Smile: It’s Good For You

Sometimes, we overthink things. This is often true with Chronic illness. We overlook the simple, yet effective ways to help us feel better. Why is that? Are we looking for more difficulty? More expense? More drama? Surely, not. I think, just maybe, we are skeptical of simplicity. In this modernized society, we have somehow conditioned ourselves to believe that we need all the latest gadgets, gizmos, treatments and meds. We tell ourselves that if it’s “new”, if it’s advertised, then it must be better. Yet, in reality, we actually benefit from very simple things … free things … easy, natural things. And the perfect example of this is a smile!

 

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When you smile, you activate neural messaging in your brain and chemicals are released, i.e. Dopamine, Endorphins and Serotonin. Your brain is basically having a party and your entire body is invited to join the fun!

Smiling wards off stress. It relaxes you, if only for a few seconds. It lifts your spirits. You are happier. You feel better. That smile also lowers your Blood-pressure and your heart-rate. It can even relieve pain. Imagine that!

Each time you smile at someone (even a stranger) and they smile back, you both have created a symbiotic relationship. And both of you reap the benefits. In that moment that you exchange smiles, each of your bodies releases those feel-good chemicals into your brain. In those few seconds, both of you feel happier … more attractive … even more confident. This actually increases the chances of living longer and leading happier lives, in both individuals. And it wasn’t difficult or time consuming. Heck, it didn’t even cost a dime!

If you can share a little laughter, the benefits are even greater. In the short-term, a smile that ripples into laughter releases more of those feel-good chemicals … fills your lungs with oxygen-rich air … stimulates your heart and your muscles … relieves stress … and just makes you feel good. But in the long-term, it can improve your immune system … relieve pain … boost your mood … and increase personal satisfaction. Remember that old cliche, “Laughter is the best medicine”? As it turns out, there’s medical proof to back it up.

Now, granted, there are times when it’s hard to smile or laugh with a Chronic illness. But did you know that even a fake smile can trick the brain into releasing these feel-good chemicals? That in turn can have the same positive results on the body and emotions. So smile, even on the bad days — reap the benefits. In the long run, you’ll be glad that you did!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201206/there-s-magic-in-your-smile

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/smiling-can-trick-your-brain-happiness-boost-your-health-ncna822591

*Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

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It’s That Time Of Year, Again …

It’s Spring aka Hay Fever season. And sufferers surely know it. But they also know it can strike in Summer as well as Fall. Despite its name, Hay Fever doesn’t require hay or cause a fever. It can be rather inclusive that way. Its symptoms are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to airborne mold spores and numerous pollens. Allergic rhinitis, as it is medically known, is a significant Chronic disease that often effects the healthier population. In fact, in the past century, its prevalence has increased 10-fold. Some patients even experience symptoms the year-round, i.e. Perennial Allergic rhinitis.

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While Hay Fever symptoms vary, from patient to patient, the most common are:

  • Runny nose and nasal congestion
  • Watery, itchy, red eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Earaches
  • Fatigue
  • Postnasal drip
  • Swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • Headaches  

If you or a loved one is suffering from one or more of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. It might even be time to see an Allergist. Once you are properly diagnosed, you can work toward managing your Hay Fever. This is especially important, if you are already living with an illness that can be worsened by the symptoms of Hay Fever, i.e. Stress, Asthma, Lung Diseases and Heart Diseases.

Life does not stop, because you have Hay Fever. That’s a no-brainer. You have things to do, work to finish, plans to keep and dreams to chase. To get you started, here are a few simple tips for managing your illness:

  • Start medications before peak pollen times (1-2 weeks if possible).
  • Wear a hat and wrap around sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen.
  • Use a nasal allergen barrier to protect your nose from pollen, i.e. Vaseline.
  • Monitor your local pollen count and stay indoors when levels are high.
  • Keep windows and doors closed.
  • Consider purchasing a humidifier for your home.   
  • Keep your appointments with your doctor, even when you are doing good.

