Winter sunshine can improve your mood

winter sunshineGet outside!

Up here in the Pacific Northwest, we don’t take sunny days for granted, especially during our perpetually gray and wet winters.

Yesterday we were lucky enough to enjoy a beautiful, sunny day! It was really cold, at least by our standards, but a friend and I still bundled up and ventured out for a long walk along the beach.

And we weren’t alone. With the blue skies and the crowds of people, it seemed more like a summer day. Perhaps they read the same article I did a few weeks ago: Here’s a Major Health Reason to Get Continue reading

Why shared decision making matters

As a nurse who worked for a surgeon, I had to spend a lot of time talking to patients and educating them about their proposed surgeries.

The surgeon talked to them first, of course, but often patients don’t remember everything the surgeon said. Or they think of questions after the consult.

If I couldn’t answer a question, or if I thought the patient really didn’t understand what the surgery entailed—why it was being done, other options to surgery, recovery time, etc.—I would ask the surgeon to please speak with the patient again.

If I was going to sign my name … Continue reading

Sleep deprivation

March 6th to 13th is National Sleep Awareness Week.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) sponsors the week (#7Days4BetterSleep) to raise awareness of the health benefits of a good night’s sleep.

As if we didn’t know!

But if you need a reminder, here’s a TED-Ed video about the effects of sleep deprivation:

Good sleep habits are best learned at a young age. If you are a parent, help your kids find a healthy balance between all their activities and their sleep needs.

The NSF has lots of information about sleep, as well as sleep tips … Continue reading

“It’s Just Life”

The United States isn’t the only country that is burdened with too much medicine (and subsequent out-of-control health care costs).

I belong to a network of health care professionals around the world who are having a dialogue about overscreening, overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and what to do about it.

A physician from Spain shared this amusing YouTube video, “Así es la Vida” (It’s Just Life):

The subtitles are in English, but I had to translate for myself the words on the “prescription” box of medicine given to each patient:

No little pill can solve the reality Continue reading

What is Brintellix?

I was doing a little research into the new depression screening guidelines issued by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) when I ran across an article about a newer, more expensive antidepressant called Brintellix (vortioxetine).

It costs about $300 for 30 tablets, and is apparently no better at treating depression than the plethora of other cheaper drugs already out there, so it hasn’t been a best seller for its manufacturer, Lundbeck, Inc.

But Lundbeck and its partner Takeda Pharmaceutical hope to change that by convincing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week that Brintellix is better than … Continue reading

What is a death doula?

I subscribe to the belief that no one should die alone or afraid, and death is a natural part of the life cycle that can be—should be—a sacred, deeply meaningful experience.

Sadly, too often that’s not the case. Our current health care system doesn’t do death well at all. Unless they qualify for hospice, patients and their families are left feeling helpless, confused and afraid. Sometimes angry.

No one expects us to be experts at childbirth if we’ve never had a baby. Why should we be experts at death if we or a loved one has never died before?

I … Continue reading

A physician’s own end-of-life story

I’ve always believed that if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness and had a choice between a few months of quality living and a few extra months filled with doctors’ visits, surgeries, lab tests and drug treatments, I would choose quality of life.

Many friends, some of them doctors, have told me, “Oh, you think that now, but when the times comes the will to live is just too strong. You’ll do anything for that extra time.”

Would I? I guess I won’t know for sure until my time comes.

That’s exactly what a hospice physician thought—Will I Continue reading

Antidepressants and autism

Women who take common antidepressants while pregnant have a slightly higher risk of their children developing autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

This study was just released by JAMA Pediatrics.

Use of antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, during the second and/or third trimester increases the risk of ASD in children, even after considering maternal depression. Further research is needed to specifically assess the risk of ASD associated with antidepressant types and dosages during pregnancy.

SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, include Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva) and Sertraline (Zoloft).

They are by far the … Continue reading

Adults coloring books for stress relief

adult coloring bookA few weeks ago I posted about some simple ways to deal with stress and panic attacks, and I mentioned that I had received an adult coloring book from a friend and thought it was a great way to focus and relax my mind.

Apparently other people think so, too!

I just read this article in The Atlantic: The Zen of Adult Coloring Books

Several trend pieces about adult coloring books lump them in with other “childish” activities that grown-ups are apparently engaging in to regress back to their simpler youth, like adult preschool and adult summer camp. But

Continue reading

How chronic stress affects your body

Ted-Ed Talks just posted an excellent video on YouTube explaining How stress can make you sick. Occasional stress is normal and even helpful, but chronic stress can lead to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Because of the “brain-gut” connection, chronic stress can also affect digestion and lead to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and obesity.

Even worse, chronic stress can cause chromosomal damage and shorten our lives!

I’m sure this isn’t news to most people, but it’s a reminder that we need to regularly “check-in” on our emotional health and make … Continue reading

The overuse of antidepressants

I know so many people taking antidepressants. And they talk about it quite openly, with me and with each other.

“What are you taking? Zoloft? Oh, I tried that but didn’t like it. Celexa works better for me.”

I’m sure none of these people went to his or her (mostly her) doctor and got a prescription for no reason whatsoever. But it’s pretty hard to deny that antidepressant use in this country has skyrocketed over the last two decades, which begs the question: Is everyone really that depressed?

No. A recent study in The Journal of Clinical Psychology looked at Continue reading

Home remedies for panic attacks

I read a good article on BuzzFeed last week that offered simple tips to deal with anxiety and panic attacks: 31 Actually Helpful Tips For Dealing With Panic Attacks

I won’t list them all here, and you can check out the article for more details, but here are a few I thought especially helpful. (And I have suffered from panic attacks in the past, so I know what works for me.)

  • Listen to songs with a slow rhythm to help control your breathing. Look through your playlists for music in the range of 60-70 beats per minute. Create a playlist
Continue reading

Blue light and sleep

Blue light pollution

Do you have trouble getting to sleep at night, and then feel sleepy and groggy in the morning?

“Blue light” from your TV, phone or tablet might be to blame. Do you watch TV or sit at your computer just before bed? Or take your phone, laptop or Kindle into bed with you?

These electronic devices all emit what’s known as blue light. Blue light is a specific part of the light spectrum. It’s why the sky is blue, and so our brains naturally associate blue light with day and become more alert, even if it’s time … Continue reading

Look “Up” – Health benefits of positive thinking

positive outlookDo you think of yourself as an optimist or a pessimist? Or, like me, a hybrid of the two (hope for the best, but plan for the worst)?

I just finished reading Up: How Positive Outlook Can Transform Our Health and Aging by Hilary Tindle, MD, MPH, and found it an engaging look at how our outlook can drive our behaviors toward better or poorer health.

Dr. Tindle began her career as a primary care doctor. What she found were “relentless days of chronically ill” patients who suffered from obesity, depression, anxiety, insomnia, smoking, drinking, loneliness and isolation.

…it

Continue reading

Want to live longer? Think young!

My husband sent me a link to a short Ted Talks video about aging. After watching it, I’m wondering if I’ve been going about aging the wrong way.

The video is about an inspiring woman, Olga Kotelko, who took up amateur track and field at the age of 77. At age 91, she was competing in the long jump! She had more than 50 world records!

How did she think about growing old? And how might our own perceptions or biases about aging affect us physically?

What if age is just a state of mind?