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Chronic Stress: America’s 21st Century Health Crisis


Chronic stress is a problem for millions of Americans. Yet when most health publications talk about the issues plaguing this country, very few spend enough time focusing on how to combat this deadly condition.

The Problem & Prevalence of Chronic Stress

Running late for an important meeting? Have an unfinished project with a looming deadline? See a massive spider in the corner of your kitchen?

Any time you experience a threat to your health, wealth, or comfort, your brain’s control tower (hypothalamus) sends a flood of hormones into the body. These hormones trigger what’s known as a “fight or flight” response. Your heart rate picks up, breathing increases, and muscles tense up and prepare for action. 

In many cases, this natural stress reaction keeps you out of danger. But in other situations, excess stress could actually put your body at serious risk – particularly when this stress response continues to fire over and over again with no relief.

Chronic stress causes a long list of negative health effects, including headaches, heartburn, rapid breathing, pounding heart, insomnia, weakened immune system, high blood pressure, stomach aches, tense muscles, and even fertility problems. If not addressed, these isolated issues can become serious and potentially life-threatening.

Research shows that more than 75 percent of American adults report regular symptoms of stress. Roughly half of all Americans say stress has negatively affected their behavior and health. And when you look at it on a global scale, the United States is the seventh-most stressed country (despite having more wealth and better living conditions than the six countries ahead of it on the list).

Fighting Back Against Stress

While our country is stressed on a collective basis, this doesn’t mean you have to be stressed on an individual basis. Knowing that the problem exists is the first step. Fighting back is the second phase. Here are some useful techniques for doing just that.

Exercise. Stress constricts blood flow and causes your body to tense up. This can lead to a host of health issues and chronic pain. Exercise and movement improve circulation, loosen tight muscles, and send pain-killing endorphins into the body. Exercise also improves your overall health, which helps to neutralize and reverse the negative impact that chronic stress has had on your body.

Any form of exercise will do. However, if you want to get the best results, try an activity that (a) you like, (b) gets your heart rate up, and (c) doesn’t totally destroy your joints. Good options include swimming, walking, dancing, yoga, and cycling. 

Nutrition. You can exercise all you want, but unless you’re eating well you’re not going to fully tackle your chronic stress problem. Your body needs the proper balance of essential vitamins and nutrients in order to function properly.

For starters, make sure you’re eating regularly throughout the day. Your brain requires glucose to perform well. Stable blood sugar levels help you concentrate and focus. As far as specific foods go, make sure you’re getting omega-3 fatty acids, and plenty of copper, zinc, vitamin C, A, and E. Avoid refined sugar, trans fats, additives, and caffeine when possible.

VNS. The vagus nerve is one of the longest nerves in your entire body. It runs from the base of your brain all the way down to your colon (and traces through virtually every major organ along the way). In addition to regulating different physical functions of your body, the vagus nerve acts as your “chill out” machine – signaling the timely release of calming neurotransmitters like serotonin. 

The neatest part about the vagus nerve is that it can be stimulated. And while vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) was once only able to be performed through surgical procedures, it’s now possible to do it at home with nothing more than a pair of VNS headphones.

Therapy. Without question, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective methods of reducing stress and rediscovering healthy mental and emotional balance. You can think of it as neural recalibration. 

The goal of CBT is to identify the source of the stress, restructure your priorities, and then provide actionable steps you can use to manage stress and change your response to factors that can’t be controlled. 

CBT is something that should be performed by a licensed therapist. If you have a general practitioner, schedule an appointment and get a referral. Otherwise, you can find and refer yourself directly to a local therapist that offers counseling. 

Calendar Management. You can reduce stress on a very practical level by simplifying your schedule and reducing the number of commitments on your calendar. You need regular time throughout the week where there’s nothing scheduled. (This should include at least two evenings per week.) This time helps you relax, unwind, and process what’s happening in your life. 

