Eat your way to happy? (parenthetically speaking)

(There are three major symptoms for fibromyalgia:  depression, fatigue and whole body pain.  I have all three and then some . . .  The worst for me is fatigue, with depression coming in second and whole body pain third.  I follow the research, always hoping something new will be discovered in its treatment.)

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New research on treatments for depression presents an intriguing finding: a healthy diet may help depressed patients.

New Research on Treating Depression With Diet
by Sumathi Reddy, The Wall Street Journal

It is part of the nascent field of nutritional psychiatry which uses changes in diet to help treat mood disorders.
“The study in the journal BMC Medicine, found that a third of patients assigned to a group that followed a modified Mediterranean diet met the criteria for remission in 12 weeks, compared with just 8% in a control group.”

“There is a large body of evidence, both observational studies and animal studies, that links diet to the risk of developing depression and the prevalence of depression, said Felice Jacka, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology and nutritional psychiatry at Deakin University in Australia and senior researcher on the study. Dr. Jacka is also president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research.”

“Psychiatrists cautioned that the study provides no evidence that diet changes could replace traditional treatments for depression; but it could be beneficial as an add-on treatment.”

(Here’s where it becomes problematic for people with major depression and people like me who are too lazy to cook) 

“It may also be an impractical prescription: cooking healthy meals requires motivation and planning, a big demand for depressed patients. Depressed patients have difficulty putting plans into action so would likely require assistance, experts said.”  (Assistance in the form of a personal chef . . .)
“They have this sense of fatigue and inability to get up and go, and any mental effort they feel is overwhelming and exhaustive,” said Robert Shulman, associate chairman of psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “(YUP, I’ll eat to that)

“The study, the first randomized controlled one, consisted of 67 people diagnosed and already being treated for a major depressive disorder. The mean age was 40 and most were overweight.
About half were in a dietary-intervention group. They received help planning a diet which included a lot of fruits, vegetables, beans, fish, whole grains, lean red meat, olive oil and nuts, and cut back on sweets, (OUCH) processed foods, soft drinks and other unhealthy items.” 

‘”Dietary changes may be especially helpful for people who are mildly depressed and don’t want to go on medication, said Joshua Weiner, a psychiatrist in McLean, Va. “If you have a motivated patient I’m all for this,” he said. “The problem is many kinds of patients aren’t motivated.”’
Results may be better for people who have poor eating habits to begin with, he said.”

Read the entire article click HERE

(Alas . . . the indicators for healthy eating are piling up.  It’s so much easier to pop a pill.)

(jw)

The Loss of Self Identity

From birth we are constantly, chronically losing our identities.  As we grow and develop those loses are generally seen as positive and things to look forward to:  Losing our dependency of childhood; being able to drive; setting out on our own.  I liken these types of losses to waves that are constant and ubiquitous. 

With loss that involves tragedy or illness, the sense of who we are is wrested from us – more like a sudden tsunami than relentless waves . . .  

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Heart Sisters is a blog I’ve followed for several years.  Carolyn Thomas, the blogger, suffered a “widow-maker heart attack” and has devoted her time and energy to educating women, clinicians and the public about woman’s heart issues.

In an excellent post Two big factors that can impact a patient’s loss of ‘self’ Carolyn references Dr. Kathy Charmaz

“When California sociologist Dr. Kathy Charmaz studied the subject of suffering among those living with chronic illness, she identified an element of suffering that is often overlooked by health care providers.(1)  As she explained her findings:”

“A fundamental form of that suffering is the loss of self in chronically ill persons who observe their former self-images crumbling away without the simultaneous development of equally valued new ones.

“The experiences and meanings upon which these ill persons had built former positive self-images are no longer available to them.”

“Dr. Charmaz also found that this profound sense of having lost the “self” you used to be before being diagnosed is generally the result of both external and internal influences on how we view ourselves. “

Click below and read the entire post:

Two big factors that can impact a patient’s loss of ‘self’

Carolyn’s post spoke to me personally on several levels:  

  • As a psychotherapist I spent 30 years trying to help others adjust to “loss of self”.  
  • Ten years into my private practice I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia – my own tsunami.
  • When I retired my “loss of self” was not a tsunami but the wave was at least a 20 footer.

jw

Meditate with the Dalai Lama

Meditating is hard for me.  My monkey-mind jumps over and around what I’ve decided to focus on, climbs into places and spaces that have no bearing on anything  and swings from thought-branches I didn’t even know were there. 
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When I read this article written by Sanjay Gupta, MD and his invitation to meditate with the Dalai Lama himself I was a bit more reassured.  Here’s the part that caught my attention:  (jw)
“This is hard for me,” I said.
“Me, too!” he exclaimed. “After doing daily for 60 years, it is still hard.”
It was at once surprising and reassuring to hear him say this. The Dalai Lama, Buddhist monk and spiritual leader of Tibet, also has trouble meditating.”

