Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Humpday Hint: Women & Stroke: Worse Than You Think?

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

Do you know that:

  • Stroke is the 3rd leading cause of death for women.
  • Stroke kills TWICE as many women as breast cancer each year.
  • Stroke hits 55,000 more women than men each year (US).
  • Stroke will have hit 1 in 5 women by age 75 (UK).
  • Stroke will cause a disability in half of all stroke survivors.
  • Women are more likely to suffer a major disability from stroke than men.
  • Women are more likely to die from a stroke than men.

Common Stroke Symptoms (Men & Women):

  • Sudden numbness/weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance/coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Women also have unique stroke symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • General weakness
  • Difficulty of shortness of breath
  • Confusion, unresponsiveness or disorientation
  • Sudden behavioural change
  • Agitation
  • Hallucination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Hiccups

General Risk Factors (Men & Women):

  • Family history of stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking single-handedly doubles your risk of death from stroke
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Illegal drug usage (eg. cocaine increases risk of stroke by 700% in the 24 hours following use)
  • Lack of exercise (physical inactivity increases risk of ischaemic stroke (blood clot) by 50%
  • Being overweight (22% higher risk of ischaemic stroke) or obese (64% higher risk of ischaemic stroke)

Prevention & the good news:

  • Up to 80% of all strokes can be prevented.
  • Moderate exercise can reduce your risk of stroke by up to 27%.
  • Get treatment for high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Stop smoking!
  • Don't use illegal drugs.
  • Moderate your alcohol consumption.
  • Research has found a clear 'dose-related' association between fruit and vegetable consumption and stroke risk, which means that the more you eat of these food groups, the lower your risk!


Women and Stroke, National Stroke Association, US

How do strokes affect women?, Diana Rodriguez, Everyday Health

State of the Nation Stroke Statistics January 2016, National Stroke Association, UK

Images from Pixabay

Monday, August 29, 2016

Humpday Hint: How to Avoid Computer Vision Syndrome

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

The unparalleled spread of technology in the last 50 years has produced a crop of medical conditions unique to it. Technology evolves far faster than human biology can adapt, and one result is the profusion of technology-based maladies which include everything from deep vein thrombosis to carpal tunnel syndrome and chronic back pain.

One such condition is Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) -- a form of eye strain and fatigue which creeps up on those who spend more than 3 hours a day at their computers.1 But with 40% of the planet's population now hooked up to the Internet,2 and the computerisation of most of the world's workplaces, it means billions of computer users are actually staring at their screens for much longer than 3 hours a day. Desk-bound jobs can mean people stay at their computers for the entire working day. As computerisation in the 21st century becomes more of a necessity than an option, professionals and others at potential risk include accountants, architects, bankers, engineers, flight controllers, graphic artists, journalists, academicians, secretaries and students, all of whom cannot work without the aid of computers.3 Then there are the gamers and virtual environment users: millions of children and adolescents play computer games for hours each day; similarly, users of virtual worlds such as Second Life and OpenSim are known for regularly spending half a day inworld; MMORPG and video gamers can be just as screen-bound.

Computer vision syndrome, as such, is a health problem which is increasingly common. Symptoms include dry eyes, red eyes, blurred vision, double vision, eye irritation or burning, chronic headaches, and neck or back pain.4 Statistics indicate that 70 to 90 percent of people who use computers extensively suffer from one or more symptoms of CVS.5 There is also concern that heavy computer use may put children at risk for early myopia:6 a 2009 study conducted by the National Eye Institute noted that the prevalence of nearsightedness among Americans had increased from 25 to 41.6 percent of the population in the 30 years since 1972 -- an increase of over 66 percent.7 While the study offered no conclusions for these statistics, it is interesting to note that the years 1974 -1977 saw the arrival of the first personal computers on the market -- among them the Scelbi & Mark-8 Altair, IBM 5100, RadioShack's TRS-80 and the Commodore PET8 -- events which kicked off a personal computing frenzy in history which continues to this day.

A key reason for CVS's overwhelming impact is that every sighted person who uses a computer screen is subject to its digitalised display aspects. Unlike words printed on paper which have sharply defined edges, the electronic characters generated by a computer monitor are made up of tiny pixels, creating blurred outlines. The blurred edges make it difficult for our eyes to maintain focus, and they "repeatedly attempt to rest by shifting their focus to an area behind the screen, and this constant switch between screen and relaxation point creates eyestrain and fatigue."9 There are additional factors contributing to CVS: the tendency to blink less while staring at screens (our blink rate drops from 17 or more blinks a minute to 12 - 15 blinks); a distance between eyes and screen which isn't optimal for comfortable focus (20 - 26 inches from the face); and screens which are placed too high (the centre of the monitor should be 4 - 8 inches lower than the eyes) which lead to too much exposure of the eye surface and neck discomfort.10

So what can we do? There are quite a few tricks we can utilise to lessen the risk of CVS.

  • Ensure that there is sufficient contrast on the screen, such as black writing on a white background.
  • Try to keep the screen brighter than the ambient light, so that your eyes do not strain to make out what is on the screen.
  • Keep your monitor brighter rather than dimmer (but not TOO bright), as a brighter monitor encourages the pupils to constrict, thus allowing your eyes a greater range of focus.
  • Avoid facing a sunlit window if you can, or use window shades to reduce glare.
  • Anti-glare covers for flat screen monitors are also available, as are glare-reducing spectacles.
  • Use a font size that is comfortable for your eyes - if you find yourself constantly squinting or leaning forward to read what is on the screen, the font size is too small.
  • Keep the screen free of dust, and if you have to, get a monitor with a high-resolution display.11

In addition, have your eyes examined regularly, and keep your prescription up to date. The American Academy of Ophthalmology also suggests the "20-20-20" rule for computer users: every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. They also suggest using artificial tears to hydrate dry eyes, and using a humidifier.12 If, despite all these precautions, your eyes remain problematic, see your ophthalmologist.


1 Computer Vision Syndrome Affects Millions, Jane E. Brody

2 Internet Live Stats

3 Impact of Computer Technology on Health: Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), T.R. Akinbinu & Y.J. Mashalla

4 Computer Vision Syndrome Affects Millions, Jane E. Brody

5 Impact of Computer Technology on Health: Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), T.R. Akinbinu & Y.J. Mashalla

6 Children and Computer Vision Syndrome, Gary Heiting & Larry K. Wan

7 Increased Prevalence of Myopia in the United States Between 1971-1972 and 1999-2004, Susan Vitale, et al, JAMA Ophthalmology

8 History of Computers: A Brief Timeline, Kim Ann Zimmermann, LiveScience

9 Computer Vision Syndrome Affects Millions, Jane E. Brody

10 ibid.

11 ibid.

