Your guide to the ultimate power nap.

What do Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, nap in the shadeEleanor Roosevelt, Capuchin monks and top-performing military pilots and astronauts all have in common?

They are all proud, devout nappers!

While some people view napping as “lazy,” or something that’s only appropriate when you’re recovering from an illness, the truth is that taking a daily nap is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and well-being, mental clarity, and productivity.

To me a nap sounds like the ultimate guilty pleasure, rarely indulged. But after reviewing the research, I may have to reconsider!

Taking a nap is like plugging yourself into wall socket and recharging your batteries for the rest of the day. Need proof? A study at NASA on sleepy astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34%.

If you’d like to feel 34% more alert, energetic and productive for the rest of the day… read on. Your official guide to the ultimate power nap is right here.

– Time it right.

A high quality nap… is all about timing. Use Dr. Sara Mednick’s brilliant “Nap Wheel” to calculate the optimal time for your nap based on when you woke up and when you intend to go to bed.

Nap at this time and you’ll reach “a perfectly balanced state in which REM and slow-wave sleep are equally proportioned, and where The Ultimate Nap occurs.”

– Set the scene.

You don’t need a sleep researcher to tell you that napping is easier when you are comfortable! If you’re at home, draw the blinds to darken your room. Gather your favorite pillows and blankets. Invest in ear plugs and a light-blocking eye mask or some aromatherapy oils. Lavender is especially relaxing and nap-inducing.

– Quiet your mind.

If your mind is racing, write down whatever tasks or concerns are frittering around in your noggin. Or make a list of everything you intend to do once you wake up, if that’s helpful to you. (Personally, I’m always worried I will forget something important, so dumping everything into a list instantly alleviates some stress.)

Quiet your thoughts and remind yourself, “Everything on my to-do list will still be there when I wake up… and I’ll be much more alert and efficient. Everything will be easier after my nap!”

– Have a cup of coffee.

Surprised? It’s counter-intuitive, but having a cup of coffee immediately before settling down for a nap means that you’ll wake up extra-bright and bushy tailed.

Why? To quote this piece on The Huffington Post:

“It all boils down to body chemistry — specifically, to the competing effects of caffeine and adenosine, a drowsiness-inducing chemical compound that accumulates in your brain when you’re awake and dissipates as you sleep.

Caffeine’s alertness-boosting effect typically peaks about 30 minutes after the stimulant is consumed. So by sleeping for 20 or so minutes of those 30, you can reduce the amount of adenosine the caffeine has to compete with. And voila, the caffeine has a greater effect.”

Translation: a cup of coffee turns a power nap into a super-powered nap!

But this doesn’t give you carte blanche to chug triple-shot lattes all day long.

Try to ramp down your caffeine intake starting a few hours before you intend to take a nap so that you can relax. Then have a cup just before you close your eyes. That’s the ideal timing! And most of us should cut-off caffeine for good by mid-afternoon so that you can sleep well at night.

– Aim for 45 minutes or less.

There’s a bit of disagreement about how long the “perfect” power nap ought to be.

Most sleep researchers agree that a 10 – 20 minute nap can provide a measurable alertness and productivity boost.

Other studies suggest that a longer nap — about 45 minutes — can provide different kinds of benefits, including heightened creativity and problem solving abilities.

If you’ve got plenty of time, you could aim for a 90-minute nap, which will allow your body to move one complete sleep cycle, passing through all five phases of sleep. This means you’ll wake up feeling as rested as possible, instead of groggy and discombobulated.

My thoughts… Who has time for a 90-minute nap? You probably won’t be sleepy at your usual bedtime, which could throw your body and lifestyle out of whack. But everyone is different. Experiment with naps of different lengths to figure out what feels best for your body.

(Maybe, like the eccentric artist Salvador Dali, you will become obsessed with a “one second nap!” He swore by these micro-naps and believed they unlocked new depths of creative brilliance. Could be worth trying, at least once!)

“Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.”
— Barbara Jordan, American politician and Civil Rights movement leader

I could not agree more!

Even with a frantic schedule, could you plan for a short nap? You might just wake up refreshed and better equipped to tackle everything on your to-do list.

Whether you are flying a space ship, leading a civil rights march, working on a blog post, or finishing up a project at home, everything feels more doable after a nap!
 

~ Dr. Sue

Question of the day: what is the strangest place you’ve ever taken a nap?

