Health Articles

Non-Medication Strategies for Reducing Chronic Pain: Use and Effectiveness

Friday, July 25th, 2014

About 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Lasting longer than six months, such pain can be mild or excruciating, episodic or continuous, inconvenient or totally incapacitating.

For too many, chronic pain is an invisible and debilitating condition. Often employers and even spouses can’t quite appreciate the impact of a migraine or the limitations imposed by back pain. As such, those who suffer often report feeling isolated in addition to feeling depressed, worried about levels of medication and anxious about a future of no relief from pain.file0001875581713

Scientifically Proven Non-Medication Strategies

The good news is that in addition to ever expanding medication options, there are an increasing number of scientifically proven non-medication approaches to reduce chronic pain, increase the effectiveness of medication, address flare-ups, and in some cases reduce need for medication.


Look Who’s Laughing: Similarities and Differences in Men and Women

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

Laughing is a wonderful human trait that we all share. It is something we do from earliest childhood and something that benefits us in many ways.

  • Physically, laughter relaxes skeletal and cardiovascular muscles. The rapid breathing associated with laughter increases oxygen level and improves respiratory function.
  • Psychologically, laughter has been associated with reduction of stress and anxiety as well as improvement in mood, self-esteem and coping skills.
  • Cognitively, neuroscientist, Scott Weems tells us that humor is like exercise for the brain. It necessitates insight and flexibility because it involves following the thread of the story and then enjoying the surprise, the pun or the unexpected. It is delightful when you realize from a child’s giggle that they “ get the joke” and heartwarming when the elderly are still “getting it” and laughing.
  • Socially we know that laughter invites connection and is contagious. If you enter a room where everyone is laughing, before long there is a good chance you will be laughing even without knowing why. Some feel that the purpose of laughter is to strengthen human bonds.

Whereas men and women both enjoy humor and benefit from laughing, there are some interesting gender differences.


When Injury Disrupts Exercise: Five Ways to Reduce Stress

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

sneakersThere is considerable evidence that exercise benefits our mental health. Research suggests that in addition to improving memory, lifting mood, moderating depression, and reducing attention fatigue, exercise is a significant stress reducer.

Whether you are a varsity player, a daily walker, a gym rat or an avid golfer, it is likely that the exercise you do helps you psychologically as well as physically. What happens when you get injured?

In most cases physical injury happens in the two minutes we never see coming.  It is physically and psychologically disruptive because it not only involves physical pain and concern about intervention and recovery; it reminds us of the unpredictability of life, and the reality of our vulnerability. For athletes, as well as those determined to exercise, it is a loss that insults our sense of self as well as our sense of mastery.

 “ I can’t be injured, we are in the semi-finals. I have to play!”

 “ I just got the motivation and the routine going and now I break my ankle?”

 “ What will I do if I can’t golf?”

  • If you have ever been taken off the court or out of your usual routine by injury, it is likely you have felt the constraints of a Catch 22.
  • At a time when you are feeling more pain and stress than usual, the one thing you can’t do is use your usual stress reducer–Exercise will make matters worse!

How Do You Proceed?

No matter what anyone says in the first hours, days or week of an injury, it won’t feel right.

“ So You Won’t Run Anymore- You will Do Something Else!” 

“ Don’t Worry—You will be back.”

It is difficult to suddenly adjust to the loss of something that has added value to your life and it is also difficult to suddenly believe you will be ok, when you don’t feel ok. But it does get better…

What seems impossible starts to become possible when you realize there are many ways to reduce stress if you are able to focus on healing, open options, risk possibilities, and draw upon your resiliencies.

Five Ways To Reduce Stress

Become …


A Simple Step to Improve Healthy Eating: Recognize the Roadblocks

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

hamburgerIt is difficult to have a healthy relationship with food in this culture. We are invited to consume food of every kind by every media source on a 24-hour basis. The sale of cookbooks and gourmet items has sky rocketed in tandem with warnings about the health hazards of overeating and the nationwide crisis of obesity. A recent study raises the question of whether billboard Ads make people fat!

Many of us try to “ eat healthy” by adhering to a list of healthy foods only to find that the list keeps changing. Even more have stories of diets tried and failed–ranging from no carbs to no meats, to grapefruits, to eating by blood type.

While most of us love food, we often hate what we do with it or what it does to us. When you add personal histories, the plot thickens and the urge to give up and stay unconscious about what we are eating increases.

A Simple Step

In reality, while the goal to healthy eating is this culture is not easy–it is not impossible. Change of any type becomes more likely when we simplify the plan and make success possible. One simple first step is to recognize the roadblocks that sabotage most people’s efforts to eat less or to eat in a more healthy way. Once informed we are a step closer to motivation and mastery.

