Friday, December 30, 2016

3 Tips for a Depressed Mood

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

Clinical depression affects people in different ways and can cause a wide variety of symptoms. These can range from lasting feelings of sadness, hopelessness, tearfulness, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, physical symptoms such as fatigue, aches and pains, sleeping badly or too much, having no appetite or sex drive, and symptoms of anxiety.1 Symptoms of anxiety can in turn include feeling worried or restless, dizziness, heart palpitations,2 and also, from this author's personal experience, panic attacks, feeling constantly overwhelmed and disoriented, gastric problems such as acidity and nausea, the inability to think or concentrate, inability to keep the body warm, shaking hands, locked jaw muscles, difficulty speaking, and severe unease and anxiety around people. The severity of depressive symptoms also varies with individuals, and can range from feeling persistently low in spirit or mood, to feeling that life is no longer worth living, with accompanying suicidal thoughts. Depression is a real illness with real symptoms which must be treated. The good thing is that with the right treatment and support, most people can make a full recovery.3

Even if you are taking medication for depression, there are additional everyday things you can do to help alleviate low or depressed mood. While depression can make it very difficult to embrace change, or take part in new actions or thoughts, do your best to try out these 3 tips. They can help!

1) Get Enough Vitamin D

Research now links Vitamin D deficiency to depression, amongst other conditions.4,5 A 2013 Boston University study has found that people with the lowest levels of Vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those with normal levels.6,7 Low serum levels of vitamin D have also been found to predict clinically-significant depressive symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals.8,9 Therefore, make sure you get enough Vitamin D by way of direct sunshine on your skin (not through glass) or Vitamin D supplements, and remember that Vitamin D levels in your body can take months to return to normal once depleted.10 People with dark skin may need up to 25 times more exposure time than those with light skins to produce the same amount of Vitamin D, so adjust accordingly.11

2) Walk Lighter & Brighter

A 2014 Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) study found that while the way we feel can affect the way we walk, the way we walk can also influence the way we feel. Past research by Queen's University researcher and CIFAR Senior Fellow Nikolaus Troje had already shown that people with depression move very differently to people without depression. The CIFAR study, however, found that making people walk as if they had depression had the effect of lowering their mood. Subjects asked to adopt 'depressed' walking postures (shoulders slouched, body hunched over, minimal arm movements) experienced worse moods than subjects who were asked to walk more brightly, and they remembered many more negative terms from a list of 'positive' and 'negative' words such as 'pretty', 'anxious', and 'afraid'. According to Troje, mood affects memory, and clinically depressed people recall negative memories more often than positive ones, especially if the memories involved themselves directly. The negatively-tinged memories then lower their mood even more. Troje says, "If you can break that self-perpetuating cycle, you might have a strong therapeutic tool [with which] to work with depressive patients."12

3) Exercise!

A 2014 University College London study found that people who exercised more faced a lower risk of depression. Published in JAMA Psychiatry, the 30-year study of over 11,000 people found a two-way relationship between depression and physical activity -- people who were active were less likely to be depressed, while people who were depressed were less likely to be active. The study found that each additional activity session per week reduced the odds of depression by 6%. UCL Institute of Child Health researcher and lead author of the study Dr Snehal Pinto Pereira says, "Assuming the association is causal, leisure time physical activity has a protective effect against depression. If an adult between their twenties and forties who isn't physically active became active 3 times per week, they would reduce their risk of depression by approximately 16%. ..[T]his effect was seen across the whole population and not just in those at high risk of clinical depression. The more physically active people were, the fewer depressive symptoms they reported."13


1 Clinical Depression, National Health System UK

2 Generalised anxiety disorder in adults, National Health System UK

3 Clinical Depression, National Health System UK

4 Davenport, Liam, Vitamin D levels predict depression, Medscape

5 Hossein-nezhad, A, et al, Influence of Vitamin D status and Vitamin D3 supplementation on genome wide expression of white blood cells: a randomized double-blind clinical trial, US National Centre for Biotechnology Information

6 ibid.