(Me: At a club concert during college…I was soooo tired. I still remember the band Robots Raised In The Wild. My body needed it badly, and my friends didn’t mind that I snagged some spontaneous shut-eye. And the music was really bad, so I didn’t miss much!)

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Start a foolish project.

 “Start a huge, foolish project, like Noah… it makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.”
~ RumiStart a Foolish project

I put the finishing touches on my painting — a vibrant peacock with rainbow plumage — and leaned back in satisfaction.

I am a physician, not a painter. I am sure there are fifth graders with more skillfully honed painting techniques than me. I imagine a professional art critic might have a lot of not-particularly-kind things to say about my painting abilities.

But I don’t care.

I signed up for a painting class at Susie Rischer’s house just because it sounded like fun.

And it was. There were eight ladies around the dining room table. Old friends and new!

It was fun because I chose to dive into the experience with no expectations or agenda. Not trying to create a museum-worthy piece of art. Not intending to sell my work online. Not trying to impress anyone. Not even trying to impress myself.

Just painting for the sheer pleasure of putting colors on a canvas.

There are so few moments in my busy life where I feel this kind of freedom.

Now that I have tasted it, I can’t wait to experience it again.

This moment of pleasure and agenda-less creation provided a kind of healing that I didn’t even know I needed. This moment reminded me: “This is the point of life, ultimately. To enjoy the ride. Really enjoy it.”

So I scheduled a date with Rando, and spent the afternoon at his downtown studio. He coached a colorful butterfly out of me and it now graces the wall of the microscope room at Catalyst.

Today: why not do as Rumi suggested and start a foolish project of your own?

And it doesn’t have to be an ark— though we are very grateful for Noah’s work.

It could be a five-minute project, or a five-hour adventure, or a project that occupies every Sunday afternoon for the rest of your life.

Big or small, let your heart be swept up in it.

It makes absolutely no difference where it leads or what people think.

Be jubilantly foolish. Your spirit. Your expression.

Enjoy it.

~ Dr. Sue

Foolish & wonderful resources to inspire you:

–    Start a foolish project: an e-course from photographer Andrea Scher. She inspired this post!

–    Improv Anywhere: comedy flash mobs cropping up in cities all over the world, simply because it’s hilarious and fun.

–    Heart Attack: people dressed as hearts dancing and giving people hugs on the street. Because why not?

–    Hello Soul: online painting courses from mixed media artist Kelly Rae Roberts.

–    Silly food shaped like bunnies and frogs and penguins and even a strawberry octopus (too cute!) Grant and I have a date for a few of these creations! The possibilities are endless on Pinterest.

Go play! 

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Less clutter. More light. How to exfoliate your skin and life.

As a facial plastic surgeon who sees soap and loofahmany beautiful faces, I often preach the merits of regular exfoliation.

A gentle exfoliant removes dead skin cells and accumulated grit from the surface of your skin, leaving you fresh-faced and glowing. It’s such an “instant gratification” experience. Dull to radiant in a matter of minutes! I love my Clarisonic skin brush with a gentle cleanser or use Revision Finishing Touch Microdermabrasion Scrub to make me feel polished. [both items may be found in Catalyst’s Clinical Spa!]

It’s surprising how quickly your skin can

accumulate dead weight that needs to be lifted away — even if you take very good care of your skin by washing, moisturizing, and applying sunscreen religiously.

It’s exactly the same with your career, your daily habits, your home… your entire life!

It’s surprisingly easy to accumulate “stuff” that you don’t particularly want or need. Commitments that seemed like a good idea at the time, energy-sucking friendships, physical objects that are just taking up space. It can all creep in so sneakily, even if you’re being mindful and conscious about your choices.

Remember, I write what I need to hear too. I’m a devoted fan of Ms. Simplicity, Melissa Schmalenberger. She’s sworn to secrecy about my piles of magazines and paper stacks, but I cleaned out my makeup drawer and the clutter on the dining table. I’m a work in progress. But sometimes, it’s my to-do list that needs recycling— or at least revising.

Just like exfoliating your beautiful face to keep it fresh and healthy, it’s a good idea to exfoliate your life, too. And what better time for a good, cleansing scrub than… springtime?

This goes beyond adding to the pile on the curb for Spring Clean-up Week.