There is no cure for Hay Fever, but there are ways to keep it from controlling your life. So, talk to your doctor. Take your medications as directed. Implement these easy tips. Make smart decisions. It’s Spring. Enjoy it! You don’t have to be in misery!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/allergy-sinus-headaches

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hay-fever/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373045

https://acaai.org/allergies/types/hay-fever-rhinitis

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/is-stress-making-your-allergy-symptoms-worse

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-ways-you-can-fight-hay-fever/

https://www.allergyuk.org/about/latest-news/648-top-tips-for-managing-your-hay-fever

https://medicinetoday.com.au/2015/october/feature-article/hay-fever-%E2%80%93-underappreciated-and-chronic-disease

*Photo by Jason Long on Unsplash

More Than Tired: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Are you tired? We’ve all been there. For one reason or another, most of us have struggled with fatigue. Perhaps, you couldn’t sleep the night before? Or you burned your candle at both ends until you were exhausted? It happens. A cold, flu, or other illnesses can also result in fatigue. But what if there is no reasonable explanation? Then, like the millions who suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you may be more than tired. You may be living with a complex Chronic illness.

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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis as it is also known, is a complicated disorder. Symptoms of CFS/ME include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of Concentration and/or Memory
  • Unexplained Muscle and Joint Pain
  • Headaches
  • Unrefreshed Sleep
  • Extreme Exhaustion

Since these symptoms can accompany other illnesses, it’s important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. And your patience is required. It isn’t unusual for the final diagnosis to take a while. Most patients will tell you that they waited months (years, in some cases) and saw more than one doctor. Age and gender play a role, with CFS. Women are much more likely to be diagnosed than men. Patients are usually middle-aged (typically their 40s), at onset. It is also believed that certain “triggers” may initiate the disease, i.e. viral infections, fragile immune systems and hormonal imbalances. Since there is currently no cure or specific treatment for CFS/ME, physicians focus on relieving the patient’s symptoms. This can be daunting and sometimes frustrating.

As with other Chronic illnesses, patients who live with CFS/ME must learn to manage their illness. Daily living becomes a juggling act. But with a few easily implemented tips, it can become easier:

  • Low-impact Exercise done regularly, i.e. walking, Tai Chi, swimming, Yoga, Pilates, etc. It will keep you active & strong.
  • Pay attention to your diet. It’s your fuel. The Mediterranean Diet has been helpful to many CFS/ME patients.
  • Puzzles, Word games, Trivia, etc. will keep your memory sharp.
  • Adjustments to your workload may be necessary, i.e. PT instead of FT, etc. About 50% of all CFS/ME patients remain in the workforce.
  • If you need help, ask for it. Friends, family, co-workers and Support Groups can play an important role in CFS/ME management.

Last, but not least, it is important to keep your expectations realistic. Anyone with a Chronic illness will tell you that overdoing it, pushing yourself, and/or ignoring your illness/symptoms is a recipe for disaster. Be kind to yourself. Make the necessary changes. Stay optimistic. Move forward. Progress, no matter how small, is still a step toward better living. The triumphs do add up. And remember … every day is a gift. Some are better than others. But when you’re living with a Chronic illness, it’s key to make the most of each one. Whether it’s a day of rest in your jammies, or a day doing something really special, it’s important for your well-being. Enjoy it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360490

https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/chronic-fatigue-syndrome

https://ammes.org/diet/

https://www.webmd.com/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/tips-living-with-chronic-fatigue#1

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/low-impact-exercises_n_1434616

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mediterranean-diet-meal-plan#foods-to-eat

*Photo by Kevin Grieve on Unsplash

 

MS Awareness Month

It’s March! And most people are thinking of hoops, or St. Pat’s celebrations. They’re scribbling on brackets, or attending a parade. All are good, fun, even exhilarating. But, for a moment, let’s think of something much more serious — Multiple Sclerosis or MS. If you or a loved one is living with this disease, you know how important awareness is. So, let’s spread the word!

But what exactly is Multiple Sclerosis? MS is classified as an autoimmune illness.  In other words, the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. The cause of this disease is unknown. But there are risk factors that can play a role, i.e. age, sex, family history, some infections, race, climate, vitamin D in-deficiency, smoking, etc. It effects over 2M, worldwide.

MS destroys Myelin (the fatty substance that covers and protects nerve fibers) in the brain and spinal cord. Think of it like the coating that protects an electrical wire. As the Myelin is exposed, messages that travel along that nerve are stymied or blocked all together. The nerve itself may become damaged. Complications can and usually do follow, as the disease progresses its way through periods of ebb and flow.

