We Need Human Touch …

Most of us don’t put a lot of thought into this subject, but there is much to learn from it.  If you were raised in a family who openly showed affection, you are most likely a hugger. You hug family, friends, new acquaintances, etc. It is a social interaction that is part of your daily life. If you were raised in a family who didn’t easily share affection (by that I mean often or at all), you may not like hugging. You probably don’t even understand why some people are so open to affection. Yet, touch is a basic human interaction. An infant is soothed by it. An adult feels comfort, even joy, from it. And what they are feeling is real. It’s significant. Because we all need human touch — the decent, affectionate kind. It has the ability to relieve us of pain, fear, frustration, etc. It has the power to make us feel loved and appreciated. But how does something like a hug do all that? 

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According to researchers, we all have the ability to communicate many feelings through touch. Physical contact is what distinguishes us from other animals. It is a silent language that needs no words. A mother can cuddle her crying baby, in the night, and the message is clear. The infant knows he/she is secure and their crying ceases. A stranger can go into a natural disaster area and offer a hug to a distraught victim. Again, the message is clear. Help has arrived. That compassion, even from a stranger, can be sensed. And it’s powerful. There is also a difference between a caring touch and an aggressive one. The two categories should never be confused. 

When we offer or receive a caring hug, oxytocin is released in our bodies. This is a “bonding” hormone. It has the ability to reduce stress, lower cortisol levels and increase our sense of trust/security. In fact, in a study conducted by the University of North Carolina, researchers discovered that women who received more hugs from their partners had lower heart rates and blood pressure. That’s healthy! A massage has the ability to relax the body, ease pain and melt away tension. That’s healthy! Even something as simple as eye contact and a pat on the back from a patient’s doctor may boost their survival rate, despite the complex disease they are fighting (University of California research). It may sound too good to be true, but science supports it.

Scientific research actually correlates physical touch with several things:

  • Decreased violence. Less touch as a child will lead to greater violence.
  • Greater Trust. Touch has the ability to bond individuals.
  • Decreased Disease & Stronger Immune Systems. In other words, a healthier you.
  • Greater Learning Engagement. When teachers touch students platonically, it encourages their learning. They are also more likely to speak-up in class.
  • More Non-Sexual Emotional Intimacy. Interpersonal touch has a powerful impact on our emotions. 
  • Stronger Team Dynamics. We touch to initiate and sustain cooperation. Hugs and handshakes increase the chances that a person will treat you “like family”, even if you’ve just met. 
  • Economic Gain. Touch signals safety and trust, i.e. NBA teams whose players touch each other more, win more games.
  • Overall Well-being. Adults need positive human touch to thrive, i.e. hugs, handshakes, a pat on the arm or back, holding hands, cuddling, etc. It is fundamental to our physical, mental and emotion health.

Today, we are even seeing Touch Therapy being used to treat patients. First standardized in the 70’s, scientists are not sure how this technique works. The popular theories are: a) Pain is stored in the body’s cells; b) Think quantum physics. Blood, which contains iron, flows through our bodies and creates an electromagnetic field; c) Good health requires a balanced flow of life energy. And there are many Chronic illnesses that respond to this treatment, i.e. Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Alzheimer’s, Chronic Pain, etc.

Some of us are old enough to remember the social panic that AIDs initially created. People feared that it could be spread by even the simplest forms of human contact. Patients often suffered in near isolation. Until, one day, a certain princess visited an AIDs hospital … and held the hand of patient. No gloves. No mask. Just hand-to-hand touch. Thank you, Diana. You not only helped that patient, you changed the global perception of a disease.

We are all in need of human touch … of its power … its compassion … and its ability to literally make us feel better. Some are starved for that connection. So, stretch out your arms … reach for a friend, a family member, your pet, even a stranger. It’s time that we all embrace a hug for our good health. 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201303/the-power-touch

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/201808/not-everyone-wants-hug

https://www.khca.org/files/2015/10/8-Reasons-Why-We-Need-Human-Touch-More-Than-Ever.pdf

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mind-body-connection/201309/why-we-all-need-touch-and-be-touched

https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-surprising-psychological-value-of-human-touch/

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research

https://www.in-mind.org/article/that-human-touch-that-means-so-much-exploring-the-tactile-dimension-of-social-life

https://theweek.com/articles/749384/painnumbing-power-human-touch

https://www.healthline.com/health/haphephobia#symptoms

https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/treatment/therapeutic-touch

