Eclipse Prep 101: Safeguard Your Gaze for the Celestial Spectacle!”

It has been seven years since the last solar eclipse in the US, and a total solar eclipse will take place on Monday, April 8, 2024. Approximately 31 million Americans who live in a specific area from Maine to Texas will be able to view the moon totally block the sun. Others will witness a partial solar eclipse. According to NASA, approximately 99% of US residents will see some form of the eclipse.

It is critical, therefore, to ensure proper eye protection during the eclipse, with certified solar eclipse glasses. Viewing a solar eclipse without the appropriate protection can lead to serious eye damage or even blindness, a condition known as solar retinopathy. Eclipse glasses are specifically designed to block out a significant amount of sunlight, making them crucial for anyone looking directly at the eclipse, except during the brief period of totality when the moon fully covers the sun.

For those unable to obtain eclipse glasses, alternative viewing methods such as pinhole projectors or a camera obscura offer safe ways to enjoy the spectacle. However, it’s vital to avoid using regular sunglasses, telescopes, binoculars, or unfiltered cameras as these do not provide adequate protection.

With the demand for eclipse glasses surging, the risk of counterfeit products looms large. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) warns of the market flooded with fake glasses that fail to offer the necessary eye protection. To counteract this, the AAS recommends sourcing glasses from reputable vendors listed on their website, cautioning against relying solely on the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard due to the prevalence of fraudulent claims.

In a bid to make the eclipse accessible to all, over 13,000 public libraries across the U.S. are distributing 5 million free eclipse glasses. For those with glasses on hand, verifying their safety involves a simple test: when worn, only the sun or a similarly intense light source should be visible, and any damage or scratches on the glasses render them unsafe for use.

As the eclipse draws near, the excitement is palpable, but so is the need for caution. With the right preparations, everyone can safely enjoy one of nature’s most awe-inspiring displays.

Why Reaching Out to Your Friends Matters

In the age of instant communication and non-stop interactions, it is easy to minimize the importance of reaching out to friends and family. Whether it is a call, a short text, or a simple email, it is almost always a welcome, significant, and meaningful gesture—for both the recipient and the initiator.

Research conducted by The American Psychological Association found that casual “check-ins” to the people in our various social networks mean a great deal more than we usually think.

“Even sending a brief message reaching out to check in on someone, just to say ‘Hi,’ that you are thinking of them, and to ask how they’re doing, can be appreciated more than people think.”

Peggy Liu, associate professor of business administration with the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business

According to the findings, the number of actual phone conversations people initiate these days is dramatically lower than in the past. Calling people is perceived to be an imposition on their time; it can feel less awkward to reach out via text or social media. But regardless of how we are creating the connection, the quick and effortless check-in is deemed meaningful, enjoyable, and important by those on the receiving end. While we might feel bad about interrupting someone’s day or taking away time from their other responsibilities, this research suggests that reaching out “just to say hi” is a powerful and important gesture.

As people, we are ingrained with the counterintuitive (and often destructive) assumption that our family and loved ones are not as interested in connection as we are, or as we’d like to be. Dr. Marisa Franco, psychologist, author, and University of Maryland assistant clinical professor, points to a “liking gap,” as the primary hindrance to most people’s communications.

Another reason people might keep themselves from calling or texting is  the “beautiful mess effect.” We have a hard time inquiring about a friend or loved one for fear of having to show our own vulnerabilities and/ or being judged by that person.

To be functioning at our best, we need to be in a connected state. Just like you need to eat, like you need to drink, you need to be connected to be functioning well.

Dr. Marisa Franco

Another exploration of this issue, published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, indicates that older adults link their sense of purpose directly to the positive social interactions they have on a regular basis.

With more and more Americans reporting a heightened sense of loneliness (contributing to what some are reporting as a loneliness crisis) made complicated — and intense — by pandemic-related regulations and habits, these studies underscore what we have likely known all along: a little bit (of connection) can go a long way (to easing someone else’s hardship). These two studies- and several others- draw attention to the need to connect with others each and every day. We all need to view our familial ties and friendships as critical pieces of our well-being. Even if/when making those connections seems like a burden or feels awkward, it needs to be a part of our self-care routine, just like eating healthy and exercising.

Spring has Sprung

Aurora on the Vernal Equinox. Photo credit: Mike Lewinski
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It’s been a long winter. Do not despair, the vernal equinox is here! You might have heard something about the first day of spring arriving on March 20 this year, but you might be wondering, what exactly does that mean? One thing you certainly understand is that winter is abating, and the mild, warmer days of spring are just around the corner. Journey with me and discover why March 20, the vernal equinox, is the harbinger of a new, much-longed-for warmer season.

To put it simply, vernal, which just means spring, and equinox, which means equal night, is one of two 24-hour periods during the year when the hours of daylight equal, more or less, the hours of darkness. The reason I say “more or less” is because in most regions on Earth daytime on the equinox is a bit longer than 12 hours. That is because of the effects of the Earth’s atmosphere. But that’s a topic for another time.

From the first day of winter when the hours of daylight are at a minimum, the length of the day increases until the first day of spring and continues to increase until the first day of summer, when the number of daylight hours is the longest. From that first day of summer, until the autumn equinox, the daylight hours shrink, until once again daylight and nighttime hours are equal. And that is the continuous ebb and flow of the seasons through the year.

Generally, temperatures also begin to rise with the advent of spring. However, there are many factors that influence a region’s temperature; so for some locations, it can take considerably longer for the winter world to finally thaw.

Spring is a time of celebration all over the world. Many customs, holidays, and traditional practices are spring-based. Christian cultures calculate the date of Easter based on when spring is due. Easter eggs are a symbol of rebirth, but Christians are not the only group celebrating with eggs in the spring. There is an ancient Chinese tradition to balance eggs, also a symbol of fertility, on the day of the vernal equinox.

