Modern life is stressful – so stressful! Between work, study, maintaining relationships, family obligations, childcare, paying bills, cooking meals, organising a household, taking care of pets, exercise, volunteering, socialising…it’s not surprising how little time we can spend thinking of nice things to do for ourselves!
Self-care can mean a huge range of things to different people. I’ve talked before about how to make self-care work for you, basically by doing the things you like and find restorative (and not just ticking off a huge list of things that are “supposed” to be good for you, but that you may not actually get much out of).
As a person who has a habit of setting super high standards and being really hard on myself, this year I’ve been trying to focus more on my “psychological” self-care. That means doing things like going easy on myself, not overworking, not overcommitting, keeping my boundaries, taking regular “nothing time” and forgiving myself if I don’t get it right all the time too.
I saw a great TEDx talk recently by Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher on authenticity, self-concept and self-compassion and a practicing Buddhist to boot.
Neff talks about how hard we can find it to be compassionate to ourselves, even when we might be very good at extending compassion to others. She notes how many people tend to use the “stick” rather than the “carrot” to try and motivate themselves to achieve more. That is, they beat themselves up for not getting things done, rather than providing an incentive to reward themselves when they do. Curiously, her research shows that, in fact, those who are more kind and forgiving towards themselves when they do fail tend to feel more motivated and get more done in the long run.
So what does it mean to be self-compassionate? And why on earth is it so hard to do? Neff says on her website, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”
Of course, this doesn’t mean slacking off all the time, never doing things you intend to and then being okay with it! Neff is clear that self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgence. Rather it is about doing things because you care about yourself and want to make changes in your life that allow you to be healthy and happy and not just because someone else tells you to.
It sounds so simple, but how easy it is really? I think it’s so much harder to consistently treat yourself in a way that is kind and forgiving, especially if you have a lifetime of practice at beating yourself up about things instead. It seems much easier to just tick a few things off your “self-care plan” and consider it done unless you don’t get it done, then you get to feel bad about that too.
I think self-compassion is both an attitude towards yourself as well as a skill that you can learn. I’ve certainly found I’ve got better at it with practice and patience. A lot of self-compassion websites suggest cultivating self-compassion through mindful meditation exercises, and Neff has some great examples on her website if you’re interested to give them a go. I’ve found some of them useful when I’m really struggling to be kind to myself.
For me though, “pulling myself up” on my self-criticism works really well too. For example, whenever I notice that I’m self-criticising or thinking about something I should have done better or managed differently, I ask myself, “Would I ever say something that harsh to a friend or a client?” If the answer is “no” , then I imagine a little script that I would say to someone else. The result is something a little kinder and more understanding with a commitment to learn and try something different next time – and forgiveness if I don’t get it right even then.
I’ve noticed that doing this repeatedly does make me feel a little better about my perceived failings and mistakes which I’m also sure are not as big a deal to other people as they are to me. The trick of course is first to notice those thoughts in order to begin a process to address them.
So what do you think? Are you into the idea of self-compassion as part of your self-care?
Lower Blood Sugar Levels with These 7 Superfoods
Being cautious about your health doesn’t have to be a dull and agonizing check off your to-do list. You can make it fun by trying new foods and recipes throughout the week. It’s not hard to cover all the basics, especially if you eat a variety of colors and flavors every day.
Lowering and stabilizing your blood sugar is an essential demand when you want to prevent diabetes from occurring or progressing. Add these seven superfoods to your meals, (or eat them as a snack through the week) and watch the level of your health transform with ease.
1. Sweet Potatoes
This rooted superfood is an excellent choice as a main dish, side dish and even a snack on a lazy day. They are packed with fiber, have a low glycemic index, and are easy to cook. The best way to prepare a sweet potato is to roast/bake it in the oven. They go great paired with leafy greens or even just topped with a dash of cinnamon (which is also a superfood).
Another rooted superfood is Turmeric. You might have heard of this spice when visiting restaurants with Caribbean or Indian cuisine. It’s said to have the best medicinal history of preventing disease and illness in many cultures around the world. Curcumin, the active ingredient in Turmeric, can prevent inflammation and the activation of cancerous cells.
