Redwood forest serenity

Serenity- Exploring this component of your health

Redwood forest serenity
Finding time for quiet serenity is key to good health.

Where do you find serenity? Webster defines

serenity as, ‘the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled’.

I have just returned from a trip of celebration with my Mom (70), me (50), and my daughters aged 18 and 16. We have been planning this trip for over a year. One of my favorite aspects was the serene places we found. While in the Redwood Forest it was awe inspiring and silent. Even though there were other people in the forest, somehow we couldn’t hear them if we weren’t beside them. To be in the midst of those giant trees and surrounded by giant ferns, it was so calm, awe-inspiring, and yes, serene.

The Redwoods were protected from excess logging by conservation efforts including the formation of the Redwood National Park in 1968. Then President Nixon dedicated a grove in the park to Lady Bird Johnson. Here is a quote on a plaque in that grove that struck me:

‘One of my most unforgettable memories of the past years is walking through the Redwoods last November – seeing the lovely shafts of light filtering through the trees so far above, feeling the majesty and silence of that forest, and watching a salmon rise in one of those swift streams – all our problems seemed to fall into perspective and I think every one of us walked out more serene and happier.’ Lady Bird Johnson, July 30, 1969

The part that grabbed my attention was, ‘all our problems seemed to fall into perspective…’

When was the last time you felt truly serene? How often do you slow down and allow yourself to just truly relax? What are the places or activities that bring you to that place of serenity?

Serenity and health

When you are calm, peaceful, and untroubled your whole body benefits. Your blood vessels relax, your blood pressure lowers, you breath more deeply, and your think more clearly. Your immune system is more active and you sleep more deeply.

I have been fascinated by the book, ‘The God-Shaped Brain’ by Dr. Timothy R. Jennings who is a psychiatrist and psycho-pharmacologist. He makes a compelling case that directly relates to serenity and health. He describes which part of your brain is working for you to think, reason, and plan. There is also a part that allows you to experience empathy, compassion, and love. When you are serene, these parts of your brain are fully operating.

When you are stressed, other parts of your brain take over. They put you in ‘fight or flight’ mode so that you are fully alert and ready to tackle the source of the stress. You were designed to have this stress alarm triggered only in rare truly life-threatening situations. However, in today’s society, so many of us are under constant stress. This system starts taking over our brain on a regular basis. As this stress system takes charge of your brain, your ability to think clearly, calmly, and to genuinely relate to others declines.

You have the power to give your stress signals a rest. As you do, and the more you do, the better your brain will function. You will be able to think through problems, plan, and prioritize. You will feel more connected to your own feelings, be able to manage them, and relate more to other people.

One of the best parts is that you will be free to think less about your own needs and more about the needs of others. That has been explored in previous blogs and will be explored again. There is a mountain of evidence that this is very good for your health!

The Role of Medications

There are many medications available to you that in some way target your mood, your anxiety, your depression, your anger, your emotions, and/or your reactions. These have a role. They cannot produce serenity. They cannot remove your stresses or your responses to them. They can help you cope. They are most effective when combined with therapy that can help you decrease the control of your stress response in your brain and let your thinking and loving parts of your brain resume control.

When medications are used, they should be used with great care and at the best doses. Your best medication and dose depend on several factors:

  • your kidneys and how they function
  • your liver and how it functions
  • side effects you might experience
  • your allergies
  • interactions with your other medications and your other medical conditions
  • evidence (studies that have been done to demonstrate what works best in a situation like yours)

The Role of Meds MASH

At Meds MASH a medication-use expert who is specialized in people over age 60 will help you and your doctor make sure the best, safest, most effective medication is used and only for the time period necessary. Meds MASH specialists can also help you find the counseling component you need to go with your medications.

Contact us today at 410-472-5078 or www.medsmash.com/contact or e-mail me at michelle@medsmash.com.

BIBLICAL APPLICATION

With each moment of our lives we have one basic decision to make. Will you make a choice for yourself or a choice for others? Jesus tells us our basic guiding principles are:

Luke 10:27 NIV

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

I mentioned the book I have been reading, ‘The God-Shaped Brain’. Dr. Jennings focused the book on how our brain functions when we are living according to God’s plan of love vs when we are not.

We get further and further from God’s plan the more we focus on ourself. Pride, envy, harbored resentment, anger, judgmental attitudes, and lust are just a few of the ways we turn our focus to ourself and our own needs.

Galatians 5:19-21 ESV

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Timothy 6:4 ESV

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,

1 Corinthians 3:3 ESV

For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

God’s plan is rooted in love and turns our focus outward. It also promotes the ‘best’ function of our brain, reduced stress, lower blood pressure, enhanced immune system function, and overall joy.

1 Corinthians 13:4 ESV

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant

Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

It sounds so simple, but it is so hard to pursue and maintain. It is a daily, moment-by-moment decision to love and keep the focus turned outward. God is with you each of those moments ready to guide you and enable you to make those positive decisions.

Blessings,

Michelle

Break the Circle of Self

Depression, Pain, Anxiety – the Circle of Self

Break the Circle of Self
The Circle of Self can lead you into a dark self-absorbed place with pain, depression, and anxiety.

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.

STRESS

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:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • 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

Breaking the circle of self
Think of others to break the circle of self.

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.

For more information about breaking the circle of self, contact us at www.medsmash.com/contact or 410-472-5078.

BIBLICAL APPLICATION

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.

1 Peter 4:1-2 MSG

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?

2 Corinthians 4:14-18 MSG

 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.