One of the simplest ways to exfoliate and de-clutter your life is to ask yourself, “How do I want to feel as I move through my day?” (a brilliant question inspired by my friend Danielle LaPorte and her book, The Desire Map).

Then ask, “Is this ______ helping me to feel that way?”

You can apply this feeling-driven exercise to anything — a cluttered desk, a messy bedroom, a yes that should have been a no, a relationship you’re feeling uncertain about, or even the appointments on your calendar.

Maybe, in this era of your life, you want to feel “serene.” Or “generous.” Or “creative.” Or “abundant.” Or “vibrant.” Or “disciplined.” Or “devoted.” Or “energized.” Maybe it’s not just one feeling. Perhaps you’ve got a couple of words that sum up how you want to feel. (Danielle calls these your “Core Desired Feelings,” or CDFs.)

Once you’ve identified your CDFs, start by moving through a small area of your home.

Take a moment to look at, or even physically touch, every single object in that area.

Ask yourself, “Is this [item] helping me to feel [feeling that you want to feel]?”

For example: “Is this basket full of random bits and old receipts helping me to feel energized?” “Is this old, ratty chair helping me to feel abundant?”

You can do this exact same exercise with non-physical objects, too.

For example: “Is this weekly volunteer meeting helping me to feel creative?”

Listen to the answers that come from deep inside of you — and then act.

Clear away whatever is blocking you from feeling the way you want to feel.

Try to avoid falling into the old “but what if I need it later?” trap. If it doesn’t feel right, and it hasn’t felt right for a long time… it’s very unlikely that you will regret letting it go.

Be courageous and keep clearing, clearing, clearing, as best you can.

You are giving yourself a precious gift:

The gift of a radiant, less-burdened, more-spacious life.

A wide-open canvas for new goals and possibilities.

A fresh start.

 
~ Dr. Sue

What is one area of your life or home that could definitely use some “exfoliation”?

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The slippery slope of “just one more thing…”

It was the end of a long, challenging day at frustrated woman lying next to her computerthe medical clinic. Up at 5am. Finish charts on my computer. Take Grant to school. Directly into the office. Patient appointments in the clinic. Staff meetings over lunch date. More clinic. Paperwork. Then emails.

The clock hit 6 pm as I see my last patient of the day. I realized, “Wow. Thirteen solid hours. Today was… intense.”

I took a moment to breathe deeply and center myself. I packed up my belongings, said goodbye to a few colleagues, and then made my way for the door.

I drove home, looking forward to a quiet evening with my family. It started beautifully: dinner, conversation, and special play time with Grant.

But then, it happened.

That seductive little voice inside my mind. “Just one more thing…”

I opened my laptop and popped into my inbox. Never a wise move at this time of night. I began answering messages that felt “urgent,” telling myself, repeatedly, “Just one more thing… almost done… it will feel great to knock this out of the way before tomorrow…”

You know how this story ends, because I suspect you have lived a similar story yourself.

It ends with “one more thing” turning into “five more things” and then “fifty more things.”

It can lead to a restless night, poor sleep, a groggy morning, and a lackluster day.

It ends with burnout, resentment— and sometimes— serious illness.

The story may start off innocently, but it never ends happily.

I know this. You know this.

The question is: why do we do it?

Why is it so tempting to be lulled by the siren song of “just one more thing…”?

My theory is that it’s got something to do with fear.

Fear of not being good enough, valuable enough, fast enough, smart enough, pretty enough, lovable enough.

When this kind of fear is present, we human beings will do anything and everything in our power to make those uncomfortable feelings go away at least temporarily. We will overeat. Over-drink. Overspend. And yes: overwork.

Honestly? I want to be over it.

The next time I hear the voice of “just one more thing” in my mind, I promise myself, I will say:

“No. Not this time. I am enough and I have done enough for today.”

I know the same is true for you, as well.

Right now: decide what “done” means for you and when you reach that point today, let yourself be truly done. Let yourself rest. Let yourself be enough. Let the fear dissolve into contentment.

“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.” —Brenè Brown

Don’t let shame drive you into burn out and despair.

You don’t need to fight to be “enough.”

You are already there.

~ Dr. Sue

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Stress: it’s not “funny” or “cool.”

Have you ever seen this comic by Randy Japanese zen gardenGlasbergen? It’s a classic.

