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New Evidence Suggests COVID-19 Can Directly Enter The Brain

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Evidence tying COVID-19 to a wide range of neurological effects continues to grow. And now, a new animal study suggests the virus is capable of directly invading the brain. The effects could be serious, leading to brain fog and something researchers call “COVID dementia.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience this week, was conducted in mice, so it is highly preliminary. More research needs to be conducted ― including examinations in humans ― before scientists can definitively say this is the case.

But researchers believe the study offers strong evidence that the S1 “spike” protein that studs the SARS-CoV-2 virus is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, the semi-permeable separation that, among other functions, protects the brain from foreign substances.

The spike protein is “responsible for binding to a cell, and it allows the virus to enter a cell,” explained William Banks, professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in a short YouTube video describing his team’s findings.

Because the spike protein is capable of crossing the blood barrier, Banks and his co-researchers believe it is likely that the entire SARS-CoV-2 virus can directly enter the brain.

Even if it does not, the spike protein could detach and circulate, which would mean that many of the neurological effects we blame on the virus are actually due to those freed proteins, Banks argued.

Indeed, for months experts have noted that many individuals infected with COVID-19 experience a kind of mental fog, struggling with attention issues, fatigue and forgetfulness. A small study in France found that nearly 35% of patients who’d been hospitalized with COVID-19 were struggling with memory loss months later.

While Banks and his co-researchers believe their animal study offers a possible explanation for these long-lasting neurological effects, experts not directly involved in the new research say it should be viewed with some caution.

“They’re looking at that one protein, and it shows it does cross the brain … but we can’t tell the long-term effects, because we haven’t had enough time with the virus yet,” Niket Sonpal, an internist and adjunct professor at Touro College in New York City, told HuffPost.

“We found a protein that helps us understand how this virus gets into the brain, which then in the future could help scientists to understand how to prevent that from happening,” Sonpal said.

If researchers better understand how COVID-19 might cross the blood-brain barrier, they could be in a better position to prevent complications and to create more versions of a vaccine, he added.

The new study is by no means the only one to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 can travel into the central nervous system and brain. An investigation of 33 people in Germany who died from COVID-19 found that more than half of the patients had evidence of SARS-CoV-2 in their noses and their brains, suggesting the virus had directly entered.

That said, experts are also exploring other possible explanations for the growing range of neurological effects that appear directly linked COVID-19 infection, such as clotting (which can cause serious brain injuries). It is also possible the brain sustains damage when an infected person’s immune system kicks into overdrive.

Whatever the causes, it is clear that doctors and researchers are paying greater attention to the direct impact COVID-19 can have on the brain, both in severe cases and milder ones.

“The central nervous system is likely to be a very significant player in how we treat our patients, how we think about what’s going on with them,” Banks said. “And if there are long-term symptoms — sort of a post-COVID syndrome — the brain may be involved in that.”

In the meantime, as experts continue to unravel the mysteries of COVID-19 brain fog, the advice for individuals looking to minimize their personal risk of contracting the virus remains the same: maintain social distance, wash your hands and wear a mask.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.





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What A Breast Lump Actually Feels Like

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In April 2022, Clea Shearer ― co-founder of the popular organization company The Home Edit ― announced that she had breast cancer. The diagnosis came after she discovered a lump in her breast and called multiple doctors to go in for a mammogram as soon as possible.

Estimates suggest that one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. Shearer had just turned 40 when she discovered the mass in her breast. Stories like Shearer’s highlight the value of familiarizing yourself with what is normal and abnormal for your breasts.

Although many cancer organizations no longer recommend all women conduct monthly breast self-exams due to concerns about their effectiveness and the sense of self-blame they can promote, experts do agree that awareness of how your breasts typically look and feel is useful for detecting signs and symptoms of breast cancer, like lumps.

Still, I imagine I’m not alone when I take the time to feel around that area and wonder, “What exactly am I checking for? What would a lump actually feel like? Am I even doing this right?” So, I asked a few experts to answer those very questions.

What exactly does a breast lump feel like?

“A lump often feels like a round, hard area,” said Dr. Arif Kamal, a chief patient officer at the American Cancer Society. “It can either be deep or toward the skin itself. Typically it is not painful. It’s typically not easily movable but oftentimes fixed in a particular space, meaning it doesn’t shift in its location all that easily. In terms of shape, it is oftentimes round but sometimes it can be a little bit more irregular than that.”

Some experts have suggested the size of a breast lump ranges from as small as a pea to larger than a golf ball. Indeed, Kamal noted that many of his patients have compared it to a pea.

“In my clinical experience, a lot of times patients describe it like a pea in a pod or a frozen pea ― sort of on the smaller side, of that texture, and of that hardness,” he said. “It’s generally on the smoother side for texture, generally more firm, generally not painful. And it generally does not feel like a cyst, which feels like a fluid collection ― although even if a person feels a fluid collection, they should report that to their clinical team as well.”

Dr. Alyssa Cubbison, an assistant professor of radiology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, similarly noted that cancerous lumps often feel firm and dense and can be difficult to move from side to side. However, she emphasized that all new lumps should be evaluated by a professional.

“You mainly want to feel around for something discrete in your breast that’s separate from the rest of your breast tissue,” she explained. “Because the textures and densities of masses can be so varied, you’re just feeling for anything different, as vague as that sounds. You can use your other breast as a baseline as well.”

Of course, feeling a new lump isn’t the only indication of a potential issue. Susan Brown, senior director of health information at Susan G. Komen, shared a list of eight warning signs, including visual indicators, that people should look out for.