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-39490507/how-princess-diana-changed-attitudes-to-aids

*Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash

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Taking Care Of The Caregiver

When a person is diagnosed with a Chronic illness, focus naturally centers on the patient. This is necessary, for proper treatment and disease management. While most patients have a Support System (or should for best results), many will at some point require a caregiver. This individual, whoever he or she may be, is an essential part of that patient’s life and a vital part of their disease management. They are also, often times, neglected. And that’s an unacceptable risk. Which is why it is imperative to take care of the caregiver …

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Make no mistake, there is nothing easy about the task. Care-giving can be very difficult. It’s mentally, physically and emotionally challenging. I have answered the call, twice in my life. At age 30, I was my father’s caregiver when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung cancer. At 48, I was my mother’s caregiver when she was diagnosed with a very rare cancer (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Primary to the Bone). Both were extremely different experiences, despite the fact that both of my parents had cancer. Never think, for a moment, that previous experience prepares you to be a caregiver. It does not. Each patient is unique. And each will require different levels of care. When I reflect back on both of my care-giving experiences, I am reminded of a quote from the Charles Dickens novel A Tale Of Two Cities“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” By that, I mean that there were special moments that I will forever hold dear in memory. But there were also times that were heart-wrenching, scary, overwhelming and physically/mentally exhausting. That is care-giving, in a nutshell. Yet, if I had to make the decision again, I would do so. But that’s just me. The responsibility isn’t for everyone. And there is no sin in admitting that. 

If you are a caregiver, or considering the duty, take a moment to reflect upon the demands of the position. And by all means, take preventative action for your own health. No caregiver, regardless of age, is immune to stress … fatigue … or depression. In fact, I would wager that a caregiver is more vulnerable. Why? Because a caregiver naturally puts his/her needs, on the back-burner. As a caregiver, the priority must be the patient that he/she is caring for. So, caregivers often neglect what their bodies need. But if you allow your own health to decline, who is that really helping?

When caring for my dad, his Hospice nurse gave me some priceless advice, “Do something for yourself, because he needs you.” Nancy was so right. It can be once a day, for 30-60 minutes. Or possibly, it’s just once a week. It doesn’t matter which you choose. If you are a caregiver, do something for you, i.e. a massage, a yoga class, a walk around the block, a Bible study, an art class, etc. Indulging in a little “Me Time” may feel a bit selfish, at first. Yet it is vital to keeping you healthy, relaxed and mentally sharp. So, get out and indulge yourself. Then, you can consider these additional tips:

  1. Get some exercise. Even in regular, small increments, it can boost your energy level. Exercise also reduces stress, helps you maintain a healthy weight, etc.
  2. Eat healthy. This too will give you more energy. Eating healthy can help prevent other health problems, too. Also remember to snack healthy.
  3. Don’t Forget How To Laugh. Laughter is good medicine. Try to find some humor in your day-to-day experience as a caregiver. Share a laugh with the loved one in your care (he/she needs joy too)!
  4. Watch-out for depression. The demands placed on you as a caregiver can be difficult and stressful. Stay vigilant. Talk to your doctor, if you think you are experiencing symptoms, i.e. sad, anxious, anger, feeling helpless, irritable, weight loss or gain, sleep issues, difficulty concentrating, etc.
  5. Takin’ Care of Business. Remember that retro phrase? Well, it’s good practice. Balance your checkbook. Pay bills. Work when you need to. Save for a special outing, anniversary, or trip. It’s good for both of you!
  6. Keep Your Dr. appointments. If you’re sick, you won’t be able to do what your loved one needs. So, visit your doctor & dentist regularly. Get your lab-work, or flu shot. Your good health is the fuel that keeps this care-giving engine running!
  7. Optimism is key. Refresh your mind, every day. Yes, you have limitations. We all do. So, let go of that guilt. Acknowledge the job that you’re doing. It’s special and important. Like other things, care-giving has a learning-curve. You will get there.
  8. Stay connected. Use the phone, internet, newspaper, etc. But, by all means, stay connected to the outside world & what is happening around you.

