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?

 

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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”.

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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

Do You Need To De-stress?

Is it just me or is life a lot more stressful than it used to be? Nowadays, it seems that everywhere I go I find people who are tired, frustrated, upset, worried, etc. Life can always throw you a curve-ball that is stressful. But when you add a pandemic … stress hits a whole new level. And stress on its own isn’t healthy. In fact, stress worsens most pre-existing or Chronic conditions. If you have been feeling the pressure of stress, you aren’t alone. According to the American Institute of Stress, about 77% of the population regularly suffers from the symptoms of stress.  Let’s talk about that …

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Stress can negatively impact your relationships at school, home and/or work. A bad day at the office somehow leads to an argument with your spouse/partner? Or vice-versa? You know what I’m talking about. Stress can also weaken your immune systems, increase your blood pressure, increase blood sugar levels, increase pain, etc. The more you allow it to consume you, the worse you are going to feel. That’s a given. And that makes you more vulnerable to other things, i.e. anxiety, depression, colds, viruses. Thankfully, we can do things to reduce the stress in our lives.

If you feel that stress is getting the best of you, try these simple yet effective ways to de-stress:

  • Limit Social Media/Broadcast Media. Yes, social media can be fun. Unfortunately, it’s also a stressor for millions. So limit your use of it. Binge-watching news and talk-shows can also have a negative impact. Select one or two reputable news broadcasts or shows, watch them and move on. You want to be informed — NOT stressed-out.
  • Meditation/PrayerIt just takes a few minutes to close your eyes and focus on something positive or calming. Likewise, reading from a devotional or engaging in silent prayer has the same soothing results.
  • Breathing Deeply. For five minutes, sit upright with your eyes closed. Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
  • Slow Down. Look around you. Admire flowers growing, a butterfly fluttering, etc. Eat slower and enjoy your food. Live in the moment and do so fully. When you focus on your senses, you should feel less tense.
  • Reach Out. Talk to others, face-to-face or on the phone. Share what’s going on with a friend, co-worker, spouse/partner before it becomes a bigger issue. It can provide helpful support and input.
  • Pull-out The Heating-Pad. Just 10 minutes of warmth on your neck and shoulders can allow your body to decompress and ease tension.
  • Laugh Out Loud. Enjoy a good joke or a funny story … at home, in the locker-room, or the break-room. Watch a 30-minute sitcom with your significant other. Laughing lowers your body’s stress hormone (cortisol) and boosts brain chemicals (endorphins) that lighten your mood.
  • Exercise. All forms of exercise, even low-impact ones like yoga and walking, can relax you. It can ease depression and anxiety. 
  • Listen To Music. Soothing music, from classical to nature sounds, can lower your blood pressure and heart-rate. You can even create your favorite playlist for relaxing!
  • Keep A Gratitude Journal. Carry it with you. Set it by your bed and read it every night. Think of the things you are most grateful for, in your life. The people and things that make your life special.

 

Last but not least, realizing that you need to de-stress isn’t a sign of weakness … or age … or illness. It’s a preventative health measure. One that we all can benefit from. So, don’t be reluctant to try it. The healthier that we are, the happier we are. That leads to the more productive we are and so on. And it’s all good. So go for it!

 

 

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hope-relationships/201504/6-natural-ways-de-stress

https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/blissing-out-10-relaxation-techniques-reduce-stress-spot#3

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html

https://www.stress.org/daily-life

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/social-media-mental-health-negative-effects-depression-anxiety-addiction-memory-a8307196.html

*Photo by Jared Rice in 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!

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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

 

 

 

February Is For The Heart

Yes, Valentine’s is approaching … paper hearts, roses, cards, candy, nice dinners, flashy bling and all. But it’s also American Heart Month. So, this month, we are going to focus on heart health. Why? Because, fun and games aside, Cupid can’t do anything for your physical well-being. Awareness, on the other hand, can literally save lives!

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Heart disease can happen to anyone — even children. According to data from the CDC, approximately 1% (40,000) of babies born each year have a Congenital Heart Defect (CHD). And 25% of these are critical. Others surface, during childhood or teen years. Some of the most common heart conditions in children are listed as either “congenital” (present from birth) or “acquired” (developed after birth). Some of these conditions are hereditary. And they require special healthcare needs.

