Do you need a digital detox?

Social media is the phenomenon of our time.

It has allowed each one of us to connect with new and old friends and companies like never before and it has become an integral part of our lives.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife took us both to Rome to celebrate my birthday.  This is me in the photo, caught in the act by my wife, checking social media in the middle of one of the world’s great historical sites – the Colosseum in Rome. Is this not addictive behaviour?

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There are pitfalls and dangers with social media as with any aspect of life and these are well documented. However, for the majority of people, social networks allow greater integration and sharing of our lives with friends and family than has ever been previously possible. From seeing family holiday photos to speaking to friends from years ago or miles away, connecting with people has never been easier. Suddenly the world is a much smaller place.

As a doctor, I have seen social media be a pathway to improving a patient’s health. One young patient had been quite social during their early years in school but had become more reclusive due to bullying. They rarely left the house and had no social interaction other than with their own family.

My patient’s one and only interest was sport. They continued to watch their favourite sport and over time, due to their enthusiasm, started a weekly iTunes podcast which proved quite successful. As part of the promotion for the podcast, they found they had to engage with social media including Instagram and Facebook. Slowly they found they were starting to talk to people online and, over the following months, started to form online friendships. This progressed into face to face friendships and attending sporting events together. From living their life alone in their bedroom to attending large sporting events with friends; the positive power of social networks is easy to see.

I think we engage with social media because as human beings we are inherently social animals. We like to keep up to date with what people are doing because by nature we are interested in what is happening in our surroundings.

Earlier this year, a study of 14-24 year olds found that Instagram was beneficial in terms of self-expression and self-indentity but that it could negatively impact their body image, sleep and lead to a fear of missing out.

Another study suggested that a Facebook addiction could be seen on brain scans of those reportedly affected – showing changes in the same parts of the brain that is affected by cocaine use.

Here are our top tips for spotting a social media addiction:

  1. As soon as you open your eyes in the morning you are already reaching for your phone to check out what has happened over night.
  2. You check in at the bus stop, the tube, your desk, at starbucks (with a selfie of you looking wistful with your coffee – or a boomerang of your coffee), you then update your status as you’re waiting for the work day to end and repeat the check in process on your way home before providing a running commentary in Instagram stories of you preparing your dinner.
  3. When someone tells you a joke you respond with lol instead of an actual laugh.
  4. You use the phrase “hashtag” in normal conversations. #fail.

So you’re worried you might be addicted, or you might need to take a step back from social media – how do you go about doing it? In truth in can be incredibly difficult to digitally detox your life.

  • Start by trying to set some limits – like not checking your phone in bed or after a certain time at night, not taking your phone to the bathroom etc.
  • Try turning off the push notifications – these little messengers of social activity constantly draw us back to our accounts.
  • Try having a device amnesty in your house eg for a few hours in the evening or even for a whole day, and spend time instead with your family

Sure, there are some people who live and die by the number of likes a post or picture gets, but the rest of us just enjoy looking at photos of our friends as they have too much to drink and falling over don’t we?
 

 

 

 

Wonder Woman/Super Man – what’s so great about them anyway?

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This post is inspired by a patient I have, we’ll call her Jane. In reality the patient I met today is like so many that I have, and your doctor has, met before. It could easily be John, or Jenny, or Jeff.

Jane is in a cycle of trying to care for family members and hold everyone together, but the cracks are starting to show. The strain of being everything to everyone is leaving little time to tend to her own needs. Her stress levels are through the roof, she isn’t sleeping well at the moment, her appetite is a little off, she is struggling to focus at work and feels like she is on the verge of tears or anger most of the time. Sound familiar?

It’s not Jane’s fault, she is doing what she knows best. She is trying to support her family whilst being a productive colleague, a good friend, a good spouse… She’s trying to be Wonder Woman and she’s mad at herself because she is struggling. She berates herself for not being “strong enough” and that she “needs to snap out of it” but try as she might, she doesn’t see how she can.

I talked with Jane about imagining ourselves in a house. For any house you need a solid foundation, and that foundation is our sense of self.  The walls of the house our are natural defences to protect us from the storms of life. Repeated adverse life events or stressors, just like a real storm, can chip away at the walls of the house, they might even break the windows.

If our house is built on solid foundations, and we have developed coping strategies that are effective for us then we can weather those storms. If our defences are low – perhaps we have lots of stressful things happening at the same time which are rocking the walls of our house, or our foundations are built on shallow ground, then our house is going to start tumbling down.

