When was the last time you did something for someone else? When is the last time you were kind? When did you do something for someone else expecting nothing in return? Kindness is so good for your health!
This is not just my idea. Kindness and thinking of others rather than always thinking about yourself is promoted by most of the world’s religions. All of the major religions encourage treating other people the way we want to be treated. If we would find something hurtful, then we shouldn’t do that thing to other people.
In my mind, if all of the major religions of the world agree to this basic principle, then it might truly be good for you!
Kindness is a choice
Good, beautiful things happen all around you every day.
Discouraging, annoying, negative things happen all around you every day.
Which do you notice more?
Is your first, natural reaction a kind one – or – a negative one?
We might tell ourselves that events are happening TO us, but the reality is, we get to choose our reaction. Our response is in our own control.
Maybe you haven’t always exercised that control, but you can choose kindness over a more negative response.
When we focus on other people, we both benefit!
Kindness and health
As I’ve researched this I have been amazed at all of the studies, literature, and measurements of the health benefits of kindness. Noticing, caring for, and being kind to other people has a positive benefit throughout our whole body.
Kindness is good for your mental and your physical health!
Here are just a few of the changes that YOU will experience when you are kind:
Less focused on your own pain, mood, worries
More positive outlook
Feel better about yourself
Decreased loneliness and helplessness
Sense of feeling connected
Kindness has also been shown to:
Help with weight control
Lower your blood pressure
Decrease your acid reflux in your stomach
Boost your immune system
Help you sleep better
Decrease your pain
Truly, there is so much to gain! When you are kind, the whole world feels like a brighter place.
I have seen medication use decrease, overall health increase, and people love their life so much more when they decided to practice kindness.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
If you are loving your neighbor as yourself, then you are good, kind, helpful, understanding, forgiving, and loving.
We all long to be loved. We all like when kindness is shared with us.
I propose we were designed to express and experience kindness as a key element of our lives.
Have you ever been tired to the point of tears? You feel the tears coming and you don’t even know why. You just need to cry. What a sinking feeling.
It happens all too easily when we get stretched a bit too far (or a lot too far).
Things that bring us to tears
From what is probably a much long list, here are the things I can think of that can bring us to tears when we are stretched too far:
Complex disease state
Chemo that seems like it just won’t end
Can you relate to any of these?
When we are faced with obstacles we don’t know how to get around or just too much of the same obstacle over and over, it’s easy to reach your tipping point. This is your tear tipping point.
I have a bucket analogy to share with you. Consider you have a bucket of energy, satisfaction, love, confidence, and all things good. Each difficult situation, difficult barrier, unkind word, negative situation sloshes water out of your bucket.
When you get tired to the point of tears, your bucket is empty. That bucket dries up while you’re busy doing all of the things that drain the water. It often dries up before you even know your supply is low. Then, the tears start to flow.
Keeping Water in your Bucket
So how do you keep water in your bucket? You can pick your favorite way; the one that brings you the most joy and peace. Here are some options patients and friends have told me about:
Quiet, alone time to meditate or pray
Walks or quiet sitting in nature
Time with friends who life your spirits
Time with family who fill you with love
Exercise (endorphins are great bucket fillers)
I’m sure that list could go on and on. The key is to fit these things (your best things) into your schedule on a regular basis. Fit them in before your bucket runs dry.
This blog was inspired when I heard of a woman who is always upbeat and joyful. Her first child was stillborn. Her second died at a few days of age. Her third was killed in a car accident in his first year of college. Her fourth was permanently injured in war. She certainly has reason to be tired to the point of tears. And yet she is upbeat and full of hope and joy. She certainly knows the secret to keeping her bucket full.
For more information about how to keep your bucket full, please contact us at Meds MASH at 410-472-5078 or www.medsmash.com/contact. We look forward to talking with you!
Do you find yourself always caring for others and not considering your own needs? So many people do. Most of us find ourselves in a caregiver role at some point in our life. For some, this is always true as they transition from the care of children to grandchildren to aging family members.
At some point, your ability to care drains. This happens when you haven’t paid attention to your bucket. Your bucket is dry.
Consider Jesus. Jesus is God in human form. So, he knows everything! He knows exactly how humans are made to function. He made us! And when he was in human form, he made his own bucket refilling a high priority.
Here are some of the passages where Jesus went off alone to pray.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
I hope and pray this blog helps you recognize your need for self-care and for prayer. You can only do so much without taking the time to keep your bucket full. If you keep your bucket full, and you are in regular communion with God, there is no limit to what He can do through you!
I know you want to feel good. I’ll bet you have a whole list of experiences in your plans for the future. You might be feeling great these days. You might be struggling with some health issues. You might be navigating some transitions in your life or some emotional conflicts.
I want you to be the healthiest version of you, in your best health! As I’ve been thinking about this, I’ve broken a process into steps. I’m hoping by following these steps, your health continues and gets even better.
