The rat race and our search for Happiness

Steve Cutts' video titled "Happiness" is disturbingly accurate portrayal of so many aspects of our daily lives. When I watch this video, I can't help but wonder why we buy into all these promises of happiness, and chase them so relentlessly?

Steve Cutts‘ video titled “Happiness” is disturbingly accurate portrayal of so many aspects of our daily lives. When I watch this video, I can’t help but wonder why we buy into all these promises of happiness, and chase them so relentlessly?

Cutts’ work seems to capture so much of the futility of so much of what we do to achieve happiness in our lives. There is a better way to live our lives. Realising that and shifting our perspective isn’t as easy as it seems, though.

Why you’re not a morning person (unless you are)

If you’re ever accused of being lazy or slacking off because you’re not a morning person or because you just want to have a quick nap and recharge, there is a body of science backing you up!

As it happens, I am a morning person. Our son definitely is. My wife isn’t a morning person at all and we’re not sure whether our daughter is, yet.

Whether you are a morning person or not, it apparently has a lot to do with genetics. Brian Resnick delves into why this is the case on Vox in his article titled “Late sleepers are tired of being discriminated against. And science has their back”.

A couple of weeks ago, I reported on the science of chronobiology, which finds we all have an internal clock that keeps us on a consistent sleep and wake cycle. But the key finding is that everyone’s clock is not the same. Most people fall in the middle, preferring to sleep around 11 pm to 7 am. But many — perhaps 40 percent of the population — don’t naturally fit in this schedule.

It turns out that this is also very much a cultural issue with the expectation being that people who are not morning people are somehow slackers. I didn’t think about it in those terms, probably because I tend to function better in the mornings (at least, once I’ve taken my meds).

Watch this Vox video titled “Late sleeper? Blame your genes” that accompanies Resnick’s article, perhaps with coffee while you wake up.

On a related note, it also turns out that so-called “coffee naps” are great ways to recharge during the day. I tend to nap for around 20 minutes and will do that if I have an opportunity because it works well for me.

Apparently, a cup of coffee right before a 20 minute nap could be just the thing you need to recharge and return to a much more productive state. According to Vox:

It’s counterintuitive, but scientists agree that drinking coffee before napping will give you a stronger boost of energy than either coffee or napping alone. To understand a coffee nap, you have to understand how caffeine affects you. After it’s absorbed through your small intestine and passes into your bloodstream, it crosses into your brain. There, it fits into receptors that are normally filled by a similarly shaped molecule called adenosine. Adenosine is a byproduct of brain activity, and when it accumulates at high enough levels, it plugs into these receptors and makes you feel tired. But with the caffeine blocking the receptors, it’s unable to do so. Here’s the trick of the coffee nap: sleeping naturally clears adenosine from the brain. So if you nap for those 20 minutes, you’ll reduce your levels of adenosine just in time for the caffeine to kick in. The caffeine will have less adenosine to compete with, and will thereby be even more effective in making you alert.

So, if you’re ever accused of being lazy or slacking off because you’re not a morning person or because you just want to have a quick nap and recharge, there is a body of science backing you up!

If you’re curious, also watch “How does caffeine keep us awake?“.

Image credit: Hernan Sanchez

I am now an insulin-dependent Diabetic and that’s ok

My Diabetes changed in the last six months. I am now an insulin-dependent Diabetic. I wanted to share my experiences in case there are others like me who feel like they are adrift and don't know what to do.

I haven’t written about my journey with Diabetes for a while and I thought I’d share some updates because my Diabetes has changed. I am now an insulin-dependent Diabetic but that is ok. Well, it is now but it wasn’t when I made the transition.

The reason why I want to share this post is because I really struggled to find other people’s stories about their experiences with Diabetes which I could relate to. Perhaps my experiences will be helpful to someone else who is going through something similar.

It is scary when your body changes and your Diabetes progresses/deteriorates. It is especially so when you can’t peg it to a particular cause. It helps to know that other people have been through (and are going through) what you are dealing with.

Background

So, as you may know, I was diagnosed as a Type 2 Diabetic a few years ago. It was a shock, initially, but I realised that it was actually a blessing. Before I was diagnosed I was way overweight and not doing much about it.