12 Computers, Digital Devices and Eye Strain, American Academy of Ophthalmology

Friday, August 26, 2016

Research Shows Two Ways to Lose Weight Without Increasing Exercise

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

For some of us with certain disabilities, losing weight can be a challenge. Spinal cord injuries and chronic pain conditions, for example, can make exercising difficult if not impossible. As we get older, losing weight also becomes harder as our metabolisms slow down. Consequently, for many of us, watching our diet is the only way to keep our weight constant. The following two methods of losing weight will be useful to those of us who cannot increase the amount of exercise we already do, or indeed, exercise at all.

Method #1: Increase the length of your fasting period at night

In January 2016, the University of Surrey teamed up with BBC Two's Trust Me, I'm A Doctor's (TMIAD) medical team to conduct a first-ever experiment on time-restricted food intake and weight loss, on humans.1 Prior studies on mice had already revealed that moving their feeding times closer together in the day, which produced a longer 'fasting' period overnight during which no food was eaten, resulted in the mice losing weight and acquiring healthier blood sugar and cholesterol levels - even though they consumed exactly the same food and number of calories.2,3 The University of Surrey and TMIAD carried out an equivalent controlled and randomised study with 16 human volunteers over 10 weeks. Half the subjects carried on with their normal routines. The other half took their breakfasts later by 90 minutes, and their dinners earlier by 90 minutes, effectively extending their 'fasting' period at night by 3 hours. All subjects ate the same amounts of food as normal. At the end of 10 weeks, the time-restricted group had lost body fat, and showed significantly healthier changes in fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels, than the control group. There was no difference in the groups' blood fats (triglycerides).4

Researchers believe two factors are at work. The first is that intermittent fasts can be good for you, by limiting the body's expression of an insulin-like growth hormone called IGF-1. Food consumption generates IGF-1, which keeps the body in a 'growth' or 'go' state, where cells are driven to reproduce and facilitate growth. This state also speeds up the aging process. University of Southern California's biogerontologist Professor Valter Longo compares the 'growth' mode to "driving along with your foot hard on the accelerator pedal." Fasting, however, reduces IGF-1 and encourages the body to go into 'repair' mode, by switching on DNA repair genes.5

The second factor is that your body has a 'body clock' which regulates how it deals with food over the 24 hour period. Your body starts preparing naturally for sleep and night-time fasting towards the evening. Melatonin hormonal levels, which are associated with sleep, begin to rise, and along with them, blood fat and sugar levels. This occurs because the body is preparing to handle the impending fast by bringing fats out of storage. Consequently, eating during this period when blood sugar and fat levels are already high, can be harmful to your health.6

Method #2: Eat BEFORE exercise if you are female, AFTER if you are male

Yet another "world-first" experiment was conducted by the University of Surrey and BBC Two's Trust Me, I'm A Doctor television series in January 2016.7 Like the experiment on time-restricted feeding, this second experiment was conducted to see if levels of body fat responded to a minor change in daily routine. Research by nutritionist Dr Adam Collins had suggested that the amount of fat people burned off during exercise responded to whether they exercised before or after they ate - and that this sequence was different for women and men.8 TMIAD and the University of Surrey carried out a randomised and controlled 4 week experiment with 30 volunteers, putting them through a regime of exercise conducted both before and after consumption of carbohydrate drinks or placebos.9

The results supported Dr Collins' previous studies: men and women burn carbohydrates differently. TMIAD noted that: "Men are very much 'carbohydrate burners' - if as a man you eat carbohydrate then your body is going to burn it rather than fat. Just giving the men carbohydrate at any time in our experiment made them burn a bit less fat!"10 This means that if you are a man, it is better to eat AFTER exercising, as this will force your body to burn off fat in the absence of carbohydrates. For women, the opposite is at work: Eat BEFORE exercising if you want to burn more fat. This is because women's bodies "tend to burn fat more easily than men's, and are not fueled so much by carbohydrate. Moreover, women are much better at conserving carbohydrate during exercise. So when women eat carbohydrate soon after exercise, this is effectively overloading them with fuel, and interferes with the body's ability to burn fat."11


1 The big experiment: Could I lose fat just by changing my meal times?, Trust Me, I'm A Doctor, BBC Two

2 Time-restricted feeding without reducing calorie intake prevents metabolic diseases in mice fed a high-fat diet, Megumi Hatori, et al, Cell Metabolism

3 Time-restricted feeding and risk of metabolic disease: A review of human and animal studies, Jeff Rothschild, et al, Nutrition Reviews

4 The big experiment: Could I lose fat just by changing my meal times?, Trust Me, I'm A Doctor, BBC Two

5 The 5:2 diet: Can it help you lose weight and live longer?, Michael Mosley, The Telegraph

6 Is eating in the evenings bad for me?, Trust Me, I'm A Doctor, BBC Two

7 Trust Me, I'm A Doctor, Series 4, Episode 1 Guide, BBC Two

8 The effect of food timing on fat oxidation during exercise and resting recovery, M. Honnor, et al, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (2012), 71 (OCE3), E236

9 The big experiment: How can I get my body to burn more fat, without doing more exercise?, Trust Me, I'm A Doctor, BBC Two

10 ibid.

11 ibid.

Image from Pixabay

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Humpday Hint: Prioritise Practicality Before Perfection

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

As an autism spectrum individual, the Tortoise experiences and understands the frustration of not getting things 'right' or 'perfect' enough. While 'perfect' implies that nothing more can be done to something to increase the quality or impeccability of its shape, sound, look, position, etc, and hence is an entirely subjective term, it also refers, at least in this individual's case, to a personal bar of acceptability, a clear mental and sensory point which divides "not good enough: carry on" from "good enough: stop now". Because this point is so definitive in its feel and presence, there is no question about discontinuing a (specific) task until the 'stop' signal has been triggered. This can generate huge amounts of frustration and anxiety if, for some reason, you cannot get something 'right' enough to suit you. On the other hand, getting something 'just right' can produce feelings of immense satisfaction and achievement. So how can someone prone to perfectionist tendencies help themselves?

Self-confessed perfectionist,1 clinical psychologist, and executive director of the International OCD Foundation Dr. Jeff Szymanski says perfectionism can be a strong suit or a stumbling block, depending on how it is channeled.2 He explains:

The core of all perfectionism is the intention to do something well...If you can keep your eye on intention and desired outcome, adjusting your strategy when needed, you're fine.... But when you can't tolerate making a mistake, when your strategy is to make no mistakes, that's when perfectionism starts veering off in the wrong direction.3

If unchecked, the urge for perfectionism can lead to the inability to complete any task for fear of making a mistake. To help perfectionists prioritise appropriately, Dr Szymanski offers the following exercise:4

Task: To identify projects and activities that are most important to you, and to keep your personal strategy in line.

Ask yourself: What do you find valuable in life? What would you want 50 years of your life to represent? If that seems overwhelming, think about where you want to put your energies for the next 5 years.