“See a doctor if you notice any of these breast changes,” Brown advised. “Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area; swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast; change in the size or shape of the breast, dimpling or puckering of the skin; itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple; pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast; nipple discharge that starts suddenly or new pain in one spot that doesn’t go away.”

Although there are some common characteristics of lumps and other warning signs, there’s ultimately no one specific thing to look or feel for when it comes to your awareness of your breasts. The key is just to understand what is normal for you so that you recognize something new or different ― and seek medical attention when you do.

Illustration:Irene Rinaldi

Many people say that a lump in their breast has felt similar to a frozen pea.

What’s the best way to notice or spot a breast lump?

Part of the reason many experts no longer recommend monthly breast self-exams is that there are more organic situations during everyday life that provide the opportunity to familiarize yourself with your “normal” and keep you on alert for signs and symptoms.

“Many women who discover changes in their breast or underarm area that turn out to be breast cancer don’t actually discover them on the day and time they have set aside for monthly [self-exam, but rather noticed a change incidentally at some other time, such as when showering or dressing, and recognized the change because they knew what was normal for them ― or a partner noticed it,” Brown explained.

Again, the idea is not to necessarily look for something specific, just to take note if there’s anything new or different.

“If you aren’t already checking your own body, I think a good place to start is after you go in for a regular checkup with your primary care provider or gynecologist,” said Dr. Janet Yeh, assistant professor at New York University (NYC) Grossman School of Medicine and site chief of breast surgical oncology at NYU Langone Hospital―Brooklyn. “If you recently had imaging or they did an exam and it was normal, then you can get a good idea of your baseline because you know there’s nothing there. You know the lumps and bumps you might feel are your regular breast tissue.”

She recommended checking your breasts when you’re doing something comfortable and routine, like lying in bed, watching TV, standing in front of the mirror, or taking a shower (“it’s two birds with one stone since you have to wash your body anyway”).

“Everyone’s going to do it a little differently, and that’s OK,” Yeh explained. “Some use the tips of their fingers and go in little circles. Others might say to make the shape of a star. I like to feel with my palm and fingers and do a wiping motion. I think of the breasts as a clock and wipe all around a center point ― then press in to make sure I’m not missing anything behind.”

Lift your left arm as you check your left breast and your right arm for the right. Make sure to also check your underarms, as cancer and other issues can manifest in the form of swollen lymph nodes in that area.

“Some women have very lumpy breasts, so it’s important for those women to get used to their own lumps and bumps,” Yeh noted. “That way they can say, ‘OK in the upper outer area, I usually feel a lot of firmness and lumps.’ And if there’s something different they’re unsure about, it doesn’t hurt to get it checked out, even if it turns out to just be regular breast tissue.”

In addition to seeing a doctor when you detect any change or abnormality, make sure to schedule regular medical appointments and screenings. If you have a family history of breast cancer or personal health factors that increase your risk, talk to a doctor about that. Discuss which tests are right for you and the proper age and cadence for screenings like mammograms.

“Our technology with breast imaging is so good these days that we really do pick things up early,” Yeh said. “If you’re compliant with the guidelines and getting your mammogram, it’ll likely pick up things before you can even feel them. Fortunately, most of the breast cancer we see is so early, we can’t even feel it ourselves. Still, it remains important to let a professional know if you feel a new lump in your breast.”





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Can You Mix And Match For The COVID Bivalent Booster Shot?

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Pfizer and Moderna now both have new bivalent COVID booster shots that not only target the original strain of coronavirus, but also the highly contagious omicron subvariants that are dominant throughout the country.

These booster shots are readily available at pharmacies and doctor’s offices throughout the United States. You’re able to get one if you’re at least two months out from your last COVID shot or two months out from a COVID infection.

“[These] vaccines are widely available,” said Dr. Laolu Fayanju, an Ohio-based family medicine specialist with Oak Street Health. “We are a long way from the early days of 2021 when the vaccines were just rolling out.”

But if you notice that your local pharmacy only has one kind of shot available (either just Pfizer shots or just Moderna shots), do you need to look elsewhere to find the same shot maker you had last time? Here’s what to know:

Adults can get either bivalent booster.

According to Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu, an infectious diseases specialist and associate professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, just like with the last COVID booster, you can get either the Pfizer shot or the Moderna shot no matter what shot you got for your primary vaccine series or your last booster.

“We’ve seen that there’s no harm from prior studies in mixing and matching mRNA [vaccines], they’re one in the same approach with subtle differences,” Ogbuagu said.

So, if your local pharmacy is only giving out shots of Pfizer, there is no reason to go search far and wide for Moderna — or vice versa. You’re good to get either shot. “Anyone should feel comfortable getting the Pfizer vaccine after Moderna and Moderna after Pfizer,” Ogbuagu said.

However, keep in mind that this only goes for people over the age of 18. The Moderna bivalent booster is not currently authorized for people age 12 to 17. Those age 12 to 17 can only get the Pfizer booster. Fayanju noted that it’s perfectly safe for people in this category to get the Pfizer booster even if they’ve only had Moderna shots previously.

Kobus Louw via Getty Images

It’s safe for adults to get either the Moderna or Pfizer bivalent booster shot, no matter what COVID vaccine you had previously.

There may even be benefits to mixing and matching your shot.

Research conducted on previous booster shots showed that mixing and matching your vaccine manufacturer may provide a stronger immune response than sticking with the shot-maker you got originally. Experts suspect the same holds true for the bivalent shot.

Additionally, previous studies show that the Moderna vaccine produces a higher immune response than the Pfizer vaccine. This is likely because of the differences in the dosing of each shot. According to Ogbuagu, the Pfizer shot is 30 micrograms and the Moderna shot is 50 micrograms, “so there [are] differences in the number of antigens being used,” he said.

