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Amelia Johansson

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A Practical Guide on How to Reduce Crohn’s Disease-Related Stress

By Crohn’s Disease, StressNo Comments

Stress can have a profound impact on our wellbeing. It can affect our body, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. If you’re living with a chronic condition like Crohn’s disease, psychological stress may also make the symptoms of your condition worse. This can cause a vicious cycle because the symptoms themselves can be another source of stress. But how can stress make Crohn’s disease worse? It could be down to something called the “brain gut connection”. Your brain and gut are linked by the vagus nerve, a part of your nervous system that plays an important part in many functions, including your digestion, immune system responses, and mood. Let’s start with the basics. Crohn’s is an inflammatory disease. Crohn’s related inflammation happens in the organs that food and liquid travel through as they’re digested (also called the gastrointestinal or GI tract). How you feel mentally can affect the way your digestive system functions too. For example, if you’ve ever been nervous about something and felt “butterflies in your stomach”, this could be down to the “brain gut connection”. For those living with an inflammatory disease such as Crohn’s, it’s important to know that, while the condition can’t be cured, it can be managed. Along with the treatment you receive from your doctor to reduce inflammation, you can also manage your stress in an effort to control your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life. Keep on reading to discover tips on how to manage your Crohn’s related stress. What can trigger Crohn’s disease-related stress? Many things might trigger stress when you’re living with Crohn’s disease, but the important thing to remember is that you’re not alone and others might be experiencing the same worries as you. Here are some possible stressors that could be getting you down: Flare-ups. From diarrhea and abdominal pain, to frequent and urgent bowel movements and fever, the symptoms of a Crohn’s disease flare-up can cause stress, and the unpredictability of symptoms may also make stress worse. Unfortunately, not only can flare-ups cause stress, but stress can cause flare-ups. Therefore, it’s important to practice stress management to minimize this. Keep reading to find out how. Eating out. For those living with an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s, eating out can trigger feelings of anxiety. If your symptoms are in a flare state, you might be worried that eating out will make the symptoms worse, or if you’re in remission (the periods of time when you have no current symptoms) you may feel anxious about eating something that will trigger a flare-up. Bathroom anxiety. Due to the unpredictable nature of Crohn’s disease, you’ll never know when diarrhea will strike. This could make you nervous about going out because you may suddenly need quick access to a bathroom, and your only choice might be a public restroom or a friend’s bathroom. This is not ideal when dealing with an unexpected bout of diarrhea and could make you feel anxious or stressed. Social stigma. Dealing with other people’s perceptions and ideas about your condition might make you feel isolated and stressed. You may be worried that people see you or treat you differently, and therefore not feel understood or supported. How to manage stress when living with Crohn’s disease. Stress management when living with Crohn’s disease could help you deal with the mental and physical challenges it brings, such as flare-ups. Here are some tips that might help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety: Practice preventing flare-ups. Crohn’s disease is, by nature, unpredictable and you may experience symptoms and flare-ups at a moment’s notice which, of course, can feel stressful. But, there are some things you can do that could prevent flare-ups and reduce stress, such as: Eating and drinking right. Some foods could be difficult for you to digest and therefore, cause flare-ups. Here are some foods and drinks you could try avoiding, or consuming in moderation: Wholegrain foods such as whole wheat pasta and whole wheat bread. Red meat, sausages, and dark meat poultry. Dairy products such as butter, cream, full-fat dairy, and margarine. Coffee, black tea, soda, and alcohol. Garlic, jalapeños, wasabi, white/yellow/purple onions, chili powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper and paprika. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and artichokes. Apples with skins, cherries, peaches, and plums. Instead, try eating and drinking more of the following: Potatoes, white pasta, rice and rice pasta, polenta, oatmeal, and gluten-free bread. Fish, tofu, eggs, shellfish, peanut butter, and white meat poultry. Milk, yogurt, and cheese made from soy, coconut, almond, flax, or hemp. Water and non-caffeinated herbal tea. Turmeric, ginger, cumin, mustard, and fresh herbs. Carrots, spinach, peeled cucumbers, bell peppers, pumpkin, and squash. Bananas and cantaloupes. Please note that the above are suggestions. There is not enough research to support their effectiveness. Everyone reacts to various foods in different ways, so try writing in a food journal to keep track of anything that disagrees with your body. Sometimes, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact food or ingredient that triggers your condition; recording your meals might help you narrow this down and find the common problem. Exercise. Regular physical activity may reduce inflammation, which may result in fewer flare-ups. Choosing exercises that you enjoy might make you more likely to stick to them. Low-impact choices like walking, biking, swimming, and yoga are good places to start. Of course, if you’re not feeling great or are in the middle of a flare-up, resting is also important. Don’t push yourself as this could leave you feeling more stressed. Keep up with your medication. If your doctor has prescribed medication, it’s important that you stick to it along with any instructions and advice they’ve given you. This still applies even if you’re feeling okay, because the goal is that you keep feeling okay. When you download a Sidekick program, you can use the medication reminder feature to help you keep track of when you need to take your medication. Make dining out less stressful. If social events call for eating out, do some research ahead of time to manage your stress when the occasion arrives. Check out the menu online and see what dishes you can order that will potentially cause you the least problems. If you’re not sure about a certain dish, call the venue and ask. When it comes to ordering, don’t be afraid to ask if you can make alterations to a certain dish. For example, request for a sauce to be added to the side instead of over the food just in case it’s a spicy one; ask for an ingredient to be grilled instead of fried; ask for specific ingredients to be removed from the dish if you know that they’re triggers. Reduce bathroom anxiety. Worried about not knowing where the nearest restroom is if you go out? There are a few bathroom apps that can help you with just that. Before you head out, browse the app for the location you’ll be in and make sure you have a rough idea of how to get yourself to the nearest toilet, should the need occur. The fact that everyone poops might not provide much comfort when you get a sudden urge to go. So, if you want to mask the sound in a public restroom, put a layer of toilet paper in the bowl. Or, if you’re at a friend’s house, run the tap. You might find that some toilets don’t have paper, so carry tissue or wipes with you, just in case. Nervous about smells? If you’re at someone’s house, flush often to get rid of the source of the smell, or spritz the bowl with scented spray before you go to mask the odor. And if you can, try to relax. If you’re using a public restroom, you’ll probably never see those people again. If you’re at someone’s house, try to remember that everyone really does poop, and they all know it’s not always pretty. Write down your thoughts. Expressive writing, or journaling, may help you relax because it can clear your mind and allow you to release negative or stressful thoughts. When you’re feeling stressed, it can be easy to forget about the things that are going well. Writing down positive events, personal victories, and happy thoughts is also important. This can remind you of the things you’ve overcome and help give you motivation for when times get tough. If you want to start a journaling habit, try to find 15 minutes at the same time each day. Choosing a place where you won’t be distracted is best, and if pen and paper aren’t for you, try using a computer. There are also journaling apps you can use on your tablet or phone – the more accessible you make it for yourself, the more likely it could be that you keep up the habit. Find support. Prioritizing your mental health is important when dealing with a chronic condition. While talking to friends and family can give you comfort, you could also find relief in talking to other people with Crohn’s disease. Look online for support groups that deal with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation has a community that offers support and resources to help make your daily life easier. Crohn’s disease can correlate with feelings of anxiety and depression. So, if you’ve been dealing with stress and negative feelings for several weeks, we encourage you to see your doctor or another medical professional for advice. If you want to discover more ways to deal with stress, check out this article on mindfulness and stress management. If you live in Ireland, you have access to our Crohn’s disease program! From keeping track of your medication, to discovering new ways to relieve symptoms and learning mindfulness techniques, your Sidekick has so much to offer – find out more here.

