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Danielle Richardson

Stop Trying to Be Perfect

It’s just making us sick.

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PERFECTIONISM IS THE SISTER of failure, and she keeps many of us stuck and unhappy. Perfectionism takes different forms but is generally defined as a personality trait marked by a person’s striving for perfection, creating unreasonably high standards, and engaging in harsh self-critical analysis. This will sound familiar if you’re an overachieving personality type; perfectionism runs deep in many of us.

Thomas Curran Ph.D., a personality psychologist, and physiologist Andrew Hill published a study showing how perfectionism has increased over time. Their study of over 40,000 American, Canadian, and British college students between 1989 and 2016 showed an increase in levels of perfectionism, affecting males and females equally. They correlate this increase with Western society’s “emphasized competitive individualism” that began en masse in the 1980s.

A 2017 World Health Organization report also showed a record number of young people are suffering from serious depression or anxiety disorders. Curran and Hill postulate this rise is not related to a coddled, emotionally weak generation, but “may stem from the excessive standards that they hold for themselves and the harsh self-punishment they routinely engage in.” In short — perfectionism is making us sick.

The links between modern society and perfectionism are inextricable. Living in the digital age, where everyone and everything has become a “brand,” there is an immense amount of pressure to maintain a perfect appearance. As doctors, we are always striving to appear competent, knowledgeable, and like we have it all together. To overcome perfectionism, we have to be willing to release our rigid ideas of how things are “supposed” to be. We can still strive for excellence while extending ourselves grace to not be perfect. Below are two techniques to help you get started.

Make Peace With Failure

Failure is not a dirty 7-letter word, but rather an opportunity to learn and grow. Failure as a learning exercise is being taken seriously at Columbia University’s Teachers College where a center dedicated to studying failure’s educational purpose, the Education for Persistence and Innovation Center, was recently created. Failure is also a fundamental cornerstone of science, for there are many failed attempts for every successful experiment. This should encourage you to know that it’s OK to fail. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so don’t be discouraged — get out and shoot!

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Try Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, defines it as being kind and understanding instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies and/or personal failings. As a yoga teacher, this is a quality I and my students work to cultivate. It may seem counterintuitive, but treating yourself as you would treat a friend in need is a simple way to exercise self-compassion.
You don’t have to be perfect. Embrace the ups-and-downs and be kind to yourself. Your journey will be far more enjoyable!

Dr. Danielle Richardson practices in Houston with Texas State Optical and runs a holistic wellness company, Fierce Clarity. She is a registered yoga teacher and hosts wellness retreats, yoga classes, and pop-up events for busy, professional women to help manage stress and avoid burnout. Follow her on Instagram at @fierceclarity

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Danielle Richardson

Supplement Trouble and What to Do When You Can’t Get All You Need From Food Alone

In a perfect world, we’d get all our vitamins and minerals from a healthy, organic, well-balanced diet … but we live in the real world.

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WE ALL KNOW THE importance of vitamins and minerals but many of us aren’t receiving our adequate share. To remedy this — enter the supplement industry.

According to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, three out of every four Americans regularly take dietary supplements with the rate rising to four in five for older Americans. He recognizes the importance of supplementation but also the need for regulation as this industry has ballooned to $40 billion with upwards of 50,000 different products available.

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With wellness increasingly taking up space in the public consciousness, it seems every week there’s a new miracle supplement created and marketed to you as your saving grace and cure to all ills. Unfortunately, most of these great new products are untested and unregulated by the FDA. That means that efficacy claims can be false and, in some cases, the supplements may actually contain trace amounts of harmful chemicals.

While the FDA works to improve its regulation of the dietary supplement industry — what are you to do? In a perfect world, we’d get all our vitamins and minerals from a healthy, organic, well-balanced diet. However, we live in the real world and it’s very difficult to get everything you need from food alone.

When considering supplementation for yourself, or recommending them for patients, make some key considerations:

1. Consult with a pharmacist or your doctor. Supplements can have negative downstream effects when combined with other medications. It’s important to consult with a medical professional before beginning a supplement regimen to ensure considerations are made for your personal medical history.

2. Shop at a health store. Local health food stores and larger national chains, like Whole Foods and Sprouts, contain a wide assortment of natural dietary supplements and staff to help you sort through the noise. Some vitamins and minerals are more bioavailable based on the form and knowledgeable staff members can help remove a bit of guesswork. In person help also educates and empowers you to make better decisions in regard to supplementation.

3. Do your research. Understand that marketing is a key ingredient for supplement success so beware of products with outrageous sounding claims or outlandish promises about efficacy. When making your decision, research the company producing the supplements. Look for companies whose products have certifications and that boast third-party testing to ensure the accuracy of claims made.

4. Transparency is key. Many supplement companies have used boogeyman ingredients as fillers, coloring, and to improve effectiveness. In 2019, transparency is king. Newer dietary supplement companies make transparency a bedrock of their business model. Companies are beginning to be transparent about not only ingredients, but also ingredient traceability and source information. If a company is not clearly communicating what is in the supplement, chances are it includes a few things you don’t want.

5. Supplement with superfoods. When you can, add nutrient dense superfoods to your diet as a supplement. Dr. Steven Pratt, nutrition expert and author, describes superfood as “readily available with a significant number of scientific publications verifying the ‘power’ of the food and its nutrients to prevent disease and promote wellness and longevity.” Some of his favorites include the usual suspects of dark leafy greens and but surprising additions like super fruits pomegranates and kiwis, spices like cinnamon, and cold pressed extra virgin olive oil.