My journey with Diabetes … so far

Two of the ways I started to take control of my condition were to eat healthier and to exercise more often. I shed about 20kgs of fat in my first year or so and I’ve managed to stabilise at a much healthier weight.

My levels were pretty stable until about December 2015 when something went wrong and my Diabetes deteriorated/progressed (I’m never really sure whether to describe it as a deterioration or a progression – Diabetes is a progressive condition, it will become more advanced over time).

When it all changed

We’re (me and my doctor) aren’t sure what caused the change but my blood glucose levels started to rise dramatically in mid to late December. The main factor that comes to mind is that I was pretty sick. I developed a chest infection that was about a day away from pneumonia (before I saw my doctor and started medication). Getting sick always pushes up my blood glucose levels so I initially ignored the spike when I saw it in my routine self-tests.

That was my first mistake.

Tip: Do your tests regularly, even if you know something is distorting the results.

When my high levels persisted and I still felt sick, I started testing less frequently. I just attributed the high levels to my illness.

This is called “compounding” my first mistake.

Tip: Keep testing regularly so you have consistent data for later.

Then, after I recovered and my high levels persisted, I decided that my tester must be faulty and procrastinated dealing with it for a couple weeks. In the meantime, my levels continued climbing while I focused more on improving my diet.

This was my second mistake.

Tip: Focusing on your diet is great but don’t procrastinate seeking help if you notice a problem. Go talk to your doctor, even if you feel like your habits created the problem.

Although the shock forced me back into a more disciplined diet, it took me far too long to go to my doctor and confess my neglect and seek help. To my credit, I even took a notepad and made notes, determined to fix My Problem and Return to Controlled Diabetes.

The change

My doctor referred me to a specialist (again) and told me to go have blood tests done and my feet examined. Why my feet? Well, one of the warning signs of poor control is peripheral neuropathy – loss of sensation in your extremities, like your toes. That leads to toes and other parts of your body being deprived of blood and falling off. It isn’t the fun part of Diabetes (there aren’t many).

My HbA1c blood test series confirmed my fears. My blood glucose levels had risen dramatically. My spot blood glucose test put me at 258mg/dl – the upper end of the normal range is 140mg/dl. My HbA1c put me at 8.4%. My levels should be under 6.0% or so. The HbA1c is one of the key metrics for Diabetes control which I clearly lacked.

My doctor decided it was time to change my medication. I was previously on a dose of Metformin, twice a day. It was a slightly increased dose but otherwise roughly the same medication I had been on since I was first diagnosed. The change was to switch me over to a pill called Januet which combines 50mg of insulin with the Metformin, twice a day.

When my doctor mentioned adding insulin it scared me. I don’t like needles at all and the prospect of injecting myself wasn’t a happy one. Fortunately, there was a pill option for me!

For some reason my condition progressed/deteriorated to the point where I now needed insulin to control my Diabetes. Initially the Januet was a sort of test run. The idea was to monitor my levels and see if they came back down to a normal range on the new medication. If they did, the new medication would become part of my new treatment regime.

My blood glucose test results over time

Taking steps to regain control

That was a reality check for me and it reminded me of the importance of doing my self-tests regularly, even if I don’t like what I see. The point is to be aware of the problems because that awareness is your first step towards addressing them.

Managing Diabetes isn’t just about the medication although that can be critical. I noticed that my blood glucose levels rose on the days when I ran out of my Januet and returned to just Metformin. I am insulin-dependent and that means that, given my current lifestyle, I need the insulin to stabilise my blood glucose levels. Period.

Something else that makes a noticeable difference is exercise. My mother visited us in April and we did a lot of walking during one of the weeks she was here. On an average weekday I walk around 5 to 6 kilometres. When we were on holiday with her and touring locally, we walked 8 to 11 kilometres. I noticed that all that walking helped bring my levels down, usually to below 120.

Another big realisation was how much of an impact stress can have on my blood glucose levels. It can cause a huge bump in my levels.