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Ouch! A Guide on How to Describe Pain to Your Doctor

By Health ConditionsNo Comments

What do a toothache and stubbing your toe have in common? They’re both causes of pain! Yes, one might feel more painful than the other, but they’re both things that happen to our body that cause us discomfort. The complicated thing about pain is that, to each and every person, it can feel different. To some, stubbing a toe can have them hopping around the room howling in agony, while to others, a quick grimace and a curse word follow, and then, back to business as usual. This is why you need to be as clear and descriptive as possible with your doctor if you’re experiencing any form of pain. From how bad it is, to where it is, and everything in between, these details are what help doctors discover underlying problems and help when it comes to managing pain. Here, we talk about some types of pain, how to describe your pain to your doctor and why it’s important to do so. What are some different types of pain? Before we get into how to talk about pain with your doctor, here’s a rundown of some of the types of pain bodies can experience. Acute pain. Acute pain occurs suddenly and is brought on by a specific cause. It generally lasts for less than six months and eventually goes away once the root cause is treated or when the injury has healed. Common sources of acute pain include: Broken bones. Surgery. Dental work. Labor and childbirth. Cuts. Burns. Chronic pain. Estimated to affect 50 million adults in the US, chronic pain is defined as lasting more than six months, even after the original injury has healed. Some examples of chronic pain include: Frequent headaches. Nerve damage pain. Lower back pain. Arthritic pain. Neck pain. Muscle pain all over (such as fibromyalgia). Some joint pain (but keep in mind that not all joint pain is chronic). Because of its draining effect on people’s quality of life, chronic pain can sometimes result in people developing symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as other symptoms such as tense muscles, lack of energy and limited mobility. Nociceptive pain. Nociceptive (pronounced “noh-suh-sept-iv”) pain describes the pain felt in response to certain stimuli, like tissue damage or in anticipation of dangers like extreme cold. It can feel sharp, aching or throbbing and can be caused by things like stubbing your toe, a sports injury, or dental work, to name a few. Bruises, burns, fractures, and pain caused by joint damage, such as arthritis or sprains, are all injuries that can cause nociceptive pain. Neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is caused by damage to or dysfunction of the nervous system, and can appear to come out of nowhere, instead of coming from a specific injury. Neuropathic pain can feel like: Burning. Freezing. Numbness. Tingling. Shooting. Stabbing. Electric shocks. There are many causes of neuropathic pain, such as: Diabetes. Chronic alcohol consumption. Accidents. Infections. Radiation. Chemotherapy drugs. Spinal nerve inflammation or compression. Central nervous system disorders, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease. There are, of course, many other causes of these types of pain. If you’re experiencing a new pain or a continuing pain, we encourage you to visit your healthcare provider or contact your pain management specialist. How can you describe your pain to your doctor? Everyone experiences pain differently, so it can be hard to explain to your doctor how your pain feels, what kind of pain it is, or even where exactly it’s coming from. But, if you can describe your pain as clearly as possible, this will help your doctor to help you. Here are some ways you can talk about pain, as well as some tips on how to record it. Numeric rating scales (NRS). Just like how we use a scale of 0-10 to rank movies, places, food, books, or how hard something is, it’s also very helpful for communicating how much pain we’re experiencing to our doctor. Called a numeric rating scale (NRS), the numbers on the scale represent the amount of pain someone is feeling, with 0 being none, 1/2/3 being mild pain, 4/5/6 being moderately strong pain, 7/8/9/10 being severe pain – 10 being the worst pain you can imagine. Pain scales are commonly used in healthcare and are very helpful for doctors to understand the severity of someone’s pain. Descriptive words. Sometimes, if a person is in pain, it’s hard to describe this verbally. So, if you can familiarize yourself with some common “pain words”, your doctor can get a clearer idea of what and how serious the underlying issue is. Burning – a pain that feels hot. Sharp – pain that feels sudden and severe. Dull – pain that’s not severe but lasts for a long time. Intense – a feeling of unbearable pain. Aching – similar to dull. Pain that’s not severe but continues giving discomfort. Cramping – sudden feelings of sharp pain or contraction-like pain. Nagging – not severe but hard to get rid of, like a mild but annoying headache. Shooting – sudden severe pains that move through the body. Stabbing – sudden feelings of strong pain that may feel very local to one area. Gnawing – a dull but constant pain. Gripping – sudden pain that also may contract. Pressure – a pain that feels heavy or tight in a certain area. Heavy – a feeling of uncomfortable weight on a part of the body, maybe it’s hard to move too. Tender – a pain that feels sensitive to the touch or to movement. Sensitive – similar to tender. A part of your body might be painful to move or touch. Prickly – a pain that almost feels like tingling. Stinging – a sudden burning pain in your eyes or on your skin. Agonizing – very, very painful. Crippling – causing so much pain, maybe it’s hard to move, or do daily activities. Itchy – any uncomfortable feeling on your skin that makes you want to scratch. Tight – feels like a part of your body is being squeezed hard. Raw – when your skin feels very sore and sensitive. The more detail you can give your doctor, the quicker and better they could be able to diagnose your pain and offer advice. This leads us nicely on to… Keep a pain journal. Staying proactive can be hard if you’re suffering, but keeping a pain journal is an excellent way of recording your symptoms, pain levels, and general feelings. If you don’t feel that you’re able to do this, ask a family member, friend, or other caregiver to be your scribe! Some helpful questions to answer in your journal could be: When did the pain start? How long does the pain last? How does the pain feel? (Use the descriptive words above to help with this.) Is your pain tolerable? How severe is the pain? (This is where the trusty 0-10 pain scale comes in.) Where do you feel the pain? If you can’t tell where the pain is coming from specifically, write down the general area on your body. What triggers the pain? Is the pain worse in the morning/day/evening/when you’re trying to sleep? Does anything make the pain feel better/worse? What? Are you taking any medication to help? What and how often? Is the pain stopping you from doing your normal daily activities? This valuable information can assist your doctor in making a more accurate diagnosis, so make sure to bring your pain journal along to your appointments. Along with your journal, any other details you can think of when you’re talking to your doctor – no matter how small you think it is – could bring them closer to understanding the root cause and coming up with a treatment plan to ease your symptoms. Why is it so important to describe your pain to your doctor? While your doctor knows your medical history, only you know your body best. If something doesn’t feel right or “normal”, it’s important to find out if there’s a problem. It’s natural to feel nervous or hesitant when talking about something that’s causing you distress, especially pain. You may be worried that something might be wrong, and try to play down your symptoms – this won’t be helpful for you or your doctor. For any healthcare provider to fully understand what you and your body are experiencing, no detail is too small or “irrelevant”. Something you mention casually might be useful in helping them discover what’s causing you trouble – it all counts. This is where being your own health advocate is key; express your concerns fully with your doctor, including the details of any pain or symptoms, and feel free to ask questions if you’re unsure of anything your doctor says. Aim to be confident in how you talk about your healthcare and worries; it’s your body and therefore your right to seek the best support for it. You can read more on the importance of patient advocacy right here. As well as seeking guidance from your healthcare provider, we also encourage you to explore our programs. Sidekick’s programs feature plenty of pain management tips such as mindfulness and behavior modification techniques. While experiencing pain can be a daily reality for people living with chronic conditions, you have the power to take back control of your health and live your life without being defined by your pain or your condition.

