Be Your Own Valentine. Practice Self-Compassion this Feb 14th.

Red valentine's sucker on blue background. Self-compassion and loneliness. Mental Health.

Is there any holiday more divisive than Valentine’s Day? For many, it’s a day to rekindle romance and spend an evening with someone special. For others, it’s an excuse to celebrate all the love they feel, whether it’s love for friends, family members, or even four-legged companions. And for some, Valentine’s Day is just plain difficult—a glaring pink-and-red reminder of all their romantic disappointments. 

Whether you recently suffered a breakup, have a one-sided crush, or are experiencing hardcore Tinder fatigue, February 14th is likely to trigger some painful emotions. So, what should we do when everything is not coming up roses on V-Day? 

Science has a suggestion: Instead of focusing on romantic relationships, try showing love to yourself this Valentine’s Day. 

Psychologists refer to the act of being kind to yourself as “self-compassion” or self-love, and—according to burgeoning research—it’s associated with improved mental health and well-being. Numerous studies have linked self-compassion to reduced depression, stress, and disordered eating. Self-compassion may also boost happiness, self-esteem, and even immune function.

But, despite evidence that self-compassion is beneficial, many resist practicing it. Some of us have a deeply rooted belief that negative self-talk is motivating—that it pushes us to work harder, perform better, and achieve our goals. Others worry that self-compassion is a form of weakness and self-indulgence. Many believe it’s a selfish act that undermines motivation.

The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth, however.

Research shows that being kind to ourselves helps us become stronger, more resilient, and less focused on personal issues. According to a 2011 paper published in Psychological Science, it can even help us overcome adversity. The study indicated that higher levels of self-compassion were related to improved emotional recovery following marital separation and divorce. In another study, veterans who measured higher on the self-compassion scale were less likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

So, how do we learn to practice the invaluable art of self-love and compassion? Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research and Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, describes self-compassion as a three-step process: 

Self-kindness.

Chances are, you have a voice inside your head telling you how worthless, dumb, or inadequate you are. Self-kindness is all about replacing harsh self-criticism with kinder, gentler words. Instead of telling yourself, “I’m so unlovable. I’m going to be alone forever,” say “I’m lonelier than I’d like to be. Maybe now is the time to find ways to connect with others.” 

Common humanity.

Acknowledge that suffering is a universal experience and not a personal failure. Tell yourself, “Everyone gets lonely sometimes. I’m not the only person who feels down today.” 

Mindfulness.

Observe your negative emotions without focusing on them or suppressing them. Simply tell yourself, “I’m feeling sad and lonely  today, and I’m having a hard time.”

We understand that self-compassion seems strange and unnatural at first, so we’ve compiled a few simple exercises to get you started. Go on, send some of that loving-kindness your way this V-Day: 

4 Strategies for Self-Compassion

1. Ask yourself, “Would I talk to a friend this way?”

Think about a time a friend came to you for help after failing or getting rejected. How did you respond to them? What words did you choose? What tone of voice did you use when speaking with them? 

Now, think of a similar situation in which you were struggling, and compare your two answers. Were you as kind to yourself as you were to your friend?

Chances are, you’d never talk to a friend the way your inner voice speaks to you. 

2. Give yourself a loving touch. 

It feels good to receive a warm hug or comforting touch when you’re upset, right? While this exercise might seem silly, trying giving yourself a soothing touch next time you feel down. Place one hand over your heart, hug or gently rock your body, or simply hold your hands together in your lap.

According to Dr. Neff, “research indicates that physical touch releases oxytocin provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions and calms cardiovascular stress.”

 3. Memorize a set of compassionate phrases. 

When you find yourself caught in a barrage of self-criticism, close your eyes, and acknowledge your suffering. Say to yourself, “I feel sad. This is a difficult situation, and I’m having a hard time.” Then, remind yourself that everyone struggles. Say, “Sadness is part of life. Everyone feels this way sometimes. I’m not alone.” 

Now, replace your negative self-talk with words of kindness. “May I be kind to myself. May I forgive myself. May I be strong. May I accept myself as I am.”

