A Furry Kind Of Healing …

Those of us who are pet owners know how wonderful our pets are. We brag on them, dote on them, etc.  Those of us, who are also parents, may even distinguish between our children as “those with fur” and “those without”. Our pets live with us, play with us and travel with us. They comfort — even mourn — with us. They are a member of our family and we love them. But did you know that these adorable pets … with their soulful eyes … precocious personalities … cunning wit … and slobbery kisses … actually have the ability to heal?

 

100_2627

 

The U.S. Dog Registry divides dogs (of any breed) into three categories:

  • Service Dogs help with a function/s for a person with a disability, i.e. Blind, Deaf, PTSD, MS, etc.
  • Emotional Support Dogs help people with emotional problems by providing support and comfort, i.e. Anxiety, Depression and Mood Disorders.
  • Therapy Dogs provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers. They are often sent, in the wake of horrific events, i.e. mass shootings, earthquakes, etc.

But what they all accomplish is that they make a positive impact on the people that they interact with. These pets improve the lives of every human that they touch.

Children with Autism were significantly more engaged, when animal therapy was incorporated into their sessions instead of using the standard approach. The children used more language. They exhibited more social interaction. All positive. All healthful.

Cancer patients have improved from pet therapy, also known as Animal-assisted Therapy or AAT. A session of animal interaction, lasting between 5-15 minutes, provides a welcomed distraction from difficult treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. It brightens their day, lifts their spirits and offers a myriad of benefits overall. In fact, AAT has proven to be so effective time and again for many illnesses that the medical community is embracing the idea more than ever before — regularly including it in patient care.

Seniors, who often live alone, also benefit from owning a pet. A pet can provide mental stimulation, erase loneliness, give them a reason to walk around the block and a companion to do it with. Pet interaction has the ability to lessen, even diminish, overall pain. 

When we are bonding with a pet, whether we have a Chronic illness or not, we are in the company of a dear friend — a confidante. As a result, our blood pressure lowers … muscles relax … stress fades. On the chemical level, a pet decreases cortisol in our blood. It can raise levels of the brain chemical dopamine that makes us feel good. We are happier and more positive. And when we reach out … touching their fur … rubbing their back … talking to them … we experience an increase of immunoglobulin A. That antibody boosts our immune system. Hormones like serotonin, oxytocin and prolactin are released, when we are rubbing that fuzzy belly or rolling a tennis ball across the floor. Our mood is lighter. We’re smiling … laughing … enjoying life.

Have you hugged your pet, today? Have you felt the nuzzle of a cold nose against your cheek? Or was it soft purring? We all should be so lucky. That furry companion, who greets us at the door, is actually good for us!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/healing-power-pets

https://www.curetoday.com/community/mike-verano/2015/12/cancer-and-the-healing-power-of-pets

https://www.agingcare.com/articles/benefits-of-elderly-owning-pets-113294.htm

https://www.uclahealth.org/pac/animal-assisted-therapy

https://www.psychologytoday.com/therapy-types/animal-assisted-therapy

https://www.oncologynurseadvisor.com/from-cancercare/animal-assisted-therapy-enhances-cancer-care/article/372518/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/pet-therapy/art-20046342

* Photo of Whisky Macallan … my fur-baby, friend, joy and solace.

Be Not Afraid …

I have a confession to make … I love lighthouses. I always have. Back in the 90’s, I actually ventured inside one (1879 Hooper’s Strait Lighthouse). To really appreciate the message and function of a lighthouse, you must experience it both inside and out. From the outside, like a sailor at sea, you appreciate its guiding light. The comfort that it surely provides, during a tempest storm … to breathe easy … home is near. From the inside, you stand by its massive beacon and look out across the distant water … you feel the isolation … the loneliness … and you realize that the lighthouse keeper’s duty was more than just keeping a light on … it was also a biblical reminder … “Be not afraid”.

cole-wyland-32WgPYOOuBE-unsplash

Scripture is filled with verses that tell us to reject fear and draw strength from God, i.e. Jeremiah 1:8, Matthew 14:27, Mark 5:36, etc. Yet, in crisis situations, we often forget that. Likewise, Judaism teaches to “Fear not”. And Islam also teaches that one must cope with fear. Like love and the Golden Rule, this is a message that transcends languages and religions. 

