Beach

How to Self Care with a Chronic Illness

Living with a chronic illness can be extremely difficult. You struggle with feelings of anxiety, loss of control of your own body, guilt, pain, anger and exhaustion. Every day will challenge you. As you look around at your friends and family, it might cause you to feel guilty that you may not always be able to join in at gatherings or go out and have fun like you use to do. All of these feelings are not abnormal. In fact, they are very rational, and if you spoke to anyone with a chronic illness, they would agree they probably feel the exact same way.

If you continue to work, you must find time to take care of activities of everyday living, such as taking care of children, spouses, household chores, and work. Then there is you: Your needs. What happens when you are at the bottom of your To Do list? The outlook isn't good. You have probably heard the expression “You can't pour from an empty cup" ? Well, that’s absolutely correct! Living with illness is already an enormous stressor, draining your cup steadily. This adds to your stress tremendously, threatening your health even more. If there is anything I have learned as a holistic practitioner, it’s that self-care should be your priority.

I teach this to my patients, as well. I want to share a few tips that I have learned over the years and hope you find them as helpful as I do.

It's ok to say No

Setting boundaries is necessary when it comes to reducing your stressors and maintaining self-care. Let friends and family know that while you love to do social things such as going out, you're not able to at this time. Saying no does not make you a bad person and it certainly doesn't mean you don't care. Saying no means that you are giving yourself the space you need to heal.

Saying yes just to make others happy can cause resentment on your end.  If they continue to pressure you or try to persuade you into saying yes and it makes you uncomfortable, you may need to put some distance between you and that person for some time. There is no need to feel guilty about this. It will only help your physical and mental health in the long run.

Prioritize yourself

If your list of To-Do’s don't include you at the top, then you need a new list.  Schedule yourself first, whether it’s doctor’s appointments, massages, acupuncture, therapy, exercise or whatever it is that helps reduce stress and anxiety for you. Taking care of you will allow you to heal and thrive. This, in turn, will allow you to now give some of your time and energy to others because you have taken your own time to self-care first.

Eat for health, you deserve to feel good

When you eat poorly, you are depriving your body of good health.  Fast food, processed food and refined sugar wreak havoc on your health, including your gut. It can cause blood sugar fluctuations, digestive issues, inflammation, as well as mood swings. Your gut communicates to your brain, so when your food choices are poor, your mental health suffers, as well.  Focus on fresh vegetables and fruit. Also, eat non-processed organic, pasture raised meats, poultry and wild fish ( if you choose to eat animal protein) and include healthy fats. These nourish the gut and help increase beneficial bacteria while balancing blood sugar and sending healthy signals to the brain.

Don't be afraid to ask for help

It's bad enough that you already feel guilty for being chronically ill. Don't let fear or pride get in the way of asking for help. If there is something you can't accomplish, it's not the end of the world. Just let someone know you need some help with certain things and that you're very appreciative and grateful for their help.

Make laughter a habit

Laughter has been shown to relieve stress and boost the immune system. Laughing makes you feel good and can reduce anxiety. It can also boost immune function. Additionally, it helps to relax your muscles and increase pain tolerance in the body. The physical benefits of laughter are many. While we sometimes have a difficult time drawing laughter from our lives, the benefits are not to be ignored.

Optimism

A positive attitude can make all the difference, especially when you are not feeling well. Have you ever been cut off in traffic while you were in a really good mood?  Chances are, it didn't bother you as much as when you're having a bad day or were in a negative mood. That's because optimism can help frame the way that your body reacts to a negative stressor. If you do not perceive a negative stressor to have a major impact on the state of your mood, then your body will not consciously perceive the stressor as that great of a threat. This means that an optimistic frame of mind can reduce the impact of a stress reaction. And the reduction of stress hormones can reduce inflammation in the body. This is where practicing an optimistic state of mind can lead to health benefits.

Self-care means different things to different people. Everyone's journey is unique so do what makes YOU feel good and never forget to self-care. That means being able to heal so you can be the best version of you, and everyone benefits from that.


Scared Boy

Childhood Trauma & Autoimmune Disease

Many things can determine the possibility that autoimmune disorders develop as we age. Genetics, nutrition, stress, toxic exposure and infections can all weaken and attack the immune system. These are all factors that have been studied for a long time. However, what we are now realizing is the fascinating connection between autoimmune disorders (that show up later in life) and childhood trauma.