Steps to your Best Health
Pay attention to your body. Remember when a new symptom starts; what makes it better; what makes it worse; how long it lasts; what you think caused it.
If it is severe, scary, or won’t go away, be sure to tell your doctor.
Before you see your doctor, make a list of the items in #1 so you won’t feel pressured to remember. Write your list and make 2 copies – one for you and one for your doctor.
Take to all healthcare visits a complete list of all medicines and other substances you take, how you take them, and when you take them. This includes your vitamins, supplements, recreational substances, and over-the-counter medications. Include even the ones you only take for a stomachache, allergies, or a headache.
Take notes during your visit. We all know how easy it is to miss something, forget, or get it all confused when trying to remember it all from memory.
Make sure it all makes sense to you and you clearly know what you are to do next before you leave. It is ok to ask to hear it all again until you really understand. Once your doctor explains what is causing your symptoms and recommends a plan, ask when you should feel better.
Too many times I have asked people what their doctor said and heard, ‘I have no idea; I couldn’t understand him/her.’
If you receive a prescription for a new medication, make sure you know the name, what it is for, how to take it, and what you can expect. All medications have the potential for side effects, at least right at first, so know what these might be. Know if you will be taking it for a short time or a long time. Ask your pharmacist to be sure this new medication is not going to interact with your current medications. (Be sure your pharmacist knows everything you take.)
Keep track of your original symptoms and any other changes you notice after you start your new treatment. If you don’t feel better in the timeframe the doctor told you, call and report that. If you feel worse when you start a new medication, let your doctor and pharmacist know. Either of them can help you determine if your new problem is caused by the medication and what you should do (do something to stop the side effects or give you a different medication).
Take care of yourself! Once you are feeling better, make an effort to take even more healthy steps such as healthy eating and regular exercise. I know we hear that all of the time. That is because these are the changes that will truly help you feel your very best.
What is the link between medications and your best health?
You’ll note that some of the steps specifically include medications. Medications can:
Control medical problems
Make symptoms better
Depending on the medical condition and the medication, any of these four good purposes or the bad effect can occur.
Medications are prescribed for at least one of the positive effects of medications. Your doctor and your pharmacist want the medication to play a direct role in you reaching your best health.
Medications can interact with other medications. The ONLY WAY your doctor or pharmacist can check for this is if they know absolutely EVERY medication you take. Medications can interact with other medications, with food, or with other medical conditions. That is why you want your healthcare team to know everything about your prescription medicines, your over-the-counter medicines, your supplements, you herbal remedies, your vitamins, and any recreational substance use. It is all important!
This is one of the key services we offer you at Meds MASH. If you want someone to very carefully evaluate all of your medications, your symptoms, and things you think might be caused by your medications, we can do that!
To get started, contact us at 410-472-4078 or www.medsmash.com/contact. Let’s talk about how we can help you reach your best health!
I am reading a book that led to an interesting insight as I have been thinking about the stepwise approach to best health. The steps outlined above are each important to reaching your best health.
What about your best spiritual health? After all, true health has physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual components. Nothing outranks your relationship with Christ.
The book I have been reading is related to our brain. A neuroscience physician has studied the brain and its function in the light of both science and the Bible. If you haven’t read, ‘The God-Shaped Brain’ by Timothy R. Jennings, M.D., I highly recommend it.
In a very insufficient summary, our brains are at their peak function when we are in a secure, peaceful, loving environment. The brain is a very adaptable organ. There is one part of the brain that drives our ‘fight or flight’ response. This is what happens when we sense we are in danger. When this part of the brain is functioning, all deep reasoning is blocked. All brain effort is focused on primal survival. It is when we are more relaxed that other parts of our brain creating deep thoughts, logical decision-making, and empathy can function.
I was in high school when Pac-Man was first available. We had to go across the state line to another nearby town to play it in a pizza restaurant. The object is to maneuver Pac-Man through a maze to eat as many ‘points’ as possible. Some of the turns lead to danger for Pac-Man or to dead-ends.
Strangely enough, living in love, peace, and harmony made me think of our life like Pac-Man. Picture, if you will, a large canvas with a circuitous, clear path that has no obstacles that you can see when you look down on the entire canvas. This path is full of points, many points. Surrounding this path, at every turn, there are obstacles. Many of these obstacles are distractions. They are things that feel good, things that look good, or things that feel necessary. From within the maze, you can’t see the clear path. You can only see what is right around you. Those distractions look so good! They often seem to be on the easiest route. They promise you lots of points. So, you easily get off track with the distractions.
Our brain, our life, and our health are at their best when we are on the clear path. And yet there is not one human on the planet who has not left the path and made mistakes. Not ONE! Only Jesus was ever able to do that.
