Navigating The Holidays

As the holidays approach, many of us start planning menus for our holiday dinner or special gathering. Then, there are the additional invites that inevitably come our way, i.e. office parties, dinners, family get-togethers, pot-lucks, etc. Many of us see weight-gain, in our near future. It’s the holidays, we tell ourselves. It happens. But if you have a Chronic illness that requires healthy eating, like Diabetes, you can’t take a cavalier approach. You can’t afford to.

The holidays can be a daunting journey, for diabetics. Temptation is everywhere. Life becomes more hectic, in a myriad of ways — affecting their blood-sugar levels. And before they know it, they’re losing control of their disease. The key to navigating the holidays is balance. And the best way to maintain balance, while celebrating the season, is by planning ahead!

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If you or a loved one is diabetic, consider these simple steps:

  • Avoid making the holidays solely about food and drink. It’s part of the festivities, but it isn’t the heart of them.
  • Focus on the reason for the season. Here lies the real importance of what you are celebrating. Enjoy the company of those around you, decorating, caroling, etc. That’s how memories are made.
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself by scheduling more activities than you can possibly handle. This will help you to maintain your stress levels.
  • Remember to get your rest.
  • Make exercise part of your holiday routine. A quiet walk, a yoga class, a trip to the gym, etc., will help you to keep feeling your best.
  • Think before you eat or drink. Then, make wise choices.

When you are planning a meal, consider implementing healthier recipes. It will help you to stay in control. Sugar is everywhere; isn’t it? Candy. Cookies. Cakes. Pies. But Diabetes management is more than watching your sugar intake. So, watch your carbohydrates. Keep them consistent. Remember that snacking adds up, whether it’s while you are preparing a meal or attending a party. Second helpings just aren’t worth getting off-track. Every diabetic has their limit. You most likely know yours — respect it. If you’re taking a covered-dish to a gathering, think healthy. You won’t be the only one who can benefit from, or enjoy, the option. Remember to check your blood-sugar, often. During the holidays. With so much going on, it’s a smart move. Take your medication, as directed. And if you’re going to drink alcohol, remember that it contains sugar and calories too. It’s best for diabetics to limit their consumption, i.e. one moderately-sized drink per day for women, two for men.

When you plan ahead, make wise choices, etc., you aren’t denying yourself or taking unnecessary health risks. You’re “celebrating smart”! That’s the best way to navigate through the holidays. Think of it this way … a cruise without proper navigation wouldn’t be a pleasurable cruise. And the last thing anyone wants, at the holidays, is misery. So, “celebrate smart”. There’s joy in it — better health, too. And that’s something we can all appreciate!

 

References: 

https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/general-health-issues/maintaining-your-health-during-the-holidays/

https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/features/sweet-holiday-tips-diabetics#1

https://www.cdc.gov/features/diabetesmanagement/index.html

*Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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Experiencing The Advantages Of Tai Chi …

Here we are, deep into the Fall season, with the holidays and winter quickly approaching. For many who live with a Chronic illness, the thought of colder weather is a cruel reminder of the pain … stiffness … even lack of mobility … that winter brings. If you are one of these individuals, it may feel as though your body has placed you on house-arrest. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Low-impact exercise can help you to feel better and significantly reduce the symptoms that are making you miserable. And none are better at doing this than Tai Chi!

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Unlike other low-impact options, Tai Chi requires slower motion. And this slow motion can loosen your body in ways that others cannot. With Tai Chi, you must concentrate on what you are doing. Think of it as a meeting of the body and the mind. You are focused, yet relaxed. Your breathing is easier — calming your senses. Even the movements of the Tai Chi exercises … from the shifting of your weight … to the flowing motions of your arms … articulate every joint. You can actually feel better, after just 8-10 minutes of Tai Chi. As you strengthen your core, you may want to do longer sessions. And you can do Tai Chi in so many places, i.e. inside your home, in your yard, at a park, on vacation, etc. The winter weather cannot keep you from enjoying the benefits, even on the snowiest of days.

