Happy New Year! 2018 was one crazy year for many, and for Points North PT as well. I have been very fortunate and very honored to have the opportunity and pleasure to meet and work with so many people, from all over this state and also from out of state, from many different walks of life for assistance with all kinds of conditions.
I feel that this year I have witnessed a tremendous amount of pain, physical and emotional, that is disproportionate to years past. And it feels that the climate of health care is changing. People are hurting more than ever, their pain seems more intense than ever, and they are panicked and angry. This phenomenon is not unique to my clinic. It is happening everywhere, or so I hear from my friends in other areas of health care. And I have been observing and listening to my clients.
What I have seen and heard in the clinic this past year indicates that our culture is under an epic assault of stress—stress from increasing work and family demands with less assistance from family and friends. Our diminishing support networks result from families moving in all directions for work or to find more affordable living; from an epidemic of busyness which makes parents slaves to their kids’ schedules, resulting in less time to connect with friends and loved ones; and a growing tendency in our culture to go it alone, because we don’t want to trouble others, we don’t want to appear helpless, or we are too weary to make a connection and seek help and we’d rather just do it ourselves.
The stress in our family and professional lives is only amplified by the overstimulating world around us. It’s a crazy political climate, one awful world event after another keeps happening, and it’s hard to shut it out because we are bombarded with excessive details from every form of media at our disposal during every waking moment. And the media spin is consistently negative and goes something like this: Look everyone! Another catastrophe! Another evil political transgression! More evidence that the end of civilization is at hand and you should be very, very afraid and vigilant at all times!
And people are very afraid and quite vigilant, and it spills over into how they approach the world and communicate with one another. All you need to do is log onto social media and see that people want to start an argument. While we’re on the subject, social media is itself is another significant stressor in our culture. I think social media has the potential to be a wonderful, positive influence in our lives. It makes staying in touch and sharing photos with long distance family and friends easier, and every year when a barrage of Facebook birthday wishes pour into my email, I think of the many very lonely people out there, who don’t celebrate their birthdays with anyone, and how these messages must brighten their days and show them that they are truly loved.
Unfortunately, social media perpetuates the media’s negativity spin through its algorithm of promoting the most sensationalized posts that get the most clicks, so we log on and can get our fill of lurid news and silly, superficial, braggy posts on others’ luxurious vacations, expensive new homes and cars, fabulous parties, and #nofilter selfies. There’s actually a new mental health disorder out there, DSM-5 classified as “Social Media Anxiety Disorder,” defined by symptoms including addiction to social media, anxiety triggered by being offline for a few minutes, and depression and jealousy at not being able to compete with others’ perfect lives.
Loneliness itself is a big problem and, I believe, the end result of everything we have covered above contributing to physical and emotional isolation. An amazing, intelligent, vibrant older client in my clinic recently brought up the topic in the clinic while discussing holiday plans. “Baby boomers are the loneliest generation,” she noted, “because so many of us got divorced. Now that our kids are grown and moved away, many of us don’t have anyone with us to celebrate the holidays.” Another client in this demographic recently commented, “It just calms me to come to see you and receive hands-on treatment. I’m divorced, my kids are grown, I live alone, and I am so rarely ever touched by anyone.”
Loneliness may sound like a quiet existence, yet one can live bombarded by social input all day and still feel lonely and isolated in a more and more self-absorbed culture. We are a culture that is lonelier yet simultaneously overstimulated. We have a shortage of quiet on our hands. We talk too much and don’t listen enough.
In every public establishment, we are subjected to music, frequently loud enough to be distracting, that may not be our taste. I can’t ever forget the time when my stepfather and I had to endure the song “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd in the emergency room with my middle child when she was a year old! We can’t fill up our gas tank and have a moment of thoughts to ourselves without an unasked-for TV screen on the pump blasting into action to make sure we’re entertained. Kids are rushed from one organized activity to another and then into therapy by their loving and well-intentioned parents to try to determine the cause of their kids’ stress.
Even studies of marine life reveal deleterious effects on sea creatures from noise pollution in the ocean. The mammalian brain needs rest and time for processing. Constant stimulation and neuron firing depletes our neurotransmitters, affecting our thinking, functioning, and making us more susceptible to illness.
The effect of this multifaceted chronic stress overload that I see is that we are losing our resilience, as individuals and as a culture. Chronic stress causes the body to slowly break down, and leaves us less resilient, less able to bounce back physically, mentally and emotionally. The immune system doesn’t function at its normal level, one becomes more susceptible to illness and takes longer to recover. Higher circulating levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the body in response to stress, make tissues more fragile and prone to injury. Constant firing of our “fight or flight” system throws off our hypothalamus, pituitary, and sympathetic nervous system and wreaks havoc on delicate hormonal balance and organ function, affecting sleep, GI function, our cardiovascular system, the menstrual cycle and fertility.