We can each be so much more at peace and living in love when we stay on the path. There is only one tour guide. Jesus can and will tell you step by step which way to turn. He will tell you which items are distractions and which are on his planned path for you. Your brain will be functioning at higher levels as you live in peace and love.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
God knew from the beginning, as soon as Adam and Eve ate the fruit, that we would be on this path with many distractions. Eden, before that fruit eating, was the only place where people ever lived in perfect harmony, peace, and love. As soon as those first people used their own will to go outside God’s command, everything changed.
To allow your brain to operate in its most effective way, and to live in love and peace, let Jesus be your tour guide.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
This is a major religious holiday week for two of the most prevalent religions in the world – Judaism and Christianity. Jews are commemorating the Passover and God’s leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Over the following 40 years they were in the desert on the way to the promised land with delays due to disobedience. Their mistakes and wayward decisions had many consequences.
The Jews were enslaved and mistreated by the people of Egypt. They then were ungrateful and easily distracted from the miracle of their deliverance. They continued to make mistakes.
Christians are celebrating Easter, the risen Christ after a brutal betrayal and death 3 days earlier.
The people who celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem were the same ones who cried ‘Crucify Him’ a few days later. And even after this supreme sacrifice, Christians continue to sin. We continue to sin, make mistakes, and get absorbed in ourselves.
So, it wasn’t just the people in Biblical times that made mistakes. We ALL continue to do that every day. How do you handle your mistakes? How do you handle the things you choose to do that you later regret? How do you handle the things that are done to you that hurt you?
Fear of Failure
I have known many people who are afraid of failing. Often, they are even more afraid of anyone finding out that they failed. There seem to be two extremes of ways to handle this fear.
#1 – Avoid any situation that could result in failure. Do you shy away from any risk? Do you avoid variation in your life and avoid all opportunities since you aren’t guaranteed success? How deep does this fear run? Do you eat the same meals repeatedly rather than try something new? Do you keep the same schedule to minimize an unexpected situation?
#2 – Hide any hint of failure. Do you take some risks but hide or deny anything that goes wrong? Do you maintain the illusion of perfection? Do you push away people who might get close enough to see your weaknesses?
Fear of failure is a prime source of anxiety. The fear is so intense just the thought of taking a risk provokes stress, rapid heart rate, sweating, feelings of overwhelm.
Fear of failure can lead to depression due to self-selected isolation. Or, if you hide and deny your failures, you can get caught in a web of lies that gets beyond your control.
I don’t want to count the number of people I’ve talked with who have a sad secret hurt from their past. These hurts changed their lives. They are terrible things like abuse, rape, molestation, abandonment, or neglect. They have ‘dealt’ with these issues by trying to deny they happened. Or, they have been told by family to keep quiet and never talk about it. Other times the hidden truths are of marital affairs, lost jobs, drug abuse, or heavy drinking.
Whatever the hidden truth, there is no denying the impact. Our conscience knows and doesn’t forget.
Like before, if you keep it hidden, suppressed, and don’t release it, all of that pain comes out another way. I have known so many people with chronic pain that was related to these hidden truths. Others suffered from anxiety and/or depression. There was an ever-present fear and ‘dark cloud’ in their life.
Counseling and Medication
Many people choose to ‘treat’ these fears and hidden truths with medication. Sometimes it is with prescribed medication such as antianxiety or antidepressant medications. Other people choose to self-treat with alcohol, marijuana, or other substances.
The medication can help in many instances. In others, it just dulls the thinking. The memories, the guilt, or the hurt isn’t as sharp when under the influence of the medication or other substance.
Your life is meant to be lived fully aware and present. You miss out on so much when you aren’t engaged in your life.
That is very often where counseling comes in. These fears and hidden truths need to be released. Counseling, clinical or faith based, can be that outlet to help you really deal with these hurts, mistakes, or ongoing issues. Through counseling you can confront these items, face them, learn to process them, and then learn to live beyond them. (Note, I am not suggesting your hurts, fears, and pain are not real. I am not suggesting you will just walk away and forget them. I am suggesting you can benefit from counseling +/- medication.)
This is one of those areas that can’t be ‘fixed by a pill.’ The medication can help, but it is unlikely to actually resolve the problems. A trusted, skilled counselor can help you get back to really living.
To learn more about the role of medication and for help finding a good counselor, contact us at Meds MASH, LLC at www.medsmash.com/contact or 410-472-5078.
Christ is risen!!!!!! He is alive and active and so very present in our world today.
I am writing this on Easter. It is such a beautiful day. Not only is it warm and sunny outside, but what an amazing day to reflect and let is sink down deep that Jesus went through the worst people can do to other people all because of his love for me, for you, for all of us!
He put himself in the situation to endure physical pain in the extreme over many hours, rejection, slander, betrayal, humiliation, abuse, and complete degradation. I don’t know about you, but I fear ANY of those things. I can’t imagine purposefully enduring any of that.
I am the sinner for whom he died. I am the sinner – each and every day – who he loves and forgives over and over and over and over…
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
I can’t deny it. I might try to pretend to avoid sin, but you know better. We ALL sin, in spite of our best efforts to not. You are not perfect. I am not perfect. Only Christ was ever on earth as a perfect human.
