Blog Posts

Heady Advice for Winter Sports Enthusiasts

February 11th, 2018

One of the great advantages of spending a winter in Florida is that it allows sports enthusiasts to not only watch but participate in some popular winter sports and activities without having to deal with the cold and snow that often accompanies them.Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

Since the arrival more than 20 years ago of the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, skating rinks have cropped up all throughout the state as interest in ice hockey, figure skating and even speed skating has grown substantially among not just youths but adults as well.

As it is with any sporting activity, of course, there are health risks associated with those winter sports, and they stretch far beyond the bumps and bruises that a novice skater or hockey player can expect to get. Of far greater concern is the potential for traumatic brain injury (TBI), which is why the month of January was designated National Winter Sports TBI Awareness Month.

Traumatic brain injury can occur anytime the head is impacted during a fall or even jostled by a shove or bump, and there’s a lot of falling involved in winter sports such as ice hockey, skating and skiing. That’s one reason why the American Physical Therapy Association reports that approximately 1.7 million TBI’s occur in the U.S. each year.

Those injuries result in 52,000 deaths and 275,000 hospitalizations each year, according to the APTA, which is one of the reasons the Johnny O Foundation was founded five years ago. Named in honor of its founder, Johnny O’Ravitz, who died of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2015, the foundation was established in part to raise awareness for all individuals and athletes participating in winter sports.

The foundation reminds participants in those sports that head safety is always paramount, which is why it is recommended that participants always wear appropriate head gear, such as helmets, that the safety equipment is maintained properly and that safety rules are always followed.

That doesn’t just go for contact sports such as hockey. There are safety rules associated with skiing and snowboarding as well and rules of etiquette associated with both skiing and public skating that are designed primarily with safety involved. Most of the rules are common-sense rules, and common-sense rules apply to head trauma as well.

If you take a fall or hit your head, make sure you check it out immediately. Most recreational and youth leagues do not have doctors who can administer a test for a concussion on site, and such help is certainly not readily available at a public skating rink or even at some low-level competitions. So let common sense be your guide.

If your fall causes you to black out or feel dazed, affects your vision or memory, leaves you sensitive to light or results in a headache, it’s time to quit. Even if you feel fine immediately after a fall but begin to experience any of those symptoms later, go see a doctor.

And remember, symptoms of a concussion can take hours, days, even weeks to appear. As a result, you should never consider yourself out of the woods until a doctor has examined your and cleared you for further activity. That’s why the simplest rule of thumb to follow when dealing with a head injury is to – use your head. After all, it’s the only one you’ve got.

“Silent thief” Steals Sight From Millions

February 6th, 2018

Millions of Americans are being robbed of their vision, and many of them don’t even know it.

They have glaucoma, often called “the silent thief of sight” because it can cause irreparable harm before the patient notices any vision loss, which can’t be reversed. The disease is the leading cause of blindness in the United States and can occur at any age, although it’s more common among older adults.

January was National Glaucoma Awareness Month, so now is a great time to become familiar with the condition, what causes it and what can be done to treat it.

Glaucoma is actually a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve, a bundle of more than a million nerve fibers carrying information from the retina to the brain. The retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of each eye, is vital to good vision.

The two main types of glaucoma are open-angle and angle-closure, which refers to the drainage angle where the iris (the colored part of the eye) meets the cornea (the outer covering). Open-angle is the most common type of glaucoma, accounting for at least 90 percent of the cases.

Both forms of the disease are caused by increased pressure inside the eye resulting from impaired drainage of the clear fluid flowing in and out of the eye to nourish nearby tissues. The fluid can build up when the eye’s drainage canals become clogged over time (open-angle glaucoma) or are blocked completely (angle-closure).

Open-angle glaucoma is a slow-developing, lifelong condition, and symptoms and damage aren’t noticed in its early stages. As the disease progresses, patients may develop patchy blind spots or tunnel vision.

Angle-closure glaucoma can cause eye pressure to increase within hours, demands immediate medical attention and can result from other conditions, such as cataracts or tumors. Symptoms may include severe headache, eye pain, redness, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision and halos appearing around lights.

Not everyone whose eye pressure increases will develop glaucoma because some people can tolerate higher levels than others. A comprehensive exam can determine what level of eye pressure is normal for each patient.

Also, there’s a form of glaucoma called low-tension or normal-tension that can develop without increased eye pressure.

