The Health Benefits of Counting Your Blessings

Thank you note on stocky note on blue background gratitude

You’ve heard your grandma say it a thousand times: Count your blessings. The adage is annoyingly prevalent during the holiday season, but—as it turns out—granny was onto something. Burgeoning research shows that gratitude has tangible, positive effects on mental and physical health, including better sleep, reduced depression, and improved relationships.

Let’s back up a little—what is gratitude, anyways?

Robert Emmons (one of the leading scientific experts on this topic) defines gratitude as a “sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.”

If you’re feeling a little more Grinch than Cindy Lou, here are four science-backed reasons to start cultivating gratitude this Thanksgiving—and year-round, too:

1. Sweeter Sleep

After a long, stressful day, your head hits the pillow—and a compilation of your most embarrassing, cringe-worthy memories starts to play. Sound familiar?  

If you’re nodding your head “yes,” you might want to stop counting sheep and start counting blessings instead. According to a 2009 study, cultivating gratitude may help you doze off faster, sleep longer, and wake up feeling more refreshed.

The study linked gratitude to having more positive thoughts (and fewer negative ones) at bedtime. 

It seems obvious, but cultivating positive thoughts helps push pessimism and worry—the enemies of sleep—out of your mind. Rather than obsessing over a friend who forgot to text you back, you’re remembering the coworker who went out of their way to check in with you. Instead of stressing over an awkward social interaction, you’re thinking about that presentation you nailed at work.  

Better than a lullaby, right?

2. improved relationships

Turns out, gratitude is for lovers. 

According to research from the Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology, expressing gratefulness toward your partner can strengthen your bond, improve feelings of harmony, and boost overall satisfaction with your relationship.  

Couples who intentionally expressed gratitude for their significant other not only felt more positively towards them, but were more comfortable addressing concerns about their relationship, too. 

The study’s lead author, Dr. Sara Algoe, says, “Feelings of gratitude and generosity are helpful in solidifying our relationships with people we care about.” 

Want to put gratefulness to practice in your relationship? Here’s an easy tip: Find something you genuinely appreciate about your partner give them an authentic compliment.

3. Boosted physical health

The benefits of thankfulness go beyond the psychological—cultivating gratitude can improve your physical health as well. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, giving thanks on a routine basis can motivate you to meet your diet and exercise goals—and cut down on unhealthy habits such as cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse. 

According to Robert Emmons’ 2003 study, participants who kept a daily gratitude journal exercised more, had more energy and reported fewer aches and pains. 

Emmons also found gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression, which brings us to our next point…

4. Decreased depression levels

While research on gratitude is still in a fledgling state, many psychologists are exploring the relationship between thankfulness, mental health, and depression.  

A recent study in Current Psychology examined the link between gratitude and depression in university students in China. The discovery? Gratitude may “counteract the symptoms of depression by enhancing a state of peace of mind and reducing ruminative thinking.” (Rumination is repetitively going over a negative thought or a situation without moving into problem-solving.)

Anyone who’s struggled with depression knows how awful those persistent, cycling thoughts can be—so the notion that gratitude could help alleviate them is promising, indeed. 

gratitude is not a cure-all

We want to make one thing clear: there’s no evidence that gratitude can cure serious illnesses or depression. It’s not a panacea—and it’s not for everybody, either. 
What cultivating gratitude can do is help us focus on the positive things in our lives, which can help boost our mood more than we ever imagined. 

Ready to start practicing gratitude year-round?

Get started with the tried-and-true “three good things” exercise. Every night, write down three good things that happened during the day.

For some of us, “the most wonderful time of the year” is anything but. If you or someone you know needs mental health support through the holidays, we’re here.

Schedule Now

Why Men Don’t Like Going to the Doctor—and How ZOOM+Care Can Help

Man talking to a doctor at ZOOM+Care about men's health and Movember.

This article is in celebration of the 2020 Movember campaign. The Movember Foundation helps raise  awareness for testicular and prostate cancer, but also focuses on other aspects of men’s  mental—and overall—well-being. 

Trigger warning: the following content contains information on suicide. If you or someone you know is suicidal, please visit The Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK.

As much as we hate (read: loathe, abhor) gender stereotypes, there’s one cliché that holds true: Men avoid the doctor like the plague.

