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HANG UP KEYS WHEN YOU HAVE A COLD

If your nose looks like a radish and your eyes are more watery than chicken soup at a bad diner, the only equipment you should be operating is a thermometer. The common cold, it turns out, is an automobile accident waiting to happen. The sneezing, tearing, fever and puffy eyes make your reactions behind the wheel as slow and unsteady as a party-goer who's pounded back several drinks, reports a U.K. team.

One reason: A single sneeze lasts two to three seconds, and your eyes automatically close during it. If you're driving 70 miles an hour and go "ah-ah-ah-choo," you're driving blind for 315 feet. You don't need us to tell you that's scary. It also explains something we didn't understand in the past: why getting a flu shot decreases accident deaths.

North Americans get 1 billion colds each year. So you can bet that many sneezing, blowing, dripping drivers will be bobbing and weaving down highways. Don't be one of them.

What if you have a ferocious cold and absolutely have to go someplace? Do not take the nearest cold medicine without checking the warning label. Many contain decongestants that can give you the shakes, or make you nod off or respond slower. Instead, pick up the phone and ask a friend or a taxi service for a lift.

Once you're back on your feet, stave off your next battle of the sinuses with this trio of cold-fighters: Get eight hours of sleep nightly. Take 1,000 IU of virus-fighting vitamin D-3 daily. And wash your hands like a maniac.

NICOTINE PATCH IS JUST ONE WEAPON

"Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it a hundred times!" If you've tried to stop puffing on coffin nails, Mark Twain's quotation rings oh-so-true. Get off the nicotine merry-go-round with these steps:

1. Set a quit date 30 days from now.

2. Start walking every day. You're building discipline and heart/lung health.

3. Get an Rx for anticraving pills (like buproprion) from your doc.

4. Find a support buddy - ideally someone else who wants to quit; you'll help each other.

5. Begin using a nicotine patch the day you quit.

What about the new report "proving" that nicotine patches (and gums, lozenges) don't work? Baloney. It compared people who quit using nicotine replacements with folks who quit cold turkey. Both groups fell off the non-smoking wagon at about the same rate. That doesn't mean patches don't work.

They didn't measure quit rates. They measured return-to-smoking rates of quitters. Plus, we know long-term success doesn't happen that often with nicotine replacement alone.

We've helped at least 1,400 people quit. Smoking's a tough enemy, and you need an arsenal to beat it. Nicotine replacement is just one weapon - only 5 percent to 10 percent of quitters who do just replacement succeed. Thus our combo approach. Nearly 60 percent of people who follow it succeed!

For step-by-steps, go to www.RealAge.com/stop-smoking/. Then go for it.

TRAIN YOUR BRAIN TO CALM THE PAIN

When pain is the kind that won't quit (a chronic bad back or arthritic joint), painkillers - even prescription ones - aren't always enough. Or they make you feel weird and uneasy. Or maybe you just don't want to take them.

When that happens, try breaking the pain cycle with self-calming techniques - and we don't mean downing a glass of wine.

Persistent pain constantly pumps up your levels of stress hormones. That makes your brain think the pain is worse than it actually is. Soon you're on a not-so-merry-go-round of ever-increasing stress hormones and escalating pain perceptions.

How to get off the carousel? Dial back those pain-boosting stress hormones by listening to music, practicing mindfulness meditation and through gentle exercise.

- If you're tightly wound, listening - really listening - to soothing music will relax and distract your body and brain, taking attention away from the pain, allowing it to settle down.

- Or try mindfulness, a kind of meditation in which you sit quietly, eyes closed, and focus only on how each breath feels (in, out, in, out). When other thoughts intrude, gently refocus on breathing. After 10 minutes or so, begin to notice your surroundings as you quietly breathe. Then go about your day with this feeling of calm awareness. You'll find that pain isn't running you over.

- Movement also reduces pain sensitivity. Water exercises or gentle yoga can help stop your whole body from becoming a pulsing pain generator.

TOP 10 WAYS TO BEAT STRESS

Bet you don't expect this: Average stress levels in North America went down in 2011. On a scale of 10, a national survey says they dropped a full point, from 6.2 to 5.2.

Apparently, we're getting used to living with constant stress - not good. However, we're also getting better at managing it - good! You're not a wiz yet at getting your stress out of the stratosphere? Try our top 10 ways.

1. Take a timeout. Step away from whatever's making every muscle tense. Even 10 minutes helps.

2. Walk. Or dance, lift weights, do yoga. Exercise gives you a break AND undoes some of stress's bad biological effects.

3. Talk. Vent to someone close.

4. Meditate. Or do 10 minutes of deep breathing twice a day.

5. Laugh. Call your funniest friend, catch a favorite sitcom, watch crazy cat videos online.

6. Let it go. One person always gets to you? Take a deep breath and move on. The person you're letting off the hook is you.

7. Keep lavender and lemon around. Sprays, oils or the real things. Their calming scents are proven relaxants.

. 8. Play with a pet. Just stroking a four-legged friend lowers stress and blood pressure.

9. Squeeze tight. Scrunch up every face or body muscle for 15 seconds, then release. Repeat. Contraction-relaxation unknots you.

10. Accentuate the positive. Each night, focus on three good things that happened. Be grateful. Say "thanks." A lot. Life is good.

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