Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Doldrums

I suspect a lot of us wish we could allow ourselves some extra time to relax and decompress from our busy schedules.  Most of us inherently want to do this when the cold weather arrives.  Somehow, what’s normal the rest of the year is more difficult to accomplish in the winter months.  Despite our best efforts, many may be experiencing a period of stagnation right now.     

I wouldn’t say my current schedule has slowed down, but I wish it could!  Fortunately, I have considerable inner drive.  Or, maybe that’s not so fortunate; it’s all about balance.  What is critical during the dark months, though, is that I plan more carefully because I know there are times when I feel like I’m walking in slow motion. 

I put extra attention into how I will be healthy in the winter.  I continually revise my techniques based on how my body is responding.  There is no magic pill that works for everyone, but you might try incorporating some of these ideas:    

  1. Get enough sleep.  We all want, and may need, more sleep when it’s darker out. 
  1. Make sure your pantry includes:
· Virus fighting supplements, teas, throat sprays and lozenges to support the immune system.  You can find many blends of herbs, but some of the commonly used ones are Echinacea and goldenseal.  Elderberry surrounds a virus which slows its growth. 
· Don’t forget the foods that are helpful and can be incorporated into many meals.  Garlic fights infections.  Ginger is warming, decongests the sinuses, and soothes digestive disorders.   I love raw honey and coconut oil on the throat.  Chicken broth thins mucous.  Homemade bone broths are nourishing even when someone can’t eat much solid food.  Cook broths and freeze extra portions so they’re available when illness strikes. 
· Probiotics.  Digestive support helps with all sorts of maladies.
· Vitamin D.  Everyone should have their Vitamin D levels tested.  This is done via a blood draw at a lab.  We cannot make Vitamin D from the sun from November through February in Denver, so we will deplete our levels during this time.  This occurs in other parts of the U.S., and world, too. Vitamin D plays a role in healthy mood. 

If you’re sick, take a hot bath, curl up with a book and tea, or go to bed.  This is not the time to be running out to the store. 

  1. Understand how food and drink will affect your health and mood. 
· Alcohol will disrupt sleep.   It can also exacerbate anxiety and OCD for several days after just one drink.  Everyone has to access their mental health and ask themselves if they can manage the possibility that their symptoms could worsen. 
· Many people are reacting to common foods whether they realize it or not.  Food intolerances cause many symptoms and those will vary by individual.  Not everyone will have digestive distress.  Many will experience an inflammatory response that can cause trouble throughout the body.  Food intolerances also interfere with mood. 
· Gluten interferes with brain function.  A person does not have to be Celiac for this to occur.  Gluten acts like opiates in the brain, which may feel good at first but one’s ability to balance their own neurotransmitters can be altered.  This can result in poor mood, heightened anxiety responses and obsessive thoughts! 

  1. Schedule some enjoyment.  I find a couple activities rejuvenating, and can usually devote at least one hour a week to them. 
· I have recommitted to my hiking group.  Despite the cold temperatures and wanting to sleep more, I feel better having gotten outside, moved and laughed with my friends.  The rest of the day is easier when I do.
· I am learning to play the saxophone.  My lessons are a highlight of my week.  It is one thing I do regularly that’s just for me.  There’s no agenda, but lots of laughter. 

  1. Pamper yourself with essential oil aromatherapy.  You’ll find these precious oils in natural cosmetic, hair care and cleaning products.  Some have antiviral properties, or are beneficial for different skin conditions.  (Do not apply the oils undiluted directly on the skin.) 

My favorite use of essential oils is for emotional balancing.  Have some fun by finding which oils balance you both physically and mentally.  I frequently mix my own blends.  I add 10-20 drops of my favorite oils into a small glass spray bottle of water.  I refresh my bedding, mist a room, and myself!  You can also use them in a bath. 

· Calm the nervous system and muscle tension, and enhance mood with lavender or chamomile. 
· The refreshing scents of orange and lemon can lift the winter blues. 
· Relieve anger and anxiety with the floral scents of rose or ylang ylang.
· Clary sage and rosemary can reduce stress and mental fatigue, yet revitalize and wake up the brain.  
· Support the immune system with thyme, eucalyptus, and tea tree oils.
· Light some candles, and feel the peace of more natural light flickering nearby. Many have natural essential oils in them.  I love the outdoorsy scents of pine and fir at this time of the year. Cinnamon and peppermint are festive and invigorating. 

