Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ask Dr. Gretchen Blog Moving Soon

The Ask Dr. Gretchen blog will soon be relocating to Dr. Gretchen's new webpage at

Look for us there, with all new and expanded content on your favorite women's health and mental health topics.

- Dr. Gretchen

Monday, August 10, 2009

Even Bloggers Need a Vacation – And How to Take One Even if You Can’t Afford It

The mind needs rest. The body needs rest. The soul needs rest. Vacation, in other words. A time away from the busy cares of your day-to-day life, the extreme schedules, the hubbub of city life, the noise and chaos that accompanies living in close quarters with your fellow human beings. Who doesn’t go to work on a Monday and sometimes wish it was still Sunday?

It’s time for this blogger to take a little vacation, change environments, rest and reinvigorate with exposure to nature, new sights, and new people. If you’re thinking that sounds nice, but also thinking you can’t afford it right now, think again. The cost of illness is high, and illness results from unremitting stress. Chronic pressure and strain are wearing to the brain, heart, blood vessels, and gut.

Carving out time for yourself, a “stay-cation,” can be just as effective as heading for the beach in Mexico or touring through Europe. How to make it work though? Like any vacation, it requires advance planning. Clear your schedule of all routine obligations. Stop the mail and the newspaper. Put up automated absence messages on all your e-mails, and on your outgoing voicemail. Do not fill up your schedule with doctor’s appointments, car repairs, or housework. Do a little research on your town and visit the top ten tourist attractions; chances are, if you live there, you’ve never bothered to visit. Plan a special restaurant meal to mark the commencement of your vacation. Sleep in. Wake up without an alarm. Have a day without a plan. Spend time in nature. Take advantage of the last few weeks of summer and visit a public pool or beach during the week when it’s not crowded. Take off your wristwatch and leave it at home.

Enjoy the feeling of relief you have given yourself.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What You Eat and How You Sleep: Surprising Consequences of Sugar, Caffeine, Dairy, and Alcohol

We’re all busy multi-tasking, violating the rhythms of day and night with our electric lights and non-stop schedules. That takes a huge toll on sleep, and there’s no escaping the fact that we really all do need approximately eight hours per night in order to ensure optimal functioning. What you may not know is how to positively influence your sleep by what you eat, what you don’t eat, and how you time what you eat.

Caffeine: No surprise here – caffeine affects sleep. The surprise, however is that a) you may be more sensitive to it than you realize; b) you may be consuming far more than you realize (chocolate, anyone? Diet cola? A little iced coffee?); c) you might need to stop consuming caffeine as early as noon in order to positively impact your sleep patterns.

Sugar: Sugar gives you a buzz, and sugar makes you crash. Sugar is a stimulant! It wreaks havoc on your blood chemistry and hormonal balance, and will disrupt sleep as surely as caffeine. So, if you’re in the habit of dessert after dinner, or drinking several coffees or sugar-sweetened sodas or juices during the day, snacking on candy, etc., you may want to experiment with eliminating the sugar, or at least stopping it after mid-day.

Tryptophan: It’s in turkey, milk, and other forms of dairy. A little turkey breast before you turn in may be the surprising helper that gets you to sleep through the night. Likewise, a glass of milk or some yogurt may help you sleep.

Calcium: Of course it’s found in dairy products, but a calcium supplement taken before bed can also help with the sleep process.

Alcohol: Did you know that alcohol consists mainly of sugar? It may seem like a glass of alcohol before bed makes you sleepy or helps you fall asleep, but at 2:00 a.m., the sugar buzz that sedated you in the first place is going to wear off, and you’ll wake up and have difficulty falling back asleep.

In sum, if you’re not sleeping well or have even progressed to full-blown insomnia, try these dietary suggestions before you try over-the-counter or prescription sleep medication. The power to improve your sleep quantity and quality may well lie in what you put in your body.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Active vs. Passive Relaxation

The term “active relaxation” probably sounds like an oxymoron – you’re thinking, “but isn’t relaxation supposed to be about doing nothing?” or, “If I’m being active, then I’m not relaxing – right!?” But active relaxation is a concept, a choice, and a practice that leads to stress relief in a way that lounging in front of the television can never do.

Decades ago, relaxation meant sitting on the front porch with your family, chatting with the neighbors, or kicking back on the couch and reading a good book. All of these activities were human-paced, not machine-paced. We are living in a time when fax machines are already obsolete, and e-mail is “so 1999,” according to social media expert Lorrie Thomas. Every spare moment is filled with checking out the latest business and personal tidbits via your smart phone, or sending out tweets – little time-fillers that contribute to a sense of being rushed, frantic, and always needing to be productive.

Active relaxation is consistent with the idea of being productive, yet counter to it. What do I mean by active relaxation? I mean, choosing activities that contribute to a deep sense of well-being, centeredness, calm, and good health. Yoga, meditation, listening to relaxing music, a lengthy solo walk, or actively connecting with someone you care about in person, without the distraction of your cell phone. And these activities need to be a priority in your life – yes, they even need to be scheduled!

What happens when you choose leisure over productivity? The shift in activity, from hyper-social and seemingly ultra-connected, back to the limitations of the moment, will shock and surprise your brain in a way that rewires it over time. Remember, the human brain evolves much more slowly than technology. And just because we have access to warp-speed communications does not mean that we need to be engaged in them 100% of the time. The brain craves novelty, and responds well to it – and nowadays, that novelty is going to come from periodic engagement in slow, concentrated activities. Although the brain has infinite capacities, in this case, slow is better.

