Seizures 101: What You Need to Know

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A Man Has A Seizure

A seizure is not only scary for the person experiencing it, but it’s also terrifying for the people who may be witnessing the epileptic attack. Let’s take a look at what you need to know about this neurological brain disorder.

Overview of Epilepsy & Seizures

You probably already know that epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes “unprovoked seizures.” These are sometimes characterized by uncontrollable movements, changes in sensation, or loss of consciousness.

The exact cause of a seizure is not always known (a term called “idiopathic”), but it can be caused by low blood sugar, a chemical imbalance, a stroke, or even drug and alcohol abuse. People can also be born with an epileptic condition that’s passed down from a parent, or they may have seizures due to neurological damage from a brain injury.

Sometimes called “electrical storms in the brain,” seizures can take on many forms, but they all have a beginning, middle, and an end.

Beginning: Aura Phase

Before a seizure occurs, some people experience a change in feelings, thoughts, or behavior. This experience is known as an “aura” and it can be a warning sign of an impending epileptic attack. Some people with epilepsy never experience an aura, in which case a seizure may begin unexpectedly with loss of consciousness or awareness.

Middle: Ictal Phase

The ictal phase, or middle of a seizure, starts after the first seizure symptom (including an aura) and is characterized by both physical as well as emotional changes. Although symptoms may vary, some people experience:

  • Black outs
  • Hearing loss
  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion
  • Numbness or tingling sensations in the body
  • Unusual smells or tastes
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Drooling
  • Rapid eye blinking
  • Violent tremors or twitching
  • Convulsions
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Heart racing

End: Postictal Phase

As the seizure starts to dissipate, the body enters the “postictal phase,” or the recovery stage. Some people feel normal again immediately after the seizure while others may take several minutes or even hours to fully recover. Common symptoms after a seizure may include:

  • Tiredness
  • Memory loss
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Anxiousness
  • Frustration or embarrassment
  • Soreness
  • Physical injuries from falling (e.g. bruises, cuts, broken bones, etc.)
  • Nausea
  • Thirst
  • Weakness
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

Common Seizure Triggers

Certain situations can make some people more prone to seizures, while others may have them without a known cause. If recognized early these so-called “seizure triggers” can help epileptics take precautions to limit the chances of having an attack. In general, some of the most common seizure triggers include:

  • Lack of sleepBlue and Red Stage Lights
  • Failing to take epilepsy medication
  • Stress
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Flashing or flickering lights (photosensitive epilepsy)
  • Menstruation (periods)
  • Malnourishment

Treating Epilepsy

In America, it’s estimated that more than 1 out of 100 people (1 percent) have epilepsy. That’s about 2.7 million Americans! While the numbers may seem surprising, epilepsy can be treated with medication (anticonvulsant drugs) and changes in a person’s lifestyle. These treatment methods are effective in reducing the frequency and severity of seizures, but there are still about 30 percent of epileptics who cannot fully control their condition.

Although it’s less common, some people may have surgery for epilepsy if they don’t respond to medication. In most cases, this can reduce or eliminate seizures, but the procedure requires a surgeon to remove parts of the brain. Other treatment options include diet as well as electrical stimulation.

If you or someone you know has epilepsy, you can download free mobile apps to your smartphone to help you manage and track your condition. The Seizure Log by Seizure Tracker, LLC, for example, is a free tool you can use to keep a record of your seizures, and you can even record them with video so you can show your doctor. Epilepsy Tool Kit by MCM Net Limited is another mobile app for people who have epilepsy and it features a medication reminder, seizure diary, as well as other helpful resources.

What to Do When Someone Is Having a Seizure

You should contact an emergency center right away if the seizure lasts more than five minutes, or if a person has a second seizure shortly after the first. Also, if the person cannot be awakened after the seizure, then you should seek medical attention immediately.

