How Self-Care Can Support Your Mental Health

by Scott Sanders

Life can be stressful. From day-to-day responsibilities to the unexpected, the strain can prove
exhausting and detrimental. While you can’t avoid life's stresses, there is plenty that you can do
to reduce them and practice self-care in the process.


Prioritize Basics
Good mental health relies heavily on self-care. Too often, life diverts our attention away from
properly taking care of ourselves. Acts of self-care can be as simple as a restful night, staying
hydrated, and eating regularly. This can be the foundation for a healthy life in which stress does
not overwhelm, giving you an opportunity to relax. No matter what, try to have at least seven
hours of sleep, which can be one of the most effective methods to reduce stress. Look to
complement a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Like sleep and
exercise, a healthy diet can have benefits for both body and mind.
Another overlooked basic act of self-care is personal agency. Be prepared to say “no.” It is not
always easy, especially when said to a loved one. However, too often anxiety can be caused by
agreeing to things we are not comfortable with. While life is not always accommodating, try to
invest in the fundamentals of self-care to give yourself the tools to manage stress and protect
mental health.


Get Active Outdoors

There are many reasons to be active, from a desire to develop a workout routine to getting in
touch with nature. Whatever your motivations, if you have the slightest interest in physical
activity, embrace it. Sometimes, getting out of the house and changing your scenery is
necessary to help process stressful thoughts. In fact, just 30 minutes of light to moderate activity
daily can boost mood and help lower stress levels. Even if your motivation to head outside is to
run errands or get a coffee, it can represent a welcome break from sitting at home with stressful
thoughts. Consider researching local activities and see what interests you. You might find
yourself exploring new things while practicing self-care.


Connect
Connections are essential to self-care. They may be emotional connections such as with friends
and family. They might be connections to your inner self, to your thoughts, interests, and
hobbies, or they could be about reconnecting with a peaceful state. Invest in exploring new
things, or rediscovering dormant interests. Go shopping for things that appeal to you. Try to find
the time to connect with loved ones. Have nights out with friends, or dinner with family. Take
trips to the beach, or to a museum. Look, as well, to moments where you can just be
comfortable and relaxed. Have spa nights, binge on Netflix in the bath or read a book you have
not had time to peruse. Allow yourself to be you without negative judgment, to accept feelings
and not worry that you have to be doing “something.” Sometimes, the best way of caring for
yourself is to take a moment to yourself and just be.


A Stress-Free Home
No matter how we practice self-care, the best way to end a long day is coming home to unwind.
Having a home free of stress is important to one's well-being. If your home is cluttered, consider removing non-essentials. The more spacious your environs, the more you might be able to relax. One embellishment that could offer calm is plants or flowers. Not only can they add a sense of serenity, but they can also purify your home's air. You might complement this with art depicting nature scenes. A meditation room or space could also be a good addition. Meditation is a great way to help you process emotions and stress and improve physical health. It could be any room you find peaceful. Use calming colors as decoration, as well as fixtures and
ornaments you find comforting, and avoid technological distractions.


Self-care is paramount. Looking after yourself does not require an elaborate process, nor does it
have to be time-consuming. Even small acts can accumulate to have a truly positive impact on
your mental and physical well-being, and in stress reduction.

Scott Sanders is the creator of CancerWell.org, which provides resources and support for anyone who has been affected by any form of cancer. 
 

The Importance of Self Care During Cancer Treatment

 by Scott Sanders

Looking after your mind and your spirit can be a hard thing to do when your body won’t
cooperate. Amid rounds of chemo treatment and pharmacy trips, the last thing you feel like
doing is putting anything else on your to-do list. However, if you can make time to nurture your
spirit, you may feel the effects in your body as well.

Let It Go
Right now, you’re dealing with something traumatic. It’s okay to focus on yourself and what you
need. If you can help your loved ones deal with what they’re experiencing, that’s great, but
that’s not your responsibility at this time. You do you. Whether that means screaming at the sky
or distracting yourself with a binge TV marathon, you do whatever makes you feel happier and
better. Don’t bottle up what you’re feeling; instead, confront it head on and express it in
whatever way you need to. Some people feel that letting their anger or sadness out in creative
ways, such as art or journaling, helps them vent those bad feelings. Some people join support
groups and find that sharing their own, as well as hearing the experiences of others, can be
helpful. Do whatever works for you to deal with your situation.

