Posted in Life & Happiness

Work-Life Balance

An important part of most of our lives as an adult is work.
We need money to pay for food and housing, but also to fulfil our wants and realising our dreams, such as indulging in gourmet foods and beautiful clothes, going on trips, funding a hobby or buying a nice house.
Careers can be an important source of personal pride and sense of purpose, challenging us and stimulating our growth.
Workplaces are also a valuable source of social interaction, as we meet people we might not have met in other settings.

But as important as work is, it is perhaps overemphasised in our society.
Money is great, but above a certain line, there is a diminishing return on how much happiness it brings, because it promotes greed rather than contentness.
Our pride in our job may lead to us making it too large a part of our identity, resulting in a crisis when we feel we are not good at our jobs or cannot keep working anymore.
Our colleagues and superiors may be the greatest source of stress and annoyance, leading to burnout at work.

Overall, work can be a source of great stress and misery in our lives.

Most importantly, life is a zero-sum game. If we devote time to work, it takes away time from other aspects of our life. We often overlook the “little things“, such as spending time with our loved ones, enjoying hobbies and interests, and taking care of our health.

But things such as relationships and health are what we do need to devote time to, as they can be irreparably damaged without proper care and maintenance.

So if you don’t have time for these “little things”, ask yourself what you are making time for. Is what you get out of your job really worth it all? Is it worth the stress and sacrificing the “little things” for?

Sometimes, it is necessary to work hard and make sacrifices to earn enough for survival or to achieve a certain goals. But more often than not, we are failing to be content and losing what we already have in the pursuit of something bigger (and out of reach).

To prevent work from taking over your life, we must balance it by making time for various outlets.

An effective way to balance the stress and burnout from work is by having a creative outlet. Having a hobby such as playing an instrument, writing (e.g. creative writing, journaling, blogging), drawing or some other activity that challenges you to grow outside of work helps you to feel engaged and active. Life is so much more interesting with a passion, especially when work fails to provide it.

Improving physical health through exercise gives you more energy so you can do more with your free time than just lie down and watch TV after work.
Meditation gives us tools to be resilient against various forms of stress by teaching us to let go of things we cannot change and to be mindful of the good things in life.

The last important outlet is connection. Friends and family provide love, support and compassion when we are going through tough times. Even being able to co-miserate about a mild annoyance over a coffee with a colleague can make work more bearable. Sharing a laughter and enjoying moments of simple pleasure together with a loved one helps remind us of how important happiness and contentness is in life.

Achieving a healthy work-life balance is too deep of a topic to cover in one article, especially because it varies from person to person.
Nonetheless, it is worth asking yourself whether you are truly happy with the balance between work and your personal life, and how you may live a happier life by restoring said balance.

(Image source: Puuung http://www.grafolio.com/puuung1)
0
Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Berry Aneurysm

Stroke is a disease often associated with the elderly, but this is not necessarily true. As much as 5% of the population carry a ticking time bomb in their brain, known as a berry aneurysm. An aneurysm is a weakening of the arterial wall, causing a localised ballooning of the vessel. A berry aneurysm is a common type of aneurysm where the ballooning resembles a berry. What is most troubling is that a large proportion of these aneurysms can present very early (usually congenital, meaning you are born with it), with one research suggesting that 1.3% of the population in the age group of 20 to 39 has a berry aneurysm. If this berry aneurysm was to burst, no matter how young and fit you are, you will bleed into the area around your brain (subarachnoid haemorrhage), suddenly develop a severe, crippling headache (“thunderclap headache”), become confused, show signs of stroke such as speech or movement problems, or simply drop dead.

image

Fortunately, only 10% of people carrying a berry aneurysm suffer a ruptured aneurysm and subsequent brain bleed. The other 90% will carry on living their lives, without ever knowing that they had a time bomb in their brain.

Certain factors make the risk of the aneurysm bursting go up, such as high blood pressure, which can be caused by a stressful lifestyle or smoking. But in some cases, as explained above, even a healthy teenager could suddenly drop to the ground with a massive brain haemorrhage.

Berry aneurysms are only one of many ways death could strike unnoticed, no matter how young you may be. You could live a long and healthy life and die peacefully in your sleep when you are 90 years old, or you may have a stroke and drop dead in a few minutes’ time. For all you know, a bus might run you over tomorrow, with no warning whatsoever. Ergo, youth is not an excuse to waste the day you are given. You do not have to achieve something great, or be productive, but at least spend your day knowing that you are doing everything in your power to make yourself happy, without harming your health, your future or other people.