Immediate treatment for early-stage, open-angle glaucoma can delay the disease from worsening, which is why early diagnosis is so important. Drops or pills can help lower eye pressure, either by causing the eye to produce less fluid or by helping it drain.

An outpatient laser procedure can open the drainage holes in the eye, allowing the fluid to drain better. Another option is conventional surgery that involves making an incision into the eye’s drainage system to create new channels for a more normal flow of fluid. Shunts or stents also can be implanted in the eye to increase the flow.

Consult an eye care professional for more information on diagnosing and treating glaucoma.

Wear Red on Feb. 2 to Support Women’s Heart Health

February 1st, 2018

Supporters of the Go Red for Women movement hope to see a sea of scarlet on Feb. 2 as part of the American Heart Association‘s national effort to end heart disease and stroke in women.

The annual observance was created in 2004 and adopted the red dress as its symbol. The campaign advocates for more research and awareness of the often-overlooked fact that heart disease isn’t just a health hazard for older men. It’s the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year.

While chest pain, shortness of breath and cold sweats are obvious symptoms, a heart attack can happen without the person even knowing it. Those suffering a so-called “silent” heart attack sometimes pass off their symptoms as indigestion, the flu, asthma, anxiety, a strained muscle or some other condition.

What’s more, they may feel discomfort in their jaw, upper back or arms instead of their chest. Fatigue that’s prolonged, excessive and can’t be explained also may be a symptom of a silent heart attack.

Scarring and damage to the heart from such an attack can put the patient at greater risk of other heart issues.

A silent heart attack happens when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries and blocks the flow of blood. Risk factors include high blood pressure and high cholesterol, smoking, family history of heart disease, obesity and age.

Everyone knows what feels normal for them, so people should listen to their bodies and consult a doctor if something isn’t right. Those who suspect they’re having a heart attack should stay calm, call 911 immediately and be vocal when they get to the hospital about what’s going on. If they can’t speak up for themselves, they should bring along someone who will do it for them.

Another health challenge for both women and men is atherosclerosis, often called hardening of the arteries. It’s caused by a buildup of plaque – cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and fatty substances – in the inner lining of an artery. Atherosclerosis typically starts in childhood and often progresses as people age.

Family history, high cholesterol and blood pressure, smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke, excess weight, a sedentary lifestyle and diabetes can increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis.

Plaque is especially dangerous when it becomes fragile and ruptures, causing blood clots to form. Those can break off and travel elsewhere in the body. Clots can cause a heart attack or a stroke if they block blood vessels to the heart or brain.

Knowledge is power, and 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes, the heart association says.

On Feb. 2, and throughout the year, women are encouraged to “go red” by following an exercise routine, eating more healthful foods, visiting a doctor for a regular checkup or tests when necessary and educating others about heart health.

For more information, go online to www.goredforwomen.org.

How Low Can You Go?

January 30th, 2018

When you’re stressed, like you might be during a confrontation or when you’re running late, it’s normal for your blood pressure to run a little higher than usual. It’s what’s “usual” that you need to concentrate on, and you want your usual blood pressure to be in the normal range or lower.Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

Recently, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released new guidelines that lower the threshold for what can be considered hypertension, or high blood pressure. The guidelines are based on an individual’s risk for heart disease. By the new standards, tens of millions of Americans should be treated for high blood pressure.

To understand the importance of keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level, it helps to understand what blood pressure is and how it’s measured. Simply put, blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the blood vessels in the heart when it beats. When blood pressure is measured, it is recorded as two numbers, one on top of the other.

The top number is the systolic pressure, which is the pressure in the arteries when your heart is contracting to pump blood out to the body. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure, and that’s the pressure in the arteries when your heart relaxes between beats. As you might expect, the systolic pressure should be higher than the diastolic due to the force of the pumping.

Too much pressure during either phase of the heartbeat can damage the blood vessel walls and lead to serious, even deadly, conditions. These include heart attacks and strokes.

In general, normal blood pressure is a systolic reading of 120 or lower and a diastolic of no more than 80. Systolic pressures of 120 to 129 are considered elevated, and are risk factors for hypertension. High blood pressure is a pressure of 130 or higher systolic or higher than 80 diastolic that stays that way over time.

There are some risk factors for developing high blood pressure that cannot be controlled, such as having a family history of high blood pressure and getting older. There are other risk factors that you can control, such as smoking, being overweight, eating an unhealthy diet and being physical inactive.