As with any Chronic illness, there is no cure. Its symptoms can get in the way of daily routine. But patients can still enjoy productive lives with the help of treatment as well as lifestyle changes (including setting limits). And that’s important. We all enjoy contributing our knowledge and talents, even those of us who live with a Chronic illness. A condition, no matter what it is, should not solely define a person. It’s just part of who we are.

March is MS Awareness Month. So, please, spread the word — get involved. Order an Awareness Kit. Take part in an upcoming event near you (some are planned beyond March). Volunteer. Donate. You’ll be glad that you did. The more that people know, the better informed we become as a society. Join the MS team and truly make a difference in the lives of others!

 

Reference Links:

https://mymsaa.org/about-msaa/ms-awareness-month-2019/

https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350269

https://www.abovems.com/en_us/home/life/around-home.html?cid=PPC-GOOGLE-AM.DTC.AboveMS_DTC_Unbranded_ConditionManagement_Exact.Exact-NA-28810&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI-ZKN-cOB4QIVB56fCh1EbArwEAAYASAAEgJ01fD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/10255/multiple-sclerosis

https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Work-and-Home

https://msfocus.org/Get-Involved.aspx

https://msfocus.org/Get-Involved/MS-Awareness-Month/NMSEAM-Awareness-Kits

When The Chickens Come Home To Roost …

To a degree, I think we are all procrastinators. Some of us are worse than others. Many just don’t want to face specific subjects or decisions. And while the latter may make you feel uncomfortable, the alternative is much worse. Emergencies force us to think quickly, make decisions and act (sometimes instinctively as well as boldly). Emergencies happen. That’s life. It could be an accident, or a natural disaster. Perhaps, your health takes an unexpected turn. If you are lucky, you get the opportunity to address those things left undone. If you aren’t, the wake of your emergency becomes a chaotic nightmare for loved ones. No matter your age, or your health, there are a few things that everyone should have just in case this scenario arises. Because sooner or later, the chickens usually do come home to roost.

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To provide some insight into what you need, here’s a checklist to consider:

  • Disaster Checklist, i.e. for coping with tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, flooding, etc.
  • A Will
  • A Healthcare POA (Power of Attorney)
  • A Financial POA
  • Designated Caregiver (if needed)
  • End of Life Planning, i.e. a DNR (Do Not  Resuscitate), funeral arrangements, burial, cremation, etc.

Communication is vitally important. This is no time to be shy, or skittish. It is important that your family and friends know your wishes. In the event of an emergency or death, they will have a better idea of how to make decisions on your behalf. Since these decisions aren’t easy ones, the more information that you can provide ahead of time is essential. Make sure they know where to find the above documents, who your attorney is, your physician, your designated caregiver, etc. 

Your needs, following an emergency, can vary. The type of care you may require can, too. These needs can range from the short-term assistance of a caregiver to a permanent skilled-nursing facility. When you discuss these topics with your family, it is easy to let your heart (and theirs) over-rule your mind. Do your best to make logical, practical decisions that will meet your needs and be feasible for family/friends to carry out. For example, if you need a short-term caregiver, you may instantly think of your adult child taking the Family Leave Act. But can he or she financially afford to do so? A better solution might be an In-Home Care Provider.

End of Life issues are difficult. Providing care, during this time, is a challenge for everyone involved — even your doctors. Beyond physical treatment, there are also the psychological and social issues of the patient to consider. These issues often times involve family members as well. Patients, in this stage, are dealing with a lot. Pain often drives their decision-making. Many are suffering from anxiety and/or depression. They are coping — not living. Some are better at this than others. They may long to be in control of their disease, their life, etc. And each, no matter their situation, deserves dignity. It isn’t easy on the patient, or those around him/her.

Last, but not least, remember that emergencies for lack of a better description are emotional roller-coasters. They can bring the best and the worst out, in each one of us –patients as well as loved ones. No two are ever the same. Emergencies vary. Experiences will vary. Patients vary. Needs, treatment, response, side-effects, etc., will too. And relationships also vary. Your sibling’s experience with a parent may not be yours. Parents often times raise children, differently. Age, divorce, abuse, changing social norms, gender, etc., can play a role in this. Still, it is feasible to have siblings with different experiences and feelings. Estrangements happen, for a multitude of reasons. So try to respect each other, at this time. Additional stress and tension won’t help anyone. Seek patience instead of hostility. Work together, if at all possible, for the good of the patient. And if someone needs space … help them to find it. This is both a family journey and a very personal one. For better or worse, both are traveled. May God bless …