Last, but not least, if you need help … ask for it! Call a family-member or friend and ask for some assistance. Talk to your doctor and your loved one. If the patient’s level of care becomes too extensive, it could be time to consider hiring a professional caregiver. If you need to work, consider utilizing Adult Day-care options in your area. Just remember … you aren’t alone. There are many who are willing to offer ideas and alternatives. Don’t be afraid to seek their advice. Take care of your loved one — and you!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784

https://caregiveraction.org/resources/10-tips-family-caregivers

https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/caring-loved-one/tips-being-successful-caregiver

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/taking-care-yourself-tips-caregivers

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/caregiver-support/top-10-caregiver-tips-for-staying-healthy-and-active

Adult Day Care Services

https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/articles-and-news/2003/04/the-role-of-adult-day-services.html

https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-symptoms-causes#1

*Photo by James Hose, Jr., on Unsplash

Are You Searching For Peace?

No, this isn’t about Foreign relations or national policy. This is about you. Are you at peace emotionally? Unfortunately, many patients are not. So, for a moment, be honest with yourself. Has your diagnosis totally turned your life upside down? Is stress and anxiety eating away at you? Fear troubling you? If your answer is “yes”, to any or all of these questions, it’s time to talk about it. First, as I previously stated, you aren’t alone. It isn’t easy to adjust to life with a disease. It’s a sucker-punch. Anyone who has a Chronic illness understands how you are feeling. We have all rode that runaway train of emotions. The denial is real. The frustration and anger is, too. Think of it like the stages of grief that follow the death of a loved one. You are basically grieving the loss of the life you had. The one you enjoyed. It was your comfort zone, even on the bad days. But now … well, now, bad days have a whole new meaning.

 

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“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” — John 14:27 (NIV)

 

As crazy as it may sound, the key to this madness in part is learning how to be sick. It’s like a marathon of coping — 24/7. Why? Because your Chronic illness isn’t a sore throat, or the sniffles. It’s a life change. And sometimes it’s tough. Many of us naturally resist difficulties. We ignore them. But that technique won’t work, here. This is about embracing reality …

There are five stages of grief that patients struggle with, after they are diagnosed:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

While it may feel like an overwhelming nightmare, it is a normal process. So, examine these stages and consider which one you are in. Only you truly know that answer. And let me add, no two patients go through them at the same pace. But progressing through them is your goal.

Now, let’s consider the ways to make life with Chronic illness a little easier:

  • Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about your illness. Soak it up, like a sponge.
  • Put together your Support System, i.e. family, close friends, etc. You might even want to join a local Support Group. Many health organizations offer these opportunities. And numerous places of worship do, too. They can be found online or your doctor can help you find one.
  • Surround yourself with positive people and things. Negativity and pessimism aren’t healthy. Optimism is healthy. That too is key to coping and disease management.
  • Find a hobby,  create a reading-list, etc. On tough days, it will give you something positive to focus on.
  • Many patients find that faith helps them. Bible Study, Prayer Groups, personal prayer, etc., can be very beneficial to the body and mind.

Inner peace isn’t as simple as going to the doctor, taking a session of physical therapy, or picking-up your meds. It’s a very personal journey. Sometimes, it can feel incredibly lonely. That too is normal. Hence, the need for a good Support System. If your mobility is limited, or pain has you feeling down, you can turn to the internet. Sites like this one are created to help you. 

Last, but not least, do not punish yourself for being sick. Chronic illness is caused by many things, i.e. lifestyle, genetics, environment, etc. Some we can change, i.e. smoking, alcohol consumption, weight loss, exercise. Others are beyond our control. As you search for peace, it helps to feel that you have some control over what is happening to your body and your life. So, by all means, eat healthier … exercise … make necessary lifestyle changes. These are all positive things. And it can be as simple as a walk around the block. Or you may prefer a class, i.e. Tai Chi, Pilates, Yoga, Swimming, etc. If you need a nap, then take one. You might even want to keep a journal and share it with your doctor. These changes will allow you to better manage your Chronic illness and no doubt feel better (physically and emotionally). 

