Relax and De-stress with Meditation

It can be a challenge to make the time to rest our minds, relax, and find peace. But it is definitely worth the effort. 

According to a study reported at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, chronic stress may be linked to many physical illnesses and can negatively affect our mental health. The study showed that:

* 43% of adults experienced adverse health effects from stress.

* 75-90% of visits to a physician’s office are for stress-related conditions and complaints.

* Stress has been linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. Developing the ability to relax will help alleviate the impacts of stress and anxiety.

How can we learn to relax and enjoy life’s simple moments with all our duties and responsibilities? Meditation may be the answer. Consider this information.

Meditation has been used for years as a way to increase calmness and help with physical relaxation. Meditation is a combination of the mind and body working together to calm the mind and help us find peace. According to the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health, there are numerous types of meditation, but most have four common elements:

  1. A quiet location with few distractions.
  2. A comfortable position (sitting, lying down, walking).
  3. A focus of attention on something specific.
  4. An open attitude to let distractions come and go without judgment.

There are numerous benefits to meditation. It calms, restores, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, frees our mind from worries, helps us focus on happiness, creates a more stable mood, and increases our feelings of control over life’s situations. It also decreases muscle tension, helps with weight loss, enhances energy levels, improves memory, promotes greater tolerance, gives deeper spirituality, slows the aging process, and helps us put things into perspective.

Learning to relax through meditation is a skill that takes time and practice. There are many online resources and apps available. Take time to explore different methods and find what works best for you. Dedicate 10 minutes each day for meditation, and learn ways to relax and reflect on the positive in life. 

Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting for a Healthy 2023

With many illnesses circulating, including the common cold, flu, RSV, hand-foot-mouth disease, and the COVID virus, the new year is an excellent time to reevaluate hygiene habits. How often do you clean and disinfect items used daily, such as electronics or water bottles? Did you know there is a difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting?

  • Cleaning – Regular cleaning will remove most germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. Use water and soap to reduce the risk of infection from surfaces in your home. Experts recommend cleaning first before sanitizing or disinfecting since dirt and other impurities may make it more difficult for chemicals to kill germs. Areas of focus include high-touch surfaces such as light switches, electronics, doorknobs, countertops, etc.

  • Sanitizing – Sanitizing reduces the remaining germs on surfaces after cleaning and can be done with a weak bleach solution or commercial sanitizing spray. For nonporous objects, sanitize by boiling, steaming, or using a diluted bleach solution. Depending on the item, you may be able to put it in the dishwasher on a sanitizing cycle. 

  • Disinfecting – Disinfecting kills most bacteria and viruses that remain on surfaces after cleaning and sanitizing. By disinfecting after cleaning, you can significantly lower the risk of spreading disease. According to the CDC, it is not necessary to sanitize or disinfect daily unless someone in your home is sick or someone who was recently ill visited. To disinfect, use an EPA-registered disinfecting product or a stronger bleach solution. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds immediately after using disinfectants.

Consider these cleaning tips for regularly used items.

Electronics – Many of us use our phones, tablets, touch screens, remote controls, and other devices dozens of times a day. And while the best way to keep germs from spreading is to wash our hands frequently, we can also reduce the risk of infection by regularly cleaning the items we use. The CDC suggests following the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations for cleaning electronic devices, but general tips include putting a wipeable cover on devices to make cleaning and disinfecting easier and using a slightly damp, lint-free cloth. Do not spray anything directly on the device, and keep liquids or moisture away from openings.

Water bottles – Experts recommend washing and sanitizing bottles after each use to keep them clean and not sharing a water bottle with someone who has cold-like symptoms. If your bottle is dishwasher safe, you can clean and disinfect it there. If it is not, Michigan State University Extension suggests you wash the bottle in hot water with a teaspoon of unscented dish soap each day to reduce the risk of illness from bacterial growth. Soak the bottle in soapy water for a few minutes, rinse it with warm water, and let it completely dry before the next use. Avoid leaving water in your water bottle for long periods. 