In general, it’s best not to restrain a person or put anything in his or her mouth during a seizure. Instead, here are few things you can do:

  • Loosen ties, shirt collars, scarfs, or any other articles of clothing around the person’s neck
  • Remove any items that may cause possible injury, such as glass or sharp objects
  • Move the person away from dangerous areas such as a fire, a balcony, or traffic
  • Calm the person by talking to him or her and encourage bystanders to stay back
  • If the person is on the ground, place a cushion behind his or her head to protect against head trauma
  • After the seizure has ended, turn the person on his or her side to keep an open airway

Sports Injuries: The Dangers of a Concussion

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Concussion Word Cloud

Concussions are becoming an increasing problem in sports today, and the damage from these substantial head injuries can have lasting effects. If you’re a sports fan you’ve probably heard a lot about concussions in the news lately. In fact, the NFL estimates that three out of ten retired football players will face some sort of debilitating brain condition, such as Alzeihmer’s disease, dementia, Loug Gehrig’s disease, or Parkinson’s.

Sounds pretty scary, huh? Let’s take a moment to review the dangers of a concussion and how you can treat a head injury safely.

Traumatic Brain Injury: Overview, Symptoms, & Treatment

What exactly is a concussion?

A concussion is an injury that results when a person receives trauma to the head. When a person sustains a “concussion,” it simply means the nerve endings of the brain have become damaged from forceful impact. This results when the brain collides with the skull or, in more powerful collisions, the back of the head.

Symptoms

While not all symptoms may be present, a concussion can occur from even minor trauma to the head. These symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Memory loss
  • Ringing in ears
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired judgment
  • Lack of balance and coordination

Treatment

Aside from adequate rest, the best way to treat a concussion is to avoid physical or mentally strenuous activities. It’s also important to note that a person shouldn’t sleep immediately after sustaining a concussion, as this can put a person at risk of a potentially life-threatening condition called, “subdural hematoma” (a deposit of blood that increases pressure to the brain, causing unconsciousness or death).

If you or your athlete experience loss of consciousness, vomiting, or seizures days after sustaining a concussion, consult your doctor or healthcare provider immediately.

Sideline Concussion Evaluation

When an athlete sustains a blow to the head, it’s best to take the player to an emergency room for immediate medical attention. If your team has an athletic trainer or a team physician, you can complete a basic “sideline” concussion test before going to the emergency room to determine your player’s condition. This test should include the following:

  • A physical examination of the player for concussion symptoms
  • A short-term memory test (e.g. recalling the injury, play, score, etc.)
  • A long-term memory test (e.g. recalling name, address, date of birth, etc.)
  • A test of the player’s ability to stay alert during a complex task (e.g. reciting the ABCs backwards)

When is it safe to return to play?

Regardless of the severity, all athletes who sustain a concussion should consult with a healthcare professional before returning to the field. Why? Because if a player receives another head injury while still healing from a prior concussion, then a potentially fatal injury called “second impact syndrome” could develop.

To be cleared for play, a medical evaluation will need to be conducted to determine whether concussion symptoms still persist. At most emergency centers, a doctor will clear a player for play after a simple physical examination—i.e. a series of tests that look for signs of a concussion. However, this method is not entirely accurate and there is still a chance that the brain may not be completely healed even after symptoms have dissipated.

Because of this, it’s best to have a neurocognitive evaluation before suiting up for a game. Known as the ImPACT Test, this evaluation is a computerized test that can determine whether brain function, a symptom that cannot be identified in a physical evaluation, has returned to normal after a concussion.

At Elite Care, we offer comprehensive neurocognitive testing to ensure that it’s safe to resume practice and games after a concussion. If you or your little athlete sustain a head injury—even minor trauma—be sure to contact us today.

Treating Snakebites in Texas

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As the population continues to grow throughout the Texas triangle and communities begin to stretch out into untouched areas, encounters with venomous snakes inevitably occur. The CDC estimates that 7,000–8,000 people per year receive venomous bites in the United States—of those only about five people die from the snakebite each year. The number of deaths would be significantly higher if medical care was not sought immediately following a bite. It is important to educate yourself, your children, and your colleagues about their risk of exposure to venomous snakes and how they can prevent and protect themselves from snakebites—as well as what they should do if they are bitten.