Compared with women, self-identified males are half as likely to see a doctor over a two-year time period. Compounding this behavior, they frequently leave prescriptions unfilled and skip their recommended medical screenings. When men wind up in the hospital, it’s more likely to be from severe issues such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure, and diabetes—conditions that could easily be uncovered through routine, preventative care. 

Grimmer still? Compared to women, men die five years sooner, live with more years of bad health, and—according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention—are nearly four times more likely to complete suicide. 

Looking at the data, it’s abundantly clear that men don’t like going to the doctor. (So much, in fact, that 72 percent of them would rather clean a toilet then get a check-up.) The real question is why they hate it.

A 2016 survey commissioned by Orlando Health may hold some answers. According to the results, “I’m too busy” (22%) is the number one excuse men give for skipping the doctor. Other top answers include fear of finding out something that may be wrong (21%), followed by discomfort with specific physical exams, such as prostate checks (18%). 

Our societal view of masculinity may also be to blame.

Traditional gender roles dictate that men be strong and resilient; they’re taught to reject their weaknesses and hide their vulnerability. Pretty much everything about a doctor’s office is in opposition to masculine norms, and because of this, men’s anxieties about seeking care may be intensified. (An idea backed by research conducted at Rutgers University in 2016.)

Mental health concerns are compounded by COVID.

According to research conducted by the Movember organization, the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected men’s mental health.

The survey found that 88% of U.S. men questioned thought it was helpful when people checked in on their mental health. Unfortunately, nearly half of the respondents said no one has asked how they’re coping during COVID-19.

Furthermore, 21% of male respondents said their mental health had worsened compared with before COVID-19. Twenty-seven percent admitted they felt lonely more often than before the outbreak.

While sobering, Movember’s survey is an excellent reminder to ask the men in your life how they’re doing, even if they seem fine on the outside. With so many men isolated and disconnected from their usual support networks, checking in is more critical than ever.

How can ZOOM+Care help close the men’s health gap? 

Convenience is key. 

Sixty-one percent of men say they would be more likely to go to the doctor if it was convenient.  

By offering same-day, no-wait visits (both inside and outside of work hours), we make it easy for people of all genders to get care. Only have 30 minutes on your lunch break? No problem. We can get you in and out with time to spare—and meds in hand. 

Using tech to avoid embarrassment.

Beyond being busy, men often forgo treatment because that they’re embarrassed—or simply reluctant—to talk about their health issues.

Our VideoCare™ and ChatCare™ features let patients connect with a provider without setting foot in a doctor’s office—meaning they’re answering questions privately, rather than confessing uncomfortable secrets in person, in an unfamiliar setting. 

VideoCare™ is the perfect choice for first-time patients, and those seeking treatment for chronic ailments, preventative care, and mental health concerns.

ChatCare™  is great for minor illnesses such as allergic rhinitis, sinus infections, colds, and coughs. 

And because it’s easy to refill prescriptions through ChatCare™ and VideoCare™, both can help address the issue of men skipping their meds, too. 

Stamping out stigma.

Up to 41% of adults forego treatment for mental health concerns due to stigma and fear of discrimination. For men—many of whom have been told to “man up” and “shake it off” their whole lives—accessing mental health resources can be particularly daunting, as it goes against cultural expectations. 

We want to make mental healthcare convenient and judgement-free—for men, and for anyone who is nervous about seeking help. Our philosophy is that mental illness is like any other medical illness—it’s no more shameful than a sore throat or a broken bone. As Dr. Erik Vanderlip, our Chief Medical Officer likes to say, “Just like you’d go to the doctor for a sprained ankle, you can see a Mental Health Care professional for an assessment.”

Integration is essential.

Due to growing demand, there’s been an increase in online health retailers and specialty clinics that focus on men’s health concerns—erectile dysfunction and low testosterone being the most common.  These conditions, however, are typically multifactorial. Psychological causes such as depression—and physical factors such as obesity and diabetes—can mimic the same symptoms. For the best treatment, it’s crucial to obtain a high-quality, comprehensive evaluation. 

At ZOOM+Care, we do it all—conveniently, and with discretion.

Do your part for Movember.