Let’s get real with each other. Let’s be honest and support each other through the mess of life. We all have our joyful, peaceful times. We all have our dark, difficult times.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
My purpose today is to encourage you to celebrate your new life in Christ! He is alive and loving you right this moment. Claim your new life in Christ. Open up to your Christian friends, teachers, and supports. Live the on-purpose, fully alive life Christ died to give you.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
If your story includes fear of failure, fear of risks, or any of a multitude of hidden truths, Christ died for you. You can live beyond the worst this world can give you. You are loved. You are not alone. An eternity of joy and peace and love awaits you!
Have you heard of the ‘sandwich generation’? Are you the meat in the middle – still finishing the child raising and caring for aging parents? This sandwich generation is now different than it has ever been before. It is the older Generation X and the younger Boomer generation now in this position. This means this sandwich generation has more dual career couples, more divorces, and generally more independent people juggling the younger and older generations.
Certainly you are blessed when you have children who are nearly or newly on their own AND you still have your parents. So many of us miss that opportunity.
If you do have this opportunity, it can be very challenging. Typically there are several other things happening around the same time.
Other changes while you’re the meat in the sandwich
The sandwich phase usually comes while in your late 40’s through your 60’s. During this time some other commonalities are:
You’re at the peak of your career
Friendships/relationships are no longer made through your children’s activities
Your own health is changing
If you’re a woman, you’re somewhere near menopause which brings its own health changes
You’re thinking about your ‘bucket list’
Tips for you to be the best ‘meat’ possible
It is so easy to get caught up in the needs of your parents and children and to forget about you in the process. If you fall ill, get injured, or burn out, then everyone loses. I don’t mean to add to your pressure. I just want to encourage you to take care of yourself as the caregiver.
Sleep to maintain clear thinking and patience
Exercise to stay healthy and stay strong
Healthy diet with fruits and vegetables vs grab-n-go fast food
Time off to maintain your mental health
Resources to help you
There are many resources available to help you as you help your aging parents. With the aging of the population, the numbers and types of resources are rapidly increasing.
Medications are often involved when someone reaches a point where they have difficulty living without assistance. That is our specialty at Meds MASH. Over 80% of people we see have a specific medication issue that we work with you doctor to address to help you stay safe at home. For 100% of all people we have seen, we have provided important education about medicines and how to get the most from healthcare visits.
There are several types of services that can assist with safely aging at home or in a place designed for safe aging. There are homecare services that can provide someone to help with tasks such as companionship, housekeeping, bathing, cooking, driving, and more. There are independent living communities with assisted living options when needed. There are assisted living facilities at many sizes, price ranges, and amenities.
A certified aging life care manager is an expert on your local resources that can assist with healthy aging. I think of these people as one-stop-shopping for many of your questions and needs. You can learn more at http://www.aginglifecare.org.
Legal and financial questions can be complex. These are elements that are easiest to address while your parents are still fully in command of their own finances. That is a good time to plan for the future in case you, your siblings or other friends/family will assume control of those key areas of your parent’s life. Decisions about advanced directives, power of attorney, and memorial wishes are easiest to make while your parents are fully able to make their own decisions. However, even if you miss that window, these resources (elder care attorney and financial advisor) can help guide you through each step. Here is a resource that can help you find an eldercare lawyer http://www.naela.org/findlawyer.
This is a very brief overview of the many resources that exist to help you and your parents navigate this sandwich time of life. We are glad to help you navigate this complex time and to identify these helpful resources. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at 410-472-5078 or www.medsmash.com/contact.
This blog has acknowledged how difficult and consuming this time of life can be – in the phase of supporting children and aging parents. Resources and tips for self-care have been provided.
Another essential aspect for all of the complex phases of life is an awareness of the sufficiency of God.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
As in this verse, Paul is very clear that he was weak and unable to do what God called him to do. But, God was more than sufficient to get Paul through the many struggles, the imprisonment, the rejection, and the difficult travel.
To further understand that verse, let’s put it in perspective. Paul describes a health problem he had that he asked God to remove. Here is the response:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul further encourages us that Christ can sustain us through all of the highs and lows.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
We try and try to do it all ourselves. And, have you noticed how that doesn’t work?
Last week we reviewed medication treatment of depression and anxiety. Medications impacting serotonin to help regulate mood were a focus. Did you know you could get too much serotonin? When we overdo it, there is a condition called serotonin syndrome that can occur.
I saw a patient that really made me think about this. He is on three antidepressant medications and a couple of other medications that can interact with those. All of them will increase his serotonin levels. I immediately alerted his primary care provider.
Three main scenarios
There are three key ways serotonin syndrome typically occurs:
1. Too many antidepressants, often from more than one doctor. If those doctors don’t know what the others are doing, more than one can start treating the same condition.
