who have mental barriers for doing certain types of schoolwork at home?

It can be frustrating and exhausting dealing with kids who have mental barriers for doing certain types of work. I think reassurance is very important for everyone. Children do well when there is a clear, consistent schedule. Making daily activity schedules ahead of time can be useful. Having some relaxing or fun activity before the child begins their assignments may put them at ease while still having the time set to begin the assignment. This also varies from child-to-child. I find it very helpful to work together on a list of the child’s wishes, goals and how they think they can achieve them.

How can families keep positive during a winter where we’ll likely be at home more than normal?

It will be important to plan ahead this year given our current environment and maintain good routines and social connections, which can be a mood booster during fall/winter months. Regular exercise, sleep, and good nutrition are all important for staying energized. It’s also important to be proactive about finding opportunities to connect with friends and loved ones, even if it’s in a virtual way. Get some natural light daily or keep the lights on during the evenings while engaging in hobbies can help when the nights feel so long.

How can parents find additional support to help their child?

If you have concerns about your child’s mental health, a conversation with your child’s primary care provider is a good place to start. If you need help finding a primary care provider, visit ExcellusBCBS.com/FindaDoctor. Excellus BCBS members also have access to a 24/7 Nurse Call Line, which can provide support and education through specially trained registered nurses.

Any tips for getting an appointment with a mental health specialist?

Your child’s primary care provider can help with making a referral to a mental health specialist, if needed. Most mental health providers now offer telehealth, making it easier for patients to get care from the privacy of home, where they feel comfortable and can call at their convenience. Many Excellus BCBS members are also able to receive mental health services through MDLIVE® with the same provider on an ongoing basis.

For more tips on getting a specialist appointment, watch the video below.

The 24/7 Nurse Call Line is a service provided to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield members to support their relationship with their health care providers. The information provided is intended to help educate members, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. If you are experiencing severe symptoms such as sharp pains, fever, loss of bodily function control, vomiting or any other immediate medical concern, dial 9-1-1 or contact a physician directly.

Picture of a dad helping child with homework

Top 6 Tricks for Managing Kids, School, and Work

Since March, many of us have adopted the role of stay-at-home parent and teacher, as well as full-time employee. As we’re starting a new school year that undoubtedly looks different from years past, we asked Excellus BlueCross BlueShield employees to share how they are managing.

Here are our top six tricks for trying to manage kids, school, and work. Balancing all of this is a very hard task – but we hope these ideas help in some small way.

1. Plan

As a family, take some time to sit together at the beginning of every week or every day to coordinate work and school schedules. This will help everyone agree on who is doing what and when. The Meyers family starts most days with a family “meeting” to get on the same page. “I set up ‘Meyers Family Huddles’ with my two elementary-age daughters,” said Angie Meyers of Monroe County. “The girls didn’t know I was being that intentional with these huddles, it was just ‘talking with mom about our day.’ We would talk about their schoolwork for the day and what times I would be available to ask for help if they needed it.”

You may also need to be more stringent about your work schedule. That approach has helped the Auch family. “I started to be pretty strict about my calendar,” said Joy Auch of Ontario County. “I rarely accept meeting invitations during the lunch hour because I’m feeding my kids and I try to minimize meetings during the times my kids are neediest, like in the early afternoon. There are a lot of meetings, but I’m no longer booked solid all day long, which has helped tremendously.”

2. Use Signs

After your “family huddle”, let everyone in your house know the schedule for the day using signs, notes, or a whiteboard. Showing the times when you will be in a meeting can help kids to be more mindful about interrupting (or maybe encourage them to knock first). “My trick is the dry erase board with what’s for lunch, dinner, and when I have meetings,” said Olivia Linke of Niagara County.

Picture of a whiteboard with family schedule

Olivia Linke’s whiteboard

3. Ask for Help

It can be overwhelming to try and manage everything by yourself. Ask relatives or neighbors for help. Our neighbor has a son the same age as our youngest (age 11). We get them together to play throughout the day and coordinate alternating working outside to watch them. Or, consider reaching out to a coworker or your manager to ask about options for more flexibility. You may have options that will help your work schedule better accommodate family priorities.

4. Enjoy Sleep… (at least theirs)

If your kids take naps or sleep in, let them! Take advantage of the early mornings or nap time to make time for work or exercise. That has helped Megan Schmidt of Chemung County manage work and her family of five. “With three kids (ages 3, 5 and 8), it has been a real challenge,” said Megan. “I try to still get up early, get a workout in and log on my computer by 6:45-7:00 so that I can get two solid hours of uninterrupted time before they are awake.”