Prevention at home

Snakes are drawn to homes, in general, for the specific purpose of seeking food and/or shelter. Here are some tips to avoid encounters with snakes around your home:

  • Keep your yard (and any barns, storage areas, and livestock sheds) as uncluttered as possible by clearing away undergrowth, toys, and tools that make great hiding places for snakes.
  • Keep trash dumps, livestock pens, woodpiles, and brush piles as far as possible from the residence. Be extremely cautious when working in these areas.
  • Quickly clean up any spilled food, fruit or birdseed, which can attract rats and mice—and therefore snakes—to your yard.
  • Never put an arm or leg into an area if you cannot see the bottom.
  • Overturned boats, tarps, or any debris that harbors a secluded space all provide excellent shelter and protection for transient snakes
  •  Keep walkways clear of brush, flowers and shrubs.

Prevention in the field

Venomous snakes are more common in rural areas of Texas—and a bite can potentially be much more dangerous the father from town you are. It is important for hunters, ranchers, hikers, rural residents, and others who frequent these areas to exercise caution:

  • When walking your pet, keep him on a leash.
  • Be very aware of where you’re putting your hands and feet. Take your time and don’t reach or step until you see the bottom.
  • Animal burrows are a snake’s favorite hiding place. Never reach your hand it without checking first.
  • Wear protective clothing, preferable heavy footwear and snake-proof pants, when working for long periods of time in rural areas.
  • If you know a snake is nearby but can’t see it yet, FREEZE and allow the snake to retreat. If you spot the snake, slowing back away the same way you came.

Treatment

Oh no, a snake has bitten you! If there is any suspicion the snake is venomous: Call 911 or get to an Emergency Center immediately—then:

  • Move the victim beyond striking distance of the snake.
  • Note the snake’s appearance since you’ll asked to describe the snake to emergency personnel. If you can’t identify the snake—don’t pursue it.
  • Remove constricting clothing or jewelry surrounding the bite area and prevent movement, if possible.
  • Keep the victim as still (and calm) as possible to prevent the venom from spreading.
  • Have the victim lie down, with the wound above the heart.

DO NOT:

  • Wait for symptoms to appear if bitten—seek immediate medical attention
  • Cut the wound
  • Attempt to suck out the venom
  • Give the victim caffeine or alcohol
  • Apply a tourniquet, water, or ice

Is This Snake Venomous?

How well can you identify the venomous snakes in Texas?

Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room AWARDED ACCREDITATION FROM THE JOINT COMMISSION

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Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for accreditation by demonstrating GoldSeal_4color Joint Commissioncompliance with The Joint Commission’s national standards for health care quality and safety in ambulatory care facilities. The accreditation award recognizes Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room’s dedication to continuous compliance with The Joint Commission’s state-of-the-art standards.

“With Joint Commission accreditation, we are making a significant investment in quality on a day-to-day basis from the top down. Joint Commission accreditation provides us a framework to take our organization to the next level and helps reinforce a culture of excellence,” says Maureen Fuhrmann, CEO.  “Achieving Joint Commission accreditation, for our organization, is a major step toward maintaining excellence and continually improving the care we provide.”

Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room underwent rigorous on-site surveys in July, 2014.  A team of Joint Commission expert surveyors evaluated Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Rooms for compliance with standards of care specific to the needs of patients, including infection prevention and control, leadership and medication management.

“Elite Care employees were successful in preparations for the survey and in developing improvements to meet the Commission’s state-of-the-art standards on a continuous basis,” said Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room’s Associate VP of Operations, Tracey Garman, who serves as the Elite Care’s accreditation liaison.

“In achieving Joint Commission accreditation, Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room has demonstrated its commitment to the highest level of care for its patients,” says Mark G. Pelletier, R.N., M.S., chief operating officer, Division of Accreditation and Certification Operations, The Joint Commission. “Accreditation is a voluntary process and I commend Elite Care 24 Hour Emergency Room for successfully undertaking this challenge to elevate its standard of care and instill confidence in the communities it serves.”

Founded in 1951, The Joint Commission seeks to continuously improve health care for the public, in collaboration with other stakeholders, by evaluating health care organizations and inspiring them to excel in providing safe and effective care of the highest quality and value. The Joint Commission evaluates and accredits more than 20,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States, including more than 10,600 hospitals and home care organizations, and more than 6,600 other health care organizations that provide long term care, behavioral health care, laboratory and ambulatory care services. The Joint Commission also certifies more than 2,400 disease-specific care programs such as stroke, heart failure, joint replacement and stroke rehabilitation, and 400 health care staffing services. An independent, not-for-profit organization, The Joint Commission is the nation’s oldest and largest standards-setting and accrediting body in health care. Learn more about The Joint Commission at www.jointcommission.org.

