Mind-Body

Fight Back Against Seasonal Depression

As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, it’s not uncommon for people to suffer from SAD — that’s seasonal affective disorder. SAD “is a form of seasonal depression triggered by the change in seasons that occurs primarily in winter.” Make no mistake, seasonal depression is real depression, "It is important to treat SAD, because all forms of depression limit people's ability to live their lives to the fullest, to enjoy their families, and to function well at work," says Deborah Pierce, MD, MPH, clinical associate professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Everyday Health offered up 12 ways to ease and treat SAD, here are a few of our favorites:

“Try Light From A Box

Light therapy boxes give off light that mimics sunshine and can help in the recovery from seasonal affective disorder. The light from the therapy boxes is significantly brighter than that of regular light bulbs, and it's provided in different wavelengths. Typically, if you have SAD, you sit in front of a light box for about 30 minutes a day. This will stimulate your body's circadian rhythms and suppress its natural release of melatonin.

Talk With Your Doctor

Because SAD is a form of depression, it's best diagnosed by talking with a mental health professional. "There are a number of screening questions that can help determine if someone is depressed," Dr. Pierce says. "Your doctor will be able to sort out whether you have SAD as opposed to some other form of depression." 

Get Moving

As it does with other forms of depression, exercise can help alleviate seasonal affective disorder, too. Outdoor exercise would be most helpful. But if you can't exercise outside because it's cold or snowy, choose a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical machine close to a window at the gym.

Let the Sunshine In

If you have seasonal depression or wintertime seasonal affective disorder, you'll want to get outside as much as you can during the day and take advantage of what sunlight there is. If you live where it's cold, be sure to bundle up, but take a stroll around the block at noon or soon after — that's when the sun is brightest."

Regardless of the methods you choose to ease the impact of SAD on your life, it’s critical to be proactive. Taking just a couple of the steps above can make a major difference in how you handle the transition into winter, as well as the entire season itself.


Build a Stronger Immune System

It’s safe to say that most of us are doing as much as we can to stay healthy right now. But what’s the best way to build the immune system? Well, there isn’t just one answer. To optimize the body’s ability to fight off illness it’s best to adopt a holistic approach. It’s not just doing one thing, it’s doing many things that, together, support overall health and immunity. 

Women’s Health highlighted three main areas of focus and had some experts weigh in on the best immunity-optimizing habits.

Nail Your Sleep Routine

Sleep—specifically getting at least seven hours most nights—might be the Most Important Thing. “The best data we have about how to improve immunity is on getting the right amount of good sleep,” says E. John Wherry, director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania. People who got six hours of shut-eye a night or less for one week were about four times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to a virus compared to those who got more than seven hours, according to a study published in the journal Sleep

“If my sleep schedule gets off track, I recommit to consistent wake-up and bedtimes—even on weekends.” – María de la Paz Fernández, Columbia University

Sharpen Your Stress Reaction

It’s well established that stress prompts the release of cortisol, that fight-or-flight hormone that enables you to run for your life. When cortisol is high, your immune system isn’t as active, says Daniel M. Davis, PhD, professor of immunology at the University of Manchester in England.

Don’t stress? I’ll just give up now, you’re thinking. Stay calm and try this: Instead of attempting to eliminate negativity, refine the way you cope—which will make the blues more manageable and mitigate that cortisol response, Davis says. 

“I am a huge believer in the power of gratitude. It’s not woo-woo or weird—it works and we have the science to back it up. I start and finish my days by identifying three specific things that I am grateful for.” – Joy Lere, psychologist

Exercise Smarter

Working out creates inflammation in the body, but it’s the good kind, says Wherry. “It’s a little counterintuitive, because exercise actually disrupts your body’s homeostasis,” he says. But when your sweat sesh is finished, your bod goes back to its status quo—keeping your immunity on its toes in that brilliant way, he says. Research backs this up: Folks who exercise regularly develop more T cells (those destroyer white blood cells) than their sedentary peers.

“I aim to get 20 to 30 minutes of movement every day. Consistent, moderate exercise allows your body to recover and build immunity quicker than over-exercising or not exercising at all.” – Lisa Ballehr, D.O., Institute of Functional Medicine

Boosting the immune system isn’t just about drinking this or doing that, it’s about building a foundation of good habits that work together to keep us healthy. It starts with sleep, stress and exercise and extends to food and drink, personal hygiene and beyond. Just remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.


