Author Archives: jobrien

About jobrien

Health and Fitness Professional

Finding Light in the Darkness

One of the best strategies I’ve learnt for dealing with the uncertainty of illness is to find light in every situation no matter how bad it appears. In my case, my light usually comes in the form of humour. There’s a great quote by a guy named Larry Hargreaves that says “You can’t always change your situation but you can always change your attitude”. Wise words those.

A friend recently asked me “What has been the most challenging situation you have faced since being diagnosed with lung disease?” I didn’t have to think too hard to come up with an answer. It’s something so clear in my mind I could’ve experienced it yesterday. It happened three years ago, and these days I choose to focus on the light moments in the situation rather than the trauma that occurred with it. Living the trauma once was more than enough. I should say I’ve learnt it’s important to acknowledge and deal with the negative emotions associated with a traumatic event so they don’t come back to bite you in the future when you least expect it.

I was in the emergency department of one of Melbournes’ private hospitals. It was becoming a semi regular occurrence because I was having frequent lung bleeds, otherwise known as haemoptysis, an unfortunate complication of Cystic Fibrosis related Bronchiectasis. I recall one of the emergency staff saying “At this rate Jane we’ll have to get a plaque with your name on it put up on the wall in your honour because you have probably funded some of our equipment with your visits here” This made me laugh, not only because of the comment but the realisation that the staff recognised me. I tell you what you realise you’re a frequent flyer patient  when the staff in an emergency department start to recognise you!

On this occasion the emergency ward was full, and due to it being peak winter, the staff wanted to isolate me to reduce the risk of me picking up some nasty bugs. The only room available was the supplies room. So after a little rearranging of equipment I was transferred there. Shortly after, I experienced my biggest episodes of lung bleeding ever.  I managed to ring the portable bell I’d been given, and the next thing I knew I had a nurse handing me a bowl and a doctor observing me. I hit panic mode. Things seemed to be spiralling out of control and I wondered if my life was slipping away. I remember looking up and asking the doctor “Is this it”? He said “If I’m concerned I’ll have you in theatre in minutes”. He then started to reassure me by sharing a story of another patient he had treated with haemoptysis, who’d been fished out of the sea up north, flown all the way to Melbourne, and lived to tell the story despite heavy bleeding. I instantly felt more at ease, and have since shared that story with others,  who have also been comforted by the fact the human body can lose significant volumes of blood before it becomes life threatening.

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Feeling more at ease the doctor and nurse left the room and I thought about what I could do to try and find some light in this dark situation. It was 2am in the morning so I didn’t have any of my family around to comfort me. It was up to me to control the controllables…in this case my mind. I needed to relax and find a distraction. One thing that was apparent to me was that the supplies room was alive with activity. I was receiving a fairly constant stream of visitors i.e. doctors and nurses, many of them trying to locate supplies for their patients. Given that I wasn’t likely to get much sleep, with the light going on and off and my lungs still gurgling from the bleeding, I decided to familiarise myself with the location of the supplies most commonly sought after and try and memorise them. As doctors and nurses came in and turned on my light, at first startled by the presence of a patient, they would apologise and start looking for equipment. I worked out that the most commonly required supplies were syringes and gauze pads so I had their location sorted in my mind quickly. Apparently the supplies room had recently been rearranged so everyone was struggling to find things. There was some serious labelling required for draws and cabinets that’s for sure! As I watched the staff looking for supplies I would ask “What are you looking for I may be able to help you?” After an initial look of confusion, they would tell me and then I would direct them to the relevant drawer. Then there would usually be a collective laugh. I would then say “Clearly I have way too much time on my hands” It became a great distraction for me and an unlikely source of entertainment.

Thankfully in amongst it all I realised my symptoms had eased. I’d managed to turn an otherwise negative situation into something positive and light. I learnt first hand the impact of stress and panic on my condition. My perception and attitude in this situation impacted my health significantly. This experience definitely helped me going forward.

Whenever I now experience haemoptysis, rather than being gripped with fear I just go with it. I cast my mind back to that patient who was fished out of the sea and I tell myself I will be ok. I know everyone’s experience of haemoptysis is different, just as all other symptoms are but I hope these small tips help. It’s hard when you don’t know where you are bleeding from, whether it’s large or small vessels. There’s no question knowledge is power. For the first year of experiencing haemoptysis I had no idea what I was dealing with. I could feel where I was bleeding from, but had no confirmation because none of my scans revealed it. It wasn’t until I had a Bronchial Artery Embolisation, considered a second last resort for treating haemotysis, that I found out I had some abnormal blood vessels in my right middle lobe. The surgery has certainly reduced the scale of my bleeding, but it still remains something I have to deal with usually when there’s an infection brewing in my lungs. I just think back to when I only had to laugh to bleed and realise I’ve made good progress. I can assure you I wasn’t going to  give up laughing to manage it, as it’s my best therapy apart from eating chocolate.

So the take home message is to keep searching for the light in your circumstances. Sometimes you have to look deep, but don’t give up, because there’s sure to be even a glimmer of light to get you back on track and make those dark situations that little bit easier to cope with.

 

 

Cooked or Raw Vegies. What’s the go?

This has been quite a contentious issue for some time, and to be honest after weighing up all the evidence I could find, I’m going to have to sit on the fence and say both raw and cooked vegies should have their place in our diet. However if I had to lean more to one side I’d say it’s best to include more raw vegies than cooked…..Have I totally confused you? I’m just a raw foodie at heart I guess. I love the concept of going back to basics and keeping it simple.

