September 20th, 2012
09:32 AM ET
Our story on talking to someone with a chronic illness received a tremendous, and positive, response from readers last week.
Many of you wanted to share your own stories of living with chronic illness and weigh in on how some well-meaning comments can be misinterpreted, as well as offer tips of your own.
The article's author, Lisa Copen, founded Rest Ministries to encourage others who live with chronic illness or pain. Copen has agreed to host a live chat on the CNN Health Facebook page on Friday from 12 to 1 p.m. ET. She'll be joined by others who live with chronic and sometimes invisible illnesses, as well as members of the CNN.com Health team.
So many of you have stressed the need to raise awareness of those living with chronic illness and their sometimes-daily struggle. This chat is an effort to continue that conversation with our readers. Please join us.
July 11th, 2012
06:27 PM ET
With more than 5 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, the race is on to surface clues about causes and prevention.
An important breakthrough for the research field comes in the journal Nature this week. Researchers say they found a rare genetic mutation in Iceland that appears to protect against Alzheimer's disease.
The mutation appears to slow the production of the beta-amyloid protein, long considered to be a cause of Alzheimer's. This mechanism helps validate the theory that beta-amyloid plaques – an accumulation of the protein - cause this form of dementia for which no cure has been found. The research team was led by Dr. Kari Stefansson, chief executive of the Icelandic company DeCode Genetics. They studied data from the genomes of nearly 1,800 Icelandic people.
June 10th, 2012
12:01 AM ET
As any college student or shift worker will tell you, staying up all night or even just skimping on sleep can lead a person to seek out satisfying, calorie-packed foods.
An emerging body of research suggests that sleep-related hunger and food cravings, which may contribute to weight gain, are fueled in part by certain gut hormones involved in appetite. But our brain, and not just our belly, may play a role as well.
According to two small studies presented today at a meeting of sleep researchers in Boston, sleep deprivation appears to increase activity in areas of the brain that seek out pleasure - including that provided by junk food. To make matters worse, sleepiness also may dampen activity in other brain regions that usually serve as a brake on this type of craving.
April 17th, 2012
05:43 AM ET
Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces us to Noah “40” Shebib, a music producer who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his early 20s.
Q: What was it like to receive that diagnosis as such a young man?
A: It started with sensory issues. I woke up one day and all the temperature in my body was distorted. My sense of hot and cold and what that meant to my brain was very confusing. Any time something like that happens to your body - which is very difficult to explain when you have MS - is that your brain is tricked, so your nerves are telling you something that's not true. Any time your brain is telling you something that's not true, there's a little bit of trauma for your body in general to understand what's going on, so you're a little bit in shock.
I went to the hospital very quickly after that and was diagnosed within a couple of weeks. It continued to escalate to a much worse place in a month, and I spent the next two years of my life getting back on my feet.
March 20th, 2012
02:30 PM ET
Police officers who engage in at least 60 seconds of intense physical energy while involved in a combative encounter may suffer memory loss, according to a newly published study in the journal Psychological Science.
Researchers found that officers chasing down a suspect or engaging in a physical altercation with someone can often forget details of the incident, including being unable to identify the suspect from a lineup.
The study's lead author, Dr. Lorraine Hope, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, said the study's findings are a "warning" to officers, police chiefs and even the court system.
March 14th, 2012
05:10 PM ET
You're standing in the grocery store aisle staring at the rows of canned soup. The recipe called for three cups of soup, but you can't for the life of you remember what kind of soup or how many ounces there are in three cups.
You joke with your husband, "My memory's slipping again - must be the menopause."
Turns out, you may be right.
A study published Wednesday in the North American Menopause Society's journal Menopause analyzed the memory performance of 75 middle-aged women who were transitioning into menopause.
February 27th, 2012
06:30 PM ET
Remember the myth of Oedipus, where the king of Ancient Thebes stabbed his own eyes after he realized he'd killed his own father and married his mother?
As gory as it sounds, intentionally blinding oneself isn't entirely mythical. Although rare, there have been cases of people seriously injuring their own eyes, and sometimes completely removing them. There's even a technical term, self-enucleation, for the behavior of taking out your eyeballs.
February 4th, 2012
10:34 AM ET
When 12 students at a high school in New York suddenly developed strange symptoms like stuttering, uncontrollable twitching movements and verbal outbursts, the community was concerned. Was there something in the environment? Was it a virus of some sort spreading dangerously? Three students and one adult have since also exhibited the same symptoms. Doctors at DENT Neurologic Institute have now diagnosed some of the girls with "conversion disorder," leaving people even more confused.
What is conversion disorder?
A person with conversion disorder has neurological symptoms that aren't related to any known neurological condition, according to the American Psychiatric Association. The symptoms could appear as uncontrolled motions or verbal outbursts, like the students in New York, or as anything from weakness or paralysis to a loss of vision or hearing.
In diagnosing conversion disorder, doctors must first rule out other neurological diseases and determine that the symptoms are not being intentionally faked. Often the symptoms are inconsistent with typical signs of a neurological disease – either physical signs or those that might show up on a diagnostic test. FULL POST
December 20th, 2011
12:27 PM ET
Last year around this time, my friend Sue called worried about her college-age son Charlie because he seemed to be sleeping away his whole Christmas vacation.
