15 Health and Wellness Resolutions for the New Year

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Every new year brings new resolutions. 

We write out the goals we plan to accomplish, like buying that property, getting that real estate license, or fully utilizing that gym membership. New Year’s resolutions that are financially and/or physically beneficial are worthy indeed. 

However, as we launch into 2022, Black Men’s Health would like to recommend health and wellness resolutions that provide holistic enrichment as we navigate this unprecedented pandemic.   

We have assembled 15 goals that, when applied, can powerfully transform your life. Feel free to add some or all to your list. 

  1. Discover your sense of purpose. If you already have, move on to the next goal. But for those of us who struggle in this area, purpose is that central thing in life that fuels us. To find out what your purpose is, it helps to ask yourself these questions: What things were you passionate about as a child? If you didn’t have a job, how would you fill those hours? What issues do you care about the most? When you establish and execute on your purpose, you can experience life changing effects like enhanced self-esteem and a renewed sense of hope. But having a purpose can also protect you from the ill effects of this world. Purpose “make us less vulnerable to psychological discord,” states Steve Taylor, an author, lecturer, and psychology researcher. 
  2. Seek alignment. It sounds like an abstract concept, but it really isn’t. Here’s what alignment really means: It’s connecting your daily activities with your long-term purpose or goal. For example, if your goal is to write a book, make time to write everyday – page by page, chapter by chapter. If it’s to become a property owner, align your financial strategies with that goal.  
  3. Improve your ability to receive and give love. As the highest of all emotions, love offers healing, restoration, and contentment. It is especially beneficial to enlist the help of a counselor to tackle this goal. When we take concrete steps to confront our barriers around love, we enhance our lives on a mental, spiritual, and physical level. People with love and strong social bonds, live longer, have less stress, and are ultimately happier. 
  4. Face your fears. Fear can be healthy because it can keep you safe from real danger. But what if it’s keeping you from accomplishing your biggest dreams? Confronting fear builds courage, resiliency, and self-esteem.  
  5. Speaking of which, you should face your fear of failure. The Harvard Business Review recommends confronting and redefining failure and setting “approach” goals. HBR also cites what bestselling author Tim Ferris advocates: That is, creating a checklist of things you are afraid to do and the fears that come if you do them. Lifehack also suggests thinking positively, reframing goals, visualizing potential outcomes, and learning from whatever happens. By proactively engaging in this vital work, you can achieve your dreams and access your full potential. 
  6. Take breaks from social media or detox if you have to. When you spend prolonged periods of time on social media, you invariably start playing the comparison game between yourself and others, which negatively impacts self-esteem. You can start by turning off those social media notifications or completely deleting Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and/or Twitter off your phone. Whatever it takes. As far as duration. Be realistic but experiment. You can start out with a day or even a weekend. The rewards of a social media detox are manifold: It allows you more opportunities to develop deeper bonds with loved ones and frees up time to engage in more meaningful activities like hobbies and goals.
  7. Connect with loved ones and happy people. The happiest people in the world connect and make time for family and friends. They also connect with other happy people. “Being around people who are content buoys your own mood,” states this Mayo Clinic report. “And by being happy yourself, you give something back to those around you.” 
  8. Establish a daily reading habit. This practice has many mental and spiritual benefits. You not only acquire knowledge and expand your vocabulary by reading daily, but you can also reduce stress, stimulate the mind, and gain a sense of tranquility, says Lifehack. So, begin tackling that list of books you’ve always wanted to read. You can also finish those books that you bought off Amazon last year. 
  9. Work out more. Given our high rates of chronic illnesses, Black men should incorporate daily exercise because it positively impacts our physical health. However, we would be remiss if we overlooked the numerous wellness benefits of exercise. It not only reduces anxiety and depression, but it also improves mood and self-esteem. So yes, use that gym membership. If you want to avoid the gym due to the threat of Covid-19, then work out regularly at home. 
  10. Incorporate gratitude into your daily life. When you take note of all the things you are grateful for, you improve your psychological well being and overall happiness. There are actually a host of benefits, according to Psychology Today. A good way to start is by taking five or 10 minutes each day to journal the things in your life that make you grateful. It’s way better than complaining about the things you lack. 
  11. Be intentional about forgiving others. When someone has wronged us, it’s easy to hold a grudge or thoughts of revenge. But as you may have heard, when you forgive others, it’s not just for them, it is for you – a powerful act of self-care. So, what are the benefits of forgiving someone? According to the Mayo Clinic, practicing forgiveness can lead to improved mental health, self-esteem, and heart health. It can even lower blood pressure. 
  12. Laugh more. It reduces stress, it can lower heart attack risk, and even strengthen your immune system. So, watch more comedies and stand-up specials. Hang out with the homie who cracks you up. Embracing laughter, even amid negative circumstances, can make your life brighter.  
  13. Learn to be “present” by regularly practicing mindfulness. As this Mindful article states, you can practice mindfulness by engaging in deep breathing, training your brain to focus, and eliminating distractions. The benefits are many, including improved mental clarity, self control, and relationship satisfaction.
  14. Engage in “Deep Work.” Yes, we are fans of Cal Newport’s compelling book “Deep Work,” which outlines why it is necessary to engage in deep, meaningful work. In this age of distraction and hyper connectivity, deep work is rare yet treasured because of the fruit it can yield. As Newport hypothesizes, implementing this practice not only allows us to thrive in this new economy, it enables us to produce work that is meaningful and lasting. 
  15. Tap into your creativity. Is there a book you want to write, a hobby you’ve been dying to try, or an art project or website you want to launch? Do it. Being creative enhances wellbeing and brings about personal fulfillment and increased self-esteem.

