Articles

IN THE WEEKS AFTER my first son was born, I squandered hours of precious sleep leaning over his bassinet to check that he was still breathing, or Googling potential dangers that seemed to grow into monstrous reality by the blue light of my smartphone. Among them: The lead paint my husband and I had discovered recently — a real but manageable risk — had turned our new home into a hazard zone. I cleaned our floors incessantly but still imagined a cartoonish cloud of poison dust following us as I carried the baby, so tiny and fragile, from room to room.

When the doctor screened for postpartum depression during my six-week checkup, she noted that my responses to the questionnaire were somewhat mixed though my score was within the normal range. She asked whether I had thoughts about harming myself or my child and, when I said no, she moved on. But I was struggling. Before baby, I had managed a tendency toward low-level worry. Now, it was as if the volume had been turned up. Among the biggest worries I faced was worry itself.

The way I saw it, motherhood made me feel this way, and I would be a mother forevermore. Would I always be this anxious? And would my baby suffer for it? I feared that something deep within me — my disposition, my way of seeing the world, myself — had been altered.Read the entire article on The Boston Globe

The Age That Women Have Babies: How a Gap Divides America

Becoming a mother used to be seen as a unifying milestone for women in the United States. But a new analysis of four decades of births shows that the age that women become mothers varies significantly by geography and education. The result is that children are born into very different family lives, heading for diverging economic futures.

Read the entire article on The New York Times

It has long been true that women are paid less than men at work and do more of the labor at home. It turns out those patterns start as early as childhood.Read the entire article on The New York Times

Earlier this year, I wrote about what kids should do if they found a baby bird on the ground. The idea for the story came from an experience I had with my sons last summer, when we discovered a robin’s nest in a holly bush. The fragile home, stitched together with twigs and lined with dried grass, clung to a prickly-leafed branch near the busy bus stop at the edge of our yard in Northwest Washington. We watched the parents deliver dangling worms to the babies, snapped pictures from a distance, fretted through heavy rainstorms and, when they finally grew feathers and disappeared, wondered whether the little birds would make it to adulthood.

When writing the story a year later, I interviewed David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. He shared advice for kids who encounter a baby bird. He also talked about how ordinary backyard wildlife — from birds to bunnies — provides valuable context for teaching kids to care about others. “All of these are fellow creatures who need a happy and safe habitat, even if it’s in the backyard,” he said at the time. “And . . . giving your kids the exposure to nature is just the right thing to do.”

Kevin Coyle, the NWF’s vice president of education, says: “The research tends to show that even very young kids can develop a real sense of caring about things other than themselves, like wild animals. They develop tolerance toward other things and develop a sense of empathy. That’s a good thing overall.”Read the entire article on The Washington Post

Sleeping in on a day off feels marvelous, especially for those who don’t get nearly enough rest during the workweek. But are the extra weekend winks worth it? It is a question that psychologist Torbjorn Akerstedt, director of the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University, and his colleagues tried to answer in a study published Wednesday in the Journal of Sleep Research.

Akerstedt and his colleagues tracked more than 38,000 people in Sweden over 13 years, with a focus on their weekend vs. weekday sleeping habits. This peek at weekend slumber fills in an ‘‘overlooked’’ gap in sleep science, Akerstedt said.

Previous sleep studies asked people to count their hours of sleep for an average night, without distinguishing between workdays and days off. In the new study people under the age of 65 who slept for five hours or less every night, all week, did not live as long as those who consistently slept seven hours a night.

SEVEN STEPS. 27,000 LIVES.

In America, guns are a fact of life — and too often a cause of death. In all, 38,658 people died from gunshots in 2016. Some were murdered; others took their own lives. Some were killed by accident.

But none of them had to die.

Read the entire article on The Boston Globe

Being in the middle is supposed to keep you economically safe.

You have a fairly secure job with enough money to buy a home, put more than enough food on the table and take vacations. You can afford to upgrade your car every seven years or so.

In the middle, it’s assumed that you have good health insurance through your job, with co-pays that are manageable. You’re able to save for retirement; maybe not enough to be a millionaire, but you’ll be able to retire by your mid or late 60s. You might even have a pension.Read the entire article on The Boston Globe

Morning people may live longer than night owls, a new study suggests.Read the entire article on The New York Times

WHENEVER HE SPEAKS on the science of aging at a medical conference, Dr. Thomas Perls, a geriatrician and researcher, likes to kick things off with a brief quiz. Do you deal well with stress? he asks the audience. If so, add five years to your life. Do you smoke? If yes, subtract 15 years. As the questions continue — about exercise, diet and the longevity of family members — you can see people squirming in their seats or beaming with relief as they make the mental calculations to determine how long they can reasonably expect to live. At the start of this life expectancy quiz, Perls tells the men to begin at a baseline of 86 years before adding and subtracting years. For the women, it’s 89 years. Why spot the women additional years?