And don’t forget the health precautions we learned during COVID. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available. Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and avoid sharing personal items with them. Stay up-to-date on immunizations, and stay home when you do not feel well.


How to Keep Your Water Bottle Germ-Free. Retrieved from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/how_to_keep_your_water_bottle_germ_free 

When and How to Clean and Disinfect Your Home. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hygiene/cleaning/cleaning-your-home.html

How to Sanitize Your Phone and Other Devices. Retrieved from https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/how-sanitize-your-phone-and-other-devices#:~:text=Our%20mobile%20phones%20connect%20us,day%20as%20a%20preventative%20measure

By: Emma Parkhurst, USU Extension assistant professor, health and wellness

Emma.Parkhurst@usu.edu, (435) 919-1334

Relationship Resolutions for the New Year

As the year draws to a close, many people reflect on the previous year and anticipate the year ahead. Now is the perfect time to make “relationship resolutions” to become a better spouse or partner.

Consider these tips to become better together in 2023:

  • Commit to more fun and adventure. After years together, it is common for couples to fall into relationship ruts and routines. To counter this, intentionally plan to do things together. Consider a getaway after the holidays, or set dates on the calendar to go out or stay home doing something fun together. Plan an event or activity to look forward to this coming year.
  • Commit to more connection. Life gets busy, and we tend to become more critical when we get comfortable and casual. To stay connected, commit to minimizing distractions. A great place to start is to reduce time on your phones. Other ideas include: going to bed at the same time, eating meals together, checking in more frequently throughout the day, expressing appreciation, and doing random acts of kindness to express love and affection.
  • Commit to more understanding and less conflict. All couples disagree. Happy couples find ways to manage differences in healthy ways. It may be leaving a few hurtful words left unsaid, being less reactive and more responsive, or working to monitor your temper, tongue, or tone. Happy couples are also more likely to drop grudges, be grateful, and be quick to forgive.
  • Commit to complete financial fidelity. In today’s world of online bank accounts, Venmo, and PayPal, it can be tempting to make secretive purchases without your partner knowing. But “sly buys” can break trust and create resentment. Perhaps you could consider combining bank accounts if necessary or coming clean about credit cards. Commit to sitting down together at least once a month to review finances, reconcile accounts, and budget for purchases. When you both know where your money goes, it can create a feeling of peace and openness to more connection. 

As you look at making personal improvements in the year ahead, consider making relationship improvements as well. Commit to connect. Plan to be more playful. Think to thank. Give your time and attention to making your marriage a priority. It is worth the effort!

By: David Schramm, Utah State University Extension family life specialist, David.Schramm@usu.edu, 435-797-8183

Holiday Lighting May Not Be So Jolly for Wildlife 

The holidays are here, and festive lights are burning bright. Although this tradition of illumination brings joy to many, it can also be considered a source of light pollution.

The International Dark-Sky Association coined the term “light pollution” to define excessive nighttime or non-natural lighting. The term applies to any adverse effect of artificial light, including sky glow, glare, light trespass, light clutter, and energy waste. In addition, light pollution can affect astronomers and scientists, wildlife migrations and activity, and has been linked to human health concerns.

Migrating birds that use the moon and stars for navigation can be attracted by light beams from high-rise buildings, towers, lighthouses, oil platforms, etc., causing them to become disorientated and resulting in more accidents. In addition, nighttime predators have the advantage of seeing over a greater area, and their prey must seek darkness and spend more time hiding and less on everyday activities.

A recent study published in “Human-Wildlife Interactions” explains the effects of holiday lighting on the environment during regular periods of darkness. Wildlife students at Texas A&M University-Kingsville reported that holiday lights used to decorate the college campus were a seasonal source of light pollution that contributed to a higher predation rate for native eastern fox squirrels. Eastern fox squirrels exhibited normal daytime/nighttime behaviors throughout the year but extended their foraging behavior nearly 4 hours after sunset with the addition of holiday lights. The students documented that monthly squirrel mortality increased seven-fold with the addition of holiday lights, possibly due to the extension of their foraging time.