4. Write yourself a self-compassion letter 

If you’re struggling with self-compassion, take some time to write yourself a short, encouraging letter. Here’s how: 

  • Think of something that you feel ashamed, insecure, or not good enough. It could be related to your personality, the way you behave, or your relationships. 
  • Once you identify something, describe how it makes you feel. Ashamed? Sorrowful? Angry? Try and be as honest with yourself as possible. 
  • Next, write yourself a letter expressing compassion for parts of yourself that you dislike. Take the perspective of a caring friend, and imagine the encouraging things they might say to you in this situation. 

Save the letter, and come back to it when you need a reminder to be self-compassionate. 

While self-compassion is a useful tool for boosting happiness, it’s important to stay in tune with yourself and identify when you need expert advice. If you or someone you know needs guidance this Valentine’s Day (and beyond), we’re here. 

4 Science-Backed Reasons to Love Love this Valentine’s Day 

Health benefits of love this Valentine's Day

Toddler-sized teddy bears, chalky-tasting conversation hearts, a stress-inducing color palette: There are a lot of things we love to hate about Valentine’s Day. But, at its core, V-Day is not a holiday about roses, or even romance. It’s about love. And there’s a lot to love about love—especially when it comes to your mental and physical health.

According to a growing body of scientific research, love boasts some exciting health benefits. So, in honor of Valentine’s day, we’re examining the ways in which loving relationships (and not just romantic ones, either) can help your mind and body. Read on for four reasons to share the love this February—and beyond:

1. Love pushes you to take better care of yourself.

It may seem obvious, but having a loving partner pushes you to take better care of your health. 

Because there’s a lot of denial surrounding medical illness, single individuals may be more likely to shrug off their symptoms. Loving partners encourage each other to go to the doctor—even when they don’t want to. Moreover, couples can often tell if their significant other is suffering from a health problem before their S.O. does. 

The data backs this up, too. Studies show that people who are paired off may be able to detect melanoma earlier than singles since their partners tend to notice suspicious moles right away. 

Beyond helping you spot serious health conditions, your romantic partner may help you change your unhealthy habits. According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, both men and women were around 40% more likely to increase the amount of exercise they got when their partner did. The same findings applied to smokers: People were also about 40% more likely to ditch cigarettes when their partner quit as well. Now that’s what we call teamwork.

    2.   Love can lower your blood pressure. 

It should come as no surprise that being close to your loved one can make you feel calmer, safer, and more secure. But did you know that loving feelings can have physical effects, too, such as improving cardiovascular health? 

According to a recent report published by the University of Arizona, the effects of love are so powerful that simply visualizing your loved one may help lower your blood pressure. 

The study discovered that—when it comes to your body’s cardiovascular response to stressful situations—thinking about your significant other can keep your blood pressure under control just as effectively as having them in the room with you. Guess it really is the thought that counts! 

       3. Love can boost self-esteem and mental well-being.  

According to research from Tallinn University, women in happy, healthy relationships tend to have a more positive body image.

For the study, researchers interviewed 256 women between the ages of 20 and 45. They inquired about a series of topics, including their relationship status, happiness within the relationship, weight, diet, self-consciousness, body image, and self-esteem.

The conclusion? Being in a loving relationship really does impact your self-esteem. No matter how close a woman was to her target weight, being a part of a self-reported satisfying relationship was linked to having a higher self-image. 

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that this study was correlational—it didn’t prove cause and effect. But it makes sense that having a loving partner might make you feel good about yourself, right? 

      4. Loving relationships may help you live longer.

There’s a whole slew of research showing that married people are likely to live longer, giving new meaning to the phrase “’til death do us part.”  

According to a 2011 study conducted by Cardiff University, wedded folks had a 10-15% lower risk of premature death compared to individuals. What’s more, married couples tend to have lower rates of substance abuse and less depression than their single peers.

Research suggests that these longevity benefits are not from marriage itself, but rather from having consistent, loving social and emotional support. In 2010, a review of 148 studies showed that longer lifespans were linked to ALL close social relationships—not just romantic ones. That means the love you experience from your friends and families is good for your health, too.

Love not all you need? We’re here. Schedule a same-day visit at your neighborhood ZOOM+Care today!