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with a Chronic illness, it’s easy to be afraid. The unknown is a scary place. The what-ifs can and do keep you awake at night. I know. I have been there, more than once. If you allow those worst-case scenarios to consume you, it can lead to other problems including additional Chronic illnesses. So it’s important to realize that fear, while a natural instinct, can also be an unnecessary burden in our lives. When I feel fear closing in on me, I always think of a lighthouse. For a moment, I close my eyes and drift back to that warm summer day when I first entered one in Maryland. I remember the salty air and climbing the narrow steps up to the beacon … looking out over the waters of the Chesapeake … and feeling closer to God … at peace. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has heightened fear in millions. We cannot ignore this added health risk, for our sake and that of so many others. It must be acknowledged and taken seriously. Preventative measures, many of which have upended our lives, must be embraced. But we can take comfort that we are not alone. God is with us. And like the lighthouse, we can stand firm. This storm, as dark and scary as it is, will pass. Be not afraid. 

Reference Links:

https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?search=be+not+afraid&searchtype=phrase&spanbegin=1&spanend=73&version1=9

https://reformjudaism.org/%E2%80%9Cfear-not%E2%80%9D

Coping With Fear

*Photo by Cole Wyland on Unsplash

Indulge Yourself …

It’s Valentine’s Day. And whether you are madly in love or not, it is permissible to indulge yourself. It’s my humble opinion that you must love yourself first, before you can love others. But how do you indulge yourself and remain “heart healthy”? Hmmm … Well, first, you must think moderation. Second, you need to consider the options that are available. If you want to avoid food indulgences, purchase flowers … jewelry … perfume …  game tickets … concert tickets … a spa day, etc. If you would like to gift an edible to yourself or a loved one, then consider dark chocolate!

jessica-johnston-P86sBT225NU-unsplash

Dark chocolate, eaten in moderation, is a sweet splurge for anyone — even Diabetics. Chocolate is filled with beneficial minerals, i.e. iron, copper, magnesium, zinc. And the cocoa in dark chocolate also contains antioxidants known as flavanols and polyphenols. These antioxidants guard against heart disease and stress. And dark chocolate has anti-inflammatory properties, too. This helps guard against inflammation in your body. Many diseases are negatively impacted by inflammation, i.e. some Cancers, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, etc. A study conducted in 2016 found a positive association between eating dark chocolate and cognitive performance. In other words, improved brain functioning. And that’s beneficial to anyone with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Does it have to be dark chocolate? Well, the darker the chocolate the healthier it is. Look for 70% dark chocolate or higher. This has the most beneficial properties. Does it have to have nuts or berries? No. But nuts and berries also contain heart-healthy properties. So, if you are thinking red, ripe strawberries dipped in dark chocolate, go for it. Store your chocolate in an air-tight container at approximately 65-70 degrees (chocolate-covered berries will require refrigeration). It’s Valentine’s — have some fun with it. Show you care. Indulge yourself or the one you love with dark chocolate!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.diabetes.co.uk/food/diabetes-and-chocolate.html

https://blogs.webmd.com/diabetes/20180508/yes-you-can-eat-chocolate-with-type-2-diabetes-heres-how

Dark Chocolate

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195666316300459

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324747.php#brain-function

*Photo by Jessica Johnston on Unsplash

 

 

 

Viral Heart Disease

Yes, it’s winter. It’s also flu season. But those symptoms that have you down may not be the flu. It could be viral heart disease, also known as Myocarditis. This inflammation of the heart muscle is usually caused by a virus. However, it can also be caused by a drug reaction or an inflammatory condition, i.e.  Mycoplasma, Streptococcal (Strep), Staphylococcal (Staph), Borrelia, HIV, Herpes, etc. And it can strike even the healthiest of people. This includes children.

gaelle-marcel-D3GYTrmj77M-unsplash

 

In its early stages, Myocarditis can have no symptoms. As it worsens, it presents itself much like the flu, i.e. fatigue, fever, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, etc. You may also experience shortness of breath, chest pain, or fluid-retention. And left untreated, it can lead to serious complications, i.e. heart failure, heart attack, stroke, arrhythmias, or sudden cardiac arrest.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, or those mentioned in the links provided, you need to see a doctor. If you have had an infection and begin to experience these symptoms, notify your doctor. If your symptoms are severe, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room for help. Myocarditis may be considered rare, but it is nothing to take for granted.