Additional studies suggest that the public is often unaware that bright lights can negatively alter wildlife behavior. Because of this, the students recommended educating the public about how light pollution affects wildlife and the environment. Consider these suggestions:

* Check to see if there is a “Lights Out” program in your community. Some cities have adopted a program where interior and exterior lighting in tall buildings is dimmed or turned off during bird migration. Bare bulbs or upward-pointing lights are replaced with hooded fixtures that only shine downward. If lights can’t be turned off, a flat lens is used as well as a reduced number of lights and intensity.

* Turn off outdoor lights that aren’t needed in the evenings, and turn off holiday lights when you go to bed.

* Reduce light intensity by using fewer outdoor lights or using colored lights rather than clear white bulbs. Research shows that colored lights are least attractive to wildlife and may lessen the negative effects on them.

* Consider your relationship with the environment and how your actions affect it.

Thoughtfully weigh decisions dealing with cost, safety, health, and environmental well-being when planning and using exterior illumination. 

To access the full research report, visit https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/hwi/vol16/iss1/12/.

By: Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist,

Terry.Messmer@usu.edu, (435) 797-3396

How to Have Happy, Healthy Poinsettias for the Holidays and Beyond

The poinsettia is the most popular decorative plant of the Christmas season. However, the compact, bushy plant we are accustomed to is far different than the poinsettia in its natural form in the wild, where it can grow to be 13 feet tall and wide. 

Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Central America and were grown by the Aztecs for medicinal purposes and red dye. They were introduced to North America by the first United States ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, in the 1820s. Since then, poinsettias have been bred for compactness, ease of growth, and a multitude of colors.

The colored portions of the plant are modified leaves, not flowers, with red being the most common bract color. The flower buds are the red or green buttons in the center of the bracts that open to the actual flower, which is the small, yellow part. Healthy poinsettias have dark-green leaves below the bracts and foliage to the base.

Consider these tips to keep your poinsettias healthy this season and beyond.

* Avoid plants with insects. When purchasing, gently tap the pot to ensure there are no insects flying around. If there are, find another plant without insects to avoid contaminating other house plants. 

* Protect your plant from the cold. If it is below freezing when taking it outside, gently place a bag over the top for protection. 

* Watch how you water. Remove the plastic pot from the decorative sleeve and water the poinsettia in the sink with lukewarm water. Let the water run out the bottom of the pot. Allow the poinsettias to sit in the sink for 15 – 20 minutes to drain after watering, then place it back in the sleeve. Standing water left in the sleeve can cause the roots to rot, and the poinsettia will die.

* Be aware of lighting and extreme temperatures. Keep your poinsettia away from heat vents as well as cold drafts. Plants thrive near a bright south or west window but will last until Christmas in lower light conditions. 

* Consider keeping poinsettias year-round. They can be grown as house plants past Christmas if given sufficient light. Remove them from the plastic sleeve and continue to water periodically. Fertilize them with any house plant fertilizer from March through September. 

By: Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist, Taun.Beddes@usu.edu,385-268-6535

Combating Loneliness During the Holidays

The holidays bring mistletoe, caroling, eggnog, gift-giving, family, and friends. However, for some, the holidays can also bring loneliness. A recent survey from the American Association of Retired Persons found that 31% of respondents said they had felt lonely during the holiday season sometime in the past five years, and 41 percent worried about a family member or friend feeling alone. Though loneliness is common, there are things you can do to enjoy the season, no matter what your situation. Consider these tips.

Service: Think of someone in need or a good cause to support when you are feeling down. Service can help improve your mood and sense of self-worth. Service has been shown to improve conflict resolution skills and vocational capacity among adolescents. An act of kindness can be as easy as helping a family member, friend, or neighbor in need. If you are looking for a service opportunity, an internet search can help you find people and organizations with needs in your area.

Social relationships: We all need friends, family, and loved ones. However, even those with loved ones around them can feel lonely or have mental health challenges. If you start feeling lonely this year, reach out to friends or family members. Something as simple as sending a text or engaging in a conversation can lift your spirits.