Let the Good Stuff Happen

When we’re suffering through a serious illness, it’s easy to focus on all the bad things in our
lives. The pain, nausea, and exhaustion can seem overwhelming. But if you can take time to
meditate on it, you can always find something in your life that you’re grateful for. It doesn’t even
have to be a big thing. Maybe it’s a friend who made you laugh, an okay test result, or a food
that tasted good today. Small victories these may be, but they’re yours. Remember to celebrate
them. Take time to do things to make you feel better, and reward yourself for your
accomplishments. This can be as simple as ordering yourself something pretty or going outside
to sit in the garden and take in the view. Do something that makes you happy each day.

Ask for Help
You really can’t do this by yourself, so don’t try to. Your loved ones probably want to help but
don’t know what to do. Tell them what you need, and ask for the support and assistance you
hope to receive. In larger terms, it’s okay to ask your higher power (if you have one) for help,
too. If you find it helpful, embrace your spirituality. But if you don’t subscribe to theological ideas,
you can still look to your network of friends and family for guidance, comfort, and a helping hand
when it’s needed.

Take Precautions
This is just common sense advice. You’re going to be in a lot of pain, and the doctor is going to
want to help you manage it. Make sure you’re managing your pain responsibly, so you can
avoid falling into the trap of opioid addiction. Use what is required to make your pain bearable,
and communicate openly with your doctor about your pain level. Don’t avoid taking medication
that you need because you’re worried about the potential for addiction. Good communication
with your physician is key. Talk to him about how you are feeling, and be honest. He may have
suggestions for lowering your pain with different medications, or you may be able to make use
of alternative methods of pain management. Yoga and other exercises can be helpful for some
patients. Others find relief in aromatherapy, massage, and acupressure. Just be mindful of the
risks and pay attention to how the medication makes you feel.
You’re fighting for your life and doing everything you can to win. Just as your body needs fuel to
heal, your soul needs to be filled up so it can sustain you through this crisis. Nurture your spirit
with joy. It will give you the emotional resources you need to keep fighting the good fight.

Scott Sanders is the creator of CancerWell.org, which provides resources and support for anyone who has been affected by any form of cancer.

 

How to Improve Your Sleep Without a Prescription

by Amy Highland

When it comes to sleep, almost a third of Americans don’t get enough, but they never seem to stop trying.

Everybody is different, and so are the issues causing their sleep issues. However, the root causes tend to fall into a few different categories: stress, health issues or sleep disturbances.

One way to figure out what is troubling your sleep is to try to do a sleep study through your doctor’s office, whether in their offices or at home. That way, you can rule out the health issues, or figure out a way to treat those health issues. You can also keep a journal at home to figure out when and why you’re waking up in the middle of the night.

If sleep conditions have been ruled out, you're in luck because there are simple ways that you can change your lifestyle or your sleep environment to help you get more, and higher quality, sleep.

Change Your Sleep Environment

You will want to take a good, hard look at your sleep environment. Is your mattress comfortable to sleep on? If you haven’t replaced it in the last ten years, you’ll want to. Beds have life spans of between five and ten years. Make sure your mattress suits your weight, preferred sleeping position, and temperature.  

While you’re keeping a journal, you can note whether you’re waking up at a particular time and if so, why you’re waking up. Whether it’s light leaking into the room, a pet jumping on the bed, or your partner’s alarm clock going off, you can work to remedy those issues.

Try Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been a part of Chinese holistic medicine for thousands of years and has been found to be useful when trying to treat insomnia, among many other ailments.

It’s been found to increase the release of melatonin at night, as well as help to reduce anxiety. Acupuncture uses needles to puncture the skin of your body’s natural hormonal pathways, stimulating the nerve and sending signals to the brain to release the endorphins and hormones that make you feel better.

