Inner TLC and Your Physical Health

Stress Free Zone

Stress Free Zone

We’ve all been there. Yep, the mid-semester slump. That time of the year when your balanced diet, workout goals, and pursuit of healthy living are thrown out of the window and replaced with junk food, long hours sitting in front of the computer, and a desire just to survive midterm exams and papers. You may find that your energy levels are low, you’re easily distracted, not sleeping enough or sleeping too much, and overall, just not feeling like yourself. If this describes you, it just might be time to engage in some self-care, or what I like to call, inner TLC. Continue reading

How to Foam Roll

By: Emily Wheeler
"Foam Roller" by Naoto Sato; Flickr Creative Commons

“Foam Roller” by Naoto Sato; Flickr Creative Commons

       Think about that feeling when you wake up the day after an intense workout and as soon as you move to get out of bed you can’t help but groan because you’re so sore. Now think about how having someone else massage an especially sore muscle or doing it yourself can hurt but feel good at the same time. Lifting weights, general strenuous exercise and even stressful daily activities can cause our muscles to feel tight and sore. We can even get “muscle knots,” as people like to call them, where a particular area of muscle feels uncomfortably tight and stretching just doesn’t release the tension enough to feel completely normal. Firmly massaging these “muscle knots” with a thumb can even cause pain to radiate out to the surrounding muscle, even though that’s not where you’re touching.
       For quite some time, athletes and personal trainers have been using a simple secret to release this muscle tension and discomfort: the foam roll. A foam roll is exactly what it sounds like, a cylindrical piece of hard foam, and it is designed especially for use in self-massaging sore and tight muscles! The official name of what most people casually refer to as “foam rolling,” is self-myofascial release, which means to massage your own muscles to release tightness and soreness. I prefer the fun verbified form of the noun, so I’ll call it foam rolling.
       The first time I learned to use a foam roll, I actually wasn’t feeling very sore at all, nor could I identify any especially tight muscles; I was just doing it because I was learning how to do so in a fitness class. However, we started by rolling the quads and hamstrings and I quickly realized that whether you think you do or not, you probably have a lot of muscle tension that could benefit from some foam rolling! I usually have fairly tight hamstrings, so as soon and I put the pressure of my body weight down onto the roll and started moving it down the back of my thigh, there was definitely some major discomfort involved!
       Now, why would I do something painful, you might ask? Foam rolling muscle pain is one of those “it hurts, but in a good way” kind of muscle feelings. Stretching, or a deep tissue massage, can also be painful, yet people still do it voluntarily and claim to feel better afterward. This is a similar situation and you’re just going to have to trust me until you try it when I say that you’ll feel so much better afterward.
       Here are the basics of how foam rolling works. First, start with your foam roll, comfortable clothing, and some space to lay on the floor. You’ll pick a muscle that you want to target, and we’ll just stick with the hamstring example for now. Your hamstring muscle runs down the back of your leg from the bottom of your gluts down to the back of your knee. Start by placing the foam roller under your leg at the top of one of your hamstrings, stretching out that leg and leaning back so that your hands are on the floor behind you and are holding you up slightly. Then, slowly release your arms so that your hands are still on the floor behind you but the majority of your body weight is resting on the foam roller. Then start to move yourself backward over the roller slowly, so that it rolls down toward the back of your knee. This is where you might start to feel some discomfort, so listen to your own body to tell you whether you’re feeling pain (bad) or discomfort (good), and use your arms to lift some of your body weight off of the roller if it becomes painful.
Here I am, foam rolling my hammies for you guys.

Here I am, foam rolling my hammies for you guys.