Men are our fathers, sons, partners, friends, uncles, and brothers. Let’s work together to create a cultural shift where they don’t find it difficult (or embarrassing) to seek out medical care. This month and every month, encourage men’s health initiatives, foster healthy discussions, and—most importantly—let the men in your life know that we love them, and that their health matters. 

Don’t postpone your care, dudes. Schedule a same-day, no-wait visit today!

6 Flu Shot Myths, Busted

It’s nearly fall, which means two things: pumpkin spice lattes (yay?) and flu season (boo!). While the CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get the flu shot, less than half of Americans will heed this advice. In fact, during the 2018-2019 flu season, a mere 45% of adults were vaccinated. 

The flu shot is by far the best way to protect against this potentially deadly infection—so why do so many people doubt its safety and efficacy? The answer to that question lies in myth and misinformation. Many of the rumored side effects (like that the shot can give you the flu) are simply untrue. 

We’d like to clear the air about this much-maligned vaccine, but—before we bust some myths—we want to make our stance on vaccines clear. While ZOOM+Care strongly advocates for vaccination, we believe in listening to patients’ perspectives first and foremost. We want to be a non-judgmental source of knowledge, offering evidence-based information about immunizations. 

If you have concerns about the safety and efficacy of the flu shot, here are six common myths—and facts to debunk them. 

Myth #1: The Flu Shot Gives You the Flu 

This is perhaps the most pervasive myth about the flu shot, and it endures for a reason: many people report feeling unwell after receiving the vaccine. 

Because the flu shot is made from dead viruses, it cannot (repeat, cannot) give you the flu. However, it can trigger an immune response from your body—which may cause you to experience mild, flu-like symptoms. (I.e., achy muscles, soreness, redness at the injection site, or a low-grade fever.) 

It’s important to note: while irritation around the injection site is common, only 1 to 2 percent of people who get the flu shot will have fever as a side effect. 

Myth #2: The Flu Shot Doesn’t Work 

The effectiveness of flu shots indeed varies from season to season, it’s true. 

Like any viral infection, the flu rapidly mutates and creates new strains every year—and the vaccine can’t protect you from all of them. However, that doesn’t mean the flu shot doesn’t work. In the 2017-2018 flu season, the vaccine reduced the risk of illness by around 47%, according to the CDC. 

The flu shot’s effectiveness varies by population, too. For instance, the vaccine tends to be less effective at protecting the elderly. However, even though elderly people who are immunized may still get sick, they’ll likely get less sick. For many older folks, the flu vaccine can be the difference between a trip to the doctor and a trip to the hospital.

Myth #3: Healthy People Don’t Need the Flu Shot 

We hate to break it to you, but sometimes, even the strongest immune system falls victim to the flu. No one (except maybe Superman) is invulnerable to the virus—and getting vaccinated is always your best bet at staying protected. 

Even if you never, ever get the flu, it’s still a good idea to get a flu shot—and doing so could save lives. While you may not develop flu symptoms yourself, you can still carry the virus and pass it on to those more vulnerable. Almost anywhere you go, you can come in contact with a cancer patient on chemotherapy, a newborn infant, or someone with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. All are especially at risk of serious complications (or even death) from the flu.

Myth #4: You Don’t Need the Flu Shot Every Year 

The bad news? Even if you got a flu shot last year, you’ll need it again this year. That’s because the virus rapidly mutates, rendering the previous year’s vaccine partially or completely useless. 

The good news is, scientists and researchers are constantly updating the vaccination so it’s effective against the strains they predict will be most common during flu season.

Myth #5: Pregnant Women Shouldn’t Get the Flu Vaccine

When you’re pregnant, you want to do everything you can to ensure your baby is healthy. Most expectant mothers are very careful about what they put into their bodies, and the flu shot is no exception.

As the busy flu season approaches, we have good news for pregnant women: not only is it safe for them to get the flu shot, but it’s especially beneficial for them to do so. When you’re expecting, your immune system is taxed. That means you’re more likely to get sick (and really sick), putting you at higher risk for flu-related complications. The flu can be a deadly disease for pregnant women, and the vaccine is your best bet at preventing it. 

