THE PROS AND CONS OF USING ONLINE SUPPORT GROUPS FOR ADDICTION, GRIEF, PTSD OR EATING DISORDERS

PHOTO | David Lezcano

PHOTO | David Lezcano

As we enter 2019, the Internet has ushered in a new trend of online support groups. These online communities have been a game changer for some people who struggle with addictions such as alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, PTSD, anxiety, and grief. Can people reap the same benefits from online groups as they can in ‘real life,’ in person settings? We turned to Carrie Carlton LCSW at Beachway Therapy Center in Boynton Beach, Florida for answers.

Benefits of Online Support Groups

1. Members can log in any time they need help. For instance, every time you feel a strong urge to drink, you may turn to community members for immediate support. Carrie Carlton offers, “This would be impossible with traditional face-to-face meetings. 24/7 support is especially crucial in the first, most fragile phase of alcohol withdrawal.

2. “Online communities tend to be more diverse, which gives you an insight into the struggles of people from different backgrounds. At the same time, the differences such as age, ethnic background, or gender are not obvious unless disclosed, which contributes to an egalitarian atmosphere,” says Carrie Carlton.

3. People suffering from social anxiety, disabilities, autism, or illness can participate in online meetings with more ease.

4. For those who live in small towns where meetings may be far away, or sparse, online access is very convenient.

5. Online meetings protect anonymity. Carrie Carlton explains that “Even though AA and NA (Narcotics anonymous) have rules about keeping who you see and what you hear in that room private, for people who are shy, truly being “anonymous” online might be helpful.”

LIMITATIONS OF ONLINE SUPPORT GROUPS

Lack of commitment: Though easy accessibility can be an advantage, it can also make it harder to form an attachment to the group and the individuals in it. Carlton states that “Sacrificing more time and energy to get to meetings tends to build more commitment to the group and decrease the chances that an addicted individual will stop attending and relapse.”

Online bullying: Unfortunately, cyberbullying is still a large problem. It can be very easy for a bully to sign up for an online support group, get access to chat rooms and message boards, and post abusive messages or even try to trigger people into relapse. Carrie Carlton points out that, “People tend not to try this kind of thing at in-person meetings as they would have to deal with immediate consequences and would not be anonymous.”

Miscommunication: Carrie Carlton points out that, “It can be difficult to convey tone online. People tend to have significantly more misunderstandings when interacting over the Internet because they can’t hear each other’s tone of voice or see facial expressions.” This can possibly be helped by the use of video conferencing, but lag and poor picture quality can still cause problems.

Lack of True Fellowship: With groups such AA, people are able to meet face to face and often see the same members repeatedly at meetings. Group members introduce themselves by first name each time they speak. This allows other members to put a face with a name. In addition, AA and other support groups often have fellowship activities such as yoga, holiday dinners, or other group activities. It is very difficult to foster this sense of community and closeness in the virtual world.

WHAT IS THE IDEAL ANSWER TO INTERNET VERSUS “REAL LIFE MEETINGS?”

“For anyone who is a danger to themselves or others, they need a much higher level of care in a confined facility, be it a detox, rehab, or in severe cases, a psychiatric hospital. Once addicts/alcoholics are “stable” the best-case scenario is to attend meetings regularly, get a sponsor, and practice “fellowship” with others in your group,” says Carrie Carlton. Online support groups can be a helpful supplement to in-person meetings, one on one sessions with a therapist, or intensive outpatient therapy. Thanks to 21st-century technology and the prevalence of 12 step meetings, there is no reason people have to choose one method or the other.

Get the latest issue of Athleisure Mag

HOLISTIC HEALTH, OR WHY MEN SHOULD SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF

pexels-photo-1139500.jpg

No man is an island, and the same principle rings true for each system of your body. It’s all too easy to compartmentalize health and well being into sections – exercise, diet, and so on – but research shows you need to look at the whole, not the individual. Take this study published in 2018 by the American College of Cardiology; they found that simply being optimistic is enough to reduce heart disease mortality by 38%. Being positive seems like a small change, but clearly has big results – and the pathway to understanding this is through your hormones.

The hormonal system

Your hormonal system is your internal messaging system and probably one of the most integrated parts of the body, with multiple different mechanisms working through it. It can be easy to overlook, given how they work very much in the background. Having your hormones in balance and in check is important, and is relatively easily achieved through proper sleeping schedules, eating at regular intervals, and engaging in physical activity. It can’t be overstated how important this is, and a 2011 study published by the National Institute for Health noted that decreased sleep is linked heavily to obesity. For some, there may be medical reasons for a hormone deficiency; this is common in both men and women, with it not uncommon for men to experience testosterone shortages. In these cases, it’s absolutely fine, and likely important, to look for hormone replacement therapy.

The power of breathing

Meditation, yoga, and measured breathing – these are buzzwords for a new generation of holistic health practices in the modern day, and are sometimes burdened with being seen as hippy-ish. However, deep breathing has been practiced for thousands of years by yoga, tai chi and other meditation practitioners. What’s interesting is that science backs up the powerful effect of deep breathing – tests on mice have shown deep breathing to directly reduce signals of stress in the brain, according to The Verge. Stress produces hormones of its own that can be unhelpful, flooding the body and causing strain; regular deep breathing and meditation helps to countenance that. 