“Women are stronger when it comes to aging,” says Perls, the director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center. “They’re just much better at it.”

We’ve known this for ages, but never quite appreciated how truly rare it is. “Humans are the only species in which one sex is known to have a ubiquitous survival advantage,” says Dr. Stephen N. Austad, director of the Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Science still cannot definitively tell us why women live longer because until recently this gender advantage had been largely overlooked, or outright ignored — mansplained away as no big deal, you might say. It’s an area of research, Austad says ruefully, “that’s little studied.”Read the entire article on The Boston Globe

Victoria Toline would hunch over the kitchen table, steady her hands and draw a bead of liquid from a vial with a small dropper. It was a delicate operation that had become a daily routine — extracting ever tinier doses of the antidepressant she had taken for three years, on and off, and was desperately trying to quit.Read the entire article on The New York Times

The recent New York Times article addressing difficulties with withdrawal from antidepressant medication drew an impressive over 1,000 comments in its first 48 hours following publication. Clearly author Benedict Carey has touched a nerve. People appear outraged, some calling the piece “dangerous” and “irresponsible.” Many share their own personal stories of how the pills have helped them, and how they had no trouble getting off the medication. Many accuse the author of shaming individuals who have an illness no different from diabetes. This outrage comes through powerfully, despite the fact that the following statement appears prominently towards the beginning of the article:

The drugs have helped millions of people ease depression and anxiety, and are widely regarded as milestones in psychiatric treatment. Many, perhaps most, people stop the medications without significant trouble.

Reading this “conversation” brought to mind the original title of my first book, “Its Not About the Soup.” (I nixed it in favor of Keeping Your Child in Mind but it remains the title of the first chapter.) The phrase refers to a boy having a meltdown about dinner when it’s really about his distress around his mother’s emotional unavailability and a whole complex array of other experiences. Yet he and his mother becomes focused on the dinner choice, allowing them to avoid dealing with the bigger underlying problems.Read the entire article on Psychology Today

Sleep has been around since the beginning, but in a sense, it has just arrived.

Corporations are installing nap pods. The health insurance giant Aetna pays employees to sleep — up to $300 per year if they log a lot of shut-eye. The Army has named sleep as a third of its “performance triad,” along with diet and physical fitness.

Sleep has picked up trendy lingo — experts are all about “sleep hygiene” — and even starred in the opening scene of the “Roseanne” reboot, when her husband, Dan (John Goodman), thought to be dead, is startled awake wearing a sleep apnea mask.Read the entire article on The Boston Globe

Getting enough good quality sleep can be a struggle. While supplements can help, try letting your senses be your guide, and you just might find those elusive zzzz’s a little more quickly.

SIGHT

Of course, when you’re looking to fall asleep, sight seems like an unnecessary sense. Masks can help block extraneous light for sensitive eyes, and software like f.lux (www.justgetflux.com) can help filter the blue light of computers and TV screens that disrupts our natural circadian rhythms. But if you need a little help winding down until your eyelids droop, the Aurora Master Ocean Relax Projector (www.amazon.com) casts kaleidoscopic colors on walls and ceiling in wave-like ebbs and flows that are very soothing. An auto shut-off and speaker with audio plug for music makes this appealing for the whole family.Read the entire article on The Boston Globe

How to Pick a Meditation App

By now you’ve probably read about how meditation may help you manage anxiety, stress and blood pressure, and help you sleep better, be more creativeand improve your relationships. While researchers are still debating many of these claims, a number of apps offer guided meditation specifically designed to take you from a first-time meditator to mindfulness guru.

But the popularity of meditation apps has led to a crowded field. With so many different meditation apps available, it’s tough to know which one to choose. Here are a few things to consider when looking for an app to help you learn how to meditate.

Getting StartedRead the entire article on The New York Times

Hey, buddy, who you callin’ middle aged?