Now, there are a few key rules to remember when foam rolling to keep it safe for your body:
  1. Always roll very slowly to achieve maximum benefits, and when you find an especially sore spot, pause there to let that point relax and prevent unnecessary pain
  2. Never roll over a joint or directly on a bone. Doing so can cause more harm than good. An example of rolling over a joint would be rolling down your hamstring all the way down to your calf, because you’ve rolled over your knee joint. Instead, roll down to just above the knee, move the roll beneath the knee, and then continue to roll over the calf. An example of rolling over a bone would be laying on your stomach and rolling up your quad over your hipbone. Any bones that you can clearly feel are not protected by muscle and you shouldn’t be rolling over them.
  3. Do not roll your lower back or neck muscles. These are more sensitive to damage, and your pain in these areas might be coming from a problem that needs to addressed by a professional, such as a chiropractor.
  4. Do not roll the same areas over and over in a short period of time. If you concentrate on a certain muscle group, wait at least 24 hours to roll that muscle group again to give it time to relax and heal.
  5. Always roll with the grain of the muscle. Your hamstring runs vertically down your leg, so you should never roll horizontally across your hamstring muscle. It’s best to actually keep your rolling in a single direction, so after your roll down your hamstring, remove the roll and start back up at the top if you’re going to do it again instead of rolling back up the hamstring.
       Here is an awesome article called “How to Foam Roll Like a Pro!” It includes cartoon graphics to help you know how to target certain muscles! I have to say that I think that place that is consistently most uncomfortable yet most beneficial to me is rolling my IT band, which is the muscle that runs down the outer side of your leg above the knee. Try rolling yours and tell me if that doesn’t make you make some crazy faces because you had no idea how much tension you had to release there.
Rolling the IT band; I’m still smiling because I wasn’t actually putting my full body weight on that thing at this point. The simultaneous laughing and cringing comes later.

Rolling the IT band; I’m still smiling because I wasn’t actually putting my full body weight on that thing at this point. The simultaneous laughing and cringing comes later.

       Shortly after you foam roll, and especially the next day, you should start to feel your soreness fade, your muscles become more relaxed, and your range of motion increase compared to before you foam rolled! You can purchase your own foam roller at any major sporting goods store for anywhere from $10-$40 depending on how intense you want to get, but you can also check out foam rollers from the front desk of the Student Recreation Center on campus for convenient and free use! P.S. Side comment– I have no idea why a hunk of foam can cost $40.
       Try it out the next time you come to work out and make it a regular part of your routine! I can’t lie, I almost kind of like the sore feeling in my muscles after a good workout because it makes me feel like I’ve done something worthwhile when I can actually feel the change, but what I don’t like is constant or long-lingering soreness and foam rolling definitely helps me prevent that from happening! Ironically enough, it can also help you wake up and start your day in the morning if you have time, but can still help you relax and feel ready to sleep if you choose to do it at the end of the day. It might feel silly at first, but give it a try and you’ll see why it’s worth it! I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing some foam rolling this week after I attend the “muscle-cut barbells” and “upper body conditioning” group fitness classes; be sure to check back in at the end of the week to read my reviews on what I thought about both classes!

“Eyes on the Street”: Why Be Active In Your Community?

"Just Walking"; Beverly Goodwin; Flickr Creative Commons
"Just Walking"; Beverly Goodwin; Flickr Creative Commons

There are plenty of personal reasons to walk, jog, bike or otherwise actively get around: it increases one’s own ability to get exercise, it’s cheap (or free!), and can have positive mental health outcomes like lowering stress and anxiety. But, actively getting around has greater altruistic benefits as well. Many of these are centered around the “eyes on the street” principle from sociologist Jane Jacobs:

“This is something everyone knows: a well-used city street is apt to be a safe street. A deserted city street is apt to be unsafe.”

The idea here is that the more eyes you have on a given street, the greater sense of community ownership and safety. The spirit of “eyes on the street” is not so much about watching what’s around us, but rather seeing and taking a part in what is around us, and thus, shaping the community. Here are the “eyes on the street” benefits of actively getting around campus and community by walking, biking, jogging, etc.:

 

"Just Walking"; Beverly Goodwin; Flickr Creative Commons

“Just Walking”; Beverly Goodwin; Flickr Creative Commons

Getting to know community and community members

It sounds like a no-brainer, but actively getting around campus and the community allows us to get better acquainted with neighbors and those around us. When we choose to walk or bike versus drive, we have the ability to interact with those around us by smiling, waving, taking a minute to talk, etc. In a local example: in the Chapel Hill community, these kinds of connections with surroundings and neighbors can help bridge the UNC campus to the greater Chapel Hill community.