Think about your current goals and projects, and assign them priorities. Use the letters 'A,B,C,F' to help you decide where you want to excel (A), be above average (B), be average (C), or identify what you can let go of (F). For example:

  • A (100% effort): This is reserved for what is most important to you. For example, if your career is most valuable to you, your goals might be to impress the boss, make sure clients are happy, put out good products at work.
  • B (above average, maybe 80% effort): Reserved for things important but not critical. Perhaps you like playing golf or tennis or want to learn a new language. You enjoy these activities, but have no plans to go pro.
  • C (average effort): Reserved for tasks that simply don't need to rule your life. Perhaps having a clean home is important... but how often does your home need to be cleaned? People are not coming to see it every day. Could you just clean up on the weekends? Or focus on a few rooms that get the most traffic?
  • F (no effort): Reserved for time-consumers that do not advance your values or bring you pleasure -- for example, lining up all your clothes hangers or folding all your clothes in a specific way. Do you have any tasks, upon reflection, that don't really matter -- you've just done them one way for so long that you're on autopilot? These deserve to be pruned.


1 Learn the Art of being Practically Perfect, Dr. Jeff Szymanski

2 Trying to be perfect can cause anxiety, Harvard Medical School, Healthbeat

3 ibid.

4 ibid.

Images from Pixabay

Monday, August 22, 2016

Handling Obsessional Thoughts

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

Some of us suffering from depression and anxiety also experience repetitive or obsessional thoughts. These are thoughts which come upon you with remarkable clarity and power, with incredible insistence, and which defy attempts to stop their recurrence. They are intrusive, meaning you are not consciously choosing to think them. They repeat themselves, or simply take hold and 'stay'. They rarely respond to conscious attempts to rationalise them, or 'argue them out' - in fact, the more you think about them, the worse the spiral gets. They can take on a life of their own. Some of them are powerful enough to seem like actual 'voices' in your head. And for some reason, obsessional thoughts are rarely 'happy' or 'good' thoughts, being disturbing, dark and discouraging more often than not.

Mental health advocate and Project Beyond Blue founder Therese Borchard, herself a long-time sufferer of obsessional thoughts or 'stuck thoughts', as she calls them, offers some advice for dealing with them. Borchard is the author of three books on the topic of depression, and the recipient of the 2014 Ray of Light Award from the Dave Nee Foundation.1

Here are 14 of her personal tips to help alleviate the persistence of obsessional thoughts:

  1. Don't Talk Back.
    Trying to respond with logic to an obsessional thought can actually empower it instead of quieting it. The more you try to analyse the obsession, the more attention and focus you give it, and the more it achieves central placement in your mind. Do not dwell on it. Do not argue with it. Do not feed the thought.
  2. Know It Will Pass.
    According to Borchard, her obsessional thoughts can last two or three days. During this time, she "bears with them and ... refrains from doing anything stupid", and eventually, she says, "my brain would be mine again".2 Obsessional thoughts are not permanent. Keep telling yourself they will be gone soon enough.
  3. Focus on Now.
    Borchard says that obsessional thoughts are very often based in the past, as with feelings of regret, etc., or focused on the future. She says that stuck thoughts rarely obsess about things happening in the present, "because we are too busy living this moment."3 So the more we are able to focus on what is happening to us NOW, such as being around people and holding a conversation with them, the more we are able to escape the obsessional thought.
  4. Tune Into the Senses.
    For Borchard, our five senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching are powerful tools which can help break the chain of obsessional thinking. She describes how the sudden grip of her young daughter's hand helped her refocus during a moment of obsessional thought.4 By concentrating on the very immediate, tangible and attention-holding powers of sound, sight, taste, smell and touch, we can push aside a stuck thought.
  5. Do Something Else.
    Distraction is a good tactic for moving stuck thoughts to one side. Read a good book. Watch a riveting film. Work on a puzzle. Listen to some music and sing along. Engage in something you LIKE, that allows your mind to change gears and escape from the obssession.
  6. Change Your Obsession.
    If necessary, replace an undesirable or damaging obsession with a different and less destructive one. Borchard cites an example where a "benign" obsession with securing a restaurant booth in the face of competition took the place of another stuck thought which had been plaguing her.5 Redirection of this sort can help steer the brain away from more destructive obsessions to less worrying ones, if nothing else works.
  7. Blame the Chemistry.
    Remind yourself that obsessional thoughts are, like Borchard says, the result of "special biochemistry inside my noggin [which] is wired to ruminate a LOT."6 Reminding yourself that YOU are not to blame for these thoughts, but rather your biochemical genetics, can help you box up the obsessive process and push it away from you. As Borchard notes, remembering that it is really the fault of her chemistry gives her "great relief".7
  8. Picture It.
    In her article, Borchard describes how watching her young son, who also suffers from obsessional thoughts, can help her. Believing his stuck thoughts to be 'real', her son reacts with bizarre behaviour and language. Borchard says watching his temper tantrums are helpful to her because they serve "as a display of what's going on inside my head, and when I can visualize it, I see how ridiculous it all looks."8
  9. Do the Thing in Front of You.
    When panic engulfs her, and her thoughts spin out of control, Borchard concentrates on the task right in front of her.9 That could be crafting a single sentence, or helping the children with their homework, or making a snack. Concentrating hard on the immediate task before you helps to narrow your mind's focus and to block out peripheral intrusions by unwanted thoughts - a form of protective tunnel vision for your brain.
  10. Rely on Other Brains.
    When your mind is deep in the grip of obsessional thoughts, it is not reliable as a gauge of what is accurate or not. During episodes of stuck thoughts, logic and perspective go out the window. At such times, trust the perspectives of your friends and loved ones. Believe them when they say, "It's NOT you, it's just faulty wiring!" Borchard writes down what her friends tell her, and uses the information to refute her own obsessional mislogic. As she says, "I try to trust them because I know I can't trust my own brain."10
  11. Investigate the Thought (briefly).
    Although Borchard tells us at the beginning that arguing with a stuck thought can be the worst thing you can do, she also acknowledges that sometimes simply asking yourself the question, "Is this true?" can remind yourself that the obsessional thought is a complete fantastical construct of your brain.11 Sometimes that is enough to break the cycle and let reality back in.
  12. Visualise the Thoughts as Hiccups.
    Borchard reminds us that obsessional thoughts are symptoms of a condition as much as nausea or fever, or even bad hiccups. So when obsessional thoughts hit, remember not to berate yourself for them, or feel that they are the result of a character weakness. Blaming yourself for such thoughts is a common reaction to the madness and despair of the moment. Do not beat yourself over the head. Do not feel it is YOUR fault. Remind yourself that these thoughts are a symptom of an illness, a biochemical hiccup.
  13. Use a Mantra.
    Some people find that repeating a mantra helps them diffuse and disempower obsessional thoughts. It can be anything that holds meaning or power for you - such as a phrase from a religious text, or words from a favourite song, or a quote that resonates with you. As a friend of Borchard says, "When my thoughts become intense, I will use a mantra as a kind of racket to hit the ball back."12
  14. Admit Powerlessness.
    Borchard writes that when she has tried every technique and is still tormented by the voices in her head, she lets them be. She admits "powerlessness to my wonderful brain biochemistry." Borchard stops fighting the voices and allows them to "be as loud as they want and to stay as long as they want", because she knows "they will eventually go away."13 As long as you remember you are not to blame for your obsessional thoughts, conceding to them for a short time is not a failure on your part.


