Dr. B's Weekly Roundup: Lean to the light!

Jacqueline Raposo
Jacqueline Raposo
Jan 5, 2023
A color indoor photograph of a white, older male tourist wearing a camera around their neck, standing next to a window amongst bare dining tables, opening gauzy yellow curtains to a view of water and sky.

Welcome to the Dr. B Newsletter, a curated weekly healthcare email that cuts through the noise to deliver vetted reads on whole-body health. Many of us have revived self-improvement goals on the brain. But ugh—it’s dark + cold + decorations need packing up! To encourage balance, let’s dislodge harmful myths about seasonal suicide, dig into the science behind humor + review how to avoid medication overdose. Plus, spend time with 2022’s top health + wellness teachings that bring light into 2023.

  • The Checkup: the best of help
  • Lighten up! humor vs. self-harm
  • Healthcare: TikTok + ticking time

The Checkup

It's not the darkest hour 

An outdoor color photograph of a mountain range. A group of young people in winter clothing stand and sit on one mountain top, looking away from the camera into the sunrise behind another mountain peak.

Let’s set the record straight—suicide rates don’t rise during the holidays.

Yet a recent report found that more than half of last holiday season’s newspaper stories repeated the falsehood. It’s easy to believe, right? Holidays can amplify feelings of loss or depression. Darker months weigh down those with seasonal affective disorder. 18-29-year-olds report more anxiety + depression than the general population. And suicide rates increased in 2021 after dropping the two years prior.

Still, December had the fewest daily suicides for all of 2021. January averages 10th on the list.

 Rather than repeat false info that could accidentally encourage someone in crisis, be ready to help. Learn more at the Suicide Prevention Resource Center + 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline.

What's so funny?!

A color photograph taken through a window into a restaurant, where a young Asian couple wearing long sweaters sit eating food from a paper tray with chopsticks, smiling and laughing.

Can science help us be funnier? Here’s what a (fascinating) Vox article tells us:

Funny people score high in creativity + intelligence. Laughter can reduce stress, improve mood + encourage social bonding. (Flip side—the more we hear racist, sexist or ableist jokes, the more comfortably we express racism, sexism and ableism.) And our prefrontal cortex + temporal lobe light up when telling (or hearing) a good joke.

So can that help us craft a side stitcher? Not really.

MRI scans also show that the funniest jokes don’t create high prefrontal cortex activity—comedians show less in this area because they know how to get out of their own way. And we most genuinely laugh when not trying to laugh.

Conclusion? Stay in the moment. Find delight wherever you can.

Lower your risk of accidental overdose

A color indoor photograph of a young white woman with long hair sitting on a yellow couch, writing into a notebook.

Dr. Sudip Bose is an emergency medicine physician + the medical director of Chicago’s 911 and EMS services. Having witnessed (many) accidental medication overdoses, here are his top safety + emergency tips.

Children: Kids follow what they see, what intrigues them and what they can get their hands on. Keep things out of reach and locked up. Do anything you can to help them resist temptation.

Teens + Adults: Know what you're supposed to take and the dosage. Ask your doctor if you need clarification. Check systems (from the doctor to the pharmacist) are good at avoiding unwanted interactions. But we often get medication from multiple sources. So double-check when in doubt.

Older + chronically ill people: Being on 15 or 20 meds can cause interactive + amplifying effects. Our kidneys don’t metabolize as fast as when we’re older, so medication sticks around in our blood longer. Maybe you can't see what pill you're taking or can't hear or process when the doctor explains things. Again, knowledge is power.

When to get help: If you find someone unresponsive for any reason, call 911. If you’re unsure if you or someone else has accidentally taken too much medication, call Poison Control at (800) 222-1222. They can answer any questions + give you a recommendation.

If you go to the ER, take medication bottles with you. And if you’ve lost someone to suicide or overdose, here's how to find a support group near you.

Healthcare 411

TikTok is flooding vulnerable teenage girls with self-harm content (Vice). It takes only 2.6 minutes on TikTok before a teenage girl sees videos promoting thinness, restrictive eating and self-harm. With two-thirds of teens spending 80 minutes daily on the app, the influence adds up. A TikTok spokesperson says those stats don’t reflect average behavior. But teens recognize social media’s threat to mental health: Meet two urging lawmakers to take action + NYC teens who’ve (re)turned to flip phones.

2022 ends with looming risk of a new coronavirus variant, health experts warn (CNN). China tallied 250 million cases of Covid-19 in the first 20 days of December. Chinese officials have not revealed which variants cause the majority of cases. So some health experts worry a new variant may emerge. Others cite that the 2022 global case load created only Omicron subvariants. But as China’s 1.4 billion not-fully boosted population meet their first infection, the odds are unclear. Let's hope our communal vaccination + infection immunity will protect us from the worst.

How did COVID warp our sense of time? It's a matter of perception (NPR). In Iraq, time slowed. In the U.K., it flew. Why? The human brain doesn’t have one clock. Optic nerves track time by light. The cerebellum times our movements to its own clock. The reward network influences anticipation. Emotion + memory play their part, too. When Covid-19 threw these systems out of whack, we felt time change in disparate, personal ways. Read the story for what helped us + what we’re learning.

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