“At first, I thought, OK, he is just catching up because he was up many nights studying for finals. But now two weeks have gone by and he is still sleeping the day away.”
There are a number of reasons that college kids or teens could be sleeping all day. As my friend suspected, we do indeed try to “catch up” on sleep. It seems to work to a certain extent, but we can’t make up for the full amount of sleep lost. FULL POST
October 26th, 2011
08:16 AM ET
Professor Mark Williams and Dr. Danny Penman are the authors of “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World” published by Rodale.
Shortly after the British mountaineer George Mallory disappeared while attempting to climb Everest in 1924, a journalist asked why the team had continued with their assault on the summit on that fateful day.
“The price of life is death,” replied one of the survivors.
That single sentence sums up the human condition more than any other. We are here on this earth for a short while, experience a panoply of bittersweet emotions, and then depart. We forget this at our peril.
Virtually all of us avoid thinking about pain, suffering, failure, loss, and death as much as we can, for as long as we can, usually until it is too late. While this is entirely natural, it carries a high but largely hidden price. For if we cannot face up to life’s difficulties, then we cannot deal with them effectively. Such “aversion” closes down the mind, reduces creativity, and leaves behind a deep-seated sense of fear and caution. And paradoxically, not facing up to them also runs the risk of dulling our awareness to all that is wonderful about life, in all of its tingling beauty.
The late Steve Jobs, a keen devotee of mindfulness meditation, realized this. In 2005 he told Stanford University graduates: ‘Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – all these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
Whenever we’re faced with a difficulty – whether it’s the stress of a job, illness, exhaustion, or malignant sadness – it’s only natural to try and push it away. We can do this in myriad ways, such as, endlessly churning through previously failed solutions in the mind’s eye, by ignoring it, or burying it under a pile of distractions.
But sooner or later there comes a point where these strategies no longer work because we either run out of steam or the difficulty we’re facing is truly intractable. When we reach this fork in the road, we have two options. We can carry on and pretend that nothing is wrong (and lead an increasingly miserable existence), or we can embrace a different way of relating to ourselves and the world. This different approach is one of acceptance of ourselves and of whatever is troubling us. It means turning towards it, befriending it, even if we don’t like it, or it fills us with fear and dread.
For many of us, the idea of “acceptance” is heresy of the first order, but this initial reaction stems from the frequent inability of individual words to convey true meaning.
Mindful acceptance, which arises from the full conscious awareness engendered by mindfulness meditation, is subtly different to the usual passive flavor of acceptance.
Acceptance in the context of mindfulness is not the passive acceptance of the intolerable. It is not “giving up,” nor is it resignation or spinelessness. Neither is mindfulness anything to do with detachment.
Instead, acceptance is a pause, a period of allowing, of letting be, of clear seeing. Acceptance takes us off the hair trigger, so that we’re less likely to make a knee-jerk reaction. It allows us to become fully aware of difficulties, with all of their painful nuances, and to respond to them in the most skillful way possible. It gives us more time and space to respond. And often, the wisest way of responding is to do nothing at all.
Paradoxically, taking action in the conventional sense is often an automatic reaction that will simply force us to endlessly repeat past failures. It’s not proactive at all. And remaining a slave to our automatic reactions is true resignation to our fate.
In short, mindful acceptance gives us choices.
Of course, such acceptance can be extremely difficult to attain. In our book “Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World”, we detail the “Exploring Difficulty” meditation. This short meditation encourages a different approach to dealing with life’s problems, one that is endorsed by the latest advances in psychology and by neuroscience in general.
If you bring a difficult situation to mind the natural response is to fight it or flee. The Exploring Difficulty meditation bypasses this reaction by asking you to briefly bring a difficulty to mind – and then observe how the body reacts. Often as not, the heart will begin pounding, beads of sweat may appear, the body might start to tingle, some parts might even begin to ache.
Why do we ask people to observe the body when it’s their minds that are suffering? Firstly, recent developments in psychology have shown that stresses and strains in the body can drive negative thought patterns. By observing such stresses, they tend to dissolve away of their own accord and so sap the momentum of negative thoughts.
Secondly, it puts a thin sliver of space between the meditator and whatever is troubling them so that they don’t become further entangled in their difficulties. It also helps people realize that negative states of mind tend to flux, so that they come to understand that anxiety, stress, and depression are not permanent features of their lives. For many people, this is incredibly liberating.
The exploring difficulty meditation is central to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which was developed by our team at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, and Toronto in Canada. It grew out of the inspiring work of Jon Kabat-Zinn at the UMass Medical Center near Boston.
The eight week MBCT program not only helps people face up to the worst difficulties in their lives but has also been proven to help relieve anxiety, stress, depression and exhaustion in numerous clinical trials in America and elsewhere. It’s so effective that it’s now one of the preferred treatments for depression recommended by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
There are countless solid psychological reasons why we should face up to life’s difficulties. But perhaps the best reason of all is the one which originally motivated Mallory and countless other explorers.
When asked why Everest should be climbed, Mallory famously replied: “Because it is there.”
About this blog
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.