As those in the dreaded cohort know, the term is so pejorative it hits like a back spasm when you get off the couch:

You overhear a twentysomething colleague referring to you as “middle aged” — and the part of you that thought your cool sneakers were fooling people dies.Read the entire article on The Boston Globe

If you are young and on medication, and the approval of your peers is your life nutrient, then an unsightly side-effect — in this case, drooling — is unacceptable. Fortunately, there is a common and generic treatment; according to GoodRX, it costs $23 a month. I phoned it into the patient’s pharmacy.

A day later, the pharmacy called: Insurance had rejected the claim. I called the insurance line and spoke to a pleasant representative. She explained that my patient would need to try three other medications for peptic ulcer disease first.

The patient didn’t have peptic ulcer disease; she had schizophrenia. Salivation was a side-effect of the only drug that had helped her. I filled out a Prior Authorization form with details.Read the entire article on The Boston Globe

By now, many of us, beset by bad weather and declining motivation, are struggling to maintain our New Year’s exercise resolutions. But a timely new study offers encouragement, suggesting that by paying more attention to the experience of exercise itself, even the most reluctant of exercisers might begin to find pleasure in movement.

Scientists, like the rest of us, have long wondered why some people stick with exercise and others do not. The possible explanations involve everything from genetics and personality to practicalities like work schedules and access to showers. But in multiple studies of exercise behavior, one of the most reliable indicators of whether people will continue to exercise is that they find exercise satisfying. They gain enjoyment from being active.

The problem with that finding is that it does not explain what makes exercise satisfying and so is not very helpful on a practical level. Simply advising unenthusiastic exercisers to start enjoying their workouts more seems unlikely to have the desired effect.Read the entire article on The New York Times

Steps for More, and Better, Sleep

I regret that for most of my adult life, I treated sleep as more a luxury than a necessity. There was always something more to do before I crawled under the covers and turned out the light. I realize belatedly that I might have been more productive — and a lot nicer to live with — if I had given sleep its proper due.

By failing to acknowledge chronic sleep deprivation, I dozed during countless cultural events, and on two occasions I fell asleep while driving, barely escaping disaster. I have since reordered my priorities and learned to avoid distractions and activities that can keep me from getting the sleep my body and mind really need.

About 70 million Americans sleep poorly or not nearly long enough to achieve the full physical, emotional and cognitive benefits sleep can bestow. There are myriad reasons, ranging from self-inflicted disruptions to those that are seemingly unavoidable. But there are also potential solutions to most of the factors that can interfere with sleep. For the sake of your health and longevity, I urge you to give them a try.Read the entire article on The New York Times

We’ve heard all the cliches about aging: “You’re as young [or old] as you feel.” “Age is just a number.” “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” “Seventy is the new 50.” Well-intentioned, perhaps. Offensive, to some. Patronizing, to be sure. But could they be true?

Maybe science has started to catch up with these tired phrases. Researchers have discovered that many people do feel good about themselves as they get older — and there may be practical advantages to embracing that point of view.

One study, for example, found that as people age, they consistently say they feel younger — much younger — than their actual age. Another study examining the attitudes of the offspring of centenarians concluded that the centenarians’ children — if they, too, were healthy and long-lived — have a strong sense of purpose and meaning to their lives, compared with the general population. Finally, there is evidence that positive attitudes about aging may reduce the risk of dementia, among the most dreaded consequences of aging.Read the entire article on The Boston Globe

Opening Up About Depression

I have slogged through a number of difficult situations in recent months, among them the ongoing crises of my elderly parents’ illnesses and the suicide of a friend. I never lost my appetite nor burst into tears, and I didn’t suffer from any of the other typical symptoms of depression. Maybe I was more irritable than usual, a bit more prone to snap. And yes, I buried myself in my work. But I didn’t think I’d tripped down into the rabbit hole of depression.

You would think I would have been more self-aware, both personally and professionally. As a health journalist, I have often used my own stories to write about difficult-to-discuss medical conditions, including learning I had testicular cancer at age 26 and my misdiagnosis with H.I.V./AIDS — back when it was a death sentence. But I had never written about suffering from depression, even though it’s plagued me since I first put pen to paper, at age 11, when I started keeping a diary.

Still, I’m far from alone. At least six million men in the United States suffer from depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The true number is likely to be even higher, said Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, the institute’s associate director for treatment research, since men are less likely than women to report classic symptoms like low mood, sadness or crying, so they often go undiagnosed. Men, he told me, more often demonstrate “externalizing” symptoms like irritability, anger and aggressiveness, substance and alcohol abuse, risk-taking behaviors and “workaholism.”Read the entire article on The New York Times

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