If your child was born healthy, you want that good health to continue into adulthood. The best way to achieve that is by teaching healthy habits, now. Here are some great tips for starting:

  • Introduce your child to healthy eating, i.e. set mealtimes, limit snacking, keep junk food out of the house, eat family dinners, and shop/cook with your kids.
  • Encourage fun physical activity.
  • Teach the dangers of smoking & vaping, early.
  • Teach them how to manage their stress.
  • Schedule regular medical exams for your child with his/her pediatrician.

Last but not least, remember that lifestyle risk factors can have a negative impact on the health of your child/teen and you, i.e. obesity, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, smoking, vaping, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. There is a direct relationship between these risks and developing heart disease. Medical research has the statistics to prove it. And there is no better role-model than you. So, teach them well!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/heartdefects/data.html

http://www.secondscount.org/pediatric-center/conditions-children#.XjHvMo7YrnE

https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/heartdefects/features/children-heart-conditions-special-care.html

https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=prevention-of-heart-disease-starts-in-childhood-1-2073

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/140/5/e20172607

https://www.ottawaheart.ca/heart-condition/inherited-cardiac-conditions-genetic-disorders

https://www.acc.org/about-acc/press-releases/2019/03/07/10/03/ecigarettes-linked-to-heart-attacks-coronary-artery-disease-and-depression

https://blog.connectionsacademy.com/teach_kids_heart_healthy_habits/

*Photo by Anna Kolosyuk 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”!

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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

On A Cold, Winter’s Night …

If you look on the calendar, winter is almost here. But for many, one glance at the thermometer says winter has already arrived. They can literally feel it. Cold weather equates to aches, pains and other issues. Exactly how or why this happens is still somewhat of a mystery. But scientists know enough to have key pieces of the puzzle in place. The main theory is that Barometric pressure ( the pressure of the air) can and does affect the joints. Arthritis patients know this all too well. But seasonal weather can affect more than muscles and joints. Many Chronic illnesses are vulnerable. Your blood pressure is higher in the winter. Why? Cold temperatures narrow your blood vessels. Migraines can also be triggered by extreme temperatures (hot or cold). And the list goes on …

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Back in 2007, a Tufts University study found that a 10-degree drop in temperature corresponded with increased Arthritis pain. Imagine, for a moment, what a 20-30 degree drop feels like. Ouch! 

If you or a loved one suffer from weather changes, there are some things that you can do to manage your condition. Thankfully, these tips aren’t difficult:

  • Talk to your doctor about seasonal changes in your disease.
  • Avoid becoming a couch-potato. Exercise actually boosts your body’s production of synovial fluid. That keeps your joints lubricated & feeling good.
  • Stay warm. Remember your coat, gloves, hat, etc., whenever you go outside. And consider treating yourself indoors, too.  Flannel sheets & a heating-pad are always comfy!
  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
  • Make sure to get enough Vitamin D, daily.
  • Consider dropping some weight. Just one pound lost eliminates 4 pounds of pressure from your knees!
  • Treat yourself to a massage. It alleviates pain and stress. 

Last, but not least, don’t let the cold of a winter day or night get you down. Address your symptoms and maintain your optimism. The weather can be frightful (yes, a certain holiday song is rolling around in my head), but there are tried and true ways to get through the season with minimal hardship. I believe it starts now, before the pain is overwhelming and your mobility is hampered. So, please, don’t ignore what your body is saying to you. Don’t assume that it won’t happen “this year”. Take a proactive approach to your health and well-being. You’ll be glad that you did!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/weather-and-joint-pain#1

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326884.php#3

https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/tools-resources/weather/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/health-matters/201410/does-rain-cause-pain-and-what-do-about-it

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/blood-pressure/faq-20058250

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/expert-answers/migraine-headache/faq-20058505

https://connect.mayoclinic.org/discussion/pain-and-changes-in-weather-am-i-alone/

https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/other-therapies/massage/massage-benefits.php

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation

https://www.fishertitus.org/health/winter-joint-pain-relief-tips

*Photo by Nicholas Selman on Unsplash