Searching for a Healthier Future 

You’ll never totally defeat stress. In fact, you wouldn’t even want to. Some stress is a good thing, as it helps keep you away from situations that could potentially be dangerous or life-threatening. Having said that, you never want isolated stress to snowball into chronic stress. By implementing the tips outlined in this article, you can steer clear of the negative health risks and byproducts that stem from chronic stress and finally enjoy your best life.

Is it Getting Harder to Raise Healthy Kids?

Many leading researchers and experts in child psychology and healthcare believe there’s never been a more challenging time to raise healthy kids than now. Between the abundance of unhealthy food options, the magnetism of mind-numbing screen-based entertainment, and an increase in anxiety-inducing triggers, raising a healthy child in the 21st century may feel downright impossible. But with the right approach, you can put your child on a better path.

Big Challenges in Health Childhood Development

There’s no universal playbook on how to raise a child, but if there were, you’d find these four challenges prominently featured throughout:


  • Lack of proper nutrition. Processed junk food and sugary drinks have replaced fresh meals and water as the go-to options for busy parents who lack the time to prepare balanced meals. Unfortunately, this lack of proper nutrition often leads to a host of health issues. 


In addition to the obvious – like weight gain and obesity – insufficient diets are linked to a variety of problems with academic learning and psychosocial behavior. Malnutrition leads to developmental issues in the brain, which have a direct impact on a child’s ability to process their emotions and/or respond to stress.


  • Lack of physical activity. With the increase in digital entertainment options, most children don’t get nearly enough physical activity. The WHO states 80 percent of children between the ages of 11 and 17 aren’t physically active enough. Girls are even less likely than boys to get exercise (perhaps due to a lack of access to programs).



  • Limited access to healthcare. Research suggests that 20.3 million children in the United States (or roughly one out of three kids) face significant barriers to accessing essential health care. This issue is multilayered, but has to do with insurance, locations of practices, and even a lack of information and education.



  • Excessive screen time. A report released by Common Sense Media shows that children between the ages of 8 and 12 use screens for entertainment purposes for an average of 4 hours and 44 minutes per day. It’s even worse for those in the 13 to 18 age bracket: 7 hours and 22 minutes per day.


There are plenty of other issues at play – including a host of mental health issues like anxiety and depression – but these are four challenges that we as parents have significant control over.

Course Correcting and Raising Healthy Kids

Raising healthy children is a full-time job. It’s not something you can gloss over or put on autopilot. It requires focus, repetition, and constant attention to detail (even when other parents make you feel small for the choices you make). Understanding that every situation is different, here are some expert-recommended ways to keep a child on a path of healthy maturation and development:


  • Aim for Balanced Nutrition With Weekly Meal Prepping


Children need a balanced diet that consists of adequate protein, calcium, vitamin D, and iron (among other nutrients). Proper hydration is also very important – particularly as their rate of physical activity increases.

Most parents opt for fast food, frozen meals, or processed options because of their convenience. (It’s a lot easier to pop a frozen pizza in the oven than it is to prepare an entire meal after work.) But with the right strategy, your family can eat healthy without spending hours in the kitchen each day. It’s called meal prepping. You can find some inspiring ideas here.


  • Schedule Regular Healthcare Visits in Advance


While there are certainly larger issues at play – including a broken healthcare system that makes getting quality care expensive for low-income and middle-class families – there’s another issue that families face: lack of planning.

If you want to prioritize your child’s healthcare, plan their checkups and visits well in advance. This gives you time to put the appointment on your calendar and schedule around it. 

In addition to regular visits to the primary care doctor, schedule dental cleanings for your kids. Research shows that 42 percent of kids ages 2 to 11 suffer from tooth decay (which makes them 300 percent more likely to miss school).


  • Place Limits on Screen Time (But Let Kids Decide)


Most kids clearly need to have limits on their screen time (otherwise they’d never surface for air). However, children also need to learn how to manage their time. The question is, how do you do both?

The best approach is to set parental timers on each device your child owns. For example, you might allow your child 60 minutes of tablet time per day. Once these 60 minutes pass, the device automatically powers down. The beauty of using this feature is that the child gets to decide when to use their device. They can choose to use 30 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes in the afternoon. They can save all 60 minutes until the end of the day. It’s their call! They get to self-regulate and you don’t have to micromanage.