The Roadblocks:

Convenience

  • While the causes for overeating or eating problems are complex and personal, research finds that one factor that bears on most people’s eating is convenience.
  • Be it at home, at work, on a plane or at a wedding, if it is convenient– we are more likely to eat it.
  • In A Pew Research telephone survey most people reported convenience as their reason for eating junk food.
  • Food researcher, Brian Wansink found that the farther away a candy dish was from the secretaries’ desks, the less they ate– a difference reflected in 225 extra calories a day. In the debriefing, the secretaries revealed that the longer the distance, the more time to talk themselves out of eating another piece!

 A little inconvenience can reduce …


Five Strategies to Reduce Excessive Worry

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Given natural disasters, school violence, unemployment, deployment, the fiscal cliff, the flu, erratic weather patterns and tax changes, there are plenty of things to worry about. Everyone worries. The question is how much?

Worry is the negative thinking we do when we are faced with a real or anticipated threat. It is the “ thinking” component of the physical heart racing, shallow breathing and sweaty palms that make up anxiety. “ What if I lose my job?”  “ What if we are hit with another storm? What if something happens to my child?”

Whereas a certain degree of worry may prompt us to plan ahead, ask for help, or change behavior patterns, experts tell us that excessive worry is toxic.

What Causes Excessive Worry

The common misconception that fuels excessive worry is the belief that worry actually accomplishes something positive:

“ I want to be ready when the other shoe drops.”

The Impact of Excessive Worry

  • In reality, excessive worry is not only ineffective as a strategy; but often sets in motion a vicious cycle of paralysis, poor problem solving and fear of coping which in turn escalates more worry.
  • Physically, excessive worry is costly. It trips the release of stress hormones, disrupts sleeping and eating patterns and often compromises the immune system.
  • Overall, spending time ” anticipating the worst” debilitates rather than prepares us for what may or may not happen.

Five Ways to Reduce Toxic Worry

Worry need not become a toxic cycle that takes more than it gives. Here are six strategies that wind down toxic worry:

Reconsider and Refocus

Are you worrying about “ What if” or “What is?” Most excessive worry is about  ‘What if’ – something that we have no proof will ever happen. Keeping you focus and energy on addressing ‘what is’ is not only more realistic but more likely to positively impact your life.

From Thought to Action

As a rule of thumb, if we are acting out too much, it makes sense to start thinking and if we are thinking too much, it makes sense to start acting.

Accordingly, another valuable strategy for reducing worry is to move from thought to action. No …


Forget About Time – Manage Your Energy!

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

No matter how hard we try, we really don’t manage time. We manage to live within its’ parameters. We can’t make the months of our spouse’s deployment less than they are. We can’t change the fact that we will be 50 years old on our next birthday or that we face an 8-hour workday, an hour commute, and two children who need to be at practice at a certain time.

We can’t manage time because time is finite. What we can manage, however, is our energy. Unlike time, we can expand our energy. We can increase our energy in a way that significantly improves the success and the quality of our life.

The original idea for “managing energy, not time”, comes from the work of Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, whose Energy Project was directed toward correcting the corporate mistake of making more demands of employees to increase productivity. The problem was that as managers and employees pushed harder, often working more hours, the results were negative. There was a decline in engagement, high turnover rates and increasing medical costs among employees.

The Energy Project proposed a different solution. Defining energy as the capacity to work, they considered that managing energy, not time, would change people’s productivity and involvement. Rather than increasing hours, they recommended and trained employees to draw upon the four sources of energy – body, emotions, mind and spirit. What is dramatic in their research is that the employees’ identification and use of seemingly small and brief energy enhancing rituals on a regular basis had a significant impact on productivity compared with companies who had not adapted the program.

Given the fact that most people, be they working adults, parents or school children are being asked to do more, be more and produce more in a finite amount of time, it is worth considering ways to conserve and revitalize your energy.

Energy Saving Strategies:

 Fractionized Exercise

Everyone agrees that exercise rejuvenates body and mind and can help re-set sleep cycles. The problem is time.

A viable answer is fractionizing your exercise in and around your workday.


Reducing Marital Stress Helps Children Return to School

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

marital stress, back to schoolWhen children head back to school this year, they should not be carrying emotional baggage from home.

When we worry about how our children will handle school- what they will face and how they will cope, we often overlook the impact of marital strife on their physical, emotional and intellectual functioning.

It is difficult to feel confident, curious or open to new school friends or ideas when you are a young person weighed down by exposure to adult conflict and issues.

While we know that the impact of most traumatic events on children can be reduced if parents remain calm & learn to manager their own feelings, marital strife poses a bigger challenge. In the case of chronic marital strife, the very people who are supposed to offer safety are the ones creating the danger!

Don’t All Couples Fight?