Without the house to protect us, we are exposed to the harsh realities in life.

This is where I found Jane today. Her walls are tumbling in, she is trying desperately to barricade the doors and windows but she cannot keep up with the demands that life is throwing at her. Simply put, she cannot be everything to everyone. She is not Wonder Woman.

Fortifying our proverbial houses is tough, especially as we often have to try and fight these fires whilst carrying on with our normal lives.
The first step is acceptance. Accept that you cannot do everything.

“Serenity is accepting the things we cannot change,

courage to change the things I can and

wisdom to know the difference”. 

Acceptance does not mean berating yourself for weakness. It is not a flaw to accept that you need help or that you are struggling. It takes strength of character to stand up and say to someone you need some support.

Next comes rebuilding. For those in caring roles this can be especially challenging. As a carer your focus is inherently on those your care for. Shifting your focus back to you can be unsettling, upsetting and hard to do. However to care for another in the way you want to, you have to be able to care for yourself.

One of my favourite analogies (and I have plenty) relates to a broken leg. If you have a broken leg, society at large knows how to react. They can see the plaster cast and the crutches, they can mentally apportion the right amount of sympathy and understanding. Bones heal, the injury is visible, and it’s much easier for people to get their head around.

Stress, burn-out, depression and anxiety all have few outwards signs. Unfortunately a stigma can still exist around these problems and society can sometimes feel unsure about how to ‘handle’ someone who is suffering. But just because it isn’t visible, and just because it isn’t physical, doesn’t make the problem any less real or relevant.

To rebuild takes time. Patience. Support. Effort. It isn’t easy. Remember that a difficult path can sometimes lead to beautiful destinations.

Talking therapies such as counselling and CBT should never be overlooked or dismissed. Having someone else, impartial to your situation, help you to talk through your current troubles can be a real life saver – and can help to set you up for your future.

Some patients might need medication from their GP. I would always encourage anyone who is facing difficulties in their life that are starting to overwhelm them to speak with their doctor.

Part of rebuilding is learning about yourself. Really understanding yourself is the key to your success. What are your warning signs that things are getting too much? What can you do when those signs start to appear? What strategies to do have to protect that proverbial house?

Whatever it might be, find what re-centers you. It might be yoga or meditation, it might be catching up with an old friend, watching a favourite film, reading a book, going for a run or taking the dog for a walk.  As long as its a positive action – that doesn’t mean opening a bottle of wine or similar.

Exercise can be an incredibly powerful tool at boosting how we’re feeling when we’re struggling. Physical activity is not only good for our physical health but for our mental health too. Not only does it increase endorphins that help promote good feelings, but it also can help with issues such as insomnia.

Being you is enough. You don’t need to be Super Man or Wonder Woman. Besides, they wore their pants over their clothes, and when you stop and think about it, what’s so great about that anyway?

 

 

 

“If a migraine is just a headache, then Godzilla is just a lizard”

One in seven of us will suffer from migraines, so there is a good chance that someone you know suffers with migraines – it might even be you.

It is estimated that there are nearly 200,000 migraines every day in the UK. More common in women than in men, it can affect us at any age – even as children.  On average, a migraine sufferer will have 13 attacks a year, lasting up to 72 hours at a time.

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Migraine is a complex problem and the truth is that medical science isn’t entirely certain on its cause. Whilst many people with migraines will experience headaches (usually a severe, throbbing, one-sided headache), there are many other symptoms and features of a migraine, such as: flashing lights or visual changes or sensitivity to the light, sensitivity to sound or smells, nausea or vomiting, numbness or pins and needles, slurred speech, irritability or abdominal pain. Sometimes, someone with a migraine will not even have a headache.

Migraines are thought to occur in five stages: prodrome, aura, main attack, resolution, recovery.

The prodrome can be tricky to pick out from normal day-to-day life, but those who can recognise it will talk about feelings of lethargy or irritability, or just feeling a bit off.

For some this will be followed by an ‘aura’. This would typically happen up to an hour before the attack. Someone might notice flashing lights, changes to their vision or speech, or other neurological features such as tingling or numbness. Migraine aura’s do not happen with every migraine, and it is estimated around one-fifth of migraines are associated with an aura.

I suffer with migraines – thankfully very rare these days, but when I get one they wipe me out. I don’t usually suffer with an aura when I do have a migraine  – but it has happened. If I do get one, it will be flashing lights – strange flickering light towards the edge of my vision – just enough to make me wonder if I have seen it at all – and I get a bit muddled – almost as if my brain is suddenly wading through thick treacle and I feel I have to work hard just to think. 

The main stage of the migraine is the ‘attack’ phase – this is when a headache (if present) will occur and can last up to 72 hours.

In the resolution and recovery phases, the headache and any other symptoms start to ebb away but patients will often say they feel particularly tired or wiped out, sometimes for a couple of days.

So if you suffer with migraines, what can you do about them? First off, it’s really important that if you are experiencing new, changing or worsening headaches you get these checked out by your doctor. If your doctor agrees that you are suffering with migraines you might then want to think about ‘triggers’.

Many migraine sufferers have triggers unique to them and there are so many possible triggers out there. To be able to start working out what might be setting your migraine off, a headache diary can be a great tool. You can download pre-set diaries or just use your calendar on your phone. Do this for a month or so and then look back over the information you have collected and see if any patterns jump out at you.  For me, it’s lack of sleep – every time!

Common triggers are: emotional upheaval whether that be happy or sad, worry or anger, poor sleep or over tiredness, changes to environment, periods for women (as well as contraceptive pills and the menopause), dehydration, citrus, caffeine, cheeses, chocolate, alcohol, pork and monosodium glutamate.

Treatments vary depending on the type of migraine, how often they happen and your medical history, Broadly speaking these can be divided into ‘acute’ treatments – ones you take when an attack is happening and ‘preventative’ treatments – ones to take to try and stop attacks from happening. Simple measures such as paracetamol, anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and rest in a darkened, quiet room can be enough for some people. A word of warning about using codeine containing medications though – codeine and other opiates can can worsen or even cause headaches so should be avoided unless your doctor has advised you specifically to use them.

So if you’re one of the one in seven people in the UK who are thought to suffer from migraines, first off I feel for you and share your (head) pain. Secondly, don’t suffer in silence.

Migraines cannot be cured, but they can be managed. To talk about treatments that might help, speak with your doctor. As with so many medical conditions, there is a lot we can do to help ourselves – so why not consider keeping a headache diary and see what you can learn about your migraines.

“All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my Mother”

It’s Mother’s Day today in the UK and this gives us a chance to show our mums how much they mean to us – whether they are still with us or not. There is an undeniable connection to your mother, no matter what is going on in life.

As babies we are conditioned to bond to the person who provides us with the most care – this can be our mother, father or anyone that provides us the majority of our care. This bond is what psychologists call ‘Attachment Theory’. It’s a biological instinct where we equate our safety with being close to this person and that this person will take away our discomfort and protect us.

We don’t know about you, but that definitely describes our mums.

 

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In honour of our mums, we wanted to share some of the most valuable lessons we have learnt from them:

 

“Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference”.

This was something we had on an ornament in our house growing up – and it followed us from house to house and has always stuck with me. Learning to let go and move on, or dig in and work hard are crucial life skills we all need.

 

“When driving, you don’t have to run a race”

When someone approaches in your rear view mirror, whether it be in the car or in life in general, you can choose to put your foot down or carry on at your own pace. Life is not a race or a competition. Enjoy the journey and don’t put your foot down and miss the beauty and opportunities around you.

 

“Never let the sun set on an argument”

A quote taken from Ephesians 4:26, in the heat of a disagreement it can be hard to reach resolution. Feelings of anger or resentment can be destructive if not handled properly, both to our physical and emotional health, but also can have a wide reaching impact on our relationships and careers.

 

“You are in charge of your own feelings”

This would often come during a typical teenage temper tantrum and mum would tell me that I was in charge of how I felt. At the time, I never understood it, but as I have got older it makes sense. Yes, a certain event or circumstance may trigger emotions e.g. an argument might make us angry, but we are in charge of how we deal with that anger. Do we bottle it up, or do we move on and resolve and forgive? You are in control of how you handle and react to your feelings.

 

“If you can’t do it, learn to do it”

If there was something I wasn’t able to do, mum would always work out if there was a way to learn it. She always believed education, in all it’s forms, was the way to improve oneself. As doctors, we are somewhat infamous for our poor handwriting, but even growing up my handwriting was questionable. So mum would keep buying me handwriting books to try and practice and improve. When we come up against something we struggle with, we are faced with two options: we can give up, or we can adapt and work through it, and it was my mum taught me that we didn’t give up.

 

“One day you’ll thank me”

They were right. We’re incredibly thankful for all they have done and taught us. Abraham Lincoln told us that “All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my Mother”, and we’re inclined to agree.

 

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