Category: Lifestyle

Meditation and Stress Relief

By Arshya Gurbani

Earlier this semester, I heard about Transcendental Meditation (TM) for the first time. It’s defined as a technique that trains one to turn “attention inwards towards the subtler levels of a thought until the mind transcends the experience of the subtlest state of the thought and arrives at the source of the thought” (Mahesh Yogi, 1969). A distinguishing characteristic of this form of meditation is the carefulness with which the pedagogy is preserved–requiring a training process to certify preservation of fidelity to the method. (Wallace, 1970).

An early and foundational study noted physiological changes attributed to practicing TM.  These included decreased heart rate and oxygen uptake, and changes in EEG frequency (Wallace, 1970). Generally, as we’ve heard in class from various individuals who practice, these manifest themselves as lower stress levels, in creased focus, and increased clarity and decision-making power.

Other positive benefits have been described in a variety of populations. TM has been suggested to facilitate decreased drop-out rates from urban schools, improve quality of life in children living with Autism Spectrum Disorder ,  boost immunity levels , and generally improve mental health and well-being.

This New York Times article chronicles the experiences of schools implementing TM in classrooms around NY, largely featuring success stories, while still noting that research on the use of TM in an academic setting is not yet conclusive.

There is room to speculate whether TM is radically different form other forms of inward reflection. Surely, there are many ways to reduce stress and enhance productivity, of which TM is just one. With TM on my radar, I look forward to seeing if research can discern TM as a distinctively beneficial.

 

Non-linked References:

M. Mahesh Yogi, The Science of Being and Art of Living (International SRM, – London, rev. ed., 1966), pp. 180-209.

Wallace, R. K. (1970). Physiological effects of transcendental meditation. Science, 167(3926), 1751-1754.

*credit for articles/reference guidance to EPID799c course resources made available to students

Networking the New Normal: Confronting Illness through Social Media

GUEST BLOGGER: Terri Beth Miller, PhD

This is not how you expected life to be. You’re run down. You’re hurting. You’re physically and emotionally drained. And it feels as though those closest to you are a million miles away, as though you’ve suddenly found yourself stranded on a desert island with no hope of rescue.

This is what it can feel like when you are confronting illness, when a diagnosis suddenly transports you to a new world you never wanted to visit, let alone permanently inhabit.

The truth is that illness, whether physical or psychological, chronic or acute, can be one of the most frightening, disorienting, and isolating experiences a person can face. And yet, if we live long enough, we will all confront this experience. After all, ain’t none of us getting out of this life alive.

But diagnosis doesn’t have to mean disaster. Our 21st century world offers resources once unimaginable to those seeking health information and support. Few are more potent than the vast social media networks available to connect people in the most far-flung corners of the globe with the simple click of a button.

This seemingly limitless connection can be an infinite comfort for those who are suffering from illness, allowing survivors to reach out to fellow survivors, who often can understand illness in a way that those who haven’t experienced it simply cannot. After all, family and friends may empathize. They certainly can provide a love and comfort that the virtual world cannot replace. But there is a special and necessary connection shared by those have felt the gnawing at the bones, the torment of the mind—by those who have the visceral, intimate experience of real, bloody, hand-to-hand combat with illness. This is the connection that social media can offer to those suffering from illness, a means to overcome the isolation that can cut as deeply as sickness itself.

In addition to the opportunity to connect with fellow survivors, social media is an exceptional outlet for sharing health information and resources, from exploring treatment options to connecting with care-providers. After all, an informed patient is an empowered patient. Because those who are suffering from ill health often feel a tremendous lack of control and a vast feeling of uncertainty for the future, this access to knowledge can restore the sense of self-determination and understanding that survivors knew before diagnosis. These resources can restore some normalcy, or at least something of a return of the survivor’s sense of self.

Nevertheless, extreme caution must be practiced. We are perhaps never more vulnerable than when we are battling illness, and unfortunately those who would prey on the hopes and fears of the desperate are legion. So while it is healthy—and, indeed, essential—to seek out all the knowledge and resources possible when battling illness, it is equally essential to be wary of promises that are simply too good to be true. Vet the company you keep and the treasures you store up in the virtual world just as you do in the physical one.  Avail yourself of the immense resources available to you online as you wage your battle with sickness. But do so from a position of strength and discernment. This is your body. This is your mind. This is your spirit and your life. Harness the best and highest powers of social media. There is tremendous solace, solidarity, and support to be found online for those battling illness, but only for those who use it wisely.