Aside from flexibility and convenience, Tai Chi is an excellent way to improve your balance. That is something anyone, at any age, can use. Tai Chi is also helpful for circulation. As with any exercise program, discuss Tai Chi with your doctor before starting. But given its reputation, he or she will probably encourage you to take the initiative. And, just in case you are wondering about expense, Tai Chi is as affordable as purchasing a DVD. It doesn’t require expensive equipment, or a gym membership. If you would prefer a class, there may be locations in your area that offer them. You can also obtain information from The Arthritis Foundation (call 1-800-283-7800, or visit http://www.arthritis.org). You can even find Tai Chi on YouTube. Perhaps, the best thing about it is that you don’t have to be good at Tai Chi to reap the rewards. You just have to be willing to try!

 

 

References:

https://www.energyarts.com/tai-chi-worlds-best-low-impact-exercise/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-tai-chi

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/a-z/tai-chi-and-chi-gong

*Photo by Mark Hang Fung So on Unsplash

What Is Forest Medicine?

The healing properties of nature have long been recognized. Cedar trees were used by many Native American tribes for healing and protection against disease. John Muir, the great Scottish-born American naturalist and writer once said, “Come to the forest, for here is rest.” A century later, researchers around the world were taking medicinal and scientific interests in trees. The Japanese government was literally encouraging its citizens to get out — commune with the woods — for therapy. They called it “forest bathing”. From 2004-2012, Japan spent $4M studying hundreds of subjects. Their work became the foundation for the modern concept of “Forest Medicine”. But what exactly is it? 

 

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Forest Medicine is the science of using nature to heal you. And it has been accepted by many traditional medical practitioners. Why? Research has proven that trees having healing properties. The antimicrobial oils, or phytoncides, that protect them from germs can also help people. These oils reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress and anxiety. They also boost the immune system, improve sleep and increase energy. It’s even possible that they can help you fight cancer or depression. As a result of these and other benefits, Japan designated 62 therapeutic forests. These woodlands attract millions, every year. All in search of better health.

Researchers in North America have also taken notice of Forest Medicine. A study, conducted by doctors at the University of Illinois, noted that children with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hypersensitivity Disorder) showed improved concentration after just a 20-minute walk in a green space, i.e. a park. Many spas and treatment centers throughout the U.S. and Canada now offer “Forest Therapy” or “Shinrin-Yoku”. It’s even been highlighted for tourists, i.e. The Travel Channel and the Fodors Travel Guide. Some locales may be closer than you think. Are you tempted? The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy actually offers free Forest Therapy Starter Kits, on their website.

For me, personally, I find rejuvenation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I prefer that simple, one-on-one approach. The sound of the water rushing over the rocks, in the mountain streams, soothe me. The smells of wood and earth fill my senses. And I feel stronger — better. I somehow have more energy. I don’t have to climb a high peak to experience the positive effects to my body. I don’t have to hike five miles. Nature opens its arms like a loving mother and it provides. And the peace is priceless.

 

 

Reference Links:

https://qz.com/1208959/japanese-forest-medicine-is-the-art-of-using-nature-to-heal-yourself-wherever-you-are/

http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/shinrin-yoku.html

https://hikingresearch.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/an-interview-with-forest-medicine-and-shinrin-yoku-researcher-dr-qing-li/

http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/

https://www.redbuttegarden.org/forest-medicine-north-america/

https://www.fodors.com/news/hotels/9-spas-where-you-can-try-forest-bathing

*Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

                                               

 

Do You Need To Vent?

Recently, I stumbled upon an article that said venting can be healthy. Even cathartic. Insightful and inspiring. Another offered tips for healthy venting. Hmmm … Perhaps, we should give it a try?

Some of us are just wired hot, where temperament is concerned. Others bottle their frustrations, deep inside. When you live with a Chronic illness, there always seems to be something that goes awry. It’s the nature of the beast. And it’s a pain in the backside. So, learning to manage this stress can be a good thing for our health as well as our relationships. 

I don’t like to wallow in negativity, but I do believe that we can learn through our experiences — even the bad ones. So, let’s vent a little. Let’s open the windows of our souls and get rid of the things that are dragging us down. Let’s talk about what works and what does not. Let’s do so in a productive way. We’re friends. We share many of the same difficulties. Who knows? It may actually help a few of us, in the process! 