Explore Natural Medicines

If you don’t want to use prescription medicine, that’s fine. There are some natural options that you can try to help change your circadian rhythm or make you feel relaxed.

You can use lavender, chamomile, and jasmine in herbal teas or in candles or room sprays. These scents are supposed to be calming. You can also try taking melatonin in pill form. Your body naturally produces melatonin to make you feel tired, but you can grab melatonin pills over the counter in most drug stores. If you take those about an hour before you want to go to bed, it may help your body to begin producing more on its own.

If you wanted to combine these natural remedies with acupuncture, you’d be on the right track, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Acupuncture helps you sleep, but combining it with herbs and medications has been found to be more effective than either practice on their own.

 

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy's a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats. 

How to Beat Cold and Flu Season Naturally

Two winters ago, I got the dreaded strep throat - painful swallowing, white goop in the back of the throat, vomiting and headache. The predominant message concerning strep bacteria is that it is dangerous, can lead to rheumatic fever and heart valve complications, and that one should quickly take antibiotics. 

I did go straight away to the doctor and took what was prescribed - Amoxicillin - the most widely used treatment for strep. By day three, my entire body broke out in unbearably itchy welts. I went straight to the ER where the doctor looked at me cross eyed when I suggested it was a drug reaction. She prescribed me steroids for the hives, which did nothing except keep me awake half the night. 

I threw out the pills and turned to Eastern Medicine, which offers many formulas that can kill viruses and bacteria effectively at specific stages of disease, and have been used for centuries. I found, through a certified herbalist, a modification of a centuries old formula called Chuan Xin Lian. Within hours, I was feeling better. Sore throat diminished immediately and hives dissipated. This story is not to say Eastern Medicine trumps Western. It is also not to say that one should never take antibiotics. If I were diagnosed with early stage Lyme’s Disease, I would probably take Doxycycline. What this story is meant to illustrate is that sometimes you can find better solutions than antibiotics. 

By now, most people are aware that antibiotics should only be taken when necessary and that overprescription has led to antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. But most people are not aware of just how many alternatives there are in the form of whole foods, herbs, and tinctures.

Antibiotic medications wipe out harmful as well as beneficial gut bacteria. Not only do we need beneficial gut bacteria for digestive function, it is the foundation of a healthy immune function. Many times I have treated patients who complain of frequent colds, bronchitis, and other infections, and discover that as a child they were given many rounds of antibiotics and their immune systems have never quite recovered. 

So how can we heal our gut from past antibiotic use and how can we build a healthy gut so that it is optimal for all functions, including immunity? 

1.  Eat mostly warm nourishing food.         

Eat a varied diet of foods, full of colors, and avoid too much cold and raw foods, iced drinks, juices, and cold smoothies that weaken digestive energy. Monkeys have much longer large intestinal tracts than humans because eating raw fruits requires a lot of digestive tract. We do not have the intestinal capacity to deal with excessive raw cold food. Your stomach appreciates warmth, and cooking food even a little bit will make it way more easy to absorb. Juicing may seem to give a boost of energy, but that is due to the glycemic spike in blood. The byproduct of juicing is a weakened digestive fire, and phlegm accumulation. Sometimes that manifests as allergies, skin problems, aching joints, and tendency toward bacterial infections.

2. Eat prebiotic foods.

Prebiotics are undigestible plant fibers that probiotics consume in your intestinal tract. They increase the population of friendly bacteria and block the growth of harmful bacteria. There is basically a perpetual battle going on in your body between good and bad bacteria. You feel better when the good guys are winning. Here are some examples of prebiotic foods to consume:

Garlic, onions, dandelion greens, asparagus, jicama root, oats, barley, jerusalem artichoke, leeks, apples, cocoa, burdock root, flax seeds, seaweed, radishes, coconut meat.

3. Eat foods or make teas that are naturally antibiotic.

These include oregano, thyme, garlic, ginger, pau d'arco (can find in tea form at any health store), echinacea, manuka honey, horseradish, cinnamon, onions, grapefruit seed extract, eucalyptus, cumin, olive leaf, apple cider vinegar, turmeric, cabbage, fermented foods (not including beer and wine, unfortunately).