“I’m learning how to relax, doctor,” the patient in the strip says.

“But I want to relax better and faster! I want to be on the cutting edge of relaxation!”

I had a good chuckle when I first saw this comic. That’s how so many of us approach our lives.

We claim that we want to feel “calm” and “zen” and “mindful,” yet at the same time, we live in the world of same-day delivery, fast-food and movies on demand.

The truth is, most of us are living in a state of chronic stress:

Environmental stress (like those noisy trucks rumbling by your office window,)

Physical stress (like operating with too little sleep for several days in a row,)

Emotional stress (worrying about money, relationships, the future), and

Self-imposed stress (like obsessing over perceived imperfections, or setting unreasonably high goals and then beating yourself up for failing to achieve them).

Stress, stress, stress.

The comic strips may be funny, but it’s really no laughing matter.

When your stress levels are chronically elevated, you pay a price.

That price? Digestive issues. Sleep disorders. Weight gain. Memory impairment. A lowered immune system. Not to mention: a higher risk for basically every disease.

So what can we do about the stress epidemic that’s impacting our lives, our families, and communities?

Three ideas:

1. We can stop making stress a “badge of honor.”

When a friend confesses, “I am soooo busy” or “I’m so stressed! So many patients! My business is growing like crazy!” rather than nodding in agreement, or congratulating your friend on her busyness, pause. Say, “Wow. Are you OK? What are you doing to manage your stress levels? Can I do anything to help?”

2. We can communicate mindfully and use words that help to reduce stress for others.

Little wording choices and details matter. The simple act of adding a phrase like “no response required” or “no rush” or “take your time, this isn’t urgent” to the bottom of an email can allow your recipient to breathe a sigh of relief. This is one that I need to remember….too many asaps from me.

Your tone matters, too. Try to be gentle and compassionate when making requests. Even if you’ve been “on hold” for what feels like an eternity, waiting for a customer service representative to attend to your needs, remember that every human being deserves patience and respect.

3. We can lead by example, as often as possible.

Take your allotted vacation time. Unplug when you’re with your family. Make an effort to un-clutter your calendar. Try to laugh at yourself when things don’t go as planned. Show the world, “Being chronically stressed out and frantic is optional — not mandatory. It’s possible to move through the world in a different way.”

Big question of the day:
Who would you become, and what would it feel like, if constant, relentless stress was no longer part of your life?

Move into that new reality.

Our bodies were not designed to withstand a constant barrage of stress.

By making small, daily choices at an individual level, we can decrease our own stress levels, move through the day more gracefully, and in doing so, create a less stressful world for others.

I feel calmer just thinking about it.

Ahhhhh, peace,

~ Dr. Sue

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Gracious winning. Noble losing. Peace of mind. Lessons from the Pinewood Derby.

Grant’s face was twisted into a tight littleGrant's trophy ball of disappointment. 

He had just received a 2nd place trophy for his age group at the Pinewood Derby.

The premise? Carve a miniature wheeled car out of a piece of wood, line it up with the other cars, and see whose car races the fastest.

Grant’s car was a minimalist beauty. Painted bright yellow but so layered with graphite that it looked like sleek stainless steel. It zoomed fast! But not the fastest.

He was not pleased with his 2nd place finish. Seeing his frustration, I recognized one of those ‘teachable moments’ — an opportunity to help my son learn an important lesson about graciousness, character, and sportsmanship.

The truth is that “winning” is a concept that so many of us struggle with. Myself included.

We all want to win. In some instances, we need to win.

We want to win the patient, win the client, win the opportunity, win the chance to speak on stage. We want to succeed. Earn a living. Make an impact. Nobody wants to feel like they are living a “2nd place life.”

But what does “winning” mean, exactly?

After scouring the Internet for quotes and definitions, the one that rings truest to me is a statement that doesn’t include the word “winning” at all, but defines it nonetheless.

“Set peace of mind as your highest goal, and organize your life around it.” —Brian Tracy

To me, attaining that precious emotional state, “peace of mind,” is the definition of winning.

If you can enter into a competition, a conversation, a relationship, a creative project, or a business venture, and walk away knowing: “I truly gave my personal best. I regret nothing. I feel at peace.” …then you have won.

What is more precious that satisfaction, contentment, and peace of mind?

No external trophy or ribbon can give you peace of mind — or take it away.

It’s an inside job.

