Solomon and Churchill

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Here we are – midway through January 2020.  Have you crystallized your vision of vitality for 2020?  Has anyone noticed you have a new routine or attitude?  Have you already given up?  Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Between coping with severe weather and assorted viruses, many people are doing well to be functional right now.  Fortunately, it’s never too late to focus on the future and take corrective action.  After all, ships and planes rely on constant corrective adjustments of their navigational systems to reach their destinations.  How much more do fallible, fatigued, and sometimes fickle human beings need to take corrective action if we’re to achieve our destiny?

Now there’s a word that gets far too little attention in our culture.  Destiny.  No doubt there are those who would roll their eyes and dismiss the concept as delusional and arcane.  But I really believe each of us has a destiny or at least a potential destiny.  The key is recognizing it and taking steady action to achieve it.  Andrew Roberts, the acclaimed biographer, describes Winston Churchill’s profound sense of personal destiny in his book, Churchill: Walking with Destiny.  An intense spiritual experience at the age of 16 implanted in the young Churchill a deep conviction that he would be called upon to save London and indeed, Great Britain, at some point in his life.

Churchill had some major failures along the way, as all great people do.  And, despite stunning successes, he was the target of relentless, vicious criticism from political opponents, pretentious journalists, and even people in his own party.  Many of Churchill’s speeches were greeted with ridicule and contempt by his detractors.  This should not surprise us.  Nothing fosters criticism more predictably than jealousy.  Those speeches would later be hailed as some of the most inspiring rhetoric in history.  Winston Churchill endured massive criticism at nearly every turn, but his sense of destiny allowed him to persevere.

The concept of destiny infuses the wisdom of the ages. Several thousand years ago, Solomon wrote a sentence in Proverbs that should be noted by individuals and nations alike.  He wrote, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Solomon was onto one of the great secrets of the universe.  Can there be much doubt that communism has largely collapsed because it tried to suppress the vision of its people?  Would inner city darkness and despair exist if people pursued a vision of future success?  Would many of us wallow in depression for long if a vision of great destiny propelled us forward?

If you were less than thrilled with the accomplishments and personal progress you made last year, make a change.  Change whatever isn’t working in your life.  Of course, that means changing the way you think.  It means daring to dream and develop a vision for the future.  Don’t dwell on your circumstances, change them.

The vision to see, the faith to believe, and the will to work can bring your destiny within reach.  Solomon and Churchill were onto something.  The question is, are we?

A Whole New Decade

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Are you making New Year’s resolutions?  Are you worried about your weight or waistline?  The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions involve weight loss.  Unfortunately, most of those resolutions will fall by the wayside within the next few weeks.  There is a better approach.

This year, as we begin a whole new decade, it might be better to create a vision of vitality.  Vitality is the state of being strong, active, and energetic.  It’s a crucial factor in living a truly good life and a major part of success.  The thought of merely cutting calories is not exactly inspiring.  And a number on the scale will not magically confer health or happiness — at least not for long.  Sooner or later assorted stresses can undermine the healthiest intentions.  That’s called life on Planet Earth.  Most of us realize that, and yet, nearly all of us need a little jump start now and then.

Sustained success requires clarity of purpose, a burning desire, and firm resolve. Some sort of change will be necessary.  If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.  A couple of questions are in order:

  1. How badly do you want it?
  2. What sacrifices are you willing to make?

Pursuing vitality in life may not come naturally, and we all have different challenges.  The slightest lack of discipline begins to affect your psyche.  However, a few simple disciplines practiced every day lead to success.  As motivational speaker and writer Jim Rohn has said, “The price is easy if the promise is clear.”

So what would you be willing to do in exchange for greater vitality?  Could you be more active, eat more healthfully, or get more sleep?  Perhaps you need more time outdoors, greater inspiration at work, or a captivating, creative endeavor.  Does your family, personal, or social life need more attention?  Is your spiritual life what it could be?  Success without fulfillment is tantamount to failure.

Perhaps over the next few days a little self-assessment would be helpful.  Then create a vision of your future vitality.  Write it down in detail — and begin. Vitality:  The state of being strong, active, and energetic.  It’s not a bad way to begin a whole new decade.