The higher dosage of the Moderna shot links it to this higher antibody response. But keep in mind that the overall amount of additional protection is nominal — both shots provide protection from severe outcomes like hospitalization and death.

If you got Johnson & Johnson for your primary vaccine, you’ll have to switch manufacturers for your booster.

It has also always been the recommendation that people who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine follow it up with an mRNA booster, Ogbuagu said.

In the case of the bivalent booster, there is not a Johnson & Johnson equivalent, so it’s perfectly fine (and the only option) for those who got the Johnson & Johnson shot to get either the Pfizer or Moderna bivalent booster.

If you’re unsure, talk to your doctor.

Your physician will know what’s best for you based on your health history. For example, some doctors may encourage men ages 18 to 39 to get the Pfizer booster instead of Moderna if it’s available. In very rare cases, the Moderna vaccine caused temporary heart issues in men in this age group. But, according to the American Heart Association, contracting COVID-19 is way more likely to result in heart issues than the Moderna vaccine ― so it’s still a good idea for folks in this category to get the bivalent booster.

The bottom line is that both shots are excellent ways to protect yourself from the dominant omicron subvariants. You really can’t go wrong with either ― the best approach is to get whichever one you’re able to get ASAP.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.





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3 Things To Consider Before Trying A Nonalcoholic Drink If You’re Sober

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In recent years, accessibility to nonalcoholic beverages has surged, and perhaps for good reason. The COVID-19 pandemic alone brought in a new wave of sober-curious people, amid a rise in alcohol consumption during the isolation of lockdowns.

To meet this shift, drinks like CBD-infused seltzers, zero-proof liquors, nonalcoholic wines and more have filled the shelves for those who are looking for party options without the buzz.

CBD drinks, for example, promise to take the edge off after consumption thanks to the properties in cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive part of a cannabis plant that may promote a sense of relaxation. Nonalcoholic, or “NA,” beverages give sober folks a substitute for the drinks that many may have previously relied on in social settings.

But for those who have a difficult relationship with alcohol, are these alternatives really a solution? Or is the need for them a sign of something greater? Speaking to HuffPost, substance misuse experts and people who are sober shared a few questions to consider if you’re turning to these beverages when you give up drinking:

1. What’s my motive for drinking nonalcoholic beers, wines or cocktails?

A recurring topic that occurs in 12-step substance misuse recovery meetings is motive. What is your motive for doing X vs Y? The spectrum of answers may range from attending a wedding to visiting a bar with nonsober friends.

Some may feel uncomfortable around their peers who still drink. It is hard to socialize without booze when you’ve become so accustomed to having a drink in hand to feel normal. Some may find solace in nonalcoholic beverages to put on the facade that they are still drinking, perhaps because they haven’t fully disclosed the change to friends. Others may insist that they are just taking a break from alcohol for health reasons.

Whatever the case may be, it is important to acknowledge what the motive is for wanting to indulge in nonalcoholic drinks in the first place and to address that. Those in recovery need to examine whether the motive behind drinking the nonalcoholic beverage is potentially detrimental to their sobriety.

“I feel as if you should be fully abstinent for the first two years of sobriety,” said Ashley Loeb Blassingame, a co-founder of an online substance abuse counseling program named Lionrock Recovery, noting that these kinds of problems “aren’t substance-specific.”

“Then, check your motives to see if the desire for an NA beverage is still there,” she continued.

If the desire is still there and you decide to try an NA beverage, think about why you are doing it. Is something missing in your sobriety? Is your recovery checklist in order?

“How much do you like the taste of a NA beverage? Or do you like it because it tastes similar to alcohol?” Blassingame said.

If drinking a beverage that tastes similar to alcohol could be triggering, it is important to have a plan in order. In recovery, the idea of a true nonalcoholic beverage is alluring, and with so many new options becoming available, it is OK to wonder about them. Just make sure you are valuing your sobriety more than anything and not becoming a victim of surreptitious marketing.

If you’re sober-curious but not dealing with an addiction, full abstinence might not be totally necessary right now. In those circumstances, practicing moderation tactics ― like drinking NA beverages ― is a good entryway into the recovery world.

For both those in recovery and those who are sober-curious, it is important to have a network in place — people you can rely on in a time of need or bounce questions off without fear of judgment, according to Blassingame.

Henrik Sorensen via Getty Images

Consider your motive when deciding whether to try a CBD-infused or nonalcoholic drink.

2. Do the drinks I’m choosing contain traces of alcohol?

The reality is that many nonalcoholic beverages include small amounts of alcohol. This is known as a low alcohol by volume, or ABV.

A sober-curious individual partaking in these alternative beverages is different from someone in recovery doing so. The former may look at these options as healthier choices. The latter has more at stake, with the consumption of low-ABV drinks potentially igniting the craving for something stronger.

If you’re in recovery, be mindful of the ingredient list for anything you’re consuming, experts told HuffPost. This does not mean diligently checking every household item, but it is good to be aware of what is in your food and beverages, as well as how certain ingredients can affect you. Beverages like kombucha have an ABV of 0.5%, and while that may not be enough to even remotely affect some, others may feel a buzz due to overconsumption.

Check the alcohol volume in drinks you’re choosing. Then ask yourself why you may want them — and be radically honest about it.

3. Does this align with my definition of sobriety?

Sobriety isn’t one-size-fits-all, and this applies to the beverages people choose to consume, according to Trey Laird, the CEO and founder of a sober living facility in Connecticut known as The Lighthouse.

“I have worked with clients who have tried both nonalcoholic drinks and CBD. For some of them, it has a purpose, and I don’t judge them,” Laird said, adding that people in recovery who drink them should disclose this to someone they trust beforehand.