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5 Common Stress Triggers: How to Recognize and Respond in a Healthy Way

By Mindfulness / Selfcare, StressNo Comments

If you’ve ever experienced stress, you’ll know that sometimes it can feel exhilarating; heading out on a first date, competing in a sport, getting ready on your wedding day, or putting yourself forward for a promotion: these are all situations where you might feel stressed, but in a good way. Psychologists call this “eustress”: stress that leads to a positive response. But sometimes, stress can feel the exact opposite of exhilarating, and instead of experiencing eustress, we are filled with its darker side: distress. Our bodies might react to distress in the same way as with eustress, such as a pounding heart, racing thoughts, feeling sick to the stomach, heightened alertness, and getting sweaty, but along with these, we also feel uncomfortable, overwhelmed, and maybe panicky. With so many things to deal with in modern life, it’s natural to become stressed from time to time. But how much stress is too much? And when does stress start to become a problem for our health? We delve into some common life stressors and provide you with advice and tips on how to deal with them in a healthy way. What is stress? You may have heard of the “fight or flight response,” which our body’s way of getting ready to either fight the thing that’s causing us stress or to run away from it. If you could see what was happening inside your body when something stressful occurs, you’d see the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol and adrenaline help prepare your body for danger in several ways, such as speeding up your heart rate, increasing your breathing, alerting your immune system response, making it easier for your muscles to use glucose, and restricting your non-essential functions to be able to deal with a potentially dangerous situation. There are three main types of stress: Acute stress. Acute stress is short-term and can either be positive, like sport competition, first date, wedding day-type stress, or negative, such as when you’re behind on a deadline, your partner says you need “to talk”, or you get a call from your child’s school asking you to come in. Once the stressful situation passes, your body usually goes back to normal. Episodic acute stress. This term is used to describe frequent occurrences of acute stress. Maybe you often find yourself feeling stressed about something that has happened or you suspect will happen. You might live in a state of hyper-alertness, or feel like you’re always dealing with a different crisis. Chronic stress. Chronic stress is stress that persists over a long period of time and can gradually wear a person down. Such problems could be being very unhappy in a job or being in a dysfunctional relationship with a partner or family member. What is the impact of stress on health? When stress starts to become more frequent or continues for a long period of time it can lead to health issues. And sometimes, a person may not even realize that their body is being deeply affected by stress. Left unnoticed, stress can show up in your body in the following ways: Anxiety and/or depression. Insomnia or sleep issues. Lower sex drive. Digestive problems. Poor eating habits. High blood pressure. Weakened immune system. Tension headaches. Stress can also lead to the worseing of existing conditions, such as eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and diabetes. To avoid the long-term physical and mental health problems that prolonged stress can bring, it’s important to recognize what might be causing you stress in the first place. What are some common stress triggers? Stress can pop up from anywhere, sometimes when you least expect it. Knowing how to recognize when something brings you stress will give you the power to manage it. Here are some common stress triggers and how they might be affecting you. Everyday stress. School doesn’t quite prepare us for the stress of adult life. With work, families, money, bills, friends, and health to worry about, it’s natural to become stressed from time to time. Signs of everyday stress include: Feeling irritable, angry, and easily annoyed. Anxiety and nervousness. Unable to switch your mind off. Unable to enjoy your life. Sleep problems. Eating issues. We can’t often control the things in life that bring us stress and anxiety, but we can control our reactions to them. We can also make small lifestyle changes to better equip ourselves to deal with them. Some ways to cope with everyday stress are: Opening up to friends and family about your worries. Sometimes, simply talking about stressors can help ease them. Looking after your body will help keep your mind in check. Regular exercise can reduce the negative effects of stress and increase endorphins – the body’s natural stress reliever. Journaling can be a great way of getting negative thoughts and feelings out of your body. Also, practice putting to paper the things that make you feel happy and grateful. Focusing on the positive can take power away from the negative. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can really make a difference if life is bringing you down. Relationship stress. Whether it’s romantic, friendship, or family, relationships can be one of life’s most valuable aspects. They can bring us joy, love, safety, and support, and can help us develop and grow. But they can also make us stressed. If you find yourself worrying about your relationships more than usual, it might be time to think about why. Some tell-tale signs that you’re dealing with relationship stress could be: You’re disagreeing with your partner, family member, or friend a lot. You suddenly find your partner, family member, or friend irritating. You spend a lot of time worrying about your relationship and have feelings of paranoia. Consider the following tips to reduce stress in your relationships: Communication is key in any relationship. Try to find a way to talk about anything that might be bothering you. If you’re uncomfortable bringing a subject up out of the blue, a good idea is to have regular check-ins that give you both the chance to discuss any issues that may come up. Look for the good in the other, as opposed to focusing on their weaknesses. Learn to check in with yourself. Self-care acts such as journaling might help you connect with your mind and bring you some peace. Mindfulness and meditation are also great ways to manage stress. Our Sidekick programs are full of meditation and mindfulness tips to help you look after your well-being. You can read more about that here. Work stress. In the US, 83% of workers report suffering from stress, with 25% saying that work is the main cause of stress in their lives. We spend so much of our lives working, so knowing how to identify work stressors is essential for allowing us to defeat it as soon as possible. Signs of work stress might look like this: Calling in sick more than usual. Feeling anxious or worried. Sleep problems. Not being able to concentrate at work. Skin breakouts. Headaches. Body tension. If any of these sound familiar, you may be experiencing work stress. So, before you let it get the better of you, try mastering some of these tips: Speak to your manager or HR representative about possible changes that could be made to reduce your stress. If you can, practice leaving work at work. Establish some boundaries so that you’re not taking work home – physically or mentally. For example, once you’ve finished work, make a habit of not checking your emails and establish set hours that you work with colleagues. Taking the time to recharge is essential. Make the most of your evenings and weekends, and don’t let your vacation days go to waste. Make a habit of going outside on your lunch break, going for short walks, and taking the time to enjoy your lunch – the small things really do count. Stress from news and events. The world’s happenings aren’t always to keep up with. However, current events could be getting to you more than you realize, especially if the following signs of stress sound familiar: Headaches. Fatigue or sleep disruption. Sweating. Changes in appetite. While there are many things to feel sad and angry about in the world, here are some tips that we find helpful: Limit how much news you watch, listen to, and read. If you know the news triggers feelings of stress, removing the triggers is a large part of the work. Make time for yourself by spending time with family or doing things you enjoy. If you feel passionate about the state of current events, get active instead of getting stressed. Try volunteering and attending events to meet like-minded people. Learning to channel your stress in healthy ways might prevent it from bleeding into your personal life. Future stress. Also known as “anticipatory stress”, future stress is when you experience anxiety about events concerning the future. Small things like a work presentation, a doctor’s appointment, or a job interview could bring up stressful feelings. Bigger worries about the future of your career, finances, relationships, and health could also trigger stress. And that could cause any of the following: Racing thoughts. Feeling tense and/or nervous. Sleep problems. Sweating. Feeling irritable or moody. Difficulty concentrating. Try some of these stress-management tips to ease your negative feelings: Try to stop thinking in “may”s and “might”s – no-one knows what’s going to happen in the future. Look after yourself in terms of exercise, nutrition, and sleep while also enjoying yourself, relaxing, and spending time with others. If you’re constantly worried about the future, it’s hard to be in the present moment. Learning to stay present is key to mindfulness and meditation. If you feel your mind spinning about the future, bring yourself back, notice your surroundings, focus on your breathing, and take a moment to let the feeling pass. Breathwork can have a positive impact on your central nervous system. There are many breathwork techniques you can find in Sidekick’s programs that could help you feel more control over your mind and body. Lastly, know that stress can be managed. What’s important is knowing your triggers. Our Sidekick’s programs can teach you how to identify yours and help you find healthy ways of dealing with them. Check out our library for more useful articles on stress management and mindfulness – discover more here.