That is what I tried to explain to my son amidst chattering kids and miniature cars.

He got to spend fun time with his dad working on the project. He got to make many trips to the Boy Scout store and the hardware store. He got to work with cool tools. He got to hang with his Tiger pack and watch the thrilling races. He got to be happy for his friend who won. He got to try his best.

We’re still working on these lessons, and likely will be for a long time.

First, second or last. Triumph or “better luck next time.”

Peace of mind and no regrets means you have won.

~ Dr. Sue

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9 quick & simple ways to get the best night’s sleep of your life… tonight.

You may have missed National Sleep Awareness Week last month, but I bet you noticed that you lost an hour of shut-eye when the clock jumped ahead by an hour for Daylight savings time.
 
Good sleep is the best way to renew and refresh ourselves, yet it us one of the most overlooked aspects of health. Not getting enough sleep, or getting poor-quality sleep, is actually quite dangerous. One of my three board certifications is Sleep Medicine, so this can keep ME up at night, worrying about all of you!

Not getting enough shut-eye can lead to a spike in stress hormones (which causes weight gain and other issues), memory issues, a dramatically higher risk of getting into a car accident, high blood pressure, stroke, depression… the list goes on and on.

Sleep is NOT optional. We all know this, of course, yet millions of Americans are moving through life in a state of chronic sleep deprivation — getting less than 6 hours a night. Optimal sleep is 7-8 hours for most people.

The good news?

Unlike other health upgrades — like changing your diet, improving your cardiovascular fitness, and other things that can take a great deal of time, effort and planning to do — getting a better night’s sleep is a gift you can give to yourself immediately! Tonight! All it takes is a few small tweaks to your usual routine.

You can say yes to better skin, a better mood and a better body!

Here are 9 quick & simple ways to get the best night’s sleep of your life… tonight.

It starts in the morning!

1. Make your bed.
Your mom was right!  Make your bed!
There is something so soothing about peeling back smooth, cool sheets rather than a tangled mess of fabric. Seeing a beautiful, tidy, welcoming bed allows your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and relax your entire body. The first step towards a good night’s rest!

2. Invest in the best!
You’re going to (hopefully!) be spending 1/3 of your life — 8 hours a day — in your bed. That’s a significant amount of time, so invest in a mattress, bed frame, blankets, pillows and sheets that you really love! I recommend bamboo fabric sheets — so delicious and eco-friendly, too.

3. Cool your jets.
Studies show that we sleep better in cooler temperatures, less than 68 degrees. Turn down the heat at night and save a few dollars. Try cracking a window or turning on a fan in your bedroom to chill things out. Side note and PSA: cooler temps and the presence of a gentle fan moving air in a baby’s room decreases the risk Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

4. Create a “caffeine cut-off.”
We all tolerate caffeine differently. I have a friend who can chug a double-shot of espresso at midnight and then, somehow, drift off to sleep!

But generally, it’s a good idea to put your stash of green tea or coffee away starting six hours before when you intend to go to bed. So, if bedtime is 10pm, that means your final vanilla-latte of the day should be happening no later than 4pm.

If you are one of those people who is extra-sensitive to caffeine, then you might want to extend that six-hour window to eight or even ten hours. Experiment to find out what your personal “caffeine cut-off time” ought to be. And really try to stick with it.
 

5. Screen out screen time.  
Bright lights from computers, TVs and cell phones keep our brains over-stimulated. Try to unplug from devices an hour before bedtime. You can also try amber-colored glasses, or a free software download called f.lux on your computer to automatically filter out the blue light wavelengths that are particularly bad for sleep.

6. Black it out.
Electronic lights are a serious sleep-wrecker. Even that subtle glow from your cell phone, power cords, or the TV even when it’s off can pose a problem. Be sure to tuck all of those gadgets away as much as you can. Not enough? Got neon lights peeking in through your windows from the city outside? Consider investing in black-out curtains. (A life-changer!)

Use an amber night-light for your kids and screen out your alarm clock.
 

7. Supplements can help.
Who knew Vitamin D was so important for good sleep? Get your levels checked so that you know if you are deficient and need to catch up, but most of us need at least 1000 iU. Take Vitamin D in the morning.

Omega-3 fatty acids can increase feelings of wellness and decrease stressful feelings that keep you awake.

Magnesium can be very relaxing and most of us are short on it, so an evening supplement can be very helpful.