Myth #6: The Vaccine is Poisonous

We’ll be real: some of the ingredients in the flu vaccine sound a little suspect. (Formaldehyde? Aluminum salts?) However, the myth that the flu shot is “poisonous” is far more dangerous than any of its additives. 

While the vaccine does contain small traces of ingredients that would be poisonous in large doses, research overwhelmingly shows that these additives are safe in the trace amounts contained in flu shots. All the ingredients are essential in either making the vaccine, triggering the body to develop immunity, or in ensuring that the final product is safe and effective. 

One thing is for certain: when it comes to the flu vaccine, the rewards far outweigh the risks. For your best shot at a flu-free winter, get vaccinated at any of our neighborhood clinics.

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. 

Your Biggest Sexual Health Questions, Answered

Condoms on a blue background. ZOOM+Care sexual health.
 

Sexuality is a normal, healthy, and positive aspect of everyday life. Yet, even in the 21st century, speaking about sex is taboo—and that carries serious consequences. When people feel ashamed to talk about their sexual health, they’re less likely to get tested, treated, and receive the information they need to prevent infections and save lives. 

At ZOOM+Care, we believe sexual health should have the same stigma as any other kind of health: none. That’s why, in honor of Sexual Health Month and World Sexual Health Day, we’re answering your most most pressing sexual health questions. Whether its vaginal pain, STIs, or mysterious genital spots, no topic is too taboo. We’re here to give you the info you need to empower yourself.

Before we dive in, a quick note about the language we use in this article. We want to make sure everyone feels included when talking about sexual health. Many of our inquirers referred to their gender when asking questions, which is totally normal. However, since not all men have penises and not all women have vaginas, we’re going to respond using words that refer to genitals rather than gender. And now that we’ve got that out of the way…

Do condoms protect you from all STIs?

First off, it’s great that you want to do everything you can to protect yourself from STIs! Here’s the deal with condoms: when used correctly, they’re really effective at preventing contact with bodily fluids (like semen and vaginal fluids) that can carry infections. However, they don’t eliminate the risk of STIs. 

Some infections, such as herpes, genital warts, and syphilis can be spread through skin-to-skin contact. Since condoms don’t cover all your skin down there, there’s still a chance you can get an STI. 

Bottom line: If you’re sexually active, it’s important to get tested regularly, even if you use condoms religiously. 

I’m a woman, and I frequently experience pain during sex. Is this normal? 

The most important thing to realize is that discomfort during sex is nothing to be ashamed of. If you regularly experience painful sex, it’s not your fault, and you’re certainly not alone. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an estimated 75% of people with vaginas will experience uncomfortable sex during their lifetimes. 

The truth is, there are dozens of reasons for painful sex, ranging from emotional factors to infection. Today, we’ll go over a few of the most common causes. (However, we recommend consulting with a provider you trust before moving forward with any treatment.)

One common cause of painful sex is insufficient lubrication, which results in friction and discomfort. If you’re going through menopause, are postpartum or breastfeeding, you may have low estrogen levels. This can cause dryness and thin vaginal tissues, making your vagina especially sensitive and susceptible to tears. Similarly, you can experience pain from a lack of arousal. Arousal changes the sensations of genital touch and insertion, helping them feel more pleasurable. Be sure to take your time before sex, and give your body a chance to lubricate, so dryness isn’t an issue.

Another cause of pain during sex is endometriosis—a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus grows outside your uterus. Endometriosis causes uncomfortable sex in approximately half the people who have it, with pain ranging from mild to excruciating. To prevent discomfort, try switching up positions, and plan sex for times of the month when you’re experiencing less pain. (Endometriosis is especially painful before and during your period.) 

Sexual pain can also be the result of an infection (such as a yeast infection), which can cause your vaginal tissue to become inflamed. Yeast infections affect your ability to self-lubricate as well, presenting yet another barrier to enjoyable, pain-free sex.

Other causes of painful sex include uterine fibroids—benign, non-cancerous uterine growths made of muscle tissue—and ovarian cysts. 

Any time you experience acute pain during sex, you should get it checked out. Zoom’s team of every-day providers and Women’s Health experts can help you sort out what’s going on (and get it treated) so you can get back to enjoying your sex life. 

Is a yeast infection an STD? 