The Best Apps for Cancer Patients

There are so many challenges that come with the fight against cancer. Beyond the physical battle against the disease, patients also need to manage treatments and medications, remember an array of appointments, track progress — even discover communities of other patients and build support systems. 

In today’s digital age, it should come as no surprise that there are incredible apps designed with the specific needs of cancer patients in mind. The International Oncology Network highlighted their three favorites:

BELONG

Designed to mimic a social media platform – but one for cancer patients.

The app can help you find the right support groups for almost all types of cancers. It will also give you access to leading researchers who are there to answer all the questions a cancer patient or their family members might have.

The app also helps people find clinical trials for most types of cancers and lets you input medical records, which can then be shared with family members and medical personnel.

Cancer.Net Mobile

It was developed to help people plan and manage care. Starting from the diagnosis of cancer, through exact treatment methods, and further, the app has proven to be a beneficial tool for many patients.

The app continually keeps track of your symptoms, medications, appointments, questions, and healthcare providers. There are a lot of features that are there to help cancer patients organize their life with the disease and find the answers they need for more than 120 different types of cancer.

CareZone

Plan your care notes, remember treatments, set reminders, summarize your drug administration protocols, and more. 

You can also take pictures of medications, supplements, prescriptions, and keep it all organized in one place, so you never forget when and what you need to take.

CareZone is a full-blown health app as well as it lets you track essential health stats like sleep, blood glucose, weight, and more.

The best thing about CareZone is the fact that all of the information in the app can also be accessed on a browser and downloaded when needed. “

Designed to help cancer patients get all the information they need, connect with other patients and track their battle against the disease, these incredibly useful apps can, hopefully, make the journey a little more manageable.


The Best Products for Breast Cancer Patients

It can be hard to know how to prepare for life with breast cancer (it can also be hard to buy a gift for someone battling the disease), but there are products out there that can help to make an unfortunate situation a bit more comfortable. We assembled a few of our favorites to make things easier during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and every month after that.

Athleta Empower Bra

Co-created with women who have had mastectomies to offer the most in comfort and design.

NatraCure Cold Therapy Socks

Cold therapy is frequently used to provide comfort during chemotherapy or to help prevent hair loss, skin changes and other aches and inflammation.

The Breast & Chest Buddy Seatbelt Cushion

Car rides get comfier with this little pillow that can be attached to a seatbelt to provide soft and and flexible cushioning. 

AnaOno Miena Robe

Developed by a breast cancer survivor, a comfortable, lightweight robe perfect for treatment and recovery with a button-in drain management belt.

Bed Wedge Pillow with Memory Foam

Reduces the strain of getting up while providing long lasting comfort overnight.

Kit Undergarments 

A brand with a purpose, KiT makes products for every woman, including a line of pink undergarments that support the World Cancer Research Fund during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

These products cover every stage of the breast cancer journey, and there are many more that help to make fighting and coping with the disease a little easier. If you have any must-have products for cancer patients, let us know.


Five Tips to Get Through Radiation

Radiation therapy is part of the cancer journey for many, and while radiation may not hurt, it can have side effects that impact one’s hair, skin, sleep and appetite—this can become both mentally and physically draining for patients.

But those side effects can be managed. Rethink Breast Cancer put together five tips for getting through radiation treatment that canhelp give patients a better quality of life.

“1. Moisturize your skin.

Start using a water-based moisturizer after each treatment right away, even before any redness or dryness appears. Check with your radiation oncologist to see if there is a specific type or brand of moisturizer they prefer you use, but it’s best to stick to something mild and fragrance-free. Aquaphor and Glaxal Base are popular choices for people undergoing radiation, but go with whatever works for you. 

2. Get rid of the itch!

After a few weeks, you may develop some itching. If the itching is fairly mild, try aloe vera or an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. If the itching worsens, talk to your doctor who should be able to prescribe something more effective.

3. Ditch the bra.

If possible, go braless whenever you can to prevent irritation around the breast area, and definitely try to avoid underwires. It’s also a good idea to stick to loose clothes and t-shirts. Use this time as an excuse to be comfy and casual — you’ll be glad you did.

4. Become a shade-worshipper.

Stay out of the sun while you’re undergoing radiation. If you can’t avoid exposure, make sure to cover up the area where you’re receiving your radiation. It’s best to keep this up even after treatment has ended, because your radiated skin will be more sensitive to the sun. If you are outside, use sunblock. You can also purchase a rash guard/cover-up to wear when you go swimming, which will give you full coverage protection. 

