Connect With Others For A Healthier Life

A recent study found that those who engage in social media have a greater feeling of being connected to others, but also a higher incidence of depression. The researchers found that watching others’ posts and photos gave the subjects the impression that others were living better, more exciting lives. It seems many people do not post their less-than-jubilant moments on Facebook for their “friends” to see. Who can blame them. The problem with this is that real friendships and connections require that we show our true selves to others, the shiny parts as well as the rusted out, dusty parts.

There are real health benefits to having a community of friends and family that you love and interact with on a regular basis. It turns out that people with little social support have a greater chance of dying prematurely than those with significant diseases. People who report more supportive and positive social relationships have been shown to have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, better glucose metabolism, and lower levels of various stress hormones. Scientists have been baffled by communities where the residents eat fatty foods, drink alcohol and smoke tobacco and still enjoy better health than others in surrounding communities. Villages such as Roseto, Pennsylvania in the 1960s where Italian immigrants worked hard all day but came together in the evening for communal meals and church services were heavily studied. Their shared culture and strong sense of community seemed to keep them healthy despite the copious amounts of wine, pasta and meatballs consumed. Subsequent generations became Americanized, moved to suburbs, watched TV in the evenings and developed heart disease and other ailments at the same rate as others.

In practical terms, there is nothing like a friend or family member who will accompany you to an appointment when you are not well, or bring you groceries when you have the flu.

Emotionally, the support you receive when you share a difficulty with a loved one can make you see the problem in a way that brings your stress hormones way down, thereby improving your physical health and longevity. The biggest boost to your well-being can be found by being authentically yourself in the world. This does not mean you should post your least flattering photos on Facebook, but that you keep in mind that everyone has challenging times. It is part of being human. Deep connection with others begins with allowing yourself to be vulnerable with loved ones. In Brene Brown’s, “The Gifts of Imperfection”, she discusses how shame leads to social isolation. She teaches that the courage to be vulnerable, the cultivation of compassion for the imperfections of others, and the creation of healthy boundaries set the stage for healthy relationships.

While social media has its place, there is no substitute for a real live friend. And remember, to have a friend, you must be a friend.

Use the Relaxation Response to Boost Your Energy Level and Productivity

The Relaxation Response is a term coined by Herbert Benson, MD in his 1975 book by the same name. In the 1960s as a Harvard researcher, he was approached by a group of meditators who claimed they were able to use meditation to lower blood pressure. In the decades since, Dr. Benson and many other scientists have published extensively on the use of the Relaxation Response to decrease pain, increase energy, increase motivation and productivity, lower blood pressure, lower stress hormone levels, reduce fatigue and anxiety and much more. There are studies on improved immunity and even benefits to patients with life-threatening illness. Pretty remarkable for a simple technique. All you have to do is make your body relax… Not so simple for many people. In 2006, I took a week long course at Harvard with Dr. Benson and his colleagues on eliciting the Relaxation Response. I began to teach patients this technique to chronic pain patients at a clinic I staffed. While several were willing to try, many more just wanted pain medication. These days, the climate has changed and more and more patients are seeking ways to improve their health and function in more holistic ways. The side effects and addictive potential of medication are getting lots of attention now, especially in Maine where many were adversely affected.

One of the oldest ways to elicit the Relaxation Response is to do meditation or prayer. The somewhat attentive nature of these activities combined with a focus on either repetition of a word or awareness of the inhale/exhale leads one into a state of calm alertness. Many people associate meditation with religion (especially one that is not their own) and resist learning it. Other people believe that you have to sit on the floor crossed-leg to meditate. Not true. You can sit in a chair–just don’t fall asleep– it does not count. The Relaxation Response is a physiological response, an activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and can be elicited by other methods as well. Things like visual imagery, yoga, a hobby that you get “lost” in and cuddling with a pet can bring this degree of calm alertness. There are body scan or progressive relaxation techniques to decrease the degree of tension in your muscles. You begin at your toes and work your way up to the top of your head. The goal is to notice, contract and then relax each body part before moving on the next.