Omicron Now Accounts for Most Covid-19 Cases

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Omicron is not only the most dominant variant, it now accounts for nearly 75% of all Covid-19 cases in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Early indicators also show that omicron is more transmissible than the delta variant and more likely to cause reinfection, even breakthrough cases among the vaccinated.

Citing preliminary studies, vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech recently announced that their booster shot could prove helpful in controlling the omicron variant, offering considerable protection in the process.  

“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the [omicron] strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine,” said Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla. 

This theory was recently substantiated by Dr. Gregory Poland, head of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group.

“If you look after two doses of vaccine, and you wait at least three months, your protection against infection or hospitalization goes down to about 30%–40%. If you get that booster dose, in essence, a third dose, your protection against hospitalization, jumps back up to what it had been, if not higher, so about 75%–80% protection against infection and hospitalization,”

He also mentioned that the booster dose wouldn’t provide 100% protection, which is why wearing masks and social distancing is still a necessity.

Here is what we know so far about the latest Covid-19 variant:

Omicron Could Be More Transmissible than Delta 

At first, there was no clear-cut evidence that omicron was more transmissible than other Covid-19 variants like delta. That perception appears to be changing. A preliminary study showed that because the variant shares genetic code with the common cold, it could be even more infectious. Also, an early, non peer-reviewed study showed that omicron’s high transmissibility is due to its ability to multiply 70 times faster than delta.   

It is Now in Every State

As of this writing, reports indicate that omicron has hit all 50 states in less than a month.   

Preliminary Data Suggests that Omicron Produces Only Mild Illness

This is according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. However, that conclusion is only based on preliminary and anecdotal data.

Scientists are still trying to determine its severity. In November, WHO said, “It is not yet clear whether infection with omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including delta.” 

Due to its “high number of mutations,” stated the United Nations health agency, “there could be future surges of Covid-19, which could have severe consequences.”

As of now, there is no evidence that symptoms associated with omicron differ from other variants. 

As Countries Enforce Travel Bans, African Countries Are the Most Impacted

Countries, including the U.S., are restricting travel. Japan, Israel, and Morocco have banned foreign travelers altogether, according to a New York Times report. China, Italy, Brazil, Australia and numerous others have also instituted travel restrictions. It’s worth noting that African countries appear to be most impacted by these bans, especially South African, where the variant was first reported. 