5. Rest!

Radiation treatments typically come with less severe side effects than chemotherapy, and as a result many people find it easier. However, the cumulative effects of radiation paired with other treatments you’ve gone through can add up to some major fatigue by the time you’re finished. Remember to take it easy and practice self-care. Schedule some downtime throughout and after your treatments (Netflix, anyone?), and make sure to get ample rest.” 

A proper self-care regimen can make a big difference in reducing the severity of radiation therapy side effects and coming out on the other side stronger than ever.


Exercise Your Emotions

2020 has been interesting…to say the least. Throughout the year, we’ve all had to deal with stresses big and small. And we’ve all had to learn how to keep going. One other thing we’ve learned, for certain, is that our emotional fitness is right up there with our physical fitness in terms of staying happy and healthy throughout some tough times.

Women’s Health outlined 31 ways we can exercise our emotions to ensure the challenges we face don’t weigh us down. Here are a few of our favorites:

Think of one good happening from your day before bed.

“It’s a trick I learned from [happiness expert] Shawn Achor that’s stuck—two minutes is maintainable,” says Dan Harris, ABC News anchor and cofounder of 10 Percent Happier. Try it, and channeling positivity and gratitude daily will become routine.

Take a recess.

Play is an undervalued pillar of emotional fitness, Anhalt says. The definition: Play is all about a meeting of the minds and letting yourself think outside of what feels possible or logical—as in brainstorms or word games with friends.

Change your view of the present.

If you’ve lost any crucial parts of your identity—whether that comes from an injury, a job loss, the end of a relationship, a move—consider other positives of the current moment. “It may not be the year for making money, but it may be the year for your meditation practice or your creativity,” says Ingber. When you try this, “it shows you that you are none of these things you thought defined you.”

Repeat this quote to help quell anxiety:

“Trust future you to handle future problems.” In other words, whatever happens in the future will be handled…then, says Anhalt. No use worrying about it now.

Get out in nature.

Expose yourself to the great outdoors every day to reap some mental health benefits—there is a strong body of scientific literature to show that spending time in a green space can have positive effects on your mental well-being. Harris lives by this rule daily: "I really made it a huge priority to walk in Central Park pretty much every day," he says. "Even if I'm doing a phone call, I try to do it while walking through the park if I can."

There are so many ways we can power up our emotional resilience, and most of them only take a few moments from a 24-hour day. Find the ones that work best for you and keep going strong.


Cancer and the Flu, Be Prepared

If you’re a cancer patient, survivor or a caregiver, you may be wondering about what to do this flu season to protect yourself, a patient or a family member. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a flu shot for everyone over six-months old, but how does this apply to those affected by cancer? Are there any risks? We rounded up a couple of questions and answers from the CDC to make sure you’re prepared for flu season.

“Should Cancer Patients and Survivors Get a Flu Shot?

Yes. Injectable influenza vaccines are approved for use in people with cancer and other health conditions. The flu shot has a long, established safety record in people with cancer.

People who live with or care for cancer patients and survivors also should be vaccinated against seasonal flu.

Are Cancer Patients and Survivors More Likely to Get the Flu Than Others?

We don’t know this specifically. But we do know that cancer may increase your risk for complications from the flu. If you have cancer now or have had certain types of cancer in the past (such as lymphoma or leukemia), you are at higher risk for complications from the flu.”

While cancer patients or survivors may not be more likely to get the flu, they are more likely for complications from the flu, so it’s important to protect them with a flu shot and perhaps even an additional pneumococcal vaccination. You can also take other preventative steps like washing your hands, limiting close contact with others and—of course—wearing a mask.


Warm Up to Cold Showers

Let’s just get this out of the way: cold showers are uncomfortable. We get it, there’s a reason the Ancient Greeks invented heating systems for their baths. On a cold day, an early morning, honestly whenever, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of a warm, blanket-y shower. That being said, what if we told you that cold showers could have a positive impact on both your health and your weight? Would you consider a change to your routine?

According to Daniel Wallen of Lifehack, cold showers can help you burn fat. Wallen writes that “exposure to cold temperatures increased the metabolic rate of brown fat by fifteen fold, which could help a person drop nine pounds in a year if sustained.” That’s right, cold showers activate our good fat to fight against our bad fat.