Tryptophan is responsible for post-Thanksgiving dinner dozing and a supplement can help you get to sleep faster at night.

Melatonin is a powerful hormone and antioxidant that your body should produce on its own if you keep things dark enough. But use it occasionally for travel or for a night when you need power sleep.
 

8. Set a bedtime and a sleep ritual.
Having consistent rituals to mark the end of the day can really help you to relax and drift off to a beautiful night’s sleep. You can try a warm bath, and the cooling effect after makes you sleepy. You could try journaling for a few moments — or maybe writing down your top 3 most important priorities for tomorrow, just to get them out of your head and onto the page. You could listen to some soothing, sleep-inducing music. Or dab your wrists with some vanilla, sandalwood or lavender oil (one of Mother Nature’s best sleep enhancers!).

Last but not least?

9. Don’t force it.
If you’re lying in bed, wide awake, and just can’t fall asleep… shift into a new different activity. Avoid grabbing your laptop or another digital device — the illumination from the screen will just confuse your brain into thinking, “It’s morning! Wake up!”

Instead, do something quiet and tech-free — try deep breathing… this works wonders for my busy seven-year-old!

Or try listening to gentle music, stretching, journaling a bit more, or reading a very boring book with a special night light with no blue wavelengths.

Then, when you feel that wave of sleepiness roll over you, get right back into bed (if you’re not there already).

Sweet dreams!

~ Dr. Sue

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Amazing women in medicine you need to know — and thank.

We’ve celebrated Women’s History Month, Mind Over MedicineInternational Women’s Day and coming up, Doctor’s Day. I’d like to take a moment to shine a bright spotlight on a few amazing women in medicine.

These healthcare champions are changing the world of hormone care, mind-body medicine, and women’s wellness.

Because of them and the work that they are doing you could wind up living a longer, healthier, more satisfying life.

We owe them a debt of gratitude!

1. Dr. Sara Gottfried | Hormone and women’s health expert

In her thirties, Sara was a frazzled, frumpy, overworked doctor. After a colleague recommended Prozac to lift her mood, she thought, “Something about this doesn’t feel right.”

She decided to apply her medical training to herself and discovered that her cortisol levels were wildly high. Other physicians told her, “That’s not a big deal,” but her instincts said: “I don’t know about that…” Within one month, by making some strategic lifestyle changes, she fixed her cortisol imbalance and felt enormously better.

This experience prompted her to research and experiment further. Many years and 10,000 clients later, she is one of the world’s foremost authorities on women’s wellness and natural hormone care. Her book, The Hormone Cure, is a must-read for women of every age.

What I love most about Sara? Her empowering stance on healthcare! She writes: “I have reclaimed my life.” Through her work, she inspires other women to take charge, claim personal responsibility, and find customized solutions, rather than ignoring signals from their own bodies.

Send Sara some love: tweet a “thank you” note to her at @drgottfried.

2. Dr. Lissa Rankin | Author of Mind Over Medicine

Lissa doesn’t mince words: she believes that our American healthcare system is “broken.” But she also believes that it can be repaired: “one empowered patient and one conscious healthcare provider at a time.”

Her book, Mind Over Medicine, challenges old doctrines and reinforces — with scientific proof! — that your mindset, attitude and beliefs can dramatically impact your body’s ability to heal itself.

She has a new book called The Fear Cure. Thoreau once said “Most men (and women) lead lives of quiet desperation.” Desperation is the result of many fears that plague us: fear of loneliness, fear of failure, fear of disease, fear of judgment, and more. These chronic fears result in stress that undermines health and leads to disease and death. Dr. Rankin speaks of transforming fear and using intuition and joy to lead our lives.

Lissa is part of a new generation of physicians who are bringing self-care into healthcare. Not just prescribing unnecessary pills, but actually sparking deep conversations with patients about stress, loneliness, isolation, and broken-heartedness — mental and emotional factors that dramatically impact your physical health.

Because of leaders like Lissa, future med school students might be trained to write prescriptions for hugs, laughter and conversation. (Not a joke. Lissa’s work is proving that human connection is good medicine!)

What I love most about Lissa? She’s also deeply committed to mentoring and uplifting her peers in the medical community. I’ve been part of her mentoring program for women physicians and she constantly inspires me to serve at a higher level.