5. Let the kids help you

Whether it is “working” beside you or helping to cook dinner, involve the kids. You might be surprised by what they can do! “My kids have been interested in my work lately, so when I can, I have them help,” said Kelsey Gratien of Erie County. “They love selecting colors or clip art pictures for PowerPoint slides. Then I’m able to explain what I’m working on and they listen. They now have a better understanding of what I do, and they are more receptive when I say, ‘Mom needs you to be quiet for an hour while she presents the report you helped with.’”

 6. Enjoy Each Other

While juggling work, family, and school is challenging, find moments of the day to enjoy being together. “My kids are not used to me being home so much,” said Olivia Linke. “We have been able to have many more family dinners and family time since I am not traveling for work.”

Picture of a mom standing by her baby

Taking Care of Your Mental Health

Lisa’s world was turned upside down a few months ago. As with many of us, the pandemic changed nearly everything about her daily life overnight. The mother of three had only been back to work at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield for about four months following maternity leave, when her job shifted to work from home and her two older kids’ school transitioned to online. “I know it’s a cliché that the only thing constant in life is change, but so much change, so quickly, has really affected my mental health,” said the mother of eleven-month-old Alessandra, six-year-old Elias, and 10-year-old Sophia.

Cutout picture of three children

Lisa sent this picture cutout to her mother who was missing the children during social distancing. (photo courtesy of Lisa)

Lisa’s work is rewarding, but stressful at times. Add working from home to the mix, a breastfeeding baby who wants to be held, and the two older siblings attending school via Zoom, and you’ve got a perfect storm.

Be Patient and Kind

Growing up, Lisa was aware of the prevalence of mental health issues in her family. Five years ago, she also began experiencing nervousness and anxiety, which led her to seek help from a behavioral health professional who taught her coping skills and prescribed medication to help alleviate her symptoms.

“Taking medicine, doing deep breathing exercises, and scheduling regular physical activity such as walks with my family have helped me adapt to my new normal,” said Lisa. “I’ve also learned to be patient and kind with myself, and others, when I’m feeling stressed or panicked.”

Family Date Night

Lisa found that doing things with the family that were fun, and that gave them something to look forward to each week, improved the entire family’s mental health. “We now have a themed family date night every Saturday,” said Lisa. “One week it was a sports team theme, while another was a fancy dress up dinner.” Daughter Sophia has started to help in the kitchen and, according to mom, “makes a mean risotto!”

Picture of two children raising a glass to cheers over dinner

Saturday Night Date Night Dinner Fun at Lisa’s house (photo courtesy of Lisa)

Lisa is quick to add that support and check ins from her leaders at work have helped her to strike a work-life balance that allows her to manage stress and maintain perspective. Her supervisor has been very supportive, and sends weekly emails to their team that are funny or helpful, and keep everyone feeling connected.

“I’ve learned that your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical well-being,” said Lisa. “Taking care of your mental health is no different than going to the doctor when you are sick, so don’t be afraid to ask for help or lean on others when you need to.” A conversation with your doctor can be a good place to start with getting help.

Tips for Managing Anxiety

 The New York State Office of Mental Health provides the following tips for managing anxiety in an anxiety-provoking situation:

Practice good self-care, including exercising, eating healthy foods, and sleeping an adequate amount at night. If possible, spend some time outside. Avoid staying up late to
monitor the news.

Virtually reach out to different types of support networks, such as family, friends, colleagues, faith-based communities, and social organizations to strengthen your overall
feeling of connection. Isolation and loneliness feed anxiety.

Find or create spaces that are not focused on COVID-19. Start a social media thread about other topics, ask friends to discuss other topics, or watch your favorite TV show or movie.

Savor small positive moments, amplify positive stories, and stay optimistic. Try to cultivate a mental wellness practice, such as writing in a gratitude journal, or talking
nightly with your family about moments during the day that were fun or enjoyable.

Take an opportunity to practice mindfulness when managing anxiety. Mindfulness tools such as grounding exercises, sensory modulation, and deep breathing may be helpful.

If you are experiencing any urgent mental health concerns, there are resources such as Lifeline 585-275-5151 and the Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255.

Mother helping child do homework

Time To Catch Up On Your Kids’ Annual Physicals

Whether your kids are back in the classroom this fall or online learning from home, now is the time to reconnect with your child’s pediatrician to catch up on annual physicals and immunizations you may have postponed because of the COVID-19 lockdown. Children ages two to 21 years old should have an annual physical to ensure they are growing and developing normally.

Most health plans must cover a set of preventive health services for children at no cost. This includes Marketplace and Medicaid coverage. (Note: These services are free only when delivered by a doctor or other provider in the plan’s network.  https://www.healthcare.gov/preventive-care-children/).

