Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year’s Eve 2016: The Overview Effect and the Importance of Connection

Few would disagree that 2016 was a divisive year.  As we come to its close, now more than ever there is a need for understanding how we must come together, not only to heal ourselves but extending that to our families, friends, community, country and the earth itself.

The astronaut Frank White came up with the expression “The Overview Effect” after his time in space. It  refers to the experience of seeing firsthand the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, hanging in the void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere.  

It is interesting to watch the video The Overview Effect and reading about The Overview Institute.

 Seeing the Earth “hanging in the void” caused a cognitive shift for many astronauts and cosmonauts. National boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important and the need to create a “planetary” society becomes more important.

Edgar Mitchell, who walked on the moon, founded The Institute of Noetic Sciences as he believed “in a universe of consciousness.” The Institute conducts research on such topics as spontaneous remission, meditation, alternative healing practises, consciousness based healthcare, spirituality etc.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, cosmologist and director of the Hayden Planetarium  sums it up with his quote “We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.”

Buddhism,  Native Americans and many other religious beliefs and cultures recognize the connectivity between all beings. In fact, “connectedness,” the degree to which an individual or group is socially close, interrelated or shares resources with other individuals or groups,” bas been shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, reduce risk of suicide as well as increase longevity and well-being. According to Robert Waldinger, the current director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, there are three very important take away points from the study for living a long and contented life:

• Social connections are really good for us, loneliness kills
• It's not just the number of friends you have, and it's not whether or not you're in a committed relationship, but it's the quality of your close relationships that matters
• Good relationships don't just protect our bodies, they protect our brains.

So how do we bring connectedness into our lives? Consider the following resources:

Friday, December 23, 2016

Coping with Holiday Stress: I'm Beginning to Stress About Christmas

I’m beginning to stress about Christmas
Ev'rywhere I go;
Take a look in the grocery isles, merchandising in piles
With shoppers frustrated and about to blow.

I’m beginning to stress about Christmas
Shopping lists galore
But the sorriest sight to see is the ungrateful guess that will be
Coming through my own front door.

A Furby Connect and a phone with text
Is the wish of Barney and Ben;
Games with story and electronic glory
Is the hope of Janice and Jen;
And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.

I’m beginning to stress about Christmas
Ev'rywhere I go;
There's a tree to be trimmed, gifts to bring in
And a house to be cleaned oh no.

I’m beginning to stress about Christmas
 Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the caroler that can’t sing
Who will pass me by if the house is dark.

If “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is your favorite Christmas song, I apologize. This holiday season seems to be particularly stressful. While there is the usual hubbub, there is the added stress of a presidential election that makes many very unsure of what the New Year will bring. The election was so devise that some families and friends have decided that the strong differences make it too difficult to share a holiday dinner or get together.

Not sure about stress levels, your body will let you know when you are on overload. If you answer yes to any of the following symptoms you need to bring your stress level under control: Inability to concentrate or complete tasks; getting more colds than usual; body aches; chronic condition flares; headaches; irritability; trouble sleeping (too much or too little); or being more angry or anxious than usual.

While the simplest solution is to identify stressors and avoid them, which some people seem to be doing by avoiding one another this holiday, that’s not always possible nor is it healthy.  Instead, consider the following:

• Spread it out. Be realistic about what you can do and when. “No” is a very acceptable response. Everything doesn’t need to happen on one day or at one event.

• If you have recently suffered a loss, regardless of what it is, take time to cry or express feelings. You don’t have to “happy up.” Consider doing the holidays differently, including volunteering or creating a totally different holiday. After a nasty breakup and fearing a holiday alone, I hosted a “Christmas for the unloved ” party for all my gal pals who were single. It was so much fun, we continued doing it for quite a few years.

• There is no one way holidays need to be celebrated in spite of relatives and friends that say, “but we’ve always done it like this.” Traditions are great, but being bound to something you don’t enjoy isn’t helpful. A few years ago I decided it was less stressful if I celebrated Winter Solstice as the day I take small items to friends in my community. It freed up Christmas Eve considerably and it was a way for me to include friends that don’t celebrate Christmas.