Yes, in fact if a child never saw any discord or disagreement, he/she would have no model for conflict resolution or regulating a broad range of emotions.

Marital strife that creates a potential emotional crisis for a child of any age is a different animal altogether. It involves expressions of anger that can include chronic but subtle verbal abuse, the silent treatment, bitter fighting and at the extreme, domestic violence that warrants a 911 call.

Unregulated marital discord demands too much of children and teens.

  • Some children run in to rescue the parents and reduce the tension by engaging either or both parents in something fun, interesting, or attention getting.

Do they need this extra job as they face new appropriate childhood challenges?

  • Some children will draw the fire to themselves (consciously or unconsciously) by misbehaving or acting out in order to shift the emotional tone.

Is this a learned pattern of survival we want a youngster to take with them in life?

  • Older children will learn to escape into their rooms, their phones, or their computers- sadly some may learn to escape into drugs and alcohol.

In their necessary avoidance they tragically lose not only the connection with their parents, but a world of knowledge, relationships and …


Recognizing and Understanding Depression After Trauma

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

depression after traumaDisaster and trauma studies often focus on identifying the incidence of PTSD as the sequel to traumatic events.

Early interventions with those affected after a disaster or traumatic event increasingly utilize psycho-education to clarify and normalize common post-traumatic stress reactions and coping strategies.

While mentioned as a possible response, the high incidence of depression after trauma is less delineated and often goes unrecognized by those suffering.

Depression Occurs after Trauma:

  • A Rand corporation study reports that nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan – 300,000 in all – report symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or major depression.
  • In the first long-term study of the health impacts of the World Trade Center (WTC) collapse on September 11, 2001, findings indicate that seven percent of police officers were diagnosed with depression, nine percent with PTSD and eight percent with panic disorder. Twenty eight percent of other rescue and recovery workers had symptoms of depression.
  • A survey of survivors from the Oklahoma City bombing showed that 23% had depression after the bombing.
  • Depression affects approximately 15 percent to 25 percent of cancer patients.
  • After a myocardial infarction, the incidence of major depression is from 15 percent to 20 percent, and an additional 27 percent of patients develop minor depression.

Both major depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occur frequently following traumatic exposure, both as separate disorders and concurrently.

Depression is the most common disorder suffered in conjunction with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Depression is nearly three to five times more likely in those with PTSD than those without PTSD.


Does Hope Really Make a Difference? Scientific Findings

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Almost everyone has some experience with hope: We hope for the best. We hang on to hope. We despair when we lose hope.

It would seem that hope, which is broadly defined as an emotional state that promotes the belief in a positive outcome, is in inherent in human nature.

Reflections of the importance of hope are found in early mythology, religion, philosophy and literature.

Pandora, although forbidden, opened the box given to her by Zeus, and in a moment, all the curses were released into the world and all the blessing escaped and were lost- except one: hope.

“To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” ― The King James Version of the Bible

“Hope is a waking dream.” –Aristotle

“Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.” -Albert Camus

“Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops — at all.” -Emily Dickinson

Clearly we need hope, but even as we embrace it we often wonder – Does hope really make a difference? Is it myth, fiction, collective denial?

There is actually increasing scientific evidence that hope changes us psychologically and physiologically – that it makes a difference.


Enhancing Your Sexuality: Six Important Strategies

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Anna Freud invited us to consider that “Sex is something you do, sexuality is something you are.”

Building on this, we can define sexuality as the way we experience and express ourselves as sexual beings. What makes sexuality a complex dimension is that it is determined by many factors including our body, gender, age, culture, history, media, religion and family.

What makes our experience of our sexuality important is that it affects our overall sense of self, our relationship with others and the life we live.

The most important factor enhancing our sexuality – one that is often overlooked but can out-trump age, culture, prior history, and body type is ATTITUDE.

  • The man or woman with an accepting sense of self is most often the most attractive person in the room….
  • He/she is not necessarily the person with the classic looks, the newest car or the best paying job; but rather, the person smiling, making eye contact, enthused with others and enthused with life.
  • The positive way we think and how we feel about ourselves plays a major role in our sexuality and in the pleasure we have in expressing it.

Developing a positive attitude will enhance sexuality. Here are some strategies.


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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Recent Comments
  • RexDoctor: This is good, sound advice in the “less-is-more” school of thought. Thank you! P.S. Also, just...
  • dawn: And I am the other woman as well. Have been for 3 years now. I was made to believe in that he was separated in...
  • Stegner: Clearly you do not experience empathy for his wife. You actively deal in lies and deception and yet you...
  • Lin Agostinacchio: Great writing. You pinpointed so much about divorce. I know many friends and relatives that are...
  • Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP: Becky: Thanks for adding these. My intention was to mention some as examples of the...
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