The short answer is no, but you’re definitely not alone in thinking so. Eighty-one percent of patients believe yeast infections are sexually transmitted through their partners and can spread to another person during sex. In reality, yeast infections are the result of pH imbalance inside of the vagina (or head of the penis—people with penises can get them, too!) that leads to a buildup of yeast. Often, they’re caused by your hormones being off-kilter.

Other causes include hormonal contraceptives, stress, a weakened immune system, recent antibiotic use, and environmental conditions, like not changing out of sweaty clothes after a workout. And while a yeast infection isn’t an STD, there is a chance sex can lead to one. Sometimes, your body chemistry can have an adverse reaction to another person’s genital yeast and bacteria, which causes yeast to grow.

Is it normal to feel anxious during my period? 

Every period-having person knows—they can really wreak havoc on our bodies. The days (or sometimes even weeks) leading up to that time of the month can bring on any number of unpleasant symptoms, including bloating, cramps, fatigue, acne, breast tenderness, and a myriad of emotional symptoms.

If you’ve noticed your anxiety spike before and during your period, it’s not a coincidence. Hormones regulate our bodies as well as our mental health. During PMS, fluctuations in powerful hormones such as estrogen and progesterone can upset that balance, triggering symptoms like increased anxiety or depression. If you already suffer from an anxiety or mood disorder, these can be more severe before and during your period.

To help ease emotional extremes around your time of month, try staying active with exercise, getting enough sleep, and making small dietary changes such as reducing caffeine and eating more omega-3 fats. Mindfulness practices, such as journaling and meditation, can also help your body to find balance.

Should I get the HPV vaccine? 

We’re not here to tell you what you should do with your body, but let us put it this way: if there were a shot that could prevent STIs and cancers, you’d consider it, right? That’s what the HPV vaccine is for. 

As for why you should consider it, HPV is crazy common. There are over 150 types, and about 80 percent of sexually active people are infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Some strains of HPV can lead to cervical, anal, penile and throat cancer, which is why many doctors now recommend the vaccine before you’re even thinking about having sex. 

If you’re already sexually active or have an existing HPV infection already, getting the vaccine won’t treat it. However, it can protect you from getting and spreading other strains of HPV. 

How often should I be having sex? What’s normal?

First of all, there’s no such thing as “normal”, and there’s no one right answer to this question. Like many things in life, it’s best to focus on the quality of sex over the quantity. A healthy sexual relationship is one where both partners are getting their needs met, and—more importantly—are communicating their wants and desires. If your partner wants sex every week and you want it once a month, you should try and negotiate a win-win compromise. 

However,  if your low desire for sex concerns you, you should talk to your doctor.

While every month is the right time to assess your sexual health, we hope you use September as an opportunity to check in with yourself, get tested, and clear up any gaps in your knowledge. Want to talk to a caring professional? Schedule a daily care or gynecology visit today.

3 Science-Backed Benefits of Getting Off Your Butt (And Into Nature)

ZOOM+Care water bottle. Outdoors health tips.

These days, we spend the majority of our waking hours sitting on our backsides, staring at screens. (Upwards of 11 hours per day, apparently.) But as it turns out, your Grandma was onto something with all those “fresh air will do you good” lectures. Research suggests that it’s important to spend time in nature, and doing so is beneficial — perhaps even essential — for our mental and physical health. 

As summer marches on in the Pacific Northwest, we’re examining the evidence that nature makes us healthier, happier people. Below, three science-backed reasons to get off your butt and go enjoy Mother Nature:  

Twenty minutes outdoors is all it takes to boost your physical and mental well-being. 

Immersing yourself in nature for two hours every week has significant health benefits, according to a study published in the Journal Scientific Reports

People who spent 120 minutes a week in “green spaces” reported a significant increase in both their mental and physical well-being, compared to those who didn’t go outdoors. (No need to head for the mountains, btw. An urban park counts as a green space.) The participants didn’t need to spend that time exercising, either—as long as they were outdoors, immersed in natured, they experienced a boost in their overall well-being. 

Even better, the two hours could be spread out throughout the week. Bottom line: As little as 20 minutes outdoors per day is all it takes to see health benefits. 