He warned, however, that these beverages can become a slippery slope in some cases. Some of his clients have reported drinking one bottle of O’Doul’s, which in turn leads to drinking a six-pack to feel a slight buzz. In Laird’s personal recovery, he hasn’t found the need to indulge in nonalcoholic drinks.

“For me, I have been sober since 2011 and have gone this long without trying a nonalcoholic beer or wine,” he said.

Lindsey Metselaar, the host of the dating and relationship podcast “We Met at Acme,” feels similar to Laird in terms of her own recovery. She isn’t interested in trying nonalcoholic drinks, and she argued that the consumption of CBD products in recovery is unnecessary and does not equal sobriety.

The distinction needs to be clearly defined for you, Blassingame said. In her opinion, the term “sober” implies recovery in the traditional sense, which can include meetings, therapy and more.

“It is the difference between someone running a marathon [on occasion] … versus an endurance athlete,” she said, noting that to her, sobriety and recovery imply complete abstinence from all mood and mind-altering substances ― even drinks like CBD-infused beverages or low-ABV beer alternatives.

The sober-curious, however, may think of the change as just abstaining from drinking, with the option to either maintain that or consume alcohol when they want.

Decide what aligns with your needs for your relationship with alcohol, and then make an informed decision about whether drinking alternative beverages will fit into those plans, the experts said. And no matter what, make sure you’re relying on a support system to guide you through it.

Need help with substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.





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Drinking Multiple Cups Of Coffee Is Linked To Better Heart Health

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If you’re a one-coffee-per-day drinker, it may be time to up your intake.

A new study shows that drinking multiple cups of coffee every day is linked with better heart health and an overall reduction in death.

The roughly 12.5-year study, which was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, explored the impact coffee had on the health of 449,563 adults age 40 to 69 with no history of cardiovascular issues.

Study participants were split into groups — people who drank zero cups of coffee each day, less than one cup, one cup, two to three cups, four to five cups, and more than five cups. This information was gathered via a questionnaire that also included a question about the kind of coffee they drink — those options were instant, ground or decaffeinated coffee.

Those who drank coffee were compared to non-coffee drinkers to determine the study results.

Coffee was found to help heart health and led to a reduced risk of death overall.

After adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, alcohol consumption, smoking status and obesity, it was found that, across the board, drinking multiple cups of coffee benefits your health.

First, people who drank two to three cups of either instant, ground or decaf coffee experienced a lower risk of death overall when compared with people who don’t drink coffee. The largest decrease came from ground coffee, which showed a 27% lower risk of death. Decaf came in at 14% and instant coffee came in at 11%.

Next, a reduction in cardiovascular disease, which the study defined as heart failure, coronary heart disease and stroke, was found for people who drank two to three cups of coffee each day. Ground coffee once again saw the highest risk reduction at 20%, followed by instant at 9% and decaf at 6%.

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Certain kinds of coffee are linked to a decrease in negative cardiovascular events like congestive heart failure and stroke.

The last thing the study measured was a reduction in arrhythmias, also known as irregular heartbeat. In this portion of the study, the results differed from other results. People who drank four to five (not two to three) cups of ground or instant coffee each day saw a reduction in arrhythmias — and there was no reduction for people who drank decaf coffee.

This study has a few limitations: Information regarding the number of cups of coffee consumed each day was self-reported and that information was collected at the start of the study. So, the study authors would not know if someone changed their daily intake of coffee or the kind of coffee they consumed over the roughly 12.5-year study.

Other studies have also shown that coffee has health benefits.

But even with those factors considered, coffee, when consumed within reason and without lots of added sugar and creamer, has been known to be good for your health. Coffee has anti-inflammatory properties and is known to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Plus, it wakes you up.

And caffeine, when consumed within the recommended guidelines (adults can consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine each day) is connected to many health benefits. It “stimulates the central nervous system,” according to the American Heart Association, and is linked to a lower risk of Parkinson’s Disease, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

So, if you’re questioning that second or third cup of coffee, go ahead and fill your mug. That cup of coffee probably has health benefits, anyway.





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Can Decorating For Fall Make You Happier? Experts Weigh In.

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Have you ever just looked at a display of pumpkins, gourds and Halloween lights at a neighbor’s house (or even in your own home) and felt instantly happier? Well, there’s a scientific explanation for that.

Joy doesn’t have to come from big gestures or monumental days; it can come from little moments, too. It’s important to have things that we find pleasurable incorporated into our lives throughout the year, said Dr. Elaina DellaCava, a psychiatrist at New York’s Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

For many people, one of those pleasures is the simple act of decorating for fall. Experts told HuffPost why decorating for the season may benefit your mental health.

The colors of fall can evoke happy feelings.

“Colors can influence our mood and can actually create a surge of dopamine, which is our happiness hormone,” DellaCava said.

A 2020 study found that the color orange ― often seen in popular fall decorations like pumpkins, autumn leaves and Halloween string lights ― is more associated with joy and overall positive feelings. So, those pumpkins on your table may actually make you happier when you catch a glimpse of them.

The same research also showed that yellow, another popular color for fall home decor, is associated with feelings of joy and amusement.

Traditions can remind us of good times and give us something to look forward to.

Whether you realize it or not, decorating for fall every year means that you officially have a decorating tradition. And this is a good thing for your mental health.

“Traditions give us something to look forward to,” DellaCava said.

In general, she noted, traditions are often associated with feeling close to family or friends. (Examples might include your Friendsgiving celebration or apple picking with your kids.) Annual decorating may connect you with neighbors who are doing it as well, or it may even be a fun yearly activity for your family or roommates.

