Archive for stress and health

What to do with unhealthy family and friends

Are you one of those frustrated individuals who have fought hard to adopt a healthy lifestyle only to find that you are doing it alone?  Do you have a close family member or friend who consistently makes unhealthy decisions?   If so, we have something in common and I have some advice to share with you.

It’s pretty easy to advise and support those who know that they have a problem and want to be helped, but what do you do when someone you care about doesn’t seem to want to change her lifestyle, even though she’s putting herself at risk? What if she really wants the benefits of eating well and exercising, but has no motivation to do what is required? What should you do?

What You Shouldn’t Do
Most of us have a tendency to try to motivate people with logic and persuasion.  If that doesn’t work, we move to nagging, threats, and manipulation.  Studies show that these approaches tend to be ineffective and are more likely to cause strain on your relationship than anything else.  Until your loved one wants to do something about his situation, your efforts will be wasted and possibly even harmful.

What You Should Do

Try to figure out what benefits the person is getting from the unhealthy behavior.  For example, eating cookies in bed is both relaxing and enjoyable.  People don’t engage in unhealthy behaviors with the goal of getting heavy, out of shape, and sick. Your job is not to persuade, correct, or preach. Most people who are “stuck” in unhealthy behaviors already know what’s wrong and what they need to change.  Your job is to listen and show that you really understand why they are engaged in their particular behavior(s).  When people feel heard and understood, they will be more receptive to helpful suggestions.

The second most important thing you should do is lead by example. The best reason you can give someone for adopting a healthy lifestyle is doing it yourself and letting her see how it has helped you. Share your struggles and the lessons that you have learned on the road to healthier living.  When you share in this way, it engages people emotionally.  People are motivated by emotion, not by logical verbal explanations.  Finally, follow the pleasure principle.  Like it or not, people are motivated by the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Unfortunately, we are often willing to grab the immediate pleasure even if it causes great pain in the future.

The bottom line is this:  You are most likely to positively influence the people you love by being an awesome listener, living an exemplary life, and by demonstrating ways of making healthy behaviors as fun and pleasurable as possible.

Thanks for tuning in!

Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

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Do you know anyone who has acne?

As many of you know, my wife and I are the proud parents of 3 teenagers and one pre-teen.  Pimples and zits are a part of our every day conversation.  I can honestly say that I know a thing or two about acne.  For years, the common belief within the medical field was that diet had absolutely no effect on acne.  I know first hand that this belief is wrong.  My wife and I can tell how poorly our kids have been eating based on their complexion.

A recent study published in the July 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has finally given science a conclusive link between a high sugar, high grain diet, and acne. In this study, participants followed a diet low in sugar and grain.  This resulted in a significant improvement of their acne within 3 months.  I wonder why most people suffering from acne have never heard of this study?

It is well known that sugar and grain consumption results in a rapid rise in blood sugar.  Rapid spikes in blood sugar are associated with multiple health problems.  According to a review published in Experimental Dermatology in 2009, it is not sugar itself that contributes to acne, but the effect that blood sugar spikes have on acne producing hormones.   Unfortunately, acne is caused by more than just sweets and grains.

Acute inflammation is a normal response to injury or infection.  It starts the healing process and without inflammation you wouldn’t survive. Acute inflammation is short lived and quickly fades as the body heals.  Chronic inflammation is a whole different story.  Our exposure to pollution, environmental toxins, processed food, long hours of inactivity, poor sleep, and high stress leads to persistent internal injury.  This constant abuse results in chronic inflammation.  The term chronic refers to being stuck in a state of overdrive.  This taxes the immune system and leaves less energy and resources to fight infection, avert cancer, and kill acne-causing bacteria.

In summary, skin complexion can be a reflection of overall health.  I recommend addressing diet and lifestyle factors before resorting to acne medications.  This approach always results in an improvement in overall health, as well as a significant improvement in acne.  With all of the controversy surrounding the health risks of certain acne medications, it is refreshing to know that there is a safe, cheap, and effective treatment option.

Thanks for tuning in!

 

Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

 

 

 

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Are you a perfectionist?

Uthman Cavallo, MD

Are you a perfectionist?
 
I’m no psychologist, but I’ve come to the conclusion that perfectionism is a form of addiction.  An addiction is a compulsive need to engage in a particular behavior.  It is usually an ineffective strategy for coping with an underlying problem.  The addictive behavior provides temporary relief, but not a true solution.  The socially unacceptable addictions (alcohol, illicit drug use, gambling, etc.) are clearly destructive.  However, addictive perfectionistic behaviors are often socially acceptable but can be equally as devastating. These behaviors may include spending a great deal of time at work, excessive studying, excessive exercise, excessive dieting, excessive attention to detail, etc.
 
Since none of us is without flaws, the perfectionist may often end up feeling like a failure.  Many describe being stressed because they feel as though they must always be “perfect” to avoid letting people down.  They may have grown up feeling as though they needed to be flawless to be accepted.  Other people may only be perfectionists in one area of life.  The drive to be the perfect parent, the perfect employee, the perfect child….. can result in stress and illness. 
 