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Danielle Richardson

How to Be Healthier Now

4 easy tips you can implement today to start living a healthier lifestyle.

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BEING HEALTHY” IS ONE of those oversized goals we often leave to next week, next month, or next year. In celebration of this issue’s “How To” theme, I want to share easy swaps you can make to center your health now.

Most Americans live a sedentary lifestyle, with six in 10 adults suffering from a chronic disease like heart disease or diabetes. Beyond the physical, we know healthcare workers experience above-average rates of anxiety, depression and burnout. As busy clinicians and optical professionals, it can be challenging to find the time to think about our health and wellbeing in practical terms because we don’t always make the best patients.

We’re largely marketed an image of health that is a two-hour morning routine complete with a workout, meditation and balanced breakfast. But real health is not about how complicated you can make your mornings, it’s about creating habits and behaviors that help you feel well.

Below are some easy tips you can implement to start living a healthier lifestyle now.

Clearly Define Health Goals

Health, when left as an abstract concept, can be difficult to define. Instead, focus on your health goals and the intention behind them. Stress reduction? Lose weight? Gain muscle? Lower blood pressure? Spending some time clearly defining your health goals allows you to better focus your limited energy on the activities that will help you achieve them.

Track Key Metrics

Taking the stairs is the oldest health advice in the book, but have you thought about tracking the steps using your smartphone? Using technology as a tool to track your health metrics can help keep you on track. Goal setting is key, but tracking your progress is equally important and provides a positive psychological impact to keep you motivated. You can use pre-installed health applications on your smartphone or download apps specific to tracking your movement. No matter what metric you use, monitoring progress through a health app can encourage you to make better choices throughout the day.

Choose the Healthier Side Item

When eating out, aim to order the healthier side 80 percent of the time. Think sautéed vegetables instead of fries, salad instead of garlic bread, grilled shrimp instead of fried. These small changes accumulate over time to create a new habit. Choosing a healthier option isn’t about deprivation, it’s about creating a strong foundation that allows you to indulge occasionally without hindering progress towards your goals.

Focus on Nutrition

While there are agreed upon vitamins and minerals that every person needs, the amount and types vary based on the individual. Consult with your primary care doctor or nutritionist to explore the resources available to help you learn about optimal nutritional requirements based on your specific health goals. Nutritional testing can provide insight and information about deficiencies you may have and what supplementation is most effective. In addition to personal consultations, many new health tech companies offer in-home nutritional testing and coaching. Individualized nutrition is the future of health and wellness because nutrition is the missing component for many in their journey to creating a healthier life.

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Danielle Richardson

It’s Time to Take the Mind-Body Connection Seriously

No longer just a fringe New Age theory, science supports the positive benefits of mind-body therapies to minimize suffering and enhance wellbeing.

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THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION, once fringe New Age theory, has emerged as a bonafide medical phenomenon with evidence-based science to support it. Understanding the interconnectedness between our mental and physical states is especially useful for stress modulation.

Healthy stress, or eustress, keeps us productive, alert and upbeat. Unfortunately, modern life exposes us to ever more stimuli, increasing our points of contact with physical, mental and emotional stressors, leading to an overabundance of negative stress, or distress.

We know stress has a physiological effect on biological functions, but science is revealing the mind’s role in how we experience it. Neuroscientists led by Dr. Peter L. Strick, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute uncovered neurological data to support the theory of Mind-Body Connection. In the study, published in the journal Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences (Pnas), Strick, et. al. discovered several key neural networks that connect the cerebral cortex — particularly areas responsible for motor function — to the adrenal medulla, which is the area of the brain that produces our stress (or “fight or flight”) hormones. This could explain how mental states like stress, anxiety, and depression affect our body via neurotransmitters and offers a clue as to why bodily movement and exercise are a useful counterbalance to stress.

Scientists at The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an NIH affiliate, are studying mind-body therapies including yoga, meditation, hypnosis, tai chi and electromyogram biofeedback. With science exploring the power of mind-body therapies to minimize suffering and enhance well-being, perhaps it’s time for you to strengthen your Mind-Body Connection. Here are a few ways to get started:

Move Your Body

Western science is discovering that moving the body can ease stress and psychosomatic illnesses. Mind-body movement includes practices like yoga and tai chi, but also walking or dancing. Find fun and easy ways to prioritize movement as a part of your healthy living routine.

Viva Las Vagus!

The Vagus nerve is our 10th cranial nerve and the primary controller of the parasympathetic nervous system — responsible for our rest and digest responses. It’s the longest cranial nerve and modulates the psychophysiological connection between the brain, gut and internal organs. Yogis know that slow, deep, mindful breathing stimulates a parasympathetic response via the vagus nerve causing increased relaxation and decreased stress. This was confirmed by a study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine which showed deep abdominal breathing reduced sympathetic activity while enhancing vagal activity. Consider a daily diaphragmatic breathing practice.

Remember Non-Physical Health

Health has mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Pay attention to the physical manifestation of mental experiences and emotions, such as “butterflies in the stomach” or “feeling hot headed.” Oftentimes, physical sensations are accompanied by mental and emotional fluctuations. Enlist a therapist, clergy person, meditation teacher or other trusted counselor to help you in this area.

MBSR Technique

If you want to go deeper, find a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in your area. Created in the 1970s by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, MBSR is an eight-week group course supported by peer reviewed, repeatable scientific evidence. Participants commit to 30-45 minutes of daily mindfulness meditation, mindful movement, and a weekly group class led by an MBSR certified instructor. The program has been shown to help participants better manage stress, anxiety, depression and chronic pain while improving general wellbeing.

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