1 About the Author, Therese Borchard

2 9 Ways to Let Go of Stuck Thoughts, Therese Borchard, Everyday Health

3 ibid.

4 ibid.

5 ibid.

6 ibid.

7 ibid.

8 ibid.

9 5 Ways to Free Yourself from Dark and Obsessive Thoughts, Therese Borchard, Everyday Health

10 ibid.

11 ibid.

12 ibid.

13 9 Ways to Let Go of Stuck Thoughts, Therese Borchard, Everyday Health

Images from Morguefile and Pixabay.

Friday, August 19, 2016

What to Do Once You've Heard the Diagnosis

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

It was difficult enough knowing that something was wrong, and waiting for the doctor to let you know that the test results were in. Now you’re sitting in her office, and she’s just given you the diagnosis.

It doesn't matter whether she’s told you that you have a chronic illness, a life-threatening terminal condition, or an incurable disease. It could be cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, Parkinson's, diabetes or Alzheimer's.

You need to take the same seven steps, no matter what your new diagnosis is.

Take a deep breath.
You will undoubtedly have lots of questions, and you want answers fast. But you need to settle down first, emotionally as well as mentally. Rarely do you need to make treatment or care plans immediately. Ask the doctor how much time you have from here forward to do your research and choose the best path for life after your diagnosis.

Get a second opinion.
This is really critical, especially if the diagnosed condition is life-threatening or is rare. After all, this doctor is giving you her interpretation of test results, and sometimes test results are not accurate. Most insurance plans provide options for getting another doctor to confirm the diagnosis. Ask your doctor to recommend someone (outside her practice) with whom you can get a quick appointment for a second opinion. If she is offended by that question, or appears unwilling to make a recommendation, that’s proof positive that you NEED a second opinion.

Choose the right doctor.
You will probably want to consult a specialist, someone with expertise and experience treating the condition you’ve been diagnosed with. Be sure to check with your insurance plan to see what will be covered.

Gather your team.
Your care team will probably be larger than just the doctor offering the diagnosis. It may include psychologists, social workers, counselors, physical and occupational therapists, nutritionists, and other health professionals who provide physical, mental and emotional care. Beyond traditional healthcare, your team may include clergy and alternative health practitioners such as acupuncturists, yogis, and meditation instructors. Your team will also include family and friends. Create a master list of all of your team members and their contact information, and share it with the team.

Bring an advocate to your appointments.
This is one role your non-healthcare team members can fill. It is likely that you will not be thinking clearly about all the information the medical team is trying to offer. An advocate can take notes, ask the questions you've agreed upon ahead of time, and ensure that you understand what is being said to you. Going over the written notes your advocate has taken after the appointment is over will help you think more clearly.

Check into clinical trials.
You may feel like there’s nothing you can add to the care you’re being given. Not so—you can contribute to ongoing research about your condition. Clinical trials are often research studies to find out about the safety and effectiveness of new drugs, medical devices and procedures. Other clinical trials are about screening or diagnostic tests, preventive procedures, or quality of life supports. Testing on human subjects follows extensive laboratory and animal testing. To learn more about how clinical trials work, please click here:

Participating in a clinical trial offers hope when existing treatments are not working. It is also how you can access promising new treatments, while getting additional close medical attention. And it’s a way to repay society for the money and effort spent in developing your current treatment options, by helping develop new and improved options for future patients.

You can look on the website of the national support group for your particular diagnosis and often find studies you might consider taking part in. A collection of clinical trials in the US is found by clicking here: A database of clinical trials all over the world is found by clicking here:

Do what is right for you.
Ultimately, your course of action is your decision. Think through, for instance, who you want to share the diagnosis with. Some people prefer total privacy, others may share with family or a few close friends. (You can create an account on or make a private Facebook group for those you wish to include in your communication tree.)

How you determine your quality of life is unique to you. You don’t have to take anyone else’s advice, although you will probably be offered a lot. Make your own choices, and live your best possible life after diagnosis.

Images from Morgefile

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Humpday Hint: Read the Prescription and the Label

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

Doctors are notorious for difficult-to-read handwriting. What does that scribble on the prescription pad actually mean? It’s important that you be able to read the prescription and understand what it is for and how to take it properly. Many abbreviations are used in written prescriptions. Here are a few to remember:

  • Tab = tablet
  • Caps = capsule
  • Top = topically
  • Po = by mouth
  • Prn = as needed
  • Hs = at bedtime
  • Ac = before meals
  • Pc = after meals
  • Q4h = every 4 hours
  • Qd = daily
  • Bid = twice a day
  • Tid = 3 times a day
  • Qid = 4 times a day
  • Disp#60 = dispense 60 pills

You should also always ask the prescribing pharmacist what the prescription is for, how to take it, and if there are any warnings. Often you will find warning labels on the pill bottle: Do not operate heavy equipment. Do not drink grapefruit juice. These warnings are added by the pharmacist, and are not part of your doctor’s prescription. Again, it’s important to find out why these warnings are being given. Every pharmacy has a pharmacist on duty who can answer your questions.

Images from Morguefile

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Healthier Bite of Barbecue

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

Summer means barbecue season for many in warmer climates. However, traditional outdoor picnic foods do hold some health hazards you need to be aware of.

In general, follow these safe picnic food tips:

  • All food should be kept refrigerated or on ice until it is ready to be grilled or served. This is especially important for foods that contain mayonnaise.
  • Wash your hands and cooking and serving utensils in warm soapy water before beginning to prepare the meal.
  • Use a new platter for cooked foods. Put the platter used to transport raw food directly into the warm soapy wash water once it is empty.

Cooking meats requires special care. Pay attention to the following:

  • Never re-use meat marinades.
  • Always cook meats thoroughly. Never partially grill foods intending to finish cooking them later, because harmful bacteria may grow.

It’s not possible to tell if meat is “done” by looking at it, even if you cut into it. Always use an instant-read meat thermometer so you can be sure the meat is thoroughly cooked but not overcooked and dried out. Cook meats to the following internal temperatures:

  • Poultry 165°F
  • Beef, pork, lamb, and veal (steaks, roasts, and chops) 145°F
  • Ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal 160°F
  • After taking cooked meat and poultry off the grill, let it sit for 5 minutes before serving. The temperature will even out and meat juices will settle. This means when you cut into the meat, it will be moist and tender.

One potential health risk raised by grilling is HCAs. HCAs (heterocyclic amines) are chemicals formed in muscle meats when they are cooked over high temperatures, such as on a grill. These chemicals tend to form the longer meat is cooked, when it gets charred, or when it is exposed to smoke from fat drippings.

