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When I talk to clients or participants at trainings I facilitate, friends and others about self-care, there is a resounding and recurring notion that implementing a self-care plan requires a lot of time and money. This isn’t a surprise to me. For years, I also carried this belief. I thought that having extra time and money were key components to maintaining a self-care practice. After all, without time how will you get to do the things you want to do, and without money, how will you finance your self-care activities?

There is also a misconception about what self-care is.  What usually comes up as a definition of self-care is spa days, time at the hair salon on regular basis, gym time and vacation. While all these activities are examples of self-care activities, the reality is that for many people these activities can be outside of their reach. Limiting our self-care definition to just a few select activities can hinder our ability to recharge ourselves.

Despite these beliefs, there is growing general agreement that self-care is essential for our overall well-being. Self-care is an effective way to manage stress and a key factor in keeping healthy physically and mentally. The definition of self-care that I have adopted is that of a practice that allows us to strengthen our bodies, minds, and souls.

The great news is that there are many ways to fulfill this endeavor. There is no one-way of doing it and there isn’t such a thing as one size fits all. Self-care can be practiced as it best fits people’s lifestyles, time and resources. And there are many free things that you can do. So let’s forget those standardized self-care checklists and create your own list based on what works for you.

To help incorporate self-care into our daily lives, I propose that rather than doing self-care as a one-time only extravaganza when we feel burned out, we sprinkle self-care throughout our day or week.

Here are a few ideas how:

Mindfulness Meditation. We can take what I call mini vacations through mindfulness meditation, a practice has been proven effective to reducing stress and preventing and managing mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. There are many types of mindfulness exercises. One such exercise is deep breathing. We can dedicate as little as 5 minutes a day to deep breathing (or as many times as you need it throughout the day). During our breathing exercises, we focus on our breath, inhaling slowly in and out through our nose.

Visualizations. With the deep breathing, we can add visualization, imagining a place that brings us tranquility and peace as we deep breath in and out or a past happy memory. We can do a variation to our breathing exercises reciting positive affirmations about ourselves or reflecting on things that are going right in our lives. But this is just one possible exercise. Mindfulness is much broader than that. As best put by mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is paying attention on purpose in a particular way to what is arising and the present moment. I encourage you to look more into mindfulness.

Time management. Self-care involves self-awareness on the tasks that you can handle and those that may be too much. Practice saying no to extra commitments when your plate is already full or asking for help. Having too demands on us can lead to stress and overwhelming feelings.

Doing things that bring you joy. Do an inventory of things you truly enjoy— starting with little things to big. What is feasible to sprinkle into your day? For some people, it may be drinking your favorite cup of tea, lighting up a candle, listening to your favorite music on the way to work or while at home, going on a bike ride, spending quality time with family and friends, watching their favorite TV show, doing your favorite hobby, etc. Whatever it may be, make it a consistent part of your practice.

Creative Release Outlets. We have seen the explosion of “adult coloring books” marketed as stress reduction tools, and there is evidence to back this up. The trick of coloring is that it is an activity that requires focusing in one task and as we color or paint, it allows us to express ourselves and set free of our worries, even if it is just for a few moments. This can be a fun activity to do alone or with kids. If coloring isn’t your thing, try journaling.  You can experience a sense of release by writing when you are feeling stressed, frustrated, tired, etc., or you may simply enjoy chronicling your positive experiences and looking back to it when you need inspiration or extra boost.

Connecting with nature and exercise. Nature has healing and self-soothing power. A walk in our local park or outside can be the break someone needs and it is not only good for overall physical health but for it improves our mental well-being.

Exercise is an important part of staying healthy both psychically and mentally. One of the things I commonly see is that we may get excited about an exercise routine but that excitement may dwindle or barriers begin to creep in. Instead of thinking of exercise as one more thing to do, think about it as something you need to do for your survival, just like you need to eat, breathe and sleep. To this, adding a self-care buddy that you can enjoy your activity with may make the journey much easier and more fulfilling. Exercise does not have to break your bank. Take to your local park and walk the recommended 30 minutes a day, either during your lunch break, before or after work or get off the metro or bus a few stops before your destination and walk the rest.