With any of these techniques, the key is to be consistent and set your intention to continue for at least 12 weeks. At that point, you will likely be enjoying your new state of being and reaping the rewards.

Some of my patients cannot seem to quiet their minds for very long. For them, I recommend journaling and automatic writing. In Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way”, she describes the Morning Pages. This a daily practice performed upon awakening where you will write spontaneously and without thinking for three whole pages, every day. I did this for a couple of years myself and have recommended it to many. All report amazing results. It is also interesting to look back months or years later at what thoughts and emotions occupied your mind in the past. They may be the same ones you are dealing with now or different ones but your perspective will gradually be changing.

A New York Times article today described a study where a group of people who had never meditated before were started on a brief course and were noted to exhibit more compassion in an experiment than those who were in the control group. Compassion is usually accompanied by an active desire to alleviate others’ suffering. This to me, is a win-win. Meditation leads to the Relaxation Response, which leads to better health for you AND a desire to help others. Get started today!

The Whole Health Cairn

Lissa Rankin, MD’s new book, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself has made it onto the New York Times bestseller list.  Get your copy here:   Along with 15 other medical doctors from around the country, I joined Dr. Rankin’s Whole Health Medicine Institute this year.  The opportunity to learn from medical visionaries such as Dr. Rankin, Christiane Northrup, MD, Bernie Siegel, MD, Larry Dossey, MD as well as Martha Beck, PhD and others who have contributed in huge ways to our understanding of Mind-Body Medicine was too good to pass up.    I applied and was accepted!  One month later, we all met in San Luis Obispo, California for a 4-day Heal the Healers Workshop.  Aside from meeting other doctors from around the country who are challenging the status quo in medicine, the highlights included horse-whispering at Martha Beck’s horse farm and getting hands-on coaching from the master herself.   It was a phenomenal experience and the curriculum over the 9 month program is filled with opportunities for personal growth as a physician healer as well as tools and techniques to help patients recover their wellness.

The Whole Health Cairn is a diagnostic and  treatment wellness model that Lissa developed.  Most of us who have hiked have come across a cairn.  It is a stack of balanced stones and when well-built, it can withstand a good deal of force.  However, if you move one stone too far out of balance. the whole thing topples.  All stones depend on the others for stability.  Like a cairn, the body can be strong and resilient but also easily tipped off balance.  See the cairn she  designed here:  wholehealthcairn.

In this diagram, the physical body is the stone on top–the most precarious and most easy to fall if the other stones become unstable.  The largest and foundational stone is one she calls the Inner Pilot Light.  This is your inner knowing, that sacred part of you that knows what is true for you.  This is the part that must be developed when you need major healing.  All of the other factors that define health depend on this.  Ideally, you would have a strong inner guidance supporting other areas of your life, such as relationships, work or life purpose, spirituality, creativity, sexuality, environment, mental health and financial stability.  Your physical body would then be in the optimal situation for health.  Other factors such as love, gratitude, pleasure and service to others are also vital to a fulfilling life and form the “healing bubble” surrounding the cairn.

When you look at health in this global or Whole Health way, you begin to see why our healthcare system is in such  crisis.  Taking pills or having surgery and procedures for physical ailments without addressing other aspects of your life will not lead to health and vitality.   According to Dr. Rankin, “Your body is  the physical manifestation of the sum of your life experiences.  When your life is out of alignment with your Inner Pilot Light and the stones of your Whole Health Cairn are out of balance, your mind gets stressed, and when your mind is under stress, your body suffers.”  The good news is that radical changes are possible once you address the real cause of your symptoms. Even if your health is fairly good, making sure your cairn is balanced is a great practice. After learning about the cairn and working on it with fellow doctors in the program, I have started a practice of checking in with my cairn on a regular basis to make sure it stays balanced.

Here is a link to Dr. Rankin’s TEDx talk called “The Shocking Truth about Your Health”.