Cold showers also aid in recovery after exercise. You probably know that athletes take ice baths after a hard workout or game to reduce soreness, “but you can obtain a similar benefit with a quick cold shower after your training sessions,” according to Wallen. And strong recovery means strong workouts. 

Wallen continues to explain how cold showers can help us stay alert and energized. Makes sense, right? We all know that rush (for better or worse) of jumping into cold water—that translates to showers, too. Wallen explains that “when cold water pours over your body, your breathing deepens in response to the shock of the cold (this is your body trying to keep you warm by increasing overall oxygen intake). Your heart rate will also increase, resulting in a rush of blood through your body that will help you get energized for the day. 

Cold showers can also help to keep you healthy, literally. Cold showers speed up your metabolism, which triggers your immune system to release “virus-fighting white blood cells that will help you get sick less frequently.” Definitely worth a few minutes of cold.

Lastly, cold showers can help your skin. “Hot water dries out your skin, while cold water tightens your cuticles and pores, preventing them from getting clogged.” This can help reduce acne and cut down on breakouts, leaving your confidence sky high.

So, are you convinced yet? If you want to give cold showers a try but aren’t ready to brave the low temperatures from start to finish, try alternating. Simply turn the water from hot to cold every 30-60 seconds, your body will still reap the benefits of cold and the comforts of warmth.


How to Meditate at Home

Meditation is a centuries-old practice for reducing stress and anxiety, enhancing mental wellbeing and, in many cases, improving overall health. Nowadays, mental-health apps are starting to bring meditation more into the mainstream and while some people meditate in groups, many more meditate at home.

How can you start your own at-home meditation routine? Mindworks has some tips:

Think about your motivation
Are you meditating because you want to manage stress, sleep better, or cope with chronic pain? If so, you may do well with guided meditation, relaxation meditation, or chanting. Are you looking to gain insights into the mind? This is the true goal of mindfulness and awareness meditation. Is your primary objective to develop qualities such as patience, empathy and generosity? Gratitude meditation is a good choice (if you can do a morning gratitude meditation it can benefit your whole day). Do you want to go deeper into your relationship with the divine presence? Spiritual meditation can take you there.

Start small and work your way up
While learning how to meditate at home, it’s important to start with small, manageable sessions. Even three minutes will make a difference. It might sound super short, but for some beginners, sitting in awareness for a few minutes feels like forever. Starting with short sessions also helps you to gain the momentum you’ll need to sustain your practice in the long run. As many meditation experts suggest, the quality of your meditation is more important than the length.

Pick a convenient time and comfortable spot
One of the best ways to meditate at home is to find a quiet place away from noisy distractions. Pick a time that’s convenient for you. Early morning is a perennial favorite time to meditate since this time of day is generally peaceful and there are few interruptions. You’ll also need to find a comfortable position. While some meditators like sitting in the lotus position, there are other good options. You can sit on a meditation cushion, chair or even a couch, so long as you feel comfortable and you can sit up straight. Do your best to find a position where your spine is aligned. Your neck and shoulders should be relaxed, and your eyes can be half open or shut during the meditation session.

Try a guided meditation
Since you’re just beginning, guided meditation can add a welcome structure to your practice. Mindworks App is a complete resource that offers Guided Meditations, Mind Talks, inspirational Daily Cups and much more, all developed and curated by internationally-known meditation experts. Have a seat, choose from the guided meditations, and enjoy the journey.

Focus
Whatever form of meditation you choose, awareness of the present moment is key. When you meditate, you train in being aware of whatever object of meditation you’ve chosen. There will be distractions in the form of sounds, odors, sensations of discomfort, tension, itching, etc. In addition, there will be distractions that your mind will produce all on its own: to-do lists, things you should have done or said, things you plan to do or say, emotions, daydreams… the list is endless. To help the mind stay focused on the here and now, one of the best ways to meditate at home is to focus on the process of breathing.

Goodness
Trungram Gyalwa, a renowned meditation master from the Himalayas, teaches that compassion is a fundamental quality that’s hard-wired in all of us. Meditation helps us control negative emotions (such as anger and envy) and uncover positive qualities such as loving, kindness and compassion. Meditation gives us all the tools we need to develop the goodness that already exists within. “

Now that you have the tools to begin your meditation routine, all you have to do is carve out some time for yourself and begin. Ready? 3…2…ohm.