• Set aside differences. Stories and reminiscences are the glue that connects us. Now more than ever this is important to remember that. No matter who one voted for, it doesn’t make us enemies. This is not the time to try and solve the world’s or anyone else’s problems. It’s the time to tell the funny stories about the craziest present you ever received or that awful fruitcake you received for several years from a secret Santa. Find the things that bind you not divide you.

• Having a “safe space” where you can retreat can be very helpful. It maybe physical, such as a room in your house. However, since we aren’t always in our home, developing a safe space within ourselves is important.

• Separate thoughts and fears of the future, or regrets about the past, with the reality of the present. If you have trouble focusing on the “now” try one of these ideas:
-         Look out the window and count birds, trees, flowers, bushes, cars or whatever else strikes your fancy.
-       Wiggle your fingers, tap you feet and pay attention to the movement.

• Engage in what makes you feel calmer or more centered such as taking the dog for a walk, petting the cat, having a favorite meal, meditating, reading a book, taking a hot shower or bath, sitting in a hot tub, some form of physical exercise. One of my favorite websites to look at is the Instagram “Drawings for My Grandchildren.” They are incredibly comforting. 

• Unplug from your phone, computer, news feed etc. so that you don’t stress about things you can’t control

• When you feel very anxious Breath in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, exhale breath for 8 seconds, repeat once or twice more

• Smile, laugh and enjoy the little things

• It almost goes without saying but take medications as prescribed. Eat healthy foods, get sufficient sleep and make time for yourself.

Most importantly, do only what you can realistically do and remember Your Best is More than Good Enough. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Take a Break: South of the Border Holiday-Paper cut banners/Soda Can Art

In the final of the three part series on holiday fun "South of the Border," try making paper cut banners (papel picado) and upcycling aluminum cans.

Papel Picado (paper cut banners)

Previous posts in the series

Not interested in today’s activity, go to the Take a Break Pinterest Board. and pick out something else.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Journal Watch December 2016

• Specially Designed Video Game Might Ease Phantom Limb Pain: Amputees who experience what is known as phantom limb pain may benefit from playing a virtual reality game that simulates the movement of missing limbs, a small study suggests. The Lancet 

• Magic Mushroom Chemical Eases Cancer Patients’ Despair: Cancer often leaves patients feeling that life has no meaning, a state of mind that psychiatrists call "existential distress." But two new, small studies suggest that an ingredient found in hallucinogenic "magic" mushrooms can dramatically reverse this feeling. A single dose of the man-made drug psilocybin quickly lifted spirits for most cancer patients, and the effect lasted as long as six months for many. Journal of Psychopharmacology 

• Pot Smoking Might Harm Vision: Smoking pot regularly may be linked to a limited degree of vision impairment, a new French study suggests. The finding stems from very preliminary research involving just 52 participants, 28 of whom were regular marijuana users. That meant they used marijuana at least seven times a week. JAMA Ophthalmology 

Tai Chi for PTSD: The age-old practice of Tai Chi shows promise in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans, new research shows. The study was small -- just 17 U.S. veterans -- and involved four introductory sessions of Tai Chi. the program helped ease the veterans' PTSD symptoms. Those symptoms included intrusive thoughts, difficulty concentrating and physiological arousal. Most of the veterans involved in the program said they would recommend Tai Chi to a friend, BMJ 

Yoga for High Blood Pressure: Yoga may help reduce blood pressure in people who are at risk for developing hypertension, a new study finds. European Society of Cardiology 

Yoga Breathing Helps Fight Depression: A breathing-based meditation practice known as Sudarshan Kriya yoga helped alleviate severe depression in people who did not fully respond to antidepressant treatments, reports a new study. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 