Send Lissa some love: tweet a “thank you” note to her at @lissarankin.

3. Your local healthcare provider.

Expecting another New York Times bestselling author and industry-shaking thought leader, right?

Here’s the truth: there are tons of incredible women doing groundbreaking things in the world of medicine — far too many to list in one blog post.

But there’s one woman who might be significantly overlooked — and underappreciated.

Your local healthcare provider.

40% of physicians experience extreme physical, mental and emotional burn-out due to job-related stress. 90% of physicians are so depleted and strained, they actually would not recommend healthcare as a profession. These numbers prove that doctors really, really need some love.

In honor of International Women’s Day and National Doctors Day, why not send a heartfelt email or handwritten letter to your local care provider? Especially if she’s a hardworking woman, but even if your provider is a man, go ahead and thank him too!

As a physician, I can tell you: every little bit of positivity and encouragement really counts.

When physicians are happy, patients receive better care. The reverse is true, as well. When patients care about the well-being of their physicians, physicians get a boost of happiness. It’s a partnership. We are all in this together!

Here’s to women, everywhere — on both sides of the examination table — who are working to create a happier, healthier world.

Love,

~ Dr. Sue

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Danger zone: 5 of the worst toxins that people ignore, forget, or simply don’t know about.

You might have missed National Poison Prevention Week.

It just ended. It’s not exactly the “cheeriest” week on the calendar, but it’s a very important topic.

Here’s why:

“More than 2 million poisonings are reported each year to the 57 poison control centers across the country. More than 90 percent of these poisonings occur in the home. The majority of non-fatal poisonings occur in children younger than six years old. And, poisonings are one of the leading causes of death among adults.”

Wow. Those facts come directly from the folks at the National Poison Prevention Week Council. Scary stuff. And the real tragedy is… nearly all poisonings are completely preventable. Most people just haven’t been educated about the everyday toxins and red flags to watch for.

Let’s fix that….

Here are five of the worst toxins that many people ignore, forget, or simply don’t know about:

– Household cleaning products.
Drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, nail polish remover, dishwasher detergents, furniture polish… just about every single bottle beneath your kitchen or bathroom sink is extremely harmful when inhaled or ingested.

Little ones tend to be curious about strange liquids in colorful bottles, so put a child-safe lock on any cupboards containing chemical-laden products.

For some products you can make the switch to eco-friendly solutions: like a homemade blend of vinegar and orange zest. You can use it to clean just about anything — and it smells amazing! Growing up, my mom did not like mops…. “They just push the dirt around.” So, on our knees we went, and we scrubbed the floor with vinegar water. And to this day, the faint scent of white vinegar means fresh and clean, and sore knees.

– Driveway sealant.
Many driveways are finished with a coal tar–based sealant. Unfortunately, these sealants contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): toxic compounds that have been linked to cancer and other genetic mutations.

Even worse: these toxins can seep through the soil into your local drinking water supply. That’s why they’ve already been banned in a few states (with more on the way.)

Testing to see if your driveway contains a coal sealant is a bit of a fussy process, but it’s worth the effort. You’ll find instructions here.

– Nonstick cookware and bakeware.
I know. You’re thinking, “So my driveway has to be re-finished… and now I can’t even bake cupcakes in my favorite muffin tin?!” It’s annoying, but you should be aware that nonstick cookware is coated with perfluoroalkyl acid. Great for keeping eggs from sticking to the pan. But when the pan gets super hot— above 500 degrees —not great for your health. It’s been connected to higher instances of ADHD, thyroid disease and infertility in both men and women.

So don’t pre-heat the pan, or use the HI setting on your stove, as a Good Housekeeping study showed that this lead to dangerously hot temps.

Your best option is to switch to an old-school cast iron skillet or other classic products like All-Clad. This beautiful gallery of cookware and kitchen items might inspire you to go shopping!

– Batteries. (Especially tiny ones.)
Those little “button” style batteries inside watches, toys, games, flashing jewelry, singing greeting cards and remote control devices can often wind up on the floor where pets (and kids) can swallow them. Once in the GI tract, the chemicals leach out and can cause burns of the esophagus, stomach and intestines.

This is highly dangerous and, in some cases, can be fatal. The solution? Secure the battery area of your household devices with strong tape or a screwdriver, and of course, keep unused batteries in a safe, secure place.

