Category Archives: Health and Wellness

Strategies for Relaxation

If you haven’t figured it out already, I need to make a confession: I am very easily stressed out. As I wrote on Thursday, I have been on or over the edge of a meltdown a couple of times lately. Since we are discussing what helps us relax on the spin cycle this week, I thought I’d list a couple of things.

1. Mindfulness and meditation. I do guided meditations every once in a while. Simply focusing on my breathing for a bit also helps. It is important not to make yourself do anything other than focus. If your attention drifts off, notice it and go back to focusing on the meditation or your breathing. You can also use a mantra.

2. Yoga. I discussed this before. Yoga can be hard when you do difficult poses, but remember yoga is for everyone. If you can’t do a certain pose exactly as experienced yogis do it, there is usually a way to adapt it to make it easier. That way, you are practising self-care, which is important in relaxation.

3. Essential oils. I own an AromaStream essential oil diffuser. It doesn’t use water or heat, so can be left on without supervision or even when you’re sleeping. There are many oils that are thought of as having relaxing properties. Examples are chamomile, lavender, bergamot, ylang ylang and jasmine. You can of course make diffuser blends.

4. Herbal teas. I have discussed these a few times. I find particularly chamomile, lavender and valerian root relaxing. St. John’s wort is thought of as having antidepressant properties.

5. Soothing music or sounds. I find that, while music that’s a little more upbeat helps cheer me up, if I truly need to relax, I benefit from nature sounds and soft music.

6. Blankets. I still need to buy myself a weighted blanket. However, lots of regular blankets also do the trick of helping me relax.

What helps yu relieve stress and relax? I’d love to read your responses in the comments or in a post of your own. Why not link it up with the spin cycle?

Fitness: Goal Setting and Getting Started #MDFitClub

Over at Mums’ Days, Hannah has launched the #MDFitClub. She writes all about motherhood and how it affects your health and fitness, but I believe I can join in too. After all, I have some health goals to work on too.

Back in January, I resolved to lose five to ten kilograms in 2015. That doesn’t seem to be a clear enough goal, because I keep thinking I could lose it all “later”. Though I’ve lost about two kilograms, that’s not nearly enough given how far along we are in 2015. My BMI is still over 30. Since the #MDFitClub runs for two months, I am resolving to get my BMI under 30 within these two months. That means losing about three kilograms.

Early this month, my fitness goal was to practise yoga at least three times a week. I have changed that to working out on the elliptical trainer or stationary bike, because these are more effective. I also started physical therapy last week, which is mainly for improving my physical condition. I did some working out there too, but I still agreed with the therapist to work out three times a week.

In the eating department, I’m doing relatively okay already. I have not completely eliminated binge eating, but have gotten it down to at most once a week. I do snack a lot though. I believe I shouldn’t be stressing out over the binges, since stress will make them worse. Then again, I do believe I need to stop snacking regularly. Otherwise, I won’t be losing any weight.

My purpose – my reason for wanting to achieve these goals – is my overall health. Though there is debate as to whether a BMI between 25 and 30 is unhealthy, everyone agrees that a BMI over 30 is. Besides, if I allow myself to have this BMI, there’s no clear-cut limit to weight gain. I really ultimately need to get my BMI under 25 (which means losing another twelve kilograms), but I know that’s not realistic within two months.

As a means of accountability, I will be writing regularly on how I’m doing with my goals. I am glad there’s a community of people participating in this challenge too. But I shouldn’t just talk, I should do the thing too. Now I’m therefore going to get onto that elliptical trainer. 🙂

Calm: The Power of Mindfulness

This week, I’m participating in #theprompt once again. I am rather late, because I was quite busy with other things over the week. For example, on Wednesday, I had an intake interview at the country’s top notch autism center, which happens to be in my town. They are hopefully going to assess my needs and provide recommendations for when my husband and I will be living together.

The meeting was quite intense. However, I have been able to feel relatively calm lately thanks to practising mindfulness. Since this week’s prompt is “calm”, I am going to share some information about mindfulness and how it’s helping me.

Mindfulness is, as far as I understand, more or less a western, popular term for meditation. This is at least one type of mindfulness, the type that I practise when stressed. It involves trying to sit with my thoughts, feelings and bodily sensatiosn without judgment. You can try to focus on one aspect of your experience, such as your breathing. When distracted, you should not waste energy on fighting the distraction, but simply notice it and return to paying attention to your breathing.

Any activity can be done mindfully. For example, you might notice that you start eating and suddenly the entire plate or packet is empty and you didn’t realize you ate this much. Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of what we’re doing, feeling or thinking.

Mindfulness does not eliminate life’s pressures, but it helps us look at these pressures with more clarity and less judgment. For example, when you’re eating, you might think about all the calories you’re consuming rather than simply noticing the act of eating.

Mindfulness will also teach us to respond more adequately to experiences. This is achieved by creating a gap between the experience and our reaction to it, as in the example above. Mindfulness can help me actually enjoy food rather than binge on it.

In the example of the autism center meeting, I was constantly worried about what if I had to be re-assessed for autism all over again and what if my parents had to be involved and what if they were going to convince the professionals that nothing was wrong and what if… You get the idea. By being mindful, I would look more objectively at the meeting, which went quite well. However, I’d also sit with my present thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations without judgment. For example, I’d be conscious of my butt touching the chair or bed, my breathing, my current emotions, etc.

At this very moment, I am relatively calm. My fingertips touch the keyboard as I type this blog post. My bum and back touch the chiar as my toes touch the floor (my chair is too high for my entire feet to touch the floor). I could be thinkign about how the car broke down again yesterday. I could be worrying about all the stress of possibly buying a new one. Instead, I let these thoughts go by without judgment. I don’t fight them, but I don’t give them extra special attention either. It doesn’t mean the car isn’t broken or that we don’t have the pressure of buying a new one, but what use is there in worrying about this now that I’m writing?