These events, called Adverse Childhood Experiences (otherwise known as ACEs), have had a profound impact on the health of adults later in life. Events included physical and emotional abuse, the loss of a parent, and continual lack of support or neglect within a family structure. These are all identified as Adverse Childhood Experiences and can result in a long-term exposure to stress, leading to health issues as an adult.

The research behind this was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente in 1996. Called the “ACE Study” in short, the study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 1998. Patients who were identified as experiencing an Adverse Childhood Experience ended up developing higher rates of cancer and mental health issues compared to adults who had not.

Long-term stress can also increase the risk of autoimmune disease in someone who has had an Adverse Childhood Experience. The key is in the gene that is activated after the stressor has occurred. The human body has a series of responses to stressors that vary greatly according to each situation and person. However, one such response is the flood of inflammatory stress hormones that can result from a traumatic experience. This inflammatory response can activate a series of genes that contribute to autoimmune disease.

Dr. Donna Jackson Nakazawa persisted to further examine the possible link between Adverse Childhood Experiences and autoimmune disease based of her own experience. While her personal story is powerful, it may not necessarily be supportive of the majority of people. In her adult life, Dr. Nakazawa was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that attacks the nervous system. While seeking treatment, she was asked by her own doctor about any past trauma in her life. It turns out that her doctor was one of few doctors seeing a link between trauma and the chronic, systemic inflammation she was suffering from as a symptom of her illness. Her doctor decided that this question was an avenue worth pursuing.

Remembering the loss of her father at age 12 due to a botched surgery, it opened up the discussion of the possibility of childhood trauma that lead to her autoimmune issues. Connecting these two together, she has been an advocate for more research on childhood trauma and adult illness. Since then, hundreds of studies have backed up the Kaiser Permanente-CDC led study, though there is still a lack of awareness regarding this health issue.

Being in a constant state of stress resulting from traumatic experiences can be taxing and lead to many ill health effects. This chronic stress reaction leads to an increase in the inflammatory response, which can result in long-term chronic illness development.

Recognizing that your past childhood experiences can influence your health is an important step in healing. It’s important to consider a holistic protocol for total well being, in order to have a beneficial impact on the past trauma to reduce the body’s “auto pilot” reaction. While treating the body is good, treating the mind and its awareness of stressors can help the body to heal on all levels and increase your quality of life.


Gym Equipment

Staying Active With Lyme Disease

Muscle weakness and fatigue are common symptoms of Lyme disease. Coupled with nerve pain, neurological issues and depression, it becomes difficult to complete simple everyday tasks. Even thinking about adding daily physical activity during this difficult time can be stressful. And as your body reels from the constant strain of fighting off Lyme and co infections, rest becomes more important and, ironically, sometimes more difficult. Reclaiming a restorative lifestyle becomes a monumental task.

While some practitioners will only prepare patients with Lyme disease for the possibility of a loss of mobility, there are protocols and methods of exercise that can help with the treatment of Lyme. The details surrounding a Lyme focused exercise plan can be complex. For instance, vigorous aerobic exercise when fatigued is not recommended because it can exhaust you further and possibly weaken the immune system even more.

I have found that certain exercises and activities have actually helped those suffering from Lyme gain back their mobility, strength and balance. Additionally, as someone who has Lyme, I have also benefited immensely from them. They balance and integrate mindfulness and are essential in thriving and recovery. Examples of personal wellness abound when practicing low impact forms of martial arts and movement. That is to say, Tai chi, Qi gong, and yoga are excellent ways for the body to regain more than just strength. The benefits of exercise improve mental and physical health. This makes creating a beneficial exercise plan crucial for chronic Lyme sufferers.

Tai chi, Qi (or Chi) gong, and yoga can be described as part mindfulness practice, too. They focus on movements and stances that build a foundation for the body, mind, and nervous system. Deliberate movements activate multiple muscle systems and are often accompanied by a coach who can guide the meditative process, if you wish. These can be done at any fitness level and modified to suit your physical limitations, so is ideal for anyone suffering from Lyme disease.