Research suggests that HCAs damage DNA, and may encourage the growth of tumors in the colon, breast, prostate and lymph systems. To learn more about HCAs, please click this link:

For healthier grilling of red meat and poultry, please consider the following tips:

  • Remove visible fat to prevent drips and flare-ups.
  • Cook smaller leaner portions of meat. These take less time to cook, and produce less smoke.
  • You can also pre-cook meats in the microwave for 2 minutes to reduce grilling time. The pre-cooked meat will release some of its juices, which should be discarded. Then immediately cook the meat on the preheated grill.
  • If you use a charcoal grill, cook the food on the center of the grate but push the coals to the sides for indirect heat.

Grilling seafoods, vegetables or fruits does not seem to form HCAs. If you are making mixed veggie and meat kebabs, cook each ingredient on separate skewers to avoid cross-contamination. You can grill bite-sized chunks of tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, zucchini and peppers for a delightful dose of healthy ingredients.

Traditional picnic side dishes are often not particularly healthy choices. Instead of recipes which may have excessive calories, salt and carbs, try some of these substitutions:

  • Sample a whole grain salad with additional beans or quinoa instead of a pasta salad with mayo.
  • Enjoy coleslaw with light dressing instead of a traditional potato salad.
  • Eat a grilled sweet potato instead of a baked potato with gobs of toppings.
  • Serve slices of tomato and avocado drizzled with a mix of olive oil and vinegar instead of nutrition-deficient iceberg lettuce drowned in unhealthy full-fat ranch dressing.

Images from Morguefile

Friday, August 12, 2016

Putting Your Best Foot Forward (in the right shoes)

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

Choosing shoes is not mainly about fashion, especially if you have a disability that involves balance or mobility issues, or if you have reduced sensation in your feet and legs. Sure you want to look great, but you also want to feel good and move easily. Of course everyone is different, but if you are dealing with these disability factors you must consider comfortable fit before style.

First, don’t buy a shoe or size and think you will break them in and that they will be more comfortable after you have worn them a few times. It’s not likely to happen.

Next, think about heel height. Women should not wear anything with a heel taller than two inches. Higher heels cause foot pain and make walking more difficult.

Also, avoid backless styles (mules or slip-ons) that can slide off your heels and cause you to fall. Flip flops are also dangerous because they require toe strength to keep them on, and a good sense of balance to walk in them properly.

If your fine motor skills allow you to tie shoelaces, tie shoes are the most likely to stay put on your feet. However, if tying shoelaces is not possible for you, choose a pair with Velcro fastener strips or stretchy elastic laces that you can tie once and then slip on and off.

Hold the shoe you are considering buying and check its weight and flexibility. If you have trouble lifting your feet, a lighter weight shoe may help. If you have balance issues, perhaps a heavier, less flexible shoe would be a better choice to help with stability.

The stiffness of a shoe is controlled by a metal piece inside the sole, called the shank. Try carefully bending the toe of the shoe upward to test the shank’s stiffness. People differ in how stiff they prefer their shoes, but in general less stiffness makes walking easier. Choose whatever works best for your needs.

Turn the shoe upside down and examine the bottom of the sole. The sole material and tread pattern will make a difference in your walking. Smooth leather soles tend to be slippery on many surface. Rubber soles with some corrugation provide a little cushioning and grip most surface better. But this may be a trade off, as shoes with deeper tread have thicker, heavier soles, and the added weight may be a deterrent. Thin soled shoes may be better for persons with sensory impairment in their feet, since they have trouble getting sensory feedback from the surfaces they walk on.

With all these factors to consider, it’s important to recognize that the most important factor in choosing the best shoes is finding the correct size. If you get shoes that are too small, you risk pain and disfigurement. If your shoes are too large, you expend additional energy keeping the shoes on your feet as you walk in them. Try shoe shopping at the end of the day, when your feet tend to be swollen a bit more than usual. Then choose a size that extends a half inch past your longest toe.

These suggestions will help you put your best foot forward next time you shop for new shoes.

Photos from Morguefile

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Humpday Hint: A Bit About Balance

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

Your sense of balance is one of the more complex feedback mechanisms in your body. It involves environmental cues such as what you see, what you feel on the bottom of your feet, and how your inner ear is reacting to gravity. Your brain integrates all this incoming information and tells certain muscles to activate and others to relax, in order to maintain the posture you wish.

There are two types of balance: static and dynamic. When you are holding still, either sitting or standing, static balance helps you control your posture. When you are moving—walking, running, biking, getting up off a chair—dynamic balance helps you control your posture as it changes while you move.

Your ability to balance or control your posture in various positions is critical to maintaining a healthy functional body. Good balance allows you to sense where your body is in space without looking. Occasionally things go wrong with your balance system. Your senses may become overwhelmed and so can the decision-making portion of your brain. When this happens, your balance system malfunctions. Without proper balance, you could fall. Injuries sustained in a fall often lead to decreased independence and quality of life, especially for older well adults and for persons with disabilities.

Balance exercises also build strength and coordination, and increase the range of motion of joints. Improving your balance is not only good for your physical health, it will improve your self-confidence.

Simple balance exercises are easy to do. Try standing on one foot whenever you can—washing dishes, waiting in line, brushing your teeth…. Try standing with your weight on one leg and slowly raising the other leg backwards as far as you can get it to go. Now try moving that leg out to the side. Repeat with the opposite legs.

Walking heel-to-toe is a more challenging balance activity than it may seem at first. Can you move from sitting to standing, and back to sitting, without using your hands? That movement also requires balance.

Tai chi is a good balancing activity. So are many yoga moves. For a slideshow of simple balance exercises, please click this link:

Try to do balance exercises at least twice a week. As you begin doing balance exercises regularly, you will be able to move on to progressively more difficult ones. For a real challenge try doing your exercises on an unstable surface such as a foam square, balance pillow or disc.

As always, consult your medical professionals before beginning any exercise program. If you have severe balance problems or an orthopedic condition, they may be able to prescribe physical therapy to address your issues.

Image from Morguefile

Monday, August 8, 2016

"The Neglected Organ": Your Microbiome's Role as Guardian and Protector

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

Weizmann Institute of Science immunologist Dr Eran Elinav calls the microbiome -- the collection of commensal bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi which live in and on us -- our "neglected organ", both integral to the body, and with a microbial composition and function unique to each person.1 Cornell University Professor of Immunotoxicology Rodney Dietert describes the lack of a complete or adequate microbiome in newborns the "equivalent [in many ways] of being born with a serious birth defect, resulting in inappropriately matured physiological systems."2 Describing the 'seeding' of a complete microbiome at birth as "absolutely critical for a healthful life", Dietert states:

In the absence of effective microbiome-based training, the immune system does not learn what is safe outside of the body, resulting in haphazard, inappropriate reactions to innocuous environmental factors -- allergens such as pollen, mold, cat dander, and peanuts. It also fails to properly recognize and ignore internal targets, resulting in autoimmune and inflammatory responses that are misdirected, ineffective, and sometimes never-ending. Such reactions can eventually compromise the function of our own tissues and organs.3