Set Your Child Up for Success

As a parent, you’re just trying to do the best you can with the resources you have. But hopefully the tips highlighted above will give you some practical tools you can use to reorient your child’s lifestyle in a positive manner. Whether you have toddlers or teenagers, a more intentional approach will serve you well.

Why Are Bicycle Crash Rates So High?


Bicycles have been a favored mode of transportation for centuries. In the early days of the bicycle’s development, it was an inexpensive and efficient way to travel, with no automobiles to provide a powered alternative. Today, they’re a top choice for their energy efficiency, utility as an exercise, and convenience in dense traffic areas.

But despite the popularity of the bicycle and increasing safety standards for both bicycles and the people who ride them, bicycle crash rates remain high. In 2018 alone, there were 857 bicyclists killed in traffic crashes in the United States. Thousands of bicyclists are injured in accidents every year, and tens of thousands of people experience crashes and collisions that go unreported.

So why are bicycle crash rates so high?

Factors for Accidents

First, it’s important to recognize that the risk of being involved in a bicycle accident isn’t stagnant, nor is it the same in all areas. There are several factors that can increase your risk of being in a bicycle accident, including:

  •         Timing. Most bicycle accidents happen between 6 pm and 9 pm. This is partially because rush hour leads to an increase in vehicular traffic. This is also when the sun typically sets, resulting in lower visibility for motorists and bicyclists alike.
  •         Traffic. The amount of traffic on the road also plays a factor. In rural areas and on bicycle-designated trails, there’s practically no risk of an accident. But on roads with congested traffic and those with high speed limits, accidents are much more common.
  •         Infrastructure. Some cities make it a point to provide designated spaces for bicyclists to ride safely – but this isn’t always a given. Sometimes, open roadways and confusing intersections can drastically increase the risks faced by bicyclists.
  •         Conditions. Conditions are also a factor. Darkness and inclement weather conditions increase the risk of an accident significantly. Additionally, certain areas (like construction zones) may have more obstacles or hazards than others.

Even when controlling for these factors, the accident rate is high. So what are the major problems contributing to this excessive crash rate?

Road Disputes

In some areas of the country and around the world, bicyclists have designated paths where they can ride safely. Sometimes, these trails are so far from the mainstream roads that it’s practically impossible for a motor vehicle to hit them. Other times, they’re physically protected by some kind of barrier, such as a median or a row of parked cars. In these setups, motor vehicle accidents are exceedingly rare, and most bicycle crashes are purely the fault of the rider.

But on the road, disputes between bicyclists and motorists can easily arise. Bicyclists may take up more than their fair share of space, or drivers may be annoyed that they can’t conveniently pass a slow bicycle; if either party gets aggressive or begins to neglect safety, an accident can easily occur.

Bicyclist Neglect of the Law

Many bicyclists make it a point to follow the law exactly, but others may be ignorant of bicycle laws or may deliberately ignore them. In some locations, bicycles can function as pedestrians or as vehicles, depending on where they’re ridden; for example, they must comply with all motor vehicle laws when on the road, but may also be ridden on the sidewalk.

Some bicyclists attempt to get the “best of both worlds” by riding on the road, but selectively ignoring traffic laws, such as running through red lights. Such deviations from legal order can result in a higher rate of accidents.

The Visibility Problem

Of course, visibility is also a problem. Bicycles are much smaller than motor vehicle counterparts, and most drivers are used to looking only for other full-sized vehicles on the road. Bicycles also don’t make much noise, making them harder to detect in blind spots. The problem is made worse by low-visibility conditions, such as a dark atmosphere or lingering fog.

Fortunately, this problem can be overcome with the installation of taillights and the wearing of bright clothing, among other changes.

Bicycle Fragility

Bicycles tend to be more fragile and crash-prone than motor vehicles in several respects. With two wheels instead of four, they have less inherent stability. There are no anti-lock brakes or advanced driver assistance systems. And safety features like airbags and seatbelts are totally lacking. All it takes is one sideswipe or one obstruction on the road to send a bike swerving out of control.