Will a glass of wine a day keep the doctor away?

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Man Drinking Red Wine

You may have heard that drinking alcohol is unhealthy, but some researchers believe that red wine is actually beneficial to your health. Of course, these scientists are not recommending that you start drinking in excess, but they say a moderate amount (such as a glass of wine at dinner) may be optimal, especially for your heart.

Not all scientists, however, are convinced that red wine is beneficial to your health. In fact, some believe it’s a myth. So before you take a toast to your good health, let’s review what researchers believe to be true so far.

The Health Benefits of Red Wine

Red wine contains antioxidants called “resveratrol” that may prevent heart disease by increasing levels of “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) and decreasing levels of “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein). This ingredient is also believed to protect against blood clots and damage to the blood vessels, providing improved cardiovascular health. But the antioxidant effect of red wine may have other benefits aside from the heart and blood vessels.

Researchers at the University of California say that the phytochemicals found in red wine may protect against diabetes, cancer, as well as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Some researchers even speculate that red wine may also improve memory, lower cholesterol, and, in addition to exercise, may increase your life.

While these health benefits are great for oenophiles (i.e. wine connoisseurs), there’s a limit to how much you should be drinking. In general, you should probably limit your alcohol consumption if you find yourself finishing a whole bottle of wine in a single sitting.

How much alcohol should I drink?

Excessive drinking can be especially harmful to the body, particularly to the liver and the heart, but moderate drinking (e.g. four ounces of wine) may be the most beneficial to your health. In fact, researchers at Harvard University found that the “regularity of consumption” had more of a health effect than the amount of alcohol consumed, suggesting that moderate drinking is key.

“Having seven drinks on a Saturday night and then not drinking the rest of the week isn’t at all the equivalent of having one drink a day,” warns researchers at the university.

Type of Wine Matters

For health-conscious wine drinkers, researchers at the University of California recommend drinking Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Syrah, and Pinot Noir. These wines have the highest concentrations of flavonoids, an ingredient that gives wine its antioxidant qualities. Sweeter white wines such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc have fewer flavonoids and thus less health benefits.

Are the benefits of red wine being exaggerated?

Some studies suggest that drinking red wine for a boost of resveratrol may actually have little to no effect on your health. In an article published by JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found no correlation between death and resveratrol—nor did they find a link between resveratrol and inflammation, heart disease, and cancer.

“The story of resveratrol turns out to be another case where you get a lot of hype about health benefits that doesn’t stand the test of time,” says Richard D. Semba of John Hopkins University School of Medicine. “The thinking was that certain foods are good for you because they contain resveratrol. We didn’t find that at all.”

While this is bad news for wine drinkers, more research will need to be conducted to fully understand if the health benefits of red wine and resveratrol are being exaggerated.

A Guide to Proper Hand Washing

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Washing Hands. Cleaning Hands. Hygiene

Regular hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of germs to yourself and other people around you. While it’s impossible to keep your hands completely germ-free, you may infect others with germs that can cause an infectious disease—such as the cold or influenza—when you don’t wash your hands. Even if they look clean, your hands may contain micro germs, so it’s a good idea to keep your hands away from your eyes, mouth, and nose to limit exposure to bacteria.

With summer winding down and fall approaching, flu season is just around the corner—and proper hand washing is a great way to protect against the spread of diseases.

Do you wash your hands effectively?

Although it may seem like common sense, many people don’t wash their hands effectively (or worst not at all). In a hand washing study conducted by Michigan State University, roughly 10 percent of the 3,749 participants didn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, and about a third washed their hands without using soap. Most of these people washed their hands for an average of six seconds, much shorter than the recommended 20 seconds advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While these numbers may be surprising, the best way to combat this problem is to know when and how to wash your hands.

When should you wash your hands?