What Diabetes taught me about work stress

Where I am now and where I am heading

Diabetes isn’t a disease although living with it can be challenging. It is easy to pick up bad habits and eat the food you know you shouldn’t. I also noticed that my body has less of a tolerance for carbohydrates and eating more than a little pasta and bread can really push my levels up. We have switched to wholewheat breads and pastas but even those seem to be problematic so I tend to avoid them.

Walk more

My morning routine has changed a little since I wrote about it just over two months ago. I now start work at 7am instead of 6:30am and that means that I miss the bus I used to take to the train station. The positive side of that is that I have to walk to the station. That, of course, means more exercise every week day.

Unfortunately I spend most of my working day sitting and that isn’t good for me (or anyone). I put my back out in the holidays and sitting every day probably delayed my recovery by about a week too. I try make a point of getting up and going for a walk out the office for a bit every day. I don’t always do remember to do that, though.

Get out of the office more often

I do make a point of leaving the office for lunch, though. I understand why many companies offer their employees food. They want to keep employees close to their workstations so they can eat and get back to work. I don’t think that is particularly healthy and, if anything, I need to leave the office for lunch just to give my mind a break and get some outside air. It helps a lot with work stress too.

This morning I tested myself: 121. I’ve managed to stabilise my levels in the last two months or so and just need to remain vigilant and disciplined to maintain that. I plan on living a long time and I am constantly reminded of the importance of taking better care of myself as I grow older.

It’s a work-in-progress

I am due to do another set of blood tests in the next week or so, along with my long overdue feet examination. Being Diabetic is very much a work-in-progress but, on balance, it has been a positive thing for me and my family. I am in better condition than I was in the years before my diagnosis and that is just going to be increasingly important in the years and decades to come.

As I wrote in the beginning of this post, I wanted to share my experiences in case there are other Diabetics who are going through something similar. There is a lot of information about Diabetes on the Web but I haven’t seen many stories from Diabetics who face challenges I can relate to. Perhaps my experiences will help someone who is going through something similar and isn’t too sure what to make of it all. It can be scary when your body changes like this.

Image credit: Pixabay

Being angry makes you look older

Does being angry make you look older? My totally uncontrolled, unscientific experiment certainly seems to indicate that being angry makes me look older. It turns out there just may be actual scientific evidence to support this too.

Did you know that being angry makes you look older? Well, it might. I’m just guessing based on a facial recognition experiment I did recently which I thought was a little alarming. Being angry certainly seemed to make me look older.

Disclaimer: this is not scientific at all and doesn’t have any form of proof that would even resemble valid proof of a scientific theory. Think of this as the cats gif equivalent of bad pseudo-science. In other words, it’s possibly mildly interesting, slightly entertaining waffle. Well, except, maybe, for the research I point to below my story.

My fairly unscientific test to show that being angry makes you look older

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. I did a little facial recognition and analysis experiment a few days ago after Heidi Patmore suggested it.

I visited the “Test if you have Resting Bitch Face” site and uploaded a couple photos of myself and submitted them for analysis.

Photo 1: My neutral-while-on-vacation look

In this photo, which my wife took of me in Jerusalem during a family vacation recently, I have what I like to think of as my neutral expression. I usually have it in photos when I’m waiting to see if the photographer has taken a photo yet.

Me on some of my glory

I submitted this photo for analysis and this was the outcome:

My neutral, on vacation look

Besides the interpretation of my emotional state, look at the “Characteristics” section in the bottom right. The analysis of my age is between 35 and 45. It is fairly accurate. I am currently 40.

Photo 2: My smiling-while-on-vacation look

This is my version of a smile and it still frustrates my wife because she wants to see teeth in smiles. Nevertheless, this is a smile.

In this analysis, my apparent age (according to the software, of course) is 25 to 35. This is, of course, great. It isn’t the first time people have commented on how young I can look in photos where I am smiling.

Test_if_you_have_Resting_Bitch_Face_3

That doesn’t mean that this is clear, scientific proof that smiling makes you look younger. It just means it seems to make me look younger.

Photo 3: My seemingly-neutral-but-actually-annoyed look

I took a different selfie for the purposes of the test. Yes, it is against a different background, from a different angle and shot with a worse camera but bear with me.