 

Reference Links: 

https://estate.findlaw.com/living-will/healthcare-power-of-attorney.html

https://estate.findlaw.com/planning-an-estate/durable-financial-power-of-attorney.html

https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/chronic.html

https://www.healthcentral.com/slideshow/emergency-preparedness-with-chronic-illness

https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/

https://getpalliativecare.org/whatis/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1764519/

https://www.familyassets.com/nursing-homes/resources/skilled-nursing-vs-nursing-home

https://www.apa.org/topics/death/end-of-life

https://www.ajmc.com/journals/evidence-based-oncology/2015/april-2015/palliative-and-end-of-life-care-issues-challenges-and-possible-solutions-in-the-united-states-

*Photo by Brianna Santellan on Unsplash

Holistic Approaches To Chronic Illness

Holistic Medicine is a different approach to healing … one that considers all facets of human nature – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Doctors, who embrace this approach, believe that the whole person is made up of interdependent parts and if one part is not working properly, the others will be negatively affected. In other words, the imbalance/s (physical, emotional, or spiritual) will impact their overall health. They believe the key to achieving one’s best health depends upon attaining a proper balance in life — not just focusing on symptoms and writing prescriptions. But can this approach work when treating Chronic illnesses?

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The simple answer is “Yes, it can!” Many Chronic illnesses can be effectively treated and managed with a Holistic approach. A few examples are:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Chronic Pain
  • Kidney Disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Auto-Immune
  • Parkinson’s Disease

According to the American Holistic Health Association (AHHA), there are 4 major factors that impact our health: Heredity, Environment, Medical Care and Lifestyle. Of these four, Lifestyle has the most influence — approximately 50%! And lifestyle can be changed! The success stories are endless!

If you or a loved one is interested in learning more about Holistic Medicine, you can visit the American Holistic Health Association’s website at https://ahha.org for additional information, referrals, etc. There is life with a Chronic illness. As a person who lives with more than one of them, I can assure you that the answer isn’t always in a prescription bottle. Sometimes, it comes from where you would least suspect. And optimism is always key to finding the right balance that works for you!

 

Reference Links: 

https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/what-is-holistic-medicine#1

https://ahha.org/selfhelp-articles/principles-of-holistic-medicine/

http://icpa4kids.org/HPA-Articles/holistic-approach-to-chronic-illness.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5847356/

https://www.cnn.com/2014/01/10/health/secrets-pain-free-life/index.html

https://ahha.org/

*Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

Consider The Caterpillar …

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with a Chronic illness, you probably aren’t thinking about gardens … or flowers … or caterpillars. You may be too overwhelmed to focus on much of anything, except your disease. And that’s understandable.

Often times, the diagnosis falls on a patient like a ton of bricks. You may be angry. Perhaps, you feel inadequate? Scared? Changes to your body, your lifestyle, your abilities, even your mobility, hit with little warning. Pain can be a battle all its own. You weren’t prepared for it. You may even be angry.  And you aren’t alone. 

Approximately, 157M people will be living with a Chronic illness in America by 2020. Millions more, globally. In fact, these illnesses are projected to account for 75% of all deaths worldwide. Chronic illness, or non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are now the biggest health issue that we face. So, proper diagnosis … treatment … and management are vital. And your mindset is equally important. 

 

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“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” — Chuang Tzu

 

Many patients develop additional health issues, i.e. anxiety, depression, etc., as their lives become more complicated. Some may even feel as if their life is over — defeated by a condition that they neither wanted or asked for.  If this describes you, please, try to keep your perspective.

Build a Support System that includes your doctor/s, family and friends. Discuss your concerns, openly. Make the necessary changes. Be patient with yourself and your illness. Maintain an optimistic outlook. It does make a difference. And on the tough days … even weeks … remember the fate of the caterpillar. You too can fly, again — even soar — despite your Chronic illness. Change isn’t always a bad thing thing. Often times, it can bring out the very best in each of us!

 

Reference Links:

http://www.nationalhealthcouncil.org/sites/default/files/NHC_Files/Pdf_Files/AboutChronicDisease.pdf

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/12/healthcare-future-multiple-chronic-disease-ncd/

https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/2_background/en/

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

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

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

*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash