Lately, I’ve been struggling with pericarditis. The American Heart Association says that “Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, two thin layers of a sac-like tissue that surrounds the heart, holds it in place and helps it work. A small amount of fluid keeps the layers separate so that there’s no friction between them. A common symptom of pericarditis is chest pain, caused by the sac’s layers becoming inflamed and possibly rubbing against the heart. “
The pain started in mid-October, after a summer of exercise and feeling wonderful. The beginning of the school year was also great. However, it was October 12, that I started feeling crummy. My youngest daughter, Sadie, missed an entire week of school with pneumonia and apparently, she shared it with me. The cause of pericarditis is often unknown, though viral infections are a common cause. It often occurs after a respiratory infection.
After two visits to the ER and several tests, my cardiologist told me that since I’ve visited with her and the ER doctors about this same thing several times since my open-heart surgery, it looks like I’ll need a medication to help prevent getting it. In addition to the treatment, I need rest and self-care. My focus lately has been stress management and I’m going to now practice deep breathing more often to increase oxygen to my lungs as wells and help relax/manage stress.
It’s funny. I’ve had a great start to the school year. My students are wonderful, very supportive, and talented. In fact, the musical has been the least stressful that I’ve ever directed. It was as if I had never been sick. I even lost 13 pounds and walked the Austin Heart Walk 5k. My new podcast gained over 1100 listeners. Now it seems as though, I hit a will and bam…someone shares a virus with me and my body shuts down. Ha! I’m listening. I get it.
This is a big reminder that being healthy is a choice. Wellness is something I have to seek after daily. I can’t assume that because things are going well that I can back off healthy eating and getting exercise. Lesson Learned.
Last mont I told you about the three hormones that are produced when you are experiencing stress. Adrenaline, Norepinephrine, and Cortisol.
Our bodies make the hormones to help us, but sometimes things a that are meant for good can be used for bad! Our world and circumstances create such a crazy sense of overwhelming that our bodies get confused.
Dr Arien van der Merwe (GP and Stress Management consultant) warns that most, if not all, diseases have their foundations in prolonged and ill-managed stress. This, together with a predisposing genetic defect that determines the weak link in the body, will, for example, lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer, slower recovery after operations and infections, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, asthma, eczema and many other disorders.
Because there are so many different manifestations of stress build-up, stress is often not recognized as the cause of illness. Worse still, once identified, many try to ignore it, fearing it is a sign of weakness. Listen to me! It is not a sign of weakness!
So one way to manage stress is to incorporate the E-Word in to your life. Now wait. Don’t stop reading because you know the E-Word is exercise. It’s not a bad word and it doesn’t have to be difficult to incorporate it into your life.
Here’s why we need to exercise. Have you ever thought about how exercise can help with stress management? Most of us hear that, but have never really truly thought about it.
Exercise keeps your muscles, including our hearts, strong, but it also lowers our blood sugar levels and helps to lower cholesterol.
One of the greatest things it can do is help you clear your mind. We can gain clarity because when we are out moving, our mind has no distractions. Talking walking for instance. When all you hear are the sounds of the outdoors, your footsteps, your music, or an audio book, your brain has nothing to do but relax. Yes. Your brain can relax.
When you are exercising in a class like yoga or dance your brain is focused on specific moves. You don’t have time to think about the stressful situation that is overwhelming you.
On a deeper level, Norepinephrine is released when we exercise. I told you last week that its job is to create awareness. It makes your brain more alert so that when we have stressful situations, we can think clearly and react.
Remember that scene in Legally Blonde, where Elle Woods is trying to help Brook Wyndham, her sorority sister, without giving away her alibi? Elle says, “I just don't think that Brooke could've done this. Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't.
Well, this is actually a mostly true statement. Exercise does create endorphins and endorphins create the opposite of stress! Endorphins work in our bodies to create a sense of satisfaction. The more you exercise the more endorphins your body creates so the endorphins crowd out the stressful feelings replacing them with feelings of happiness.
During exercise endorphins are secreted within the brain and nervous system and having a number of physiological functions. They are peptides that activate the body's opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect. This means that they nature painkillers. You see, an analgesic relieve pain. It acts as a sedative. That’s why people often say they get a “high” from running. It is the release of endorphins that …
I also told you last week that adrenaline preps your body to react to a threat. The problem is that in 21st century, we don’t do a lot of running away from stressful situations. If we did, you would see a lot more people running out of office buildings and more teachers running away from school. The key actions of adrenaline include increasing the heart rate, increasing blood pressure, expanding the air passages of the lungs, enlarging the pupil in the eye, redistributing blood to the muscles and altering the body's metabolism, so as to maximize blood glucose. When adrenaline sits in our bodies without being used it is deposited at fat in our arteries. UGH.