“During a preventive visit or annual physical exam, your child’s growth will be tracked and monitored,” said Nicholas Massa, MD, pediatrician and medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “The pediatrician will also ensure that immunizations are up to date, including for whooping cough, rotavirus, measles, and the flu.”

Childhood immunizations protect against serious and potentially life-threatening diseases. Children who aren’t current with their immunizations are at increased risk of catching diseases and spreading them to others.

Help Your Child Breathe Easy

Asthma is one of the most common long-term diseases among children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An annual physical provides an opportunity to review and update a child’s asthma action plan (or asthma management plan), which is a written plan developed in conjunction with the child’s doctor. The plan details the child’s daily treatment, such as what kind of medicines to take, when to take them, and when to call the doctor or go to the emergency room.

“A review of claims data shows an annual spike in the number of children’s asthma-related medical visits, asthma attacks and hospitalizations from late August through late September,” said Massa. He advises all adults who care for a child who has asthma to have a copy of the child’s asthma action plan, including teachers, caregivers, and even parents of their friends. To learn more about how to keep children with asthma healthy, click to view “6 Steps For Controlling Your Child’s Asthma,” a free, downloadable poster from Excellus BCBS.

Annual physicals also provide an opportunity for your child’s pediatrician to look for signs of depression, lead exposure, or issues with hearing and vision.

The Doctor Will See You Now

Medical practices have made modifications to keep you and your child safe during your visit due to COVID-19. When you call your child’s pediatrician, you will be given updated protocols and instructions about how to proceed with scheduled appointments.

“With medical practices again welcoming patients for in-office visits, it is time to reconnect with your child’s pediatrician,” said Massa. “While many parents schedule their well child visits during the summer months when the kids are on summer break, remember that obtaining clearance for an upcoming sport is only one of many important parts of a yearly preventive visit or annual physical exam. And it can be done anytime during the year.”

For more information and resources to help you reconnect with your provider, visit ExcellusBCBS.com/reconnect.

Picture of someone spraying chemicals

The Dangers of Mixing Chemical Cleaners

Mixing chemicals of any kind is very dangerous. Sometimes chemicals are stored in an unmarked bottle or placed in a bottle with different labeling. Never use any chemical that you are not absolutely sure of its origin.

Mixing bleach with ammonia or any acid (drain cleaners, vinegar, glass cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, etc.) can create toxic fumes that can be harmful or fatal.

Particularly Dangerous Chemical Combinations:

  • Bleach + vinegar = chlorine gas. This can lead to coughing, breathing problems, burning and watery eyes. Chlorine gas and water also combine to make hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids. Furthermore, chlorine gas has been used as a chemical warfare agent, so it’s not something you want to be producing and inhaling in your home. Chlorine attacks the skin, mucous membranes, and respiratory system. At best, it will make you cough and irritate your eyes, nose, and mouth. It can also give you a chemical burn. At worst, it could be deadly if you are exposed to a high concentration or are unable to get to fresh air.
  • Bleach + ammonia = chloramine. This can cause shortness of breath and chest pain. Chloramine burns your eyes and respiratory system and can lead to internal organ damage. If there is enough ammonia in the mixture, hydrazine may be produced. Hydrazine is not only toxic but also potentially explosive. The best-case scenario is discomfort; the worst-case scenario is death.
  • Bleach + rubbing alcohol = chloroform. This is highly toxic. Breathing enough chloroform will knock you out, which will make you unable to move to fresh air. Breathing too much can kill you. Hydrochloric acid can give you a chemical burn. The chemicals can cause organ damage and lead to cancer and other diseases later in life.
  • Hydrogen peroxide + vinegar = peracetic/peroxyacetic acid. This can be highly corrosive. Peracetic acid can irritate your eyes and nose and may give you a chemical burn. ​

Safe Storage

Safely store chemicals in their original containers. Furthermore, if you have children, keep chemicals in cabinets with child-resistant locks or up, away, and out-of-sight of children. In addition to household cleaners, practice safe storage habits with the following items:

  • Medications
  • Alcohol
  • Laundry supplies
  • Insect repellents
  • Batteries
  • Oils or lubricants including tiki torch oil and engine oil
  • Personal care products like hand sanitizers

Immediately contact 9-1-1 if you experience any adverse or potential life-threatening reaction to cleaning supplies.

Poison Control can also provide assistance if you swallow or get splashed by something that may be harmful at 1-800-222-1222.


Picture of a boy in a box

My Happy Place: Organization

Each time I have felt anxious, stressed or just overwhelmed, the answer is a messy drawer or closet away. Organization is my happy place. I have always found solace in making my home less cluttered and more controlled.