It’s worth noting that if it wasn’t for the efforts of South African scientists to expose the presence of omicron, global health authorities would not be as equipped to deal with it.

On Dec. 24, President Joe Biden’s administration announced plans to lift the U.S. travel ban on eight Southern African countries on Dec. 31, according to Reuters.

Expect More News About Omicron in the Coming Weeks

Researchers around the world are coordinating with WHO to further comprehend the nature of omicron, assessing its transmissibility and severity. We could also know a lot more about the efficacy of the vaccines against the variant. 

How a Positive Covid-19 Test Altered My Life

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When you think you’re about to die, your failures invariably come into focus, like unmet goals and lost connections. What looms largest, however, is all that you are about to lose. 

After testing positive for Covid-19 in mid-September, I thought the family I recently gained through marriage would be lost. 

Though vaccinated, I was fearful of the creeping, insidious nature of the virus, where you can go from feeling normal to languishing in a hospital alone and dying in a matter of days, a familiar outcome for many.

Then, a day after my positive Covid result, when my thoughts were turning to the worst possible outcome, I was granted a gift. It was a small moment that helped me look beyond a potential tragedy. 

It changed how I looked at my life, which, until that moment, I viewed as insignificant in the grand scheme – dust on the bottom of a broom. My failures as a man, husband, father, and friend would not matter quite as much afterward. 

“Though vaccinated, I was fearful of the creeping insidious nature of the virus, where you can go from feeling normal to languishing in a hospital alone and dying in a matter of days…”

That moment occurred when my wife cracked open the door to our bedroom wearing a face mask that couldn’t conceal her eyes, which were earthen, heavy, and wet. She was making a food run to a spot just minutes from our home on the Southside of Chicago. When she asked for my order, I answered her.

“A Vesuvio Italian Classic,” she said, repeating my order back to me in a voice that was low and wavering. 

I could sense her fear in those small words. The gaping hurt we shared felt as wide and breathless as the avenues that criss crossed our city. 

Refuge would arrive as a breaded chicken cutlet sandwich so large it can only be eaten with two hands. I would soon discover through prayer, recollection, and recognition that our moment offered a sustenance more ample. 

What the Virus Takes from You

Dying from Covid-19 is as harrowing and miserable as you might imagine. Few viruses have the ability to dismantle life quite like it. Over 800,000 in the U.S. and 5.3 million around the world have died from it as of this writing.

Medical experts are also predicting a winter surge of infections thanks to the Omicron variant.  

As much as we want things to get back to normal, the pandemic won’t allow it. In fact, scientists predict that the virus will be with us for a long time.

Since Covid-19 hit our shores, the majority of its victims have died in hospitals and long-term care facilities isolated and alone. Often their only human contact is with healthcare workers dressed in personal protective equipment resembling spaceship gear. Their final days, weeks, or months are rife with misery as the virus withers the lungs. 

As this Vox article points out, when people check into the emergency room for Covid, it’s because they have difficulty breathing. Patients afflicted with the virus feel as if they are sucking air through a “very narrow straw,” a sensation that can last hours, days, or even weeks.

As their lungs continue to deteriorate, they need to breathe faster and faster to get enough oxygen, panicking as they take each breath.

According to one doctor in the article, patients have complained that because of Covid-19, it feels as if their lungs are on fire or that a thousand bees are stinging them inside their chest. Some feel like they are “trying to breathe through muck” due to the thick secretions in their lungs. Others may feel as if they are being smothered.

If they are admitted to a medium or intensive care unit (ICU), they can be isolated from family and friends. In ICU, patients can develop delirium where confusion, disorientation, and incoherence can suddenly overcome them, exacerbating their symptoms and heightening their chances of death – if they haven’t already wished for it themselves. 

According to that same report, multiple doctors cite yet another tragic feature of Covid-19: the wish to die.

“You hear the patients say, ‘I just want to die because this is so excruciating,’” said one physician. “That’s what this virus does.”