Getting to the root of the problem may take away the need for the addictive behavior. At the core of perfectionism is a triad of false belief, fear, and the desire for control.  For example, I’ve talked to quite a few men who believe that the perfect father and husband, above all else, is a good “provider”.  The fear of not being a good provider can create a tendency toward workaholism.  I have also encountered women who feel that a “good” mother and wife maintains an immaculate home.  The fear of not living up to this standard compels some of these women to perpetually clean house and give up a more balanced lifestyle.  (Many of us are unaware of our false beliefs and fears). 
 
Being a slave to perfection can be a painful existence. The truth is that none of us is flawless.  Beautiful people have physical imperfections, intelligent people screw up on exams, and highly accomplished people have failed their way to success.  I believe that it’s healthy to strive for continuous self improvement; however, it should not have a negative impact on your health, happiness, or relationships.
 
Thanks for tuning in!
 
Dr. C
 
 
 
 

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How to Apply Your Stress Repellent

Becoming resilient to stress is like preparing for a hike in a beautiful, but mosquito infested jungle.  You’re more likely to enjoy the experience if you apply bug repellent before the trek.  In this scenario, the annoying mosquito is analogous to stress.  Although applying bug repellent is pretty straight forward, application of “stress repellent” is a little more involved.  This type of repellent has three main ingredients:  fitness (physical, emotional, and spiritual), nutrition, and joyful living.

Physical fitness encompasses aerobics, strength training, and stretching.  Emotional fitness involves relaxation exercises, reflective time alone, and social support.  Spiritual fitness entails contemplation, prayer, fellowship and serving others.  Appropriate nutrition requires an emphasis on whole natural foods and an avoidance of processed foods, refined sugar, and toxic oils.  Although the importance of nutrition and fitness is pretty well known, joyful living is a foreign concept to many and will require some explanation.

Joyful living involves relationships, work life, and attitude.  Many studies have shown that these factors are vitally important when it comes to being resilient to stress.  People who have strong relationships, satisfying work, and a positive attitude are likely to remain content and balanced despite life’s chaos and hassles.  I know that this seems like common sense to most of you, but the question is how does one go about pursuing a joyful life?  Read on if you’d like a few pointers.

Strengthen your relationships.  A close network of family and friends makes it much easier to deal with life’s pressures. Earlier in my career, I struggled with not spending enough time with my family.  Although I would have told anyone that my family was my top priority, my actions didn’t show it.  Thankfully, I learned that time given to a relationship is like depositing money into your bank account.  The more quality time you invest, the richer the relationship.  Rich relationships are a barrier to stress.  Don’t let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life.  If you don’t have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build a strong social support network.

Love your job.  “Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad.” ~Fyodor Dostoevski.

In his groundbreaking book, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell describes an abundance of research that identifies three qualities that correlate with job satisfaction.  They are: autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward.   He states that, “It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy, it’s whether our work fulfills us.  If I offered you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and working in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which would you take?  I’m guessing the former, because there is complexity, autonomy and a connection between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that’s worth more to most of us than money.”  I would add that meaningful work also involves using our God-given gifts and talents to help others by doing work that we enjoy.

Finally, joyful living requires that you remain positive.  The foundation of a positive attitude is based on faith – knowing that things are going to work out well in the long run, no matter how bad things seem in the short run.  Being positive requires a laser-like focus on the potential gains rather than dwelling on the potential losses.  Focusing on potential losses induces fear.  In turn, this fear triggers worry, and we begin to use our power of imagination to conjure up all kinds of negative images.  Putting a spotlight on these negative images raises doubt about things ultimately working out well.  Instead of concentrating on our hopes and dreams, we become fixed on our fear of what we don’t want.  Most psychologists believe that we are only able to think about and concentrate on one thing at a time, either positive or negative.  This is an extremely important fact to understand.  Our reality is what we choose to focus on.

Contrary to what some scientists believe, I don’t think there’s anything genetically different about people who are happy and successful. However, positive people do share one distinguishing trait. They deliberately choose to focus on what they want, rather than what they don’t want.  And, as a result, they are continuously taking action toward their objectives, rather than worrying about the many ways they could fail to meet their goals.  They acknowledge and address their challenges, but they do not focus on them.

In summary, applying your stress repellent is a very active process. You must live joyfully and address your fitness and nutrition. This is no small order, but it’s well worth the effort.  Give us a call if you need help getting started.

Thanks for tuning in!

Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

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Stress Management. Avoid, Adjust, or Accept

As we discussed in last week’s blog, it’s our reaction to life’s challenges that ultimately determines our stress level.  Managing stress is all about change. We can either change the situation or change our response to the situation.  Although not all stressors can be avoided, many can.  Avoid unnecessary stress by saying no to things that aren’t vitally important. Limit your to-do-list to things that must be done. Say no to spending time with people who upset you.  And – say no to places, tasks, topics, and issues that stress you out.