So exercise uses up that adrenaline and helps your body release it.
I’m going to recommend that you get up and get moving. Now, I’m not saying to go run a marathon….I’m not even saying you need to run. Start with walking, swimming, or dancing. Make it fun. Any cardio exercise is going to use up that adrenaline and create some endorphins.
Another good mind clearing adrenaline user is exercise is yoga. It is low impact and uses up the adrenaline in our muscles.
Wilhelm von Humboldt, a Prussian philosopher, linguist, diplomat, and founder of the Humboldt University of Berlin, said, “True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united.”
Move your body to clear your mind. Clear your mind and your will relieve stress.
So get up and move. Take a break and go for a five-minute walk. Stand up on your break and stretch. Do this several times a day and you will find out that what Elle Woods said is true. Happy people don’t kill their husbands….they just don’t.
Our bodies were created to handle stress in a very specific way. It’s call fight-or-flight response. You’ve probably heard about it, but do you understand it?
When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action.
Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.
This is a natural bodily reaction, but our bodies, especially our hearts, were not created to handle incredible amounts of these stress hormones. Behind the wide range of both physical and mental reactions to stress are a number of hormones that are in charge of adding fuel to the fire.
Adrenaline is Commonly known as the fight or flight hormone, it is produced by the adrenal glands after receiving a message from the brain that a stressful situation has presented itself.
What It Does: Adrenaline, along with norepinephrine (more on that below), is largely responsible for the immediate reactions we feel when stressed. Imagine you’re trying to change lanes in your car, says Amit Sood, M.D., director of research at the Complementary and Integrative Medicine and chair of Mayo Mind Body Initiative at Mayo Clinic. Suddenly, from your blind spot, comes a car racing at 100 miles per hour. You return to your original lane and your heart is pounding. Your muscles are tense, you’re breathing faster, you may start sweating. That’s adrenaline.
Along with the increase in heart rate, adrenaline also gives you a surge of energy — which you might need to run away from a dangerous situation — and also focuses your attention.
Norepinephrine is a hormone similar to adrenaline, released from the adrenal glands and also from the brain, says Sood.
What It Does: The primary role of norepinephrine, like adrenaline, is arousal, says Sood. “When you are stressed, you become more aware, awake, focused,” he says. “You are just generally more responsive.” It also helps to shift blood flow away from areas where it might not be so crucial, like the skin, and toward more essential areas at the time, like the muscles, so you can flee the stressful scene.
Although norepinephrine might seem redundant given adrenaline (which is also sometimes called epinephrine), Sood imagines we have both hormones as a type of backup system. “Say your adrenal glands are not working well,” he says. “I still want something to save me from acute catastrophe.”
Depending on the long-term impact of whatever’s stressing you out — and how you personally handle stress — it could take anywhere from half an hour to a couple of days to return to your normal resting state, says Sood.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone, commonly known as the stress hormone, produced by the adrenal glands.
What It Does: It takes a little more time — minutes, rather than seconds — for you to feel the effects of cortisol in the face of stress, says Sood, because the release of this hormone takes a multi-step process involving two additional minor hormones.
First, the part of the brain called the amygdala has to recognize a threat. It then sends a message to the part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which releases corticotropins- (CRH). CRH then tells the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormones (ACTH), which tells the adrenal glands to produce cortisol.
In survival mode, the optimal amounts of cortisol can be life saving. It helps to maintain fluid balance and blood pressure, while regulating some body functions that aren’t crucial in the moment, like reproductive drive, immunity, digestion and growth.
But when you focus on a problem or are living with chronic stress, the body continuously releases cortisol, and chronic elevated levels can lead to serious issues. Too much cortisol can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and sugar, decrease libido, produce acne, contribute to obesity and more.
We need to be able to shake things off. To let them go. To relax.
To much of these three hormones affect your heart by:
Norepinephrine increases heart rate and blood pressure, triggers the release of glucose from energy stores, increases blood flow to skeletal muscle, reduces blood flow to the gastrointestinal system, and inhibits voiding of the bladder and gastrointestinal motility.
Scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels: interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure. For those of us with heart disease, these are two things we do not need.
Knowledge is power so now that you know how your stress hormones can affects your heart, it’s time to learn to let things go. Learn how to manage your stress. Over the next few episodes, I want to focus on stress management. I hope I can help us all keep our fight-or-flight response from getting the best of us.
Goodness is not a difficult concept. Synonyms of Goodness can help us understand it. Friendliness. Generosity. Good will. Grace. Graciousness. Honesty. Integrity. Kindness. Mercy. Morality. Righteousness. Superiority. Virtue. Benevolence. Honor. Humaneness. Nourishment. Quality. Uprightness. Wholesomeness. Ethicality.
Aren’t those great ways to think about goodness. I’m not talking about foods’ goodness, but the potential goodness of human beings. If we want to change the world or our little corner of the world, goodness is going to be the key. Shari Arison, an American-born Israeli businesswoman and philanthropist, says, “It's important to think good, speak good, and do good. If we want to see positive change in the world, then we need to connect to goodness.”
Connect to Goodness. Wow! How inspirational. I see this as recognizing the goodness in others, honoring the goodness in others, and exhibit goodness to others. So much in the news today does not show the good in this world. It shows the negative; it tells us of all the bad that has occurred. I honestly believe we have to stop watching the news sometimes so that we can remember that there is still good in the world. So take a break from all of the bad and “Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”(― Desmond Tutu)
Little by little, we can change the world.
Kindness. Being considerate, friendly, and generous. Our world has such a capacity to be kind. When I was in high school, one of my most proud moments was being selected by my classmates as “Most Courteous.” All I’ve ever wanted to do is show others kindness and love. This was a virtue that my mother taught us. Put others needs above our own. One of the most attractive qualities in others is their ability to go out of their way to show someone they care. Being kind makes you feel good and when others are kind to us, we feel good. No one ever feels badly because of kindness.
Practicing kindness is what I want my students to learn. Give a kind word to those whom you pass on the street. Demonstrate kindness by volunteering your time to help someone. Call your mother. Be on time. Say thank you. Smile. Compliment.
Kindness is a manifestation of true love for mankind. You cannot love and be hateful; only kindness comes from love.
St. Basil said, “A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
Why not plant seeds of kindness everywhere you go? Practice acts of kindness each day.
Patience is the “capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” It’s the hardest thing for me to do, especially in our world of 30-second sound-bites, and the world-wide web. Everything is instant gratification.
Have you ever wondered why patience is a virtue or why patience is so good for us? I have. A virtue is a symbol of moral excellence and goodness. Patience teaches us to wait. Waiting tests our motives. Having patience and waiting for the right thing at the right time show our desire for what is right for us. And this is the key. Learning to cooperate with time. The best way that I’ve found to do this is to be optimistic and have fun with life. I can’t always have instant gratification so why try and force something now. The thing I can do when learning to wait is to be thankful for all that I have now. It makes us pay attention to what is happening now and not focus on what we don't have.
Philosopher and Catholic Priest, Henri JM Nouwen said, "A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us."
One of the things that eludes mothers more than anything is peace. We just don’t get quiet and tranquility. From taking a bath to using the restroom, mothers are never free from disturbance. I never knew I liked being still and quiet until I had children. It is true that when we lose something, we miss it more. Over the last 22 year of being a mother, I've learned that peace is not an emotion; it is a state of being or becoming.
One of the most important things to do for your sanity, for your wellness, is look inside and determine if you have turmoil or peace. Do you have worry or do you have confidence about the future. Inner peace may see so far away, but we can always work a little each day to develop and find peace in our hearts and minds. All we have to remember is that others cannot give us peace. It doesn’t come from our spouse or co-workers, and although we can teach our children to respect our time alone, that does not always bring peace.
Peace is sought after daily. It is a process of searching and becoming. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” However, this is not something that is taught in school, although it should be.
How do we work at it? How can we find it? How can we live in this state of being. I learned a few things through the turmoil of my chronic illness.
“The life of inner peace, being harmonious and without stress, is the easiest type of existence.” —Norman Vincent Peale
I am centered and enfolded in Your love, dear God, and nothing can disturb the peace of my soul.
I feel Your peace in the beauty of a summer night as the soft glow of the moon, the twinkle of the stars, and the gentleness of the breeze combine to bring tranquility to the end of a busy day.
Love is an abstract idea, and it is very hard to explain. Literature gives many descriptions of love, but none express this emotion a tangible way. The dictionary only says it is “an intense feeling of deep affection.”