Australia Is Having a Terrible Flu Season. Here’s Why It Matters.  

Bad news from Down Under: The 2019 flu season sucked. Big time. According to numbers from the Australian government, there were over 250,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza by the end of September, making it their worst flu season on record. 

Until this year, 2017 held the title for Australia’s “worst flu season ever,” with over 229,000 confirmed cases of influenza reported by the end of October. 

To make matters worse, the Aussie flu season started early and lasted longer than usual, resulting in a record number of summer cases. Oh, and it’s still going.

A bad omen for the U.S.

You may be wondering, “How is this bad news for me?” (Aside from the fact that you’re a kind, caring person who’s invested in the well-being of others, of course.) 

The answer: The flu season in the Southern Hemisphere can be an indication of what’s in store for us Northern Hemisphere folks. A bad outbreak down under can spell trouble for us as we head into our winter. 

“Australia’s flu season is not an exact predictor, but our season tends to look a lot like it,” says Thad Mick, our VP of Pharmaceutical Programs & Diagnostic Services. “Based on the Australian data, I would expect that it’s going to be another lousy flu year in the US.”

That said, a lot can change: The flu virus can mutate, so some strains might pop up in the Northern Hemisphere that didn’t occur in the south. The flu vaccine is also slightly different in each hemisphere—so ours may be more or less effective than it was in Australia.

Give flu season your best shot.

Even if our flu season winds up looking different than Australia’s, the vaccine is still your best shot at avoiding the (potentially deadly!) infection. And while it might not guarantee 100% protection, it does lower your chances of developing severe flu-related issues, like pneumonia. 

For maximum protection, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting vaccinated for the flu by the end of October.

Schedule a five-minute flu shot.

There’s a Mental Health Crisis on College Campuses. We’d Like to Help.

The college experience is painted with bright-colored brushstrokes. It’s supposed to be a time of self-discovery, exploration, and experimentation. However, reality doesn’t always match the glossy ideal on the brochure. Students feel an immense pressure to ‘figure things out’—figure out their lives, their careers, and their place in an ever-changing world. On top of that, many have to shoulder sizable debt with no with no certainty of being able to repay it. For today’s students, a college degree no longer guarantees the economic security it once did. 

Simply put, college is a massive burden for a young person to bear.

While college has always been stressful, recent data suggests it’s becoming moreso—and the additional burden of mental illness doesn’t help. Compounding this problem, many mental health disorders don’t begin until the late teens or early 20s. So—not only are students living away from home for the first time—but they may be experiencing anxiety and depression for the very first time, too.

All over the country, colleges and universities are reporting an explosion of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide. According to a 2018 study from the American College Health Association, over 60 percent of university students reported “overwhelming anxiety” over the course of the year. More than 40 percent said they felt so depressed, they had difficulty going about daily life. 

While most colleges provide free, short-term counseling and care, the number of students who need mental healthcare far exceeds the resources of most counseling centers. What’s more, the demand for these services tends to be cyclical, with students increasing use toward the middle of the semester—which creates a bottleneck. 

Even more concerning? Some students avoid using university resources altogether out of fear of repercussion. Frequently, students are forced to take medical leave to avoid liability related to campus suicides. Some colleges have even expelled students who express suicidal ideation.  

While the cause of the spike is still undetermined, one thing is for sure: There is a substantial unmet need for mental health treatment among college students. 

How ZOOM+Care can help 

Limited options and long waits aren’t strictly a campus problem—they’re the norm for mental healthcare everywhere. At ZOOM+Care, we’re helping break down barriers by offering ultra-accessible, affordable visits to people in all walks of life.  

We don’t want anyone, student or not, to be stuck on a waiting list for weeks, unable to get help. That’s why we take a “no wrong door” approach to mental healthcare.

Getting assistance is as simple as scheduling a same-day ZOOM+Care visit directly from your phone. You can see a member of our mental health team, or try your hand at our daily care offerings. You can also use Chat Care to refill or manage medications—or to reach out for judgment-free advice and guidance. It’s all private, all on your terms, and all in your control.

If you or someone you know has a pressing mental health concern, we’re here. 

Schedule Now, or check out our Mental Health FAQs. 