A Modest Course Correction

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Are you exhausted yet?  Is the holiday frenzy taking its toll?  Do you feel moments of melancholy creeping into your consciousness?  Fear not.  Millions of people feel the same way.   The good news is that it’s not too late to salvage the final weeks of 2019. Stress and exhaustion need not characterize this time of the year.   A modest course correction could save the day and set the stage for a better 2020:

  • Don’t overextend yourself physically or financially.  We all have limits. Recognize and honor them.
  • Preserve and protect your sleep.  Optimal amounts of serotonin, dopamine, nor-epinephrine, and growth hormone are produced during the deeper stages of sleep.  Don’t skimp.
  • Bump up your exercise to boost endorphins (a $2,000 exercise bike is not necessary).
  • Perform frequent acts of kindness in the true spirit of the season. It will increase your serotonin and IgA levels.
  • Decrease time on social media sites and increase one on one time with real people you care about.
  • Avoid political conversations. Our country is profoundly divided now, and political arguments will not make the holidays any nicer.
  • Overlook the flaws of others and realize you have flaws too.  Don’t let yourself be overly sensitive about off-the-cuff remarks from relatives.
  • Don’t overindulge when it comes to rich foods, alcohol, and caffeine.  Moderation in the last two weeks of December can prevent a guilt trip in the first week of January.
  • Set aside at least 10-20 minutes each day for quiet, peaceful reflection, prayer, or meditation. Read or listen to something inspiring and uplifting.  The busier you are, the more desperately you need this.
  • Slow down and enjoy the moment. Before long we’ll all be working on taxes.  There’s a cheery thought.
  • Do what you can to mend a misunderstanding, forgive a wrong, or let go of a grudge.  Bitterness, anger, and resentment are exhausting.  Let it go. LET IT GO. Don’t make me sing that song from Frozen.

Holidays are supposed to be a time of joyful celebration with friends and family.  They can be the source of some of life’s most precious memories.  Holidays, like life, are what you make of them.  Everyone at INR (Institute for Natural Resources) joins me in wishing all of you a healthy, happy Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year!

Not A Bad Idea

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

It starts early.  It starts much too early. “Christmas in July” sales morph into “Black Friday Before Black Friday” sales.  Christmas decorations, promotions, and music assault us even before the Halloween candy appears.  What happened to all that preaching about mindfulness and living in the moment?  Ah, anything for a buck!

Some of us are old enough to remember Advent.  The centuries-old tradition of prayerful discipline during the four weeks leading up to Christmas has all but disappeared.  Advent calendars now are little more than an excuse to indulge in fancy chocolates or even beauty products for each day in December.  What stupendous marketing! We’ve learned how to turn self-indulgence into virtue.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus,” or arrival.  It signifies the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.  The original Advent calendars involved a simple numbered flap which opened to reveal a religious image related to the Christmas story.  But we live in a consumer-driven society.  The Advent practice only goes so far.  Why look at a religious image when you can stuff yourself with candy or try a new beauty product day by day?

Chocolates and beauty products are great, but they are not the reason for Advent or Christmas.  The more important something is, the more preparation and anticipation it deserves.  Spiritual events require spiritual preparation.  And since human beings are not mere blobs of protoplasm, we need to balance body, mind, and spirit.

Every sincere religion in the world promotes some form of physical discipline as a path to spiritual growth.  Periodic fasting can be beneficial for overall health (in medically stable people). There’s even evidence that refraining from eating between dinner and “breakfast” stimulates growth hormone levels and facilitates weight loss.

Fasting or abstaining as a spiritual discipline need not be limited to food. Consider how you feel (or behave) when deprived of your devices, TV, or electricity for an hour.  Advent disciplines can involve “giving up” anything from eating out, to sugar, to alcohol, to shopping.  In years gone by, people would save the money they didn’t spend on personal indulgences and give it to the needy.  Even in a strong economy there are plenty of people in need.

This year, Hanukkah and Christmas occur in the same week.  Family celebrations, festivities, and fun await millions.  Regardless of theology, several weeks of thoughtful spiritual and physical discipline beforehand will make the main event that much more marvelous.  Besides, there are only so many practices that can help you lose weight and save money at the same time.  Advent: It’s not a bad idea.

How To Get Back To Civility

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

We all have blind spots about ourselves, but sometimes our self-image can border on delusional.  Seventy-eight percent of people polled believe that there has been a decline in civility during the past decade.  The other 22% were probably in a medically-induced coma.

The real shocker comes next.  Ninety-nine percent of people believe their own level of civility has remained constant.  So who are all those rude people out there?  Perhaps a brief self-assessment is in order.

Do you remember the last time you:

  • Sent a thank-you note (a real handwritten one)?
  • Let someone go ahead of you in a checkout line?
  • Waived another driver ahead of you in busy traffic?
  • Held a door open for someone else? (That’s called manners, not chauvinism.)
  • Offered to help someone struggling with boxes, bags, or packages?
  • Helped someone get his or her luggage in the overhead compartment of an airplane?
  • Helped an older patient in and out of a chair (as opposed to merely standing there and watching him or her struggle)?

There are countless other examples, especially in this age of narcissism.  Self-absorption is Cause No. 1 of the four major causes of rudeness.  This time of year, people talk about flu epidemics.  But “me, myself, and I syndrome” is a year-round epidemic.  Simply being unaware of other people or their needs is ubiquitous behavior these days.  It speaks to a failure of parenting and education.

That leads to Cause No. 2 of rudeness:  ignorance.  Manners and civility need to be taught, and no participation trophies are not awarded.  Civility is its own reward.

Cause No. 3 of rudeness is lack of character.  We don’t speak much about someone’s character these days.  It’s a serious flaw in our culture.  Character determines how any one of us behaves when no one is watching.  It’s our default mode of behavior.  Eric Hoffer said, “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.”  It takes a strong person to be kind, gentle, patient, or polite.

Cause No. 4 of rudeness is simply being in a hurry.  It’s curious, but can you even imagine the spiritual giants of the ages being in a rush?  Granted, people like Moses, Jesus, and Buddha lived a long time ago, but no one could possibly picture their being frantic and frenetic.  As Emerson wrote, “Manners require time, as nothing is more vulgar than haste.”

Self-absorption, ignorance, lack of character, and haste.  These are the major causes of rudeness.  Maybe we could start to “reverse engineer” our way back to civility.  It would surely be worth the effort.

All the Little Warning Signs

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

A friend of mine died last week from cancer. She was 52 years old.  Few people knew how seriously ill she was.  She didn’t want pity.  She didn’t even want sympathy.  The only thing she wanted was exuberance in life and dignity in death.  She successfully achieved both.

Sitting in the back of the church and listening to her eulogy, I wondered how many people struggle silently with serious illness and stress.  I suspect every one of us knows people who, despite their poise and polish, suffer tremendous personal anguish that remains hidden from the world.  They function day to day scarcely skipping a beat.  They’re the first ones to lend a hand when someone else is in a jam and they hardly ever grumble or gripe.  Other folks tend to dump extra work in their laps because they’re so good-natured and conscientious.

Then one day, overwhelmed by stress, illness, depression, or exhaustion, these selfless stoics collapse.  Nearly everyone in their sphere of influence is shocked because they failed to notice all the little warning signs.  Somehow it was so easy to overlook the growing fatigue, the waning enthusiasm, or the uncharacteristic irritability.  I’d like to say that doctors are usually expert at recognizing the subtle signs of serious illness and stress.  But the truth is, most of us are not.  Doctors, by and large, are so accustomed to chronic exhaustion in their own lives, they often overlook it completely in others.  There is no laboratory test for stress and no scan will screen for exhaustion.  It takes time and concern and insight to detect the subtle signs of serious stress.  And while many of us may be interested in the well-being of others, few of us take the time to develop true insight into other people’s problems.

Maybe if we all slowed down long enough to notice a friend’s fatigue or a colleague’s quiet mood, we could do something helpful before it is too late.  Maybe if we stopped placing so many unreasonable demands on one another, we wouldn’t be plagued by chronic fatigue and burnout.  Maybe if we made an effort to be more friendly and flexible in our daily encounters, folks would feel free to ask for help when they need it.