Approves Empagliflozin to Reduce Cardiovascular Death in Adults With Type 2 Diabetes
Will no longer enforce a requirement that people aged 18 and older receive a medical evaluation or sign a waiver before buying most hearing aids
Concludes That Use of Pioglitazone May Increase Risk of Bladder Cancer
• Issues Anesthesia Warning for Pregnant Women, Kids under 3

• Dialysis Patients May Walk Their Way to Better Health: Improved mental and physical health
may just be steps away for people on kidney dialysis, a new study suggests. A simple program that includes a few minutes of walking a day appears to benefit these patients, a team of Italian researchers concluded. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology

• Standing or 'Easy' Walks May Help Type 2 Diabetics Control Blood Sugar: For people with type 2 diabetes, better blood sugar control may be as easy as getting up off the couch and standing every so often, or taking a leisurely walk, a new study shows. Diabetologia 

It’s Never too Late to Stop Smoking: You're never too old to reap the health benefits of quitting smoking, a new study finds. "Even participants who quit smoking as recently as in their 60s were 23 percent less likely to die during follow-up than those who continued to smoke into their 70s.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 

Optimism May Propel Women to a Longer Life: Women who generally believe that good things will happen may live longer. That's the suggestion of a new study that seems to affirm the power of positive thinking. "This study shows that optimism is associated with reduced risk of death from stroke, respiratory disease, infection and cancer.” American Journal of Epidemiology 

Just 1 Cigarette a Day Can be Deadly: Data on more than 290,000 older Americans, aged 59 to 82, smokers were asked about their smoking habits at nine different points in their lives, beginning with before they turned 15 until after they reached the age of 70. Compared with people who'd never smoked, those who smoked an average of less than one cigarette a day over their lifetime still had a 64 percent higher risk of dying early. And those who smoked one to 10 cigarettes a day had an 87 percent higher risk, the findings showed. JAMA Internal Medicine 

Avoiding spiritual struggles and existential questions is linked with poorer mental health Fear of confronting the tensions and conflicts brought on by existential concerns—the “big questions” of life—is linked with poorer mental health, including higher levels of depression, anxiety and difficulty regulating emotions, according to a new study. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science 

• Only Orthothics help to guard against Injury: The millions who run, walk or play sports may think shoe inserts that cushion the foot can help prevent injuries. But a new review challenges that notion. "There appears to be little merit in using shock-absorbing insoles for the prevention of injury, while there is some evidence that foot [orthotics] are effective for the prevention of some injuries like stress fractures and shin pain.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 

• If you want to stick to an Exercise Plan Try High-Intensity Workouts: High-intensity interval training (HIT) is more enjoyable than moderate exercise, a team of kinesiologists has found. It’s the first study to examine changes in enjoyment for HIT workouts versus moderate continuous training, over the first six weeks of an exercise program. Plos One 

White Wine Boost Your Melanoma Risk: A new study raises the possibility that people who enjoy a glass of white wine every day may face a slightly elevated risk of melanoma. Total alcohol intake was associated with a 14 percent higher risk of melanoma per drink per day, researchers found. Each drink per day of white wine was associated with a 13 percent higher risk of melanoma, the researchers said. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 

• Even Moderate Regular Alcohol Consumption Could Cause A-Fib: Regularly drinking even small amounts of alcohol may increase the risk of atrial fibrillation. The researchers found that the risk of atrial fibrillation grew by 8 percent for each daily alcoholic drink. The findings were similar for men and women. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 

• Testosterone Therapy May Be Linked to Serious Blood Clots: Researchers found that men taking the male hormone seem to have a 63 percent increased risk of a blood clot forming in a vein, a condition known as venous thromboembolism (VTE). These clots can cause a heart attack, stroke, organ damage or even death, according to the American Heart Association. British Medical Journal 

  Benefits of daily aspirin outweigh risk to stomach, study suggests: Stomach bleeds caused by aspirin are considerably less serious than the spontaneous bleeds that can occur in people not taking the drug, concludes a new study. Public Library of Science 