Carpe diem. Seize the day.

0
Posted in Science & Nature

Goldilocks

In the children’s story Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the protagonist is found trying out various porridges, chairs and beds until she finds the one that is just right for her. Because of this, the name “Goldilocks” has become a symbol for something that is “just right”. A Goldilocks economy is one where there is high growth but no inflation; a Goldilocks planet is one which is not too hot or too cold, making it an ideal planet for life; the Goldilocks effect is when success is achieved because something was not too great or too little.

The Goldilocks effect is a law of nature that is far more important than you would think. Nature always seeks consistency, as shown in the human body. For something as complex as life to exist, a cell must maintain its internal environment in a perfect, ideal state. French physiologist Claude Bernard observed that a cell’s internal environment does not change even with changes in the external environment, and commented that “The stability of the internal environment is the condition for the free and independent life”. This is the basis for homeostasis. Without homeostasis, life cannot exist and all living things put in all their effort in keeping homeostasis. Our body constantly strives to keep various factors such as pulse, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, temperature, blood glucose, electrolytes and numerous hormones etcetera in a stable range. One could possibly argue that the meaning of life is “to maintain homeostasis” – a rather cyclical argument.

To understand the importance of homeostasis, let us look at how changes in the external environment affect us. Our core temperature is maintained in a tight range around 36.5 degrees. If it is altered even a couple of degrees, we exhibit symptoms of hypothermia or hyperthermia. If the weather is too hot, we sweat to cool ourselves; if the weather is too cold, we shiver to raise our temperature. After a meal, we secrete insulin to lower our blood glucose, while we secrete glucagon when starving to raise our blood glucose. Failure of either system leads to either diabetes or hypoglycaemic shock respectively. Homeostasis is an extremely complicated and intricate self-repair system that cannot be imitated.

The Goldilocks effect can be applied beyond physiology to our lives. Everything in moderation; to go beyond is as wrong as to fall short. If we have too little money, it is a problem. If we have too much money, it causes other problems. Whether we work or play, doing too much or too little of either can be bad for us. Medicines become poison in excess and even love in excess becomes obsession. In the marathon that is life, if you run too fast you end up collapsing from exhaustion, while running too slow will mean you never get anywhere.

The secret to happiness lies in understanding what is “just right”.

0
Posted in Science & Nature

Fighting Fire With Fire

On a hot summer’s day, one tends to drink cold drinks and eat cold foods to try cool their body down. But an old Korean proverb states that one should control fire with fire (yiyul-chiyul, 이열치열, 以熱治熱). In other words, instead of drinking cold drinks, it is better for your health if you eat hot soup to combat the heat. When the temperature becomes hot, the body redirects blood flow to the skin to cool itself, meaning there is less blood flow to the organs and causing the internal temperature to drop. Although cooling yourself is good, having a cold drink rapidly on a hot day can suddenly cause a large temperature difference between the surface and the organs, leading to digestive problems. In severe cases, it can cause abdominal pain and diarrhoea, with a vicious cycle where the heat is trapped on the surface and you feel even hotter. Ergo, having a hot food like samgyetang (a Korean chicken soup with many nutritious foods to revitalise your health in the summer) warms the organs and allows for better communication between the organs and the skin to effectively overcome the heat.

The philosophy of yiyul-chiyul can be extended beyond the scopes of medicine. Just as the proverb defeat savages with savages (yiyi-jeyi, 이이제이, 以夷制夷) says, one can control a certain force by using the same force on it. A great example is backfires. A forest fire tends to be too large in area to be extinguished with water. But if you deliberately start a fire just beyond its trajectory, it will burn everything as it moves towards the forest fire. Eventually the two fires will meet and without any fuel to consume, both will be extinguished.

0
Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Pink

Normally, babies are dressed in blue for boys and pink for girls to differentiate their sex. Even in adult societies, the colour pink is associated with women. As some women have a particular fondness for the colour, the stereotype deepens. Why is femininity related to the colour pink?

The easiest explanation is that it is simply a social construct. In other words, as society says “pink is a girl’s colour”, the stereotype is set. Although this may seem like a simple answer, it shows the power of the majority’s opinion and stereotypes. As evidence to this theory, one can consider the following excerpt. It is taken from an American magazine from 1918:

“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl”.

As you can see, in the past the opposite was the social norm where pink was a boy’s colour. This shows that pink and women have no direct links. This norm was flipped around the 1940’s and pink is still the symbol for femininity.