Over 3M cases were diagnosed, in 2017. This isn’t a disease exclusive to the elderly, or those with pre-existing illnesses. Myocarditis hits all ages — even the healthy, athletic types. It is the third leading cause of Sudden Death in children and teens. So, please, share this awareness. The life of someone you love may depend on it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/myocarditis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352539

https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/myocarditis#1

https://www.myocarditisfoundation.org/about-myocarditis/

https://www.healthline.com/health/heart-disease/viral

*Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

 

Treatment Outside The Box: Homeopathy

Brrr! The frigid temperatures of winter … the gusty wind … the snow … the ice … have a way of going right through you. For many, their joints stiffen and ache. For others, their entire body feels like its consumed by pain. The intensified symptoms are frustrating and stressful. It makes a lot of patients ask themselves, “Is there something more that I can do?” Maybe, there is. It’s called Homeopathic Therapy.

filip-bunkens-R5SrmZPoO40-unsplash

This is nothing new. Homeopathy is a medical system that was developed, in Germany, back in the 1700’s. It’s commonly used in many European countries. But it has never achieved that level of popularity in the U.S. Does it work? A 6-year study conducted in an outpatient-setting in the UK revealed that 70.7% of patients involved in the study had positive health changes. Still, Homeopathy remains somewhat controversial. Perhaps, mysterious?

Homeopathy is often part of Naturopathy (the belief that diseases can be treated without medication).  Doctors who practice this holistic system of medicine are called  “Homeopaths“. Since Homeopathy training is not included in typical MD degree programs, doctors who are interested in providing this care must pursue additional training. Homeopathic practitioners also provide this treatment. They do not have medical degrees, but their educational background is in science. They do graduate-level training, complete a residency, earn certification and get a licensure.

Homeopathy is based on two unconventional theories:

  • “Like cures like” is the theory that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people.
  •  “Law of minimum dose” is the theory that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness. 

Homeopathic products come from plants, minerals, or animals. Treatments are individualized for the patient and their specific illness. According to a 2012 survey, by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), approximately 5M adults and 1M children use this type of treatment in the U.S. In 2017, the FDA proposed a new risk-based enforcement approach to homeopathic products. This approach calls for more scrutiny of products. 

Some of the Chronic illnesses that can be treated with Homeopathy are:

  • Migraines
  • Depression
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia Syndrome

It is important to note that every patient is different. The treatment that some respond well to, others may not. We see this also in conventional medical treatment. There are no guarantees in life. Most of us learned that lesson, by the time we reached adulthood.

If you are interested in learning more about Homeopathy, you can read the links provided below. You can and should also discuss this with your physician. Homeopathy is considered, by most medical doctors, as part of Complementary and Alternative medicine (CAM). He or she can discuss the options available, in your area. If not, those who live in North America can contact the North American Society of Homeopaths online at https://homeopathy.org/ for assistance. Sometimes, the path to feeling better and living more fully involves treatment outside the box! 

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16296912

https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-is-homeopathy#1

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/homeopathy#hed1

NASH | North American Society of Homeopaths

Fibromyalgia (2008)

https://nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/2007/camsurvey_fs1.htm

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/homeopathy

*Photo by Filip Bunkens on Unsplas

Building Your Support Team

Once you are diagnosed with a Chronic illness, life comes at you fast. There are tests, doctors, medications, procedures, treatment, etc., to be discussed … decided upon … and juggled. And the best way to manage it all is to build a “Support Team”. But how does that work? Who makes the cut? Let’s talk about that …

 

sheri-hooley-_FTpwxHYYoI-unsplash

 

Family and friends can be wonderful things. But, in reality, not all families provide strong support systems and not all friends are up to the task. This is your health that we are talking about. Anyone with a Chronic illness will tell you that managing your condition is vital. Your privacy is also involved. Which brings us back to who makes the cut:

  • Doctors are a given.
  • Disease Information. This will help you to make decisions & build your team.
  • Therapists and/or Nutritionists may be needed to get you started or even long-term.
  • Best Buds, i.e. spouse, partner, family, friends, a neighbor, or even a co-worker. People you can count on to help you emotionally and/or physically. This should be  dependable & responsible individuals. They should also know how to practice discretion. If you have more than one in your life … “Yea!”
  • Support Groups can be found in most areas — even online (hint, hint, hint). These are very beneficial if your Best Buds are limited or not living close-by.
  • A Good Pharmacy & I lean toward national chains. If you forget to pack a prescription, lose one, etc., it’s easier to get it replaced. Most offer mail-delivery, too.