Stretching your muscles

Stretching was probably discarded along with your school gym lessons, and was often an annoying precursor to having fun on the field. It really shouldn’t be disregarded, as it has a wide range of health effects that benefit more than just your bones and muscles. According to an article by UC Davis, stretching also helps to increase energy levels and release tension. Once again, this helps your body hormonally; it provides an impetus, assisting your metabolism, and makes you feel more full of vitality.

Through understanding your hormones, learning to take a deep breath and looking to stretch out, you can improve your life in subtle but powerful ways. Your hormones come together to be stronger than the sum of their parts, and that can be of immeasurable help in your day to day life. For the modern man, taking stock and addressing shortages in their daily routines is a must.

Read more from the latest issue of Athleisure Mag

5 KEY HEALTH EXAMS MILLENNIALS TO GET THIS YEAR

PHOTO COURTESY | Branden Harvey

PHOTO COURTESY | Branden Harvey

With more and more millennials skipping out on annual health exams in favor of a quick as needed, visit to an urgent care facility, doctors fear the largest generation in America, may overlook serious health issues. There are 83 million Americans between age 22 and 37 and according to a November 2018 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of those 18-29 and 28% of those age 30-39 do not have a primary care physician. The issue is that health conditions that can be caught early may slip through the cracks. Dr. Niket Sonpal, Adjunct Assistant Professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City, offers 5 health exams millennials should get this year.

Dr. Sonpal, who at age 36 is a millennial himself, has compassion and understanding when it comes to millennials. “You’re looking at a generation with incredible debt and many don’t have jobs with health insurance,” he says. 

In addition to the financial aspect, Dr. Sonpal adds that this is a generation raised on the internet. “When we got sick as kids, our mom searched for answers online. If we went to the doctor, it was a day of missed school and boring waiting rooms. Now as adults, millennials want, fast affordable solutions and often take a DIY approach to health.”

He goes on to say that healthcare has become an expensive hassle millennials choose to avoid. They would much rather facetime or text a doctor as opposed to miss work hours. They prefer to just walk into an urgent care clinic, pay $40 and be done with it, fast. “The problem though is that while this approach may be ok for treating a sore throat or flu, millennials might be missing an opportunity to nip a bigger problem early on.”

I want to urge all millennials women to get women’s wellness exams which is a PAP Smear and breast exam as well as a screening for STD’s and bloodwork. HPV, can lead to cervical cancer so it’s important to monitor dysplasia.

Dr. Sonpal encourages millennials to get these exams out of the at either the start of the year or their birthday month so they can easily remember when they last went to the doctor for these exams.

1. Blood Pressure Screenings

You want to get blood pressure checked out at least once every 2 years and ever year if the top number is 120 to 139 and bottom between 80 to 89. High blood pressure is linked to diabetes which is really hitting millennials hard. According to the CDC, between 2001 and 2015 teen obesity rates rose 30%. “As kids, millennials were part of a supersize culture. Millennials also didn’t spend a lot of time going outside to play until the streetlights came on as Gen X’ers did. This all adds up to diabetes and heart disease if not monitored,” he says.

2. Eye Exams

Millennials were raised on technology and their eyes are reaping the cost of this. It’s estimated that millennials spend over 12 hours per day consuming media with a majority of it on mobile devices on screens held closer to the eye. This leads to “nearsightedness” or “shortsightedness” where the eye weakens and can’t see clearly at a distance. A lot of millennials will find themselves squinting to see things that are further away, they may have dull headaches and find themselves rubbing their eyes frequently. “A lot of millennials are popping ibuprofen for headache associated with eye strain and neck ache from prolonged computer jobs. This then leads to stomach issues,” cautions Dr. Sonpal.

3. IBS and Digestive Screenings

We also need to consider that the food we eat today is full of antibiotics and hormones. Millennials are a generation whose diet was primarily full of processed foods. We see a lot of Celiac Disease (intolerance of gluten). A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that from the mid-80s to 2013, the incidence of colon cancer has been rising fastest for people between the ages of 20 and 29, by 2.4 percent per year. “The issue here is that we have millennials self-treating stomach issues that can be the start of something serious. If you’re experiencing chronic stomach pain, see a doctor. Gut health is incredibly important for overall wellbeing,” advises Dr. Sonpal.

4. Mental Health Screening

Millennials are one stressed out generation. According to Psychology Today, suicide rates among young adults have tripled since the 50’s with millennials are reporting a sense of “faking it until they make it.” The problem is they feel disconnected from themselves and wrong for the life they are living. They feel as if they are not enough and then they scroll on their Instagram feeds and see people their age with luxury watches, travel to the Maldives and Dubai and they feel hopeless, stressed and depressed.  They’re popping Xanax and smoking marijuana to take the edge off. The good news is that millennials are willing to discuss their feelings and studies show that this is the first generation who doesn’t see any stigma about seeing a therapist or mentor coach. Sometimes a break up or a layoff can trigger a downward spiral into depression or even drug or alcohol addiction.

5. Annual Exam and Immunizations

It’s recommended that you get the flu shot every year. Another important vaccine is for HPV which was mentioned earlier. Dr. Sonpal points out that the HPV vaccine has expanded coverage and is important to prevent certain types of cancer. Other vaccines may also be recommended depending on your health history. The only way you know is by having a yearly physical.

Read more from the latest issue of Athleisure Mag.