‘”I think you will like analytical meditation,” he told me. Instead of focusing on a chosen object, as in single-point meditation, he suggested I think about a problem I was trying to solve, a topic I may have read about recently or one of the philosophical areas from the earlier sessions.”

“He wanted me to separate the problem or issue from everything else by placing it in a large, clear bubble. With my eyes closed, I thought of something nagging at me — something I couldn’t quite solve. As I placed the physical embodiment of this problem into the bubble, several things started to happen very naturally.”
“The problem was now directly in front of me, floating weightlessly. In my mind, I could rotate it, spin it or flip it upside-down. It was an exercise to develop hyper-focus.
Less intuitively, as the bubble was rising, it was also disentangling itself from any other attachments, such as subjective emotional considerations. I could visualize it, as the problem isolated itself, and came into a clear-eyed view.”
Too often, we allow unrelated emotional factors to blur the elegant and practical solutions right in front of us. It can be dispiriting and frustrating. Through analytical meditation, His Holiness told me, we can use logic and reason to more clearly identify the question at hand, separate it from irrelevant considerations, erase doubt and brightly illuminate the answers. It was simple and sensible. Most important, for me — it worked.”

Meditation for skeptics

“As a neuroscientist, I never expected that a Buddhist monk, even the Dalai Lama, would teach me how to better incorporate deduction and critical thinking to my life — but that is what happened.
It changed me. And I am better for it. I practice analytical meditation every day, usually early in the morning. The first two minutes are still the hardest, as I create my thought bubble and let it float above me. After that, I reach what can best be described as a “flow” state, in which 20 to 30 minutes pass easily.
I am more convinced than ever that even the most ardent skeptics could find success with analytical meditation.”
 
To read the entire article click here.

HeART of Spirituality – Healing

Once a month I facilitate a free, non-denominational HeART of Spirituality workshop. Tapestry Unitarian Congregation hosts it.  There’s a different theme each month.

For those of you who want to think about your own spirituality I’ll post the information and the exercises for you to do.  For those who just want a peek at the heART the participants create take a look!

judy

        *          *          *

Healing was the focus at this HeART of Spirituality workshop. 

The medium used was journaling.

Synopsis of the Introduction:

Physically, biologically anger and fear create a neurochemical cascade from the brain to the body triggering powerful stress responses. These two emotions interfere with physical healing and are incompatible with spiritual healing.  

When everything is going well we try to maintain the status quo (for good reason!).  To change, learn and grow we all need an impetus.  The most powerful stimuli for change and growth are when we face pain or fear.    

In Buddhism there’s a distinction between pain and suffering:  Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.  Suffering is based on our perception and emotional response.

Basic to Baha’i beliefs:

  • We learn how to develop God’s virtues through pain and earthly trials & tribulation.
  • God does not want us to suffer, He wants us to learn.
  • Suffering comes from our distorted perspective of spirituality and our ego needs.
  • Praying for “healing” is first and foremost for spiritual growth, not physical remedy.

My personal experience with fibromyalgia and my belief is that ultimately all healing – physical, emotional, situational,  is spiritual.

Indeed, scientific research shows that what we think and believe impacts our emotional and physical well-being.  The power of the placebo is a small example.

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First exercise – “Stacked Writing”

Stacked writing is a great way to keep things confidential and not have to hide your journal under the mattress.  You can spill your thoughts & feelings out on paper and no one (including you) will be able to read what you wrote.

Workshop Materials: I pasted colored tissue paper on large sheets of paper for the participants to write on.  These sheets were later turned into mini 8-page journals.