Persians celebrate Nowruz on the day of the spring equinox, a day that has been observed for over 3,000 years and rooted in the practices of the Zoroastrian tradition. Celebrations last about 12 days and include the purchase of new clothing, cleaning homes, and growing wheat or lentil seeds as a symbol of new growth.

Judaism famously celebrates the birth of the Jewish people during Passover and is also intimately connected to the spring, although the date does not necessarily coincide with the solar calendar’s spring equinox.

Although many people celebrate Earth Day on April 22, there are also some that have designated the spring equinox as the best day to promote the protection of the one planet that all the people of the world must inhabit, Earth.

Your Canine is Your Corona Companion

The coronavirus pandemic forced us all to retreat indoors and seclude ourselves from colleagues, friends, and even some family. Lockdown and quarantine have meant long stretches of time without in-person interactions and human contact. Feelings of loneliness, solitude, and anxiety are not uncommon. However, pet owners, specifically those with dogs, are reporting profoundly less isolation and increased cohesion with their furry friends.

According to dog-owner Evan Metropoulos, dogs have an exceptional capacity for companionship, love, and friendship. They are almost always willing to play, their clever and curious nature can be entertaining, and they are fiercely loyal. Scientific research backs up Metropoulos’s assertions showing that the company of a dog can be as comforting and mood-enhancing as that of a friend or loved one. Furthermore, owning a dog is shown to be good for your heart: dog owners have lower cardiovascular responses when stressed.

Evan Metropoulos with dog seated oppo
Evan Metropoulos with his best canine friend
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With all the tensions and pressures of COVID-19, mental and physical health are a top priority. So if you already a dog owner, now is the time to develop a stronger bond with your pooch and explore new ways to have fun together. If you don’t yet have a dog at home, consider fostering one or even caring for a neighbor’s dog for a few days. This will give you the chance to experience some of the benefits without making a full commitment.

Evan Metropoulos with dog standing oppo
Metropoulos recommends finding different ways to play and exercise with your pet

Dr. Jaymie Albin On Current Trends in Therapy

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many more people to seek the help of mental health professionals. Technological advances and the prevalence of telemedicine are also making it easier for people to participate in therapy.

Dr. Jaymie Albin, a New York City-based clinical psychologist, CBT practitioner, and yoga instructor says that many of the stress management techniques people used before corona are not available to them, compelling those in need to seek professional intervention. The app Talkspace, which connects clients to licensed therapists via text and video calls, has seen user growth double since March.

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Similarly, Dr. Albin says that the current trend of using Zoom and other interactive platforms is making people feel more comfortable about talking to a therapist. According to Albin, whereas some patients might have once been loathe to be seen walking into a therapist’s office, now they can talk to the right person from the comfort of their own home. Albin insists that in some cases, and for some patients, it makes the entire thing a lot less nerve-wracking.

Jaymie Albin trends in therapy3
Teletherapy is making it easier to seek and provide mental health support

Albin also reports that an immediate result of prolonged isolation has spurred a swell in the therapy industry. In a turbulent economy, Albin says, it is not uncommon to see a decline in therapy-seekers; people view mental health as a luxury. But when economic realities are coupled with extended periods of social isolation, health uncertainties, and extreme stress, most people find the time and resources to devote to their emotional and psychological states.

How to Help an Unemployed Friend: Jayme Albin, Ph.D. Advises

Alongside all the restrictions and regulations set in place to curb the spread of corona, many people are looking for constructive ways to help and support those affected by the virus. As the economic fallout of the past few months unfolds, more and more people are facing unemployment (or underemployment). We spoke to Dr. Jayme Albin, a New York psychologist, to hear about how friends or family can support their jobless loved ones right now.

1) Be Present. True friends don’t shy away from awkward situations. It can be uncomfortable to reach out to an unemployed friend when your job is still in tact, but that is what you need to do. Even if you can’t be physically present, set a time to chat, share a good joke, and be their source of strength. You may not necessarily be able to help them with their job search, but you can help them with your positivity and friendship.

2) Offer Concrete Advice. Looking for a new job can be overwhelming. Albin cautions against extending platitudes and vague advice. Instead, she suggests, looking at their online profiles, (like LinkedIn) and making tangible suggestions. Offer assistance in professionalizing their digital presence; recommend employment websites you have tried.

3) Be a Connector. Unemployed friends don’t only need a job. They also need connections to the right people who can lead to the job interviews and network building. Think about the people in your immediate and extended circles who might be able to help your friend. Think about the skills and experience your friend has, Albin recommends, and then consult your contact list to see who might be able to help.

4) Don’t Judge or Blame. Nobody could have predicted the current economic turmoil; nobody should be blamed for being laid off or out of work. Avoid drudging up a friend’s past mistakes and stay focused on the future. Don’t worry or nag when it seems that your friend isn’t taking job searching seriously. Be consistently supportive by reminding them of all their good traits and skills and sending them relevant job opportunities.

Bringing a meal is a practical and easy way to help an unemployed friend, says Dr. Jayme Albin.

5) Do Them a Favor. The job search can seem like a full-time job itself. With all the worries your friend might be facing now, they can always use some help. You can make their lives easier be sending over dinner, taking their young children for a few hours, or stocking up their pantry with supplies. Dr. Albin says that most people find it hard to ask for help, even if they really need it, so just decide what you can do to help and do it.

Jayme Albin reminds us that this is a challenging time for everyone. The best way to show an unemployed friend or family member you care is to be a source of support, not a source of stress. Be the person who boosts confidence, stays positive, and follows through. This will not only help your friend right now, according to Dr. Albin, but it will also strengthen your friendship in the long run.

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