2. Self-treatment in addition to prescribed treatment. In particular, St John’s wort increases serotonin. Because there is no regulation for products such as St John’s wort, one bottle can have a different amount than another, so one bottle might lead to too much serotonin while another does not. Several over-the-counter medications can also increase serotonin to dangerously high levels when used with antidepressant medication.
3. Interactions with other medications. There are several other medications for completely different medical conditions that can increase the serotonin effects of antidepressant medications.
When someone has too much serotonin then a condition called serotonin syndrome can occur. The symptoms, especially early on and with a mild version, can be mistaken for a viral illness. These milder symptoms are fever, chills, diarrhea, muscle aches or spasm or rigidity. Other symptoms can be confusion, feeling irritable, or feeling disoriented. Your heart might beat faster and blood pressure could go up.
With more severe serotonin syndrome, seizures, coma, changes in heartbeat, and even unresponsiveness are possible. The most severe cases can lead to death.
Prevent Serotonin Syndrome
Your best defense against serotonin syndrome is to be very open with all of your doctors and your pharmacist about each medication you take. Ask each of them to carefully evaluate your entire regimen.
Do not change your dose on your own. Increasing your dose without guidance increases your risk of serotonin syndrome.
Adding medications you choose to take on your own can increase risk. Medications that can increase serotonin include those you take for cough, for other mood disorders, for pain, for migraine, for nausea, and for some infections. The list is so long, I encourage you to make sure you always share all of your medicines with all of your healthcare providers.
Note, even herbal medications and illicit medications can increase serotonin.
Please don’t be afraid or stop your antidepressant
The purpose of this blog is to make you aware, not to make you afraid. When taken at appropriate doses, antidepressants have aided in the resolution of depression for many people. Keep in mind; counseling is a key part of depression therapy versus medication alone. Keeping your entire medical team involved in each aspect of your care and how you feel during therapy will help avoid issues such as serotonin syndrome.
I want to remind you to never stop your antidepressant/antianxiety medication all of a sudden. Your healthcare team will guide you through a gradual tapered withdrawal when that is warranted.
For information about depression and anxiety treatment, serotonin syndrome, and drug interactions, please contact us at Meds MASH at 410-472-5078 or www.medsmash.com/contact.
This might be a loose association, so please stay with me here. I found that people with lingering depression and/or their loved ones seek relief from multiple sources. They sometimes combine prescription medications with herbal therapies with cognitive behavior therapies with religion with any other options for which they find anecdotal evidence. I typically do not hear the full picture at my first visit. It is with time and the building of trust that I get the full story. Sometimes those mixtures of therapies work, and other times they lead to more problems.
I think the same can be true with spiritual growth options. There is a lot of information ‘out there’. You can find speakers, books, videos, churches, ministries, and blogs that will tell you just about anything.
I have mentioned before the rapid growth of para-spiritual businesses that exist to help people feel better. Many of them are quite centered on the person rather than on the One True God.
Discernment is key with so many voices and messages to select. And, wow, this is so much easier to type than to do.
Jesus, Paul, John, Solomon, James, and others throughout the Bible encourage us to be careful. Follow God’s word, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and don’t fall for just anything that you hear.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
I like this passage even better in The Message:
My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.
When you’re not sure what you’re hearing is right, take a time out. Go to the Bible. Talk with spiritually mature Christians. Pray for guidance. Hasty decisions can quickly get you into trouble.
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
Jesus tells us to expect this confusion. He also tells us to be wise, discerning, smart, and loving all at the same time. And HE is the one who can help us do that. You can’t do it alone.
Sometimes you can start a medicine and it starts working right away. Sometimes it takes a while to work. Sometimes you can stop a medicine ‘cold turkey.’ Sometimes you can’t without risky side effects. Some require step up and step down dosing.
I believe it is very important to understand a medication, how it works, how to best use it, and how to avoid problems. There are a lot of these tidbits that are important in the use of anxiety/depression medications. The most commonly used anxiety/depression medications right now are in a class called ‘selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors’ (SSRIs).
The class name describes how they work. I’m going to try to break it down into steps that make sense.
The first step is to have some understanding of neurotransmitters. They are the brain’s messengers. They carry messages from one nerve to another.
Some of the main neurotransmitters are:
Epinephrine – adrenalin, drives the sympathetic system and your ‘fight or flight’ response when you are scared, in stress, or in danger
Norepinephrine – also drives the sympathetic system causing you to feel awake, ready for the day, able to manage stress
Dopamine – mainly related to movement; increasing this is key in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease
Serotonin – manages your mood, appetite, sleep, and movement of your gastrointestinal tract
Neurotransmitters are passed from nerve cell to nerve cell. As a neurotransmitter leaves one nerve cell, it goes into a space between the end of that nerve cell and the beginning of the next nerve cell. This space is called the synapse.