These traditions can also be something that you’ve carried on from your childhood and call up memories of an innocent, fun time in your life, when you would go trick-or-treating with friends or carving pumpkins with siblings.

“Decorating for fall is a way to reconnect us with that part of ourselves,” DellaCava said.

And traditions can create some predictability in an unpredictable world.

The point of a tradition is that it happens at the same time every year. So, traditions give us a sense of predictability in our lives — but in an exciting way, DellaCava said.

Kim Gorgens, a clinical professor in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver, added that humans are habitual creatures who thrive on control.

“The illusions we have about having control over every controllable aspect of our lives really fuels mental stability,” Gorgens said.

Ultimately, we have very little control of our lives, she added — you can’t dictate major things like health issues or layoffs — but our physical environment plays a large part in our perception of control. In other words, we can control the organization of our kitchen cabinets or, in this case, the decorations we put on the windowsill.

Additionally, when we decorate at a certain point every year, we feel in control of time in relation to that activity, Gorgens added.

fotostorm via Getty Images

The colors of fall decor — oranges and yellows — are often associated with happy emotions.

Decorating for fall allows us to benchmark our time.

Between back-to-school season and the end of beach vacations, fall signifies a new chapter for many people. But adults who are no longer in school have little to mark this change.

“There are interesting models of why time feels like it goes so much faster as we get older, and one of the explanatory models is we lose benchmarks,” Gorgens said.

As children, we get to look forward to learning to drive, getting to vote or being old enough to drink alcohol. “We have all of these big developmental milestones, and then we lose that,” Gorgens said.

This is where the seasonal decor comes in. “Fall is one way we are benchmarked to the passage of time,” Gorgens added.

And beyond just a change in the weather, having your home reflect the new season makes it much more of a benchmark.

Fall decorations give us a reason to celebrate our homes.

“We’re not unlike other mammals who make a den,” Gorgens said. “We are really invested in our space.”

What’s more, having a home, particularly a safe home, plays a huge role in our mental health, she noted. This goes back to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory about how certain fundamental necessities dictate our motivation and behavior. In this hierarchy, “the most important foundational component of well-being is having a safe home space,” Gorgens said.

So, when you have a home base (whether that’s a house, apartment, bedroom or other space), being able to decorate it for the time of year is a way of — knowingly or not — celebrating that place.

For those who recently left an unsafe situation, decorating their own space can be a crucial way to celebrate that victory, Gorgens added. This also rings true for anyone who recently purchased a home or moved into their first apartment.

“It’s a way of making really obvious the emotional investment you make in a home,” Gorgens said.

Between the pandemic and colder weather, we’re home more during the fall, which puts more importance on our space.

“Since the pandemic started, a lot of us are spending even more time [at] home,” DellaCava said, referring to the COVID-19 crisis. We’re working from home, commuting less and traveling less.

Plus, the days are shorter in the fall, so you’re more likely to be home in the evenings, DellaCava noted.

“More than ever, it’s helpful if our home feels like a place that feels relaxing, comfortable … [and] inviting,” she said.

When you decorate your space in a way that’s visually appealing, it will help your mood — especially when you’re stuck at home and dealing with loneliness or anxiety (two feelings that can come with the arrival of an earlier sunset).

“Decorations can make you feel connected with times you remember fondly, and that can help your mood and general sense of well-being,” DellaCava said.

In the end, going home to a cheerful space will only help your emotional well-being.

But with less sunlight, fall can be a tough time for many.

Seasonal affective disorder impacts millions of people every year. And while it exists in the spring and summer, it’s more associated with the fall and winter — seasons with fewer hours of sunlight and a higher production of the sleep hormone melatonin in our bodies.

If you have a hard time feeling excited about the arrival of fall, try to celebrate the season from time to time, Gorgens said. Practicing mindfulness, celebrating change and benchmarking the passage of time are all expert-backed recommendations for people who have difficulty with the colder seasons, she added.

For you, celebrating the season could mean sitting down with a mug of tea and your favorite movie. Or, it could mean putting on your favorite fleece sweatshirt and heading out for an autumn hike. You don’t necessarily have to put up ghostly decor for Halloween or adorn your stoop with pumpkins. Whatever it means to you, leaning into the season can make the shift a little easier, Gorgens noted.

Additionally, if you notice that your mood is consistently lower throughout the season and a cup of tea or fall hike isn’t helping, reaching out to a therapist could be a good idea, DellaCava stressed. And if you usually look forward to decorating for fall but can’t be bothered this year, that could also indicate a need to talk to someone.

For some people, the arrival of this new season is exciting, but for others, it’s a hard time of year. Just remember that there is help out there for those who need it.





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If You Have These Oral Problems, You Probably Need To Floss More

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Picture this: You’re at the dentist for your checkup. You think your pearly whites are perfect since you brush two times a day with a quality toothpaste, but then the dentist asks, “Have you been flossing?”

If you’re like me, you probably lie through your teeth (literally). However, you may want to think twice about skipping over the floss during your brushing routine the next time. It may cause problems with your teeth that could be easily prevented just by adding a little extra time to your dental hygiene routine every day.

Curious how? Here are seven problems you may experience if you don’t floss, according to dentists:

Bleeding Gums

If you’re brushing your teeth and you notice that your gums are bleeding, that could indicate that you’re not flossing enough.

If you don’t floss regularly, plaque builds up and can cause gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums,” said Dr. Lilya Horowitz, a dentist at Domino Dental in New York. “Signs of this include red, swollen or bleeding gums. If this isn’t treated, the plaque will continue to build up and cause gum disease.”

