Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Take a Break: Get ready for Super Bowl XLVIII

Whether your team is in the game, or you have a “dog in the fight,” as my one friends says,  the Super Bowl seems to be an excuse for parties. Too cold for most people to consider “tail gating,” bring the party indoors with lots of fun filled activities.

Super Bowl decorations/Instant Hot Chocolate: Last year’s “take a break.” Note- the hot chocolate recipe is fabulous. 

• Stencils are a fun way to decorate. Small enough they become face paintings. Check out the following:
-       Denver Broncos Snowflake 
-       Broncos stencil  
-       Seahawks stencil 

Food: Chances are you already have favorite recipes that you serve, but just in case, here are some other recipes to try:
• Home made Microwave popcorn-not the nasty stuff that comes in a box. Two recipes to consider: 

Brown Paper Bag Method: Put ¼ cup corn kernels in a brown paper lunch bad. Fold the top over tightly a few times. Tape shut with non-metallic tape (masking tape) if you want. Set on high for 2 minutes or popcorn setting. Listen carefully, since the “do it yourself” burns quicker. When popping slows- 2 seconds between pops- it’s done. Spray with olive oil and sprinkle on cheese, or whatever strikes your fancy.

• Healthy Super Bowl Options: Some good recipes here. Have to admit though, I love it when my friend makes Frank’sRed Hot Buffalo Chicken Dip. She adds celery to her recipe, which is a nice touch. 

• Team Drinks. Depending on your favorite team, consider
-       The Bronco or Orange Crush
-       Seahawks Drinks The Twelfth Man and Shuan Alexander 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Pathological Altruism: Giving That Hurts

Several weeks ago, I listened to the Zen abbot Joan Halifax on NPR's On-Being. With years of experience in helping the dying, I was struck when Halifax spoke of the dangers of "pathological altruism." It wasn't a term I had heard before, but it was a concept I fully understood.

In 1984, the term “pathological altruism” appeared in the scientific literature.  Barbara Oakley, a PHD in engineering and expert on this topic, defines it as follows,  altruism can be conceived as behavior in which attempts to promote the welfare of another, or others, results instead in harm that an external observer would conclude was reasonably foreseeable.

Society promotes altruism, empathy, caring and giving. While these are good and important ways to be, it’s the extremes at either ends of the spectrum that can be very dark. Those that have no sense of empathy or caring fall into the category of sociopath. At the opposite end is the individual that gives way too much endangering themselves and others.

Working in health care, I see pathological altruism all the time. Some examples:
•  It’s the doctor who orders thousands of dollars of test on a terminally ill patient or in situations where one test is sufficient. In an effort “to be sure,” or “do everything possible,” this practice can cause discomfort or pain for the patient, considerable anxiety and a large medical bill that the patient may not be able to pay.

• Caregivers who do not seek help and compromise their own health in their effort to make their charge their number one priority.

• The mother who gives her diabetic child candy so he can be “like all the other children.”

• The spouse of an alcoholic who covers for him or her.  

It is helpful to understand how the brain operates in order to see why people become pathologically altruistic. Altruism is linked to the limbic system. Being generous does give your brain a pleasurable jolt, which is why doing something for others ranks high on all the “how to be happy” handouts. Just as some people become addicted to drugs, some become addicted to altruism and ultimately a martyr to self sacrifice.

This is hard to talk about as we make heroes of people we perceive as having lived a life of self sacrifice. One example is Mother Theresa, whom many believe is a saint. It took a nun and two monks expressing their concerns before I took a closer look at the facts versus the hype.

Mother Theresa’s hospices and clinics were barren and ill equipped to help the dying and sick, despite receiving millions of dollars. The money was placed in bank accounts instead of in to buildings and medical equipment that could have eased suffering. Why? Maybe this quote of Mother Theresa explains it, “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.”

So if you find yourself saying, “how dare she dis Mother Theresa,” this is an example of why this is such a difficult topic to discuss.

The brain also thrives on self-righteousness and the sense of being in the right. However, just because you think something is right doesn’t make it so. As the science writer, David Brin notes, people “self-dope” with this type of thinking. He describes it as follows, “The pleasure of knowing, with subjective certainty, that you are right and your opponents are deeply, despicably wrong. Or, that your method of helping others is so purely motivated and correct that all criticism can be dismissed with a shrug, along with any contradicting evidence. Mother Theresa’s strong belief that the suffering of the poor was a gift to the world kept patients from receiving medication and treatment that could have significantly helped them. 

While this is very much an emerging scientific field of study, and you can learn more from the resource links at the end of the post, below are some things to consider to help keep pathologic altruism in check. This may be most useful for those in the caregiver role.

• Engage mind and heart when reacting to a situation. Don’t react just by emotion. Think about consequences.

• Recognize your self worth. Respect and value yourself. If you don’t put yourself first, you will not will be able to help those who need it. If you need a reminder think of the flight attendant who announces before the plane leaves the ground, in the event of an emergency put the oxygen mask on yourself before trying to help others. In other words, to be the most effective and helpful you need to be in the best possible shape you can be.

• Delegate, ask for advise and help. Don’t go it alone.