Most doctors take your blood pressure every time you go in for an appointment. If your blood pressure is high on two or more readings done on two or more occasions, you are typically diagnosed with high blood pressure.

However, the new guidelines set by the AHA and ACC look at overall risk for heart attack and stroke in determining when a person should be diagnosed with high blood pressure. They suggest anyone with a 10 percent or greater risk in the next decade should be treated. Using their formula, that works out to about half of all Americans and 80 percent of those over age 65. To determine your risk, you can use an online calculator such as this one.

Since so many of the risk factors for high blood pressure can be controlled, treatment generally begins with lifestyle modification.

Many times, taking steps such as quitting smoking, achieving an appropriate weight, eating a nutritious diet, limiting alcohol consumption and becoming more physically active is enough to reach and maintain a healthy blood pressure. Other times, people need to add medication to their healthy lifestyles to control their elevated pressures.

There are a number of blood pressure medications, or antihypertensives, available. They work in different ways to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow through the vessels. A few of the more common are listed below, but you’ll find more information in this article from AHA:

  • These drugs help the body rid itself of excess water and sodium, which decreases stress on the blood vessels and lowers pressure.
  • ACE inhibitors. ACE stands for angiotensin-converting enzyme. ACE inhibitors help the body produce less angiotensin, a chemical that causes the arteries to narrow. With less angiotensin, blood vessels relax and widen, enabling freer flow of blood.
  • Beta-blockers. These medicines reduce heart rate, and the heart’s workload and output of blood.
  • Calcium channel blockers. These drugs prevent calcium from entering the smooth muscle cells of the heart and arteries. Without a lot of calcium acting against it, the heart doesn’t have to contract as forcefully.
  • Vasodilators. Also called blood vessel dilators, these medications cause the muscles cells in the walls of the blood vessels to relax, allowing them to widen.

High blood pressure has no symptoms, and it’s often called a silent killer. That’s why it’s important to visit your doctor regularly, so he or she can keep an eye on your readings. Of course, you don’t need your doctor’s advice to make positive lifestyle changes. Quitting smoking, eating heathy and exercising is good for everybody!

Reduce Radon Risks

January 21st, 2018

It’s a new year, and for most of us, that means making a resolution or two. Here’s an important resolution you may not have thought of: Resolve to test your home for radon. January is National Radon Action Month, and it’s a good time to take time to protect yourself and your family from this dangerous element.

So, what’s the deal with radon? Radon is a radioactive gas that can leak into your home from the surrounding environment. You can’t see or smell it, but in high concentrations, it can be deadly. In fact, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths behind smoking, killing approximately 21,000 Americans each year.

Radon is produced by the natural decaying of uranium, which is abundant in soil, rock and even water. Radon gets inhaled and accumulates in the lungs, where it irradiates the cells of the airways. It is this process that increases the risk for lung cancer. If you smoke AND your home has a high radon level (EPA Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes), your risk for lung cancer is especially high.

There are no immediate symptoms of radon exposure. Lung cancer is the only health condition conclusively linked to it, and lung cancer can develop years after radon exposure. Lung cancer symptoms include persistent coughing, shortness of breath, hoarseness, coughing up phlegm tinged with blood and recurrent bronchitis or pneumonia. To date, no other respiratory illnesses have been definitively linked to radon exposure.

The amount of radon found in the soil around your home depends on the chemical makeup of the soil, and soil chemistry can be slightly different from house to house. The volume of radon that escapes from the soil and gets into your house depends on several factors. These include the weather, the amount of moisture in the soil and the suction power within your house.

To make its way into your home, the radon gas escapes the ground soil and seeps into the air. It then gets into your house through cracks and other holes in the foundation that might not be apparent. The gas can get trapped inside your home and build up to a dangerous level. Sometimes, radon can get into the house through well water; and in some homes, the actual building materials can give off radon, although this is not common.

It is estimated that nearly one out of every 15 homes in the US has an elevated radon level. The only way to be sure if your home is affected is by testing. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend radon testing in all homes and schools. You can also find out about any radon problems in schools, day care centers, other child care facilities and many workplaces by visiting EPA – United States Environmental Protection Agency.

There are two general ways to test for radon, short-term testing and long-term testing. Short-term tests are left in your home for two days to 90 days, depending on the test. Short-term tests don’t tell you your year-round average radon level, but they can help you decided whether or not to make changes to your home to fix any problem. People typically do two or more short-term tests to confirm a radon problem.