We are on a journey. Millions of us. We didn’t plan on taking this trip, but we are going. Together, we can the most of it. We can support each other, learn and inspire. We can live to the fullest!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.rsnhope.org/health-library/finding-acceptance-psychological-stages-chronic-illness/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/turning-straw-gold/201809/7-tips-making-peace-chronic-pain-and-illness

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

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

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/chronic-diseases/arthritis/arthritis-risk-factors.html

*Photo by Arif Riyanto on Unsplash

 

One Thing Can Lead To Another …

Dare I say it? Yet, if you are living with a Chronic illness, you know it’s true. Secondary conditions happen. In fact, by 2020, it is projected that 157M Americans will be living with some form of Chronic illness. And 81M, well over half of them, will have multiple conditions. But what exactly are these secondary illnesses? The list is long and complex, i.e. Depression, Anxiety, Lupus Nephritis, Pericarditis, Sjögren’s SyndromeCushing’s Syndrome, Secondary Raynaud’s, Secondary Fibromyalgia, Myocarditis, Anemia, Dysphagia, Glaucoma, etc. This isn’t about a low-grade fever, or stiffness. These secondary conditions are serious health problems, in their own right. And when they follow your initial diagnosis, it is both scary and frustrating.

 

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Because of the sheer nature of how a Chronic illness effects a patient, from onset through progression, I want to focus for a moment on Depression and Anxiety. Both are common among the chronically ill. Life is changing. Physical and/or mental abilities are changing. To say that it’s overwhelming is, well, an understatement. The diagnosis alone usually hits a patient like a ton of bricks. Some chronic illnesses, i.e. Parkinson’s, Stroke, etc., actually effect the brain. These changes can directly lead to Depression. Anxiety and stress can also lead to depression. Both are felt by patients who live with any Chronic illness. And a secondary diagnosis can magnify these problems.

If you are experiencing symptoms outside the norm for your diagnosed condition, you should talk to your doctor. You may be living with a secondary illness. And it should be treated — not ignored. A good Support System will help you to cope with your Chronic disease as well as the secondary, i.e. family, friends, doctor, etc. Think of it as a “team sport”! Support Groups are available in many areas. If you are interested, you can contact national organizations for details, i.e. American Cancer Society, SAMHSA, American Lung Association, American Heart Association, The Arthritis Foundation, etc. Or simply ask your physician. These are very beneficial for caregivers, too.

Optimism is also key to living with and effectively managing your Chronic condition. Understand your illness — don’t just accept the diagnosis. If you want another medical opinion, ask for one. It is your body and your right. Learn the facts. Knowledge is power. Find out what you can do, i.e. diet, exercise, medications, etc. Pace yourself. Delegate tasks to reduce your stress level. Understand that setbacks can and usually do happen. Secondary conditions are common. Pursue preventative measures, if possible. If not, maintain your perspective. Blaming yourself isn’t going to help the situation. A Secondary Condition isn’t the end of the world. Let’s say that, again … a Secondary Condition isn’t the end of the world. It’s just a curve-ball that you must deal with. And you can. Millions of patients are doing it. So, give it your best shot! 

Always make the most of every day. Even the difficult ones are a gift. Although, they may not feel like one. With a positive approach, you will also feel better both mentally and physically. You will be able to manage the changes, too. And get back to living!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.nationalhealthcouncil.org/sites/default/files/AboutChronicDisease.pdf

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

Secondary Conditions

http://www.jrheum.org/content/46/2/127

Managing Multiple Rheumatic Diseases: How One Patient Copes with Her Disabilities & Advocates for Others

https://www.cancer.org/treatment/support-programs-and-services.html

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11438/

https://www.lung.org/support-and-community/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5209342/

*Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

When Childhood Haunts You: ACEs & Chronic Illness

When most people are diagnosed with a Chronic illness, there is a moment of disbelief. On one hand, you are hearing the doctor. On the other, you just can’t wrap your head around it. As reality sinks in, fear and anxiety often accompany it. Life is, to say the least, changing fast. And at some point, rest assured, you will say, “How did this happen to me?” That’s a good question. But the answer may not be what you suspect. Chronic illness has long been attributed to things like an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle, tobacco use, alcohol, infectious agents, some environmental factors and genetics. But we also know that trauma, experienced before the age of 18, is linked to it as well.

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This trauma, known as an Adverse Childhood Experience or ACE, is an encompassing term for numerous traumatic experiences from childhood cancer to sexual abuse. Severe traumatic events are believed to have the greatest effect on our long-term health. The toxic stress that they create within a child’s body is consuming and powerful.