Wild blueberries are one of the best power fruits to hit the list. Not only are they packed with soluble fiber, but they also offer a good source of insoluble fiber. Having both of these properties allows this superfood to flush out your system which, in turn, improves your blood sugar levels. Anthocyanins are one of the specific types of antioxidants found in blueberries giving them their vibrant blue color. You can find blueberries at your local grocery store and farmer’s market just about all year-round depending on where you live. Freeze them for smoothies, eat them for a snack, or add them to muffins and pancakes for breakfast.
Organic oats are another easy meal you can whip up to reduce your risk of diabetes. Oats pack large amounts of magnesium and fiber. These two components help the body produce insulin and adequately regulate your blood pressure. Oats are super versatile to cook with and easy to make on any day, making them fit well into any schedule. You can boil them for breakfast and add fruit, or add them to muffin and cookie mix. Surprisingly, there are recipes that use oats as an alternative to using flour.
While making dietary plans to lower your blood sugar, you should highly consider adding kale to your grocery list. This super leafy green is one of the best non-starchy vegetables available. It’s super nutrients build up your immune system, burn fat, and regulate blood pressure. It’s easy to add to a salad, eat with fresh fruit, or throw in your smoothie for breakfast.
Another versatile food to eat is the heart-healthy avocado! It offers the right amount of fats, improves cholesterol levels, and has enough carbs to keep you feeling full. You may think it’s a vegetable, but it’s technically a fruit. It goes great paired with strawberries or as a topper for toast. Cooking with avocado is a breeze. Plan to make pasta, guacamole, salads, and sandwiches with it. The only downfall to eating avocado is the painful wait for them to ripen. Worry not – placing avocados in a brown paper bag can speed up the process.
Last, but not least, on our superfoods list is the bold and bright cranberry. Most people only know about cranberries when it comes to holiday dinners, but there are other ways to indulge in this power-packed fruit. Since cranberries have high antioxidant levels, they reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
Much like the other foods listed, you can have this in salads, smoothies, or by themselves for a snack. The best part? You never have to feel guilty about munching on these tangy treats.
Common STIs and How To Avoid Contracting Them
Every year, an estimated 20 million adults in the USA contract some type of STI. While some STIs exhibit distinct symptoms, others might be completely unnoticeable. Whether they’re asymptomatic or not, any sexually active person will still need to be vigilant and informed when it comes to preventing the spread of STIs. With convenient, discreet, and affordable STD testing much more commonplace today, there’s no excuse for anyone to avoid taking charge of their own health and protecting others as well. Here are some of the most common diseases and how you can avoid contracting them.
HPV – Genital Human Papillomavirus
In the United States, about 14 million people get HPV every year, making it the most common STI. It’s so common that almost every sexually active person will contract it in their lifetime. There are over 40 different strains of HPV. Some strains can cause warts, while others can lead to cancer if left untreated.
HPV is spread by having oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone who has the virus. With most strains of this virus, you may not experience any symptoms and it may go away on its own. However, if it doesn’t go away, then it can cause problems.
Sometimes, HPV can cause genital warts. These warts can vary in size or shape. So, it’s recommended that you consult your doctor examine you if you notice anything that could be a genital wart. Some strains of HPV can cause cancer. It can take years, even decades, to contract cancer after getting the virus. You could get vaginal, anal, throat, tongue, penis, vulva, or tonsil cancer.
The CDC recommends that you get the HPV vaccine. Many people get this vaccine around 12 years old, but you can get it up until you’re 26 years old.
This STI is a bacterial infection. You can contract chlamydia by oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone who has it. Additionally, a pregnant person could pass the infection onto their newborn. Symptoms of this STI include:
- Unusual discharge from a penis or vagina
- Burning sensation during urination
Your doctor can provide tests to determine if you have chlamydia. If you do, you can treat it using antibiotics. It’s recommended that you get treatment as soon as possible as chlamydia can cause fertility problems in both genders.