Conditions strongly related to chronic stress that I see in the clinic include but are not limited to: alignment issues, breathing dysfunction, chronic tendinitis and other slow healing soft tissue conditions, migraines and spinal pain, fibromyalgia and other pain syndromes, infertility, non-communicable disease (autoimmunity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, to name a few), overtraining, adrenal fatigue, and insomnia.
The flip side of this stress epidemic is that we have a beautiful, changing world with so much to offer waiting for us if we can just lower our stress, get back in balance and regain our resilience. There is so much beauty outdoors, and living in Stowe, I am aware of this fact every day. We have the options of so many fun and enriching activities to enjoy, many new career possibilities, better access than ever to knowledge and education, and different ways to meet and connect with people if we allow ourselves to do so. Many caring, amazing and inspirational people are out there who also are great role models—people who aren’t afraid to speak out and act, and who volunteer tirelessly to help others and improve the world. We also have better access to health care than ever, and tons of health information available—so much that it can be overwhelming at times!
All these gifts of the world would make it possible for us to have the life that we want, if we were not so exhausted and depleted by chronic stress.
So the 2019 New Year’s resolution of Points North PT is to not only help clients heal, but to build resilience—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—to enable clients to combat stress in order to set and work toward goals for rehab and for life. I am declaring 2019 the Year of Resilience.
Here are a few more resolutions:
This year in the clinic, I am going to push you harder to do more to take care of yourself and rely on me less. I want to help build you up so that you are equipped to handle whatever surprises life may give you. I also want to help you appreciate and respect yourself as the beautiful person that you are, able to live an active and full and fulfilling life within an imperfect framework.
We will drop all ego and be completely honest about what is standing in the way between ourselves and our goals, whether that’s diet, excuses about exercising, fear of failure, or negative thinking.
We are going to be focused on moving forward, efficient with our time, and not let distractions—other people, social media, or negative thinking or guilt—steal our energy, throw us off course, or rob us of time to take care of ourselves.
We’re going to drop the martyrdom, because it’s a very codependent state that benefits the martyr. No one’s impressed, and in the great scheme of things it’s a big excuse for not exercising, not eating properly, not getting enough rest, and not being happy.
We will not beat ourselves up for being human and feeling discouragement, depression, grief, or anger due to an injury or illness. We will acknowledge it but not dwell on it. And we will eject negative influences from our universe.
We are going to work on tolerating discomfort, because goals worth achieving usually require hard work, discomfort, sometimes even pain. Rehab and strength goals require hard, uncomfortable exercise sessions a minimum of three to four times per week, and there’s just no way around that. We will work on embracing the pain because it will take us to the next step in our journey, even if we’re tired, stressed, busy or just don’t feel like it. We will keep in mind that we will feel better afterward 100 percent of the time.
We will make time to bundle up and get outside several times a week, or for a few minutes every day, because fresh air makes everything more manageable.
And we also will make a resolution to try something that terrifies us! That could be participating in a race, learning to swim, trying a new class, giving a speech, speaking up on an important issue. Because stepping outside of our comfort zone makes us grow and gives us confidence in ourselves.
There is going to be less time on the table in the clinic and more time spent moving, and more discussion of how to give control of your care back to you. I am going to make sure that everyone will have a plan firmly in place for what they need to do to take care of themselves, what to do if they experience a return of symptoms, and how to get back on their plan if they fall off it. Control of your care gives you power. Running around to a multitude of practitioners to be fixed all the time robs you of power and time.
And I am going to hold you accountable for your self-care. That may seem demanding, but I am actually giving you a gift. I want you to get your life back. If I cave in and feel sorry for you for not implementing the strategies we’ve developed together to get you back to health, then I am not helping you, which was what you’ve trusted me and hired me to do.
I feel that communication in here is always very open, honest, and positive. If you find that a program or strategy we have developed, not just to get you out of the clinic but to get you to where in life you want to be, isn’t working for you then please let’s discuss it. All I want is for you to get better.
It’s an open door here, I love seeing my clients, and you’re always welcome to come back in for a check in, discussion, progression of exercises, or any other assistance within my scope of practice. If you’ve fallen off your plan and need help getting back on it, you shouldn’t feel badly and I will be happy to help you.
So get ready to get your resilience on! I am excited for another year of working with the true athletes in my corner of the world, the adults and children moving through frequently very serious pain and illness, staying positive and living their lives, doing their best, working hard and not complaining. You are the true heroes in my world, and I am honored and delighted to work with you. Let’s crush 2019!
Kathleen Doehla, M.S. P.T.