The beginning of the next nerve cell has receptors. Neurotransmitter in the synapse (the space) will bind to a receptor. That will allow it to get into the nerve cell and create an electrical signal that will travel through it to the end and continue the message to the next neuron in the same manner. At the end, it will be released into the synapse where it can be picked up by the receptors of the next nerve cell. In this way, the message travels through the whole nerve system.
When there is too much neurotransmitter in the synapse, the nerve cell that released it can take it back. This is called reuptake.
The body has amazing processes to regulate itself. In this case, release from a nerve cell, time in the synapse, and binding to a receptor in the next nerve cell are all carefully synchronized.
Serotonin, depression, and anxiety
Serotonin is one of the primary neurotransmitters for the regulation of mood and sleep. When someone is depressed, it might be because serotonin transmissions are too slow.
When someone is experiencing anxiety, serotonin levels might be out of balance.
The role of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors is to prevent the first nerve cell from taking back the extra serotonin it has released. This will make more serotonin available for the receptor of the next nerve cell. This will allow more serotonin to be passed from nerve cell to nerve cell.
Product delivery analogy
Imagine you have created a product that is a popular gift for special occasions. During most months the demand for your product stays steady for events such as birthdays.
On these months, you keep a regular supply of product in your warehouse. Ten distribution trucks can get the products to the stores that sell your product. This keeps the stores supplied with enough product for customers each month. If a store has several products that have not sold, they will send them back to the warehouse in the delivery truck.
Then, there are two months when the demand goes way up. During these two months, you stock your warehouse with much more product. You hire 10 more distribution trucks. You stop taking any product back to the warehouse from the stores. All product is moved from the warehouse to the stores.
Then, in the month after the rush, demand gradually decreases. It does not immediately go back to normal. People exchanging gifts often exchange their original gift for your product. Others see their friends with your product and want one for themselves. Then eventually, the demand is back to normal.
In this analogy, your product is the serotonin. The warehouse is the nerve cell that stores the serotonin. The delivery truck is the receptor that will transport the serotonin into the next nerve cell to continue the message.
Why Step Up and Step Down?
Increasing the availability of serotonin takes time. The nerve cells can’t immediately stop the reuptake process. The receptors don’t immediately increase in number to use more of the available serotonin. The entire central nervous system doesn’t immediately respond to the extra serotonin. That whole process takes about 8 weeks. At around 4 weeks the doctor prescribing the SSRI might increase the dose if your energy is not starting to pick up.
Similarly, it takes time for the body to adapt when the medication is stopped. Usually, if someone with a first episode of depression has been treated for six months and is feeling good, then the SSRI can be stopped. However, it shouldn’t be stopped all at once. It will again take the nervous system time to adapt to a change in the medication. So, the dose needs to be very gradually decreased over a few weeks. If it is stopped all at once you could feel dizzy, tired, anxious, achy, irritable, nauseous, like your skin is prickly, or other symptoms. The receptors and nerve cells need time to take back over the serotonin transmission without assistance.
NOTE, this does not mean you are addicted. It means your body has adapted to the medication and needs time to adapt back to being without the medicine.
Disclaimers – Everyone will have times in life with highs and lows. Each low is not a type of depression that requires treatment. A professional makes the diagnosis of depression or anxiety requiring treatment. The treated depression or anxiety has usually lasted several weeks to months and is impacting daily life activities.
The step therapy of SSRI’s reminds me a common path of helping other people find Christ.
Often someone who doesn’t know Christ will hesitate to find an accept Him all at once. Sometimes it is years of small events, people, exposures, or discussion that gradually lead to real interest. Even from there, developing understanding and real seeking can take more time. At some point after all of this exposure and searching, the person reaches the point of accepting Christ and moves to leading a life of following Christ. As a believer in that person’s life, you can’t just wash your hands and walk away. This new believer is in a fragile state. The excitement, joy, and intentions are very real. Do you remember how awesome that time period was, if you are a believer who came to Christ over a period of time of searching? If you walk away now, that new believer could be like the seed that falls on rocky ground from the Parable of the Sower.
Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil,but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.
Jesus goes on to explain this parable (found Matthew 13:1-23), and the explanation of this part is:
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy,yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
Following Christ can seem so obvious, so right, so easy at first. But, life is full of road bumps, dead ends, and hardship. A brand new believer can quickly and easily become disillusioned. You know Satan will be lining up these difficulties to create just this situation. So, you can’t just walk away and feel that your work is done.
Support for a new believer is at least as important as helping others find Christ.
As the new believer learns to communicate, read God’s word and listen for His voice, and find friendships with other believers, then your role will gradually be less critical. It doesn’t go away, but the frequency of your interactions might decrease.
The role of continued fellowship and connection with other believers is found throughout the Bible.
I was teaching health profession students this week about mental health and pain. The Circle of Self was a good visual way to capture a current phenomenon. One of the very important things we talked about was the LIMITS of MEDICATION! The students were very insightful about the reasons so many people are struggling with depression, anxiety, and pain. And, the more we talked, the more it made sense that this is a common pattern.