It would be wonderful if teachers and preachers and bosses and bureaucrats would promote empathy and compassion as much as they promote rules and regulations.  But until patience and kindness work their way into the culture’s curricula, we’ll have to rely on the insight of individuals.

Do you know someone who’s overwhelmed, worn out, dejected, or depressed?  Be gentle with him or her.  Cut such people some slack.  They may be up against serious stress or illness.  Be kind to them and to everyone you encounter today.  You may not have the chance to be kind to them tomorrow.

Some Timeless Advice

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

How’s your bank balance doing these days?  More importantly, how’s your emotional balance doing?  Incessant political nastiness, market swoons, natural disasters, urban decline, violent crime, geo-political tensions, ever-expanding congestion, traffic, and professional pressures are weighing on all of us.  And we haven’t even mentioned the personal stresses of illness, family strife, teenage traumas, aging parents, and relationship struggles.  At least there doesn’t seem to be a massive asteroid threatening our existence.  That was a joke.

Most of us have learned that taking only withdrawals from a bank account does not work well.  Sooner or later we need to make some deposits.  The same principle applies to our emotional balance.  The stresses we face in everyday life represent withdrawals from our emotional reserve.  We need to balance those withdrawals with some regular deposits.  And that, unfortunately, is not always so easy or obvious.

Emotional depletion has consequences.  Eventually it can compromise our immune, neuroendocrine, and cardiovascular systems.  Since millions of us are experiencing emotional depletion, we need to be intentional about restoring our emotional account balance.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Take a deep breath and slow down long enough to realize you’re running on empty.
  • Disconnect from your devices, social media, and TV for several hours. If this causes undue stress, you know you’re emotionally depleted.
  • Spend at least 15-20 minutes each day in a natural setting. Remember nature?
  • Let go of anger, resentment, and criticism. No one can experience love, joy, or peace when he or she is consumed with negative thoughts and emotions.
  • Do something physical and useful. Clean out a closet, spruce up the yard, bake cookies, wash the car.  As long as it gets you up and moving and has tangible results (not staring at a screen), it will help.
  • Call or visit with a sympathetic person who will truly listen and encourage you. Texting doesn’t count.
  • Do something thoughtful and unexpected for another person.
  • Forgive everyone.

If all else fails, remember some timeless advice from Abraham Lincoln, “This too shall pass.”  It always does.

Passport to Health? Maybe not…

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Pain, Psychology

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

“It relieves headaches, insomnia, anxiety, depression, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and pain of all kinds.” Sounds great. Unfortunately, this is merely an excerpt from an ad for CBD oil. CBD stands for cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive molecule that has some documented anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anxiolytic properties. CBD products and stores are popping up all over the country. Even the business networks are covering possible investment opportunities. CBD products now include teas, tinctures, topical creams, pills, oral solutions, sprays, candies, cookies, gummies, chocolates, and Italian ice. No kidding.

The vast majority of studies on CBD are preclinical, animal studies (mostly rats). Trying to extrapolate research findings from rats to humans is not medically sound. It can also be downright dangerous. But many people have a stunning ability to believe what they want to believe.

We live in an age of narrative. The narrative about far too many topics is carefully crafted by self-proclaimed elites in the media, the entertainment industry, the political realm, and the academic world. Money is a critical factor in forming a narrative, but equally vital is the perception of being “cool.” Being perceived as “cool” is of the utmost importance to a staggering number of people. The really “cool” people don’t even realize they’re cool because they’re too busy pursuing truth and genuine accomplishment.

When it comes to a fad like CBD, the prudent people are open-minded but cautious. Centuries of experience in numerous cultures should have taught us something about con-artists and snake oil. Some of our grandmothers were certain that a dose of castor oil every week would cure anything. Millions of people in Asia still believe the rhinoceros horn can heal everything from impotence to cancer. And despite all our science, people still spend ridiculous sums of money on ground apricot pits and crystals in place of chemotherapy.