Connecting with others. Connecting with others has been found to be a key factor in maintaining our mental health. While we may interact with people throughout the day either through work, school or at home, what I am talking about is having meaningful connections and relationships of people you enjoy spending quality time with. The kind of people who bring you joy, lift you up, listen to you and support you and vice versa.

While technology and social media have great benefits, too much of it can hinder our ability to be present and it can prevent us from enjoying what’s around us. Unplugging occasionally from technology and social media is vital in our quest to taking care of our minds.

Take small breaks during the day. Beyond your lunch break, take small breaks as needed during the day. Make it an intentional practice to move around in your office, school or home. Instead of sending that email to your colleague, walk over to deliver your message in person if feasible.

Self-care buddy. This is my personal favorite: designating someone to hold you accountable on your self-care journey. At work, appoint colleagues who can remind you to have lunch and/or someone you can go on a walk with when stressed. At home, appoint loved ones who can support you in staying healthy and remind you of your commitment to yourself.

Use smartphone apps to support your practice. Some of my favorite are Calm and Bloom. Calm has different visualization images like beaches, mountains, rainforests with natural sounds that match the images. You have to try it to see the impact. You will literally be transported to those places.  Bloom is an app where you can include daily reminders including inspirational notes that you can load with images (your own pictures or from stock) and music. In this app, you can include reminders such as remembering to take a break, remembering to take a deep breath. You can schedule those messages to pop up throughout the day. It is kind of fun to get the messages when you least expect them but when you need them the most.

These are just a few ideas of endless activities you can do to keep up with your self-care. What may work for one person, may not work for another. The key to self-care is doing activities that can nourish our minds, bodies, and souls. The tools are within our reach to practice consistently, as a necessity, as a way of survival just like breathing and eating.

Cheryl Aguilar is a licensed clinical social worker, LICSW, who provides mental health therapy to Washington, DC metro area residents. She specializes in working with Latinos and immigrants. She obtained her master’s in social work from the Catholic University of America. Prior to embarking in the social work profession, Cheryl worked in the public relations and journalism fields for over a decade elevating issues important to underserved communities. Cheryl currently serves as board member for the National Association of Social Workers DC Chapter and volunteers with Latino Social Workers Organization.

          
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Health

Important Things An Active Person Should Know About Feet

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Most of us take thousands of steps a day by foot. An active person or someone who participates in sports will likely use their feet even more. We use our feet every day for very important reasons, but many of us still neglect to care for them. Paying more attention to our trotters can result in more attractive and healthier feet, so why do we ignore them? To learn more about your feet and the importance of foot care, read on.

The Proper Shoes Make A Difference

Ill-fitting shoes can cause blisters, bunions, and foot pain. Athletes and runners are especially prone to foot discomfort. Your shoes should always fit your foot, allowing adequate room for your toes to move, and supplying the appropriate support and cushioning. If you are a runner, investing in a good pair of running shoes is highly recommended. Basketball players, dancers, tennis players, and golf players should also wear shoes which are comfortable and suitable for their individual needs.

Foot Odor Is Caused By Sweat And Bacteria

Active people are especially prone to foot odor because they tend to sweat more. Sweating is healthy and is your body’s natural way of cooling itself, but it can lead to some nasty bodily odors. Foot odor is often characterized by a cheesy, vinegary smell. The feet are full of sweat glands and these glands can excrete up to a half-pint of moisture a day.

The best way to prevent foot odor is to keep the feet dry and clean. Washing your feet every day, changing your socks frequently, and alternating your shoes can greatly reduce unpleasant foot odors. It is important to alternate your shoes because bacteria and moisture can build up inside of footwear, which is what causes the bad odors. Letting your shoes fully dry out before wearing them again is recommended. In addition, there are various foot deodorizers available for those who suffer from foot odor.

Foot Fungus Is Preventable

Fungus loves feet because the inside of your shoes provides them with the perfect breeding ground. Damp and dark, your well-worn shoes attract the organisms which cause athlete’s foot and toenail fungus. Once fungus invades, it can be hard to get rid of. If the conditions are right, fungal infections can live on your feet for years.

Active individuals should take preventive measures against foot fungus by wearing clean socks, washing the feet often, and wearing protective shoes in public places which can harbor fungus.