With the microbiome not generally recognised to even exist until the late 1990s,4 medical science has been unaware, until very recently, of the critical role this overlooked 'organ' plays in our health and well-being. This role cannot be overstated. The human is a composite creature of single-celled organisms from all domains of life (eukaryotes, archaea, bacteria) and its own mammalian cells -- a composition Dietert calls a "superorganism".5 This superorganism that is the human is, by cell numbers, "approximately 90% microbial".6 The University of Washington's Ecogenetics Center describes humans as "mostly microbes", with microbes outnumbering human cells by ten to one.7 Residing mostly in the gut, this microbiome can weigh as much as 5 pounds (2 kg).8

While two-thirds of each person's microbiome development is unique to them, the result of lifestyle choices and environmental factors,9 the newborn's initial microbiome is largely inherited from the mother, 'seeded' through its birth via the birth canal.10 This process exposes the baby to vaginal microbiota and also maternal intestinal flora. Skin-to-skin seeding is also significant at birth. Dietert notes that "cesarean-delivered babies typically have altered immune profiles and are at an elevated risk for NCDs [non-communicable diseases] such as asthma, type 1 diabetes, and obesity."11 The University of Utah's Genetic Science Learning Center's profiling of such non-communicable health conditions now known to be linked to a compromised microbiome include: acne, antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, asthma, allergies, autism, auto-immune diseases, cancer, dental cavities, depression and anxiety, diabetes, eczema, gastric ulcers, hardening of the arteries, inflammatory bowel diseases, malnutrition and obesity.12 The University of Washington's Ecogenetics Center states, more directly, that "autoimmune diseases appear to be passed in families not by DNA inheritance but by inheriting the family's microbiome."13 The vertical transmission of familial microbiome inheritance is, however, greatly complicated by modern living circumstances. Dietert points out that the

increase in cesarean deliveries, the reduced prevalence and duration of breastfeeding, overuse of antibiotics both as prescription drugs and in agriculture, modern urban living surrounded by sanitizers, and a general tendency to limit contact with the environment have changed our relationship with the microbes that are an integral part of our biology.14

An additional and important factor of microbiome health is not mentioned in Dietert's article -- the everyday consumption of fibre. Like Dietert, Stanford microbiologists Drs Justin and Erica Sonnenburg also believe there is a direct link between the health of the body's ecosystem of intestinal microbial organisms and 'Western diseases' such as irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, diabetes, allergies and food sensitivities. However, they believe that the root of the problem is the recently-evolved Western diet -- a diet high in processed foods which lack the abundant and diverse fibre we need.15 With such foods, digestion takes place in the stomach and small intestine, leaving too little fuel for the beneficial microbes in the large intestine to maintain themselves with. This leads to low bacterial diversity in the gut, unbalanced microbe communities, and a damaged microbiome. The change from traditional high-fibre hunter-gatherer diets to the last 100 years of the most processed and modified foodstuffs ever experienced in human history,16 has contributed to what the Sonnenburgs call a "mass extinction event" of the 100 trillion bacteria required to tune our immune systems and regulate inflammation.17 This dietary time frame correlates directly with the rise of non-communicable diseases. Dietert writes:

In less than 100 years, leading diseases and causes of death have shifted dramatically away from infectious diseases and heavily toward noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), not just in developed countries, but around the globe. NCDs are now the number one killer worldwide, accounting for 63 percent of all mortalities.18, 19

For the generation which grew up in the 1920s, Dietert notes that

fear of infectious diseases -- including typhoid fever, cholera, and influenza -- far outweighed concerns about heart disease or cancer. Autism, Alzheimer's, attention deficit disorder, and Parkinson's disease were virtually unheard of. Allergies, then called hay fever, were around, but not common. Ratchet the '80s and '90s, and the fear of cancer grew enormously, while a number of new diseases began to appear [...] Asthma, autism, lupus, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, attention deficit disorder, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, obesity, and diabetes, among others, became common concerns. Fast-forward another two decades to the present day, and it is not a matter of whether you, your friends, or family members have one of these ailments, but which ones and how many.20

Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are also directly linked to the health of the microbiome. In an article for the American Psychological Association, Dr Suri Carpenter points out that gut bacteria manufacture approximately 95% of the body's supply of serotonin, a neurotransmitter which affects mood, sleep, memory, digestion, and increases feelings of well-being. In addition, the microbiome produces "hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood",21 rendering it, for University of California's Center for Neurobiology of Stress gastroenterologist Dr Emeran Mayer, "almost unthinkable that the gut is not playing a critical role in mind states."22 In other words, an unhealthy microbiome can lead to mental health instability.

For Dietert, "altered microbiomes and elevated risk of NCDs go hand in hand",23 creating a modern living landscape where non-communicable disease is now a persistent, global, medical situation with the highest mortality rates. Without doubt, we need to preserve and maintain microbiome health. Damaging our microbiome can be far easier, and quicker, than replenishing it: research shows that gut bacteria depleted by diarrhoea or antibiotics take approximately 30 days to recover to their pre-diarrhoea or pre-antibiotics state.24 So how can we look after our microbiome as best as we can? Here are three key ways:

1) Avoid processed and fast food

A Cornell University-Kings College experiment showed that even just 10 days of eating McDonald's fast food "devastated" the microbiome of a 23-year old male, with "massive shifts in his common microbe groups."25 Kings College Professor of Genetic Epidemiology Tim Spector asked his son Tom to eat all his meals at McDonald's for 10 days, with additional beer and crisps in the evenings. Fecal samples were collected before, during and after the experiment, and sent to three different labs to ensure consistency. Within 4 days of the diet, Tom experienced lethargy, which continued to increase. His friends thought he had "gone a strange grey colour" by day 7.26 The last few days were "a real struggle", with Tom feeling "really unwell".27 After 10 days on the diet, Tom lost 50 percent of his Bifidobacteria (good bacteria which suppress inflammation), and his firmicutes (bacteria which helps us extract energy from food) had been replaced with obesity-linked bacteroidetes as the dominant type. In addition, he had lost an estimated 1,400 species of bacteria after just a few days -- nearly 40% of his total species diversity. Two weeks after ending the McDonald's experiment and returning to a healthy diet, Tom's microbes had not recovered.28

2) Increase your prebiotics

Eat diverse and plentiful amounts of prebiotics (dietary fibre which feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut). Have as wide a variety of plant-based fibre as you can, as different microbes require different polysaccharides, the complex carbohydrates in plant matter which they feed on.29 Research shows that there is a direct correlation between the food we eat, and the species of bacteria which responds: for example, the standard Western diet which is high in protein and fat produces greater proportions of the Bacteroides genus linked to obesity, while a high-carbohydrate, high-fibre diet, encourages higher numbers of healthy Prevotella bacteria.30 Increasing your fibre choices will increase your microbiome diversity. As Spector notes, "the clearest marker of an unhealthy gut is losing species diversity... Loss of diversity is a universal signal of ill health in the guts of obese and diabetic people and triggers a range of immunity problems in lab mice."31 Good prebiotic foods include onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, asparagus, beets, cabbage, beans and legumes, bran, whole wheat and grains, oats, barley and bananas.32

3) Probiotics can be useful

They certainly won't hurt. Aim for properly fermented foods which are full of beneficial lactic acid producing bacteria. These include yoghurt with live cultures, unpasteurised miso, kefir, tempeh and fermented vegetables such as pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi. NOTE: Always look for these foods in the refrigerated section, as shelf-stored varieties do not contain live bacteria.33.