Long-term tests are left in your home for longer than 90 days and give you a better idea of your yearly average radon level. You can do the testing yourself, or you can hire a professional tester to do the job for you. Do-it-yourself test kits are available at many home improvement and hardware stores or online. If you choose to hire someone, be sure to first check with your state radon office and ask for a list of qualified testers in your area.

If two consecutive short-term tests or a long-term test indicates a high level of radon in your home, it’s time to consider making repairs to mitigate the problem. There are several ways to reduce radon levels in your home. The most common method is by installing a vent pipe system and fan that pulls the radon from beneath your house and releases it outside. Sealing cracks in the foundation and other openings can make this repair more effective and cost-efficient.

Like the testing, you can choose to do the repair work yourself or hire a qualified radon mitigation professional. If you choose to do it yourself, there are many resources online that give you suggestions and directions for reducing radon levels in your home. More information can be found in this booklet and others from the EPA.

Excessive exposure to radon can be prevented through careful testing and, if necessary, repairs to your home. By taking a few common-sense steps, you can protect yourself and your family from an increased risk for lung cancer. That’s a New Year’s resolution that can save your life!

Adults Get Bullied, Too!

January 16th, 2018

We all know bullying is a rampant problem in our schools, and most everyone – from students to political leaders – is working on effective ways to combat that issue. But did you know bullying can be a problem in the workplace as well? Yes, adults can be victims of bullying, too!Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

The American Psychological Association defines bullying as “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort.” Discomfort is the operative word when it comes to bullies at work. There are several types of adult bullies and different ways they bully others.

One type is the physical bully. These bullies may simulate violence, such as raising a hand like they’re going to hit you or throwing objects in your direction. They may sexually harass you, violate your personal space or loom over you. Some of these bullies use their titles or positions of authority to intimidate or harass others.

Verbal bullies use words to make people uncomfortable. They might threaten, shame, insult or tease you in a hostile way. Maybe they criticize you constantly or use sarcasm, or racist, sexist or other demeaning language to dominate or humiliate you.

Passive-aggressive bullies are harder to spot because they do their bullying on the sly. These bullies behave OK outwardly, but bully subtly. These are the people who spread gossip and lies about you, and use condescending eye contact, facial expressions and gestures toward you. They might deliberately try to embarrass you, leave you out at social gatherings or sabotage your work, success and advancement.

Secondary, or ancillary, bullies are also common in the workplace. These are the employees who don’t initiate the bullying, but join in on the abuse. Secondary bullies generally participate in the bullying to suck up to the primary bullies in order to avoid becoming victims themselves.

Don’t forget cyber bullies. They’re at work, too. A lot of these verbal and passive-aggressive behaviors can be spread through company email, websites and social media, as well as by phone and text. Without intervention, it becomes a living, breathing cycle of abuse.

There’s are negative emotional and psychological impacts of bullying in the workplace. It’s pretty obvious it can lead to reduced job performance. But studies show it can also result in anxiety, depression and even PTSD in the person at the center of that abusive cycle.

What are you supposed to do if you’re getting bullied at work? This article includes ten tips for dealing with workplace bullies, and it’s worth a quick read. Here is a small sampling of its list of solutions:

  • Don’t get emotional. Bullies thrive on getting others all worked up, so stay calm and rational. It may help diffuse the situation.
  • Document everything. This tip is common to many of the articles I read on the subject of dealing with workplace bullies. Keep a journal or diary, something in writing, that notes everything that occurred with dates. If things get really bad, take it to Human Resources. Don’t leave your journal in the office, though.
  • Get counseling. Talking about what’s happening to you will help you manage the stress. This is especially important if you’ve already started feeling anxious or depressed. Some companies have counseling services available on site or close by for their employees.
  • Do your best work. If a bully is trying to make you look bad, don’t make it easier for him or her with a poor performance on the job. Don’t do things you can control like come in late, take long lunches or miss deadlines on your projects.

These steps and the others in the article may not change things right away, so be patient. Also, be assertive. If you consistently present a confident self and remain calm, your bully may back down. He or she is not going to change, but your reaction to them can, and that can make a world of difference for you.

Seeking Cervical Health

January 8th, 2018

In the past, cervical cancer was one of the top cancer killers of women in the United States. But with the introduction of the Pap smear in the 1950s and a growing focus on getting that test, cervical cancer diagnoses and deaths decreased by more than 60 percent. Today, cervical cancer ranks 14th among most common cancers affecting American women.

