Back in the day…

Last night I needed to find a quiet place to work, a place where I could absorb literature related to oncology research and therapeutic potential for a certain plant compound. I worked in the morning at home well enough, but in the afternoon, I was unable to get traction on the work.

That sometimes happens to me. I try everything I know how, and still I am so completely distracted that I need to have a change of location (see yesterday’s post. Perhaps it’s why cube life did not suit me.). 

So I put my stuff in my backpack and headed off to the University of MN. Even though it’s been over a dozen years since I finished my master’s degree here, I love being back on a campus. I love the atmosphere of learning and growth. Even though the science library was far too crowded to find a quiet place to work, I walked around campus for an hour or so. 

The humanities library was much less busy. Ahem…

Well, let’s just say I was a science major in undergrad and a liberal studies major in grad school. My grade point was about 0.7 points higher in grad school. Also, my undergrad was at Swarthmore, where the motto was “anywhere else it would have been an A.” ‘Nuff said.

My study hide-away

As I sat in the quiet of the library, around dinner time (that must be the reason it was less busy, perhaps), I felt that familiar sense of focus and calm. I have attention issues (diagnosed late in life while I was working on the grad thesis) so focus and calm are not exactly my strong suits. Unless I’m under deadline, that seems to be a motivator.

There is something about a library, and the unquestionable nature of being here. Working at home, I always see the undone dishes, the piles of laundry overflowing, my cats that do their best to be adorable at the wrong times (like when I have a deadline). 

In the quiet library, in my study cube, there are no distractions. There is just the pile of research articles, my laptop, my water and a snack. 

Perfect environment for being on deadline with a topic that twists my brain in all kinds of fun ways.

What is your perfect environment for working?

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Wellness Wednesday – What do you do when triggered?

I was not proud of my angry response to an inflammatory post from someone in my WordPress feed over the weekend. I was temporarily unable to step away and I got side-tracked from the intention I had for that morning. It made me want to fight, defend and debate.

In reflecting on this phenomenon later, I realized that I had been “triggered” but that I had a choice about how to respond. Eventually, when I realized I was not going to get anything productive out of the interaction, I stepped away and disengaged. I re-directed my attention and moved on to more fulfilling and satisfying endeavors.

In truth, someone who has been through trauma has a much more difficult time dealing with a situation that triggers them. I cannot recall any specific trauma that led to this response, so I was able to bring my frontal cortex back online relatively quickly from that amygdala “hijack” by telling myself there was no need to add fuel to the flames. There was clearly high emotion on both sides, and we were not able to “hear” one another arguments.

triggers graphic
Photo credit link

I also realized in hearing the testimony of Dr. Blasey Ford, and the humiliation she endured after her assault, I deeply empathized with her story. I could feel viscerally that shame she must have felt, even though I am one of the fortunate few who has not suffered assault.

It occurred to me that so many women who have similar stories are likely feeling a little more vulnerable and emotionally rocked by the testimony. And it is good for those of us with empathy to be there to reassure our friends that their reactions are valid, and that we are willing to sit with them during their process.

Some time ago I became intrigued by some research on trauma and PTSD by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, who was featured in the On Being podcast episode. He explains that trauma leaves an imprint on the body, not just the brain, in sensory and hormonal systems. Of the treatment options, body-centered practices like Yoga help develop a body that is strong and feels comfortable.

In an article published at the Trauma Center, explains that “Yoga offers a way to reprogram automatic physical responses.”

“Yoga helps regulate emotional and physiological states. It allows the body to regain its natural movement and teaches the use of breath for self-regulation. What is beautiful about Yoga is that it teaches use – and this is a critical point for those who feel trapped in their memory sensations – that things come to an end…

The process of being in a safe space and staying with whatever sensations emerge and seeing how they come to and end is a positive imprinting process. Yoga helps them befriend their bodies that have betrayed them by failing to guarantee safety.”

Yoga also teaches us to use the breath. Western culture tends to solve our issues through means from the outside, rather than teaching us how we can master our own physiology. This is where the intersection of these practices can and should be used in conjunction with “modern” medicine in the treatment of trauma and its effects.

Perhaps this is why I am such a big “evangelist” of yoga and why I am developing a course on “yoga and mindful leadership.” Based on my own consistent practice of yoga and meditation, I have seen the effects in my own life. I am always grateful when I also come across strong research to back this up.

So, what to do when we are triggered? The first thing is to breathe deeply a few times and slow down. We can realize that our physiological response is real, but that it does not reflect present danger. We honor that part of our primitive brain that is trying to keep us safe, and recognize that we need timely self-care to calm our nervous system. Over time, with practice, it is possible to heal with the right support.

Be well,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Junk science and nutraceuticals

Lately I have received two completely separate solicitations from a friend and a family member for “nutra-ceutical” products that make claims that are fairly dubious. I am curious about why the information was sent to me, and I am following up to understand this. However, I feel the need to debunk bad science before it harms or scams people.

Terms like epigenetics, biohacking, and reducing oxidative stress are used to draw people into the pseudo-scientific claims they are making. It really upsets me, because the research that they link to their articles does not back up the claims they make. They also prey upon the lack of clinical research knowledge of ordinary people in order to try to sell them supplemental nutrition that we should be getting from real food.

LittleYellowPill.JPG
Promotional blurb from the Facebook ad, trying to capitalize on trusted brands in order to market a product with dubious claims.

It makes me so angry that I am going to go on a bit of a rant here. Pardon me for that, but I do not like to see my friends and family duped into buying or selling expensive products that are totally unnecessary. Because this industry is NOT regulated and does not have to go through FDA or other approvals to be released, I have serious safety and efficacy concerns about these products.

I support medicines or supplements that have been shown to have clinical benefits, as long as the side effects are non-existent or minor. Obviously, as a clinical researcher in the medical device industry for over a decade, I have seen the difference that proper therapy and intervention can make for patients.

But I see also the shady under-belly of an industry that is preying upon the worries and fears of people. There is probably a strong placebo effect in terms of people’s belief that these products may work for them. However, I think consumers waste money unnecessarily on non-proven and potentially dangerous supplements that have not been adequately evaluated.

I have healthy skepticism for the medical establishment. I realize that recommendations are not always in the long-term best interest of the patient. Incentives can be contradictory. I realize that presents a problem. But approval for medicines, devices or supplements should be made based on rigorous study design and tested via randomized controlled trials.

Please be careful when you see claims made that seem too good to be true. When a pill claims to reduce symptoms for Fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, and dementia, and MS and a host of other conditions, be suspicious. Typically these claims are overblown and would never pass muster in terms of their scientific validity.

End of rant. This has been your weekly PSA from a concerned clinical researcher.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com