Healthy Focus

How Your Moods Affect Your Health

Traffic was excruciating, your family is crabby–and to top it all off, you have a throbbing headache, back pain and all the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Although the physical pain may seem like just more layers atop your mental misery, don’t shrug it off as coincidence. Realizing the connection between the physical and the psychological could be a step to better overall health.

Mind-Body Connection
Experts believe that there is a relationship between stress, mood and physical health. Being in a relentlessly bad mood, whether it’s an overwhelming funk, anger or hyperventilating stress, may set you on a downward cycle to insomnia, susceptibility to infection, high blood pressure and high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

But fortunately, you have the power to improve your mood and your health, according to a study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Volunteers who attended a program to help develop feelings of love and compassion for themselves and others enjoyed better social connections, which researchers suggest could lead to better health, according to the study.

Changing Moods
There’s more to changing your emotional state, however, than simply
telling yourself to “think positively“. The first step in having a negative mood is acknowledging it and being honest about it. The second step is realizing that every mood is changeable. By understanding that it’s changeable and not holding onto it, not dwelling on it, we can start to actually work with it, and begin to feel better.

Stress and anxiety often feed on themselves, in fact, leading to catastrophizing, which can lead you to have continuous and recurrent worry thoughts. Experts suggest that mindful meditation can help improve the situation. If you have difficulty making these changes on your own, ask your healthcare provider about referring you to an appropriate mental health practitioner.

The Social Scene
When your unpleasant moods lead you to avoid friends and family, that’s another vicious cycle you should work to break, say psychology experts. Social support–close relationships with people—can help you relieve stress and can have a positive effect on your health.

Exercise Your Emotions
In addition to being good for your physical health, exercise also benefits your bad moods: Just getting out of the house and walking can improve your stress levels.

And exercise also may counter poor eating habits triggered by mood. That’s because when we have negative moods, we are not as interested in taking care of ourselves., and it can affect our diets. Our diets change. Either we stop eating, or we eat a lot of stimulants, such as sugars, which can temporarily elevate our moods, followed by a crash.

Following a healthful diet and exercising regularly as you learn to be more mindful of the connections between your moods and your physical health is the best way to improve your wellbeing, say the experts.

Our Bodies, Our Stress
Your body has mechanisms for dealing with stress, whether you’re facing a wild beast or a family crisis. Your brain releases hormones, including the stress hormone cortisol, to help deal with the situation. Your brain also releases a protein that instills a sense of urgency, keeping you alert, not restful.

But these responses are designed for acute and very time-limited stress. Requiring your body to ramp up its response system nonstop isn’t healthy either physically or mentally, so protect yourself by finding beneficial ways to lower your stress levels whenever possible.

5 Ways to Boost Mind/Body Health
1. Acknowledge your bad moods rather than ignoring them.
2. Learn to let go of negative feelings.
3. Seek social support from friends and family.
4. Exercise regularly.
5. Eat a healthy diet.


Long-Distance Caregiving: Coping with Aging Parents from Afar

It’s not easy to watch your parents age. It can be even more stressful when you’re trying to keep tabs from a distance. How do you know if they’re really OK?

The most important thing you can do may also be the most instinctive, say experts: Listen carefully. Even over the phone, you can hear signs that indicate a parent may be struggling with everyday living, such as forgetfulness or excessive worrying.

Even if you live far away from your parents, you can pick up on these changes. The important thing is to take them seriously, especially if they seem to be ongoing. The earlier a problem is dealt with, the better the outcome.

Getting Started
If you do suspect a problem, try to make a personal visit to your parents’ home if possible. You can look for outward signs such as a lack of organization, deterioration in the home, or weight loss.

Often, a friend of the parents may notice there is a problem first and will then contact adult children. This person may also be able to help serve as a liaison going forward if you’re not able to be there, he adds.

It Takes a Village
The first step in helping your parents should be arranging for a complete medical examination. Start with your parents’ primary physician, or find a geriatric specialist. One benefit of a geriatric specialist is that they often have many resources available they can point you toward. They also have specific training in the issues of the elderly and their families.

They can even help with difficult situations such as driving evaluations and increasing the amount of help as needed. Ideally, you would be able to accompany your parents to that first medical appointment. But if you can’t, you may want to enlist the help of someone local and trusted who can attend the doctor’s visit and take notes.

Of course, you can’t expect a friend or neighbor to take on the longer-term issues that may arise from a medical evaluation. This is where resources such as the local Area Agency on Aging or senior citizens centers can be helpful. They may also be able to help you find a geriatric specialist for your parents’ initial evaluation.

Supporting Siblings
If you have a sibling in the area who can do the day-to-day work of caring for your aging parents, keep in mind that the primary caregiver will need regular support and relief.

A caregiver can get burned out with the ongoing demands of care, so it’s important to provide respite care, either by taking over for a week or weekend, or by bringing in another agency to help. Communication is also important to avoid misunderstandings and to make sure everyone agrees on the care being given. The important thing is that the sibling who is responsible for the care should not feel as if they are being dumped on or unappreciated. Good communication can go a long way toward alleviating that.

Preventing Problems
If an aging parent suddenly goes rapidly downhill mentally or physically, it’s time to get proactive. You may want to consider involving the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter as soon as possible, even if the cause of the parent’s decline hasn’t been determined yet. The association can provide screening for cognitive impairment as well as resources and recommendations.

Involving a geriatrician or an organization that specializes in elderly issues also can remove much of the burden of hard decisions if a parent does begin to decline. When tough calls like when to quit driving or moving to the next step in care come from a professional, a parent will often be more cooperative, and there’s less potential for family conflict.

7 Things to Listen for When Talking to Elderly Parents
The following situations can be indications that elderly parents are having problems living independently:
1. Repeating themselves
2. Calling at odd times
3. Not understanding recent news events
4. Having memory issues
5. Sounding tearful or sad
6. Withdrawing socially
7. Worrying about financial issues