Sounds scary setting aside all of the devices and activities we’re addicted to, to just be with ourselves or one another? Start small, start slow, and experiment with what feels comfortable to you. As little as five minutes per day of simply turning off the phone, closing your eyes, and paying attention to your breath will begin to re-attune your mind to its healthy natural rhythms.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

When Feeling Crazy Isn't So Crazy

The cat threw up on the carpet, the kids are crying, your boss is calling you at home on a Sunday, for some mysterious reason you’ve gained five pounds overnight, there’s nothing to eat but popcorn and questionable looking deviled eggs, and you’re kind of wishing that aliens would swoop out of the sky and abduct you. Your “notes to self” run something like: give children away; change home phone number (better yet, cancel all phone service); find out whether Prozac is now available over the counter; figure out appropriate justification for eating nothing but carbohydrates; and research that alien abduction thing so you can position yourself appropriately next time they come around. An extreme snapshot of a day in hell, or daily life for the average multi-tasker?

If you’re like most women, some or all of the above has passed through your head at one time or another, and you’ve probably wondered if you were going crazy. Well, the good news is that, while there’s chaos and insanity all around you, and even sometimes inside of you, it does not mean you’re crazy. Quite the contrary, in fact. Feelings of “insanity,” “losing it,” and “going off the deep end” are actually your body’s natural resources coming to the rescue, and telling you that you’re living in a crazy world. The harder you try to get in synch with that world, the likelier you are to feel crazy yourself.

What’s the solution to feeling like the world’s cracking up, and you’re cracking right along with it? First, listen to what your mind and body are telling you, and take it seriously. You are the expert on your own well-being and your unconscious will reveal everything you need to know, if you slow down for just a few minutes and let it talk to you. Second, banish all unnecessary tasks from your to-do list, and simplify those that remain. Do you really need to make a homemade meal tonight, or will ordering in suffice? Can you refuse to return work-related calls on Sundays? And maybe you don’t need so many fuzzy area rugs that the cat can throw up on. In other words, reduce your visual clutter as well as your mental clutter, and you will find that the feelings of craziness begin to reduce along with your task list.

Although it would be nice to have assistance from others, the road to feeling sane and centered begins with you. You have the power to say “NO” and the ability to decide what you really want to do, even when the demands placed upon you are extreme. Remember that nothing extreme is ever healthy. That includes your mental health, where small changes can produce big results.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Role Fathers Play in Their Daughter's Health

On Father's Day, we celebrate the fathers who helped raise us, shape us, and define us. Fathers have an important role in not just their daughter's physical and moral upbringing, but also in their health. How's that, you say?

Fathers are often primary (or equal partner) caregivers - gone are the days when raising a child was purely women's work. Fathers now are present at doctor's appointments throughout pregnancy, in the delivery room, and from the very moment a child comes home. Fathers are responsible for cleaning, protecting, and feeding their daughters right from the start.

Fathers cook - some of the greatest chefs in the world are men, and some of the best home cooks are men too - and we're not just talking BBQ! Many spouses/partners don't like to cook, and many men do, so there's no reason a father can't contribute to his daughter's health by consciously cooking and incorporating healthy, diverse foods into his daughter's diet. Even with the old standbys, fathers can opt to make it healthy - try veggie ground round tacos instead of beef, turkey burgers instead of red meat, vegetarian pizza instead of the carnivore's version. Your daughter's health will benefit, and so will that of the entire family. Teach her to cook, and she will have a valuable life skill.

Fathers are active - if it's true that men love watching sports, it's equally true that men love participating in sports, whether as a coach, a teacher, or a player. By modelling a love of healthy activity, your daughter will come to love movement and play too, which contributes to both mental and physical health. Coaching or teaching your daughter can pass on your own love of a sport, offer healthy role models for engagement and attachment, allow you fun-filled ways to impart healthy life lessons, and contribute to valuable shared time. And when you maintain your own physical fitness program, again, you are modelling healthy behavior for your daughter, for the rest of her life.

Fathers contribute to self-esteem - all girls go through a phase where they are "daddy's girls," where the need for the love and adoration of their father far surpasses any desire they have had for their mothers. Fathers need to respond to this need for attention with positive, age-suitable, healthy and open support. Fathers need to encourage and praise their daughters for their successes, and be conscious of the sharp and lasting impact of criticism. Likewise, teasing can be diminishing for a girl's fragile and developing self-esteem. Encourage your daughter's healthy self-esteem by treating the other women and girls in your life well, and your daughter will learn how she should be treated.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Proud to be Affiliated with inCYST for PCOS Education

I'm proud to announce my affiliation with Monika Woolsey, RD, the dietician who founded inCYST, an educational and service organization for women with PCOS. Monika has a wealth of knowledge on this topic, and is especially sensitive to the emotional needs of women with PCOS, as well as other endocrine conditions. In addition to offering dietary counsel, she has assembled an amazing team of professionals in southern California - physicians, dieticians, and counselors who are passionate about treating the full person. I believe strongly in an inter-disciplinary approach to disease management. With PCOS, nothing less is effective.

Check out the inCYST blog right here on blogger.