During the past few months of social distancing and working from home while educating my seven kids – I say that very loosely – organization has been a go-to for me. Everyone’s coping strategy is different. But for me, whenever the world outside feels out of control, I turn inward. My small, at-home projects don’t cost a dime and they also keep my mind busy. As a type-A planner, this all helps me feel better by knowing things are in order.

Cleaning Clutter for a Clear Mind

I am glad to find I am not alone. Many of my co-workers and friends have shared that they have also found this time has helped them get that much overdue yard work done, refrigerators cleaned out from years (yes, years) of unused condiments, or finally sort through that tall stack of unread mail.

Just this past weekend, I tackled a closet that had clothes bursting out of it, with things that my husband hadn’t worn since he was in his 20’s… he is now 42. Putting on some fun tunes – my go to is “Alexa, play Justin Timberlake” – and getting to work was the best mind-clearing activity I could ask for as the snow was falling outside in May. *Heavy sigh*

Picture of a before and after of a messy closet organization project

Before and After pictures of Aida’s closet project (photo courtesy of Aida Byrne)

The reward was that my mind was clear after a few hours of organization; his closet looked fabulous, if I don’t say so myself, and it turned out to be a family activity as my kids helped me fold jeans, stack shoes, and fill bags with those Hawaiian shirts to donate.

What can organization do for you?

Studies have shown that our physical environments significantly influence our cognition, emotions, and behavior. Working in or living in an unorganized space can negatively impact our stress and anxiety levels, both at work and at home.

A 2009 study of mothers in the U.S. found that mothers who said their home environment was cluttered experienced higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Another study found that individuals who felt overwhelmed by their “stuff” were more likely to procrastinate. Other researchers found that disorganization can trigger coping and avoidance strategies like watching too much TV or binge-eating a pint of ice cream.

On the other hand, according to the National Association of Productivity and Organizing, getting organized may help:

  1. Boost your energy
  2. Lead to better eating habits
  3. Improve your sleep habits
  4. Reduce stress and make us happier

Start Small

“If getting started feels overwhelming, choose one small project, such as a drawer that annoys you every time you open it,” said Amanda Shanahan, RD, Employee Wellbeing Manager, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Or make a list of potential projects and prioritize them by time, cost, necessity or benefit. This can help to organize your organization.”

There is also practicality in home organization. When spaces are organized, less time is spent searching for things like that favorite black sweater or keys to the car. Your kids may be more likely to grab a healthy snack if there is a well-stocked snack bin or an organized refrigerator that displays some healthy options.

“Creating an environment which supports making healthy choices easy is key to maintaining good mental and physical health,” Amanda said.

What works for you?

Home organization may not be a coping strategy for everyone. There are many activities that can help you the way this helps me, such as exercise, gardening or reading. Find an activity that brings you to a happy place.

For me, there is plenty still to do in a home where nine people live. I’m already looking forward to the weekend, taking a deep breath, and thinking of what I can tackle next.

What is your happy place? Tell us in the comments how you keep busy at home.

Picture of a boy flying a kite in a park

Foster Care: A Rewarding Journey

Growing up as one of six kids, Sandra Smith of Chenango County always knew she wanted to be a mother.

“I’d always pictured that coming to me in the same way it did for everyone else. I believed I would fall in love, get married, get pregnant, and be able to care for my child right from birth,” she stated.

That’s not how it happened for Sandra.

A Rewarding Journey

Her first child was conceived through in vitro fertilization. After that, Sandra and her husband unsuccessfully tried again to get pregnant. Knowing that they still had a whole lot of love and stability to give, they decided to try adopting a child through foster care.

Embarking on the process of becoming foster parents meant extensive background checks, months of classes and plenty of home visits. Sandra said the whole thing was long and arduous, but so worth it in the end.

Sandra and her husband fostered a little girl who was placed in their home when she was 10 months old. Eight months later, they were able to proceed with the adoption. “Amy is now a happy, healthy and fun-filled 10-year-old little girl, and she certainly completed our family,” Sandra added.

Consistent, Quality Health Care

Today, approximately 16,000 children in New York state are in the foster care system and waiting for homes. Foster parents are special people; they open their homes and hearts to children who cannot continue to live safely with their biological families.

Studies show that children in the foster care system do better when their health is closely monitored during the various transitions and psychosocial stressors they may experience.

Amy Houghton, with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, understands the importance of consistent, coordinated health care for children in the foster care system. Amy leads the Excellus BCBS Foster Care team that works to enroll foster care children into health insurance plans and coordinate their care to make sure they have consistent access to necessary social, community, medical and behavioral health services. The Foster Care Team works with other service providers in the community to advocate for children in foster care and ensure that they are receiving high quality care.

“I am proud of our dedicated staff and their commitment to helping this population live healthier and more secure lives through access to quality health care and services,” said Amy.

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