Riding a bike isn’t inherently dangerous, but it’s a riskier activity than, say, walking or driving a car in most circumstances. When riding a bicycle, always take extra precautions to protect yourself, such as wearing bright clothing, installing lights on your bike, following the law, and of course, wearing a helmet and other protective gear. 


DUI Arrests Are Down, But Will It Last? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that people live for more than a year now. People all over the United States (and all over the world) have begun working from home more consistently, reducing their socializing, and even limiting their trips to the grocery store and other basic errands. Accordingly, people have been driving less.

For industries like travel, oil, and auto sales, this isn’t the best news. But there are some massive benefits to seeing reduced rates of road travel. For starters, the fatality rate plummets; every year, around 1.35 million people are killed in motor vehicle accidents around the world. With people driving a fraction of the time they did before, the number of deaths proportionally decreases. Additionally, we’re seeing much less motor vehicle-originated pollution.

Interestingly, we’re also seeing lower rates of DUI convictions. Driving under the influence is a crime no matter where you live, and the penalties can be harsh – for good reason. Driving intoxicated drastically increases your rate of being involved in an accident, and if you’re convicted, you’ll have to pay a hefty fine – not to mention face possible jail time, a suspended license, and other penalties.

The question is, will the decreased rates of DUI arrests continue once the COVID-19 pandemic is over? Or will DUI rates return to normal once society begins to function as it did before the pandemic?

Permanent Changes

Let’s take a look at some of the permanent changes that could arise from the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping DUI rates low for the foreseeable future:

  • Working from home. The COVID-19 pandemic practically forced businesses to find a way to continue working from home. Entire workforces were sent home for months in companies that would previously never consider a remote operation. When rates of productivity remained consistent, or actually improved, CEOs were taken aback. Now, we’re seeing a trend of company owners pledging that working from home will be a permanent fixture in their organization. If fewer people are driving to and from work on a daily basis, they’ll have fewer opportunities to take advantage of happy hour – and fewer chances to drive while intoxicated.
  • New forms of entertainment. People have also been forced to discover new ways to entertain themselves during this pandemic. Previously, millions of people went to bars whenever they were bored, drinking and talking to strangers to get a fix of socialization. These days, more people are talking to their friends over Zoom, playing games together, and taking advantage of subscription streaming services. If people get used to these new forms of entertainment, the bar scene may no longer be as appealing, resulting in fewer drunk drivers on the road.
  • Reliance on technology. The pandemic has also introduced us to forms of technology we might never have otherwise considered. Millions of people are now relying on apps to order groceries, get takeout, and notably – get from one place to the other. Due to this increased awareness and reliance, people may be more likely to take advantage of ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber when they’re too drunk to drive home on their own.

The Counterargument 

Of course, there’s also the possibility that DUI rates could return to normal – or even increase once lockdowns no longer affect our daily life.

For example:

  • Joblessness, isolation, and coping. Not all businesses got the chance to transition to working from home. The economic impact of COVID-19 is still unfolding, and the unemployment rate remains relatively high. With people making less money, feeling less fulfilled, and generally feeling more isolated due to the effects of the pandemic, we may actually see a spike in people drinking – and caring less about the consequences of their actions – when the pandemic is over.
  • Pent-up energy and partying. Many people have gone without significantly socializing for more than a year. When finally given the go-ahead to return to daily life, they may be eager to “live it up” and party as much as possible. Increased drinking, increased socialization, and increased driving could lead to more DUIs.
  • Lower perception of risk. There’s also a chance that people could develop a lower perception of risk that pushes them to engage in riskier behaviors. For example, if people see fewer cars on the road, they may believe they have a lower risk of getting involved in an accident, and they may be more willing to drive home after having “just a few” drinks.

It’s hard to say whether DUI rates will remain low when the worst of the pandemic has passed. Some factors could influence people to drive less and spend less time drinking in public. Others could actually push the DUI rate higher as we return to normalcy. In any case, do your best to drive safely when venturing out on the road.