An estimated 800,000 people deal with this STI every year. Gonorrhea occurs when bacteria infects the lining of a woman’s reproductive tract. It can also manifest in the mouth, throat, eyes, and anus. You can contract this infection by having oral, vaginal, or anal sex with an infected person.
With this infection, you may face no symptoms at all. If you do have symptoms, you may experience unusual discharge from your genitals and pain while urinating. Men may experience pain in their testicles, while women may experience vaginal bleeding in between periods.
After diagnosis, you may be treated with two, different strains of antibiotics. Like Chlamydia, if it’s left untreated you may experience fertility issues in the future.
Unlike most STIs, there is no cure for genital herpes. Each year, around 800,000 adults contract the disease nationwide. This infection is caused by the herpes simplex virus or HSV. There are two strains of this virus – type 1 and type 2 and you can be infected by having any type of sexual contact with someone who carries the disease.
While some people experience mild symptoms, others are completely asymptomatic. Symptoms include having blisters around the mouth, anus, or genitals. These blisters will break open, causing pain and discomfort. The fluid inside of the blisters carry the herpes virus.
While it cannot be cured, your doctor can prescribe medicine to ease your pain.
How To Avoid STIs
There are multiple things you can do to prevent getting STIs. First and foremost, you need to ask your sexual partners to disclose their sexual history before you have sex with them. This lets you know if they’ve had any STIs and how many partners they’ve had intercourse with. Additionally, you can ask your partners to get tested for any STIs before you have sex with them.
Whenever you have sex, you should be using latex condoms. Using a condom every time you have sex can vastly reduce your chance of contracting an STI. The CDC has many tips on preventing STIs.
I Have an STI – What Now?
If you do contract an STI, go to your doctor’s office as soon as possible. If you can’t afford to go to the doctor’s, there are many places that offer STD testing. It’s important to get tested so that you can protect yourself from having health problems down the road.
Parental Medicaid Expansion Translates into Preventive Care for their Children
When low-income parents enroll in Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) state expansion program, their children have considerably better odds of receiving annual preventive care pediatrician visits, according to a new analysis by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins University.
This “spillover effect,” explained in a study published online today and scheduled for the December issue of the journal Pediatrics, demonstrates that the potential benefits of Medicaid expansion extend beyond the newly covered adults.
“These findings are of great significance given the current uncertainty surrounding the future of the ACA and Medicaid expansions authorized by the law,” said senior author Eric T. Roberts, Ph.D., assistant professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management. “Lawmakers crafting policy proposals that could curtail Medicaid benefits or eligibility should recognize that such efforts would not just limit the receipt of health care services by low-income adults, but also by their children.”
The ACA provided states the opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage to all low-income people at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. So far, 31 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid coverage.
Roberts and his colleagues identified 50,622 parent-child pairs from data collected in the 2001 through 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys, a nationally representative survey administered by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that includes detailed information on family structure and demographics, including health insurance status and health care use.
They discovered that children of parents who had recently enrolled in Medicaid had a 29 percent higher probability than children of unenrolled parents of receiving their well child visit, which is recommended annually for children age 3 and older, and more frequently for infants and toddlers.
During the visits, the children are examined for growth and development and given immunizations, and their caregivers are guided on proper nutrition and child behaviors. Studies have shown that children who get well child visits are more likely to receive all their immunizations and less likely to have avoidable hospitalizations. The U.S. has persistently low rates of well child visits, particularly in low-income families.
“There are many reasons that parental Medicaid coverage increases the likelihood of well child visits for their children,” said Roberts. “It could be that insurance enhances the parents’ ability to navigate the health care system for themselves and their children, increasing their comfort in scheduling well child visits. Medicaid enrollment could be a sort of ‘welcome mat,’ in which eligible but previously uninsured children are enrolled after their parents gain coverage. It also could be that parental Medicaid coverage frees up more money to provide preventive services to their children, because even copays can be a deterrent to medical care among low-income people.”
Maya Venkataramani, M.D., is lead author on this research, and Craig Evan Pollack, M.D., M.H.S., is a coauthor. Both are from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
How to Develop an Individual Grief Plan
My Mother always said that my Daddy was “a fool born on April fools”. This was the running joke all of my life. April 1 came along this year and it was not a joking matter. I was heartbroken and devastated that I could not hear my father’s voice or see his smiling face on his birthday.