7 10 Vitamin D deficiency symptoms you can identify yourself, University Health News Daily (Depression)

8 Davenport, Liam, Vitamin D levels predict depression, Medscape

9 Kerr, David C.R., et al, Associations between Vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women, Journal of Psychiatry Research

10 Archer, Dale, Vitamin D deficiency and depression, Psychology Today

11 ibid.

12 Change your walking style, change your mood, Science Daily

13 Leisure time physical activity linked to lower depression risk, University College London News

Image Credits:
Depression: Counselling, Pixabay
Vitamin D: Daria-Yakovleva, Morguefile
Walking: Pexels, Pixabay
Exercise: stevepb, Pixabay

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Humpday Hint: Creating, Even Cooking, Beats “the Blues”

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

Many of us realize that we feel less stressed or calmer after we have cooked or crafted something. But does creativity really help?

Research1 suggests that doing small creative projects can help people feel more relaxed and happier. The researchers studied 658 people who kept detailed diaries for two weeks. Those who did at least one small creative project each day felt both happier and that they had more personal growth (the psychological term is “flourishing”).

One theory related to this research is that the “feel good” might last into the next day, encouraging the individual to do another creative activity. This means the improved feelings might increase over time.

Another theory is that the concentration required for a creative task like cooking (following a recipe, measuring ingredients, keeping track of cooking time, tasting for the right balance of ingredients, etc.) can be beneficial. Focusing on the task may have benefits similar to meditation2.

So while macramé, embroidery, china painting and baking may not be cures for depression, they probably will lift the spirits of anyone who engages in them.


1 Conner, T. S., DeYoung, C. G. & Silvia, P. J. (2016). Everyday creative activity as a path to flourishing., Journal of Positive Psychology.

2 Qureshi, H. (2013). Can baking improve mental health?, The Guardian.

Image Credits: Morguefile and Pixabay

Monday, December 26, 2016

Appeasing Mid-morning Hunger with Almonds

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

It might seem counter-intuitive, but eating a small snack of almonds mid-morning not only helps you feel less hungry at lunch and at dinner, but you will also eat fewer calories overall. Amazing?

Dr. Roberta Re, a nutritionist, found that when people ate a portion and a half (1.5 ounces, or about 35 whole almonds) of almonds between breakfast and lunch, they felt fuller and more satisfied for longer1.

There’s more good news about eating almonds as a snack. If you chew each nut 40 times, you will feel fuller longer, according to researchers at Purdue University2. When you chew, you break down the cell walls in the nut, releasing more healthy nutrients like vitamin E. Of course if you feel silly chewing so much, you can always use almond nut butter or make an almond-based smoothie and use tech instead of teeth to release the nut’s nutrients.


1 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). (2013). The right snack may aid satiety, weight loss. ScienceDaily.

2 Almond Board of California. (2009). New almond study finds chewing is more than meets the mouth: Thorough chewing may influence feelings of fullness.

Image credit: Pixabay.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday Heart Syndrome

Contributing author: Alice Krueger

In her made-for-TV movie, LeAnn Rimes advises everyone to “Put a little holiday in your heart..” That’s great, unless you end up in the Emergency Room with atrial fibrillation or a heart attack. Then you might be diagnosed with Holiday Heart Syndrome1.

Atrial fibrillation feels like heart palpitations, caused by an extremely rapid abnormal heart rhythm in the atria or upper chambers of the heart. It is often accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath and feeling light-headed, and may lead to stroke or heart failure.

A heart attack occurs when blood vessels in the heart muscle become blocked. The blockage is often a plaque of fatty substances (cholesterol) inside the hollow of the blood vessels. The affected area of muscle is damaged or dies from lack of oxygen, and the pumping action of the heart is impaired or stops altogether.