Other studies show that immersing yourself in natural surroundings can decrease cortisol levels—AKA the stress hormone—and lower systolic blood pressure and heart rate. 

Going outdoors can help ease anxiety and depression. 

According to recent research, exposure to green spaces can help ease anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.  

One study showed that strolls through the forest increased self-esteem while decreasing anxiety and negative emotions. In another, nature walks reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex—an area of the brain that’s active during rumination. (Rumination is what happens when you get down or anxious. It’s the process of continuously thinking the same thoughts, which tend to be sad and dark.) When people feel stressed or depressed, the prefrontal cortex malfunctions, and they may experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts.

In the study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people who walked for 90 minutes. Half the participants strolled through a natural setting with trees and shrubs, while the other half took a jaunt through an urban environment. The nature walkers showed decreases in cycling thoughts and activity in their prefrontal cortices, while the urban walkers did not. 

Nature may increase creativity, mental energy, and focus.

Nature is the most abundant source of beauty and inspiration available to us. Is it any surprise that it enhances our creativity? One study found that people who immersed themselves in nature for four days were able to boost their performance on a creative problem-solving test by a whopping 50%.

Similarly, nature might have a “restorative” effect on our attention spans and mental energy. In another, researchers examined participants’ ability to focus. They sent some people on a hike through nature, others on an urban stroll, and instructed the rest to relax. When everyone returned, the nature group outperformed the others on a proofreading task.  

Nature’s attention-restoring effect might even extend to kids with ADHD: children’s symptoms have been found to improve after a 20 walk through the park.

While the research is compelling, we hope these insights encourage you to go outside and experience the benefits of nature firsthand. Summer is waiting!

Looking for more summer reading? Discover five common skincare bummers, and how to solve them.

5 Summer Skin Bummers (And How to Solve Them)

Pattern of orange sunscreen lotion bottles on blue background. Summer skincare at ZOOM+Care.

Just because you love summertime doesn’t mean it loves you back. Whether it’s through sun, sweltering heat, or swarms of insects, summer can wreak serious havoc on your skin. You don’t have to sequester yourself indoors, though—just take our dermatologist-approved advice for solving your biggest summer skincare bummers. 

Bummer #1: Sunburn 

Let’s face it—during the summertime, sun exposure is inevitable. To prevent a burn, you should always (and we mean always) wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. Apply protection at least 20 minutes before you go outdoors, making sure to cover some oft-missed areas: nostrils, ears, the area around your armpits, and on the tops of your feet and toes. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, consider wearing a hat for additional sun protection. 

If you do slip up and get burned, use an ice compress to soothe inflammation and cool your skin. You can also slather on an aftersun lotion with aloe, and pop a couple Ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. Although many people try, your topical hydrocortisone cream does little to hasten the redness or the pain. If you’re not able to get relief at home, see a doctor immediately. 

Bummer #2: Poison Oak and Poison Ivy

Hiking is one of our favorite summertime activities, but it can lead to a brush with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. These pesky plants are coated in a sticky, long-lasting oil called urushiol—when it touches your skin, it causes a red, itchy, blistering rash. 

If you do come into contact with poisonous plants this summer, wash the area right away with soap and water. Next, treat the pain and irritation with ice-cold compresses and over-the-counter topical treatments, such as calamine lotion. While plant rashes usually resolve on their own within a few weeks, they can be extremely uncomfortable. Talk to your doctor if you have a severe reaction, or if a rash appears on your face or genitals. If you’re super miserable, a prescription for an oral steroid like prednisone might be necessary. 

As for prevention: Be aware of your surroundings, and if possible, keep your skin covered. We suggest wearing a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and closed shoes if you’re hiking in areas where poisonous plants grow.  

Bummer #3: Bug Bites

Reality bites—and inevitably, during the summertime, so do bugs. Wearing long sleeves, pants, and close-toed shoes will help prevent insect bites and stings, but if you spend enough time outdoors, bites are bound to happen.  

Most bug bites are more than an irritating itch—they’re actually an allergic reaction to bug’s saliva, causing inflammation, redness, and swelling. Gross, right? 