Earl, My Pearl, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer June 20, 2016, after suffering several months of abdominal pain, significant weight loss and limited mobility. He passed away peacefully on September 9, 2016, 4:30 am. This process was very difficult for all of us to watch, yet, we were there every step of the way and handled it a gracefully as possible.
I worked as a hospice social worker for several years prior to my father’s diagnosis. Our journey was still difficult but I was familiar with the language and processes pertaining to the end of life which afforded me the opportunity to assist my mother in talking with our team of doctors and making decisions. She found comfort and security in that and this made me proud. I saw this as an attempt to make this living nightmare a little less scary and slightly bearable.
My hospice experience also somewhat prepared me for being around death. I spent time with my Daddy after he passed away and I combed his hair prior to his wake with an unusual calm. These were tender moments that I will forever cherish.
I faced a dilemma as my Daddy’s birthday approached. My 8th wedding anniversary was a few days prior to Daddy’s birthday. My husband wanted us to go away to celebrate the weekend of April 1st. My plan had been to spend the morning at the cemetery with my mother.
After discussing it with my spouse and my mother (my voices of reason) I came to the conclusion that my father would not want me weeping at his grave on his birthday. He would prefer me to go away, live life and celebrate with my husband whom he was very proud of and admired. So, we continued with our anniversary plans although I did not know what April 1st was going to be like.
I was committed to getting through my Daddy’s first birthday in Heaven without ruining this special weekend that my husband had so thoughtfully planned. So, I allotted uninterrupted time and space for my grief and I planned activities to pull me out of those dark places that have the ability to consume us if allowed. I planned for my grief. Sound weird; keep reading. I hope my experience assists you in your process.
On the morning of April 1st, I woke up, attempted to post a memorial birthday wish to My Pearl on my Facebook page and the tears began. I went into the bathroom and cried hard for at least an hour if not more. I wasn’t simply misty eyed or a little teary; this was the ugly cry that people try not to do in public.
My husband tried to console me but I asked him to allow me to handle this on my own. I allowed the tears and emotions to flow without beating myself up for crying like a 37-year-old baby. I did not attempt to suppress my feelings which is typically our natural response. I went through the sadness of being Daddy’s little girl without her Daddy. I experienced the “maybe I could have done more” routine that we wallow in sometimes. I felt the guilt of not choosing to be graveside on his 75th birthday.
I felt horrible for abandoning my mother in her grief even though I knew she wanted me to continue with my celebration. It went on and on and I allowed it until it ran its course naturally. Once I was completely done, I sat in silence for a while then cleaned myself up. I felt weak, somewhat limp yet refreshed. My husband and I went to a lovely breakfast at our hotel; we changed our clothes and went to the gym together.
After that, I took a long hot shower, allowed myself to air dry across the crisp white comforter on our king size fluffy bed. I then turned on some relaxing beautiful music. I did not sleep, I simply allowed myself to be in total and complete relaxation for the remainder of the afternoon. Our friends met us for cocktails and a show and it turned out to be an amazing and wonderful trip overall. I planned for my grief, I executed and came through my Daddy’s first birthday relatively unscathed and empowered.
Make an appointment to grieve.
When we go to the doctor, we have an appointment. You have called ahead, maybe weeks in advance, to make the appointment. You have your appointment time, you see the doctor to discuss your health, meds, etc within your allotted amount of time (usually not over an hour) you say your goodbyes and you leave. Think of your grief in that way.
I set my grief appointment for first thing in the morning because we were on vacation. We had nothing pressing planned that morning and we had guests meeting us in the evening. Whatever your day is going to look like, carve out space and time to be alone with your grief and make it happen.
This is important because if you allow the grief to have its way, it will show up throughout the day and consume you for the better part of that day and possibly beyond. Take control of your grief by making an appointment, letting it present as it may, then, as you do with other appointments, say your goodbyes and leave it.