My angry, neutral look

The analysis interprets this one as a predominantly neutral photo with hints of anger and disgust. I was actually pretty annoyed at the time I took the photo so I certainly felt angrier than I appeared.

Test_if_you_have_Resting_Bitch_Face_2

What struck me about this photo is that the analysis puts my age at between 50 and 60. You could probably take off 10 years to account for the differences between the photos in terms of setting, camera quality and angle. This would still mean, pretty unscientifically, that being angry may (possibly, results may vary, refer to Disclaimer above) make you look older.

Even if being angry doesn’t actually make you look older, smiling really does seem to make you look younger so that is good too, right?

There might be some actual, scientific proof too

Just for kicks, I Googled this idea that being angry could make you look older. The first result I found was an article titled “Anger makes you age more quickly” on Daily Mail Online. I don’t know if the Daily Mail Online is well regarded, premium news publication but it includes references to an actual scientific study that are useful:

More worryingly, the findings – presented in the journal Thorax, a specialist publication of the British Medical Journal – showed that people who constantly feel anger are more likely to age quicker.

Hostility and anger have long been associated with a whole host of long term health problems.

The constant flood of stress chemicals and metabolic changes in the body that accompany feelings of anger can lead to high blood pressure, headaches, digestion problems and skin problems such as eczema.

They can also lead to more serious conditions such as asthma, depression and heart disease and can cause heart attacks and strokes.

I’ve certainly seen the dangerous effects of stress on my blood glucose levels so it isn’t a leap to say that being angry over a period of time can have other negative health effects.

A 2013 study titled “High Anger Expression Exacerbates the Relationship Between Age and Metabolic Syndrome” revealed the following:

Among older adults, anger expression predicted higher prevalence of metabolic syndrome. Older adults reporting showing lower anger expression had metabolic syndrome rates comparable to younger adults. Results highlight that failing to show the frequently observed decline in anger expression with age may have pernicious health concomitants.

I’ll put it another way. Older people tend to be less angry and have more emotional well-being (with the benefit of having a comparable risk of metabolic syndrome as younger adults). Older people who remain angry (presumably as a general state of being) are more at risk from a health perspective.

So? Does being angry make you look older?

There are probably other studies and, as I pointed out earlier, this post of mine is hardly a scientific study. Isn’t it worth thinking about, though? Perhaps taking steps to reduce your anger levels is a good idea. You may live a longer, healthier life. At the very least, you’ll appear younger in photos when you smile!

Image credit: Pixabay

For a little girl who is afraid of storms

Something for my little girl who is afraid of storms

Our daughter is afraid of storms after a bad experience during a particularly windy one last year. Last night she asked me if we would have storms this week after I mentioned we were expecting rain today and tomorrow. I drew this for her and left it for her when I left for work this morning.

3 of my favourite blog posts about adult ADD

Adult ADD can be a tricky condition to have and talk about. I think the biggest challenge is the stigma of being ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder – often lumped in with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), followed by a personal acceptance that you have it and the willingness to do something about it.

I was diagnosed about 2 years ago and I wish I found out sooner. Accepting the diagnosis and starting medication for it transformed my life. I am impressed that I managed to achieve as much as I did before my diagnosis! I am still learning more about the condition today, mostly through other people’s experiences.

Tamaryn Shepherd has written pretty openly about her journey in her posts “On Adulting With ADD” and “On Adult ADD: 5 Things I Want Non-ADD People To Know“. Another great post is Michelle Lewsen’s post titled “9 Things People Say to People with ADHD“. I love these posts because I can identify with them and laugh at my quirks at the same time.

If you are curious about adult ADD, read these posts. If you have adult ADD, definitely read them before you get distracted!

Music makes us come alive inside

I just watched this trailer for the documentary “Alive Inside” and it looks like a wonderful movie to watch. Music plays a huge role in my life.

Some experiences are so fundamental to the human condition #running

I watched this terrific video, “Focus: Portrait of a Runner“, and I begin to understand why people run and think that I may also embrace running one day.

Focus: Portrait of a Runner – Sony F55 from Sean Michael on Vimeo.