Monday, 28 April 2014

My top 5 Things You Need to STOP doing to be happy

We've all been there before. We all have moments when we feel down and think or do things that we would not normally do. In my own personal experiences, I tend to think/do some of these things below. I thought I would put a top 10 list of some of these, as these actions and thoughts are neither therapeutic, nor are they helpful for our health and well-being.


1) Trying to be perfect and working yourself to craziness if you aren't.
Face it - no one is perfect. And while it is great to work hard to make goals, it is impossible to be excellent in all aspects of life. It is one thing to do your best, but it is quite a different thing to work excessively and not take breaks because you want to be 'perfect. Research shows that perfectionism leads to anxiety, depression, bad moods, and even a less healthy body. Instead or trying to be perfect, focus on the goals that you have, and see if they are reasonable. If not, make new ones. If they are reasonable, do not try to go overboard. Get the job done as best as you can - but then stop. Do not be extreme and work so hard that you are stressed, angry, sad, or anxious.

2) Trying to please others.
You can't. We are human, and that means we are hard to please. Trying to gain the approval of others is a daunting task. Note that I am not saying that you should not do your job. Nor am I saying that you should be rude and disrespect others. What I AM saying is that you need not pretend to be someone you are not, nor should you change the way you look or act simply to 'fit in'. You do not need to dress a certain way, like a sport, or even talk in some way just to get the approval of others. Why? People are never satisfied. Instead, gain the approval of YOURSELF. Learn to be happy with yourself and your accomplishments.

3) Thinking that if the worst thing can happen to you, it will.
Sure, you may be having a hard time. And yes, it doesn't look so great today. But really, how is thinking the worst going to help you? It won't. Don't waste your time trying to think of all the bad things that can make this day worse. Instead, try your hardest to think of something good in the day. Is this easy? No. But I guarantee that it will make you feel a lot better. Don't always pity yourself and think that you have the worst possible life - this isn't healthy and it likely isn't true. Everyone struggles and has their own worries, and you are not different. But that doesn't mean that life is \out to get you'. or that your life is all horrible and depressing. Take time to appreciate the small good things in your life - you will notice how manageable this makes even the hardest circumstances become. Every day might not be a good day, but there is good in every day.

4) Procrastinating.
Of course it is easier to forget about that assignment that is due in two weeks, than to start on it now. Or what about that file for work that you are supposed to read? Leaving things to the last minute, or procrastinating, is always the EASIER choice. But is it the smartest? No. Leaving things to the  last minute makes us stressed, anxious, and angry. We become so overwhelmed with things to do because we haven't done them in time. Stop this endless cycle! Make a list of things that need to be done, and use a calendar to keep track od due dates. And start your work ahead of time - you will notice how relieved you are when the due date approaches. You will be less stressed, and you may even have time to relax! Learn to organize and prioritize.

5) Forgetting to be kind to yourself.
We get caught up in buying gifts for others, running favours for our friends, and answering calls. But do you take the time to relax and breathe? Time for YOU. This means not answering all those texts, thinking about work, or rushing to get things done. It means taking the time to breathe, listen to nice music, or even buying yourself something nice as a reward for all your hard work. Stop living life in a rush - remember, you only have one life to live. Do you want it to go by without even ENJOYING it? No! Dedicate some time each day or week to yourself. Go out and buy something nice, eat a nice meal, get a massage, or read a funny book. Don't get caught up with others and forget YOURSELF!

For me, the top one seems to be number 1. I often try to do so well in all aspects of life that I forget that I too am human and cannot achieve this! I work myself over and over, trying to finish all my assignments, blog, work, and being a perfect sister and daughter...and nurse! But, reality is, I cannot do this. I am now more aware of this, and I will try my best to remind myself that I cannot be perfect - and that is okay and even normal!

Which one do you fall into the most? Now, look back and read that number again. Think about how often you fall into this little habit: when does it happen? What are you feeling or what is occurring when you think or act this way? This will help you determine how to get over this, as well as how to put an end to it. Being aware of what you do or think when stressed can help you fix it!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Sweets and ED brain changes

There seems to be a tendancy for many ED patients to avoid sweets or desserts. In fact, this is usually the first thing that patients 'cut out' from their diet when they begin to restrict. From one perspective, this makes sense: people can easily hide ED as simply eating heathier by not eating too many desserts. But, this is where things get a bit more interesting: if someone is dieting or cutting down on their desserts, they crave them. And when they want one, they can eat one without any guilt or massive anxiety. However, when a patient with ED is refeeding and is about to eat a dessert, they become anxious, angry, frustrated, and sometimes rebellious. Why the difference? Why is eating desserts or something sweet so hard for patients with ED? (NOTE: this does not apply to all patients; I am stating this out of my own personal experience as well as based on many others).