Mindfulness practices such as meditation can contribute to lowering stress levels, which reduces the elevated adrenal response and lowers cortisol in the body. A lower cortisol level contributes to a healthier nervous & immune system, allowing it to restore proper function.

The contracting and movement of muscles, joints, and soft tissue increases blood flow and moves fluid around the body. This allows for more nutrients and oxygen to reach their target organs and cells to help them function better. Physical activity also contributes to the release of “feel good” chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins, which improve immune and brain health.

It is the combination of the meditative qualities of mindfulness and the physical exercise of yoga that produce such a wondrous effect on the body pertaining to combating Lyme. The MS-like symptoms that can sometimes accompany Lyme such as neuropathy, loss of balance, and muscle fatigue & pain, are resisted as the body practices balance and awareness. The body actively sends signals throughout nervous system connections to produce a certain stance, pose, or low-impact movement.

Combining the strengths of mindfulness and the benefits of physical exercise to treat Lyme can be part of a greater strategy to regaining one's life back. Bring movement back into your life. As with all exercise, listen to your body. If some movements seem too difficult, modify them or try something that you are comfortable with. Move at your own level, not everyone else’s.


Exercising with a dog

Exercising for Adrenal Health

Adrenal exhaustion is a serious and unfortunately, very common problem among many. The body feels like it cannot get enough rest. Consistently tired, there seems to be no drive, no motivation, and the ability to move or work is often depressed. Emotional states can fluctuate, as do sleep patterns, and the ability to regulate day to day lifestyle routines is disrupted because of hormone and neurotransmitter disturbances.

Your adrenal glands are responsible for regulating cortisol, your primary stress hormone. They aid in the production of estrogen, progesterone, adrenaline and sex hormones. When the adrenal glands are affected by chronic stress, it impacts their proper function and can lead to an imbalance in hormone production. When it reaches this point, the last thing you may want to do is exercise, but exercising may actually be one of the best things you can do for yourself.

With adrenal exhaustion, the motivation to stay healthy, especially through physical activity, is reduced significantly. There simply is not enough energy to do everything. This makes it all the more important to implement an exercise program that will contribute to stress reduction and enhance overall well being.

The best workouts should include low impact, physical activity. High impact exercise can run the risk of tiring you out even more and make it difficult to recover.

Get moving with these adrenal recovery exercises.

Walking

It is a whole body exercise that can be done at all ages. Low impact walking can work to exercise the complex muscle system in your feet and legs, handling balance and quizzical terrain with each step. Hiking in the natural world is another good form of walking. Often the exposure to the great outdoors can have aesthetic and healing qualities, mentally, physically and emotionally. “Forest Bathing” has been practiced in Japan for years, by walking through a forest barefoot and immersing yourself in Mother Nature. Pick diverse routes that feel safe and alluring, but not too taxing on your system. They should be areas that are stimulating to the mind and body.

Yoga

Yoga has long been a low-impact, all ages form of exercise that is about centering the body and mind. Its physical benefits of injury protection and increased circulatory health help to keep you moving. Integrating mindfulness practices during yoga can also add to strengthening the mind against the potential “burn out” symptoms that adrenal fatigue can cause.

Mindfulness training is the ability to perceive one’s emotions, decisions, and rationalities from a distance. Taking time to practice it, to look at the personal state without emotionally judging, often provides context and clarity to certain issues. This develops a certain kind of understanding, which can result in less triggering of the flight-versus-fight response.

Swimming

While comparable in calorie burning to running, the kind of swimming done to benefit the adrenals should be low key and low impact. Swimming improves your breathing and circulation, because developing a rhythm with each stroke can help improve energy and better oxygen utilization, as oxygen is a catalyst for energy. Good breathing techniques taken out of the context of swimming can aid in subtle changes in a stress response.

There are many other low key exercises that can help rebuild the body while dealing with adrenal exhaustion. Many gentle forms of martial arts, such as Tai Chi or Qi Gong, are low-impact and low intensity, but can still get your blood moving. Remember to listen to your body, to push yourself when you're able to and rest when you must. Every person is different in the way they respond. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. This is your journey and the goal is to work toward your definition of health and well-being.