Building your team may sound like a daunting task, but it’s not as difficult as you may think. Specialists and surgeons will be referred, if needed, by your physician. This is also true for therapists, nutritionists, etc. Your physician can provide information about your disease, too. And there’s a wealth of good information on sites like Mayo Clinic, WebMD, CDC, etc. Your “Best Buds” are the easiest to pick, because you know them and they know you. You also know their strengths and weaknesses. Some will be better for a specific task than others. So, talk to them. Discuss your condition as well as any help you may need, i.e. transportation, errands, watching the kids for a couple of hours, etc. Support Groups may be of interest to you, or they may not. The choice is yours and depends solely upon your needs and preferences. A good pharmacy is something that you don’t really think about, until it becomes a constant part of your life. If you don’t have one, now is the time to locate one. With any Chronic illness, you will need it. This is your new normal.

It’s a lot to take in. I know. Once diagnosed, you can easily feel overwhelmed … scared … frustrated … depressed … even angry. That’s why your support team is so important. Together, you can and will effectively manage your condition. Millions do so, every day. Last but not least, try not to let your imagination get the best of you in the worst of ways. Don’t worry yourself over things that may never happen. Don’t allow worst-case scenarios to keep you awake at night. Cross that bridge, when and if you come to it. You have better things to do, than dwell on the negatives. Prioritize. Focus. Embrace optimism. And live!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions

https://www.webmd.com/

https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/groups/chronic-illness

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-07-groups-boost-health-chronic-conditions.html

http://www.ihi.org/resources/Pages/Changes/SelfManagement.aspx

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000602.htm

https://www.caregiver.org/resources-health-issue-or-condition

8 Ways to Build a Support System When You Feel Defeated and Alone

*Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash

In 2020 … More Optimism!

Well, here we are … starting a new year … and wallowing in a mixture of emotions. Excitement. Curiosity. Frustration. Determination. Perhaps, even dread? A few tell-tale signs from the holidays are still lingering … cards, decorations, perhaps a return or two. Often times, people feel the need to start fresh as a way to welcome January. So, they make a resolution. Many would even call it a tradition to do so. If you are one of these folks, please, consider making yours “optimism”!

annie-spratt-178364-unsplash

Optimism, or Positive thinking, is a powerful thing that can have tremendous results. If you’re laughing, or just silently skeptical, visit the reference links below. Pessimists give up more easily. They are depressed more often. And they tend to have more health issues. Optimists, on the other hand, do better in school, at work, even in extracurricular activities. They have better overall health and they may even live longer. Is there a greater gift to give yourself in 2020? To me, there isn’t!

To put it simply, optimism equates to being healthier. There are five decades of medical research, from around the world, to support this. Being healthier means you are going to feel better, look better and enjoy life more. Optimistic people have better cardiovascular health, stronger immune function, lower stress levels and lower pain levels. When an optimistic person encounters an adverse health event, i.e. orthopedic surgery, they recover more quickly. And, if they are diagnosed with a Chronic illness, they can manage their disease better. Their survival rates are higher. Wow!

The best part is that optimism can be learned! So, if you are a born pessimist, you can change your outlook. Your glass doesn’t have to be perpetually half-empty. You too can reap the rewards of optimism. Are you ready? Here, are some helpful tips:

  • Change how you think. Instead of dwelling on a problem, focus on the solution.
  • Mentally, coach yourself. We all need a cheering section. Remember to be yours.
  • Practice positive self-talk. In other words, DON’T say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else.
  • Be open to humor. Smile. Laugh. Both release stress.
  • Identify areas of your life that you want to improve. Take some time, each day, to visualize that success. 
  • Exercise. Even a little can help a lot, i.e. walk around the block, a 10-minute session of Tai Chi, etc. It will positively effect your mood and reduce stress levels.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Supportive people can offer helpful advice and feedback. Negative ones cannot.
  • Acknowledge your accomplishments. Even the small ones count and add up. So, pat yourself on the back and keep moving forward!

A new year is like standing before a blank canvas. We are the artists. And our palettes are waiting. Optimism — like the paint, pencils, brushes, palette knives, etc. — is within our reach. Here’s hoping that each of us creates a beautiful masterpiece!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/high-octane-women/201208/the-mind-and-body-benefits-optimism-0

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-behind-behavior/201607/4-reasons-why-optimistic-outlook-is-good-your-health

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950

https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/optimism-and-your-health

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510498

https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/train-yourself-to-be-an-optimist-4-steps.html

*Photo by Izabelle Acheson on Unsplash