Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Train Your Brain

In Chinese Medicine, the brain and all logic and memory function arise from the Kidneys which create the marrow that fills the brain. It is a way of looking at mental functions as being closely related to the vigor of the constitution, the hormone system and the blood. As we age, these things tend to decline along with the Kidney essence.

Acupuncture uses herbs (Kidney tonics like He Shou Wu and Shu Di Huang) and treatment points (like Small Intestine 7 and Kidney 3) to fortify the Kidneys, along with recommending regular moderate exercise to keep the whole body, as well as the Kidneys and brain, healthy.

Along with exercising the body, it is important to exercise your brain to maintain skills – particularly memory and cognitive functions. Here is website tip for keeping your skills sharp:

Signing up is free and provides basic access to their games targeting five cognitive functions. They track your scores and progress. I’ve tried the free version of this website, and found it very simple – to start. It progresses quickly to more difficult exercises. The games are designed much like video games, with overly simplistic graphics, but they definitely challenge association and word skills. It also has options for things like “challenging a friend” and competing online. It is definitely worth trying for anyone who is concerned about losing mental functions with aging.

Byron Russell

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tips for Happiness in 2010

These are from Gretchen Rubin, writer of The Happiness Project. These tips don't address the more serious issues of depression, poor health, or severe life stress, but they are useful reminders for most of us as we make plans for the new year.

1. Do buy happiness.
Well, maybe money can't buy happiness, but spent wisely, it can buy things that contribute mightily to happiness. Some of the best things in life aren't free. To be happy, we need to feel loved, secure, good at what we do, and have a sense of control. Money doesn't automatically fill these requirements, of course, but it sure can help.

2. Don't get organized.
When I faced tackling the intimidating piles of clutter in my apartment and office, my first impulse was to run to a supply store to buy lots of organizing gizmos. Then I realized -- no! My first task was to get rid of things that I didn't need or didn't work. The most important tool in my clutter-clearing arsenal turned out to be trash-bags. (Here are 27 bonus tips for keeping your house in order.)

In many cases, after sorting through a pile, I found myself left with nothing to organize. Conquering clutter is a happiness booster because for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm.

3. Do let the sun go down on my anger.
In the past, I'd always conscientiously aired every complaint before bedtime. Studies show, however, that the notion of "anger catharsis" is nonsense. Venting anger related to minor, fleeting annoyances just amplifies bad feelings; not expressing anger often allows them to dissipate.

4. Don't insist on "the best."
There are two types of decision makers: satisficers seek to satisfy certain criteria; maximizers seek to make the best possible decision. Once satisficers find a tent or a watch that meets their requirements, they buy it; maximizers want to find the best tent or the best watch. Maximizers tend to be less happy than satisficers, because they agonize over their choices. I often remind myself of one of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood (cribbed from Voltaire): Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

5. Do embrace the fun of failure.
Positive psychologists tell us that challenge and novelty are key elements of happiness. Studies show that people who do new things -- learn a game, travel to unfamiliar places -- are happier than people who stick to the familiar. When I tested this proposition, I figured it wouldn't be true for unadventurous, routine-loving me, but to test it, I launched a blog. True, the novelty and challenge of my blog initially often brought me frustration and anxiety, as I had to face failing at multiple tasks until I figured them out, but mastering those tasks made me extremely happy.

6. Don't practice "random acts of kindness."
We've all been urged to practice random acts of kindness -- pay the toll for the next car in line, feed a parking meter, buy a stranger a cup of coffee. And studies do show that if you commit a random act of kindness, you'll feel happier. However, the person who is the beneficiary of your random act probably won't feel happier.

Research indicates that many people reacted to receiving a random act of kindness with -- suspicion! It's not the kindness of the act that's the problem; it's the randomness. We're on guard when we don't understand a person's actions. Of course, it's always nice to be nice, but if you want to boost other people's happiness as well as your own, practice non-random kindness. Help a co-worker who has a tight deadline. Let someone with a few items cut in front of you in the check-out line. If you look, you can probably find enough opportunity for non-random kindnesses to keep you busy.

7. Do "fake it till you feel it."
Although we assume that we act because of the way we feel, we often feel because of the way we act. An almost uncannily effective way to change my emotions, I discovered, was to act the way I wanted to feel. If I feel resentful, I act thoughtful. If I feel lethargic, I act energetic. If I smile, I feel happier. One experiment showed that people who used Botox may feel less angry, because they aren't able to make angry, frowning faces! Although it may seem insincere at first, controlling your actions is an effective way to change your feelings.

Byron Russell

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Free Skin Cancer Screening from the AAD

Skin Cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US. Fortunately, most skin cancers can be treated -- even melanoma early detection.

Here is a nice link from the American Academy of Dermatology. They schedule free skin cancer screenings in locations across the US -- usually in the month of May, which is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention month. The website warns that you should sign up early since the number of slots is limited, and they provide the option of signing up for an email notification when a screening is scheduled within 50 miles of your zip code.

They also have information on how to do a self-screening (with a mirror) and what to look for. Here are the Warning Signs, from the Skin Cancer Foundation:

The Warning Signs

* A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored
* A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that:
o changes color
o increases in size or thickness
o changes in texture
o is irregular in outline
o is bigger than 6mm or 1/4”, the size of a pencil eraser
o appears after age 21
* A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed
* An open sore that does not heal within three weeks

It is great to be checked regularly. Early detection is important, but prevention is even better. So, don't forget to put on your sunscreen, and to get lots of Vitamin D from fish oil, supplements, and fortified milk.

Byron Russell

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bittersweet Holidays

I see a lot of patients during the holiday season who are struggling with stress and depression. This is a particularly busy time for most people and can be difficult. But, the holidays can be a restorative and healthy time – if we let go of the stress, take time to take care of ourselves, and don’t expect too much from the season, or get dragged down by the past. Remember to schedule things like acupuncture, massage, mediation, and QUIET time with family and friends, doing things that you truly enjoy.

Here is an excerpt from Body + Soul magazine by writer Celina Ottaway, in which she describes her path to savoring the holidays after a lifetime of holiday stress and family explosions – making candied citrus peels.

Though I’m not much of a sweet tooth, I was drawn to this pot and the warm, fragrant mess inside. It was everything I felt about the holidays. Unlike the cheerful sweetness of pie or cookies, this was a pile of bitterness and discards boiling for hours and hours in sugar. It made me laugh – about my early years of family drama, my parents’ subsequent divorce, and the empty years that followed. My childhood meals with the crazy guests, and in later years, the crackle of phone lines carrying sad, broken voices. I didn’t have to pretend that none of it had happened. I didn’t have to forget the pain to appreciate that some of it was rib-rocking funny.

And, as it turns out, I didn’t need to choose between perfection and despair. I could start with something less ideal, something messier, more complicated, bitter even, and find my way to somewhere good. Something full of enough flavor to pull me from whatever haze I might be lost in, so could I taste, really taste, all the complicated sweetness that was mine to savor.

This is how I start the holiday season now. Late at night, after the children have gone to sleep, I bury my head in my husband’s back as he stirs the boiling peels on the stove. I savor the soft simmer of thickening syrup and the bitter tang of citrus. It’s the time when I can sink in, breathe, and let go. And in the peace of my kitchen, away from the songs and the symbols, where the only sounds are a slow gurgle and a scraping spoon, there is a moment as the last bubbles burst when the bitter and the sweet become one.

Byron Russell