Philippians 2:3 ESV

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Romans 12:10 ESV

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

1 Peter 3:8 ESV

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

I’m praying we can all keep our focus outside of ourselves. Love others and keep your eyes on the future – eternity in Heaven!

Blessings,

Michelle

Feeling Stress – Find Health in Hope and Looking Outside Yourself

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This 3-step recipe can help you find hope and peace in the stress.

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.

Simple recipe

There are other alternatives that will both help overcome the stress AND help you to feel better.

  1. Focus on your source of hope.
  2. Focus on all of the good things in your life.
  3. Do something kind for someone else.

This simple three-ingredient recipe is a key to contentment and happiness.

Healthier options

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.

BIBLICAL APPLICATION

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.

Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

I mentioned a recipe for health. Here is a three-part recipe that has seen me through many difficult situations.

Romans 12:12 ESV

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Uncertainty will always be part of our world until Christ returns. These times of upheaval can draw us closer and closer to our one true source of hope.

Proverbs 23:18 ESV

Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.       

There is nothing happening that God can’t see us through.

Blessings.

Michelle

 

 

To feel better – do for someone else – altruism

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Altruism helps others and improves your health

I am just back from Jamaica, and I need to write about altruism. I was working with a mission group called TEAMS. You can learn more about them at www.t4mm.org. This medical mission group included 3 physicians, 1 nurse practitioner, 2 nurses, 3 pharmacists, 3 for registration, 2 to be with the children while their parents received care, and 2 to provide prayer and emotional support to those coming for care.

We were serving in St. Mary Parish, one of the poorest of the country. Clinic was held in churches in four different areas of the Parish. A Parish is similar to a state in the United States. Sheets draped over ropes often separated exam rooms for physicians. I counseled people about their medications as they sat among many other people. So this was not a private setting. But, excellent practitioners provided individualized care with great compassion.

Each clinic served a particular community. Within that community you could look out at all who were waiting and see the way they cared for each other. Babies would be passed around, older members would be assisted with steps, others in nearby seats would assist with understanding when I was struggling with the Patois (English with a thick dialect spoken very quickly).

It was very hot. Fans helped to stir the air. There was no running water. (I am so thankful for hand sanitizer). Some children had lice or scabies yet they waited patiently with their family. You know they had to be miserable between the heat and the intense itching. Some people had to wait from early morning until mid afternoon to be seen.

Yet, I didn’t hear one person complain. No one was demanding to know why their wait was so long. No one was complaining about the conditions. No one was asserting their needs or rights before someone else’s.

On the medical team, several people were struggling with their own health issues. One was on crutches due to a broken leg; one was recovering from bronchitis; one had a cold; several had various aches and pains. The age range of the care team was 22 to 82. Personally, my leg is still recovering from a ripped calf muscle, and my back has been hurting from all of the time that I was on crutches and a boot.

What struck me was how none of that mattered! Rather than thinking about our issues, we were completely focused on all of the people who had arrived to receive care. My leg did fine the entire week, even carrying heavy tables and boxes and fans to set up and take down clinic every day up steep hills and steps. I didn’t do my back stretches or sit around rubbing my back the way I do at home. That is because I wasn’t even thinking about my back.

Altruism

Altruism is, ‘feelings and behavior that show a desire to help other people and a lack of selfishness’ as defined by Merriam-Webster. I have read several articles linking altruism as a factor in happiness, health, and how long you live. In general, studies have shown that people who focus on others are happier and even live longer, in general. In 2005, Stephen Post published an article in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine entitled, ‘Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to be Good’. A quote from the article is, ‘The article concludes, with some caveats, that a strong correlation exists between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally and behaviorally compassionate, so long as they are not overwhelmed by helping tasks.’

I have seen truth in this in many instances. While I was doing post-graduate training in Wisconsin a study demonstrated that home-bound elders who were in a calling circle.  Those who called to check on each other and remind each other to take medications felt less isolated and more valued. A project called the Eden Alternative long ago demonstrated the value in having daily purpose for everyone in a nursing home setting. Depending on ability level residents would care for a cat or dog, garden, water plants, feed birds, feed fish, or other activities. It was a huge success and continues today! Everyone needs to be needed. That sense of purpose and belonging plays a big role in overall health, including anxiety levels, pain, and depression.

When was the last time you focused on the needs of someone else? I encourage you to find a way each day this week to meet someone else’s needs. Some examples are to check on an older neighbor; take a meal to someone who recently had surgery; call a mom with small children to see if you can grab some things for her when you go to the grocery store and save her a trip.

For more information about how altruism is connected to health, contact us at www.medsmash.com/contact.

BIBLICAL APPLICATION

It is no surprise that altruism is linked to enhanced health. Jesus told us many times about the importance of selflessness.

John 15:12-14 ESV

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

Daily devotions, a lot of singing, and prayer with each community were cherished parts of this mission.  The care was among providers, among recipients, among those at the church helping with coordination, and among those providing protection.  My visual each day was being filled up with the Spirit to be completely poured out by the end of the day.

Some say Christian selflessness is not true altruism because we will be rewarded for such care and compassion. Ultimately, eternally a reward is waiting. But while here in this life, you might not see a reward. In fact, your giving isn’t meant to be for show.

Matthew 6:2-4 MSG

“When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

Paul, Peter, Luke, John, and many other writers in the New Testament extol the virtues of giving to others.

Philippians 2:4 ESV

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Luke 6:35 ESV

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

1 Peter 3:8 ESV

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

What can you do today to help someone else?

Proverbs 19:17 ESV

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.

Blessings,

Michelle