Woman holding Christmas present

Stress & The Holidays

The holiday season can definitely be a stressful time for many. While it is a time where people come together, often the objective of buying everyone gifts or long distance traveling can put stressors on the body and mind. With the coming winter, Seasonal Affective Disorder can also play a role in the mood or behavior of a person. The holiday season is a time of pure joy, but it can also a time of intense stress.

Research has revealed some links between the holiday season and an increase in psychiatric concerns. There are instances where psychiatric concerns are reduced during the holiday. However, according to empirical research done by Doctors Lori Sansone and Randy Sansone, and published in December 2011 issue of Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, there does appear to be an increase in symptoms regarding the “worsening of mood and alcohol-related” issues.

In one such analysis of a study conducted in 1980, the “three most endorsed study themes were loneliness, anxiety, and helplessness.” Families are diverse sets of people that can grow up in similar circumstances but with varying different experiences. When you mix family with feelings of being lonely, anxious, and helpless, a lot of behaviors come out that may not be beneficial.

Here are some tips to prevent the worst and expect the best:

1.       Surround Yourself With Good People
Good people are whoever make you feel content and whole. It can be a family member or friend. These are the people who understand you and knows your limits and let you stay within those limits. Good people have your respect and, with that respect, can hold you accountable if they think you might be crossing the line behavior-wise. They can drive you home if you have had too much to drink (and they are sober), they can be your wingman or wingwoman for dealing with difficult social situations, and they can be there for you during tough times. The saying “You are who you surround yourself with” is good to remember when you consider this helpful tip. Good people can empower you and help decrease your feelings of anxiety and helplessness. Surrounding yourself with good people can also help reduce the feeling of loneliness.

2.       Set Your Own Personal Limits
During the holidays, we might imbibe a little too much to deal with the stress of being with difficult family members. Other times, we might cross the line when we find ourselves in heated conversations with complicated friends. Avoiding these harmful behaviors and the risks behind them starts with setting personal limits. A personal limit can be simple, like ending a conversation early if you feel yourself getting emotionally turbulent. Realizing that anger clouds rational thinking is important when considering where you set your limits. It is okay to walk away from something that makes you angry. Human beings were not meant to live in a constant state of anger. This is why it is important for the body to recognize the beginnings of anger and remove the opportunity to become angrier.

3.     Personal Limits - Alcohol & Food
There is often an uptick in alcohol consumption during the holidays, and the consequences that result thereafter. Mixing any type of substance to mask emotional turmoil is dangerous, so setting limits of what you put into your body is important. In addition to this, food can also be a problem. When you eat, eat healthy portions. If you drink, drink in a social and supportive environment.

4.       Don’t Go
You know yourself best. The joy you receive from seeing many family members and the hesitancy of seeing a few others. The joy should override the hesitancy when going to an event or gathering. Enthusiasm and good social contact can improve a person’s overall health. Tension and social stress can do the exact opposite. Many people, after an extended period of stress and adrenal overload, tend to get sick. This is because the body finally has time to recover and rest from that period of stress. If you feel like the stress of going to an event can override the joy, then it is time to consider if you should even go. The old saying “The best present is your presence” is important when thinking about this. The holidays might not be the right time to be present, so visiting with family and friends may be better suited once the holidays have passed and you are feeling emotionally better.

There are a lot of stressors during the holidays. While a lot of amazing things happen to bring people together, many individuals still feel like they are alone, anxious, or helpless. Put the power back into your decisions and actions with these simple tips. Being present is the best presence. But self-care is so important for healthy interactions with other people. Take care of your stressors and look forward to your joys. We are all trying to do our best as we go about living in this beautiful world.


Magnesium rich foods

Magnesium - Why It's So Important

Magnesium is one of the most important minerals that is used by the human body for many functions. Although it seems like a simple nutrient to obtain through food, many individuals are actually deficient. The benefits of a balanced level of magnesium are many but, unfortunately low levels of magnesium can contribute to a plethora of symptoms that can be linked to several health issues.

Even more concerning is the deficit of magnesium in people who have elevated stress levels. High stress, can activate the fight-or-flight thus depleting B vitamins and important minerals, such as magnesium. This in turn can also alter digestive and immune function, further preventing the absorption of magnesium.