Don’t take “walk-ins”.
It is very difficult to walk into your doctor’s office and see them without an appointment. Apply this to your grief. Say you had your appointment, you successfully followed all of the steps and are moving on with your day. If grief shows up outside of its appointment time, turn it away: “Look grief, your appointment was 8 am. We saw you and dealt with you then. I will see you at your next scheduled appointment.” Acknowledge your grief but do not allow it to consume you outside of your appointment. Commit to having power and control over the grief.
Plan to grieve alone.
Our family members and close friends mean well in trying to assist us in our grief, especially around holidays and special events that we would normally share with our deceased loved one. Unintentionally, they can often be a hindrance, sometimes a crutch in our process. Additionally, we may subconsciously modify our grief in order to accommodate them and their level of comfort.
This appointment is not the time for such modifications. Maybe we will cry but suck it up and move forward prematurely because they might feel like we have cried long enough. Or maybe they, meaning well, will say the cliché things that people say when one is grieving in an effort to help ease the pain and stop the flow of tears: “it will be ok” or “time heals all wounds” and my all-time favorite “he’s in a better place”. We know that those things are true.
However, do we want to hear those things in our time of grief? NO!!! We are thinking “it won’t be ok because I can’t live without him”, “nothing will heal these wounds” and “the best place is here with me”. None of those clichés are needed or welcomed for that matter, at this point in the process. Again, you have to allow space and time for this process without guidance from well-meaning family members and friends. It has to run its own natural course. Friends and family have a more appropriate role in the next steps of this process.
Plan activities that you enjoy.
I knew that if I had grieved and simply remained still, I would have wallowed in a sad, hurtful place all day. Therefore, I moved on to an enjoyable breakfast then a workout with my husband to take my mind to better places. It’s not that you’re getting busy to suppress your feelings. Because of your grief appointment, you have dealt with your feelings and emotions head on and very appropriately.
You’re merely creating a beautiful welcomed distraction in order to move on with your day. After the grief appointment, it is imperative to get up and get busy living. This has to be planned for and executed. At this point, your family and social support system could play a huge, meaningful role without hindering your process. Remember, do not take walk-ins!
Take some time for relaxation and self-care.
My self-care was a long hot shower followed by resting to nice music. Your self-care may look like a spa day, a long jog through your favorite park, a scenic hike, cooking an elaborate meal or a shopping trip. Whatever makes you feel well, do it! Think of this as a special gift from your loved one on this special day; it’s your reward for bravely facing your grief and taking control of your grief process. I firmly believe that the ones that we loved and lost enjoy seeing us live happy and well despite their absence.
My father was here for all of my major life events: all of my graduations and performances, he moved me into my first apartment, he walked me down the aisle at my wedding, he was there during my pregnancy and formed a sweet relationship with my daughter…with all of that being said, how can I wallow in sadness? I am so grateful for having a father that was present until he passed away.
Others have not been as fortunate and I acknowledge that. For that reason, I choose on his birthday, holidays and any day of the week to be grateful for him and his life rather than focus on his absence. I am also grateful that he did not suffer long after his diagnosis.
As a hospice social worker, I saw patients and families suffer months and months; having their hopes of recovery dashed with the horrible news that their cancer had spread and there were no further options. This was not our case. We had our ups and downs but God was merciful and ended my father’s battle 3 months after he was diagnosed. For that I am grateful. My gratitude list could go on and on. My point is that in our sadness and on those birthdays and holidays, we have to immerse ourselves in gratitude in order to make it through.
The preceding technique is not the catch all or fix all for your grief issues around holidays and special occasions. This is merely a formula that worked for me and I was compelled to share it with the hopes of helping others. If you are experiencing complicated, ongoing grief issues, please, seek help from a mental health professional.
Individual sessions, grief support groups, and other therapeutic interventions to deal with grief may be necessary depending on your individual needs. Remember, death is inevitable for all of us. However, being proactive in our grief process and planning for the same may assist and make facing holidays without your loved one bearable and beautiful. It happened for me; that’s my hope for you!