4. Avoid these mucous forming foods that aid harmful bacteria:

The following are foods that are hospitable to bad bacteria like E. Coli, and that create phlegm and mucous throughout the respiratory tract and the joints. They make you foggy, fatigued, and prone to runny noses or skin irritations or an achy body:

Sugar, Alcohol, Dairy (including yogurt), Processed / chemical foods, Fried and greasy food

5. Cook at home often. 

I know you’re busy, but try to get into the habit of making your own fresh food. Who knows what is hiding in your take out food. Unless you eat at a restaurant that carefully sources their food, what you will get is low quality mass produced food with a long shelf life, high sodium, preservatives, and lots of sugar.

6. Stock up on immune supporting remedies.

At the first sign of a pathogen, try some immune strengthening herbs. Here are the ones I use and combine, and they often keep a virus away or shorten its duration. If you can find a Chinese herb shop, these formulas are always stocked.

  • Sore throat or post nasal drip - Standard Process Throat Spray or Chuan Xin Lian 

  • Feverishness and sore throat - Yin Qiao San

  • At first sign of a cold (sneezing, lethargy, runny nose, scratchy throat) - Olive Leaf Extract, Echinacea / Goldenseal tincture

  • Chills or upset stomach - Ginger tincture or fresh ginger root tea

  • Stomach Flu - Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Tang

May you have a healthy Fall and Winter.

What Should I Feed My Kids?

What Should I Feed My Kids?  Eastern Medicine’s Perspective

by Nancy Allen, LAc.

About a week ago, I sat on the subway with my six year old boy and watched in agony as a little girl about his age sat across from us and vacuumed an entire roll of bubble gum tape into her mouth in one continuous chomp. The adult next to her didn’t seem to notice. Here is what her poor little organs had to deal with in that two minutes: 42 grams of sugar (!), Gum Base, Corn Syrup, Glycerol, Artificial Flavors, Corn Starch, Acesulfame K, Aspartame, BHT, Red number 40 (a known carcinogen), and last but not least - Phenylalanine (associated with seizures, anxiety, and sleep disorders). Hopefully, she consumed some water and some real food that day to help her body deal with all of that, although I assume it wasn’t the only ‘treat’ she had that day.

Kids love sugar and they always ask for it. It’s a wonderful feeling to give them a treat, but often we give them poison without a second thought. When I was a kid, I ate buckets and buckets of sugar and fake stuff - Kool Aid, Tang (mysterious orange powder drink), M&M’s, Snickers, Nerds, vending machine pastries that may have been shelved for months. I could fill this whole page with examples. The result was that I constantly had a runny nose. You could never find me without a tissue in my hand. My friends had a phrase, “bless you infinity” so they wouldn’t have to keep blessing my sneezes, and hives popped up all over my body on select lucky days. 

At age 9, I went for an allergy test where the nurse injected three rows of six allergens into my arm to see what I would react to. All of the bumps swelled up into one mass of red itchiness. I was allergic to everything, they concluded. After two months of weekly shots and no improvement, I asked the nurse how long I would have to continue. No joke, she frankly replied, “forever" and I never went back.

It was not until decades later, when I studied Eastern Medicine’s understanding of nutrition, I finally realized that the milk with my cereal, and the sugary cold orange juice I was having every morning were exactly the worst breakfast I could have had and that my diet of sugary, toxic, mucous causing food was the reason I felt lousy all the time. When I changed my diet, my allergies vanished.

According to Eastern Medicine, children’s digestive systems are naturally deficient. When the digestive energy is weak, then phlegm and dampness form as a byproduct. What does the digestive system find hard to process? Cold, sweet food and drinks, and processed food. Cold food includes raw food. Yes, raw food contains more enzymes, but our digestive energy has to take everything we consume, bring it to temperature, and then convert it into nutrients. Think of it as a fire pit in your belly. Pouring juice onto the fire pit may give you an energy boost from the sugar and vitamins, but it puts out the fire and your body will have less energy to process what you consume. 