There is also some scientific data attempting to explain the phenomenon. One study proposed that as prehistoric humans had gender roles where the men hunted and the women gathered, women evolved to seek out red berries, which are ripe and delicious. Thus, they still have a soft spot for pink things. Also, as one can see from cheek blush and red lipstick being common make-ups, women like to accentuate a flush on the face. Pink cheeks and red lips signify that they are healthy and ready for reproduction, causing men to find the colour attractive. Pink clothes further enhance this effect to make the woman look more attractive. A similar technique is used by monkeys (especially baboons) where the female’s backside turns pink or red to alert the males that she is ready to mate.

0
Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Hypothermia

A person’s body temperature is always maintained between 36.5~37.5°C. This is because enzymes, which are crucial in all physiological reactions in the body, work most efficiently at this temperature. As physiology is essentially a series of chemical reactions, it is heavily dependent on temperature. If the temperature falls, chemical reactions occur slower and vice versa. When body temperature falls below 35°C, metabolism becomes too slow and it poses a risk to the person’s health. This is known as hypothermia.

How does hypothermia affect the body? Hypothermia is categorised into three classes depending on the severity.

  • Mild hypothermia (32~35°C) leads to the slowing of bodily functions, tremors and difficulty in walking. The patient’s speech is impeded and other neurological symptoms such as decreased judgement skills and confusion start to appear. Also, blood pressure, pulse and breathing rate rise.
  • Moderate hypothermia (28~32°C) causes paralysis of muscles and extreme fatigue (they may complain of being sleepy). As blood (carrying heat) is rerouted to major organs, the skin (especially lips and extremities) become white or purple and very cold. Neurological symptoms worsen with amnesia, memory loss, severe confusion and delusion beginning to show. As sustained hypothermia leads to the tremors stopping, one should not take the lack of tremors as a good sign. Heart rate becomes irregular and arrhythmia may occur.
  • Severe hypothermia (20~28°C) leads to chemical reactions becoming so slowed that physiological functions that support life decline dramatically. Heart rate, blood pressure and breathing all lower to dangerous levels and the heart and lungs may stop functioning. As the patient’s major organs begin to shut down, they enter a state of unconsciousness and eventually, clinical death.

As you can see, hypothermia is a highly dangerous situation that can kill. There are some other fascinating facts about hypothermia.

20~50% of hypothermia death cases are associated with paradoxical undressing. This is a strange phenomenon where the person begins to take off their clothes due to confusion and a lack of judgement from the hypothermia. One theory suggests it is related to the cold damaging the hypothalamus (which controls body temperature), causing the brain to think that the body temperature is rising. Whatever the reason, it is extremely dangerous as it worsens the hypothermia.

As explained above, severe hypothermia leads to death. But interestingly, hypothermia also protects organs. This is why organs for transplanting are transported in ice. Similarly, there are examples of people who “died” from hypothermia recovering with no brain damage. Because of this, medical professionals traditionally say: “they’re not dead until they’re warm and dead”. In fact, if there is something wrong with the patient’s circulation and there is risk of damage to their organs (such as in surgery), sometimes the patient’s body temperature is forced down with ice water injections and cooling blankets, known as protective hypothermia.

image

0
Posted in Life & Happiness

A Jar And Two Cups Of Coffee

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he silently picked up a very large and empty jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes.”
The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favourite passions – and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.
The sand is everything else – the small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18 holes. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

image

0
Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Spinach

Spinach is a vegetable that is excellent for your health as it is rich in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. If you ask someone the first two things that come to mind regarding spinach, they will most likely reply Popeye and iron. Popeye is a cartoon that began airing in the 1930’s and every child knows that the man gains superhuman powers from eating a can of spinach. In fact, after Popeye began airing, US consumption of spinach grew 33%. Most people believe that Popeye gains powers due to spinach having a high iron content. Thus, adults always tell children that if they want to be as strong as Popeye, they must eat their spinach.

Unfortunately, eating spinach does not make you as strong as Popeye. In fact, it is not even related to iron either. Firstly, the reason why Popeye eats spinach was because the producers wanted to advertise the high vitamin A content in spinach. Furthermore, spinach does not have a high iron content. The spinach iron myth originated from a German scientist named Emil von Wolff. In 1870, von Wolff was analysing the nutrition contents of different foods when he, from severe fatigue, accidentally misplaced a decimal point while recording the iron content of spinach. This led to spinach being known to have ten times the amount iron it actually has (to the level of red meat).