If you contract nail fungus or athlete’s foot, it is important to treat it with topical creams and antifungal medications. Doing so prevents the fungus from spreading and getting worse. The sooner the condition is treated, the easier it will be to manage.

Your Feet Can Be Linked To Your Health

Certain diseases like diabetes and peripheral arterial disease can cause symptoms in your feet. Undiagnosed diabetes is known to cause dry skin because glucose levels affect sweat and oil production in your feet. Loss of feeling in the feet due to nerve damage is also a common symptom of diabetes.

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can cause thin, shiny skin on the feet. PAD causes poor blood circulation and raises your risk of heart attack and stroke. If your feet show any signs of circulation issues, consult your doctor promptly.

Taking care of your lower extremities and looking for any unusual signs and symptoms is the best way to maintain healthy feet. Keeping your feet clean and rotating your shoes is also a good idea, especially if you are active. Doing so will prevent foot odors and fungal infections. Your feet are essential to your body, so treat them as such.

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Health

The Mind-Body Connection

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One of the most important things I learned from my experience of depression was how closely linked my physical and mental well-being are.  In the thick of it, I remember many days of trying to figure out why I felt so low.  I talked through with my therapist all the various stressors which could have been affecting me that day. This included all my thoughts and feelings, and possible resolutions to my troubles. Only to figure out later on that I hadn’t had enough sleep the night before…and when I got enough sleep the next night, my mood was hugely improved.

It’s still true if I don’t sleep well, I’ll invariably feel a bit low the next day.  Not to the extent that I’m depressed, but I definitely notice being more irritable and sensitive to things which wouldn’t normally bother me that much.  Being sick is another example of when not feeling great physically affects my emotional resilience and makes everything else that much harder.  On one occasion, when I was horribly sick and sleep deprived, I burst into tears because I dropped my toast, butter side down, on the kitchen floor!

And who hasn’t heard of the phenomenon of being “hangry” ie: getting so hungry you start getting angry.  I’m sure this is a regular for me coming up to lunchtime at work.

The Mind-Body Connection

It seems so obvious now, the mind-body connection is important, but it took me such a long time to figure it out.  For the longest time, I didn’t realise every little fluctuation in my level of happiness didn’t necessarily indicate anything major going wrong other than my body trying to say, “take care of me, please!”  Of course, sometimes there are other things going on when you’re feeling down. But I guess I found it useful to realise that my physical health is connected to my emotional well-being, too.

Now that I’m working as a therapist, I’ve noticed this theme with clients as well.  Whenever someone says to me they are having a bad day, the first thing I ask about is how they’ve slept, whether they’ve eaten, or if they are sick at the moment.  Of course, the answer is not always this simple but I’ve been surprised at the number of people who will say, “Actually, I didn’t sleep at all last night…and now you mention it, no wonder I’m feeling a bit crappy today.”

Separating Mind and Body

These days we are very good at separating mind and body.  Our mind – our thoughts, perspectives, moods, and emotions – almost seems like a completely different thing to our physical experience of the world.

These days, it’s essential to think about our physical and mental well-being as interconnected and it’s equally important to take care of both.  I’m not one to preach about what this might mean for you. I’d be the last person to advocate that everyone should stick to any particular health regime – I’m firmly from the school of doing whatever works for you!

But I think what it boils down to is a little self-care (and for me personally, a healthy dose of balance) is good for both body and mind. I find noticing the effect of one on the other is helpful in understanding my experience of the world.

What are your thoughts on the mind-body connection?

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Child Welfare

Right from the Start: Investing in Parents and Babies – Alan Sinclair

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It is widely accepted the earliest months and years of a child’s existence have the most profound impact on the rest of the lives. Attachment theorists believe the early bonds and relationships a child forms with his/her carer(s) or parent(s), informs that child’s ability or inability to form successful and healthy relationships in the future.

Alan Sinclair’s ‘Right from the Start’ is the latest in the Postcards from Scotland series of short books, which aim to stimulate new and fresh thinking about why us Scots are the way we are.

In my previous book review in the Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, I commended the author of ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’ (another book in the same series) Carol Craig for her ability to write succinctly and accessibly about a complex subject matter. I feel the same way about Alan Sinclair’s writing in this book.