In fact, your risk of having mental and physical health problems goes up with the number of events that you have experienced. For example, your risk for health problems is much higher if you’ve had three or more of these ACEs:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • physical neglect
  • emotional neglect
  • witnessing domestic violence
  • substance abuse within the household
  • mental illness within the household
  • parental separation or divorce
  • incarceration of a household member

Other traumatic events may not meet the exact criteria of an ACE, but still have life-altering consequences. For example, a car accident or school shooting can lead to health issues beyond the initial injuries, i.e. depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A 2010 study, published in the journal of Clinical And Experimental Rheumatology, noted that Holocaust survivors were twice as likely to have fibromyalgia than individuals who had lived in Europe during the Nazi occupation.

This does not mean that every Chronic illness can be linked to an Adverse Childhood Experience. It’s just not that simple. There are other variables. But we do know that the biological impact of childhood adversity is real. It can also be difficult, sometimes impossible, to reverse. Experiencing two or more ACEs significantly places a child at a higher risk for developmental, behavioral, or social delays. Sadly, it can even place them at a greater risk for committing acts of violence. And these risks follow them into adulthood.

If you are looking for answers as to where your Chronic illness came from, talk openly with your doctor. If you or your child has experienced an ACE, discuss that trauma/s candidly. It will help your doctor/s to better treat your condition. Whether you are the patient or a concerned parent, it just may offer some insight that can help you to understand, cope, even manage Chronic illness. With any Chronic disease, management is the key to better living. And it starts at home — with you!

May God Bless … 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/media/Factsheet1.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153850/

ttps://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/past-trauma-may-haunt-your-future-health

https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-illness/childhood-trauma-connected-chronic-illness#7

Trauma-Responsive Schools Must Be the New Gold Standard in Education

Chronic pain and childhood trauma

*Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

More Than A Headache: A Migraine

Headaches, like the common cold, happen. We have all had them, at one time or another. But a Migraine isn’t your garden-variety headache. It’s much worse. In fact, it’s a form of Chronic Illness. Approximately, 1 in every 4 American households has a member who suffers from them. Globally, Migraines are ranked as the third most prevalent illness — effecting one billion people. And the impact that this neurological disease has on patients is real. It’s more than a headache. It’s a constant battle that requires treatment, patience and perseverance.

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Migraines usually begin in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. When one strikes, they progress through stages, i.e. Prodrome, Aura, Attack, Post-Drome. The symptoms of each stage are distinctive. But not every patient will experience all four stages. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed, you know the symptoms all too well:

  • Prodrome begins 24-48 hours before the migraine occurs. During this time, patients may experience constipation, moodiness, food cravings, neck stiffness, increased thirst and urination, or frequent yawning.
  • Aura can occur before and during migraines. They are reversible symptoms of the nervous system and usually visual in nature, i.e. seeing bright spots, flashes of light, or experiencing vision loss. But Auras can also include other disturbances, i.e. sensations in the arms and legs, weakness/numbness in the face or on one side of the body, difficulty speaking, hearing noises, or uncontrollable jerking movements. These begin gradually and build over several minutes.
  • The Attack, or Migraine itself, lasts from four to 72 hours if left untreated. Frequency varies from one patient to the next. For some, the occurrence is seldom. For others, it may be numerous attacks each month. During this stage, patients experience severe pain (usually on one side of their head). Some patients say that the pain is all over their head. They are sensitive to light, smells, even touch, during this stage. Nausea and vomiting are also common.
  • Post-Drome  is the time following the attack. Typically, it lasts from an hour to a day in length. The patient often feels drained of energy. Others may feel relief that the attack is finally over. Confusion is also common. And many patients report that any sudden head movement brings back pain, temporarily. 

Living with Migraine is difficult. This neurological disease is very incapacitating. In fact, about 90% of patients are unable to work, or function normally, during an episode. Depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances are also common with Migraine patients. And many have a family medical history of the illness. Maintaining a job, let alone building a career, is a challenge. As many as 20% of Migraine sufferers become disabled. All of these factors also impact daily living and relationships.

Despite the strides that are made yearly in medicine, Migraine remains a very misunderstood disease that is often undiagnosed and untreated. Most patients suffer in silence. This could be the result of escalating healthcare costs, limited access to medical care, or too little (if any) support at home/work. Another sad fact to consider is that many patients (25%) would actually benefit from preventative treatment, but only a few (12%) seek it. We need to change that and we can!

If you or a loved one has Migraines, or you suspect that you do, then it’s time to see a doctor and get help. You have options, from holistic treatment to medication. Put an end, or at least limit, your suffering. It’s time to start living, again!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201

Migraine Facts

Living with Migraine

*Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash