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To Your Health!

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The Impact of Caffeine

by Faalik Zahra

The morning routine of many people ends with a nice cup of coffee. It can be the motivator that gets you excited for the day, or what assists you in getting through your morning commute to work. Whatever its place is in your life, one thing is for sure and that it is an important part of the day for many people. Whether it be coffee, tea, energy drink, or other caffeinated beverages, many of us consume this psychoactive drug throughout our day.

 

Many utilize caffeine as a way to increase their energy and hence their productivity throughout the day or night. This is because individuals feel energized quickly after taking caffeine. According to Princeton University’s Health Services, caffeine’s short-term side effects include “alertness, blood pressure, breathing rate, and urination.”

 

But what about taking in too much caffeine? It is important to recognize the possibility of caffeine overconsumption. Through the rapid increase of various caffeinated products, the possibility of overconsumption has increased. This can have a negative impact on an individual’s health. The United States Food and Drug Administration highlights some of the symptoms someone may experience. According to the FDA, "over-consuming caffeine can cause insomnia, jitters, anxiousness, fast heart rate, upset stomach, nausea, headache, and a feeling of unhappiness (dysphoria).”

 

The United States Food and Drug Administration further explains, “For healthy adults, the FDA has cited 400 milligrams a day—that's about four or five cups of coffee—as an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects. However, there is wide variation in how sensitive people are to the effects of caffeine and how fast they metabolize it (break it down).”

 

Individuals that have other health conditions should ensure that they are watching their caffeine intake. An abundance of caffeine can lead to negative health effects which makes it important for people to watch over the amount of caffeine they are intaking.

 

If you believe you are taking in too much caffeine and/or are trying to cut back on caffeine, here are some steps you can adapt into your life.

- Try decaffeinated beverages. If you enjoy the taste of coffee or other drinks with caffeine, many have decaffeinated options. This way, you’ll still be able to enjoy the flavor without the side effects.

-  Schedule time at which you consume caffeine. This will allow you to ensure that you are not consuming more caffeine than you need. It will also motivate you to look into your caffeine sources and eliminate those that are needed.

- Exercise during times in which you feel increasingly tired. Movement and exercise can increase your energy levels and assist you in becoming increasingly active.

Like most things, caffeine is also better in moderation. So have your daily cup of joe. Just be sure to watch the amount you have.

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Faalik Zahra studies neuroscience and journalism at the University of Cincinnati and plans on becoming a physician. She has always had a strong inclination towards writing and sharing stories which have led her to pursue a journalism degree as well as founding an online media portal, Bearcat Voice. As a Senior Contributor, Faalik combines her passion for writing and her interest in medicine to explain medical issues to patients in a way they can clearly understand.

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Is Traveling Good for People with Mental Health Problems?

by Elizabeth Linden

Travel is a great stress reliever. It helps many escape the grind of work and it rewires the brain as we explore new things, get out of our comfort zone and even build resilience. Whether your dream getaway is enjoying the nightlife in a bustling city or sitting in a hammock on a tropical beach, many crave to do something completely different from their everyday life. With all the added health benefits, there are some aspects of travel that are stressful or at least annoying to many. For example, packing, planning daily activities and finding reasonably priced flights can be time consuming. While some people will find these aspects stressful, people with mental health problems may find them exhausting or anxiety provoking. Having traveled many times myself, I often worry that I will forget to pack my medications, cell phone or passport. I also thrive on routine so the anticipated break in routine is also a bit unsettling. With that said, there is another obstacle that can trigger an increase of symptoms of mental health disorders which has nothing to do with the break in routine or the stress of planning. That trigger is jet lag.

What is jet lag and how does it affect people with mental health problems?

If you have traveled by plane before, many of you can probably relate to the feeling of being a little tired or cranky on the first day of arrival and the first day back from even a blissful vacation. This happens because travel (especially across time zones) upsets your circadian rhythm or internal body clock that tells you when you should sleep and when to wake. A significant body of research has shown that for people with mental illness; a long flight can result in more than just feeling groggy. It can trigger a relapse in mental health symptoms. For people with serious mental illnesses such as bipolar or schizophrenia, the effects of this upset can be very disruptive. When traveling in an easterly direction, people with bipolar disorder may experience manic symptoms as they are often triggered by sleep loss. When traveling west, depressive symptoms manifest.  In sum, for people with serious mental health conditions, traveling can trigger mental health crisis. If one has either of these conditions, they must weigh the risks of travel and plan accordingly.

Tips to handle traveling if you have mental health problems:

Plan ahead for the time change. Slowly accommodate yourself to the new time zone before you get there. For example, if you are traveling east, eat your last meal of the day earlier each day for the week preceding your trip and go to bed earlier. Some find taking melatonin or using a sunlamp early in the morning (for easterly flights) helpful as well.  Avoid evening and connection flights. It may be tempting to save on flight costs by booking other types of flights but the added expense will pay off in a happier and healthier vacation.

 

Buy travel insurance. If you have a serious mental illness, it may be wise to buy travel insurance in case your symptoms flair up before the trip. Get advice from your doctor or therapist if you are unsure if you are well enough to travel when symptomatic. No trip meant for enjoyment is worth putting your mental health at risk.

 

Pack extra medicine. Pack several days of extra medications. Pack all medications in your carry-on luggage rather than checked bags. Bring all medications in the original bottles from the pharmacy. If you are traveling out of the country, check guidelines regarding which drugs are allowable to bring in that country. In some cases, you may need to have your doctor write a note regarding medical necessity for certain prescriptions.

Enlist support from loved ones. Talk to at least one person who you are traveling with about mental health needs and conditions. They need to know how they can help you in case of a crisis.  

Packed vacation activities? Give yourself permission to take a break if needed. A packed vacation schedule can be overwhelming. If you are visiting relatives, it may be necessary to book a hotel room for yourself for the first day to unwind and have some quiet time.

Bring comfort items from home. If anxious feelings arise, comfort can be found if you bring along comforting reminders of home. Download your favorite movies onto your smart phone. Pack a good book or even a sketch pad if you like to draw. Have pictures of your loved ones and pets readily available on your cell phone.

Plan for a crisis. While it may not always be best to think of the worst-case scenario, it’s practical to have contact information for mental health crisis hot and warm lines readily available while traveling (especially if you are traveling to a foreign country).

Remember calming strategies. Have an index card or photo of favorite calming strategies that help you handle stress. In times of crisis, strategies can easily be forgotten. Having these readily accessible can be a very beneficial reminder.

Vacations are meant to be a great break and a rewarding experience, and they can be even for people with serious mental health conditions. Don’t be afraid to modify your plans or ask for help when needed. There is no need to push yourself to do every activity. Be kind to yourself.

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Elizabeth Linden is a retired special education teacher with 25 years of experience. She has a bachelor’s degree in Special Education and a master’s degree in Health Psychology. Liz has been an advocate for the educational needs of special education students throughout her career as well as an advocate for her own medical needs as a person with a rare headache disorder.  Liz is also a Senior Anchor with The Power of the Patient Project, and her interviews are featured throughout our digital library.

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