Dr. Gary Liu, a pediatric dentist at Kind Smiles in California, said that gum disease can also increase a person’s risk for heart disease and complications during pregnancy.

Some other reasons your gums may be bleeding are if you’re brushing too hard, taking blood thinners or wearing dentures that don’t fit properly. If you notice that this is an ongoing problem, you’ll want to visit your dentist as soon as possible to get that looked at.

Bad Breath

Halitosis is the scientific name for “bad breath,” and the most common culprit is poor dental hygiene, which may include a lack of flossing.

“The most common cause of bad breath is waste from bacteria and dead skin cells and food particles in the mouth,” said Dr. Brian Harris, a dentist and the lead medical adviser for Snow and Frost Oral Care. “Flossing allows you to remove such particles, which will give you fresh breath and increased self-confidence.”

Tooth Loss

You may think that baby teeth are the only ones that fall out. However, for those who don’t floss enough, tooth loss could still become a reality.

Without flossing, your teeth can become loose, fall out or need to be removed by a dentist after decay,” Horowitz said.

Tooth loss is more common in men and those older than 35. It can also stem from having high blood pressure, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, and those are issues you and your dentist will want to rule out before assuming that this problem is solely caused by lack of flossing.

Cavities

From a young age, you were probably told to stay away from sugar and soda because it would give you cavities. Though that’s not totally out of the question, cavities can also be caused by not flossing enough.

“If you don’t floss regularly, plaque will form between the teeth, and the bacteria in the plaque can turn sugar from food and drinks into acid, which can slowly eat away at the teeth, causing a cavity,” Harris said.

Tartar Buildup

Tartar, also known as dental calculus, develops when leftover food particles mix with bacteria in the mouth. If you’ve started to notice a yellowish-brown buildup around your teeth, that could be from not flossing enough.

Tartar builds up when plaque remains between the teeth for an extended period of time,” Liu said.

Moyo Studio via Getty Images

Flossing regularly can help improve your overall health.

How To Start Flossing Properly

Liu recommended flossing directly after brushing your teeth so the fluoride in the toothpaste can be flossed between the teeth. To do it properly, break off about 18 inches of floss and wind each end around your middle fingers. Then hold the ends between your thumbs and forefingers. Pull the floss taut. Guide the floss between each of your teeth and use a gentle rubbing motion.

The type of floss you use matters, too, Liu said. Here are some you may want to consider:

  • Thread floss, like this Up & Up floss, is easy to use to glide in between the teeth. This type of floss is often coated with a light wax.
  • On the other hand, unwaxed floss can help to remove plaque, and it is slightly thicker. This one from CVS Health is a well-reviewed option.
  • Dental tape can be a thicker and broader floss that doesn’t fray or break as easily. This option from CVS Health is good for people with wider spacing between the teeth.
  • Super floss, like this option by Oral-B, usually has stiffer sections on each end, so it can be guided between teeth, braces or dental bridges more easily.
  • Biodegradable and natural floss, like this floss by Tree Bird, is easier on the environment. These can be made of silk and waxed with plant-derived candelilla wax.

Finally, while flossing more can be good for most people, not everyone should floss regularly. Horowitz said that those with orthopedic implants shouldn’t go too hard with flossing.

Additionally, you’ll want to schedule regular visits to your dentist, who can rule out any underlying infections and issues that may not be attributed to lack of flossing (oral cancer, tartar buildup, tooth decay, etc.).

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Many Third-Generation Latinos Don’t Speak Spanish. They’re Tired Of Being Judged For It.

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As a child, Prizzilla Greer often felt caught in the middle of a cultural tug of war because she didn’t speak Spanish.

Growing up in Murrieta and Temecula, wine-producing suburbs about an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles, Spanish seemed nonexistent, she told HuffPost.

“For the most part, the majority of our peers were white,” Greer said.

But in the confines of her home, Greer received mixed messaging on the importance of being bilingual. Greer was born to a Mexican-American mother and a Mexican father who was granted amnesty during Ronald Reagan’s time in office. While her dad was adamant that she’d only speak English, her maternal grandmother had other ideas.

“Our grandmother, who we call ‘buela,’ short for abuela, wanted us to learn Spanish, and would speak it to us or try to teach us against our dad’s wishes,” she said.

Her mom would have preferred the kids be bilingual, too, but Greer said her dad feared that if they were, or if they had even a hint of a Spanish accent, “they would endure the same kind of abuse from white Americans” as he did as a kid growing up in the states.

Even soccer was off limits for Greer and her siblings: Football was fine, fútbol wasn’t.

“He wanted to avoid all Mexican stereotypes for us, so he’d encourage all-American sports like football or baseball,” said Greer, who’s now 29 and lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and two kids.

Since then, Greer’s attempts to learn Spanish have come in fits and starts: She tried taking it in high school, but it was Peninsular Spanish (Spanish spoken in Spain) and as a teen, she had trouble seeing the value in that particular dialect.

While stationed in Germany during her time in the U.S. Army, Greer tried Duolingo and Rosetta Stone, but again, it didn’t quite stick. Years later, she still hopes to learn the language once and for all.

“I feel like it’s a chunk of my identity that was missing growing up in a conservative, white space,” she said.

But what’s equally frustrating for Greer is the judgment she receives from others in the Latino American community for her lack of Spanish fluency. The criticism and cattiness is especially common online.

“The judgement has been more in recent years because social media has made it a thing to harass Latinos who don’t speak Spanish,” she said. “Now, I have to tell the world that I’m not white, because apparently now if you’re Mexican-American and don’t speak Spanish, it means you’re white.”