It’s best to wash your hands anytime you come in contact with something that is touched by many people. This includes: escalator rails, door handles, faucets, computer keyboards, money, and gasoline pumps. If possible, use a paper towel when touching these and or disinfect your hands immediately after use.

According to the CDC, here are the best times to wash your hands:

  • After using the restroom
  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
  • After petting an animal or cleaning up animal droppings
  • After changing a child’s diaper
  • After taking out the garbage
  • Before and after handling or eating food (especially raw meat and fish)
  • Before and after assisting someone who is sick
  • Before and after cleaning a cut or wound

5 Steps to Washing Your Hands

Washing with clean water and soap is the most effective way to clean your hands, but there are alternatives if this is not an option. Hand sanitizing liquid or sanitizing wipes work well to kill germs on your hands, and you can buy them in compact travel sizes for your car, purse, or backpack. But when there’s water and soap available, it’s usually best to wash at the sink.

To wash your hands properly, the CDC recommends following these steps:

  1. Place your hands under warm running water. Wet the top and bottom of your hands as well as between your fingers.
  2. Apply anti-bacterial hand soap by rubbing your hands together for roughly twenty seconds.
  3. Clean all surfaces of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  4. Completely rinse your hands under warm, clean water.
  5. Thoroughly dry hands with a towel or air-dry them.

For dry hands, you can add a sixth step for moisturizing with lotion to protect your skin from cracking and bleeding.

Teaching Kids to Wash Their Hands

Children wasching hands in the bathroomChildren may not fully understand why it’s important to wash their hands, and many times this a learned behavior passed down from observation. Remember the saying, “Monkey see, monkey do?” If a child sees an older sibling or a parent not washing their hands, then most kids will follow suit.

Because of this, it’s important to talk to your children about the importance of hand washing. You can say things like, “Germs are harmful, and washing your hands will kill the germs that can make you sick.” To make hand-washing fun, you can sing a hand washing song or the “Happy Birthday” song twice through.

What do you know about: Secondhand Smoke

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It’s 2014. By now, it’s become very clear to Americans that smoking is utterly horrendous for your health. The smoking rate among adults and teens in the United States has been steadily declining since the 1950’s, when 44 percent of Americans smoked—now the rates are steadily declining from 18 percent, dropping nearly one percent each year. The rates have been falling for teens as well. In fact, just fourteen years ago 23 percent of teens were smoking, while currently only 9 percent of teenagers in America smokes. That’s an incredible decline, due in part to TheTruth.com—an anti-tobacco campaign that has recently rebranded to make the final push towards a completely tobacco-free generation.
While tobacco popularity is declining thanks to regulations against smoking, anti-smoking advertising campaigns, and increased knowledge of the dangers—we’re not out of the woods yet, especially when it comes to secondhand smoke. Smokers make a choice to smoke. However, if you’re living with, or working close to, a smoker—you don’t always have a choice and you should be aware of the dangers surrounding simply inhaling someone’s else’s secondhand smoke.

What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke (SHS) is the mixture of gasses and fine particles that includes the smoke from the burning tobacco product (sidestream smoke), as well as the smoke that has been exhaled by the individual smoking (mainstream smoke). Believe it or not, when you’re inhaling SHS you’re breathing in nearly the same amount of chemicals as the smoker—4,000 different chemical compounds, more than 250 of which are toxic, with about 50 included that are known to cause cancer.

Who is it most harmful for?

While anyone that spends time around a smoker has an increased chance of developing an illness related to smoking, certain segments or our population are particularly susceptible.

Kids

Young children often don’t have the choice to leave a smoky room, leaving them especially vulnerable to the health risks of SHS. Kids who are routinely exposed to SHS have an increased chance of:

  • AsthmaS
  • SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
  • Slow or incomplete lung development
  • Frequent colds and respiratory infections
  • Chronic coughing
  • Cataracts
  • Poor dental health
  • High blood pressure

Pregnant Women

Both the expectant mother and the unborn baby are harmed by SHS. It decreases the amount of oxygen available to mother and baby, increases the baby’s heart rate, and increases the likelihood that the baby will be born prematurely and/or underweight. Exposure to smoke during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of:

  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Placenta previa (low lying placenta)
  • Placenta abruption

What can be done?