We made a list of reasons why the incidence of depression, pain, and anxiety are so common. I would love to hear what you would add to this list. Current themes in our society that contribute are:
Decreased coping skills
Social media – most posts are either deceptively positive to look good or very negative
News, especially so much bad news
Poor sleep hygiene
Expectation of instant gratification
Reliance of medications or techniques to ‘just fix it’
THE CIRCLE OF SELF
When someone experiences depression, anxiety, and/or pain, several things tend to happen:
Less movement – more sitting or lying around
Decreased social activities – stay home more, reject offers to get out
Nod off or purposefully take a nap during the day
Have interrupted sleep at night
Experience pain – either pain when there was none or worsening pain
These changes lead to more and more focus on self. How do I feel? What is happening to me? Why me? Why do I feel this way? Why can’t I sleep? Why can’t I get motivated? Woe is me…
This common pattern of self can also impact heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and more.
The role of SLEEP
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. As we age, more and more things seem to interrupt this sleep. You might need to go to the bathroom more often during the night. Pain can wake you up or keep you awake. Napping during the day can mess with your nighttime sleep.
Too little sleep can increase your risk of depression. It can also make your recovery from depression most difficulty.
Too little sleep can limit your ability to manage with pain. Pain can feel worse, be more frustrating, and limit your activities more when you’re extra tired. Also, the more you hurt, the hard it is to sleep, and a vicious cycle is started.
The role of MEDICATION
Low amounts of key neurotransmitters in the brain can lead to depression and/or anxiety. There are medications that can help increase the amounts of those neurotransmitters. Note, this process takes about 8 weeks, so starting medicine doesn’t make you feel better right away. Usually your energy gets better before your depressed or anxious thoughts.
In the studies that showed that these medications can help, counseling was also a key part of therapy. The medications by themselves don’t help as much as they do when you also have counseling. It is the counseling that can help you find some different ways to think, stop the negative thoughts, and help you focus on more positive aspects of your life.
For pain, some medications block some of the pain signals going between the site of the pain and your brain. Others decrease the intensity of those signals. The pain medication should match the type and intensity of the pain. This means the same pain medication is not the best option for all types of pain. There have been huge issues in our society of overuse of pain medicine, especially opiate medications. These have a role in some types of pain. Once the pain starts to decline, the medication should be decreased and stopped. In another blog, I’ll review all of the many types of pain medications and when/how to use each.
Breaking the Cycle
Medications are part of breaking the cycle for many people. Note, medication is often helpful to start the process. It might not be needed long term. Ask you doctor about how long it will be helpful for you.
Counseling is part of breaking the cycle. Learning to change your thinking patterns is key. Having support is also key.
Then, I want to share something that has repeatedly been shown to effectively break this cycle. Do something for someone else! Focus on self leads into the negative circle that gets tighter and tighter, isolating you from others. To purposefully think about others can help you out of this dark place. Call to check on a friend. Help someone with a project. Visit an older relative or friend. Take a meal to a new parent or someone who is sick. Make a donation. Write a letter to a soldier. Plan a special outing with a friend. Join a club that works on a social issue.
There are many options! The point is to find someone else you can think about and help. Distraction is helpful for pain tolerance, anxiety reduction, and depression treatment. Thinking about someone else helps you out of the dark focus on self.
I believe the circle of self can and does impact all of us. It is one of Satan’s best weapons. How distracted do you get when you are in pain? How about when you are feeling down or anxious? Even a common cold can be very distracting. And, once you are distracted, how hard is it to pull back out of the negative cycle?
Peter encourages us to recognize all of this and to learn to think more like Jesus.
Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.
In these complex times, we are bombarded with information that can keep us stressed, anxious, and/or depressed. Paul tells us to not focus on these things. He encourages us to focus instead on what comes next. How much time do you spend thinking about your future in Heaven?
We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!
So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.
Thinking about others, loving others as much and in ways we love ourselves, and putting others before ourselves are common themes in the Bible.
The media, social media, and even people on the street are expressing a lot of stress and insecurity. Change is difficult – even more so for some people than others. Uncertainty is also difficult to handle. Put the two together, as the United States did this week with a new election, and people react. No matter the outcome of this election, change and uncertainty were inevitable. Any new leader brings new ideas and ways of handling political situations, and each leader is elected with the hope of a brighter future. In the months before the election our fears are played upon to help steer us toward one candidate or the other. And once the election is finished, one set of fears, or the other, becomes the new reality.
So now what?
I heard a lot of people this week talking about heavy drinking, protesting, sleeping to avoid dealing with their thoughts, self medicating with anti-anxiety agents or drugs, having anxiety episodes, and feeling rage. At the end of any of these options, it is highly unlikely that person will actually feel better. These are destructive choices that won’t actually resolve anything.
There are other alternatives that will both help overcome the stress AND help you to feel better.
Focus on your source of hope.
Focus on all of the good things in your life.
Do something kind for someone else.