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Reference Links:

https://psychcentral.com/blog/benefits-of-venting-go-both-ways/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/design-your-path/201108/anger-management-the-five-ws-healthy-venting

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201404/6-virtues-and-6-vices-venting

*Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

On Eagle’s Wings …

Most of us grew-up with the notion that when you were sick, you went to the doctor and you got well. Life returned to normal. But once you are diagnosed with a Chronic illness, that simple concept goes out the window. In your new normal, you regularly go to the doctor/s … you regularly take medications, sometimes therapy, surgery, exercise, dietary changes, etc., but you are never where you once were. The symptoms remain. Pain is often times as common as breathing. And being well translates to effectively managing your disease. Despite your best efforts, there are setbacks. Those with a Chronic illness will tell you that it’s inevitable. And with time, the struggle can take its toll. Some become anxious and/or depressed. Others just want to give up. Medical science has accomplished a lot, but courage and strength can’t be prescribed. These essential tools must come from within.

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“… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  — Isaiah 40:31

Often times, a patient wonders, “Why me?” They may look at their life and try to find where the mistake was made. While lifestyle can contribute to some Chronic illnesses, there are many patients who have a long history of maintaining a healthy one prior to their diagnosis. Genetics and environment also play a role. In essence, there are no guarantees in life.

My uncle was diagnosed with Hypertension, around the age of 30. He successfully managed his condition, for years. In his late-50s, he retired … sold his home in the suburbs of Chicago … purchased a farm near Nashville, TN … and left the Big City grind for an easier gentry. He had chickens, ducks, horses, a well-stocked fishing pond, etc. When he and my aunt chose country-living, they went all in. Gardening. Quilting. Relaxing on the porch. It was a peaceful existence, surrounded by natural beauty. Admired. Perhaps, envied. Yet, a year later, he was stricken with a massive stroke. Left with partial paralysis, he found himself in a wheelchair. And, as he confessed to me nearly a decade later, he wondered, “Why me?” The really wondrous thing was that, according to him, he heard a voice say, “Why not you?” Was this a Divine conversation? Maybe. But, in that moment, he realized that he wasn’t alone. He had his faith to sustain him — to help confront his situation. There were millions struggling with medical conditions, the loss of body function, etc. His new normal wasn’t a rarity. It was a curve-ball in life. And he chose to make the most of it, which is exactly what God wants us to do.

Consider, for a moment, the Book of Job. It details the long-suffering of a good man. In my humble opinion, the diagnosis of any Chronic illness isn’t a matter of punishment. It’s a part of life that eventually finds most of us. It’s a time of change, like the seasons. But it is also an opportunity to inspire, to grow, even to thrive. My faith has taught me many things. One is that the Lord will not give me more than I can handle. So, even when a setback comes, I am comforted in that knowledge. Prayer has been a vital part of my daily living, for decades. Through it, I have been uplifted — strengthened emotionally, physically and spiritually. Inspired. And, yes, guided. I have been given the courage to confront my fears, work through my frustrations and move forward. Through the worst of times, prayer has led me — allowed me to soar. And I thank God for that.

Many religions rely on the power of prayer. They believe in the use of prayer for comfort, healing, strength and peace-of-mind. They know that it works, though the how and why may remain a mystery. Buddhists use meditation. Roman Catholics use the rosary. Protestants have individual prayer and Prayer Groups. Muslims use Du’a (personal prayer for healing). Jews turn to dovening and the Mi Sheberakh (a healing prayer for the sick). All are united by the belief that comfort and healing can be attained through sincere prayer.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of medical studies involving prayer. Even the NIH (National Institutes of Health) has funded one. Thirty years ago, the idea would have been unheard of by the scientific community. But time, as well as data, has a way of changing things. Even those who are not devout, can understand positive results. Prayer, in its various forms, has the ability to relax the patient. Stress is lessened, or eliminated. This in turn promotes healing. The limbic system of the brain, responsible for basic emotion, instinct and mood, is also positively effected. This aids the patient’s mental health. Who exactly gets the credit for the healing remains a matter of debate. Still, the facts remain. Prayer can play a significant role in a patient’s health and well-being.   

When you are diagnosed with Chronic illness, you are in it for the long-haul. If you are a religious person, you will probably turn to your faith for strength and courage. You may even find yourself struggling with it. That too, I think, is natural — human. So, set your hesitation aside and talk to your clergy about it. You won’t be the first, or the last. Others, overwhelmed and searching, may find faith at this time. You too are neither the first, or the last. It might also be the perfect time to join a a Bible Study group, volunteer at a Food Bank, etc. Sometimes, when you see the difficulties of others, it lends perspective. And many religious organizations even have support groups, for those who are living with Chronic illness. This is especially helpful for patients who live alone, or lack a solid support system at home.