Self-love: Some psychologists believe that our level of self-love is connected to our ability to love others and that to love yourself, you need to know and take care of yourself. Doing something nice for yourself can help increase your happiness. For example, give yourself a gift, write in your journal, watch a movie, or enjoy nature. Whatever it is, do something meaningful to you that makes you happy.

Gratitude: Even when circumstances seem bleak, practicing gratitude can help you remember the good things you have in life. Studies show that gratitude is associated with well-being and can be used to help face difficult times. To increase your gratitude, write a note, verbally express appreciation to those around you, or make a gratitude list. 

There are things you can do to help combat loneliness and poor mental health during the holiday season. Implementing ideas from the examples provided may help improve your mood and make the holidays happier.

For a list of references and citations, click here.

Once You’re Done with Holiday Shopping, Stop Looking, Stop Spending

With inflation eating away at our budgets, starting the holidays with a spending plan is more important than ever. Have your family help you determine things that are most important this year, then look for ways to reduce, simplify, and save money. Consider these tips.

* Create a budget and stick to it. Don’t be so excited about getting a good deal that you end up overspending. It’s easy to get sucked into buying just one more item for someone, then you buy it for everyone, and the spending plan goes out the window. Encourage your spouse or partner to honor the budget, too.

* Make your list and check it twice. When you’ve finished buying what’s on your list, stop looking, and stop spending time at the stores. Delete shopping apps on your devices, even temporarily until after the holidays, so you’re not tempted to look and continue spending. 

* Avoid going into debt, which is more important this year than ever since credit cards will be harder to pay off due to higher interest rates. If you already have accrued holiday debt, make a plan to pay it off quickly to avoid more interest and fees.

* Modify your meals. Instead of hosting a big dinner and paying for everything yourself, turn it into a potluck and share the cost and work. Or try having a dessert night.

* Cancel subscriptions. Free up cash to spend next month by canceling subscriptions and automatic deliveries. Do you really need five streaming services? Or can you subscribe to one for a few months and then switch to another? If you have regular, automatic deliveries coming to your home, could a few of them be postponed a month or more? 

* Shop at stores that have a price-match guarantee. Be sure to keep your receipts; then later, if something is further discounted, you can get a refund, usually within 30 days.

* Look for free activities. Enjoy driving around to see Christmas lights; go caroling or sledding; get outside for a hike or walk; enjoy hot chocolate or coffee with friends; check for free holiday concerts and pageants in your area; read holiday books with the family.

* Involve children in conversations about adjusting spending due to higher costs. Older children, especially, will benefit from talking about being frugal and prudent, which can help prepare them for adulthood.

* Don’t let rising costs take the fun out of the holidays. Advertising and peer pressure can steal away the true meaning of the holidays. Reminisce about your favorite holidays in the past. What made those memories stand out? Gifts and spending are usually part of the celebration, but for many people, the holidays are more about family, friends, tradition, spiritual rituals, and love. Don’t let the stress of inflation take away the true meaning of the season for you. 

By: Melanie Jewkes, Utah State University Extension professor, Melanie.Jewkes@usu.edu

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

Caffeine can provide a boost of energy, help you become more alert, and improve your mood. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that caffeine is a drug that stimulates the nervous system and can cause negative side effects.

Depending on the amount of caffeine consumed, one or more of the following may occur: jitteriness, anxiety, irritability, increased blood pressure, stomach irritation, decreased length and quality of sleep, headaches, and abnormal heart rhythm.

The impacts of caffeine and the intensity of side effects can differ for everyone. What is okay for one person could be too much for another. The key is to watch for adverse side effects and decrease or avoid caffeine intake. Extremely high caffeine ingestion can trigger serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, or even death. Caffeine can cause serious health challenges for children.

The Mayo Clinic recommends the following daily limits of caffeine:

·         Adults: less than 400 mg/day

·         Adolescents: less than 100 mg/day

·         Children: 0 mg/day

Caffeine can be harmful to some groups of people. Seek advice about caffeine consumption from your health care provider if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have a sleep disorder, migraine, anxiety, GERD, ulcers, or high blood pressure. Problems with heart rhythm, heart rate, and certain medications can also have detrimental consequences.