This simple three-ingredient recipe is a key to contentment and happiness.
Getting outside of yourself is good for your health – both physically and emotionally. Find even the smallest of ways to do something good for someone else. Get together with friends to work on projects together. Help someone celebrate a milestone. Take flowers to someone who is down. Walk around your house and remember the occasion that led to each picture, each memento, and each special possession. Talk on the phone with someone dear to you, and let them know how much they have done for you in life. And to top it all off, spend quiet time with God and your faith.
I’ve written before how impressed I am by the amount of science supporting this simple recipe. It can decrease anxiety, depression, hurt feelings, concern for the future, and stress. It can lower your blood pressure, lower your anxiety, and improve your outlook on life.
It might sound overly simple or pious, but it really works!
For more information about stress management to improve your health, contact us at Meds MASH at www.medsmash.com/contact.
I can’t imagine life without my ROCK SOLID source of HOPE.
I have been blessed to know about this unwavering hope throughout my life.
I see the angst in the world right now and wonder how many people have never even heard about my source of hope. How many have heard only the ‘media version’ and never the truth? How scary would all of this unrest be without such hope?
Then I know of friends who attend church each Sunday and have for all/most of their lives. But attending church doesn’t equal having that deep-seated hope. Having Christ solidly in your life is a decision – a life altering decision that opens this whole world of peace and hope.
Having a source of hope gets you through all situations. Having an eternal perspective puts everything else in perspective.
Just as the Israelites were reassured, I HOPE we can be as well.
Hate and ugliness can shape your life. It often comes out of nowhere. How you deal with it has a huge impact on your health.
You often can’t prevent it. You can’t predict. It hits you out of nowhere, so you can’t prepare for it. Yet, hate and ugliness touch most, if not all, of us at some time at least once.
What is the ugliest event that has occurred in your life? How have you been touched by hate? How did you handle it at the time? How have you handled it since?
As a nation and a global community we have seen and experienced acts of hate in so many forms recently. There is unrest stirred by fear, threats, and acts of terror. If this fear takes over in your life, your stress levels increase, your heart works harder, your risk of depression goes way up, anxiety increases, sleep is impaired, and your overall health declines.
Last week I talked about the health benefits of thinking about other people and their needs rather than focusing just on yourself. Altruism is very directly linked to improved health.
The other thing that was directly related to this particular medical mission to Jamaica from which I just returned was a tragic act of hate. The group with whom I worked, Teams for Medical Missions, www.t4mm.org, has been served for many years by long-term missionary couples in Jamaica. These couples have developed programs for children, programs for youth, programs to train ministers for local churches, built many houses, provided chronic and acute medical care by hosting medical mission teams, and so much more. They are Christian missionaries with a real passion for the people of Jamaica, in particular those in the more rural and underserved area of St. Mary Parish.
At the end of April, the two men of these couples were riding their motorcycles on some trails at the top of a mountain known to have beautiful views of the island. Two young men were in that area and heard the motorcycle motors. They decided to wait in a particular place where the motorcycles were sure to pass and ambush them. Both missionaries were killed. It was not a targeted act, just a needless act of hate.
This shook the entire island. The young men who had been actively served by events hosted by these couples for years now stay close to the wife who remains, and they have been staying at her house so she is not alone. The Prime Minister, head of island security, and many others have come to show their respect. Many people have expressed their sorrow in many tender ways.
These medical teams typically provide care in provisional clinics in four local churches once a quarter. People are given a 3-month supply of medication for chronic illnesses, and acute illnesses are treated. Many people in that Parish rely on those clinics for their medical care. I had the humbling experience of seeing the love and gratitude shared with the missionary wife and all of the team members. (All had been on these teams several times and knew the slain missionaries well. This was a very emotional trip for all who were simultaneously grieving and expressing the desire to keep moving forward.) Many residents expressed surprise the clinics were continuing. There was an expectation the mission would fold and return to the US after these deaths.
In spite of these acts of hate, the hope continues. Teri, an incredibly strong and faithful woman is staying and planning what the future can hold in this completely new scenario. Her grief is real and raw. Yet, she is not curled in a corner refusing to move forward.
Health in the midst of hate
The elements that are associated with maintaining health in the midst of hate are:
friends to talk to
people who care about you
a sense of self-worth
conflict management skills
These have all been linked with improved health.
And I will add having a source of HOPE. I believe hope is powerful in the midst of difficulty.
So, knowing that hate and ugliness can strike at any time, the best you can prepare is to take care of yourself, cherish your friends and family, develop your conflict management skills, and forgive others. Find your personal source of hope. Like Teri, find ways to find hope and stay positive and undeterred in the face of hate.
Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Jesus said, “Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities, claiming, ‘I am Christ, the Messiah.’ They will deceive a lot of people. When reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history; this is no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Famines and earthquakes will occur in various places. This is nothing compared to what is coming.
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
And another version of my favorite verses of the year about hope!
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!