1 How your gut bacteria govern your health -- and how you can change them for the better, Trust Me, I'm A Doctor, BBC Two

2 The sum of our parts, Dietert, Janice & Dietert, Rodney, The Scientist

3 ibid.

4 Fast Facts About the Human Microbiome, Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, University of Washington

5 The sum of our parts, Dietert, Janice & Dietert, Rodney, The Scientist

6 ibid.

7 Fast Facts About the Human Microbiome, Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, University of Washington

8 ibid.

9 The gut microbiome: how does it affect our health?, Honor Whiteman, Medical News Today

10 The sum of our parts, Dietert, Janice & Dietert, Rodney, The Scientist

11 ibid.

12 The Microbiome and Disease, Genetic Science Learning Centre, University of Utah

13 Fast Facts About the Human Microbiome, Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, University of Washington

14 The sum of our parts, Dietert, Janice & Dietert, Rodney, The Scientist

15 Cute Family. And you should see their bacteria, John Swansburg, New York Magazine

16 Food processing: a century of change, Welch, R.W., & Mitchell, P.C., British Medical Bulletin, 2000, 56 (No 1) 1-17

17 Cute Family. And you should see their bacteria, John Swansburg, New York Magazine

18 The sum of our parts, Dietert, Janice & Dietert, Rodney, The Scientist

19 The global economic burden of noncommunicable diseases, Bloom, D.E. et al, Geneva, World Economic Forum, 2011

20 The sum of our parts, Dietert, Janice & Dietert, Rodney, The Scientist

21 That gut feeling, Siri Carpenter, Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association

22 ibid.

23 The sum of our parts, Dietert, Janice & Dietert, Rodney, The Scientist

24 Gut microbial succession follows acute sensory diarrhea in humans, Lawrence A. David, et al, mBio, American Society for Microbiology

25 Your gut bacteria don't like junk food, even if you do, Tim Spector, The Conversation

26 ibid.

27 ibid.

28 ibid.

29 Cute Family. And you should see their bacteria, John Swansburg, New York Magazine

30 Eat these 3 foods for a healthy gut, Johannah Sakimura, Everyday Health

31 Your gut bacteria don't like junk food, even if you do, Tim Spector, The Conversation

32 Eat these 3 foods for a healthy gut, Johannah Sakimura, Everyday Health

33 ibid.

Images from Pixabay

Friday, August 5, 2016

Harvard Study: Trans fats linked to highest mortality association amongst different dietary fats

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

A July 5th 2016 Harvard study has provided the most detailed and powerful evidence to date on how dietary fats affect health. In a study which followed 126,233 participants for 30 years, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers found that higher consumption of saturated and trans fats was linked to higher mortality compared with the same number of calories from carbohydrates, whereas higher consumption of unsaturated fats was associated with lower mortality levels.1

The study found different types of dietary fats had different associations with mortality. High intake of unsaturated fats -- both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated such as olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil and coldwater fish oil -- was associated with between 11% and 19% lower overall mortality compared with the same number of calories from carbohydrates. Higher consumption of saturated fats (such as butter, lard, fat from red meats) was linked with greater mortality risk, with every 5% increase in saturated fat intake associated with 8% higher risk of overall mortality, when compared with the same number of calories from carbohydrates. Trans fats, however, were found to have the most significant adverse impact on health: every 2% higher intake of trans fat was associated with a 16% higher chance of premature death during the study period.2

So what is trans fat? While trans fat occurs naturally in small amounts in some meat and dairy products, most trans fat is produced through an industrial process which adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, causing the oil to become solid at room temperature. This partially-hydrogenated oil is less likely to spoil, so foods made with trans fat have a longer shelf life. Also called trans-fatty acids, trans fat is already known to raise 'bad' (LDL) cholesterol and lower 'good' (HDL) cholesterol, a combination which increases risk of heart disease.3 Trans fat, particularly the manufactured variety, appears to have no known benefit, with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determining that partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil is no longer "generally recognized as safe", and should be phased out by 2018.4 Denmark has banned all but trace amounts of trans fat in food since 2003. In the UK, trans fats are not banned, but the Food Standards Agency has proposed greater transparency to food labelling with regard to trans fat amounts.5

With the Harvard study providing the strongest evidence yet of the risks posed by trans fats, every effort should be made to avoid these dangerous fats in our diet. Be aware that even if the nutrition label on a particular food says there is no trans fat, food brands are allowed to round amounts down to zero if there is less than half a gram. If the label mentions "partially hydrogenated oil", it means that trans fat is present.6

The following is a list of commonly-available foods often containing trans fats.

  • Fried fast foods
  • French fries
  • Pie crust
  • Margarine
  • Shortening
  • Frosting
  • Non-dairy whipped dessert toppings
  • Cake mixes
  • Pancake and waffle mixes
  • Non-dairy creamer
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Cookies and cakes
  • Biscuits and sweet rolls
  • Doughnuts
  • Crackers
  • Cream-filled candies
  • Creamy frozen drinks
  • Ice cream
  • Frozen pizza
  • Packaged pudding
  • Tortillas
  • White bread
  • Crunchy noodles and instant noodles
  • Microwaveable breakfast sandwiches
  • Meat sticks
  • Animal fat and dairy


1. Higher consumption of unsaturated fat linked with lower mortality, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

2. Ibid.

3. Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health, Mayo Clinic.

4. The FDA takes step to remove artificial trans fats in processed foods, US Food and Drug Administration.

5. Trans Fats, NHS Choices.

6. 13 Foods Highest in Trans Fats, Dan Myers.


Avoid these 10 foods full of trans fats, Kristin Kirkpatrick.

22 Worst Foods for Trans Fat, Amanda MacMillan.

10 foods to avoid that contain hydrogenated oils, Sequoia.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Humpday Hint: Using Credit Cards Wisely

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

Credit cards are useful ways to build credit ratings by showing future lenders that you are responsible in your spending and borrowing habits. They are also helpful in the rare financial emergencies.

Get the right card to begin with.

When you are first eligible for credit cards, you often are inundated with mailed offers from a variety of companies. To begin with, select just one card with a low spending limit. Choose one that also has a low annual fee and low interest rate. You’ll be building your credit rating by using this one card wisely.
Be sure you read your cardholder agreement carefully. It will explain all the fees and finance charges that apply to your type of account. If you have questions, call the toll-free customer service number, usually found on the back of the card or the top of each statement document.

Don’t use your credit card for everyday purchases.
That’s what cash or a debit card (that takes money directly from your bank account) are for. Use your credit card for purchasing more expensive, longer lasting items.