Love is probably the most beneficial of all feelings because it benefits our health, it gives us joy, and helps us feel connected to others. Loving others and being loved has been known to lower blood pressure, lessen depression & anxiety, aid in stress management, and control pain. Studies show that people who love have been known to have fewer colds, faster healing, and a happier life than people who choose to hate. It’s amazing that some people would actually choose hate rather than love. It’s just something I don’t understand.
We must be Choose love. It is contagious. I think this is why we must teach our children to love. It is a choice. Take for instance the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement. Jesse, a first grader, was a victim of the Sandy Hook shooting in December 2012. His mother describes what love can do for the world in this simple mission statement. The mission “is to create a more peaceful world by raising awareness that everyone can choose love in any circumstance; to ensure every child has access to the essential life skills that will empower them to Choose Love, and to help facilitate this by teaching these skills within their families, schools and communities. Choosing Love means having the courage to be grateful when life isn’t easy, to forgive when the person who hurt you is not sorry, and to step outside your own pain to help someone else. That is how to choose love, and the empowering lesson is that it’s a choice.”
In a month where romantic love is our emphasized, we can change the focus on giving love. Think of love as a bridge that connects us to everyone else. By choosing to cross that bridge, we can be the embodiment of love. We can crowd out hate and all we have to do is love.
“ Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong endured. It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening]. ~ Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
This year I want to focus on emotions and states of being that help us stay healthy. And at this beginning of the year, I want to focus on joy. Joy is defined as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” You see, joy is different that happiness because so many times happiness is associated with the circumstances of our lives. Joy is evoked by a sense of satisfaction.
Thich Nnat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, poet, and peace activist said, “We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we'll also have a lot more joy in living.” Isn’t that our goal, to have more joy in living each day? One thing I have learned in the past four years is that if I want to have joy, I have to stop, look, and listen. I have to make time for myself, my children, my husband, and my friends. I must relax and take time to re-center myself. It is then that I find joy.
Don’t get me wrong. These are not easy tasks. I have full-time jobs as a teacher, a mother, and wife. Making time for myself is hard, but I have learned to do it. When I was younger, I did not see my mother do this so I had to teach myself. Now I teach my daughters that JOY is found in many ways. Consider these thoughts and what they have in common.
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
― Jalaluddin Rumi
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
― Rabindranath Tagore
“It’s important that what thoughts you are feeding into your mind because your thoughts create your belief and experiences. You have positive thoughts and you have negative ones too. Nurture your mind with positive thoughts: kindness, empathy, compassion, peace, love, joy, humility, generosity, etc. The more you feed your mind with positive thoughts, the more you can attract great things into your life.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."
- Paul the Apostle in his Epistle to the Galatians
Joy is more than an emotion. It is a state of being that we seek each day. It is evidence of something bigger than ourselves. It is evidence of being content with all that has blessed our lives.
When I started this blog in January, I simply wanted to tell the story of my cardiac arrest and the recovery. (You see, It is quite a miracle that I am here.) Little did I know that I would continue to endure health crises. It's hard to describe what I have been going through without feeling overwhelmed. I had no idea that I would be diagnosed with cancer or that I would have three surgeries in four months' time. I agree with Mother Theresa. She once said, "I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much." The question of why am I going through all of this has passed my lips so many times over the last half of this year. Honestly, I do not understand, and all I can think is that I'm not finished yet. There must be something I'm supposed to do.
So, here I sit at the end of 2016, remidinding myself that I really don't have a right to ask that question. Someone once said, "We have no right to ask when sorrow comes, "Why did this happen to me?" unless we ask the same question for every moment of happiness that comes our way." I've learned that if I am not willing to take the bad with the good, then I am really not willing to fight and push to overcome. I am a survivor and the view from my heart is that of strength and life.
You see, I have so many things for which to be thankful. I have a wonderful husband, incredible children, beautiful friends, a rewarding vocation, amazing co-workers, and a gracious God. With these people in my life, my heart is full. It is damaged physically, but it is whole spiritually. So, I'm ready to put 2016 in the past and to move on to 2017. My recovery continues; only now, I have stage 1 cancer and fewer internal organs. Howevver, I'm chosing to move forward with optimism. 2017 cannot be harder than 2016. I'm so exccited to see what the new year brings. Aren't you?!
Besides......this is my promise from the Lord:
"'For I know the planss I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prospert you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the Lord..."
Jeremiah 29: 11-13
And it goes on to say that He will bring me back from captivity...for me that is the captivity of being sick.
My Journey from death's door to the miracle of life.
Annie Dragoo is a wife, mother, actor, singer, dancer, educator, and holistic health practitioner who lives in Austin, Texas.