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How to Live Well During the Holidays: Manage Stress and Set Your Boundaries

By SeasonalNo Comments

While the holiday season can bring joy, festivities, and happiness, it can also bring stress, worry, and sadness. At this time of year, the pressure to “have a good time” can be overwhelming. In fact, according to a 2015 Healthline survey, 62% of people report finding the holidays either somewhat stressful or very stressful.
From worrying about having enough money, to fretting over social events, the causes of holiday stress are plenty. Others can include traveling, visiting family, or feeling pressured to entertain and buy loved ones the perfect gifts. Some people may also be spending the holidays alone or may be dealing with the loss of family members or close friends, making this period especially hard as the holiday season may intensify feelings of grief or loneliness. And, along with other holiday stressors, these things can pile up and have a big impact on your overall wellbeing. If any of these troubles sound familiar to you, we’re here to remind you that you’re not alone. There are ways that you can manage difficult feelings over the holidays. We’ve put together some tips on how to prioritize your wellbeing so you can learn how to set your boundaries and live well during the holidays. Sleep. A lack of sleep can affect your mental health, so making sure you’re catching enough Zs can provide you with the mental energy you need to face days that might bring up difficult feelings. While children, shift work, and chronic conditions can make it hard to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, try to build a rough sleep schedule for yourself. This helps your body maintain its internal clock and stick to a routine. This may be common for a lot of people, but using screens, especially scrolling through our smartphones in bed, can be a one-way ticket to sleep disturbance thanks to things like blue light and the addictive nature of social media and online gaming. Try to get into the habit of avoiding TV, scrolling on your phone or tablet, or working at your computer before bedtime. If you’d like to learn more about how to practice healthy sleep hygiene, check out this article right here. Nutrition. Holiday food can be hard to resist, especially if you’re feeling stressed. And while some indulgence may be manageable, it’s also important to be mindful of your eating habits during this time period, especially if you know what triggers a flare-up of a symptom you may experience if you are living with a chronic illness.
Instead of going without your favorite foods and treats, try being more mindful when you eat. Mindful eating is when you learn to listen to your body and pay more attention to feelings of hunger, cravings, and being full. For example, eating more slowly and intentionally will help you to notice when you’re getting full. Often, we can eat too quickly and the signal we receive when we’re full comes after we’ve already overeaten. Being more mindful at mealtimes will allow you to really think about how much you’re eating and at what pace. If you choose to drink alcohol during the holidays, be careful not to overdo it. For some, celebrations throughout this period may lead to binge drinking, which is classified as having five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within two hours. To prevent holiday binge drinking, try alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic beverages and making sure to eat before or while you’re drinking to delay alcohol from entering your bloodstream. Another way to drink mindfully is to keep in mind the positive effects of staying hydrated when drinking alcohol. Along with the other benefits of drinking water, adequare hydration improves energy levels and brain function, maximizes physical performance, and may even treat headaches. Getting in the habit of drinking a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks can help to reduce the symptoms of dehydration you experience when you’ve had too much to drink. Physical activity. Exercise might be the last thing on your mind with the busyness and stress that holidays bring, but if you can try and stay active during this time, your mental health may be better for it. If you’re time-stretched, finding ten minutes here and there to do a quick workout could do the trick – you don’t even need to use any equipment! Try searching for quick bodyweight workouts on YouTube and squeeze one in whenever you have some free time. Or, if you’re using a Sidekick program, you can search for workouts in the app. Explore our programs and find your Sidekick today. If a sweaty workout doesn’t sound like your idea of holiday fun, a brisk walk outside will reduce stress and any snack cravings too! Taking a friend or family member along with you and having a chat while you walk might even take your mind off the fact that you’re exercising completely! Stress reduction. Money, family, travel, social events, gifts, cooking – the holidays can bring up many difficult feelings which may leave you feeling stressed. However, there are ways for you to manage it – here are a few tips to keep in mind: Practice saying ‘no’ to invitations instead of saying ‘yes’ when you don’t want to go instead of then feeling resentful and overwhelmed when it’s time to go. Learning how to set boundaries with the people in your life can enhance your mental health and help you avoid burnout. For example, if you’ve been invited to an event where there will be people you feel uncomfortable around, it’s totally fine for you to decline the invitation. This is a great example of setting your boundaries. Or, if you have friends or family members who tend to ask you intrusive questions about your personal life, practice telling them that you’re not comfortable discussing those topics and change the subject. Plan ahead by making shopping lists, thinking through menus, and diarising events with friends and family to help you stay on top of your time. Shops might be super-busy during the holidays so consider doing your shopping online if possible. Take time for yourself in between the hustle and bustle, even if it’s just 15 minutes spent alone doing something you enjoy without any distractions. Check out this article for more stress management tips. Mindfulness and self-care. If the holidays make you feel stressed, especially if you’re living with a chronic condition or dealing with the loss of a loved one, it’s important to prioritize mindfulness and self-care. Here are some tips that could help you: Learn to accept imperfection and that things may not go as planned. If they don’t – that’s OK. Don’t let small things make you lose sight of what really counts. Take moments of frustration and anger to reflect on things that you’re grateful for, or on good things that have happened to you that day. If you have to spend time with difficult people, including friends and family members, always respond with kindness. If you experience tense moments with someone, take some deep breaths and try to take a new perspective: holidays can be difficult for some people and they may be suffering, so try not to take unpleasant moments personally. Meditation might be something that helps you de-stress and find calmness during the busy holiday period. Our Sidekick programs are full of meditation and mindfulness tips to help you look after your well-being. You can read more about them here. If you’re living with a chronic condition, tune into your body and listen to what it’s telling you. If your symptoms flare, this could be a sign that you’re overtired or stressed. Make sure to take time out of holiday preparations and events when you need to. Being a caregiver can be stressful due to having the responsibility of looking after someone who’s living with a chronic condition. But just like anyone, caregivers also need time to themselves to practice self-care. If this means communicating to family members that you need support, or booking in a homecare worker while you take some time off, make sure to plan this ahead of the holidays so that everyone is aware of their schedules. We’ve got more tips and guidance for caregivers in this article. Dealing with loneliness. Don’t make managing stress a solo job during the holidays. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to family or friends and take some time to chat about the concerns you’re having. If you live alone or your family don’t live close by, there are many online support groups that can offer you companionship. Find social events in your area with like-minded people and try being open to meeting new friends. Volunteering is another way of socializing with new faces while also giving something back to those in need during the holiday season. If your stress or negative feelings persist and you feel like this is affecting your daily life, you may find it helpful to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Finally, for all the ups, downs, and stress they may bring, remember that the holidays are temporary. If you’re struggling, remember that there is an endpoint to look forward to. It might even help you to make some plans for when the holidays are over to have something to be excited for. For more information about dealing with other sources of stress, as well as other healthcare topics, check out our library of articles here.