The actual pharmacologic effects of CBD products are still being evaluated. Standardization, purity of product, dosing, absorption, bioavailability, half-life, potential contraindications, adverse effects, and drug-drug interactions need to be elucidated -– in people, not rats.

Until then, be careful. Snake oil salesmen abound, and they’ll probably seem really “cool.” Buyer beware. CBD Italian ice is likely not your passport to health.

homestudy

Patriot Day

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

It’s hard to believe, but it happened 18 years ago.  The horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001 (9/11), shocked the nation and the rest of the civilized world.  We now have an entire generation of young people who know of 9/11 only through video images.  They have no actual memories of that day.  Those of us who do will never be the same.

This coming Wednesday, 9/11, is Patriot Day. Many people across the nation are honoring those who sacrificed themselves for others by performing an act of kindness.  Wouldn’t it be great if kindness became our second nature, our default mode?  We would wake up thinking, “Whom could I help today?”  Sadly, we do not think this way.

Instead, we are focused on getting “likes” on Facebook and/or other forms of social media.  As a result, far too many people are literally addicted to attention.  Getting “likes” on Facebook actually stimulate dopamine release in the reward pathways of the brain.   However, did you know performing or witnessing an act of kindness also stimulates release of serotonin and boosts “Immunoglobulin A” (IgA) production?  IgA is our first line of defense against infection.  It is most concentrated in tears, nasal secretions, and saliva.  This could be helpful as we head into cold and flu season.  And, heaven knows, millions of us are worried sick about horrible headlines and hurricanes.

Given this reality, performing acts of kindness truly becomes therapeutic.  Maybe this year on 9/11 we could:

  • Take the time and interest to compliment someone — especially someone who probably hasn’t received a compliment lately.
  • Pay for the driver in the car behind us at a toll booth or drive-thru.
  • Donate clothes or household items in good condition to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or a shelter.
  • Take a box of donuts, muffins, or chocolates to the people at the bank, pharmacy, fire station, or police station.
  • Leave a basket of treats on the doorstep of a single mother or elderly neighbor.
  • Send a greeting card (a real one) to someone who has had a rough year.
  • Donate blood.
  • Send flowers anonymously to someone in a nursing home.
  • Give a donation to the American Red Cross for disaster relief.

There has been a battle between good and evil since the beginning of time.  Two thousand years ago someone told us to overcome evil with good.  So far, no one has come up with a better plan.

A Precious, Healing Balm

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

It’s not on Amazon.com.  None of the brick and mortar stores have it.  You won’t find it in a catalogue.  It’s not available at a bank or hospital.  This elixir is so rare and valuable you couldn’t even talk your doctor into giving you a prescription for it.  That’s just as well because no pharmacist would know how to fill it.  This vanishing and precious healing balm is silence.

We are addicted to noise.  It’s nearly impossible to escape.  Incessant noise bombards us in the workplace, the grocery store, the drug store, airports, waiting rooms, and neighborhoods.  People bring their own noise with them everywhere they go — just in case there might not be enough ambient noise.  People can’t even go for a walk without portable noise.  Years ago, Max Picard wrote, “Nothing has changed the nature of man so much as the loss of silence.”

He was right.  Silence gives rise to the very rhythm and harmony of life.  Without silence, there is no calm, comforting stability.  Chaos is, by its very nature, noisy.  Consider the floor of any stock exchange.  Everything is noisy and chaotic, and yet markets crave stability.  Most people crave stability whether they recognize it or not.  Perhaps we use noise to avoid facing the deepest truths about ourselves.

Many of us are familiar with Henry David Thoreau’s quote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  The American writer James Thurber tweaked that sentiment in 1956, writing, “Most men lead lives of noisy desperation.”  Given our current culture, that’s probably more accurate.  Anyone who has lost electrical power for even 20 minutes knows that feeling of desperate frustration.  We want our gadgets to function.  We want our noise.

Oddly enough, when we’re sick or in pain, we usually want peace and quiet.  Could it be that silence is therapeutic?  That concept seems foreign to many people today, but it’s worth considering.  Silence is indeed a precious, healing balm.  It lies at both the center of the universe and the human heart.  Maybe, one day we’ll catch on.