If consumed regularly, a person can become dependent on caffeine. As little as 100 mg/day can cause dependency, so monitor your intake. The chart below shows commonly consumed caffeinated beverages and the amount of caffeine they contain.

Name Standard Amount Caffeine in Standard Amount Caffeine in 16 Oz.
Energy Drinks
5-Hour Energy 2 oz. 200 mg 1,600 mg
Sobe No Fear 16 oz. 182 mg 182 mg
Monster 16 oz. 172 mg 172 mg
Rockstar 16 oz. 160 mg 160 mg
Red Bull 8.4 oz. 79 mg 151 mg
Coffee, Tea
Brewed Coffee 8 oz. 163 mg 324 mg
Average Coffee 8 oz. 95 mg 190 mg
Iced Tea 8 oz. Average of 47 mg 94 mg
Soft Drinks
Mountain Dew 12 oz. 54 mg          72 mg
Coke 12 oz. 34 mg          45 mg
Diet Coke 12 oz. 45 mg          60 mg
Pepsi 12 oz. 38 mg          51 mg
Sprite 12 oz. 0 mg           0 mg
Chocolate Milk 8 oz. 5 mg 10 mg
Dark Chocolate 1 oz. 20 mg 320 mg
Milk Chocolate 1 oz. 6 mg 96 mg
Cold Relief Meds 1 tablet 30 mg
Vivarin 1 tablet 200 mg
Excedrin 2 tablets 130 mg

To reduce caffeine consumption, gradually swap caffeinated drinks with non-caffeinated drinks. Read labels on drinks, food, and medications to determine caffeine content, and stay away from those that contain high amounts. Replace your caffeinated beverage with water. Water can help flush caffeine out of your system and keep you properly hydrated. Indications of caffeine withdrawal include drowsiness, headaches, irritability, or trouble concentrating, but symptoms should last only a few days. Monitoring your caffeine consumption and following these recommendations and guidelines can lead to improved health and a longer life.

To view all references, see the article on Extension.usu.edu.

By: Cindy Nelson, Utah State University Extension associate professor, cindy.nelson@usu.edu

Outside Factors Don’t Have to Take the Thanks out of Thanksgiving

It won’t come as a surprise that Thanksgiving dinner may require some adjustments this year. In addition to the inflation factor, many Utah turkey farms have been hit by avian influenza – especially those in Sanpete County. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a count taken last month found the virus was responsible for farmers putting down approximately 700,000 birds to avoid spreading it to neighboring farms. That’s roughly 23% of turkeys raised annually throughout the state.

            Some grocery stores around the state may use turkeys as a “loss leader pricing” product this year, a marketing strategy that prices products lower than the cost to produce them in order to attract new customers or sell additional products. But since not all stores will do this, families may need to substitute another source of protein, purchase a smaller bird, or share the cost with family members and guests as they gather to feast.

           Consider these tips to make Thanksgiving a time to give thanks despite rising costs and fewer turkeys. 

           * Consider having a simpler meal and involve the family in menu planning. Perhaps cranberry sauce isn’t as necessary as you thought. Maybe only a few people enjoy stuffing, but potatoes and gravy are on everyone’s list. Also, if there are so many menu options they won’t all fit on a single plate, consider eliminating some of the less popular foods. In addition, consider what menu items can be made from scratch rather than purchasing them from the store.

           * Shop smart. Before shopping, take inventory of what you have in the pantry. Watch for coupons in the mail or online. Coupon savings can add up quickly when used purposefully for foods you normally use. (However, they won’t save you money if you purchase foods you likely won’t use just because you have a coupon!) Remember to have a snack or meal before shopping, and leave behind lovable distractions such as small children or impulsive spouses. 

           * Remember traditions. What are the most time-honored things you do that bind generations together in your family? If everyone enjoys taking a turn expressing what they are grateful for because that’s what grandpa always did, keep the tradition alive. Also, don’t be afraid to try new activities or events that could become traditions. 