Good Health Choices Pay Dividends

On some level, we all know what is the best thing for us.  We may not be aware of this on a conscious level, but it is possible to access this.  I see many people in my practice who need to exercise more, meditate, eat better, reduce stress, play more, etc.  Some start out great and then become discouraged.  In some cases, they have neglected themselves for so long, that there is now a “debt” to be paid off before they will become aware of the changes.  Even though the changes are occurring, their expectations are not met and they may decide to give up on their future.

Whenever you decide to add a health practice to your life, whether it is adding exercise, cutting out unhealthy foods, meditating or reducing stress, it is helpful to also identify WHY you are doing it.  The more specific you can be, the better.  If you are exercising to lose weight, then you can evaluate how much exercise you will need, what type and at what frequency to meet that goal.  You may also need to make other changes, such as dietary.

If you are exercising primarily to improve your flexibility, then a different set of exercises will be needed.  You will judge your program’s success based on different parameters.

If you would like to start meditating to improve your life, know that it will be a gradual process and you will not attain “enlightenment” or anything close to that overnight.  You must be prepared for that and not judge yourself.

The key to the success of any health practice is to know what you are starting off with and where you are headed.  In all of our living, there is a certain level of damage that has occurred, on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level.  This is a natural part of being human.  If you want to improve an area of your life, you must be willing to acknowledge that in addition to changing the effects of your past behavior, you are also incurring damage on a day-to-day basis in the course of living.

The important is to look at your health changes as something that you are doing to minimize present and future damage as you learn the lessons from the past.  This is analogous to financial planning, where you are advised to pay off your debts (past) while minimizing current expenses and saving for the future.

I know of no greater investment than that of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.  Make the right choices for you, moment-to-moment and you will look back with wonder at how far you have come.

Susan Ortiz, MD

Stillpoint Rehabiliation & Wellness, LLC,  15 State Street, Bangor, ME 04401


Communication is the Key to Great Medical Care

As a medical specialist in a very niche field, I require that all of my clients and patients have an established relationship with a primary care doctor or provider.  What I have noticed is how difficult some people find it to find a primary care person whom they can really trust and have access to when necessary.  Some of this is related to living in a small city with limited options, but it is becoming apparent that this is a growing issue nationwide.

About one in four patients feel that their physicians sometimes expose them to unnecessary risk, according to data from a Johns Hopkins study published in the journal Medicine. And  recent studies revealed that whether patients trust a doctor strongly influences whether they follow their advice.

There are many books now advising patients about health secrets “that your doctor won’t tell you.”  Patients are going online to research their symptoms and advising one another about available treatments.

I know that the doctor-patient relationship has changed dramatically since I went to medical school 25 years ago.  In those days, it was considered a sacred relationship and as a student I watched as my mentors practiced medicine as an art.  There was often laughter and great mutual respect.

The practice of medicine is totally different today.  The cost of practicing medicine continues to increase while insurance company payments decline.  Physicians are increasingly employees of large corporations and some have a shift-work mentality.  There is little if any time to develop the types of relationships that inspire trust.  News reports about medical errors and drug company influence have made savvy patients question their medical care more and not all doctors respond well to these challenges.  “Doctors used to be the only source for information on medical problems and what to do, but now our knowledge is demystified,” said Dr. Robert Lamberts, an internal medicine physician in Georgia. “When patients come in with preconceived ideas about what we should do, they do get perturbed at us for not listening.”

There is frequently a disconnect between the way doctors and patients view medicine. Typically, doctors are listening to your symptoms and looking to diagnose you with a disease and prescribe a treatment, usually medication.  Patients generally want to discuss their symptoms and be  given encouragement and support.  They do not want to feel like they are being dismissed with a pill.