Heart injuries and heart attacks are most common during the holiday season. December 25 is the date with the highest rate of fatal heart attacks, followed by December 26 and January 12. The increase in deadly cardiac events on these dates might be due to several factors, including delaying treatment for cardiac symptoms “because it’s the holidays,” being sad or depressed, or abnormal amounts of exercise in cold weather (such as shoveling heavy snow).

Research has shown that one of the main causes of Holiday Heart Syndrome is heavy alcohol consumption3. While low alcohol consumption may have a positive effect on your heart’s health4, heavy drinking has devastating effects on the level of fatty acids in the blood and the functioning of the heart’s electrical pacing system5.

Heavy alcohol consumption is defined as more than 14 drinks in a week or more than 4 drinks in one day for men. For women, it’s defined as more than 7 drinks in a week or more than 3 drinks in one day6. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounce of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits7 (reference 7 has a nice illustration of amounts). This means both steady higher levels of consumption and binge drinking are problematic, behaviors which may be more prevalent during the holiday season.

Other holiday lifestyle factors can result in cardiac problems. Overeating, probably even more common than usual during the holidays, causes the stomach and intestines to stretch out. This activates nerves that usually slow down the heart. However, in people who have atrial fibrillation, stimulation of these nerves may set off the irregular rapid heartbeat.

We also tend to take in excessive amounts of salt in our food. This causes our bodies to retain fluid, which raises blood pressure. If people already have high blood pressure or heart valve or heart failure issues, the increase in blood pressure may stretch out the atria of the heart and initiate atrial fibrillation.

The best way to prevent Holiday Heart Syndrome is to avoid heart injury factors that are within your control. Don’t drink alcohol, eat or consume salt in excess. Avoid stress and excessive physical exertion. And remember that reaching out to someone who is alone during the holidays not only will improve their heart health, it will benefit you as well.

Please have a happy and healthy holiday, everyone.


1 Tonelo, D., Providencia R. & Goncalves, L. (2013). Holiday Heart Syndrome revisited after 34 years. Arquivos Brasileirios de Cardiologia, 101(2), 183-189.

2 Phillips, D.P., Jarvinen, J.R., Abramson, I.S. & Phillips, R.R. (2004). Cardiac mortality is higher around Christmas and New Year’s than at any other time: The holidays as a risk factor for death. Circulation, 110(25), 3781-3788.

3 Ettinger, P.O., Wu, C.F., De La Cruz, C., Jr., Weisse A,B,, Ahmed, S.S. & Regan T.J. (1978). Arrhythmias and the “Holiday Heart”: Alcohol-associated cardiac rhythm disorders. American Heart Journal, 95(5), 555-562.

4 Friedman, L.A. & Kimball, A.W. (1986). Coronary heart disease mortality and alcohol consumption in Framingham. American Journal of Epidemiology, 124(3), 481-489.

5 Laposata, E.A. & Lange, L.G. (1986). Presence of nonoxidative ethanol metabolism in human organs commonly damaged by ethanol abuse. Science, 231(4737), 497-499.

6 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). Drinking levels defined.

7 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). What is a standard drink?

Image credit: Prawny on Pixabay

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Humpday Hint: What's With Those Cobwebs?

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

In late fall and early winter, we’re more likely to notice cobwebs hanging about in the corners of our living spaces. What are they, how do they get there, and what should we do to get rid of them and prevent more from forming?

A “cob” is an Old English word for “spider,” so a cobweb is a web produced by a spider. Most spiders can create a form of silk in their bodies, which they use to spin traps to catch their insect food. They make some of the silk sticky so that insects blundering into the web are caught just like on fly paper. Unfortunately, when the spider abandons the web or dies, the sticky strands persist, and collect dust, pollen and dander. That’s why the cobwebs we dislike in our homes often look shaggy. That’s not how the spider made them, it’s a reflection of the particulate nature of the air inside our houses.