Yet, as we wrap up 2017, we learn there were approximately 12,800 new cases of invasive cervical cancer diagnosed last year, with about 4,200 deaths. (They’re still tabulating.) That’s a lot fewer deaths than there were in 1975 (5.6 per 100.000 women), but it’s still too many. This month, let’s take a closer look at cervical cancer and its risk factors, and see what we can do to lower our risk and establish cervical health.Graphic from istockphoto.com.

In simple terms, cancer is the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. This can occur in just about any area of the body, and in some cases, the exact reason the abnormal cells begin to grow is unclear. Cervical cancer begins in the cells that line a woman’s cervix. The cervix is the lower section of the uterus that connects the main part of the uterus to the vagina.

Like it does in many types of cancer, genetics plays a key role in the development of cervical cancer. The growth and division of cells is controlled by our cells’ DNA, which makes up our genes. Cervical cancer can be initiated by mutations to that DNA, causing the cells to grow out of control. With cervical cancer, there are risk factors that make this process more likely to occur.

Infection with the human papillomavirus, or HPV, is one of the strongest risk factors for cervical cancer. HPV has been found to produce proteins that affect certain genes and allows cervical cells to overgrow. HPV also causes changes to other genes that can lead to the development of cancer. It greatly increases a woman’s chances of getting the disease.

Regrettably, HPV, primarily a sexually transmitted infection, is very common. About nine in ten people will be infected at some point in their lives. Fortunately, today there are very safe and effective vaccines to prevent HPV infection. These vaccines are most effective if given to boys and girls before they become sexually active.

There are other risk factors that increase the odds of developing cervical cancer. These include having a family history of cervical cancer, smoking, having a weakened immune system, being infected with chlamydia (another STI), eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables, and being overweight. Long-term use of birth control pills and use of IUDs can also contribute, as can having multiple babies and having your first baby before you were 17 years old.

In most cases, cervical cancer begins with pre-cancerous changes in the cells of the cervix that, without intervention, can develop further into full-fledged cancer. That’s where Pap tests have proven their worth. Pap smears can detect these pre-cancerous changes when done on a routine basis. They can also catch the cancer in its early, most treatable stages.

In the early 1970s, the most common treatments for cervical cancer were cone biopsy and hysterectomy. Today, common treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy, and most often a combination of these treatments is used. Treatments chosen depends on whether the cancer is caught at an early stage or is advanced. For stage 1, or early cervical cancer, the five-year survival rate is about 93 percent.

Ninety-three percent is pretty good, but that’s if you catch the cancer very early on. To do that, you need to keep to your routine pelvic exam and Pap test schedule. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for how often to have these tests performed. These can vary by age and number of individual risk factors. There are additional steps to take to reduce your risk as well.

One step is to reduce your chance of HPV infection. Limit your number of sexual partners and use a condom every time you have sex. In addition, get vaccinated against HPV. While the vaccine is normally given to younger boys and girls, people up to age 26 are eligible to receive it.

Other preventive steps include quitting smoking, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and maintaining an appropriate weight. There’s nothing you can do if you’ve got a family history of cervical cancer, you can’t change your genes, but living a healthy lifestyle is a benefit to your cervical health and your overall health. Think about it.

Gum Disease: A Health Disaster

January 1st, 2018

We all know the routine: Brush and floss at least twice a day to keep your teeth and gums healthy. By doing this, you can avoid cavities that require extra trips to the dentist and that annoying and uncomfortable drilling to repair. Brushing and flossing are good for your gums, too, and having healthy gums can help you avoid a slew of other problems.

Graphic from istockphoto.com.

Stages of Gum Disease

That’s because periodontal disease, or gum disease, has been shown in research study after research study to affect the body systemically, beyond the mouth into other areas such as the heart, lungs and blood. It has been linked to an increased risk of a number of heath conditions.

Gum disease has different forms. The mildest is gingivitis, which is generally associated with poor oral health habits. With this form, you might notice your gums becoming red and swollen, and they may bleed easily. Gingivitis can be reversed with professional treatment and better oral hygiene.

Periodontitis, a more serious form of gum disease, can develop if gingivitis is left untreated. In this case, plaque that is left on the teeth spreads and grows beneath the gum line. Bacteria in the plaque produce toxins that stimulate a chronic inflammatory response.