Your Materials:  A journal or just a piece of paper will do.  A black marker or pen. A timer

Instructions:

  1.  Write, print, scribble your thoughts and feelings all over the paper, continue writing, turning the paper in many directions (sideways, upside down) and writing on top of what you’ve written.   If your mind goes blank, keep scribbling until another thought pops in.
  2. Write for a minimum of 20 minutes, non-stop (make sure you have an easy flowing marker or pen).  Setting a timer is best so you don’t distract yourself or interrupt your writing.
  3. Focus on releasing the emotions of anger and fear.   Fill the page with sentences, phrases, words on top of each other so that what was written becomes indecipherable.

 

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Second exercise – “Found Poetry”  

Materials:  Newspapers, sheet of blank paper, (we used black construction paper but a journal or any paper will do) glue sticks, scissors.

Instructions:

  1. Focusing on the theme of “healing” cut out approximately 20 words & phrases from the newspaper.  Use your intuition, what catches your eye to choose what you cut out.
  2.  Arrange your words & phrases on a piece of paper, creating a free verse poem*.
  3. Paste your poem down when it “feels finished”.

*“Free verse is an open form of poetry. It does not use consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any other musical pattern. Many poems composed in free verse thus tend to follow the rhythm of natural speech.” Wikipedia

Here are the participants Healing Poems.  Take a look!

Poetry, ideally, is meant to be recited out loud.  Get your moneys-worth and orate!

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Sleep better – 6 cool cat tips & 4 human techniques

Sleep isn’t for your body.  Sleep is for your brain.  When completely deprived of sleep, for only a few days, research shows that at best our immune system is depressed, we have trouble concentrating or processing information and at worst become paranoid and schizophrenic.

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Maui was a superb sleeper. No matter where I went in the house I found him stretched out. Whatever magically found its way to the floor (I certainly never put it there) I’d find him asleep – on pillows, magazines, empty boxes, dirty clothes . . . new clothes. A particular comfy spot was in the middle of a pathway like the top or bottom of the stairs.

As far as I could tell Maui was never sleep deprived, paranoid or schizophrenic.

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Superbly Sleeping

 

Maui’s Tips for a Good Nights Sleep . . . for humans only

  1. Exercise every day but never just before bedtime. (Chasing things like children and dreams doesn’t count)
  2. Stay away from alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine (catnip is fine).
  3. Have a relaxing bedtime routine (stretch, turn in circles and always clean your paws and teeth).
  4. Keep the room temperature cool.  It helps us hibernate.
  5. Limit catnapping during the day to 10 minutes, 20 minutes max.  Any longer and your brain goes into deep sleep (and you’ll be a ornery cat when you wake up)
    Keep your bedtime consistent. 
  6. Don’t sleep all day and be up all night – it messes with your circadian rhythm.

Peggy’s Tips on Sleeping Well

  • Mind won’t shut off? Do a brain dump 30 minutes before bed. Write down your worries, things to do, random thoughts until your brain is empty. (takes about 3 days for this to work, but it works!)
  • Talk to your brain.  Assure your brain it can solve any problem or cope with difficulties much better when you are rested.  Your unconscious mind is always working and give you solutions while you sleep.
  • Get bright sunlight in the morning when you first wake up.  Go outside if you can.  Even if it is cloudy you get 3000 lumens vs 200 inside. (That’s a lot of lumens!)
  • Turn off cell phones, computers – anything that emits blue light.  It keeps the brain awake. 

Here’s a bonus tip to help you sleep well!!

Buy Guatemalan Worry Cats from the Greater Good Site .

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Handmade Guatemalan Worry Cats

 http://GreaterGood.com

Tell them your troubles and they’ll worry for you while you sleep!

Sleep even better knowing you’ve contributed to worthy causes.

Falling Waters and Rising Spirits

I love waterfalls! 

One of my favorite places to go is the Columbia River Gorge, an area with the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America.  There are over 90!  I love it there and I will hike uphill for miles to see the waterfalls.

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All my life I’ve loved the rain, going to the beach, having a water fountain in my yard, and taking showers. They all make me happy. Now I know why – negative ions.

Negative ions are produced by falling water and create changes in our levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that relieves stress, increases energy and reduces depression

“Negative ions increase the flow of oxygen to the brain; resulting in higher alertness, decreased drowsiness, and more mental energy.” 

WebMD. Pierce J. Howard, PhD

The WebMD article goes on to say “The air circulating in the mountains and the beach is said to contain tens of thousands of negative ions — Much more than the average home or office building, which contain dozens or hundreds, and many register a flat zero.”