– Stress and toxic relationships.
You’ve heard the expression: “stress kills.” It’s not an exaggeration.

If you’re living with chronically elevated stress levels — as millions of people do — you are placing unnecessary strain on your heart and other vital organs, spiking your risk for cancer, and potentially knocking years off your lifespan. Not to mention: degrading your overall happiness and quality of life.

Take some time to think about the biggest sources of stress in your life.

Work? Your relationships? Friendships that aren’t working? Self-imposed pressure?

Make an effort — this week — to do a “life detox” and reduce or remove at least one source of persistent stress from your life. You’ll be doing your entire body a favor!

Poisons — the chemical kind, as well as the emotional kind — are everywhere.

It’s vital for all of us to be mindful and aware of the risks, take charge, cleanse, detox, and remove some of the biggest toxicity culprits from our lives.

Nothing is more important than your health and safety — and the safety of people you love.

Take action.

Be safe.

~ Dr. Sue

A few additional resources to bookmark or plug into your cellphone:

American Association of Poison Control Centers. Free, confidential medical advice 24 hours a day. http://www.aapcc.org/ 1-800-222-1222

Your first steps if you suspect someone has ingested poison. http://www.poisonhelp.hrsa.gov/faqs/basic-first-aid-tips/index.html

A complete list of environment toxins: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,1976909,00.html

Battery disposal tips: www.duracell.com/en-us/battery-care-and-disposal

27 non-toxic recipes for cleaning products: http://greatist.com/health/27-chemical-free-products-diy-spring-cleaning

Noise pollution: another kind of “toxin” to remove from your life. http://eschooltoday.com/pollution/noise-pollution/effects-of-noise-pollution.html

20 tips to tame your stress: http://psychcentral.com/lib/20-tips-to-tame-your-stress/000102

Kids talk about… stress (fascinating!) http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/kids_stress.html

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Are you hearing yourself?

March is International Listening Awareness Month.

From those earbuds blasting music from your iPod into your ears… to construction, rumbling trucks and other forms of noise pollution outside your office window… we live in a very noisy world!

Our world just keeps growing noisier, too. It’s not just “annoying,” though. It’s becoming a health epidemic.

One report indicates that 1 in 6 teenagers are already experiencing hearing loss some (or all) of the time. Older folks aren’t faring much better.

I’ve already written about some of the steps we can take to reduce noise pollution and protect our precious ears.

But today, in honor of Listening Awareness Month, I’d like to address a different kind of hearing & listening.

The kind of listening you can do without your ears, ideally when you are alone, enjoying a moment of peace.

Listening to… yourself.

When was the last time you really listened to yourself? A step back from our daily busyness, with no distractions, and no background noise? Just you, hearing yourself think… and allowing yourself to feel.

When your body “talks” to you, or tries to send you a message, do you honor it? Or ignore it?

When you get a “gut feeling” about a particular person or situation, do you trust it? Or choose not to hear it?

Our bodies are speaking to us all the time. Often, though, we are too busy, too distracted, or simply unwilling to listen.

It’s unfortunate, but often we wait until our bodies are no longer whispering, but screaming at us with pain, or through the “wake up call” of disease, before we finally listen. As someone with a nagging hip, I know this voice well!

Today, my invitation to myself, and to you, is to listen more closely.

Rather than going through the motions of life, obliviously, or habitually, really listen to yourself.

Listen to your body. Your feelings. Your thoughts. Your desires.

When you feel anxious, notice that. When you feel excited, notice that. When you feel yourself being physically challenged at the gym, notice that. When “challenge” crosses the line and turns into “pain,” notice that, too.

Listen as if you are listening to an old friend that you love but haven’t seen for a while. Listen with great intent and attention, as if you’re trying to capture and soak in every single sentence, every nuance, every message.

Try little “listening experiments” through the day. Trying to make a decision? How do the options make your body feel? Light and expansive or dark and constricted?

When you wake up, rather than automatically reaching for your usual cup of coffee or bowl of cereal, check in with your body. Listen. Does your body crave something different, today? Allow yourself to hear the new set of instructions.

Bryant H. McGill once said:

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”

To add to that wisdom:

One of the most sincere forms of SELF respect is actually listening to what YOU — your body, your intuitive self, your spirit — have to say.

Listen.

What do you hear and feel?

~ Dr. Sue

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