As part of this response, the body reacts by essentially turning on itself, and eventually the tissues that support the teeth break down and are destroyed. What happens is the gums start to separate from the teeth and form pockets around the teeth that can become infected. If the pockets become large over time, the teeth can loosen and have to be pulled.

One disorder linked to periodontal disease is diabetes. Research shows people with diabetes are more likely to develop periodontal disease. Gum disease, in turn, can increase blood glucose levels and the risk for diabetes complications. It goes both ways, though. Having gum disease makes it more difficult to control blood glucose.

There are other disorders associated with gum disease, including osteoporosis and bone loss in the jaw, which may lead to tooth loss and decreased bone density. Research has found that bacteria that grow in the oral cavity can be inhaled into the lungs and cause respiratory illnesses.

An increased risk of various cancers has also been associated with periodontal disease. For example, research found that men were 49 percent more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer and 30 percent more likely to develop blood cancers. There was an increased risk for some cancers in women as well. The risk of esophageal cancer increases in both men and women.

Numerous studies have been conducted on the link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. Some have shown that the bacteria involved in developing periodontitis can make its way into the bloodstream and cause an elevation of a certain substance in the blood. This substance, C-reactive protein, is a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. That inflammation increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

There’s more. A recent Chinese study revealed that aggressively treating gum disease may help lower blood pressure in people at high risk for high blood pressure, such as those who have elevated blood pressure levels. This study’s results were reported in November at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting.

Another recent study, this one conducted in the United Kingdom, discovered that gum disease could raise the risk of dementia by as much as 70 percent. These findings were presented this past August.

The facts are pretty clear. Gum disease can lead to a host of health disorders. This point underscores the importance of keeping your teeth and gums healthy through regular dental checkups and good oral hygiene practices.

Your parents were right when they bugged you to brush your teeth when you were a kid. I’m bugging you now. Brush and floss, and follow your dentist’s advice for routine care. It’s not just for your teeth; it’s for total body health!

Holiday Stressed?

December 19th, 2017

According to a survey report from the American Psychological Association released last month, more than half of Americans consider the present the lowest point in US history they can remember. This conclusion came from people of every generation including those who lived through Word War II and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crises and the attacks on September 11. The purpose of the survey was to measure stress in America.Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

If we’re already stressed, how are we going to handle the upcoming holidays, which can be stressful on their own? For many people, the holidays also bring feelings of sadness and depression. And some are affected by the shortened days and dearth of daylight at this time of the year. Most of us need some help to get through it.

Don’t worry. There are many steps you can take to help manage stress, and the anxiety and depression that can come with it. I’ll tell you more about that later. But first, let’s consider one reason the holidays are so stressful to start out with.

According to an article from Harvard, it’s a brain thing. The article’s author noted another survey whose respondents reported financial demands, dealing with family and maintaining personal health habits as their main holiday stressors. Responding to challenges like these requires shifting our cognitive strategies, and that’s where brain function comes in, specifically cognitive function.

Cognitive functioning is a type of executive functioning, which is responsible for getting things done. This type of functioning is done by the frontal lobe of the brain. The skills that are part of cognitive functioning include managing time, being attentive, switching focus, planning and organizing, and remembering details.

These skills are in very high demand during the holidays. People who manage holiday stress the best are those who have “cognitive flexibility.” They are able to shift their attention between tasks and rapidly adapt to changing environments. Unfortunately, that flexibility can be difficult to achieve for most people.

For those of us who are less flexible and need more help managing stress, there are many resources with coping strategies on the Internet. I’ve chosen these three to garner a few tips to note.3,4,5 There are more tips in these articles and elsewhere.

  • Be realistic and keep things in perspective. We often set high expectations for the holidays, but rarely do the actually experiences match our images. Accept that the holidays don’t have to be perfect, and remember what the season is really about. You don’t have to buy extravagant gifts to have a happy holiday.
  • Take time for yourself. You’ll be running around trying to make the holidays fun for everyone else, but take a few minutes to take a breath and take care of yourself. Even if it’s just 15 minutes alone, it will help recharge you. Do some yoga if you can or just some deep breathing.
  • Don’t neglect your healthy habits. Just because it’s the holidays, don’t give up your healthy diet or your exercise routine. Try to get at least eight hours of good sleep every night. These behaviors are natural stress busters, so try not to abandon them just because you’re busy with other things.
  • Learn to say “no.” For most of us, it’s impossible to make it to every party and do every activity scheduled around the holidays, and still fit in work. It’s okay if you can’t make it to someone’s event, and don’t feel guilty about it. They’ll understand how tightly your time is stretched. They’re going through the same thing!
  • Be grateful. The thoughts around the holidays generally center on “what I want” and “who is not here.” Instead, try changing your focus and thinking about “what I have” and “who is with me.” Recent research found that gratitude led to lower levels of stress and depression.