 

Neighborhood health and safety benefits

Actively getting around a community also means actively taking part in it. That means acknowledging what we appreciate about a neighborhood, and, importantly, it also means spotting things that seem like they need attention—from a large crack in the sidewalk, to a stray dog, to a jogger who has fallen. This can lead to benefits in crime-reduction and generally making things safer.

 

Increases community norms around activity

Actively getting around campus and community is contagious. The more people you see walking around, the more likely you might be to walk around yourself! In this way, being an active commuter is a way of changing social norms around activity.

 

Resources

 These are just some of the community-wide benefits of actively getting around a community. Though we’ve focused on the benefits of actively getting around, it’s important to be safe while doing so. For more information on pedestrian and cyclist safety check out links at the UNC Department of Public Safety, and the Town of Chapel Hill.

Live to 100: Do This, Not That

By: Ben Smart

With the advent of improved scientific and social structures, it’s easier today than ever before to live well. But so often we neglect the healthy choice for the more convenient (and often less healthy) one. Let’s take a look at simple switches you can make to live longer- maybe even to 100.

Do This: Exercise 5x per week 

Not That: Avoid exercise because, like, who wants to get all sweaty

photo: "Exercise" by: Andyinnyc; source: flickr creative commons

photo: “Exercise” by: Andyinnyc; source: flickr creative commons

Regular exercise has been scientifically studied for its role in increasing lifespan. Here’s a list from heart.org of the benefits of regular exercise:

  • Improves blood circulation, which reduces the risk of heart disease
  • Keeps weight under control
  • Helps in the battle to quit smoking
  • Improves blood cholesterol levels
  • Prevents and manages high blood pressure
  • Prevents bone loss
  • Boosts energy level
  • Helps manage stress
  • Releases tension
  • Promotes enthusiasm and optimism
  • Counters anxiety and depression
  • Helps you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly
  • Improves self-image
  • Increases muscle strength, increasing the ability to do other physical activities
  • Provides a way to share an activity with family and friends
  • Reduces coronary heart disease in women by 30-40 percent
  • Reduces risk of stroke by 20 percent in moderately active people and by 27 percent in highly active ones
  • Establishes good heart-healthy habits in children and counters the conditions (obesity, high blood pressure, poor cholesterol levels, poor lifestyle habits, etc.) that lead to heart attack and stroke later in life
  • Helps delay or prevent chronic illnesses and diseases associated with aging and maintains quality of life and independence longer for seniors

Do This: Floss daily

Not That: Floss only when you feel like

Picking up the dental floss and cleaning out the gaps between your teeth nightly can add up to 6 years to your life! How can this be? The line of thinking is that flossing reduces harmful bacteria between your teeth, reducing inflammation. And less inflammation means a healthier heart and a reduced risk of stroke. Make it a habit, and reap the benefits. You’ll even get a prettier smile as a side benefit.

Do This: Sleep 7-8 hours a night

Not That: Stay up late every night, because sleep is for the weak!

There’s this belief that when you sleep, you’re missing out on life. This idea isn’t just flawed logic- it’s dangerous to your health. Sleep is reparative, necessary, and can make your waking hours feel better. When you sleep, your brain and body repair cells in preparation for the next day. Aim for 7-9 hours, depending on your age and activity level.

How to Not Get Sick

Have you been sick recently? I know that my family is just coming out of a persistent and lingering head cold that turned into a fever, lot of coughing, and a double ear infection for my daughter. I also heard that folks around campus were talking about the #uncplague. Yep, it is that time of year again: Cold and Flu season, which warrants the annual reminder about what to do to not get sick.

And I have three suggestions:

Photo (Wash Hands Frequently) by (Fairfax County), Flickr Creative Commons

Photo (Wash Hands Frequently) by (Fairfax County), Flickr Creative Commons

The world is certainly on high alert right now when it comes to contagious diseases, with thousands of people in Western Africa suffering and dying from Ebola, and cases starting to pop up in the United States and across the globe. However, though this current outbreak is devastating and scary, the Flu kills many more people each year on average than Ebola ever has. According to the CDC the number of deaths due to the flu has ranged from as low as 3,000 to as high as 49,000 per year in the United States in recent years.