Despite your affliction, or your views toward prayer, always embrace optimism. On the difficult days, I know that’s a lot to ask. But remember … an optimistic mindset is a key component for managing your condition. It’s uplifting. Encouraging. Motivating. Optimism is a confidence — a sheer hopefulness — that allows you to fight another day. One that somehow strengthens your body as well as your resolve. If you are anything, as a patient who is living with a Chronic illness, you are a warrior. We all are. Keep fighting the good fight!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070773/

https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-prayer-heal#1

https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/study-cancer-patients-with-strong-religious-or-spiritual-beliefs-report-better-health.html

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/dec/30/power-of-prayer-healing-and-therapeutic-prayer-in-/

*Photo by Keo Mowat on Unsplash

 

School Daze: Students & Chronic Illness

Recently, a friend shared photos of her high school reunion online. It was fun to look at those images, because I had attended this school for a few years. Once upon a time, these individuals were also my classmates. Time has a way of changing us. Age becomes the great equalizer, in life. And many of the things that we worried about, back in school, seem remarkably trivial. Perhaps, wisdom has finally taken control? Or, maybe, we’re just lacking the energy of our youth? Nowadays, most of us have Chronic illnesses to manage and discuss. It’s the new normal. But, 40+ years ago, it was a very different story. My diagnosis was an oddity that added difficulty to school and relationships. If your student is living with one, they know exactly what I mean.

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I was diagnosed with a Chronic illness, in 8th grade. In the blink of an eye, my life was drastically altered. I was hospitalized for six weeks, in one semester. My grades tumbled, across the board. No subject was spared. Perfectionist that I was (and still am to some extent), I went into full-panic mode. I was the student who tutored others. I had even tutored a couple of students who were a year ahead of me. Excellent grades had always been achieved, with modest effort. I had never been the student who had to work hard, or academically struggled. My Science teacher, crusty old gal that she was, refused to believe that I was even sick. Letters from my physicians had absolutely no influence on her. It made for an awkward classroom experience, to say the least. My other teachers, praise God, were understanding. They even brought school-work to my hospital-bed. But my life, like a line of falling dominoes, continued to collapse. My friendships became strained. Some disintegrated. Others totally disappeared. Then came the grand finale … the Headmaster announced that I had missed a few days over the limit that the state allowed (in a school-year). And I was held back, despite my passing grades and valiant effort. To say that it was heartbreaking would be an understatement. It was the most brutal thing that I had ever endured. Frustrating. Embarrassing. Even now, at 58, I really cannot describe how broken that year left me. Thankfully, I had a great support system — my family. With them, I was able to glean a valuable life-lesson from this unbearable time … perseverance!

Education has improved, in many areas. In others, it remains a mess. I have no desire to debate over-crowded classrooms, curriculum, weapons, etc., though all are worthy subjects. My focus, here, is on each and every student who lives with a Chronic illness.

We cannot control how society will react to the chronically ill, even if the patient is a child. We cannot force relationships to happen, or survive. And there are no guarantees that the adults involved won’t somehow disappoint us. We must realize that human nature plays a role. And perceptions can be skewed, by many things. Despite the law, diligent studying and the best of parenting, the odds are still that your student’s health issue will one day be an academic and/or social issue. So, be prepared.

Once a child is of school-age, he or she begins a journey through the academic and social pressures of growing-up. Parents are the navigators, for this journey — helping their child to avoid the hazards without becoming too overprotective or overbearing. When a child has a Chronic illness, there is an added degree of difficulty. Their needs/illness effects several, i.e. parents, siblings, teachers, etc. Sometimes, it is met with cooperation. And at other times, it’s a struggle. On the tough days, remember that you aren’t alone. Your child didn’t ask for a long-term medical condition. Nor did you ever want it, for them. Yet, here you are. And there are millions of families who can relate to what you are going through. They are going through it, too. 

Students with Chronic illness often feel left out, embarrassed, frustrated. They want to fit in and be normal. Yet, their health is anything but that. Less than 20% of all students live with a Chronic illness. So, prepare them. Friends, classmates or teammates may ask questions. It’s no big deal. Usually, a brief response will suffice. And, if an emergency should ever arise, it can be life-saving to have individuals who are in the know.