One problem with this is that this story is not true either. There are no detailed records of von Wolff’s experiments and no one knows if he misplaced a decimal point or not. The myth most likely originates from a 1980 article in The British Medical Journal that first brought up the story. Does that mean spinach is actually is a good source of iron? Wrong. Vegetarians often claim that spinach has iron levels close to red meat, but there is something about iron that they do not know. Many plants have a high iron content (it is found in chlorophyll which is used for photosynthesis), but this is mostly non-heme iron. There are two types of iron the human body can absorb: heme and non-heme. Heme iron can be used directly after absorption whereas non-heme iron needs to be metabolised by the liver to be usable. This takes a long time and is inefficient meaning it is far more effective to eat foods rich in heme iron. Plant iron is all non-heme iron while 40% of iron in red meat is heme iron, meaning it is a much better source of iron. Furthermore, spinach has a high oxalate content, which is an iron absorption inhibiting agent, making what little usable iron it has unabsorbable. 

In short, it is true that spinach has “iron” but as we cannot absorb it or use it, it practically has no iron content. But if you tell this to your parents and refuse to eat spinach, you may get into a lot of trouble.

1+
Posted in Science & Nature

Umami

Normally when people think of “tastes”, they think of sweet, salty, sour and bitter (“spicy”, or piquance is not a taste). However, in 1985 the family of four basic tastes were introduced to a new member: umami. Umami, commonly known as “savouriness” is a taste that has had its own word in Asian countries (e.g. 감칠맛, or gamchilmaht in Korean) for thousands of years but has not had a proper English word until very recently (much like piquance). Umami is a portmanteau of two Japanese words: うまい(umai) and (mi), which means “delicious” and “taste” respectively.

Sweetness comes from glucose, saltiness from sodium and sourness from acids. Then where does umami come from? Umami is the taste born from glutamates, which is found in high concentrations in meat products, thus leading to the association between umami and the taste of meat. For example, bacon is known to have six different types of umami flavours, creating a unique and addictive taste. Another product high in glutamate is monosodium glutamate, or MSG. MSG is essentially glutamate plus a sodium ion and thus brings out the full taste of umami when added to food. As umami has a powerful effect of boosting appetite and having a slightly addictive property means that chefs like putting MSG in foods to boost sales. Contrary to popular belief that MSG is detrimental to your health, recent researches have shown that unless you have an allergy to it, MSG is safe to consume even in high concentrations.

image

0
Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Symptom Reporting

Some people always complain of symptoms, claiming that they are sick, while some people never seem to complain even if they have a whole list of symptoms. Why is there a difference in symptom reporting between people? For example, women are more likely to recognise symptoms and report them compared to men. This is because men are generally under the social pressure of needing to appear strong and healthy, so they become stoic and less sensitive to pain and disease. Women are usually more sensitive to internal bodily changes and worry more about their health.

According to a psychological theory called the competition for cues hypothesis, there are two signals that compete for attention when we recognise symptoms. The first is bodily changes, i.e. internal cues, while the other is external stimuli from what happens around us. Awareness of symptoms follows a ratio between these two signals: if there is a strong internal cue such as severe pain, we notice symptoms more quickly, while if there are many distractions, we may not notice the symptom. For example, according to a study people can run faster when listening to music and running through a forest with plenty to see. This is because music and the scenery distract the runner from internal cues. As we can only process a certain amount of information at a given moment, the more distractions there are the less sensitive we become to signals from inside our body.

Another factor that affects symptom reporting is illness labelling. The more information we have about a disease, the more we search for those symptoms. For example, if you yawn or scratch yourself, people around you will do the same. This is because they see you yawning and subconsciously believe that they should yawn too. This can be a powerful effect, as seen in mass hysteria. This strange phenomenon occurs when a person observes a sick person and their brain believes they are sick too, beginning to show symptoms despite being healthy. A similar example is seen in medical student disease, where medical students, with their extensive knowledge of diseases, match their own symptoms to symptom lists of rare diseases. For example, they might think that their high blood pressure is due to a phaeochromocytoma or renal artery stenosis, rather than just hypertension.

However, the opposite can occur where people fail to notice important symptoms and suffer serious consequences as a result. For instance, not all cases of heart attacks (myocardial infarction) cause unconsciousness and a patient may believe they are fine when only chest pain occurs. Failure to get treated as soon as possible at a hospital may result in ventricular fibrillation, leading to sudden death.

0