A study found that patients with ED have altered brain responses to eating desserts. ( Basically, the part of the brain (usually the insula) that becomes 'happy' or excited when we normally eat desserts does not function properly in ED. Instead of finding that eating something sweet makes us happy, our brains interpret this as being dangerous, frustrating, and unrewarding. As a result, our brains send messages that say 'desserts are not good. They are bad. Avoid them because they make you feel terrible. Do not eat desserts'. Can you see why eating sweet things would be so difficult for someone with ED? Their brain is constantly sending signals to AVOID this!

Is there a cure? Maybe. For me, eating anything used to be so hard - but desserts were extra hard. My brain was telling me 'NO!', and I was also scared of eating and gaining weight. At first, I did not eat many sweets. I remember in my first week of recovery, my 'snacks' were always fruits, nutrition bars, etc. Now, that isn't wrong - it is good to have a varity of things each day. What was wrong was that I ended up feeling so full after eating enough fruits to get my calorie intake, and I still kind of craved desserts. I wanted to try a brownie for so long, but my brain was saying NO. Eventaully, one day, I got tired of this constant battle. I told myself that I was going to sit myself down and eat a small brownie as an experiment. JUST ONE. And if I hated it, I would never have to have one again. If I liked it, maybe I could try other things too. So I did. I got a brownie for a snaak. And I liked it. NOTE: some people have tendancy to binge. If this is you (be honest) then doing this with a therapist or medical team may help you avoid the urge to binge on sweet foods.

It's all about exposure. If our brains are telling us that we should not eat sweets, it is going to be so hard to do so. But if you try it once, nothing bad will happen. Try it and see if you like it or not. I did. And now, I can safely say that I eat desserts all the time - in moderation, of course. Do I always feel great about it? No. Many times, I still feel fat and lazy for eating sweet things. Sometimes, ED shouts at me for being so stupid and eating something sugary. But this is all part of my recovery experience It needs to happen - I need to test this out and see what the worst is that can happen. My brain may be going through some series of imbalances, but that does not mean that I do not have control over sone of my decisions. I could not take this step at first in recovery - it took me a long time to get to this place. But it happened slowly, with time and patience and a lot of determination. So, while ED may alter the brain so that sweets are no longer pleasurable or 'safe', there is a way to get around it. Try it out and see what happens. And stay strong and hopeful that things do get eaiser as you work on them.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Happy Easter!

This coming weekend is Easter! I would like to wish you all a Happy Easter. This year is unique because my Easter, that is, for Coptic Orthodox Christians, is actually on the same day as for other Christians (it usually is not!). I hope everyone enjoy this wonderful time.

Why is Easter important? For Christians, Easter is more than just the death of Christ. It is realizing that Jesus - God, gave up His life for us. He saved us from our sins and took the burden upon Himself. God, in all His glory, chose to die for us. What humility and what love! Do you love others as this? Can you honestly say that your love for others mirrors how Christ loved us?

I can't. I wish I could - this is something I am trying to work on. This doesn't mean that I have to die for others, but it does teach me that I need to refine what I mean when I say that I am Christian. Am I Christian by name only, or do my actions show it? Can others see Christ through me?

The season of Easter is also a celebration; not just a remembrance of Christ's suffering. The celebration is in realizing that Jesus arose from the dead. Death cannot hurt us - God is alive! He has triumphed over death; we need not be worried about what the world can do to us. We have God to lean on, and He alone can give us peace and joy. We celebrate and  become joyous in knowing that we are not left alone to suffer in this world - God is near to those who believe and call on Him.

For those who are not Christian or do not celebrate Easter, I still urge you to take this time to spend it with those you love. Or, take the time to evaluate your life: what is going well now? What can be changed? Is there room for God in your life? Are you showing love and kindness to others? Is your life so focussed on work and money and sensual desires, that you have lost sight of what is truly important? What IS important to you? Take this time to make new goals. Easter is about starting anew: seeing that we are no longer the same as we are before, for we must learn to see that new beginnings can have powerful and positive changes in our lives.

So, Happy Easter to everyone! Rejoice that Christ in not dead; we are not alone in this world!