Courtesy of Prizzilla Greer

As a Mexican-American who doesn’t speak Spanish, Prizzilla Greer often feels judged. “The judgement has been more in recent years because social media has made it a thing to harass Latinos who don’t speak Spanish,” she said. “Now, I have to tell the world that I’m not white, because apparently now if you’re Mexican-American and don’t speak Spanish, it means you’re white.”

That’s a familiar Catch-22 for Latinos in the U.S.: You’re told to exclusively speak English in order to assimilate and get a better paying job, only to be judged by your community ― and sometimes other family members ― for not being “Latino enough” as a monolingual English speaker. It’s marginalization on top of marginalization.

“That bothers me because my experience growing up hasn’t been that I was a white-passing or white person,” Greer said. “If that was the case, other Mexicans wouldn’t have thought they could speak to me in Spanish. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have been ‘the Mexican friend’ for my white friends. I would’ve just been their friend.”

If that was the case, she thinks her father wouldn’t have felt that outsized fear of his daughter speaking the family’s native tongue.

Because of the desire to assimilate — and in some cases, generational trauma — it’s common for third-generation Latinos to exclusively speak English.

Greer is one of many third generation Latino-Americans who don’t speak Spanish. Recent Pew Research Center studies have found that while about half of second-generation self-identified Latino are bilingual, fewer than a quarter of third generation Latinos speak Spanish.

Others are “receptive bilinguals,” meaning they can understand more of a language than they can speak it.

In spite of the numbers, the “must speak Spanish” litmus test still plagues the third-gen community, said Carmen Fought, a professor of linguistics at Pitzer College and author of “Chicano English in Context, Language and Ethnicity, and Language and Gender in Children’s Animated Film.”

“When I did my research in East LA, several of the monolingual English speakers that I spoke with said that people teased them about it and said ‘you’re not really Mexican,’ particularly among girls,” Fought said.

“Growing up in the Bay Area, I felt like an imposter, or that I wasn’t ‘Latinx-enough’ to speak a language. I was intimidated, and still am, about my English accent.”

– Robin D. López, a Mexican-American ecologist who lives in Albany, California

At school and at home, “English-only” may be drilled into you but eventually, the gatekeeping comes from outside, too. That’s especially true in the workforce, according to Laura K. Muñoz, an assistant professor of history and ethnic studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Gatekeeping often comes from employers who expect every Latinx to be fluent English and Spanish speakers, which is ironic given the history of English-only and Americanization in our public schools,” the professor told HuffPost.

English-only proponents ― and some native Spanish-speaking parents ― worry that concurrently learning two languages will hinder kids’ English language acquisition. Research suggests otherwise, though; one 2019 University of Washington study suggested that exposure to multiple languages may make it easier to learn one.

For other parents, discouraging their kids from speaking Spanish is a by-product of having been punished for speaking the language in school. If you hear, “This is America, we speak English here” enough times, you’re bound to take the scolding to heart and pass it down to successive generations.

“There were even ‘Spanish detention slips’ in Los Angeles schools for a long time,” Fought said. “I just had a teacher tell me it still happens sometimes. They just call it something different like ‘disturbing the other students by speaking in class.’”

This issue became a minor news item in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries, when candidate and third-generation Mexican-American Julián Castro was pressed on why he didn’t speak Spanish ― especially while a white guy like fellow candidate Beto O’Rourke did.

While his grandma encouraged bilingualism, his parents feared their kids would be penalized for speaking Spanish in class just like they were, he explained.

As his brother, Texas congressman Joaquin Castro, said last year in an interview with KSAT-TV, “it really is just a generation of people who had a language literally beaten out of them in our school system.”

“It’s so tragic and unfortunate because it was not only the loss of a language, but also partly the loss of a culture,” he added.

The Castro brothers’ story was deeply felt by many. Ultimately, “[their] monoglot experience is just as authentic — and even more uniquely American,” Mexican-American essayist John Paul Brammer wrote in The Washington Post during the election.

Robin D. López, a Mexican-American ecologist who lives in Albany, California, is sure his family’s Spanish language abandonment is a result of generational trauma and the drive to assimilate as quickly and seamlessly as possible. (In López’s family, only his grandparents natively speak Spanish.)

His grandpa could never forget his uncle Antonio, an immigrant who was killed trying to start a new life in Riverbank, California, in the 1940s.

“He was a Mexican who dared dream of building generational wealth for his family,” López said. “His body was left blocks away from the family home in the Stanislaus River in 1945.”

“My grandfather was still just a child at the time,” he added. “I’d imagine that experience played a significant role in ensuring his descendants assimilated for survival.”

When it came to López knowing and learning Spanish, lack of exposure wasn’t an issue. He was raised in Richmond, California, and spent much of his youth working in Oakland communities with high populations of displaced people from Latin America as well as first generation folks who grew up speaking Spanish.

By the time he got up the nerve to learn Spanish on his own, López told HuffPost he’d already internalized that he was inadequate. Just imagining stumbling over a language he felt like he “should” be well-versed in from the get-go left him deeply self-conscious.

“Growing up in the Bay Area, I felt like an imposter, or that I wasn’t ‘Latinx-enough’ to speak a language,” he said. “I was intimidated, and still am, about my English accent.”

“Everyone usually spoke Spanish around me, but I also had a negative stereotype projected onto me,” he said. “I had the idea embedded into me that speaking Spanish could be weaponized against me, since our grandparents, particularly my mother’s father, have witnessed and experienced the abuse towards Spanish-speaking families.”

López’s dad eventually taught himself Spanish, but given his schedule working multiple jobs to provide for the family, he didn’t have much time to teach his kids. López, who has since learned Spanish himself enough to carry a conversation, doesn’t hold any of that against his dad.