Sugar and dairy readily create mucous even in adult bodies, but more so in a developing digestive system. What do we feed our kids? Ice cream, candy, pizza, juice, and highly processed food like hot dogs and boxed macaroni and cheese. The result is not only phlegm forming in their body and often taking up residence in the respiratory system, it is an overall compromised immune system, since the immune system gets its strength from the health of the gut. The lining of the digestive tract contains immune cells. Kids with a weakened gut will end up suffering from frequent colds, asthma, allergies, skin conditions like eczema, and when they get sick, their mucous sticks around for weeks. 

Countless times I have heard parents complain, “Well the cold is gone, but the phlegm will not go away” as the child munches on a cupcake and juice. The food we give them is almost always sweet, sugary, milky and cold. It’s what they enjoy and crave, but it’s what damages their digestive and respiratory health the most.

So what should I feed my kid, you ask? Number one - feed them real food. You never need to go to the canned food aisle or the frozen food section. If you’re busy and you don’t have a lot to spend, you can still make it work. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. Cooking black beans from scratch costs about $5 to feed four people. For some healthy, kid friendly recipes, Wellness Mama has great ideas. 

To counterbalance a kid’s weak digestive system, feed them mostly warm, tasty, easy to digest foods. Soups and stews will keep them strong. The following foods are especially good at dispelling mucous: onion, cinnamon, ginger, scallion, basil, rosemary, dill, oregano, sage, parsley, cardamom, nutmeg, fennel, anise, clove, coriander, leek, chives, aduki beans, rye, celery, lettuce, alfalfa, turnips, and raw honey.

If they have been exposed to antibiotics and have a weakened immune system, try giving them a daily children’s probiotic, or if they will eat fermented food like sauerkraut, that will be even more effective to boost gut flora. When I look at pictures of myself from childhood, I almost always see a grumpy little face. Kids are grumpy when they don’t feel well. Healthy kids make a happier family.

Does Acupuncture Work?

I have been asked this question countless times. What I would often like to do is give a sarcastic response. 'Well I don't know but I figure since I spent all that time and money getting my degree and license, I just keep at it.' Instead I say something like, "In my clinical experience, yes, it works." People usually try acupuncture after they have tried everything else. And they almost always leave pleasantly surprised.
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years. Teachers have passed on their skill, their lineage, and their clinical wisdom to their students. If it didn't work, I imagine somewhere in all those years, clinicians would have realized it didn't work and they would have tried something else. People everywhere exclaim yes, acupuncture works, despite biomedicine's scientific double-blind tests' inability to grant acupuncture the clinical respect it deserves. 
How does it work? It moves stagnation out of excess areas of your body, and directs energy to places that are deficient, and it stimulates your body to heal itself. (fMRI study of how acupuncture stimulates the limbic system of the brain). Therefore, it can treat just about anything. People often come to acupuncture for one major complaint and find that a handful of other complaints improve.

Western medical language doesn't deal with Qi and meridians. In order to get a picture of how acupuncture works, one has to be open to learning a whole new view of the body. Our Western view of the body is as a machine with disparate parts. There are systems that work independently and there are layers of muscle, tissue, bone, fluids, and blood. 

Acupuncture's view of the body takes all of that into account but also sees the subtle levels. It sees the body less as a machine and more like a network of rivers, channels, estuaries of flowing and stagnating energy. Each part is connected to another and to the whole. The individual is also connected and influenced by nature and the world - microcosm and macrocosm. Bringing a person to health means balancing all of these influences as they exist uniquely in each body.

A couple weeks ago, I was treating an MD and he remarked that he would never have given acupuncture a try if his wife hadn't forced him. I replied with a laugh that it was funny because I avoid western docs unless I feel like I'm dying. Luckily, he laughed too. I certainly respect Western Medicine, but taking a pill to mask a pain while causing a host of other problems doesn't appeal to me or many other folks. I would rather get to the root of the illness, if I can.