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

"But thanks be to God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ". (2 Corinthians 215:57)

Monday, 7 April 2014

ED and Medical Education

Throughout my studying, I noticed that very little information is available to students about ED. In elementary school, the focus of health teaching was on nutrition and how to avoid obesity. We hardly mentioned anorexia or bulimia. But what about in nursing or medical education in universities? Is it included? In my experience, not very much. Now, I know that obesity may seem to be more of an epidemic, but does that mean that we should not learn about ED and how to help our patients? Maybe it will be covered in a 'mental health' setting as opposed to general medical information. Bur I still feel that it should be given its time. As well, when ED is mentioned, I still believe that people are not getting the facts right. Let me explain...

One of my nursing textbooks (this is a paraphrase, not direct quote; nonetheless, the message is essentially the same) says that anorexia is a 'disease where young women feel overweight when they clearly not. They are irrational and perfectionist. Often dying from lack of body fat and nutrition, this girl typically is not engaged in sexual relationships and does not usually associate with others. She is preoccupied with food and weight, and this impairs her social life. Research shows that causes of anorexia nervosa are: having an unsteady relationship with one's mother, having overprotective parents, and not being permitted to express emotions in the family unit'. (I will not quote wher this is from out of respect to the authors, who honestly do a great job of explaining all other diseases - except for anorexia and eating disorders).

Do you spot the problem with the text? First, not all patients are 'irriational'. Yes, the fear of gaining weight may not seem proportional to the issue at hand, but it is a REAL fear because ED is a MENTAL illness. Calling patients irriational is, in my opinion, a bit harsh. Now, what about not being engaged in sexual or other relationships? There are MANY ED victims who are in a sexual relationship - it is not right to assume that their ED stops this from happening. And the social part? I was sick with ED and has lots of friends, and I spent a lot of time with them. Yes, ED may hinder some parts of our social lives, but it does not mean that we are loners. Lastly, the causes that they list are not supported by evidence. Maybe some people with ED have the above characteristics, but until now, no UPDATED and SUPPORTED research has shown that having overprotective parents or a bad mother causes ED. To blame a mental illness on such things is, in my opinon, unfair and biased.

What should we learn in medical school or nursing education? That ED is a MENTAL or psychological illness with many different causes and triggers, but no one thing solely causes it. In fact, a mix of genetics, brain chemistry, hormones, social amd personal factors interplay with one another. ED is also serious, and it is life-threatening. To characterize patients as perfectionist and irrational may be applicable to some patients, but maybe it would be more appropriate to say that patients with ED are usually perfectionist, and due to their mental illness (which they cannot control), they fear gaining weight and being fat. Finally, we need to focus on how ED should be treated and how we can help patients. Food is medicine, but so is therapy and expressing emotions. Helping the patient regain their lives that they lost due to ED is critical. Understanding and helping them see that they are victims and not the cause for their disorder is of the upmost importance. Not blaming the patient is NUMBER ONE.

Like with many mental illnesses, we still have a long way to go before medical education perfectly explains what ED is and how we can help our patients. We get so focussed on learning and teaching about other disorders like heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes, etc that we forget that mental health is deadly and serious as well. I think it's time that we put aside these wrong patterns of thinking and start to realize that as medical professionals, we need to learn about the other diseases that patients may present with - mental and emotional illnesses that require time, healing, trust, and empathy.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Published Again: Being Strong and Courageous

God is so good! He has yet allowed me to be published on Fr. Anthony's website. What a blessing!

This time, I write about a specific Bible verse and how it can motivate us to stay hopeful when times are tough. This is very important for all of us - even if you are not religious. The verse in the Bible tells us that we are not alone; God is always with us. You do not need to rely on yourself because God is with you and He will help you.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed? Tired? Frustrated? Angry? Hopeless? Sad? Stressed? I am sure these feelings are not strangers to most of us, if not all. Well, this post is about how to maintain hope, even in the toughest times. It is about staying hopeful and realizing that you are not alone in whatever you may do. It is about realizing that sometimes, we need to take time to breathe. Take time to know that you are not alone, that God is there for you. Pray and ask others, God first, to help you.

Lastly, stay hopeful. Tings always seem tough, but they get easier. Life will always throw challenges at you. But know that you are strong enough to get through this. YOU WILL SUCCEED. You will be stronger than this obstacle. And at the end of the experience, you will see that it made you stronger, wiser, and braver. And then you will see that you were never really alone - God, and those who love you, were always there. You just need to stay strong and courageous.

So, please take a look at this post and leave a comment here and there if you can! Thank you all for your love and support. Your kindness has kept me strong!