           * Keep conversations positive and upbeat. Be deliberate in staying away from potentially volatile topics, such as politics.

           * Reach out to others. Thanksgiving is a great time to serve others who may not have connections to family and friends. Consider calling, visiting or inviting someone to dinner who may be alone. Or take a pie or treat to someone who is homebound. 

           While Thanksgiving dinner may give way to a less traditional feast this year due to tighter budgets and fewer turkeys for sale, there is still plenty to celebrate and be grateful for as we kick off the holiday season.

Gearing Up for Holiday Baking

Though holiday baking is a few weeks away, now is a great time to take stock of and renew your baking supplies. This will ensure fresh, high-quality end products. Karin Allen, Utah State University Extension food quality specialist, provides insights on common baking ingredients, summarized below, by asking: What happens as the product ages? Can it still be used? How should it be stored?

It’s important to note that none of the ingredients listed below become harmful if eaten beyond their best-if-used-by dates, but freshness and taste will likely be compromised.

Flour: As flour ages, the starch changes very little. However, when the proteins that normally form gluten are exposed to air, they can change enough that it limits the amount of gluten that can be formed. Can it still be used? Yes, but it is best to use flour over a year old in products that don’t need a lot of formed gluten, including cakes and cookies. Use new flour for bread and chewy cookies.

To store flour, keep it in a tightly sealed container away from heat and moisture. To prolong the shelf-life of whole wheat flour, store it in the freezer inside freezer bags. Otherwise it will go rancid within 6 months.

Eggs: It isn’t easy to judge the freshness of eggs from the outside. Though the shells appear solid, they are actually very porous and allow moisture to escape. This is why old eggs float in water. Eggs may be used beyond the freshness date on the carton as long as they have been refrigerated. Older eggs can be used for making cookies but may require 1-2 teaspoons of water per egg, or the dough can be dry. Use only fresh eggs in cakes, cream puffs, and meringue.

The American Egg Board cautions against storing eggs at room temperature, so refrigerate them until you use them. They can also be frozen. See instructions at: http://extension.usu.edu/foodstorage/files/uploads/how_old_is_too_old.pdf.

Fat: After containers are opened, fats, such as shortening or lard, and oils, such as canola or olive oil, are exposed to air and will turn rancid within a relatively short period – from a few days to a few months. Using fats after they have become rancid will affect the flavor and aroma of foods. Therefore, if the oil or fat gives an off odor, do not use it for baking or making icing.

Fats such as butter, shortening, and oils do not need to be refrigerated or frozen, but they will last much longer if they are. Cooler temperatures slow the chemical reaction that causes rancidity.

Sugar: Granulated sugar does not change or go rancid, but it may occasionally develop an off-aroma that will not affect the flavor of baked goods. Soften brown sugar that has hardened by placing a slice of bread in a bag with the brown sugar, sealing it, then waiting up to 24 hours for the moisture in the bread to soften the brown sugar. For a faster method, soften it in the microwave oven. Crystalized honey can be heated in a pan of simmering water to melt the crystals.

Store sugar in an air-tight container away from moisture and insects. Sugar and honey do not need to be refrigerated or frozen to maintain quality or lengthen shelf-life.

Other common ingredients in holiday baked goods include baking powder, chocolate and chocolate chips, nuts, spices, extracts, and flavored oils. Chocolate may develop a white layer on the surface if storage temperatures are too warm, which can cause problems if you use it for dipping. The oil in nuts can cause them to go rancid quickly. Prevent this by freezing them for long-term storage. Spices lose potency over time, but adding more spice than is called for will help increase the strength. Extracts contain alcohol, making their flavor stable for long periods of time at room temperature.

To have the highest quality baked goods this holiday season, take stock of your baking supplies now. Fresh ingredients that are properly stored will help guarantee high-quality holiday foods.

By: Kathleen Riggs, Utah State University Extension professor, Kathleen.Riggs@usu.edu, and Karin Allen, USU Extension food quality specialist, Karin.Allen@usu.edu