When someone in this situation passes, it will likely be without having received so much as a meaningful word or kiss from a loved one. And if contact is granted, last words are often delivered via video chat through an app like FaceTime or Messenger. 

What I Finally Gained

Spending that moment with my wife over a sandwich order, something that would be so spare and mundane at any other time, meant so much more because it served as a reminder of one of my best decisions – to marry her and become a step dad to her twin teenagers.

author wedding picture before positive covid test
My wife and I got married three months before my positive Covid-19 test. Source/Photo by Yurialyse Pye

That moment provided a waterfall of memories because we jammed so much life in the three months between our nuptials and that Covid-19 result. Our honeymoon was a 1,300-mile drive from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida to Chicago where we stopped at Gainesville, Florida, Atlanta, Nashville, Louisville, and Indianapolis before we made it home.

At home, we went to jazz clubs, ate at some of the best Yelp-reviewed restaurants, and spent days walking along Lake Michigan. There were ordinary nights where we would just lay beside each other, grateful that neither of us would have to leave to fly back to our respective cities as we had in the past.  

I thought about the small gestures, like how on most mornings I would enter the kitchen to find a washed mug under the Keurig machine because she knows that I like my coffee first thing.

In the immediate aftermath of that Covid result, I thought about all of that and everything I was about to lose over and above my failures. What stood out more was that through our bond, I finally felt a sense of permanence, which eluded me most of my adult life.   

Aside from spending the first 16 years of my life in Brooklyn, New York, I would spend the next 30 living in different cities, always leaving one place for the next in search of a better opportunity or adventure, fleeing when the present location felt hostile or untenable. 

Through marriage and the establishment of family, I was about to experience what writer Wendell Berry described as a deepening of my relationship to a place and through that feeling, contentment.  

“This peace is partly in being free of the suspicion that pursued me for most of my life,” Berry once wrote, “[that] no matter where I was, that there was perhaps another place I should be, or would be happier or better in…”

I was better here in Chicago with my family, in a place that transcended geography – “home.”. 

Three months later, after experiencing mild symptoms and ultimately testing negative for Covid-19, my words fail to accurately label this feeling. 

What I can say is that this feels more concrete and expansive than contentment. While it is certainly love, I do feel as if I am on firm ground, something I have prayed for a long time. 

Whatever this thing is, it propels me, lending rhythm to my walk and a lilt to my voice. For an only child like me – disconnected, introverted, distant, and misunderstood – I discovered a place of rest. 

What I’m thankful for this holiday season is that finally I can appreciate the meaning behind that one small moment, that my life isn’t so insignificant after all. 

God granted me a second chance to fully experience two of my most meaningful accomplishments – family and connectedness.  

Finally.

Hopefully.

The Real Deal About Seasonal Affective Disorder

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‘Tis the season of frigid air and overcast skies, where daylight and sunshine are in shorter supply. 

For millions in the U.S., year after year, the coming Winter causes a disruption in mood and behavior. They experience depression. They oversleep, over eat, and/or retreat from social activities and obligations.   

This isn’t just the winter blues we’re talking about.

Having difficulty functioning because of a change in seasons is termed seasonal affective disorder or SAD, a type of depression that occurs with a seasonal pattern. Winter-induced SAD is more common. There is also Summer-pattern SAD, which can cause individuals to experience insomnia, weight loss, anxiety, and violent behavior in the summer months.

So, how prevalent is SAD? And what are the risk factors for it? Also, how are African Americans prone to developing this condition? 

With the December 21 Winter Solstice approaching, we answer those questions with these 8 facts about SAD that you should know:

SAD is not Prevalent in the General Population

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) states that seasonal affective disorder is only present in about 0.5 to 3% of the general population. The Cleveland Clinic estimated that it is 5%. 

People with Existing Mental Health Conditions are More Prone to Seasonal Depression

This is especially true of individuals with depression and bi-polar disorder. The NLM reports that SAD affects 10-20% of people who already have major depressive disorder and an estimated 25% of individuals with bipolar disorder.