It is important to have medical care that you can count on both for preventive and illness care.  Patients who don’t trust their doctor should look for a new one.  Make sure your doctor knows that you are interested in being as healthy as possible and do not assume that the doctor knows the best thing for you.  You live in your body 24 hours a day.  There is no way that a medical person who sees you for 10 or 15 minutes is going to completely understand your issues, especially if they are distracted by a computer screen and their coding requirements.  Do your part by documenting your symptoms and your expectations.  Write down your pressing issues.  If you feel shy or awkward in medical situations, hand the list to the doctor and let them read it.

If medication is offered, ask if there are other options.  Do not pretend you are going to take medication if you are opposed to it.  Speak up.    For better or worse, these days your health is in your hands.

Susan Ortiz, MD

Stillpoint Rehabiliation & Wellness, LLC,  15 State Street, Bangor, ME 04401


Putting Soul in Medicine

More and more people are becoming aware that the soul ( defined by one source as the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal) is an important factor in physical and mental wellbeing.  The phenomenal success of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books is an indicator that the soul is finally coming into mainstream awareness.

One of the areas where you rarely hear talk of the soul is in mainstream medicine.  I remember working in a hospital system clinic and seeing the waiting room filled with patients in various states of distress.  They would be led into the treatment rooms and given a prescription and be told to come back in three, six or nine months.  I had moved to Maine from New York City where I had been exposed to many holistic therapies  remember thinking that what many of these people needed was to have their soul needs addressed, not just their bodies.  It is unfortunate that most medical systems are not set up for those types of interactions or discussions.   We would all be better off and our healthcare dollars would go much further if we honored the sacred connection between our bodies, minds and souls.

A book I came across recently,  Soul Medicine, Awakening Your Inner Blueprint for Abundant Health and Energy by Norman Shealy, M. D. PH. D. & Dawson Church, PH. D.  addresses the role of the soul, consciousness and energy in healing.  In Soul Medicine, Drs. Shealy and Church emphasize that an awareness of this subtle part of the human being is essential to wellness. This soul connection can impact on your body’s energy field and therefore your health.  They are both scientists and  back up their statements with many scientific studies.

Norman Shealy, M.D., PH. D. is a neurosurgeon and is the founding president of the American Holistic Medical Association. And Dawson Church, PH. D., is currently researching Quantum Medicine, which is the exploration of the newest studies on the effects of the consciousness on DNA.
The author’s state that “a healthy relationship with your soul, and using soul medicine as primary care, is the best thing you can do for your body”.  In their studies, people with a strong soul connection share some qualities, including:  forgiveness, tolerance, serenity, faith, reason, hope, motivation, consistency, community, joy, gratitude, and love.  There is a quiz you can take to help you assess your strengths and tips for improving your soul communication.

The authors explain that your consciousness holds the key to our own well being, and that even small shifts in energy and awareness can produce major changes in our health. There is information about the history of faith healers, and the factors that are behind “miraculous healings” that many have experienced around the world.

This is required reading for those who want to strengthen their personal soul connection and make health decisions from a deeper, more powerful place.

Susan Ortiz, MD

Stillpoint Rehabiliation & Wellness, LLC,  15 State Street, Bangor, ME 04401


Better Health Starts With Awareness

Everyone wants great health.  It allows you to move freely in the world and enjoy what life has to offer.  Many times we take health for granted, especially if we are young and have no troubling symptoms.  If I could sum up in two words the key to better health, it would be this:  pay attention.

Do a body scan once a day, in the morning or at bedtime.  Start at your toes and work your way up to the top of your head.  Is there tightness anywhere, pain?  Are there places that you cannot focus on?  Can you feel your kidneys?  Your liver? Your right hip joint.  Close your eyes and imagine it.  If you do not know what your joints and organs look like, get an anatomy book or look on internet for the pictures, then visualize it on your body.  Strive to be the number one expert on what your body feels like on a day-to-day basis.  If you do this, you will know the minute something changes and can take the steps to restore yourself to balance.  Your health depends on it.

Susan Ortiz, MD

Stillpoint Rehabiliation & Wellness, LLC,  15 State Street, Bangor, ME 04401