Spiders can be inside human structures at any time of year, but they seem to come in most frequently in late fall and early winter, as the outdoors weather becomes colder. You probably want to keep them out, and the way to prevent their sharing your home is the same as how to get rid of cobwebs- regular dusting. Nearly invisible webs may be being constructed in the corners without your notice.

There is more danger in dusting away spiderwebs from standing on wobbly chairs than there is from being bitten by the spider, if it is still in residence, which is unlikely in a cobweb. Here are some safe ways to remove cobwebs from the corners of rooms:

  • Use the extension nozzle on your vacuum cleaner.
  • Use a long-handled soft duster and shake it out outdoors frequently.
  • Rubber band a soft cloth over the bristles of a broom and sweep up in the corners.
  • Stick an old sock over the end of a yardstick and swipe the corners.

Remember that spiders and their webs can also hide in drapes and other fabrics. Use the vacuum cleaner attachments to get rid of most of the web, and then use a lint roller to get off the stickiest strands. Launder the curtains if possible to remove any debris.

And since the fuzzy look of cobwebs is due to dust in the air, be sure that you keep your environment as dust-free as possible. Cover furniture in the corners of rooms with an old towel when you dust overhead, and then launder the towel. Vacuum immediately after dusting to remove displaced dust from the floors. Be sure to dust window blinds, underneath and behind large items of furniture, the blades of ceiling fans and around heat/air conditioning vents. These areas collect and spread dust which gets caught in spider webs.

To keep spiders from entering your home, seal cracks carefully. Pay special attention to sealing around door and window frames. Be sure vent openings are covered with insect screens.

Don’t bring spiders into your home when you move outdoor potted plants in for the winter. Carefully inspect foliage before you bring the pots inside.

Spiders do not like certain smells, so you might consider some “aromatherapy” to prevent their return. Spray corners that spiders seem to want to build their webs in with a mixture of vinegar and water. You can also try essential oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus or lemon sprayed or dabbed on cotton balls and left to scent the air.

Editor's Note: If you have pets, use caution with chemicals like essential oils. Check with your veterinarian to ensure you are using substances that are safe for your furry/feathery/scaly friends in your home.

For Additional Reading

Cobwebs and how they form: The Secret Behind the Creation of Cobwebs

More ways to get rid of spiders and their webs: Get Rid of Spider Webs

Why you might not want to get rid of all cobwebs: The Joys of Cobwebs

Image credit: "Lucchetto", George Hodan,

Monday, December 19, 2016

Do You Really Need a Lawyer?

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

Sometimes it’s obvious when you should hire a lawyer. If you have been served with a lawsuit or charged with committing a crime, or if you are going through a divorce, then you definitely need to consult with an attorney. But many other problems can be solved without turning to the legal profession.

If you have a dispute with a company, see if they have a customer service department which can settle your complaint. If you can’t get satisfaction there, check out the consumer protection department of your state’s attorney general. For a list of state attorneys general:

If your problem is with a regulated industry, such as insurance or banking, consult the state agency that regulates them.

To find state regulatory agencies for:

Other alternatives to hiring a lawyer include seeking free advice from community and advocacy groups. If there is a university law school nearby, they may take on your case as a class project. And some media outlets will pursue your cause, although you may not appreciate that level of publicity.

It’s important to remember, however, that lawyers aren’t just useful for criminals or individuals involved in legal situations. They can help you establish a business, adopt a child, plan tax strategies, create your will and arrange your estate. Not only do lawyers assist people currently in trouble, but their advice can help you prevent future troubles.

Image from Morguefile

Friday, December 9, 2016

Are You Thinking About Self-Improvement?

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

Can too much thinking hinder self-improvement? Aren’t we supposed to think about our performance and strive to better ourselves?

Dave Hill, 13 time PGA Tour winner, said, “Golf is like sex. You can’t be thinking about the mechanics of the act while you are performing.”

Why not?