Check your budget first.
Don’t use your credit card to buy things you really can’t afford. Always follow your budget. Before using the card, you have to be sure you can repay it. Try to keep credit card debt low enough that your required payments never exceed 10% of your lowest monthly income.

Pay off as much of your monthly balance as you can.

Always make at least the minimum payment required each month. If you can afford to pay more than the minimum, do so. Pay off the entire balance whenever possible. The more you pay off each month, the lower the finance charges you will have to pay. You should try to keep the owed balance on your card lower than 70% of the card’s credit limit at all times.

Pay your credit card bill on time.
Be sure your payment will arrive before the due date. Paying your bill on time each month is one of the best ways to build good credit; it shows future lenders that you’re reliable. Plus it also helps you avoid being charged additional late fees.

Stay under your credit limit.
Credit card companies will charge you an over-limit fee if you spend over your specified limit (check your cardholder agreement for the exact percentage.) You can avoid this problem by keeping track of your credit card use during each month. Keep a slip of paper in your wallet to write down every time you use your card, and keep a running total. You’ll want to be sure you always have about 30% of your allowed total available in case of an emergency.

Cash advances are only for emergencies.
Don’t take a cash advance just because your credit card company offers one. Use advances only in real emergencies. You’ll probably be charged an additional fee for the cash advance, and the interest rate on cash advances is usually much higher than the regular interest rate for the credit card. Check your cardholder agreement document for full details.

Get debt help early.
If you’re in financial trouble, get professional help right away. If you feel you are getting into trouble with debt, get help soon rather than waiting for the situation to get worse. Set up an appointment with a credit counselor, an experienced financial professional who can help you plan ways to get out of debt.

Images credit: Pixabay

Monday, August 1, 2016

De-stress Effectively

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

Everyone handles stress differently. Some people can juggle family, children, work, personal fitness, housekeeping and the tax return without blinking. Others, however, can find it difficult to negotiate even minor stresses in life, such as mild criticism. Increasingly, also, there are people with health conditions which generate anxiety and depression, making it harder for them to handle stressful situations. And there are others who manage disabilities such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or Complex-PTSD, which can make it nearly impossible to face many kinds of everyday stressors at all. Because we live in an increasingly high-pressured world which puts constant demands on us, we need to learn to deal effectively with stress. Inability to handle stress can, in the long term, lead to ill health.

Here are 15 tips to help you de-stress effectively.

1) Give yourself enough time
Whether it's getting ready for work or an appointment, or preparing a meal or receiving guests, the key thing is to give yourself enough time. Wake up earlier, give yourself an extra 15 or 20 minutes so that you're not rushing about in a panic. The extra time will give you time to think, to do things calmly and properly, to centre yourself and assess the situation correctly. Do not rush out the door in a frazzle -- things tend to go downhill from there.

2) Create a calm corner
For some people, a 'calm corner' helps. Create a soothing space or room with colours along the gray, green or blue spectrum, rather than red, orange or yellow. Dress this space with items or memories which calm you, such as a photograph of someone you love and respect, or pictures of a favourite pet or place. Let this space trigger good, happy, positive feelings and associations.

3) The tidying tactic
Clean out your junk drawers or corners. Tidying your home or personal spaces will also tidy up your mind, give you access into areas you've procrastinated about, and set up a boundary between having 'done something' and 'done nothing'. Purging junk and unused things will give you a sense of order and satisfaction, of moving ahead in your life rather than standing still, and a feeling that you've done something tangible and purposeful. Visible organisation will help your mental organisation -- it is also a cleansing process which helps untangle your mental and emotional knots.

4) Visualise and discard
Visualise your stressful thoughts as clouds or packages which you deliberately set adrift and send away into the distance. This is to remind you that your thoughts are not YOU, they are products distinct from you, constructions of thinking, and that unpleasant or negative thoughts can be identified and tackled.

5) Watch cute animal videos
Watching cat, dog or fluffy animal videos is definitely a feel-good exercise, especially if you love animals. Pets exert a calming and soothing influence on people, partially because their presence is (mostly) free from the social and power politics embedded in (most) human interaction, and we tend to be more 'natural' and less guarded and tense in their presence. Watching animal videos can distract you from a stressful trajectory and take you to a different place, like a good book or movie might. When you return from that positive other place, you are more equipped to start afresh.

6) Sing out loud, loud
Singing aloud can release stress the way a 'stress-shouting session' can. Letting your voice out is a sensory exercise; you can hear your voice reverberating through your body, and it lets you put internal feelings into an action, sound and sensation you direct outwards and away from you. By letting your voice put it out there, you are helping to get the stress out of yourself.

7) Muscle the stress away
This exercise does two things: it relaxes your body physically, which relaxes the mind; and it is a powerful sensory distraction which takes your mind away from the stress. Working from the top of your head to your toes, tense individual groups of muscles for 5 seconds at a time, then relax. Do this several times. Work all muscle groups until your whole body is relaxed.

8) Take deep breaths
Deep breathing also relaxes the body and your mind. Take deep breaths through your nose, making sure your diaphragm expands well. The extra oxygen will slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure, helping with any stress.

9) Count your blessings
It might be a cliché, but it is still effective. Look for the silver lining, and be thankful for what you have, because it could certainly be worse. Be glad for all the good things in your life.

10) Let your nose help
Everyone has favourite smells and scents. Employing such favourite smells could be an aid to lowering stress. Smells have powerful associative connections to memories and emotions -- triggering a happy memory or sensation would certainly distract you from your current stressor.

11) Do something physical you enjoy
Doing something physical which you like -- such as gardening or rearranging the living-room furniture -- is a good technique to counter stress with. It focuses the mind on one thought or objective rather than let it dwell on the merry-go-round of stressful thoughts, thus breaking the negative repetition cycle in your mind.

12) Listen to nice music
Again, this is powerful re-direction technique. Listening to soothing music or favourite sounds, such as a bubbling brook, refocuses your mind on something else with good vibes, to break the stress cycle in your mind.

13) Exercise
A good bout of exercise will help defuse the flight or fight state that is stress, and rid your body of the unhealthy adrenalin that has built up. Exercise will also release feel-good chemicals such as endorphin, creating an all-over body high that may give you a new perspective on things.

14) Bring back good memories
Reminiscing about good, happy and funny memories is always a powerful de-stressing tool. "Remember when Dad was chased by that small goat?" stories bring back the laughter and associated emotions of favourite memories, which in turn leave you feeling good.

15) Help others
Not so strangely, perhaps, helping others is one of the most effective ways of getting rid of stress. Helping others makes you feel good about yourself -- and feeling good about yourself and your actions is what de-stressing is all about.


10 stressbusting strategies for your daily commute, Everyday Health

10 relaxation techniques that zap stress fast, Jeannette Moninger, WebMD

13 ways to beat stress in 15 minutes or less, Yelena Shuster, Health

Photos credit: Pixabay