For more information on the most beneficial mental health online resources, please visit: https://openforest.net/4-best-mental-health-bloggers-period/

Terri Beth Miller completed a PhD in English Language and Literature at the University of Virginia. She has taught writing and literature courses for more than a decade and is a regular contributor to the http://openforest.net mental health self-help portal. View her profile on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/drterribethmiller.

Old-fashioned Soap & Water

Suppose you just sneezed into your hands. I would recommend trying to sneeze into the elbow crease, but things happen. Anyway, now that your hypothetical hands are sneeze covered, what do you do? Of course, you need to clean them. You have two options, use the hand sanitizer nearby or go to the bathroom and wash them with soap and water. Which do you think is better at sanitizing the hands, killing the germs, and preventing the spread of disease?

The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water when it is available because it is the most effective method for reducing the number of microbes. Hand sanitizers without alcohol do not kill all germs, can promote germ resistance, reduces the growth of the germs without killing them completely, and may cause skin irritation. Hand sanitizers with alcohol are better, but still do not eliminate all types of germs including Cryptosporidiumnorovirus, and Clostridium difficile. If you are going to use hand sanitizers, opt for hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol.

When your hands are visibly dirty, always use soap and water to clean them. The CDC and numerous studies support evidence that hand sanitizers are effective when used on slightly dirty hands, such as after daily activities in typical hospitals or office settings, but are ineffective when used after dirtier activities, such as playing sports, gardening, or camping. If hands are exposed to hazardous chemical substances, use soap and water to wash your hands; hand sanitizers were not made to remove or neutralize chemicals and they may be ineffective or exacerbate skin irritation or damage.

So, in our hypothetical sneeze situation, find a sink and wash your hands correctly. If that is not an option, use the hand sanitizer; it’s better than nothing. Just remember to wash your hands as soon as soap and water is available, avoid contact with public surfaces, and don’t touch your face. Other ways to reduce the spread of disease include:

  1. Get vaccinated, including yearly flu vaccinations and booster shots
  2. Use antibiotics sensibly, don’t take antibiotics to fight a viral infection
  3. Disinfect bathrooms and kitchens regularly, such as wiping surfaces and washing towels
  4. Practice safe sex, such as using a condom
  5. Stay home when you’re sick, both from work and going to public spaces
  6. Be smart about food preparation, such as cooking meat thoroughly
  7. Don’t share personal items, such as toothbrushes or lipstick

Resources:

University of Puget Sound (n.d) Preventing the Spread of Infectious Disease. http://www.pugetsound.edu/student-life/counseling-health-and-wellness/health-topics/preventing-the-spread-of-infec/

CDC (2016, Feb 22) Show Me the Science-When & How to Use Hand Sanitizer. http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-hand-sanitizer.html

How to Have a Healthy Holiday Season

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

As the song goes… “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” but is it? The holiday season is a wonderful time to enjoy time with friends and family, but it can also be a stressful time. Airports are crowded and you may be exposed to more people (and germs) than you are used to. I often forget to take care of myself and end each holiday season with a very memorable cold, and this year it is my goal to be as mindful as possible. It is also important to take care of not only your physical health but your mental health as well.

Below are some important tips to remember to have a healthy holiday season.

Holiday Health Tips

  • Wash your hands often
  • Stay warm
  • Manage stress
  • Travel safely
  • Handle and prepare food safely
  • Eat healthy
  • Be active

How to handle holiday stress

  • Take time for yourself
  • Volunteer
  • Have realistic expectations
  • Remember what is important
  • Seek support

What will you be doing to have a healthy holiday season this year?

Let us give thanks

By: Courtney Luecking, MPH, MS, RD Doctoral Candidate: Nutrition

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is an opportunity to take time away from routines, gather with family and friends, and literally give thanks. The history buffs can check their knowledge about the origin of Thanksgiving, but I would like to concentrate on the science behind the power of gratitude.

Check out this beautiful infographic for a more in depth summary, but the short of the long is that expressing gratitude has numerous physical and mental health benefits. Studies have linked gratitude with improved sleep, increased energy levels, and increased self-esteem. One trial also found those who kept a gratitude journal for 10 weeks were 25% happier than the group who did not keep a journal.