The premise of this book, put simply, is laying out the bare truths of how good and bad us Scots are at parenting as well as having the appropriate supporting systems in place for parents and carers of our most vulnerable children.

A consistent thread throughout the book is the author arguing that by investing in parents and babies ‘from the start’, governments and the surrounding systems who support children and families can relieve the heartache of tomorrow in the form of poorer outcomes in education, employment and in health.
The book begins by acknowledging the UK’s position on the UNICEF global league table of child well-being, ranking 29 of the world’s richest countries against each other. The UK is placed 16th, our particular challenge being a high proportion of young people not in work, training or education. Although the league table did not single out the devolved nation of Scotland, the author describes the UK as a ‘decent proxy for Scotland’.

The first 1,000 days

The author goes on to explore the theory of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. This theory suggests this is the most significant indicator of what the future holds for them. He touches on child poverty, which we know from well-cited research can lead to adversities in life, but he also mentions too much money can be an issue as well.

This point is explored more deeply later in the book’s in a chapter titled: ‘Is social class a factor?’. The author is effective at challenging the popular rhetoric that it’s the least educated and most poverty-stricken parents in society who are most likely to neglect their children. He talks about the longitudinal study, Growing Up in Scotland, which tracks the lives of thousands of children and families from birth to teens. Amongst many other findings, the survey shows 20% of children from the top income bracket have below average vocabulary; it also finds problem-solving capabilities are below average for 29% of this group. This proposes child poverty is only a small indicator of the child’s developmental prospects.

Where the Dutch Get it Right

The most intriguing part of the book from my point of view is the comparison the author makes between raising a child in Scotland versus the Netherlands (which ranked first in the UNICEF league table). In Holland, pregnant women have visits from a Kraamzorg, an omnipresent healthcare professional who identifies the type of support required. Post-birth the Kraamzorg plays a very active role and can typically spend up to eight hours a day supporting the new mother in her first week of childcare. The Kraamzorg also becomes involved in household chores including shopping and cooking. And it doesn’t stop there. The Dutch system includes Mother and Baby Wellbeing Clinics, which support families from birth to school age and have been doing so effectively for the last century.

On reading how the Dutch system operates, it’s hard to not make comparisons to the system here in Scotland (and the wider UK) within our NHS where mothers are wheeled in to give birth and very quickly wheeled out again to free up bed space. I exaggerate slightly here and I do not want to discredit the incredible job hard-working NHS staff do, but I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling envious of the Dutch system and thinking they’ve got something right, in comparison with Scotland. This was neatly summarised at the start of the book in a quote from a Dutch woman who had spent time living in both Holland and Scotland when she said: ‘In Holland we love children. In Scotland you tolerate children.’

But it’s not all bad. As the author remarks himself: ‘Scottish parenting is not universally awful: if we were we would not be almost halfway up the global table of child well-being’ (p. 12).

The penultimate chapter explores some real-life examples of parents who are struggling and striving to succeed in bringing up children with some success despite the odds stacked against them. I found the author’s injection of such human stories among the explanation of evidence useful as it allowed a chance for the reader to reflect on how all this is applicable in everyday life in Scotland.

To me, there was, however, a glaring omission in these stories: a voice from the LGBT community. Gay adoption in Scotland was legalised almost 10 years ago in 2009, and at the same time the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulation 2009 came into force allowing same-sex couples to be considered as foster parents. It would have been interesting to hear from this historically marginalised part of our society what the experience has been like and how different, or similar, this was from the other stories included in this chapter. Are they arguably better equipped as carers of Scotland’s most vulnerable children given their own life experiences of being marginalised?

The book ends with the author setting out his vision for a better future for Scotland’s children where they have better life chances and are fully nurtured. It’s clear we have some way to go but reading this book makes you feel a glimmer of hope that could, one day, become a reality.

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Food

8 Common Food Myths Debunked

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There are hundreds of common myths and misconceptions about food which may influence your diet choices. However, some foods commonly believed to be unhealthy are actually just fine and some popular “healthy” foods are actually harmful. Here are eight common food myths debunked:

1. Low-fat Foods are Always Healthier.

Some types of fat are unhealthy, but others are an important part of a healthy diet. When foods are made low fat, the fat content is usually replaced with sugar or sodium to improve the taste. This definitely does not make it healthier, but many people associate fat with weight gain and heart attacks. Therefore, they choose “low-fat” foods even though the foods have an unhealthy amount of sugar or sodium.