Magnesium is responsible for supporting bowel regularity, aiding in the absorption of calcium, supporting the heart muscle and helping to regulate blood sugar levels. Without magnesium these functions would be severely impaired.

A few signs you may be deficient in magnesium:

  • Muscle cramps / tight muscles
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Headaches & migraines
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities
  • PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
  • Elevated stress levels
  • Blood sugar fluctuations
  • Constipation
  • Mood swings/ Depression

The need for magnesium can increase due to extended periods of high stress, malabsorption and autoimmune disorders. Magnesium is also an essential component in many of the brain’s functions.

Magnesium rich foods include:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Almonds and almond butter
  • Seaweed
  • Leafy greens
  • Chocolate (cocoa powder, unsweetened)
  • Flax seeds

In addition,  magnesium deficiency can be treated through supplementation. The body can benefit greatly from this as you can take calculated amounts without having to estimate how much you might be getting from food in order to meet your daily intake.

The benefits of a balanced diet is important. However, measuring the amounts of nutrients you're getting through your diet can be validated through further testing. Consider getting your magnesium levels checked by your healthcare practitioner. Once that has been determined, the type of magnesium that is needed can be chosen, dependent on your specific needs. Exploring this with your medical practitioner may, in fact, make a tremendous difference in your health.


People doing yoga for exercise

Neurological Benefits of Exercise

Your body was meant to move. Your body is an energy burning machine. Our cooling systems were developed to run long distances, our muscle fibers can be built to handle incredible weight, and our minds become sharpened by the consistent work that our bodies do. Maintaining a habit for exercise clearly helps your body and your brain in many ways.

1.  Exercise works out your brain.
The brain is a muscle just like the rest of the body, but it has specific areas in charge of information processing and bodily functions. For example, the front part of the brain is the frontal cortex, which is responsible for the reasoning that humans use to make rational decisions. The rational decision to exercise following a good night’s rest is an example of the first part of the brain’s exercise. The neurons inside your brain create a command to send through the electrical impulse pathway that is the central nervous system to activate the muscle fiber. The muscle fiber contracts and the joints move in concert with the brain’s eye coordination. With exercise, the brain is literally utilizing the pathways created to move the muscles. Like a muscle in your arm, if it is not used, it is generally not maintained, as the body will not commit resources to it. So, exercise maintains the pathways and strengthens the brain. Consistent exercise can increase the amount of gray matter in the brain, which is the general term used for brain tissue.

2.  Exercise increases the efficacy of neuroplasticity.
Picture the brain as a network of neural pathways, each pathway is a road for a potential electrical impulse to travel as it performs its function within the body. These pathways are vast, and connections and intersections exist in every portion of the brain. Neuroplasticity is the idea that, if there is an injury in the brain, and part of the brain cannot function correctly, the brain will heal and alternately find other neural pathways to send the message it needs to. Through neuroplasticity, the brain will deliberately identify “detours” with which the electrical impulse can travel through the body and mind, completing its function. These detours allow the body to function, but using different neurological pathways, and exercise is the active processing of more pathways. Neuroplasticity is evident in patients who suffer from spinal injury that recover and are able to move again. The body and mind are relearning the way to move, including the development of new pathways where electrical impulses can move and a brain’s commands can be sent.

3.  Exercise prevents some serious neurological damage from occurring.
Consistent cardio improves the overall blood flow in our bodies. The vascular system consist of the pathways where our body moves the nutrients and energy that is used to maintain all of our bodily functions. If our body’s neurological pathways were an electrical and communications grid, the blood vessels and arteries would be the roadways that move the steel, the fiber optic wire, and the laborers that build the grid. Consistent exercise maintains those blood vessels and arteries, or roadways.

Common high risk injuries to brain tissue and neurological function are clogged arteries and blood vessels, whether through a blood clot or plaque building up from excess bad cholesterol. Exercise can help improve vascular health and reduce the risk of stroke.

Exercise, when varied and including cardio and weight training, can produce a host of other mental, neurological, and cognitive benefits. It is not a magical cure-all, but when combined with an integrated lifestyle, often improves your entire well being. Consider all of the benefits of exercise, and physical activity, and feel the improvement that can benefit your life through a good workout.