Read more about the benefits of expressing gratitude here and here.

With all these benefits, why limit it to one day a year? Instead, why not find some space for gratitude all year long?

be-thankful

Here are some ideas to intentionally acknowledge what or who you are grateful for throughout the year:

  • Snap a daily photo. Get inspiration from 365grateful, a stunning display of all the wonderful – big and small – things in the world
  • Keep a journal or list – paper, word document, or note on a phone or tablet
  • Try an app
  • Write a thank you note – for a purpose or just because
  • Jar of happiness
  • Meditate
  • Pray
  • Count your blessings

Let us give thanks not only this Thanksgiving holiday but more frequently in the upcoming year. After all, don’t we have much to be thankful for?

 

Personal Hygiene

By Shauna Ayres MPH: Health Behavior candidate 2017

One should practice basic hygiene not just as a courtesy to others, but also for themselves. Personal hygiene is much more than just showering and using deodorant, although those are very important. In fact, personal hygiene is just another term for healthy lifestyle. Below is an elementary personal hygiene checklist. See what areas you are already doing well, what areas you could modify, and what other aspects of your life could use some personal hygiene. Remember personal hygiene is not about egoism, it is about ridding your body, mind, and life of harmful toxins. As the stressful holidays approach, this will be even more important. Although it is a time of giving, don’t forget to make time for yourself.

  1. Clean your ears. Excess ear wax can build up in your ear canal and diminish hearing. Use a ear cleaning solution to remove earwax, not a cotton swab.
  2. Brush & floss. Poor oral health can lead to cavities, bad breath, and in the worst cases cause sepsis and death. Brush twice a day, floss daily, rinse your mouth after meals, get a new toothbrush every 3-4 months, visit your dentist twice a year, and avoid high fat or acidic foods/drinks. Remember to scrub your tongue too.
  3. Shower. Sweat, dead skin, microorganisms, dirt, and odors build up on your skin throughout the day. Shower daily with soap and water. Remember to wash your entire body: face, feet, and genitals too! Also, wash or change your towel once or twice a week.
  4. Wash your hands. Our hands are the dirtiest part of our bodies because we are constantly touching things—door knobs, money, cellphones, etc. Always wash your hands before and after using the restroom, eating, and touching animals. Regularly disinfecting commonly used object such as cellphones and keyboards is good hygienic practice as well.
  5. Trim your nails. Unclipped fingernails collect dirt and can be just as harmful as not washing your hands. Clip nails as needed and clean them with a brush whenever you wash your hands. However, avoid biting your nails.
  6. Wash your hair. Unwashed hair can be smelly and cause itchy scalps. Depending on the length and dryness/oiliness, as well as your activity level, you may wash your hair daily or just once or twice a week. Limit the use of hair dryers, flat irons, dyes, and other chemicals to maintain strong, healthy hair.
  7. Do your laundry. Keep your clothes clean and change our basics daily (underwear, bras, undershirts, socks, etc).
  8. Don’t “just do it.” Know who you are having sex with and use condoms and other contraceptives. Sexual monogamy is the healthiest, but if you do engage in casual sex always use condoms, disinfect your genitals with antiseptics to help prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), get tested for STIs regularly, and get the HPV vaccine.
  9. Be active. Regular physical activity promotes immunity, rids the body of toxins, and clears pores. The recommended amount of activity is 150 minutes per week or 30 minutes per day.
  10. Sleep. Not enough or too much sleep can cause a wealth of problems. Establish a regular bedtime routine and aim for 6-8 hours of sleep per night. Also, make sure to wash or change your sheets weekly to prevent body acne and bad odors.
  11. Eat clean. Good nutrition makes you look and feel healthier inside and out. Drinking more water will also cleanse the body. Remember to clean out your refrigerator periodically and remove expired or spoiled foods.
  12. Keep it tidy. Disinfect surface areas regularly, especially in the kitchen and bathroom to prevent harmful microbial buildup. Ventilate your home with outside air and let natural light in when possible; this will naturally reduce the number of microbes and bacteria. Also, declutter your environment; it helps with reducing stress and anxiety.