2. You Need to Eat Dairy for Healthy Bones.

People tend to confuse dairy with calcium, so it’s a common myth you need dairy for strong bones. It’s true that dairy has lots of calcium, but plenty of other foods do as well. You can eat greens, broccoli, oranges, beans, and nuts to get enough calcium to keep your bones healthy.

3. Eggs Raise Your Cholesterol Levels.

Your cholesterol levels are mostly influenced by saturated and trans fats, and eggs contain very little of both. Eggs contain lots of important nutrients, so cutting them out of your diet to lower your cholesterol levels can actually be harmful. It won’t affect your cholesterol and it will prevent you from getting all the health benefits eggs have.

4. All Food Additives are Bad for You.

Some people believe all food additives are made of harmful, toxic chemicals. While some aren’t very healthy, most are completely fine. The panic over food additives mostly stems from a lack of understanding. For example, many people believe the additive carrageenan is toxic because it’s been proven to cause inflammation in lab animals. However, studies show human bodies don’t absorb or metabolize it, so it flows through the body without causing any harm.

5. Restricting Salt Prevents Heart Attacks.

Lowering your salt intake can reduce your blood pressure, but there’s no scientific evidence supporting the idea that restricting salt reduces your risk of a heart attack or stroke. If your doctor tells you to cut back on salt, you should listen. However, it’s a myth everyone needs to lower their salt intake to be safe and healthy.

6. High Fructose Corn Syrup is Worse than Sugar.

Many foods are labeled “No HFCS” as if this makes them healthier and many people buy these items because they’re so afraid of high fructose corn syrup. It actually is very similar to sucrose, or table sugar, in many ways. The composition of high fructose corn syrup is almost identical to that of table sugar and both have the same number of calories. They both have similar effects on insulin and glucose levels. Neither are particularly healthy, but one isn’t worse than the other.

7. All Organic Food is Healthy.

Organic food is free of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and other additives found in most non-organic foods. Choosing organic produce can reduce your chemical exposure, but junk food labeled “organic” is still junk food. You can buy organic chips, cookies, or crackers, but they’ll still have as much sugar and empty calories as their non-organic counterparts.

8. Coffee Makes You Dehydrated.

Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it does dehydrate you. However, coffee has a very mild dehydrating effect and all of the water it contains will make up for any fluid you lose. Coffee also contains lots of antioxidants, so you don’t have to worry about drinking a cup or two every morning.

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Disability

Four Ways Neurodiversity Holds the Key to the Future of Special Education

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For ages, special education has been developing on its own, together with the development of ordinary education. It emphasizes disorders and the ways special education students are lacking compared to an average student. Those who have a noticeable dysfunction have even been mocked for their lack of focus or skill to learn something – sometimes by teachers too.

And even though the history of the special education has been filled with inappropriate names and terms, the future is bright. More and more scientists and educators are turning to the better ways of conducting special education – and one of those ways is related to neurodiversity.

This term was first used by journalist Harvey Blume in the early 1990s and means that autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other special-needs conditions are the part of normal variations in the human population. And here is how neurodiversity changes the entire special education system.

1. In theory.

Special education as it is at the moment regards disability categories as something originated from biology, genetics, and neurology. Neurodiversity, on the other hand, focuses on the advantages these disabilities have to offer – they use this to explain why these genes are still here today and why people are still born with disabilities.

This new concept examines how a person with a disability can be lacking in some aspects but even more advanced than regular people in some. During the past decade, university programs such as London School of Economics’ Dyslexia and Neurodiversity program, or the College of William & Mary’s Neurodiversity Initiative are aimed to support neurodiverse students and create positive acceptance and niches for them.

Annabel Gray, neurodiversity specialist and educator at Origin Writings states, “Regarding a person as completely disabled is fundamentally wrong. Whereas a person with, for example, autism can be lacking in some areas of life, on a job which requires focus and attention to detail, this same person would do outstandingly well.”