Obviously if you’re a smoker, quit. While in the process of quitting, make sure you:

  • Never smoke in your home—even in a separate bedroom or bathroom. Smoking anywhere in a home or apartment pollutes all the air in the building. Even if you can’t smell it, cigarette smoke can still harm, so don’t think you’re being clever with fans and air purifiers. Lastly, even when nobody else is home—don’t smoke inside. Smoke from a single cigarette can stay in a room for hours.
  • Never smoke in your car, even with the window down.
  • Keep your kids away from smoke. Ask caregivers not to smoke around your children and ensure their daycare or childcare is smoke-free.

How to Treat a Migraine

Posted by & filed under Advice, Treatment.

migraine sufferer

According to the Migraine Research Foundation (yes, that is a real foundation), nearly 1 in 4 U.S. households includes someone with chronic migraines. Of those sufferers, 90 percent are miss work or are unable to function normally during their migraine attacks. Thankfully, the afflicted, on average experience migraine attacks once or twice a month. However, there is a certain, unfortunate segment of the population (nearly 14 million Americans) that experience headaches on a near-daily basis.

So, with so many pain and suffering—what’s the best way to treat a migraine? We have a few ideas… 

Three levels of medication

The Migraine Trust Foundation in the United Kingdom suggests a three-tiered plan coupled with a detailed ‘migraine diary’ to help you and your doctor get to the bottom of your suffering.

Preventative:

Chronic, debilitating headaches should be reported to your doctor—as there may be medication to try and prevent the attacks. Anticonvulsants, antidepressants, antihistamines, beta-blockers, and anti-inflammatory drugs have all been shown to break the cycle of prevent migraines. Beyond drugs, exercise, a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, and not smoking has also been shown to help prevent migraines.

Acute:

This refers to treating an attack as soon as it occurs. As with preventative approaches, a physician prescribing acute treatments will base their decision on an assessment of how dramatically the migraine attacks and how often they occur. Your doctor may prescribe a number of stronger painkillers, and other medications that may help to alleviate your pain during a migraine attack. Another popular treatment uses a migraine-specific class of drugs called triptans—available as pills, quick-dissolving tablets, nasal spray, or injection (e.g. Axert, Relpax, and Imitrex). On average, the pain is relieved within thirty minutes of treatment.

Rescue:

Rescue ‘treatment’ refers to the times when acute medication doesn’t provide relief from the migraine. Anti-nausea medication and/or anti-inflammatory or pain relieving medication may be prescribed.

 

Natural Remedies

Pressure/Massage:

Try applying pressure to the pulse points in the side of the forehead and/or neck—or a light massage on the neck and base of the skull from a friend or loved one may relieve the discomfort.

Temperature:

Hot or cold—try both. Try applying a hot water bottle, or an icepack, to the painful area. Even hot or cold showers have been shown to help some sufferers.

Oils:

Inhaling lavender oil, peppermint oil, or basil oil can help open blood flow and increase oxygen in the brain—thus alleviating some headache pain.

Drink more water:

Since many headaches are due to dehydration, downing a few glasses of water when you feel a headache coming on can occasionally stop it in its tracks.

Friendship: The Key to Happiness?

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It can be difficult to maintain friendships or make new friends as we get older. Family, work, and other responsibilities take time away from nurturing both new and old friends, but we’re given an invaluable reward when we do make the effort to spend time with people—and that’s the gift of happiness.

August 3rd is National Friendship Day, so let’s take a look at the role that friendship plays in enriching our lives and making us happy.

The Dangers of Loneliness

Loneliness is a serious problem in the U.S. that can have a significant impact on health and overall happiness. John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, has been studying the effects of loneliness for more than two decades, and he believes that isolation can alter the brain as well as behavior.

“Lonely people don’t know it, but they lose the ability to control their impulses, which also happens in isolated nonhuman animals,” says Cacioppo. “It really is a brain state.”

Loneliness can take a toll on the body in many ways. For example, perceived loneliness can:

  • Raise blood pressure
  • Make the heart work harder to pump more blood
  • Interrupt sleep
  • Increase the stress hormone, cortisol
  • Increase the risk of depression
  • Heighten the body’s inflammatory response

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Money can’t buy happiness, as the saying goes, but it can if you spend it the right way. Michael Norton, a professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, says you can buy happiness when you spend money on other people rather than on yourself, and this paradigm is universally holding true in other countries as well.