Mindfulness can be useful in dealing with emotional stress, as in the examples above. It can also help in dealing with physical symptoms, such as pain. After all, we often tend to make the symptoms worse by worrying about them. If I feel an ache, the ache is usually not so all-encompassing that it in itself overpowers every other sensation. There are exceptions of course, but in most cases, the effects of pain get amplified by our thoughts about this pain. Again, what use is there in thinking about an ache? Will it lessen the ache? Quite likely not, and it will distress me. So I notice the ache but don’t give it more attention than it deserves. Of course, we do need to pay just enough attention to pain to take appropriate care, but particularly for chronic, largely untreatable and/or intractable pain, mindfulness can definitely help lessen its impact.

mumturnedmom

Rediscovering Yoga

“The yoga mat is a good place to turn when talk therapy and antidepressants aren’t enough.” – Amy Weintraub

I take antidepressants, which are moderately effective. I don’t do talk therapy anymore, since the closest to a psychologist we have on our unit is a recent college grad. The actual psychologist, who is on maternity leave, deemed him not to be a suited treatment provider for me, so she assigned me a psychiatric resident whom I mostly talk practical issues with. Talk therapy has not been all that effective for me anyway. So would yoga be one of the keys to a calmer, happier life?

I took yoga classes at my old institution for a while in 2009. Though yoga helped me somewhat, it also made me feel rather emotional. Crying in a group just didn’t feel right, so I quit.

I rediscovered yoga a few months ago and bought an instructional DVD to practise in my own room. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work on my computer. Last week, I finally gave up and searched the Internet for good yoga instructions. Boy, have I been blessed!

First, I came across some Dutch sites which provide step-by-step text and picture guides for many poses and series of poses. I of course can’t see the pics, but the text was quite easy to understand. I tried many of the poses and was relatively successful. I could even do the tree pose, which is a balancing pose in which you put one foot onto the other thigh. I later heard from an activity staff, who used to be a yoga teacher, that this is quite a tough pose.

I also subscribed to YogaDownload.com, which has a large selection of yoga video and audio which elite members ($18 a month) can freely view and download. I downloaded a beginner video in the front room, where we have WiFi access, and played it in my room. It was sometimes hard to follow the video as I practised, but it was very relaxing listening to the calm and gentle instruction.

The activity staff member I mentioned, who used to be a yoga teacher, provides me with individual day activities once a week. She offered to help me learn yoga. Next time she comes, we’re going to practise the sun salutation, which is a relatively easy-going series to warm up your muscles to further practice. When done repeatedly, it can also be used as a work-out.

As I practise on my own, I am finding that yoga is a lot more calming than it used to be when I went to yoga classes. I intend on attending yoga classes sometime again, but for now, I feel much happier practising in my own room. I can’t be sure yet, but I do believe yoga is truly a great addition to my current mental health treatment.

Linking up with Inspire Me Monday and Motivation Monday.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency: The Invisible But Treatable and Worryingly Common Disease

In the summer of 2012, I suffered from severe, persistent fatigue and episodes of lightheadedness. I went to my doctor, thinking I had iron deficiency anemia once again. My hemoglobin was always normal, but the ironn itself, which is necessary in the production of hemoglobin, had often been low. This time around, however, the cause of my fatigue was vitamin B12 deficiency.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively common but used to be underestimated. It affects between three and six percent of the population, becoming more common as people age (Allen, 2009).

Vitamin B12 deficiency is usually diagnosed through a blood test. A deficiency is defined as a serum level of B12 below 148 pMol/L or 200 pg/mL (Allen, 2009). My level at the time was 120 pMol/L, which my doctor said was “not very low”. This may be so – I have met people on the B12 deficiency foundation forum with levels of 25 or less -, but it’s still cause for concern. Besides, my methylmalonic acid (MMA) was also elevated, which Allen says is the “gold standard” for diagnosing B12 deficiency.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency can be diverse. I only had tiredness and lightheadedness, but you may also experience rapid heartbeat or breathing, pale skin, sore tongue, weakness, an upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation. If B12 deficiency is not treated, it could lead to nerve damage. In fact, Chris Kresser, a natural health specialist, thinks that some symptoms common in the elderly, such as cognitive decline and lessened mobility, may in fact be due to untreated B12 defieciency. Kresser also cites a much higher prevalence than Allen, but this seems to be due to bias.

It is the Dutch B12 deficiency foundation’s position that, unless you’re eating strictly vegan, the cause of B12 deficiency is most likely malabsorption and you need to insist on injections. Malabsorption can, according to WebMD, be due to various causes, such as atrophic gastritis (where the lining of your stomach becomes very thin), pernicious anemia, Crohn’s or Celiac Disease, etc. However, eating a vegetarian diet with few eggs or dairy, as I did, can also cause low B12 levels. I went with injections anyway because I hated the taste of the tablets.

It is also the B12 deficiency foundation’s position that measuring serum levels after you’ve been using injections, won’t be useful. In my case, I was given blood tests after the round of injections anyway, and these showed my B12 level was elevated in fact. It dropped to normal within a few months and stayed within the normal range until at least my last blood test in December of 2013. I eat meat again, so it could be that my low consumption of animal products, even though I wasn’t strictly vegan, was causing me to have a B12 deficiency.

Reference

Allen LH (2009), How Common Is Vitamin B12 Deficiency? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(2):693S-696S. DOI: 10.3945/​ajcn.2008.26947A.