Why Heartburn Is Still a Major Health Problem

Most of us have experienced heartburn at some point in our lives, whether you experience it on a chronic basis or you only have it periodically after eating something particularly spicy. But while the symptom itself is often mild, it can be a major health problem – especially if it persists.

So why is there still no cure for heartburn? Why is it such a major health problem? And what can we do about it?

The Basics of Heartburn

Heartburn is described as a burning sensation in your chest, usually arising after a meal, late in the evening, or when your body is in certain positions (like bending over). For most people, heartburn is both mild and infrequent, and is therefore no cause for concern. A handful of lifestyle changes and basic antacid tablets are enough to manage this system.

However, in some cases, heartburn is frequent enough or strong enough to interfere with your daily life. If your heartburn occurs more than twice per week, if you experience symptoms despite taking over the counter (OTC) medication, or if you have other symptoms like difficulty swallowing, it’s important to see a doctor.

The cause of heartburn is stomach acid; this important digestive acid in your stomach creeps up your esophagus, which ordinarily allows food to pass from your mouth to your stomach. Ordinarily, this acid is kept in place by a muscle known as an esophageal sphincter. When this muscle is too weak to operate normally or if it relaxes in an abnormal way, it may cause the acid to leak up your esophagus.

Other risk factors for heartburn include specific types of food, which can spike stomach acid and make heartburn more likely. Foods that trigger heartburn vary by individual, but include spicy foods, onions, citrus fruits like oranges and lemons (along with citrus-derived food products), tomatoes and tomato products, fatty foods, fried foods, peppermint, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, carbonated drinks like soda, and large meals. You may also be at increased risk of heartburn if you’re overweight or pregnant.

Medication Woes

So why don’t we have heartburn under control? Part of the problem is the medication available to us.

If you’re suffering from a mild case of heartburn, you’ll have to turn to OTC medications to relieve your symptoms. The first line of defense is usually antacids, which work to neutralize stomach acid, therefore nixing the problem at the root. Some antacids also have secondary ingredients that attempt to remedy related digestive issues; for example, they may contain simethicone, which is designed to minimize gas.

Popular antacids include aluminum hydroxide gel (like Alternagel), calcium carbonate tablets (like Tums), and Pepto-Bismol.

However, it’s important to use antacids sparingly and according to the directions. If you use these antacid treatments irresponsibly, it could result in constipation, diarrhea, or other unpleasant symptoms. Additionally, if you use antacid medications on a daily basis to reduce heartburn, it could be covering up a severe underlying problem; in other words, you’ll be using OTC medications to lull yourself into a false sense of security.

You can also use acid reducers for heartburn. These medications are designed to reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces. Oftentimes, they come in the form of histamine antagonists (H2 antagonists/H2 blockers) or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These include things like Cimetidine (like Tagamet HB) and Nizatidine.

However, not all acid reducers are reliable. The popular acid reducing product Zantac, for example, was removed from the market in 2020 because it was found to contain a cancer-causing agent.

In extreme cases, your doctor may prescribe you a stronger form of medication, often a PPI. These medications are usually prescribed for a 4- to 8-week period; however, they won’t cure your heartburn. Instead, they’re intended to reduce your symptoms for as long as you continue taking the medication.

Why Heartburn Is Such a Big Problem

Essentially, heartburn remains a major problem for three reasons.

  1.       The population. Approximately 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month, and more than 15 million people experience it every day. That’s a huge chunk of the population, and all of them struggle with this affliction.
  2.       The persistence. Even with the help of medication, heartburn tends to be persistent. You may experience symptoms for the rest of your life.
  3.       The medication options. OTC medications and prescription medications can only treat the symptoms in the moment, and many of them have been found to cause secondary problems.

There’s no cure for heartburn and there likely won’t be – at least not for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, if you experience heartburn on a regular basis, your best bet is to incorporate lifestyle changes that reduce the severity and occurrence of your symptoms. And if those symptoms negatively interfere with your life, it’s time to see a doctor. 


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