Research on expert performance may help us understand why thinking while performing activities does not help improve our performance of them.

A study conducted by Timothy Wilson and Jonathan Schooler involved two groups of college students who were asked to rank jams. Individuals in the first group were given no further instructions; those in the second group were asked to justify their rankings. The jam rankings of the individuals told to explain their reasoning were less in line with expert rankings, and less in line with each other’s rankings, than were those of the group who just ranked the jams. Having to explain their decisions seems to have caused them to be less consistent, which could mean they were less capable of making wise decisions.

Also there is the research by Sian Beilock (author of Choke), who had golfers say “Stop” at the top of their follow-through swing. This kind of mental effort caused “paralysis by analysis.” Their performance significantly deteriorated.

Yet we also know that concentrating and focusing on details can help prevent nervous choking. Researcher Adam Nicholls asked pro athletes to record in a diary their stresses and coping mechanisms. One common and effective strategy these accomplished professional athletes used for dealing with stress was increasing their attention and effort. This study is less objective than the previous two, but has “ecological validity,” meaning it is more like what the subjects would be doing “for real,” and less like an experimental setup using artificial tasks.

What drives experts toward expertise? Expert development does not occur through anything other than hard work.

The Pareto principle is often generalized to tell us that the last 20% of achievement, working toward expertise, requires 80% of your effort. The ability to recognize one’s flaws when judged against the stricter standards developed by expertise, to continue to see room for improvement, is what allows experts to both become experts and to continue to grow their expertise. But of course, the expert must also have a motivation, a strong desire to continue to improve. The Japanese call this “kaizen.”

In our daily lives, performing our ADLs, good enough performance is just that, good enough. Once we learn how to do these things, their performance becomes automatic. Do you think a lot about how to brush your teeth, wash the dishes, button your shirt or tie your shoes? No, these are activities you can perform nearly automatically.

But when we need to be really good at something, routine performance simply is not adequate. You must always be aware of the quality of each element of your actions.

Philosopher Barbara Gail Montero posits that golf is like sex not because attention detracts from performance, but because both are all-encompassing activities. Perhaps the actions of a pro golfer and an expert lover are stimulated by a desire to each time be “better than ever.” And that can never be done automatically.

Believing that you can achieve expert levels on any activity without a lot of conscious effort is magical thinking. If we truly want to improve ourselves, we need to make a commitment to the work that it will take. “Good enough” ability will require less effort to achieve, but you still must make a personal commitment.

Images from Pixabay


Montero, B. G. (2016). “The Myth of ‘Just Do It’.” in (Ed.) Catapano, P. & Critchley, S. The Stone Reader; Modern philosophy in 133 arguments. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Hump Day Hint: Read the Prescription and the Label

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.

Image from MorgueFile

Monday, December 5, 2016

It's Holiday Shopping Season - Be Smart!

This time of year in many parts of the world, what we call "the holidays" are observed: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and others. Gift giving may be one of the traditions of these holidays.

Spending oneself into a financial hole need not be one of your traditions. Here are four tips on limiting spur-of-the-moment buying that you may find useful now and throughout the year.

  1. Don’t use credit cards unless you have to (e.g., shopping online). Seeing cash go from your wallet to the cashier is a powerful motivator to spend less.
  2. Try “envelope budgeting.” After the month’s fixed expenses are taken care of, take out the remaining available money in cash. Divide it among envelopes labeled with the categories “food,” “entertainment,” “lunches and lattes,” and whatever else is not a fixed expense. Once the money in the envelope is gone, you can’t buy any more in that category until next month.
  3. Put yourself on a weekly allowance. Once you’ve spent it, no more impulse buying until you get your next allowance.
  4. Tally your regrets. Look at your credit card and bank statements for the last few months. Are there things you now regret buying? Write them down and post the list by your computer or on your cell phone, to help you think twice about the next purchase you want to make.