We know it’s darn-near impossible, but—if the bugs do bite this summer—try your best not to scratch. Scratching creates tiny openings in your skin, allowing for bacteria and infection to make their way in. Instead, clean the affected area with soap and water, then apply a hydrocortisone cream to the bite. This will reduce redness, itching, and decrease inflammation. You can also try at-home topical remedies like aloe vera and oatmeal. 

Bummer #4: Acne 

Acne happens all year round, but people tend to break out more in the summertime. Why? When it’s hot outside, your body produces more oil, and you sweat more. Lots of sweat + oil = acne. (There’s also all the sunscreen we’ve been urging you to apply, which—while nonnegotiable—can contribute to breakouts.)

Regardless of where acne pops up, the treatment is relatively the same. Cleanse the affected area daily with a gentle face or body wash that contains glycolic or salicylic acid. You might also want to switch up your skincare routine, too—using oil-free makeup and sunscreen will ensure you don’t further clog pores. 

Bummer #5: Folliculitis

As you probably already know, every hair on your body grows out of an opening called a follicle. If follicles become infected, you develop folliculitis—itchy, acne-like eruptions that are commonly found on shoulders, legs, and thighs. 

Because bacteria love warm, moist, dark conditions, it’s super easy to contract this infection during the summer months—especially if you frequently wear workout clothes or spandex. Tight clothing compresses the hair follicle, making bacteria more likely to grow there. 

To prevent folliculitis, shower and change your clothes right after a workout. If you’re prone to breakouts, avoid wearing tight, non-breathable fabric like spandex in the summer. If you do develop folliculitis, it’ll likely clear up in a few days with basic self-care measures. However, if it persists, be sure to contact your dermatologist—more severe cases may require prescription medication. 

Woman holding a phone with information about ZOOM+Care Dermatology. Zoom is perfect for summer skin issues.

When to call a dermatologist

While these summer skin problems are definitely bummers, they’re usually not serious. Most go away in a few days to a few weeks, but—if a rash or other skin problem persists—we’re here for you. Schedule a dermatology visit today. 

Happy 4th of July! Follow These Fireworks Safety Tips so You Won’t Have Come and See Us

It’s almost the 4th of July, which for most of us means one thing, and one thing only: fireworks.  

While fireworks are fun to watch (and even more fun to light), it’s easy to forget how dangerous these 4th of July favorites can be. Last year, 9,100 people went to U.S. ­emergency rooms with fireworks-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

It’s not just fireworks that send people to the ER, either. Believe it or not, sparklers—another 4th of July staple, especially among small children—were the #1 cause of Independence Day injuries. 

To help you get through the holiday with all your limbs intact, we’re rounding up some firework safety tips. Put these to good use, and you can avoid paying us a visit this 4th of July. 

  1. First things first: Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying them. (And before you use them, you might want to brush up on your local fireworks laws.) 
  2. Wear safety glasses when lighting fireworks. Seriously, we want you to keep both of your eyeballs! 
  3. Don’t let young children play with or light fireworks. Just, don’t. 
  4.  Never (repeat, never) point or throw fireworks at another human being. 
  5. If you decide to let your children play with sparklers, always have an adult supervise them.  
  6. Firework not ignite fully? Don’t try to pick it up or re-light it. 
  7. Light one firework at a time. After lighting the fuse, move back—quickly!
  8. Never lean your body over fireworks while lighting them. 
  9. Be prepared. Keep a hose or a bucket of water close by, just in case things go awry. 
  10.  Don’t shoot fireworks off in metal or glass containers.
  11. Some asthmatics are sensitive to the smoke that fireworks produce which can result in asthma attacks. Stand back a safe distance and be careful not to inhale firework smoke.
  12. Ah yes, booze and dangerous explosives—perhaps not the safest combination. Be responsible with alcohol while lighting fireworks.
  13.  Once you’re done, douse the fireworks with plenty of water, then dispose of them in a metal trash can.
  14. Your safest option? Leave it to the professionals and attend a fireworks display. 

Now that we’ve lectured you about firework safety, go fourth (er, forth) and have a safe, fun-filled 4th of July! 

If you do experience a firework fail this 4th of July, we’re here for you. Schedule a visit at our Super clinic—we’re open ‘til midnight on the 4th, and can treat 80% of the reasons that adults and kids go to the Emergency Room. Even better? We can do it for a fraction of the cost and time commitment.