Sun’s Out, Bikes Out. Here’s How to Prevent Common Bike-related Injuries This Summer

Man on bike next to ZOOM+Care

Every Pacific Northwesterner knows: When the sun comes out, so do the bikes.

And while cycling is a great low impact way to improve cardiovascular fitness, strengthen your lower body, and reduce your carbon footprint, there are some cons to trading four wheels for two—namely, risk of pain and injury.

So, to kick off the PNW’s prime biking season, we’re talking bicycling safety tips. Read on to discover the most common bike-related pains and injuries, and what you can do to prevent them.

KNEE PAIN

“Take up cycling,” they said. “It won’t hurt your knees,” they said. While it’s true that biking is a low-impact form of exercise, it doesn’t always alleviate knee pain—in fact, roughly a quarter of professional cyclists suffer from knee injuries. One of the most common complaints among bikers is anterior knee pain, or pain in and around the kneecap. Cyclists can get it from muscle tightness, overuse, or a poorly-adjusted bike.

HOW TO PREVENT IT:

First, check your bike fit against an online calculator. You want to make sure your bike is adjusted to your measurements, but also to the type of riding that you do. Areas to pay extra-close attention to are seat height, seat position, and the rotation and position of your cleats.  

Next, make sure you’re stretching—something cyclists often overlook. Try getting on a foam roller and gently rolling the quads, the inside of the thigh, hamstrings, and calves. Pro tip: When rolling, use long, continuous motions to add some length to your muscles—don’t go quickly up and down like a rolling pin.

ELBOW FRACTURE

During June and July, our Zoom providers see twice as many bike accidents as other months. As we previously reported, the most common injury isn’t a broken wrist or a broken collarbone, either—believe it or not, it’s the elbow. (More specifically, the radial head and radial neck.)

Why the elbow and not the wrist, you ask? When you fall and catch yourself with your hands, the impact of hitting the ground travels up your forearm, where it hits a fixed point at the elbow—which can cause the head or neck of the radius bone to fracture, or sometimes fragment.  

HOW TO PREVENT IT:

This is a tricky one. Outside of, well…not crashing your bike, there isn’t much you can do in the way of prevention. “Extending one or both arms to break a fall is something we do instinctively to protect our heads, which is good,” says ZOOM+Care’s Orthopedic Surgeon Carolyn Yang. “If you can think to do one thing as you go down, bend your elbows, which will reduce the impact on the joint.”

If you do suffer a break, be sure to visit ZOOM+Super—our Emergency Care Clinic in Portland. Super can treat 80% of the reasons adults and kids go to the ER, including breaks and bone fractures.

CHAFING/SADDLE SORES

Hours spent sitting on an uncomfortable seat + sweating in tight clothing = chafing. And while saddle sores aren’t the sexiest summertime biking injury, they’re certainly a common one.

If chafing does pop up this summer, be sure to wash daily with a fragrance-free soap, then gently pat—never rub—dry. After cleaning the area, apply an ointment like petroleum jelly to reduce friction.

One note: If the area becomes swollen, beefy red, hot, painful, crusted, or starts bleeding, be sure to schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider, who can recommend a medicated ointment.

HOW TO PREVENT IT:

If you start to develop chafing and saddle sores, take time off the bike. Seriously—constantly re-exposing the area isn’t going to help you heal.

Other preventive measures include wearing loose, breathable clothing, making sure your seat is adjusted to the proper height and angle, wearing padded shorts, and switching to a seat with better cushioning.

TRAIN TRACK-RELATED INJURIES

Ask any urban cyclist—biking downtown is akin navigating to a war zone. There are the usual dangers (read: cars, buses, streetcars), but there’s another, less-obvious foe lurking: train tracks. The gaps between the rails and pavement can easily swallow a bicycle wheel, and slick tracks can make your tires slip out from under you.

“This time of year, people are out riding their bikes all the time—and railroad tracks can be super dangerous, even for experienced riders. Every summer, we see a trend of people breaking bones because they get caught in those grooves,” says hardcore cyclist Dr. Mark Zeitzer. (He also happens to be our Medical Director of Acute Care Services.)