More resources for personal hygiene tips: Personal Hygiene ChecklistFeminine HygieneTips for GuysEverydayHealth.com Guide to Good Hygiene

 

New Marshmallow Helmets

By: Shauna Ayres MPH: Health Behavior candidate 2017

Stanford University’s David Camarillo is a bioengineer researching ways to reduce head injury and concussions with new bicycle helmet designs. Camarillo and his team compared an airbag helmet to a traditional foam helmet and found promising results. This type of helmet is a pouch worn around the neck and inflates upon impact by chemical catalysts exactly like a car airbag. They were developed to help forego the excuse that a traditional helmet is dorky and as a direct result, decrease bike rider head injury.

Camarillo conducted drop tests with a dummy that suggested airbag helmets may reduce impact by as much as six-fold as compared to foam helmets. However, the drop tests were done with optimal pre-inflated airbag helmets and real life scenarios don’t guarantee maximum air pressure 100% of the time. In addition, more tests need to be conducted on rotational movements and impacts that are often associated with concussions. Camarillo is optimistic for the use of this technology in the future, but feels that more research, testing, and product innovation is still needed. Developers are working on developing a smarter helmet by embedding sensors that detect the severity of an impact and compensate accordingly and increasing the reliability and efficiency of inflation.

Currently the airbag helmets are only available in some European countries and not yet marketed to US consumers. But keep an eye out for these airbag helmets, or marshmallow helmets, because they will likely be in the future of bike safety and injury prevention.

Additional Bike Safety Tips:

  1. Wear reflective clothing, especially at night.
  2. Turn on front and back lights during dusk, evening, and nighttime hours.
  3. Always use arm signals when turning.
  4. Follow traffic signs and signals as a car would.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings: don’t wear earbuds or use your phone while riding.

For more tips go to http://bicyclesafe.com/

Kubota, T. (2016, Oct 4). Air bag bike helmet inflates to protect head. Futurity. http://www.futurity.org/air-bag-bike-helmet-1262422-2/

Kurt, M., Laksari, K., Kuo, C., Grant, G. A., & Camarillo, D. B. (2016). Modeling and optimization of airbag helmets for preventing head injuries in bicycling. Annals of Biomedical Engineering, doi:10.1007/s10439-016-1732-1 [doi]

Bluejay, M. (2013) How to not get hit by cars: Important lessons in bicycle safety. BicyclesSafe.com. http://bicyclesafe.com/

You are what you Tweet?

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

Are you someone who puts your mood, food, or physical activity on social media? If so, you may be helping researchers develop and test new ways of tracking health behaviors.

funny-food-house-quote-sweet

 

It is known that the places where we live, work, play, and learn positively and negatively influence our health. But due to the time and other resources necessary to gather and update information about neighborhood characteristics, there is a lack of information to really understand how characteristics influence our health or why those effects might differ across town or the U.S.

As an alternative, a group of researchers explored the usefulness of using geotagged tweets to generate neighborhood level information to characterize happiness, food, and physical activity. By linking tweets to census tract level information, investigators found correlations (relationships) between happiness, food, and physical activity information and health behaviors, chronic diseases, death, and self-rated health.

And although this wasn’t the intention of the study, you might be interested to know the top 5 most tweeted about foods and forms of physical activity in the 1% random sample of publicly available tweets from April 2015 – March 2016:

Foods

  1. Coffee
  2. Beer
  3. Pizza
  4. Starbucks
  5. IPA (beer)

Physical Activity

  1. Walk/walking
  2. Dance/dancing
  3. Running
  4. Workout
  5. Golf

Any chance your tweets over the last year included one of those words?

This study, like all others, has limitations, and it is important to remember this is a first look at the usefulness of geocoded Twitter information. Having said that, these results show promise that Twitter or other social media data could be a useful and cheaper, more efficient way to create neighborhood profiles. More information about our neighborhoods could provide insight about important targets for change to improve the health of our communities. Now that is something to #tweet about!

 

Resources:

Cara, E. Top 10 Food Tweets Reveal Diet and Physical Activity Patterns of Twitter Users. Medical Daily. October 16, 2016. http://www.medicaldaily.com/heres-top-10-tweeted-about-foods-and-what-they-mean-our-health-401413

Nguyen QC, Li D, Meng HW, Kath S, Nsoesie E, Li F, Wen M. Building a National Neighborhood Dataset From Geotagged Twitter Data for Indicators of Happiness, Diet, and Physical Activity. JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2016;2(2):e158. DOI: 10.2196/publichealth.5869. PMID: 27751984