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The Poop-Body Connection: Why We Need to Talk About Poop Now

By Featured, NutritionNo Comments

Poop. We all do it. Your parents poop, your colleagues poop, your neighbors poop, your doctor poops – even your favorite celebrity passes their very own poop. So why don’t we talk about it more openly? It feels like we’ve gradually started to talk freely about other “unspeakable” subjects like sex, periods, menopause, fertility, and mental health. So what is it about poop that makes us recoil in embarrassment, or even more commonly, disgust? Maybe it’s the smell or its less-than-appealing appearance. Or maybe it’s because poop reminds us that we’re all animals. Whatever the reason is, poop is an essential part of our bodily functions and can give us vital information about our health. What is poop? Poop, or feces to give it its proper name, is the waste that your body passes once it’s taken the nutrients it needs from the food you eat. Surprisingly, poop is made up of about 75% water. The rest is dead cells, bacteria, indigestible food, food waste, fats, salts, mucus, and other substances. Here’s a simplified breakdown of how food goes in one end and out the other: The food we chew is broken down by our saliva and goes down our esophagus – the tube that carries food and liquid from our throats to our stomachs. Once the pieces of food are in our stomach, they’re made smaller by acid, a liquid that helps us digest and absorb nutrients, and enzymes, substances that speed up a chemical reaction in a cell. Those smaller pieces are passed into the small intestine. The small intestine’s job is to absorb nutrients from our food. The leftovers (waste) go to the large intestine, also known as the colon. Because this waste is quite watery, the colon absorbs the water and starts molding the waste into a stool. The stool makes its way to the rectum, a pouch that sits at the end of the large intestine. It’s in the rectum that the stool builds until it reaches a certain amount. When that amount is reached, you’ll get the feeling that you need to poop. When you go to the toilet and are ready, the muscles around the rectum and anus relax and release the stool. How to know if your poop is healthy. Poop is certainly no oil painting, so it’s understandable if you don’t want to look at it. But taking a peek would be beneficial in helping you understand whether your body, especially your digestive system, is healthy. If you’re not sure how to tell if your poop is “normal”, you can check out the Bristol Stool Chart to see how your poop measures up. There are seven general types of feces, and they often reveal what’s going on in our bodies. Type 1. Separate hard lumps. This means you’re very constipated. Type 2. Lumpy and sausage-like. This means you’re slightly constipated. Type 3. A sausage shape with cracks in the surface. This is normal. Type 4. A smooth, soft sausage or snake. This is also normal. Type 5. Soft blob with clear-cut edges. This shows a lack of fiber. Type 6. Mushy consistency with ragged edges. This shows inflammation. Type 7. Liquid consistency with no solid pieces. This shows inflammation and diarrhea. What is constipation? Constipation occurs when your food passes too slowly through the digestive system and the large intestine (colon) sucks up too much water. Having the occasional bout of constipation is normal, and it can be down to a number of reasons, including not drinking enough water, not eating enough fiber (especially fruits and vegetables), not getting enough exercise, stress, a lack of privacy, lifestyle changes, or resisting the urge to poop. What is diarrhea? Experiencing diarrhea means that your food has passed through the digestive system too quickly and the large intestine wasn’t able to absorb any water. Diarrhea is also common and can occur for most people a few times a year. The most common cause of diarrhea is a virus that infects your intestines (“viral gastroenteritis”). Other causes can include bacterial infection, stress, eating foods that upset your digestive system, medications, radiation therapy, food allergies, and poor absorption of food, to name a few. When should I be worried about my poop? The idea of talking to your doctor about poop might sound humiliating, but remember that your doctor poops too, and they feel comfortable discussing stools when it comes to your health. There are a few markers to look out for in your bowel movements, and if any of the following occur, we encourage you to contact your healthcare provider: If you spot any other colors upon poop inspection, such as deep red, maroon, black, or white. If you see any traces of blood in your stool. If you experience constipation for longer than two weeks, especially if it’s paired with nausea and/or vomiting. If your bout of diarrhea comes with severe abdominal pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away once you’ve pooped, a fever, chills, vomiting, or if diarrhea lasts longer than two days. If you experience sudden urges to poop. Note that this list covers just some of the examples to watch out for. If you’re living with a health condition, you might want to discuss whether any of your medications or treatments can have an impact on your bathroom activities with your doctor. Tips on how to have healthy poop. Just like with all things in our body, there are ways you can help processes run a little smoother. Literally. And poop is no exception. Here are some tips: Water makes your stool easier to pass so make sure to stay hydrated throughout the day. Fiber moves easily through your digestive tract so getting your daily amount in is key. Women should aim to eat around 21 to 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams. Want to know what 25 grams of fiber looks like? It can be found in five large apples, or seven cups of blueberries, or eight medium-sized bananas. Fibrous foods also include leafy greens like spinach, sprouts, broccoli, and other vegetables such as carrots and beetroot. Fiber-filled fruits consist of strawberries, raspberries, and apples, so make sure your desserts look more fruity. On a budget? Buying bags of frozen fruits is an excellent option, especially when it comes to berries! Not only is frozen fruit more purse-friendly, but it lasts longer too. Other foods to add to your shopping list are wholegrain bread, oats, almonds, pistachios, and sunflower seeds. Be kind to your intestinal tract by limiting the amount of alcohol, caffeine, and sugar-sweetened drinks you consume. Movement can help your intestines move stools forward, so doing regular exercise could keep your bowels regular too. A 30-minute walk five times a week can really help move things along in your digestive system. Squatting is the most effective position for taking a poop because it straightens out the colon and gives stools a neater path to travel. Sitting makes your lower bowel bend slightly, making it harder for you to push your poop out. If you use a seated flush toilet, a full squat isn’t possible. But you can use a footstool to help as it will bring your knees up higher than your hips. Also, remember to lean forward and rest your elbows on your knees, bulge out your abdomen and straighten your spine – happy pooping! We don’t only talk about poop! Check out our library of articles and read up on a range of other health topics.

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mies makaa sängyssä venyttelemässä käsiään hymyillen

What Is Sleep Hygiene and Why Does it Matter?