The Flu is often spread by people getting the Flu virus on their hands from touching someone or something that a sick person has coughed on, sneezed on, or touched, and then touching their face. You may remember from the movie Contagion that people touch their face 2,000 to 3,000 times a day. This might be a bit of an overestimate, but in a recent study, random people touched their face 3.6 times an hour and with the same hand also touched common objects that others had touched. So wash your hands and stop touching your face so much.

Photo (Flu vaccinations make their way to U.S. Army in Europe) by (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District), Flickr Creative Commons

Photo (Flu vaccinations make their way to U.S. Army in Europe) by (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District), Flickr Creative Commons

Get a flu shot. You do NOT get the Flu from a Flu shot. Let me say that again: you do NOT get the Flu from a Flu shot. Some people do get a low-grade fever and headache from the vaccine, but this is just the body reacting to the foreign substance, not the Flu. According to the CDC, vaccines given to children have saved more than 732,000 lives and trillions of dollars over the last 2 decade. There is also absolutely no evidence that the Flu vaccine –or any other vaccines– present significant harm, and the idea that vaccines cause autism is a complete myth. The worst that could happen is that the Flu shot does not provide protection for the strain of the Flu that is being passed around but, even in that case, there is nothing lost by getting the shot. Most people who work in public health will agree that vaccinations are one of the most important innovations of modern medicine and protect not only the individual getting the shot, but others around them.

Lastly, if you are sick, stay home. Email your professors, let group partners know that you are sick, or tell your coaches that you cannot come to practice. I am as guilty as anyone I know of breaking this rule regularly, and there is still part of me that thinks I just need to “tough it out” and work through it. Unfortunately, our society often still rewards or finds it admirable when individuals fight through a sickness, but we need to change this norm. I am not saying take advantage of a sickness. If you have a sniffle or a tickle in your throat I might not advise that you lay in bed all day, but if you truly are sick, you are protecting others by staying home. You also most likely will not get much out of being in class or at a meeting if you are not feeling well.

So wash your hands, get your shot, and stay home when you feel bad. It will help you and the rest of us as well. (Oh, make sure you sleep, exercise, get lots of antioxidants, and stay hydrated as well)

Stop the Stigma: Mental Health Depictions in the Movies

scary hand

photo Scary Movie 5 – in theaters next spring! by M Rasoulov from flickrcreativecommons

Fall is my favorite time of year; the leaves begin to fall, the weather gets a little cooler, and the aroma of spiced coffees and teas fills the air. And you can’t forget about all of the scary suspense-filled movies that start to take over your television screen. In light of mental health awareness week, as well as practicing being a more critical consumer of media, I think it’s worth exploring the stigma surrounding mental illness that is often carried out in some of our favorite movies.

Oftentimes in suspense or horror movies the villain is seen as an antagonist, a violent, evil genius with mental illness that is rampant beyond the help of doctors. In contrast, protagonists are seldom portrayed as having some sort of mental illness. A great example of this is demonstrated in the movie American Psycho. The main character, Patrick Bateman, is glamorously portrayed as a wealthy, standoffish killer suspected to have antisocial personality disorder and possibly dissociative identity disorder, while all of the other characters are depicted as “normal” friends and coworkers. This discrepancy between Bateman’s character and the other characters within the movie highlights the “them vs. us” mentality that is often associated with persons with mental illnesses.

In order to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, education and awareness must be raised. When something is unknown it is easy to be fearful of it and project that fear onto the unknown entity. While movies that depict characters living with mental illness may be entertaining to watch, it is important to understand how this can have unintended effects on those who deal with mental illness on a daily basis.

With this in mind, here some things to keep in mind to reduce stigma:

  • Treat someone as a person, not a label

Treat people as individuals rather than the labels that society places on everyone. Continuing to utilize labels further repeats the cycle of stigma.

  • Use “person first” language

Instead of saying “that bipolar guy in class”, when referring to someone, use wording such as “the guy in class who has bipolar disorder”. People are not their diagnoses. They just happen to have a diagnosis.

  • Avoid using harmful words

Words such as “crazy” and “psycho” are not only hurtful, but also disrespectful.

  • Be sure to check out Stigma Free Carolina for more information about how you can get involved in reducing stigma on campus!