In a happiness study conducted at the University of British Columbia, for example, two groups of undergraduate students were given money with specific instructions on how to spend it—some were instructed to buy something for themselves while others were asked to spend this money on someone else. At the end of the study, the students that bought something for other people reported feeling happier than the group that spent the money on items for themselves.

Norton concluded that there is a positive correlation between happiness and giving money—that is, donating money for the benefit of helping others makes people feel happier. Additionally, researchers found that giving inexpensive or trivial gifts (e.g. a $5 cup of coffee) made them feel equally as happy as buying more expensive gifts (e.g. a $20 stuffed animal).

Tips for Making Better Friends

Cacioppo estimates that 20 percent of Americans (roughly 60 million people) struggle with feelings of chronic loneliness. To treat these feelings of isolation, Cacioppo recommends reaching out to people around you by volunteering and saying hello to someone when you’re in a public place. Over time, this will lead to finding more compatible friends that enrich your life and bring you happiness.

If you’re looking to make better friends, here are some things you can do:

  • Join a club or a group
  • Attend social events (e.g. an art gallery or a trade show)
  • Seek out people whom you share a common interest with and talk to them
  • Laugh and smile often
  • Maintain a positive attitude
  • Be helpful, kind, and grateful
  • Make yourself available to talk when someone you know is in need
  • Establish criteria that will guide your search for compatible friends
  • Use social media to reach out to new people
  • Ask questions, listen carefully, and give compliments

Boost your Productivity: How to Take a break

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Break time concept, on time

It doesn’t matter if you work at an office, from home, or have a full-time job watching the kids – personal productivity is the key differentiator between conquering your to-do list and always feeling behind. Sure, procrastination and apathy can play a part, but when you cut to the core the simple fact is that many of us aren’t effectively organizing our day and are losing valuable time that could be spent crossing items off your list.

Step Away from the Screen(s)

While it may seem counterintuitive to stop working on the task you’re trying to complete, regular breaks are scientifically proven to boost focus and productivity. After concentrating on a task for an extended period, [CA1] our brains lose attention resources – significantly hindering our performance and focus. However, after a brief hiatus we’re able to recharge and pick up the task with more fervor and motivation than if we’d tried to power through. There is one caveat – you actually have to take a break. No emails, Facebook, texting – try to turn your brain off and actually give it a break. Think along these lines: short walks, read a chapter in your book, or just look out the window. Whatever you do, make sure it’s away from your workstation and free of as many devices/screens as possible.

The Pomodoro Technique

One method to help remind you to take regular breaks is the Pomodoro Technique. Created in the 1980’s, Pomodoro is one of the most popular time-management tactics used today. It aims to provide the user with maximum focus and creative freshness, thereby allowing you to complete projects faster with less mental fatigue. For every project throughout the day, you budget your time into short increments and take breaks periodically. You work for 25 minutes, and then take a break for 5 minutes. Each 30-minute period is called a Pomodoro, named after the Italian word for tomato. After four Pomodoros have elapsed, you then earn a 20-minute break.

Seriously, Stop Checking Your Email

Keyboard and Coffee Break button, work conceptUnless your industry requires immediate response via email, stop checking it every 20 minutes – especially during your breaks. Turn off email notifications on your computer and phone and try to make a point of checking it only 3 to 4 times a day (I know, this will be hard at first). Every time you take a second to check or a minute to peck out a quick message, you’re getting distracted and making it that much harder to dive back into the task at hand. If you have to, use your breaks to “flag” emails that require attention later, and then go in a few times a day and get to all of them – in bulk.

Maybe Take a Nap?

Napping has been shown to improve learning and memory, increase creativity and productivity, and boost mental alertness, among other physical and mental health benefits. In fact, a 30-minute nap can prove to be crucial for those who frequently don’t get enough sleep during the night and feel constantly tired throughout the day. Be careful not to go past about 30 minutes, though. Anything longer and your body will enter a deep sleep and you risk waking up feeling even more tired.