HOW TO PREVENT THEM

First things first: When you come a railroad crossing, slow down and make sure there is no train coming. Once it’s safe to cross, attack them from a perpendicular angle—cross at 90 degrees to the way they run, or as close as you can to that. Be sure to look out for perpendicular gaps, as well.

BACK PAIN

Is it any wonder that biking—an activity which requires you to maintain an unnatural, hunched over, position—causes back pain? While nagging back pain should be addressed by chiropractor or and or medical massage specialist, there are a few changes you can make to prevent it during the heavy riding months.

HOW TO PREVENT IT:

Similarly to knee pain, many cyclists experience back pain due to a poor bike fit. Make sure your seat is the right height and position—one that’s too low or too high can aggravate your lower back. Likewise, adjust your bike to fit your exact height and build. That way, your spine rests in a neutral—not a rounded—position.

Finally, try some core strengthening exercises like planks, leg lifts, and lunges. By strengthening your core, you’ll rely less on your lower back for power, making it easier to handle the forward position on your bike.

If you’re still experiencing chronic muscle pain in your knees or back, it might be time see an Orthopedist. The best part? You don’t need a referral—simply schedule a visit at one of our three Portland clinics. 

Allergy Season Is Getting Worse. It’s Not Your Imagination

Allergies and pollen at ZOOM+Care

You’re walking around with a wad of tissues stuffed up your nose, you’re sneezing so much people have stopped saying ‘bless you,’ and every morning, you wake up to a layer of yellow pollen coating your car. If you’re feeling like allergy season sucks more and more each year, you’re not alone—and you’re not mistaken.

According to an article published by Lancet Planetary Health, climate change is, in fact, making allergy season worse. The study looked at data from 17 locations across three continents, dating back an average of 26 years. The conclusion is bad news for America’s 20 million allergy sufferers: thanks to rising temperatures, pollen loads and durations have been increasing over the past two decades. The higher carbon dioxide levels stimulate plants’ growth rates, which increases pollen production and creates a longer growing season.  In other words, we’re living in the perfect pollen storm—there’s more of it, and it’s going to stick around for even longer.

And unless carbon dioxide emissions start dropping dramatically, experts predict things will get worse—and not just for current allergy sufferers. The pollen uptick means people who don’t normally have pollen allergies may start to develop symptoms, too.

What can you do about spring allergies?

As pollen-plagued springs become the new norm, you may be wondering what you can do to avoid seasonal allergy symptoms. Before you move into a bubble full-time, try out a few  preventative allergy hacks, or schedule a same-day, no-wait visit at your neighborhood ZOOM clinic.

Manic One Day, Meh the Next? It’s Not Just You.

Letters spelling mood on swings

Zoomers in Portland and Seattle report rapidly cycling moods that have nothing to do with their love of bikes.

Consider what went through your head the last time someone casually asked how you’re doing.

Did time slow down as you debated five answers that ranged from “Great!” to a philosophical reflection on suffering and the human condition? Take heart — you’re not the only one stuck in a mental spincycle.

At ZOOM+Care, our mental health team is seeing more people struggling with mood swings. “The first thing I’m hearing is that people feel irritable and annoyed at everyone and everything,”  says Erik Vanderlip, MD MPH, Psychiatrist and Primary Care Lead at ZOOM+Care. “When we dig further, there’s a pattern of feeling highly productive and energetic or restless — almost manic — for a few days or weeks, followed by a period of draining doubt and frustration.”

It sounds a little like bipolar disorder, but it’s not that severe. “What we’re learning in the mental health field is that every condition exists on a spectrum,” says Dr. Vanderlip. “Changing moods can become disruptive to your well-being, relationships, and/or job without reaching the level of the most severe forms of bipolar disorder.”

Think of mental health issues the same way you would a cough: If it’s just a tickle in your throat that has minimal impact on your day, it’s no big deal. If it persists for two weeks and it’s bugging you at home and work, consider seeing a doc.