By Featured, SleepNo Comments

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a good sleep. It sets us up nicely for the day and we feel energetic, maybe even invincible. So why is it sometimes so hard to get the amount of rest we need? Almost half of all Americans report feeling sleepy during the day between three and seven days a week, with 35.2% of adults sleeping fewer than seven hours a night. Not only are we battling with some stressful times, but our minds and bodies often seem to be in overdrive. Many of us are dealing with being overworked, overstressed, overstimulated, and overtired. Quite frankly, we’re over it. Getting sufficient sleep is essential for a healthy body and mind. We’re here to guide you on why good sleep hygiene is so important and how you can master it. Peaceful slumber awaits you… What is sleep hygiene? From your linens and lights to your dinner and downtime activities, every little thing counts when it comes to sleep hygiene. Essentially, sleep hygiene comes down to your sleep habits, including the things you do before sleep and how your environment is set up. Poor sleep hygiene, just like poor dental hygiene or poor personal hygiene, can lead to problems. Learning how to practice healthy sleep habits and behaviors to achieve excellent sleep hygiene will benefit you now and in the long term. Let’s start by understanding why regular, decent sleep is critical to a good quality of life. Why is healthy sleep hygiene so important? Scientists have measured that, in today’s world, we are processing about 74GB of information on a daily basis, which is equivalent to watching 16 movies! When we’re not working, we’re scrolling, watching, reading, creating, exercising, and socializing, as well as maintaining friendships, relationships, and families. That’s a lot for our minds to process. These are some of the reasons why we should be aiming for at least seven hours of sleep per day. But they’re not the only ones. When we are asleep, our bodies are quietly performing a number of jobs to make sure that we remain as healthy as possible. Energized and alert. Because of everything our minds and bodies are required to perform while they’re awake, getting enough rest is vital. It’s just like charging our phones: sleep gives us the energy we need to function and be alert for the waking hours of our day. Brain function. As mentioned before, our brains are taking in a wealth of information daily. So, there is bound to be some “waste” that we don’t need. Our brains sort out what’s needed from what’s not to make sure our nervous systems aren’t overwhelmed. Sleep can affect several brain functions, including converting short-term memories to long-term memories, learning, decision-making, problem-solving skills, focus, and concentration. Therefore, when you haven’t managed to get enough rest, your ability to remember things well or to focus may reduce. Mental health. When we’re sleeping, our brains are working hard to make sure that we can maintain emotional stability. When we’re well rested, we can respond to stressful situations in a more adaptive way. On the other hand, when we’re not, we’re more likely to become anxious and stressed. Good sleep prepares us to take on the daily stressors that life presents to us. Strong immune system. Sleep provides the immune system with essential support so that its able to defend our bodies against illness. If we don’t get the sleep we need, we can be more likely to become sick. People who are living with a chronic condition especially benefit from sleep because the immune system uses this time to repair cells and tissues, and fight inflammation. How to achieve healthy sleep hygiene. Sometimes, you can’t control how long or how well you sleep. You also can’t control when you sleep, especially if your job requires shift work, if you have babies or young children, or if you’re living with a condition that causes your sleep to be disturbed at night. However, you can create your own routine around sleep to give you some structure, and applying the right behaviors and habits to this routine will give you the best possible chance of blissful slumber. Set a sleep schedule. In an ideal world, we would go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – even on the weekends. However, that’s not always easy. A number of things can make creating a consistent sleep schedule difficult. The important thing is setting the intention, and trying to build a calming routine around the time you want to go to bed so that sleep comes easier. “I go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time throughout the whole week. Even on weekends. I don’t even need a clock anymore. My inner clock is perfectly set to that routine and I feel a lot more energized.” Simone- Sidekick coach. Get natural sunlight first thing in the morning. Exposing yourself to natural sunlight within an hour of waking up can help regulate your circadian rhythm, or your body clock. However, if you live in an area of the world that’s dark in the morning, investing in a sunlight lamp might do the trick. Simply put yours on a timer so that it works its illuminating magic as you wake up. It’s best to spend about 30-45 minutes soaking up some sunlight in the morning (always being careful not to look directly at the sun and be sure to protect your skin). We can’t think of a better reason to have your breakfast or morning cup of tea or coffee outside, or to head out for an early morning stroll! Exercise. Not only is regular exercise vital to your physical and mental health, but it can improve your sleep too. It increases sleep quality and reduces the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. A minimum of 30 minutes of exercise each day is advised. If you prefer to work out later in the day, it’s best to do so a few hours before you go to bed so that your sleep isn’t disrupted. Sex. How about sleep and sex? Well, sexual activity can contribute to better sleep because, after an orgasm, our bodies release hormones that encourage relaxation. Sex also reduces the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which may also affect sleep hygiene. Limit caffeine and alcohol intake. Because caffeine is a stimulant – something that increases activity in the brain and nervous system – drinking too much caffeine during the day, especially later in the day, can make it hard for you to fall asleep. Therefore, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening is a good idea. Similarly, excessive consumption of alcohol, a depressant, has been linked to poor sleep quality and duration. Studies have also shown that alcohol use can worsen sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, a condition where a person’s breathing stops and restarts while they’re sleeping. Get comfortable. If you can, investing in a comfortable mattress and pillows, as well as cozy linens, will give you a better chance of getting a good night’s sleep. If money’s tight right now, think about how you could make changes to your sleeping environment with things you already have at home. For example, removing screens or other distractions from your bedroom. Bedroom temperature also plays a part in healthy nighttime habits. The most comfortable temperature for sleep is about 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius). This might vary from person to person but using those numbers as a starting point will help you find your ideal temperature. Avoid bright lights and screens. While sitting in bed scrolling on social media can feel relaxing and is a common habit, the bright light coming from your screen can delay the natural production of melatonin – a hormone that responds to darkness and regulates our sleep patterns – and decrease feelings of sleepiness. This includes the use of phones, tablets, computers, and TVs. Avoiding screens an hour before you go to bed can prevent melatonin disruption. Relax. What’s relaxing for one person might not be relaxing for another, so take time to explore what chills you out. Some people enjoy getting lost in a book, while others find comfort in puzzles, knitting or cooking – the choices are endless. Maybe meditation might be the key to your healthy slumber. You can find out more about the benefits of mindfulness and stress-management in this article. The programs designed by Sidekick feature breathing exercises and daily meditation tips so that you can learn to be more relaxed, less stressed, and, hopefully, better rested. Find your Sidekick today by exploring our programs here. Taking the right steps toward healthy sleep hygiene is work, but it’s an investment worth making so that you’re better equipped to live and enjoy every aspect of your life.

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a middle aged man sitting on the floor meditating

How to Fight Fatigue When Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

By Health Conditions, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sleep, StressNo Comments

Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is no walk in the park. Not only is there joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and inflammation to deal with, but there can also be additional experiences of poor appetite, high temperature, weight loss, and fatigue. However, that doesn’t mean you need to spend your life being at the mercy of these symptoms. In fact, making positive lifestyle changes can help you ease some of them, starting with fatigue. If you’ve ever experienced tiredness so deep that it feels like you’re completely out of energy, like you’re totally worn out even if you haven’t done very much – you’re not alone. Fatigue is one of the most common rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. In fact, between 40-90% of people living with RA experience chronic fatigue. But it can be managed. And while it takes practice, being patient with yourself and giving yourself the self-love to steadily beat fatigue is essential. Why does RA cause fatigue? We’ve all felt tired before, but fatigue is more than just feeling tired – it’s as though your body has been zapped of all energy. Not only can it leave you feeling mentally and physically exhausted, but it can affect your quality of life too. So, what causes RA fatigue? Inflammation. The inflammation that’s caused by your immune system attacking healthy cells in your body can also affect your central nervous system, and these high levels of inflammation can cause severe fatigue. Pain. Long-term pain can wear the body out, and the joint pain you experience can disrupt your sleep, leading you to wake up feeling like you haven’t had enough rest. Anxiety. While it’s natural to worry or feel overwhelmed if you’re living with RA, it’s difficult for your body to relax when your mind is spinning with anxiety. The muscle tension that comes with anxiety can contribute to your feelings of fatigue. Depression. Major depressive disorder is said to affect 13-42% of people with rheumatoid arthritis. Not only can depression exhaust your brain cells, but a possible side effect of prescribed anti-depressants is fatigue. If you are experiencing feelings of low mood that don’t seem to lift, we encourage you to reach out and talk to your doctor. How can you fight RA fatigue? The physical and mental effects of RA fatigue can really take their toll but there are things you can do that can offer some relief. Know your stressors. Learning how to identify your stressors will help you in the long run. It will enable you to know when a stressful situation might occur so that you can either avoid it, or respond to it in a healthy way. To do this, listening to your body is key. What makes you feel angry, worried, nervous or tense? If a certain person, place or situation causes your heartrate to go up, gives you that tell-tale sick feeling in your stomach, makes you break out in a sweat, or sets your mind racing, it’s likely that that is one of your stressors. Acknowledging your stress gives you the chance to reset your mind and learn from the experience. Once you’ve faced it, you can then practice asking for help. Ask for help. There’s no shame in asking for help. If you feel swamped by daily errands, call on friends and family for a helping hand. If you’re feeling low or stressed, talking to someone can help you get your feelings out in the open. Knowing that you have a support system, or even a friendly shoulder to cry on, can bring the relief you didn’t know you needed. Emily was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 13, and now aged 24, has found that surrounding herself with loved ones is key. “Having a good support system helps so much. For me, having family and friends who let you chat or rant about things without questioning and just lending a listening ear is so important.” Learn to prioritize. If you feel overwhelmed by your daily tasks and commitments, learn how to work on establishing your boundaries, practice saying no, and ask for help when you need it. Making a list at the start of every day will help you visualize what your day holds, instead of trying to juggle it all in your mind. Keeping your stress levels low is key, so don’t try to pack too much into one day. Take it easy and deal with one thing at a time. And if you start to feel tired, take a rest. Doing this will help you understand your limits. Stay active. Just the thought of working out might make you feel exhausted but moving your joints and staying strong are important when managing fatigue. Taking short 15-minute walks will help you feel refreshed and may even ease some pain and stiffness. Ruth was diagnosed with RA when she was 16. Taking it slow and staying positive are her ways of living with the condition. “I find staying as active as possible is really important for my overall wellbeing. I try to do as many steps as I can in short bursts throughout the day, resting in between. I try to remain as positive as possible and focus on what I can do rather than the things I’m unable to.” Swimming is also an excellent exercise option because it’s low impact, the buoyancy of the water means there’s less pressure on your joints, and the feeling of the water lapping your body can be therapeutic. Plus, exercise can ease feelings of low mood and increase your energy levels. Try exercising in the morning so that you have the boost you need to continue your day. Moderate your diet. Making the right food choices might relieve your fatigue by giving you more energy. Focus on eating nutrient-rich foods and avoid overeating refined carbohydrates, fried foods, sugary drinks, and red or processed meat because these can all cause inflammation. Instead, fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, and sardines make for great meal choices because of their richness in omega-3 acids which help control inflammation. Other foods that reduce inflammation are leafy greens like spinach and kale, and fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and oranges. Studies also show that following a Mediterranean diet can be beneficial for people living with RA due to its inclusion of nutrient-dense foods. Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, peas and beans, nuts, and olive oil are all commonly found in a Mediterranean diet and offer a myriad of delicious meal options, as well as a decrease in inflammation. Get a good night’s sleep. Joint pain can seriously affect sleep which will only add to your fatigue. To try and get the best night’s rest, try these tips: Avoid caffeine and alcohol because both can increase anxiety and disrupt sleep. Eating too late can go against your body’s circadian rhythm, so it’s best to stop eating about three hours before you hit the hay. Elevate your legs by sliding a pillow under your knees to alleviate joint pressure while you sleep. Meditation can help you relax and quieten your mind before you put your head down. You can find out more about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness here. Your body needs as much support as possible so investing in a comfortable mattress is important for a night of peaceful slumber. Look after your mind. It’s totally normal to feel worn down by the pain and fatigue that comes with rheumatoid arthritis. Consider talking to your doctor about introducing pain management methods, such as medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, physical therapy, or meditation, to your treatment plan. Mindfulness can help you handle your pain, as well as decrease anxiety and depression, and improve your overall well-being. Find your happiness. Sometimes, it’s the small things that bring us the most happiness. Try to focus on what brings you pleasure on a daily basis. Emily has found that staying positive helps her deal with RA. “Whenever I’m really struggling with my mental health, I always do things that make me happy or take my mind off my condition, like skincare, watching my favorite movie, eating my favorite food, etc. These things help to bring a bit more joy into my life.” Happiness looks different for everyone so don’t underestimate the tiny things that put a smile on your face. Journaling is a good way of getting your thoughts on paper. Measuring fatigue is difficult so you could try writing how you’re feeling each day and then see if you can spot any patterns of fatigue or specific triggers. If you’d like to discover more about how to live well when living with rheumatoid arthritis then explore our other articles. We’ve got tips on how to manage RA on the go as well as inspiring interviews with real people with RA. Happy reading.

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Break the Eczema Sleep Cycle With These Simple Steps