Want to get negative ions?

  • Take a walk by a river or stream.
  • Walk in the rain.
  • Go to the beach.
  • Run in the sprinklers.
  • Have a water fight in a pool.
  • Hike to a waterfall.
  • Sit by a fountain.
  • Buy a negative ion generator for your home.
  • Or . . .  just take a shower.

(I didn’t list “wash dishes by hand” or “scrub the floor on your knees” because I believe adding detergent to water MIGHT create positive ions which we all know are not mood elevators . . .)

(PA)

References:

“Negative Ions Create Positive Vibes” By Denise Mann, WebMD, June 2, 2003.
The Owners Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind Brain, by Pierce J. Howard, PhD
Biopsychology of Mood and Arousal, by Robert E. Thayer,

 

Meditation can reduce DEPRESSION symptoms by 40%

One of the more debilitating “problems” of  having a chronic disease like fibromyalgia is depression.   Whatever is going on in my fibro-brain is altering or dampening the neurotransmitters that impact mood.  When my fibro symptoms really flare I become depressed – dog food or Depends commercials can bring me to tears and not because I use either . . .  Most of the time my fiber-depression is minor and here’s one of the reasons why:

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Freddie Parker Westerfield, Interval Trainer

I walk my dog Freddie almost every day in the park.  It’s 25 minutes of  interval training.  Freddie runs like crazy, stops, marks territory, runs like crazy, stops, sniffs, marks territory, runs, stops . . .  I hold onto the end of the leash and follow his lead (with the exception of marking territory).  

Years ago, I started saying a meditative prayer while on our walks.  I repeat, ( sotto voce so as not to make others in the park suspicious I’m a terrorist) Allah ‘u ‘abha (“God is great” in Arabic – it’s more mellifluous than English).  Afterwards, I feel relieved (the CALM-kind of relief, not the territory-marking-kind) and have little pain.

I was stunned  to read this article on meditation and exercise to find not only am I saving time by combining the two I am self-medicating. 

Fighting Depression? Neuroscience Says This May Reduce Symptoms by 40 Percent (in Just 8 Weeks)*

By Melanie Curtin

“. . . neuroscience research has identified a stunningly effective yet simple way to significantly reduce depression symptoms: combining aerobic exercise with meditation.

“In essence, neurogenesis researchers hypothesized that as depressive symptoms emerge, the production of new cells decreases. They noted that trauma and stressful life events are already known to impair neurogenesis, and that the literature has already established that aerobic exercise can significantly increase the number of new cells a brain creates.”

The problem is what happens after aerobic exercise: a great number of new cells die just weeks after being created. And if they don’t join the brain’s circuitry, they can’t bolster the brain, uplift mood, help a person experience resilience, or create a more robust sense of wellbeing.

Fortunately, while new neurons can die, they can also be rescued, which is where meditation comes in. It turns out that when novel learning experiences challenge the mind, new neurons are “saved.”

The study, published in Translational Psychiatry, outlined how the research was conducted: The neuroscientists developed a mental and physical (MAP) training plan for participants, which combined focused attention meditation with aerobic exercise.

“During the meditation portion, participants were instructed to focus on the present moment, refocusing on their breathing if thoughts drifted to the past or future. According to research, this helps those with depression (not to mention the rest of us) “accept moment-to-moment changes in attention.” This was followed by 30 minutes of “moderate-intensity” aerobic exercise.”

“Remarkably, the study found a nearly 40% decrease in depressive symptoms after just eight weeks of the training. They described these results as “robust.”‘

“As Tracey Shors, one of the study authors said, “Scientists have known for a while that both of these activities alone can help with depression … But this study suggests that when done together, there is a striking improvement in depressive symptoms along with increases in synchronized brain activity.”‘

“The researchers also pointed out that while the norm for treating depression has involved the prescription of psychotropic drugs like Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, and Lexapro, these drugs can have limited efficacy and can also lead to intense and disruptive side effects. Part of the excitement over these results is the fact that the practices involved are free, immediately accessible, and have no adverse side effects.”

Amen.

*Read the entire article and click HERE.

Soon! Coming to a Computer Near You:

A post “Meditate with the Dalai Lama” that explains how to combine meditation with problem solving.

(jw)