  1. Plan some downtime and respect your limitations.
· My game table is up in front of the fireplace.  I take short breaks to relax, and then go back to the task that needs to be done. My husband sets up a puzzle during the winter months.
· Say no to something, and save some time for yourself. 
· Don’t pack even more into your schedule. 

My wish for you is that you feel healthy and emotionally peaceful.  By incorporating some of the above ideas, you’ll have a better chance of this.  You can fight those winter blues! 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Disaster Brings Connection

Being a Boulder County resident, reminders of the Colorado flooding are still around me.  You’ve probably seen in the news that this was what experts have called a 1,000-year rain and a 100-year flood.  By Thursday, September 12th, I saw gushing rivers where there had been only small streams. That night we were gathered with neighbors watching the nearby creek as it rushed through and took over the surrounding golf course. What most of us didn’t know was how this amazement of Mother Nature would turn to true fear before the night was over. 

Our neighborhood wasn’t alone.  Many areas experienced rising water that entered homes via sump pump pits, basement window wells, or through garage doors.  I was on the phone checking in with one friend, and borrowing her sump pump for another, when my husband came into the house and told me to hang up the phone. Things were getting potentially serious for us.  My friend, who had a different vantage point of the street than I did, explained that "...fourteen inches of water is rushing down the street right now, so we can’t get the pump to the other neighbors.”  I hung up the phone and learned from my hubby that the water was flowing up our driveway and into our garage.  We rolled up throw rugs to barricade the bottom of the garage doors and vacuumed up about an inch of water that had flowed five feet into our garage.  The driveway and streets were covered in muck.  After our barricade, we moved what we thought most important from our basement.  Then the water receded.  We were so lucky! 

After a flood there are huge amounts of debris including rocks, sticks, and mud. (We’ve been warned about what lurks in the mud and remaining water).  There are also a lot of exhausted people.  When the word came out this week that the golf course invited volunteers to pick up sticks and rocks from the destroyed property, I went to help.  I don’t golf, but I’ve walked this neighborhood for years and thought “I can pick up sticks.”  I couldn’t work for long, but did enjoy chatting with people as we dug out rocks from the clay in what was once a grassy area on the golf course.  There were almost seventy volunteers on that crisp, sunny day.  I will be there, too, when the Boulder County Parks & Open Space ask for assistance to restore the hiking trails. 

My flood story is not compelling compared to others’ experiences.  Personally, all I had to do afterward was wash those throw rugs we’d used in the garage.  They’d hung on our fence like survivors’ flags for two weeks before I hauled them to the laundermat.  I can imagine what it must be like for those who had water and mud inside their homes.  Since I talk with someone new almost daily about what they’ve been through, I have a pretty good idea, and I’m happy to listen.  I’m thankful for those that did the same for me. 

I’ve spent some time feeling a bit guilty for surviving this disaster without personal loss.  One person described it as “survivor’s guilt.”  I’ve never considered that term before, but could immediately relate to it.  Our neighborhood has now set up an online site so that we can better communicate with each other.  That is progress.  My introduction to this site included:  “It is a shame that some of my neighbors could have used a helping hand and I didn't know it!”

So, why is all this on my RethinkOCD blog?  Like I’ve said before, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a barometer and stress is something that can make people’s OCD worse.  Those in Colorado who’ve added flood trauma to their already full stress levels are in my thoughts.  From a statistical viewpoint, I’m sure they’re out there.  I am grateful for being emotionally well, though admit that I needed some time after that rainy week to rest up and restore myself.  Folks in the height of OCD operate in panic mode much of the time.  They can’t relax, at least not easily, because they feel they’re always on the brink of disaster. It really does feel that way.  Their hyper-vigilant minds continue endlessly even if they are physically exhausted.  Unfortunately, this constant state of anxiety is not making them tougher in the long haul; it will only wear them down.  Allowing time to rest is part of the self-care necessary to be present and ready to help others.  It is really critical for people who live with anxiety.  So keep working on your therapy and physical wellness.  Do whatever it takes, even though that therapy may be tougher for you than anything else you’ve ever done. 