2. The focus.

The focus of special education so far has been solely on assessing deficits and how to go about educating students based on these deficits. However, neurodiversity relies more on assessing the strengths, talents, abilities, and interests of disabled students. It is a strength-based approach where an educator would use a series of tests to discover the student’s abilities and teach them how to use them to tackle their everyday and educational challenges.

What is so great about neurodiversity approach is it gives the students all the necessary tools to cope with their day to day life by focusing on what they do best. This way the students are not feeling left out and they know there are some things where they can thrive in.

3. Workarounds.

Workarounds are another way the neurodiversity improves the disabled students’ lives. What it essentially means is the educators are supposed to find ways for students to experience and learn which does not include their disabilities. For example, students with ADHD could be allowed to use special tools like stability balls or standing desks in order to focus on studying.

This could be expanded to create an individual education plan for each student based on what they need and in which environment they thrive the most. Placing those students in the traditional learning environment will help them to feel “lesser human being” or a burden.

Lila Christie, an educator at 1Day2Write and WriteMyX confirms: “Workarounds are some of the best ways of teaching the disabled students. We implement this strategy of putting each student in an environment that will allow them to learn without anything in the way. It not only works but also gives students the satisfaction and comfort.”

4. How to communicate with students.

While most special education programs still teach children about their disabilities, neurodiversity teaches them about the value of variation and being different. It teaches them how their brain works and how the environment affects it, how to use their skills to the maximum etc. This kind of mindset can help them realize the growth mindset can improve their performance.

To get the brain to its full potential it is important to get the students exercising in various ways, each suited to their own abilities – writing exercises are excellent ways to improve brain power and it can be easily accessible to students through tools such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Windows Speech Recognition, etc.

Conclusion

Neurodiversity is a great new approach to special education. It gives students opportunities and new ways of understanding themselves. This is a fresh take on educating those with disabilities – in fact, it relies more on their abilities and strengths. It can give students confidence and tools to be successful and do more later in their lives.

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Health

National AIDS Awareness Month

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Even though the overall number of people with HIV and AIDS has fallen, it is still a disease which predominately affects gay males. An estimated 67% of new HIV cases are transmitted via male-to-male sexual contact, with heterosexual contact accounting for 24%, and 6% due to drug use. Young people are also more likely to be infected. Young people ages 13-24 account for 21% of new AIDS cases. The most at risk individuals are young gay and bisexual men which “accounted for 81% of all new HIV diagnoses in people aged 13 to 24 in 2016, and young African American gay and bisexual men are even more severely affected,” according to the CDC.

Since 1987, the first year Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was listed on death certificates, over 500,000 people have died in the United States from HIV/AIDS. That’s more than the number of people who have died in the Syrian War. Currently, in the United States, AIDS is the 9th leading cause of death in people 25-44 years old.

The AIDS epidemic reached its peak in 1992, with an estimated 78,000 cases diagnosed annually. Since then, AIDS diagnosis began to steadily decline until stabilizing in the late 1990s at approximately 40,000 cases diagnosed annually. The latest statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show between 2010 and 2015 the estimated number of annual infections declined 8% from 41,800 to 38,500.

Victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) are also at a greater risk for contracting HIV. People who report a history of being a victim of IPV are more likely to engage in risky behaviors – intravenous drug use, prostitution, unprotected anal sex – increasing their risk of contracting HIV. HIV-positive women also report higher rates of IPV than the general population.

The opioid epidemic is responsible for the first uptick of HIV diagnosis attributed to intravenous drug use in two decades. In 2015, opioid use led to 181 individuals being diagnosed with HIV in Scott County, Indiana. Lowell, Massachusetts has also seen a recent spike in HIV cases attributed to opioid use.

One of the biggest obstacles faced by HIV/AIDS patients is a healthcare system which is less than perfect. A recent Times article stated, “no class of medicines is more scandalously expensive than for H.I.V.” In the U.S., HIV medication can cost $39,000 a year, while countries in Africa the same medication costs $75 a year.

The U.S. healthcare system may not be perfect, but HIV treatments are getting better. Experts think it’s possible HIV transmission can be stopped in the United States within 3-7 years. The most current and powerful antiretroviral drugs on the market can lower the amount HIV in a person’s system to a level so low it cannot be transmitted.

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