A good acupuncturist will not only needle you, they will give you a diagnosis that you can understand and advise you on how to best nurture yourself. If we incorporate acupuncture and the wisdom of Eastern medicine into our lives, we can certainly keep the doctor away. :)
 

How to Eradicate Hate

“In a time of anger or despair, even if we feel overwhelmed, our love is still there. Our capacity to communicate, to forgive, to be compassionate is still there. You have to believe this. We are more than our anger, we are more than our suffering.
We must recognize that we do have within us the capacity to love, to understand, to be compassionate, always.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh

 

If you're like me, you are concerned about the hatred and bigotry we are seeing this political season. Perhaps the hatred is nothing new. It has been a latent pathogen that is now expressing itself more loudly.
In Eastern Medical philosophy, we view the world as inseparable from ourselves. The individual is a microcosm of the whole. When there is disease in the whole, there is a seed for it in the each of us. When there is so much anger and hatred in our world, we have no choice but to search inside our own hearts for the cause.
This is how I'm working to eradicate hate:

  • I ask myself, what do I hate? I may not believe there is anything I outright hate, but if I investigate, I might be habitually operating at a low level of hate - irritated with people in my way as I rush to work; annoyed with people I live with; judgmental and dismissive of people on social media; longstanding resentment toward one or more people in my life for which I have strongly cemented stories in my mind concerning who they are and what qualities I believe to be inherent in them. 
  • Once I have identified some things to work on, I decide to take responsibility and proactively send a ripple of peace into the world by creating antidotes for my own dislike.
  • Perhaps I decide to just focus on one person that I feel anger towards. When I interact with them, instead of allowing my habit of anger to dominate my mind unchecked, I watch it arise, and that simple awareness has detached me from my anger. That is the beginning of the end of that habit of anger.
  • If I can muster up the strength to act lovingly toward them or even have a loving thought for them, I dedicate that effort to eradicating hate. I say to myself 'may this act eradicate hate. May it create peace.'

Cupping

If you're afraid of needles but curious about Eastern Medicine, perhaps you should try cupping. Practitioners use glass cups to create a suctioning effect by lighting the inside of the cups with fire and quickly applying the cup to acu points. The cups can either remain on the points or can be applied on lubricated skin and moved along the skin gently (sliding cupping) which is particularly effective for loosening painful muscles. The vacuum effect that is created by the fire draws pathogens from deep in the body out to the surface to be more readily circulated and eliminated. 

The earliest known records of cupping come from an Egyptian text in hieroglyphics in the Ebers Papyrus, the oldest medical textbook known, from 1550 BC. In it, cupping is used for treating fever, pain, vertigo, and menstrual imbalances. The history of Chinese cupping dates back to the year 281 AD, where it was described in a medical text called The Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies. The text was written by Ge Hong, a renowned herbalist and accomplished healer. During the Tang Dynasty, cupping was used as the main treatment for tuberculosis, and still today acupuncturists often use cupping to treat coughs and colds. 
 

Stay Strong in the Cold Months

In Classical Eastern Medicine, living healthfully meant harmonizing with the seasons. The cold months signaled time to slow down and rest. But New Yorkers tend to work even more in the winter months and pile on top of it holiday stress and sugar binging amidst a flourishing of cold and flu viruses.
Here are some helpful suggestions for keeping your body healthy and strong between acupuncture treatments:

1. Warm Foods
Putting cold drinks, smoothies, juices and salads into your belly, although they may be nutrient dense, will deplete your digestive energy, just like pouring cold water onto a fire. Depending on your constitution, this either immediately or eventually leads to more sluggish energy overall and more internal dampness in the form of weight gain or respiratory mucous. 
Besides cooking your food, choose foods that are warming. In general, the longer a vegetable takes to grow, the more warming it is internally. This is why root vegetables are such a good winter and fall choice.

2. Supplement
This is a good time to regularly boost your immune system. Some helpful daily immune supplements are Vitamin D, probiotics, Reishi Mushroom, and Elderberry.

3. Restore
Even if you are working a 14 hour day, you can find ten to fifteen minutes to lie down in a restorative pose and breathe mindfully to let your body realign and get out of fight or flight mode.
Try lying down on your back with your calves resting on a chair or couch or low bed. Stay there breathing slowly and fully until you have completely relaxed. 

4. Acupuncture
Research shows that acupuncture helps regulate the autonomic nervous system and is effective in boosting immunity.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17265549