Social Workers Can Now Learn Medicare Online and Earn Continuing Education Hours
Social workers can now earn continuing education hours while they learn Medicare at their own pace, anytime and anywhere with Medicare Interactive (MI) Pro, an online Medicare curriculum powered by the Medicare Rights Center.
MI Pro provides the information that social workers and health professionals need to become “Medicare smart,” so they can help their clients navigate the Medicare maze. The online curriculum contains information on the rules and regulations regarding Medicare—from Medicare coverage options and coordination of benefits to the appeals process and assistance programs for clients with low incomes.
“For over 25 years, social workers have been turning to Medicare Rights’ helpline counselors for clear and concise information on how to help their clients access the affordable health care that they need,” said Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center. “Now social workers can enroll in MI Pro and learn—or enhance—their Medicare knowledge at their convenience while fulfilling their continuing education requirements.”
The Medicare Rights Center, a national nonprofit consumer service organization, is the largest and most reliable independent source of Medicare information and assistance in the United States.
Licensed Master Social Workers and Licensed Clinical Social Workers can earn continuing education hours when they successfully complete any of the four MI Pro programs: Medicare Basics; Medicare Coverage Rules; Medicare Appeals and Penalties; and Medicare, Other Insurance, and Assistance Programs. Each MI Pro program is comprised of four to five course modules.
All MI Pro programs are active for one year following registration.
MI Pro courses are nominally priced. Additionally, social workers who purchase all four programs at once will receive an automatic 20 percent discount.
Medicare Rights Center is a national, nonprofit consumer service organization that works to ensure access to affordable health care for older adults and people with disabilities through counseling and advocacy, educational programs, and public policy initiatives.
Available only through the Medicare Rights Center, Medicare Interactive (MI) is a free and independent online reference tool that provides easy-to-understand answers to questions posed by people with Medicare, their families and caregivers, and the professionals serving them. Find your Medicare answers at www.medicareinteractive.org.
Startup Gives Free Birth Control In Response to Controversial Pushback
Earlier this month, the administration rolled back the ACA mandate that required the full cost of birth control to be covered by insurance. Under Trump’s agenda, employers can opt out of providing this coverage for “religious” or even “moral” reasons, impacting hundreds of thousands of women.
Nurx, makers of the birth control app, are offering new users up to two months of free birth control with the promo code ‘CHECKYOURFACTS’ today until the end of the year. The telemedicine start-up and mobile health platform makes birth control and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) more accessible to everyone through partnerships with physicians and in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability Act of 1996 (HIPPA).
Recently, anti-abortion activists have become increasingly vocal against Nurx’s expansion into conservative states. The attacks have been made specifically to the app’s ability to prescribe emergency contraceptives to minors without a parent’s consent.
NC Coalition for life said in a statement “Nurx is dangerous, because it provides another way for children under the age of 18 to obtain contraceptives without the knowledge or consent of their parents.” However, Nurx defers to state laws surrounding minimum age for birth control prescriptions which in some states is 12 years of age.
This recent expansion falls in line with Nurx’s mission to provide safe, affordable and increased access to contraceptives and emergency contraceptives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credited increased access to low-cost services as a contributing factor to the overall decline in teen and unintended pregnancy rates nationwide. But according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, more than 19.7 million females ages 13 to 44 reside in “contraceptive deserts” and lack reasonable access to public clinics that provide birth control. This is defined areas with at least one clinic or provider for every 1,000 women.
“Research shows that the easier and more affordable birth control is, the more women will use it,” said Dr. Edvard Engesaeth, co-founder of Nurx. “Individuals should not have to jump through unnecessary hoops in order to access care. With Nurx, we are changing the way birth control is issued and accessed and allowing women to get the care they need on their own terms.”
New users will receive a $30 credit or two months of no-cost birth control with the promo code. After choosing their birth control brand and type, users answer a few questions and enter their shipping and insurance information for a licensed physician to review. Once the review is complete, the doctor will issue and fill the prescription, which will be delivered on-time and at no additional cost. The promo code ‘CHECKYOURFACTS’ can be entered during checkout until 11:59 PM (PT) on December 31st, 2017.
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