Here is one additional tip for you. To avoid temptation, plan your holiday shopping; don't leave it to the last minute. By controlling your impulsive purchases you can go into the new year free of buyer's remorse!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Shellfish and Seafood Allergies

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

The last time I ate shrimp tempura was 20 years ago. Suddenly, and surprisingly, my lips started to swell, my face to get itchy, and my heart to pound. I had developed a shellfish allergy. I have not dared to try to eat shellfish since that day.

Shellfish include shrimp, lobster, crab, clams, scallops, mussels and squid. Finned fish (such as salmon, cod, tuna and catfish) are grouped with shellfish as seafood. Shrimp are the type of shellfish that most commonly cause an allergic reaction. Not everyone who is allergic to shellfish is also allergic to finned fish, and vice versa.

Shellfish or seafood allergies can be life-threatening. The victim’s body reacts to proteins in the shellfish or seafood and causes a sudden anaphylactic reaction. Minor reactions can be skin rashes and itchiness. More severe reactions can lead to low blood pressure, asthma, or swelling of the throat so severe that breathing is difficult. Severe anaphylactic reactions must be treated in the emergency room.

Many myths exist about shellfish and seafood allergies. Let’s look at some of them.

Myth: Shellfish allergies begin in childhood.
Fact: Allergic reactions can occur at any age, and the initial occurrence can be severe. Unfortunately, people do not generally outgrow allergies to shellfish, and it is not unusual for someone to be allergic to many kinds of shellfish.
Myth: It’s the iodine people are allergic to.
Fact: Although shellfish and seafood contain iodine, that is not what causes allergies. It is specific proteins in the shrimp or codfish, called allergens for the reaction they cause.
Myth: You can’t have a CT (computerized tomography) scan because you’ll be allergic to the contrast dye.
Fact: The content of the contrast dye used in CT scans is not related to the allergens in shellfish. Although some people do have a reaction to contrast dye, it is unrelated to allergies to shellfish or seafood.
Myth: Avoid foods that contain carrageenan.
Fact: Carrageenan is a food additive made from a type of algae or seaweed. It is common in dairy products and other household items. It is not associated with seafood allergies.
Myth: You have to actually eat the seafood to get an allergic reaction.
Fact: The allergens in seafood can be transmitted in steam from cooking fish or shellfish, and can cause an allergic reaction in those who are sensitive. This is why people who are severely allergic to shellfish or seafood must avoid restaurants where it can be smelled.

Image from Pixabay

For information about shellfish allergies:

For information on seafood allergies:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Are You OK Drinking Wine?

Contributing author: Gentle Heron

It turns out that more than one in twenty adults probably isn’t OK drinking wine. A study by German researchers found that 7% of those surveyed reported significant symptoms when drinking wine. The symptoms reported included itching, runny nose and flushed skin, and were more commonly reported from red wine than from white varieties. Some respondents reported diarrhea, stomach cramps, or irregular heartbeat.

The researchers concluded that although these symptoms could be indicative of an allergy, they were more likely to be from an intolerance.

What is the difference between intolerance and allergies? Allergies are an immune system response that occurs when the body reacts as if a harmless substance is harmful. Intolerance is a digestive system response, when the body can’t properly break down food. Although symptoms are somewhat similar, hives and swelling of the tongue are much more common with allergic reactions.

The fact that intolerance is more common to red than to white wines may be due to the presence of proteins in grape skins. White wines are fermented without the skins, and so would have less of that protein. Some people reported not only intolerance to wine, but to all alcoholic beverages. That means for some people, the alcohol in wine is the cause of their discomfort. Very few people reported an intolerance to grapes.

One humorous finding of this study: Those reporting intolerance to wine were no less likely to drink it! This could be because they switched to a type of wine that produced fewer symptoms. Of course, it is also possible that their symptoms were not troubling enough to convince them to stop drinking wine altogether.

Prevalence of Wine Intolerance:

Image from Morguefile