OCD folks are some of the most thoughtful, intelligent and hardworking people I’ve met. The time will come when others really need you, if it hasn’t already, and you’ll want to be able to pitch in with a clear head.  There is more to do than the repetitious tasks of OCD.  All that determination is useful elsewhere.  Get involved in a new mission, which can help you jump off the well worn path you’ve been circling on.  Helping others can take us away from our fears and make us feel useful.  It is rewarding.  It is in efforts like these that I see optimism and hope emerging.  You can rise above your worries, but it may take some more support.  Make sure your OCD doesn’t get in the way of being able to connect with others.  That would be a loss to you and the world. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

It’s a Barometer!

I’m looking forward to interacting with members of the OCD community.  My intent is to help people who are suffering with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and their loved ones, with their journey to diminish it in their lives. 

How can I help?  I know what it’s like to live with OCD.  I know a lot about what it takes to minimize it in day-to-day life.  I’m here to share what I’ve learned.  What tools are most beneficial differ for everyone.  However, I add a skill set that most people don’t think about when dealing with this stubborn condition. I’m a Nutrition Therapist.  There is much that can be done nutritionally for folks suffering from anxiety-related disorders. 

Anyone who’s been around OCD knows that completely erasing OCD from a sufferer’s life is unlikely.  I’m not here to imply differently.  However, I do think people can feel much better than they do now.  I believe we all have health barometers that are an indicator of something that is out of balance.  We feel the pressure building inside us.  As individuals, we’re wise to recognize our own barometers and learn from them. (What we can learn from OCD is a subject for another blog post.)   

OCD can ramp up when someone is emotionally and mentally stressed or physically ill.  Many people with anxiety disorders have thought “it’s all in my head.”  After getting a diagnosis of OCD, I’ve heard folks express great relief when they realize they’re “not crazy” and begin to recognize the sneaky ways OCD creeps into one’s life. 

A support group can recommend local practitioners who are successful in treating OCD.  In a support group, you have the opportunity to connect with fellow members who understand what you’re dealing with.  Loved ones can learn how to be supportive without enabling.

Also important in dealing with OCD is connecting physical health to OCD symptoms.  OCD is like a barometer, and listening to it can tell you when it is time to de-stress your life to better manage OCD.  Stress comes in many forms.   It’s wise to consider emotional, physical and lifestyle stressors.

Ever hear the term “gut feeling?”  The gut is also referred to as the “Second Brain.” The gut and the brain communicate, for better or for worse.  For a recent example in the news about OCD and physical health read Carrie Arnold’s article discussing this with psychiatrist James Greenblatt.  

Do you feel well physically?  Has anyone tried to explain to you how brain and body imbalances can be connected?  Have you sought out expertise to determine the reason why those chronic physical maladies plague you?  If so, are those recommendations working for you?  If not, those bothersome bodily symptoms may need to be addressed in order for you to make progress with your OCD therapy.  One of the roadblocks here is that if you’ve always felt a certain (somewhat lousy) way, you may not consider it unusual.  For example, I had terrible allergy symptoms throughout childhood.  I had twenty minute sneezing fits morning and night with an itchy mouth and watering eyes.  I distinctly remember how pleasant it was the first time I smelled spring flowers without a sick headache.  I was 27 years old by then! 

The list of physical imbalances that affect mental health is long.  How it looks and feels individually will vary.  Some of them include:  digestive distress, food intolerances (with or without gastrointestinal distress), a tired adrenal system, a poor functioning thyroid, and substandard sleep.  Of course, an anxiety-related disorder can exacerbate any of those conditions.  A medical doctor should be part of everyone’s care team. 

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy is one of the most valuable tools for working on OCD.   It’s important to find a psychologist who has significant experience with ERP and OCD.  That professional can help you not only with the process of ERP, but help you recognize the ways OCD sneaks into your life.  I also believe that physical wellness is necessary for one to feel emotionally well.  It is possible to support someone physically while they’re going through ERP therapy with their psychologist.   It’s up to the individual to decide what methods he/she wants to try and whether to incorporate more than one method at the same time.  It’s critical to always work with a physician when medication is part of the equation. 

An “OCD Toolbox” should provide a path to whole body and mental wellness, as well as the ability to function optimally in society.  It’s all connected.  What is your barometer telling you? 

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September 13, 2013
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