WHAT TO ASK YOURSELF:

  • Are the ups and downs getting disruptive? If your mood is putting stress on your relationships or making it harder to get things done at work, it’s time for a mental health check-up.
  • Are you still as resilient as you were before? When problems come up on down days, do you feel as capable of handling them as in the past? Or are you so checked out, you’ve lost your resolve to fix things?
  • Are you worried about how much you worry? There are a lot of rational things to be worried about, but if anxiety is becoming its own issue, talk to a doc.

WAYS TO MANAGE MOOD SWINGS ON YOUR OWN:

  • Keep a journal to track mood changes and their triggers.
  • Stay active — take short walks a few times a day.
  • Avoid skipping meals.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule.
  • Breathe deeply in stressful moments.
  • Lean on friends you trust.

WHERE TO GET HELP:

At your neighborhood ZOOM+Care clinic – Schedule a same-day, no-wait visit for mental health.  “At Zoom, we make it super easy to get treatment for any health issue, whether it’s for your ankle, lungs, or frontal lobe,” says Dr. Vanderlip.  

Schedule Now

This Tide Pod Thing Is Going Too Far

No kid you know would purposely eat laundry detergent… would they? ZOOM+Care’s Lead Pediatrician Dr. Mark Banks prepares you for the worst-case scenario.

Maybe you’ve seen posts comparing travel-sized Tide packages to juice boxes, tips on making Tide Pod pizza, or a snapshot of the ravioli-like detergent packets garnished with herbs. It would be funny if kids all over the country — including Portland and Seattle — weren’t ending up hospitalized (or dead) after consuming detergent.

What started as a stupid internet joke is now serious enough to prompt the American Association of Poison Control Centers to issue an official High Alert for intentional exposures to detergent packets among 13 to 19 year olds. And YouTube is scrambling to delete any videos related to the Tide Pod Challenge.

The worst part is that if teens are messing with them, Tide Pods are more likely to end up in toddler’s hands. Last year, there were 10,570 reports of kids under the age of 5 coming in contact with the packets. Risks of ingestion include seizure, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, coma, and death.

“Substances in laundry detergent can cause excruciating burns that penetrate and perforate the tissue of the throat and esophagus,” says Dr. Mark Banks, Lead Pediatrician at ZOOM+Care. “These pods have caused fatalities in small children, so it’s a big deal.”

WHAT TO DO NOW:

  • Keep detergents on a high shelf in their original packaging. If you live with kids, pets, or a cognitively-impaired adult, store them in a locked cabinet.
  • Warn your eye-rolling teenager. “Ask your kids what they think of these memes,” says Dr. Banks. “If they don’t acknowledge the danger themselves, be clear — it has killed people.”
  • Talk to other parents. It takes a village to keep kids from doing moronic things. Ask fellow parents what steps they take to keep children from jumping onto dangerous bandwagons.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO:

  • Call 911 immediately if… you know or suspect that someone has ingested laundry detergent and can see that they’re in distress. They may be holding their throat, choking, bleeding from the mouth, drooling, and/or having trouble breathing.

WHEN YOU’RE WORRIED:

WHERE TO GO:

Save these locations as favorites on google maps

——

ZOOM+Care

For all your care.

Same-day. No-wait Visits for Pediatrics, Primary Care, Urgent Care, and Specialty Care.

Schedule now

Portrait of Lead Pediatrician, Mark Banks, MD
Lead Pediatrician, Mark Banks, MD

Seen at Zoom: Growing Concern About Low Sex Drive

Zoom’s Lead Gynecologist Cynthia McNally, MD, is seeing more women in their 20s and 30s worried about low sex drive. Maybe a little too worried. Turns out, there’s a lot of confusion about what constitutes “normal” female libido.

Here are a few fascinating truths about female arousal that will put things in perspective — and help you decide if you need to see a doc.

Continue reading “Seen at Zoom: Growing Concern About Low Sex Drive”

Seen at Zoom: Handling Anti-Vaccine Conversations with Care

The number of parents choosing not to follow the CDC’s recommended vaccine schedule is growing, especially here in Oregon. We’re one of nine states with the largest percentage of unvaccinated infants and toddlers.

The anti-vaccine trend is putting pediatricians in a difficult spot. Should they keep unvaccinated kids in their practice or turn them away?

Continue reading “Seen at Zoom: Handling Anti-Vaccine Conversations with Care”