• Keep an emotional distance. Don’t crawl into their pain and misery. You are not obligated to have the same feelings they are experiencing. As Oakley puts it, Empathic concern for others without allowing yourself to become immersed in their pain can be a good thing for all concerned.  But responding with empathic distress, particularly over long periods of time, can lead to trouble. As transpersonal psychologist Margaret Cochran says, empathic distress is “when somebody is down in a hole moaning, thrashing and flushing like a toilet and they call out to you to join them and you do. So now you’re both down in the hole. Nobody wins.” Compassion, however, “is when someone is down in a hole moaning, thrashing, and flushing like a toilet and they call out to you to join them and you say, ‘No, I’ll stay up here at the mouth of the hole. I’ve got some sandwiches and juice, come on up and we’ll talk about it.’ Everybody wins.” Cold Blooded Kindness

• Be clear about your motives in helping. Is it because you need to be needed? Are you on a “helper-high?”   If by “fixing” this person do you believe you are correcting some area of your life?

• Be open to other points of view. Question.

• Remember that you are not responsible for how people react or their behavior. You are also not responsible for their personal happiness.

• Give what you can and not until it hurts.

 Pathological Altruism: A simple concept that could revolutionize scientific and social thought. Presentation by Barbara Oakley 

• JoanHalifax’s Interview On-Being: Halifax is a Zen abbot who has spent decades working with the dying. She is concerned about pathology altruism and the edge states it creates.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Take a Break : Make it a Brain Break

This seems to be a common activity in many classrooms, but it can work in any environment. Basically a “brain break” is roughly three minutes where you do something completely different that energizes your brain. It’s a great way to fight off boredom, stress, feeling tired or being over whelmed.

Things to try:

• Dance

Meditation Break: Calm has guided or time meditations that last from 2 to 20 minutes. One of my favorites.

• Learn Something New Out of Your Comfort Zone: Research is showing that one of the most important ways to maintain the brain is to learn something new, particularly an activity that is out of a person’s comfort zone. Life Hacker has a fun description of why this works, so start your learning by checking out The Science of Practice:What Happens When You learn a New Skill. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Health Research: How Reliable is it? What can you do?

This past week National Public Radio (NPR) aired two interesting articles relating to the reliability of research and its impact on patient care. Blood Pressure Ruckus Reveals Big Secret in Medicine reported that new blood pressure guidelines for those 60 or over should have a systolic blood pressure (the top number) goal of 150 or less versus the older guidelines that used 140 or less. Which guideline should be used? Is one more reliable then the other?

One answer to this question may be, what does the research show. This brings up the second report from NPR, which basically says scientific research isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find a link to this news story. However, there is a lot of good reporting on this particular topic. The United Nations Reproducibility, Replication and Fraud in Scientific Research report, starts off by saying, Reproducibility is the foundation of all scientific research. It is the standard by which scientific claims are evaluated. Biomedical research in the US is a 100 billion dollar a year business. Yet, much of the current published data, cannot be replicated/repeated by others even if it is published in so-called top flight peer- reviewed journals. 

The Atlantic article Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science  and Gary Marcus article in the New Yorker both provide very detailed information about the quality, or lack thereof,  of medical research. Marcus does try to offer some solutions in his Cleaning up Science article.  And if you really want to be depressed, try Retraction Watch,   where the name says it all.

There are plenty examples of a recommendation for a particular treatment that a few years later become “maybe not so much.” Two examples that come to mind are hormone replacement for post menopausal women and yearly mammograms starting at age 40. Of course there is ever changing research about calcium supplementation, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, low fat diet, cholesterol and much more.

While I could write volumes about this, and there is much you can read on-line, the bottom line is this, we have to make choices regarding our health care that are right for us. Yes, there are major issues with scientific research. However, all the research in the world, no matter how well done, isn’t going to make a difference if the medication doesn’t work for you or it causes side effects that you couldn’t possibly live with.

What you can do:
• Find a provider that you trust and who is willing to discuss things with you.

• Become an e-patient.  Using sites, such as Patients Like Me can give you an idea of how various
treatment protocols are working for others with your condition and it also allows you to share your data. 

• If you choose to try a treatment, follow up with your provider, including lab work, to evaluate if it’s working for you.

• Keep track of how you feel. Does something feel different? Report findings to your provider.

• You can make yourself nuts by reading everything you possibly can. Read enough to make good choices, but not so much that you become overwhelmed and can’t make a decision.

• If you find you’re having a hard time making a choice, check out the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s website Explore Your Treatment Options: It’sYour Health.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Take a Break: Experiment with Zentangle

To keep myself looking semi intelligent during long and boring meetings, I have spent many an hour drawing shapes that connect and making different patterns inside each one. Imagine my surprise to learn that this activity is called “Zentangle.” While there are now art exhibits, books, websites, special instructors, how to guides and more on the topic, the idea is pretty simple, draw a shape and fill it in with whatever appeals to you. Keep adding on until you are pleased with your drawing-or in my case, the meeting is over. If you need a better definition, check “What is a Zentangle?” 

While you can use pen or pencil, my preference is for a fine point Sharpie.

To help start, check out the following:
Zentangle with Your Students: Nice overview 

Zendoodle Sampler Zentangle PatternStyles Tutorial: Good video on different patterns you can use. 

• Tangle Patterns: An index and graphic guide to Zentangle patterns on the web and how to draw them.