Wider Low-Dose Aspirin Use Would Save U.S. $692Billion: Taking low-dose aspirin daily can reduce older Americans' risk of heart disease and cancer, and lead to significant savings in health care spending, a new study contends. University of Southern California researchers used national data to assess the long-term benefits of daily aspirin usage. They calculated that taking low-dose aspirin every day would prevent 11 cases of heart disease and four cases of cancer for every 1,000 Americans ages 51 to 79. PLOS ONE 

• US Doctors Still Over Prescribing Antibiotics: Despite evidence that certain drugs aren't always necessary, doctors are still prescribing these treatments, a new survey of doctors reveals. Antibiotics are by far the drugs most frequently used in situations where they'll provide no value for patients. The survey found that more than a quarter of doctors surveyed (27 percent) said that antibiotics are often administered to patients when the drugs will do no good.

• Acetaminophen, supplements and other medications may trigger drug-induced liver injury: More than 1,000 medications, with acetaminophen being the most common, have been associated with drug-induced liver injury (DILI). A new article discusses the clinical impact of DILI and reviews the medications that most frequently cause it. American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) 

Could Statins Cut Risk of Alzhemier’s?: A new, large study suggests that if they do have that power, it may depend on the specific statin, and the gender and race or ethnicity of the person taking it. For example, black men appeared to gain no benefit from taking any statin, while white women may lower their risk regardless of which statin they take, the researchers said.
The findings don't prove that statins reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer's. And if they do shrink the risk, the effect seems to be small. JAMA Neurology 

 Beta Blockers May Not be Best Heart Drug for Dementia Patients: Beta blocker drugs are often the go-to medication for people who've survived a heart attack. But a new study suggests that they may not be the medicine of choice for nursing home residents with dementia. Taking the drugs reduced the risk of death during the study period by about a quarter, the researchers said. But the drugs were also associated with 34 percent higher risk that a patient with moderate or severe dementia would be unable to independently perform the functions of daily life. JAMA Internal Medicine 

Obamacare’s Demise Could Be Quicker Than Republicans Intend: Republicans in Congress say they'll vote to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act early next year — even though they don't yet have a plan to replace it. But they also insist that they don't want to harm any of the millions of people who got their health insurance under the law. The lawmakers' strategy? Vote to repeal, and fulfill their top campaign pledge. But delay the changes, and keep running Obamacare for as long as two years while they figure out how to fill the hole they'll create in the insurance market. NPR 

• 52 Million Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions Become uninsurable if Obamacare is Repealed: In an interview last month with 60 Minutes on CBS, Trump said he intends to retain the Affordable Care Act’s protection for people under 65 years of age with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, cancer, dementia or diabetes, calling it one of the highly controversial law’s “strongest assets.” But with mounting uncertainty about how Trump and the GOP intend to repeal much of the Obamacare law next month without a replacement plan in hand, the plight of millions of Americans with pre-existing medical conditions is a very big question mark. Business Insider 

American Death Rate from Drugs, Alcohol, and Mental Disorders Nearly Triples Since 1980: More than 2,000 US counties witnessed increases of 200% or more in deaths related to substance abuse and mental disorders since 1980. Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death overall in the United States in 2014, but cancers were responsible for more years of life lost to early death than any other cause. Still, the rate at which Americans die from cancer and other diseases or injuries differs significantly among communities, highlighting stark health disparities across the nation. JAMA 

Prices Skyrocket on Drugs Widely Used by Seniors: The prices of brand-name drugs used by many older Americans rose nearly 130 times faster than inflation last year, a new study reports. The researchers examined the prices of 268 brand-name prescription drugs widely used by seniors, including 49 in drug categories that are used to treat common and often chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. The retail prices of the drugs rose an average of 15.5 percent in 2015, compared with a 0.1 percent increase in the general inflation rate, according to the AARP report. The study findings also showed the average annual cost for chronic use of one brand-name drug rose to more than $5,800, compared with nearly $1,800 in 2006. AARP