Some students may have academic difficulties, when fatigue and other symptoms plague their ability to study or attend class. Others do not. Some may resort to trying risky behaviors, i.e. skipping medication, underage drinking, binge drinking, smoking, drug abuse, unprotected sex, reckless driving, etc. But many learn to respect their medical condition and its needs, early on. They have no desire to take unnecessary risks. Unfortunately, when someone is different, they can be the target of physical and/or verbal bullying. This includes students who are living with a Chronic illness. If your child is experiencing peer victimization, it hurts. So, it is important to address the issue promptly. Stress has the nasty ability to worsen any chronic condition.

If you can foster a team atmosphere at home and at school, it will help tremendously. A good support system, no matter the patient’s age, is priceless. Think of this as a lesson that your student can utilize, throughout their life. It’s an inclusive approach that makes them feel less overwhelmed. Talk candidly with your child about ways that they can manage their disease and enjoy life to the fullest. Build their confidence. Talk about their goals and dreams, i.e. team sports, class trips, college. Discuss ways to attain these things. Many accomplished individuals, from U.S. presidents to celebrities and pro athletes, live with Chronic illness. It helps any student to have a role model that they can identify with. Last but not least, try to avoid mourning what you think (or know) your child cannot do. Although it may be a natural reaction for parents, it can leave your child feeling as though they have disappointed you. Instead, celebrate and encourage what they CAN do. We all have gifts. The key is discovering and utilizing them! 

 

Reference Links:

http://www.disabilityrights.org/appendix.htm

http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/chronic.htm

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/chronic-illness-child.aspx

http://www.bourgase.com/teaching/special-education/coaching-chronic-illness/

https://academic.oup.com/jpepsy/article/42/3/245/2418166

http://spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/content/30/1/3

https://www.webmd.com/balance/managing-chronic-disease-at-college#1

https://consumer.healthday.com/general-health-information-16/suicide-health-news-646/chronic-illness-can-plunge-young-adults-into-despair-725726.html

*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

 

A Splash Of Relief

Many of us have been in pain, at one time or another. Some have experienced severe pain. But if you are one of the millions who live with a Chronic illness, you may also be living with chronic pain. Harsh. Relentless. Overwhelming. It’s unlike any pain that you have ever experienced — consuming you. And managing it is a struggle all its own. If this is you, relief may be easier than you ever imagined. Are you ready to take the plunge?

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In the summertime, most of us think of a swimming pool as a great place to escape the heat. Relax. Unwind. All of which are true. But a swimming pool can also provide the perfect environment for Aquatic Therapy, or Water Therapy as it is also known. 

When your body is immersed in water, it allows you to relieve physical stresses. Even something as simple as flotation has its benefits. Pressure is taken away from your muscles and joints. Other water options include: lap swimming, water aerobics, water yoga, and aquajogging. Aside from offering wonderful, low-impact exercise, the pool also gives you the opportunity to reduce your pain, lower your blood-pressure and enjoy yourself. You might even lose some weight. But, there’s more. Aquatic Therapy can increase your mobility — alleviating that pesky stiffness. It can also reduce fatigue. And all are positives for the management of any Chronic illness, especially one with chronic pain. Results vary, but studies have shown that utilizing a pool does work. And that makes this therapy something to strongly consider. You can have a better quality of life. So, go for it!

As with any exercise program, you should first talk to your doctor. He or she may even make recommendations that will help you find the best option, for your specific health needs. Most Aquatic Therapy is done in an indoor pool, with warm water. But outdoor facilities can also be used. If you are interested in exploring Aquatic Therapy, you can find a program at your local YMCA, a Health Club, Athletic Club, or Spa.  

Life is meant to be enjoyed. That’s possible, even with a Chronic illness. It starts with good pain management … and a splash!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/swimmers/health_benefits_water_exercise.html

https://www.healthcentral.com/article/study-finds-swimming-reduces-pain-associated-with-fibromyalgia

https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/arthritis-friendly/lap-swimming.php

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20047971

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/a-z/water-aerobics

https://www.painscience.com/articles/aquatic-therapy.php

* Photo by Haley Phelps on Unsplash