If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to adjust your strategy. Ask yourself what you can do to make the situation better.  The smallest adjustments can result in tremendous changes.  For example, I was once stuck in a job with a boss who treated me horribly.  I decided to fight back by focusing on myself.  I made sure to respectfully communicate my concerns, aggressively attack work projects, and optimize time management.  My outstanding work performance resulted in consistent praise from my boss’ superior.  I adjusted my strategy from trying to defend myself from my malignant boss, to how to be a more valuable employee.  Needless to say, my work life became much more enjoyable.

You can also adjust how you view the stressful situation. You can regain your sense of control by viewing the situations from a more positive perspective. Ask yourself, “what’s good about this?”  Force yourself to come up with an answer.  Rather than getting upset because your hours got cut at work, reframe the situation as an opportunity to spend more time with yourself, family, and friends.  Being stressed won’t make up for the decrease in pay.  Studies show that stress decreases as you focus on the positives.

As much as we would all like to live stress free lives, we know that it’s impossible.  The bills aren’t going to stop coming, demanding family responsibilities will persist, and people will continue to cut you off in traffic. Moreover, you can’t avoid painful realities such as death and serious illness. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept what happened. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up; it means accepting the facts and transcending to a higher level through faith and perseverance.

Stress doesn’t magically improve on its own.  Remember that you are in the driver’s seat.  Never consider yourself a victim, because victims will remain slaves to their stressful situation.  Grab the situation by the neck and either avoid it, adjust to it, or accept it. Follow-up next week to discuss how to apply your stress repellent.

Thanks for tuning in!

Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

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Internal factors that are associated with stress

Most people blame their stress on external events, situations and people. However, research has found that it is our own internal beliefs, attitudes, interpretations, and perceptions (in combination with the external events) that tend to create stress.  Internal psychological issues that are associated with stress include; low self esteem, inability to accept uncertainty, pessimism, negative self talk, unrealistic expectations, perfectionism, lack of assertiveness, and people pleasing.

These internal psychological issues influence how we see the world.  For example, growing up with critical parents may result in seeing yourself as a failure unless you always perform with perfection.  This mindset is clearly a set-up for stress.  Each daily task would carry the pressure of perfection.  Doing a “good” job would be considered a failure if it wasn’t perfect.  The stress from the perceived failure is primarily self generated.

Similarly, a person who grew up in an abusive household may have low self esteem.  Some people conclude that they must be worthless to have been treated so poorly.  Such individuals may desperately seek affirmation from others to improve their sense of self worth.  Each time the person fails to receive a compliment or recognition may increase stress by confirming the person’s sense of worthlessness.  Again, this stress is primarily self generated.  There are many reasons why people may harbor some of the above mentioned internal psychological issues.  The important point is that these issues make it more difficult to cope with external stressors.

External stressors are not always bad in and of themselves.  They just “are.”  If you apply for a job and get denied, it’s just a fact – neither good nor bad.  However, to a pessimist, this would be a horrible stress because it confirms her belief that nothing ever works out for her.  Uncertainty is no big deal if you’re confident that everything will work out in the end.  Failing an exam is tolerable to someone with high self esteem.  Doing well, while falling short of perfection is not stressful unless you’re a perfectionist.

The bottom line is this: many of our external stressors only stress us out because they confirm the negative thing we believe to be true about ourselves or our world.  In fact, the better we feel about ourselves and our future, the less we are impacted by external stressors.  Follow-up next week for my thoughts on good ways to manage stress.

Thanks for tuning in!

Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

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Common external causes of stress

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to get “stressed out” over things that seem relatively unimportant?  From a personal standpoint, there are definitely things that get under my skin that don’t even faze my wife.  We all have our specific triggers.  The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors.  Stressors are typically divided into two categories; internal and external.  External stressors are caused by outside factors, while internal stressors are self-generated.  This week’s focus is on the external sources of anxiety.  The most common external stressors include: major life changes, work, relationship difficulties, financial problems, unpredictability, and being too busy. 

The day-to-day external stressors are also known as daily hassles; they are those daily, minor irritations such as misplacing our car keys, traffic jams, minor arguments, running behind schedule, and so on.  Research by Lazarus and Folkman (1984), at the University of California, shows that these daily hassles seem to have at least as much, if not more impact than major life events (such as unemployment or the death of a loved one).  The constant daily frustration caused by these hassles generates a steady dose of anxiety that ultimately undermines our health.

Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in our lives. Our true sources of stress aren’t always obvious.  By identifying the causes of our stress, we can find the solution for suitable stress reduction.  The best way to start the process is by creating a stress journal.  Each time you feel stressed, keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. You should document what caused the stress (guess if unsure), how you felt (physically and emotionally), how you behaved, and what you did to make yourself feel better.  Over the next several blogs, you will learn what to do with the information gathered from your journal.  Follow-up next week for an exploration of the internal factors that influence stress.

Thanks for tuning in!

Dr. C

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