By Atopic Dermatitis, Health Conditions, Mindfulness / Selfcare, Sleep5 Comments

The body is a wonderful thing. Between waking up and going to bed, it allows us to work, eat, exercise, learn, think, and perform many other physical and mental tasks. So, it should come as no surprise that sleep, and the right amount of sleep, is essential for us to function throughout our daily lives and maintain optimal health. However, as people with eczema will know, getting quality sleep can be tricky, to say the least. A nagging itch wakes you up during the night because of a flare-up, and you can’t resist the urge to scratch – sound familiar? This disturbed sleep can impact your ability to treat your eczema effectively the next day and disrupt your regular treatment plan – and there you have it: your vicious circle. Unfortunately, this vicious circle may continue if your sleep doesn’t improve. But don’t worry; with a few steps added to your daily routine, good sleep doesn’t have to be a far-off dream. How does eczema affect sleep? Sleep is essential for a good quality of life, but if you’re having problems catching enough Zs, your eczema could be to blame – here’s why. Body temperature. In the evening, melatonin is secreted in the brain to prepare your body for sleep. At night, your core body temperature drops; and during this process, the skin on your hands and feet gets warmer, making you feel itchier. Natural body processes aren’t the only thing bringing on the heat. If your bedding’s too thick, it could be preventing your body from cooling down, and being too warm equals itchiness. And while it might be a relaxing part of your bedtime routine, taking a hot shower or bath before sleep will both dry out your skin and increase your body temperature, only making the itching worse. Skin moisture. Dry skin can make eczema worse, and it’s likely that by the time you’ve gone to bed, the moisturizer you applied during the day has worn off. Sweating can also make your skin dry out, so if you’re too warm in your bed and sweating, the dry-out may bring on that dreaded itch. Itch, scratch, itch, scratch… Eczema symptoms are never easy to deal with, especially when it comes to itching. Getting caught in the endless spiral of an itch-scratch episode can affect your mood and, you guessed it, disrupt your sleep. Also, humans tend to scratch in their sleep, meaning people with eczema may unknowingly aggravate an already-sore area of skin and start another itch-scratch cycle. Why is sleep so important when you have eczema? There are a few types of eczema, but for people living with any form of this skin condition, sleep is vital for many reasons – here are a few: Treatment. Tiredness can affect how well you stick to a consistent and effective treatment plan. Hormones. Sleep is essential to regulate our hormones and metabolism to keep mood swings and food cravings at bay. Healthy skin barrier function. Your skin needs optimum sleep to repair eczema irritations during the night; unfortunately, a lack of sleep can disrupt your skin barrier function.
Reduced stress. Living with eczema can be stressful, so adding poor sleep into the mix is a sure-fire way to increase stress levels. When we don’t get the rest we need, our ability to manage stress is impaired. We want you to feel your best so you can manage your eczema as well as possible. How can you improve your sleep? Keep your bedroom cool. Whether it’s by investing in lighter bedding or keeping the window open during the night, cooler temperatures will prevent you from getting too hot or sweating.
A chillier temperature will also prevent dust mites. Dust mites can trigger eczema outbreaks, so wash your bedding weekly and vacuum regularly to keep those pesky little bugs at bay. The best bedroom temperature for sleep is around 65°F or 18.3°C and may vary from person to person. Use wet wraps. According to the National Eczema Association’s medical advice, “wet wrap therapy can work wonders to rehydrate and calm the skin and help topical medications work better.” Moisturize before sleep. To prevent your skin from drying out during the night, moisturize your body about an hour before you go to bed to allow the cream to sink in. Look for a fragrance-free moisturizer with high oil content as it will be more effective at keeping moisture in and irritants out. Prioritize your bedtime routine. Relieving your eczema symptoms requires healthy sleep, and healthy sleep requires a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine. The body’s circadian rhythm is sensitive to light, diet, and exercise. For optimal sleep, try incorporating the following tips into your night-time routine: Read a book or listen to soothing music. Try not to eat heavy meals too close to bedtime and avoid caffeine. Painful as it might sound to coffee fanatics, you need to sip your last cup at least six hours before you plan to go to bed to avoid sleep disturbance. Some people break down caffeine more slowly, so may need to stop drinking coffee even earlier and stick to a maximum of 2-3 cups per day.
Blue light before sleep is a big no-no: smartphones, tablets, TVs, and laptops – all these devices can hinder your sleep quality if used within an hour or two of going to bed. If you have a child with eczema, this also means no video games before bedtime! Meditation. Not only can meditation help improve your sleep quality, but it can also reduce stress. To really get the benefits, try meditating every day before bed, even if it’s just for ten minutes. If you’re new to meditation, our Sidekick eczema program features mindfulness and stress-reduction techniques that will help you take back control of your health. From breathing exercises to daily meditation, your Sidekick can help you master the art of mindfulness and improve your sleep, stress levels, and overall quality of life. Your Sidekick can also guide you to create healthy daily habits that last, ultimately giving you the power to maintain a regular treatment plan and live with eczema in the most stress-free way possible. According to UK-based dermatologist Dr. Natasha Harper: “The program is enjoyable to use and full of useful information, and I believe it will be hugely beneficial for patients.”
If you’re living with eczema and would like to see what Sidekick can do for you, check out the Atopic Dermatitis program from Sidekick Health today. Sweet dreams.

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How to Manage Your Eczema Stress and Find Peace

By Atopic Dermatitis, Health Conditions, Mindfulness / Selfcare, Stress4 Comments

“I’m so stressed.” “This is so stressful.” “My stress levels are off the charts.” – and so on. You only need to be human to have uttered one or all of these statements at one point in your life. While short-term stress can be a good thing, a booster to inspire and motivate you, it can quickly become something that hinders your quality of life – especially for people with skin conditions like eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. What’s the link between eczema and stress? When humans experience stress, the body responds by entering fight-or-flight mode, which releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal glands to prepare the body for what’s coming. So far, so good. Cortisol is a great ally when the body is in balance. However, if we produce too much cortisol, the immune system becomes overactivated, which unsettles the balance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory forces in the body. This imbalance can cause an inflammatory skin reaction, like eczema. Stressful situations can unleash these itchy flare-ups, which, in turn, lead to more stress. Unfortunately, people with eczema are particularly vulnerable to this inflammatory response, and they often find themselves stuck in an itch-scratch cycle that’s difficult to break. The result? Possible sleep problems, anxiety, and even depression. The exact relationship between eczema and mental health is not entirely clear, but a recent survey conducted by the National Eczema Association showed that more than 30% of people with atopic dermatitis were diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety. The good news is that stress and the vicious circle it may cause can be managed with better habits, patience, and consistency over time. How can you manage your stress? Learning to manage stress is so important because, left undealt with, it can lead to more serious mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Molly, who lives with nummular eczema, says: “I didn’t realize how much stress triggered my eczema. When I was going through stressful situations in my personal life, I was absolutely covered in eczema and couldn’t stop itching. It wasn’t until I made a conscious effort to reduce my stress levels that I saw an improvement.” Here are some ways that you can help yourself reduce stress and hopefully keep severe eczema outbreaks to a minimum. Know your triggers. Sometimes we don’t know what stresses us out until it’s too late, and our hearts are pumping out of our chest, our palms are sweating, and our minds are racing. But if you can learn to identify your eczema triggers, you’re giving yourself a much better chance of either avoiding them or responding to them in a healthy way. While you might be familiar with your physical triggers, such as food allergies, certain fabrics, weather, temperature, humidity, skin oiliness, etc., it might be harder for you to pinpoint your mental triggers. To get on top of this, really listen to your body and learn to recognize when the flutter of stress is coming. Try keeping a daily trigger journal to help you keep track of life events, and when your eczema symptoms worsen – there might be a link! Try mindfulness. According to the Cambridge dictionary, ‘mindfulness’ means “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm.” These days it’s easy to get caught up in the past, the future, and endless worries about both, but mindfulness requires you to stay present. This might be easier said than done, but if you feel like a stressful situation is on the horizon, take a few minutes to breathe deeply and focus on your body. Mastering this will really help you develop a mind-body connection, something that will come in handy when stress is looming. The eczema program from Sidekick Health can help you practice mindfulness and introduce you to other daily habits that are useful for identifying and managing stress triggers. Medical professionals love the app, too; London-based Consultant Dermatologist, Professor Anthony Bewley, says: “Patient-centric education and support programs are immensely important for the holistic management of patients with the dermatological disease, especially programs which recognize the importance of patients’ psychological wellbeing. The app developed by Sidekick is a great way of empowering patients through the app’s programs and modules.”
Stay healthy. When we’re stressed, it’s totally common to comfort eat, drink more alcohol, or ramp up the caffeine. However, while all of these feel good in the moment, they can all lead to more stress, especially if you get itchy skin as a result. Plus, they won’t do your health any good. Instead, stay hydrated, feed yourself nourishing food and try to avoid too many coffees because caffeine is known to increase anxiety. Try to stay below 300-400mg of caffeine per day which is about 3-4 cups of coffee. Get outside. Research shows that being outside can reduce stress and anxiety. Outdoor activities such as walking, biking, swimming, and hiking can improve your mood and self-esteem. Physical activity also gets your blood circulation going, which increases the release of brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins which can improve your overall mood. Find a support group
Living with eczema can sometimes feel lonely, especially if you don’t have any family or friends who can relate to your condition. Whether online or in-person, finding a support group where you can talk with others living with eczema could give you feelings of comfort, solidarity, and “finally, someone who understands!” Talk to a professional. While these tips can help reduce stress, if you or a loved one continue to experience feelings of low mood, we recommend that you seek the help of a healthcare provider. Learning to take control of stress and understanding how to manage it takes practice, which is why we encourage you to check out the Sidekick Health eczema program. Stress management tools are central parts of our program, and, ultimately, we want these tools to become second nature to you and your wellbeing.

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