So here’s why a mix of both is the way to go. Some vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms become more nutritious once they’re cooked. Tomatoes for instance have a 25% increase in lycopene, a compound that  reduces the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancers when cooked, while the antioxidant value of a carrot (carotenoids) increases over 30% when they are cooked. On the other hand foods such as peppers and broccoli that are naturally high in vitamin C lose some of this impact once cooked. Foods such as bokchoy and cabbage may have their disease fighting properties and natural enzymes destroyed in the cooking process so are best eaten raw.

It’s no secret that many people are falling short when it comes to daily intake of vegetables. If you can relate there’s a few simple ways to boost your intake of vegetables. Souping is considered the new juicing with the added benefit of not sacrificing fibre. Salads are a great option all year round and you can’t go wrong with a stirfrycarrots-155714__340 For an easy snack grab a dip and eat it with chopped up vegetable sticks and you could always go the vegetable kebab as a great addition to an evening meal.

So the take home message here is to eat more vegetables. Think about your health goals as to what your ratio of raw to cooked vegetables will be and educate yourself on what vegetables are best eaten raw or cooked for the maximum results.

 

Tree Therapy

I love learning about new health practices. It would be true to say it’s my passion. When I stumble across things you can do for free I get even more excited. I always knew that I  felt better when walking in park land and other bushy areas, but I never really thought about why until recently. I came across an article about Forest Bathing, a health practice that originated in Japan and I immediately felt compelled to read about it.

It’s been scientifically proven that spending time amongst trees is very beneficial to health. Did you know that the oils trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects called phytoncides actually help our immune system? What a revelation and very valuable information given it’s getting a lot colder where I live. This information will give me an incentive to head outdoors when I otherwise would choose to stay inside and hibernate in winter. I might even combine it with some earthing i.e. removing my shoes and socks and walk around barefoot. Apparently the pores in your feet can absorb antioxidants through the soil. Another added benefit is that I could soak up some some of the suns rays through my skin to produce some immune boosting vitamin D. That’s multiple health benefits for a small investment of time and energy. I’ve even seen people tree hugging when I’ve been out walking and wondered what the benefits were. Ok so you don’t have to go as far as tree hugging if you don’t want to, but just have to immerse yourself in the presence of trees to get the benefits.

Some of the other benefits include a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure, increased energy, improved mood and a reduction in stress hormones.

So why not do yourself a favour and get out amongst the trees? What could be better than breathing in some fresh air while generating some great health benefits for yourself? allgau-63427__340 tree

Drinking Warm water vs Cold..What’s Best?

Before I examine the research on any health topic I often ask myself what makes sense to me physiologically. In some cases my background as am exercise scientist, and all the knowledge I have accumulated around this helps me arrive at a point of view or opinion on a given topic. In this case I would say it makes good sense to drink warm water rather than cold water, except in hot weather or after exercise when body temperature may increase. From personal experience it feels like my body goes into temporary minor shock when I drink cold water. It just doesn’t feel right. Anyway enough on my thoughts what does the research say? Well apparently it seems to support what I stated above that in general warm water is preferable unless it’s hot or you’ve just completed an exercise session.

Why is this so?

Well given that I’m living in a part of the world that is getting a little bit chilly this information is very relevant. Drinking water is good for the immune system. Bugs don’t like heat, so what better way to ward them off than to create an environment that they don’t like.

And there’s more…..

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Drinking warm water:

  • Detoxifies the body, which is enhanced if you add lemon juice to warm water
  • Reduces the risk of acne and other skin problems
  • Relieves nasal and throat congestion
  • Increases blood flow to the tissues to help relieve pain e.g. joint pain
  •  Helps keep your hair healthy by energising the nerve ends of haor roots
  • Promotes a healthy metabolism
  • Contributes to the health of the nervous system
  • Is good for your digestion

At the end of the day, like with all good health information it’s up to you to work out what works best for your body. It’s trial error and let’s face it there’s no single recipe for good health

Time Out for the Mind

Just as it’s important to take time out for the body it’s just as crucial to take  time out for the mind. No more thinking of time out is a luxury it’s a necessity for good health and wellbeing. Here’s why:

  • It boosts productivity
  • Increases creativity
  • Increases feelings of contentment
  • Improves sense of wellbeing …..just to name a few benefits.
  • Helps consolidate information
  • Helps make sense of life through reflecting

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One of the misconceptions associated with taking time out for your mind is that you have to be still to do it. For some the concept of stopping completely is not only foreign but fraught with feelings of guilt and boredom. The good news is that non demanding tasks such as watering the garden, folding the washing, walking the dog are all good time out activities. The key is to do activities that give your brain an opportunity to wander or even daydream. My favourite time out activity is sitting outdoors with my bare feet touching the ground, preferably on a sunny day. What’s yours?

So what should you be aiming for in terms of time out per day? The latest research suggests you should be taking some time out every ninety minutes or when you start to  feel drained or your concentration is dropping. Now for some people this may not be realistic, especially in some workplaces, so an alternative may be to aim for two blocks of fifteen minutes through the day.

Now for an interesting fact – apparently the brain may be busier forming memories in your downtime than when you’re asleep.

So if you haven’t already make time out part of your daily routine, something you automatically do…..a non negotiable. By doing so you’ll be doing your health a huge favour!