These are just a few ideas for managing the holidays. If you still suffer after taking steps to reduce stress, especially if you feel anxious or depressed, see a qualified therapist. Talking to a therapist can help you work through your struggle and feel better. The therapist can also give you additional strategies for your battle against stress.

Coping with Chronic Fibromyalgia Symptoms

December 3rd, 2017

Body aches are often an unfortunate but normal part of aging. But the widespread, chronic pain that comes with fibromyalgia can be debilitating, robbing our “golden years” of much of their luster.Fibromyalgia

Late in her life, my maternal grandmother, who died in December 2000, often complained that her legs hurt. At that time, fibromyalgia wasn’t part of the discussion, so we dismissed her discomfort as a side effect of her Parkinson’s disease and/or an unfortunate consequence of living into her 90s.

Today, as I struggle with fibromyalgia and watch my mother do the same, I’m left to wonder if my grandmother suffered with the disorder as well, and perhaps her own mother before her.

Fibromyalgia once was little more than a catch-all diagnosis when doctors couldn’t find an obvious physical cause for tenderness and stiffness of muscles and associated connective tissue. What’s more, many in the medical community, and in society at large, didn’t accept fibromyalgia as a legitimate ailment.

Imagine suffering with near-constant pain, along with other equally troubling symptoms, and being told by doctors, family and friends that it was all in your head.

Now, thanks to television commercials and other advertising touting medications commonly prescribed for fibromyalgia, the word has become part of our national vocabulary, and most people have at least heard of it.

In addition to the pain, which frequently worsens at night, robbing the patient of much-needed rest, those with fibromyalgia typically become fatigued quickly and endure headaches, restless leg syndrome, brain “fog,” depression, sensitivity to touch, muscle spasms, digestive issues and other symptoms. It can be like having a flu that won’t go away.

My muscles get so knotted that I can feel the bulges beneath my skin. I become quite stiff and can’t sit for long periods. Just getting out of bed can be agony on the worst days.

After I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia sometime before 2008, I fell into a funk, I’m not proud to say, and let my malady rule my life. My work performance surely suffered, as did my personal relationships.

When I was downsized out of my journalism job, I focused for much too long on being sick instead of on what direction to take my professional life next. I became a classic couch potato.

Then I landed a part-time position as a recess supervisor at an elementary school, which forced me to get out of my recliner and start moving – and living – again.

Today, I’m an active volunteer at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where I give presentations and tours, do community outreach, and help rescue marine animals in distress. While my body often balks at being so physical – walking too many steps to count, standing for hours and occasionally helping capture manatees weighing hundreds of pounds – I’m convinced that being sedentary is worse for my health and well-being.

My eating habits aren’t as healthful as they ought to be, and there are periods during which I don’t exercise as regularly as I should. But I’d like to share a few of my tried-and-true strategies for coping with fibromyalgia.

  • Attitude is key. If you think you’re sick and useless, you will be.
  • Hot water helps. If you don’t have a spa with massage jets, a long soak in the bathtub or a hot shower can do wonders for knotted muscles and creaky joints.
  • Hand-held massage devices are OK. But getting a massage by hand is better because you can relax and enjoy it. And buying a massage chair that does more than just vibrate – one that kneads and rolls along your body – is a good investment.
  • Take medication when needed, but don’t pop pills if you can tough it out. And don’t exceed recommended dosages. I’ve found best results from naproxen, an over-the-counter pain reliever. I tried two medications commonly prescribed for fibromyalgia, but neither was very effective, at least for me, and one left my brain so foggy I had memory difficulties.
  • Get as much sleep as possible.
  • Make time for hobbies and time spent with people whose company you enjoy. Laughter is great medicine, and it’s free and unlimited.
  • Give yourself a break. But don’t fall back on your pain as an all-purpose excuse for frequent inaction.
  • Use your time and talents to help others. Volunteering is one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s given me a renewed sense of purpose, improved my social life, helped me feel better about myself and, most importantly, filled a need in my community. Figure out what you love and get involved.
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