“My dad does have regrets about not being able to teach his kids, but that’s not a fault or burden he should carry,” he said. “Not teaching the following generations Spanish was more or less a survival mechanism for our elders, to protect us.”

Robin D. López with his father, grandfather and other relatives when he was six months old, and López today.

Courtesy of Robin D. López

Robin D. López with his father, grandfather and other relatives when he was six months old, and López today.

Fought, the linguistics professor, noted the inherent racism involved in discouraging speaking Spanish in the classroom.

“Imagine the difference between parents who speak Spanish or Cantonese and parents who speak French and come from Paris,” she said.

In the first case, “everyone worries that the kid won’t learn English and if they speak the other language at school, they may get teased or bullied,” Fought said. “They may be embarrassed to hear their parents speak it around their friends.”

In the latter case, Fought said everyone would be saying, “Oh, your mom is French, that’s so cool; it’s such a beautiful language.”

In some cases, the judgement over spotty Spanish-speaking comes from within a family.

Marisa Martín, a 26-year-old who lives in California’s Central Valley, is half Mexican and half German. Her dad, the Mexican half of the parental equation, speaks fluent Spanish and her mom is conversational in Spanish.

Growing up, Martín’s grandma babysat and tried to instill Spanish in her, but Martín rejected the lessons with all the stubbornness and defiance you’d expect of a toddler.

“I regret not learning then so much,” she told HuffPost. “I can understand and speak some Spanish, but it’s nowhere close to fluent.”

Because of that ― and because she’s part white ― Martín often feels like she has imposter syndrome within her own family, who talk a mile a minute and by and large don’t repeat themselves for Martín’s benefit.

“Some of my family is very loving and accepting, but others are not and have certainly made it known that they feel I’m not as Mexican as they are,” she said.

“The latter group will even go so far as to speak complicated sentences in Spanish directly to me in order to humiliate me because they know I don’t understand them,” she explained. “Keep in mind, my entire Mexican family speaks English fluently and has no need to speak to me in Spanish.”

Looking at the Pew stats, Martín is heartened to know that there are other third-gen Mexican-American in a “similar linguistic boat as me.”

Marisa Martín is half Mexican and sometimes feels judged by her family for not being "Mexican enough" or speaking Spanish fluently.

Courtesy of Marisa Martín

Marisa Martín is half Mexican and sometimes feels judged by her family for not being “Mexican enough” or speaking Spanish fluently.

Still, it saddens her to think how their stories are often discounted, swept under the table or unfairly judged.

“I’m fortunate to live in California where there are an abundance of Mexicans and Hispanics, but I know in many other parts of the U.S. and world, people have a preconceived notion of what a Mexican should look and sound like,” she said.

When someone feels ― or is made to feel inferior― about the language(s) they speak (or don’t speak) and the way that they speak them, it’s what linguists describe as “linguistic insecurity.”

“‘Speaking Spanish’ is a moving target for immigrants’ children, who are criticized by their own families and communities for not sounding ‘like a native speaker,’ regardless of how well they do speak and understand Spanish, and how this leads to anxiety, linguistic insecurity and a questioning of identity,” said Amelia Tseng, an assistant professor of linguistics and Spanish at American University in Washington, D.C.

“Unfortunately, heritage speakers often receive criticism of their language abilities from all sides, which they internalize as a personal failing,” she said.

Ultimately, language is only one aspect of cultural identity.

Each third-gen person we spoke to for this article wants to learn or is in the process of learning Spanish. López wants to learn mostly because when his grandfather was dying, it crushed him to know how much he’d never know about the patriarch’s life and memories all because of a language barrier.

But each person we spoke to also has complicated feelings about the in-community pressure to pass a Spanish test in order to be considered Latino.

López, for instance, knows that his work within the Latinx community is worth more than using the right preposition in Spanish and remembering that it’s “gracias por…” not “gracias par.”

“In spite of the language barriers at times, I’ve worked hard in advocacy spaces and with grass-root organizations to protect our vulnerable community members in my hometown of Richmond, California,” he said. “I’ve also done photography gigs as a local freelance photographer to highlight the beauty of our culture and the ways in which we celebrate our intersectionality of existence.”

Most recently, he decided to run for local elected office for Albany City Council. López said he hopes to champion progressive policies, while also serving to represent the growing Latinx population in the area.

“Not speaking Spanish has its challenges, but it doesn’t prevent a person from representing our culture and people,” he said.

“The fact that we continue to embrace ourselves as Latinxs is what really matters, whether we speak Spanish, English, or both.”

– Laura K. Muñoz, an assistant professor of history and ethnic studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Greer hopes that people who blame third-generation Latinos for not speaking their parent’s language will try to see the nuance involved in situations like theirs.

“It wasn’t our choice,” she said. “Everyone says you can always learn, but it’s extremely difficult to learn another language after those early years of childhood, and some of us have learning disabilities or ADHD, like myself.”

Plus, she said, “if we’re really going to go there, Spanish isn’t even our language, it’s the language of our Spanish colonizers.”

Ultimately, language is only one aspect of cultural identity, said Muñoz, the ethnic studies professor.

“If we choose not to teach our children Spanish, but teach them everything else that we believe is relevant, then that’s what matters,” she said. “We get to decide what counts.”

American historian Vicki Ruiz has written that Chicano immigrants and their children “pick, borrow and retain” elements of their home culture. Muñoz looks at today’s third-gen Latino Americans and sees them doing the exact same thing.

“In a society that has proactively attempted to quash our language and our Latinidad, the fact that we continue to embrace ourselves as Latinxs is what really matters, whether we speak Spanish, English, or both,” she said.





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