Find more information on how to reduce stigma here: http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/pubs/CM0201.pdf

Six Steps for Using Everyday Language to Help Prevent Violence

When you think about how you can help prevent sexual or interpersonal violence, what comes to mind? Learning how to be an active bystander through workshops or trainings like One Act? Keeping your friends safe when partying or socializing? Joining a student organization like Project Dinah? These are all great ways to get involved in violence prevention and make our campus a safer place for everyone!

There is not just one way to get involved or prevent violence, because violence operates on a continuum of different levels, ranging from overt acts to participation in a culture that accepts or normalizes those acts. For example, public health professional Lydia Guy conceptualizes violence as a continuum of overlapping circles, ranging from actions complicit in systems of oppression (like racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, or ableism) to less frequent, more overt acts of violence that most would agree should be treated as violent crimes. The actions toward the “more frequent” end of the spectrum (for example, catcalling or telling racist “jokes”) hold systems in place that make it possible for the “less frequent” violence (sexual assault, rape, or murder) to happen.

            Making our campus safe can start with considering how our everyday language and conversations shape the overall culture that allows or deters violence on our campus. Most examples of language that contribute to violent culture happen frequently and are less noticeable. These ways of communicating not only reflect the culture we live in, but also shape the ways we know how to describe and react to potential situations of violence.

"Languages" by Chris JL, Flickr Creative Commons

“Languages” by Chris JL, Flickr Creative Commons

Examples of this kind of language may include:

  • Trivializing assault or other interpersonal violence, such as casually or jokingly using the terms “rape” or “stalking” (“That test raped me” or “I was totally Facebook stalking you earlier”)
  • Language that contributes to the marginalization of a particular group, such as telling racist, classist, or homophobic jokes, using male-based generics (like “all men are created equal”), or other microaggressions (for example, assuming that everyone you meet is heterosexual when you ask about their dating life)
  • Language that contributes to the silencing or invalidation of victims/survivors of violence, such as victim-blaming or shaming people for their sexual history, choice, or expression (“what a slut”)
  • Language that conflates sexual and violent imagery, like saying “I hit that,” or someone got “banged” or “screwed,” that normalize the combination of violence and sexuality
  • Language that propagates the myth that men are unable to control their sexual urges (“boys will be boys”)—this is not only insulting to men, but can also perpetuate the permissibility of acting on these urges, without regard to the consent of sexual partners.

 

            The good news is that we can also use language to help prevent violence – starting today! Here are some ways you can help change culture and make sure people know our campus is a place that does not tolerate violence of any kind.

  1. Be purposeful with your words. Being conscious of the history and meanings of the words can be extremely powerful. It can be helpful to think about whether language choices make light of violence, shame survivors of violence, or contribute to the marginalization of certain groups of people. Make the decision as often as possible to avoid language that contributes to violent and/or oppressive culture.
  2. Keep your friends accountable, too! People may not be aware of how their language impacts violence. Gently pointing out violent or oppressive language from friends, partners, or acquaintances can create respectful and productive dialogue. Depending on the situation and comfort level, this may as simple as saying “hey, that’s not cool/funny,” or pulling them aside to talk later. It can also be powerful to ask others to identify any language that they think is violent, oppressive, or disrespectful from others.
  3. Stand up to oppressive “jokes.” Lately, my favorite way to do this has been simply saying, “I don’t get it… What do you mean?” The person telling the joke may have a hard time explaining!
  4. Use language to create a community of respect. For example, make an effort to honor the pronouns that a person chooses to go by, whatever they may be, or respect others’ agency by asking how they identify rather than making assumptions based on the way they look or act.
  5. Critically examine the media. For example, in a news story covering a sexual assault case, do reporters include unnecessary details — like what the victim/survivor was wearing, or their sexual history? How can phrasing affect the way the public — or the jury — perceives a crime? Overall, how does language affect the way we view the world?
  6. Educate yourself with some further reading! Here are some helpful articles to start with:

 

If you witness behavior that may cross a line into the territory of harassment or discrimination, check out UNC’s new policy for prohibited discrimination, harassment, and related misconduct for options and resources.