People with SAD tend to also have other mental disorders like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an anxiety disorder, panic disorder or an eating disorder, states the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). 

It Can Run in Families as Well

Seasonal depression is more common in individuals with close relatives who have mental health disorders like major depression or schizophrenia, says the NIMH. 

SAD Can Happen at Any Age, but it Often starts in Young Adulthood 

The typical age it starts is between 18 and 30 years old

Women Are More Likely to Suffer from SAD

According to information cited by Mental Health America (MHA), four out of five people with seasonal depression are women. 

The Further You Live from the Equator, the Greater Your Risk

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People who live in colder Northern climates are more prone to developing SAD. Source/R. Sarki from Pexels

No surprise here: Winter-pattern SAD is more prevalent in the Northern areas of the U.S., especially those with below average sunlight exposure, a critical risk factor for the condition. 

Gathering Google Trends data from October 2020 to March 2021 and climate information from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), CertaPet concluded that Alaska, Ohio, Minnesota, Montana, and Michigan were the states most susceptible to seasonal depression. That study also examined the level of sunlight exposure for all 50 states for the months of December, January, and February. Those five were at or near the bottom in sunshine rankings.   

Brain Chemical Imbalance and Biological Clock Change Are Significant Risk Factors

Speaking of shorter daylight hours, people with SAD can experience a brain chemical imbalance from decreased sunlight during the Winter months, reports the Cleveland Clinic. Reduced sunlight can impact serotonin levels, the brain chemical that affects mood. That drop can lead to depression.   

This One Risk Factor Makes African Americans Especially Vulnerable

Having low Vitamin D levels is also linked to seasonal depression. It just so happens that African Americans are at the highest risk of being deficient in this essential nutrient. Why? The melanin in our skin, which endows tone, can hamper our ability to synthesize the Vitamin D we get from the sun, according to Everyday Health. In addition, since serotonin also gets a boost from the nutrient, the lack of sunlight we receive in the Winter months can also lead to mood changes. What’s more, African Americans may possess different Vitamin D binding proteins, which work to carry the nutrient to various organs via the bloodstream. 

“There are reasons to believe that African Americans not only need more sun to produce vitamin D, but they could well have different vitamin D binding proteins that might make them more vulnerable to variations in sunlight,” said Dr. David O. Meltzer, the chief of hospital medicine at University of Chicago Medicine.

It’s worth noting that Vitamin D deficiency can lead to other health issues like heart disease, cancer, and osteoarthritis. 

HIV and African Americans: Why It’s Still a Problem

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On November 7, 1991, former NBA Star Magic Johnson shocked the sports world by announcing that he tested positive for HIV. He promptly retired from basketball and vowed to “battle this deadly disease.” 

“I think sometimes we think, well, only gay people can get it — ‘It’s not going to happen to me.’ And here I am saying that it can happen to anybody, even me, Magic Johnson,” he said during a press conference. 

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Former NBA Star Magic Johnson/ Wikimedia Commons

Johnson’s revelation occurred at a time when an HIV diagnosis was thought to be a death sentence. So much so that, in the aftermath of his announcement, an NBA coach called for a moment of silence for Johnson during a game and led his players and the crowd in The Lord’s Prayer.

Now it is widely understood that with treatment, HIV-infected persons can lead healthy and successful lives. Also, it is common knowledge that anyone can contract the virus – not just gay people.  

Still, more than 30 years after Johnson’s announcement, HIV predominantly impacts African-Americans. We are contracting and dying from it at rates that surpass those of other racial and ethnic groups – just like with diabetes.

In fact, African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV cases compared to other races and ethnicities, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The 6 facts that follow show that, even decades later, HIV remains a viable threat to the African-American community:

African-Americans Have the Highest Rate of HIV Infection

Despite comprising 13% of the U.S. population, African Americans represented 42.1% of HIV infection cases in 2019. Of the estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., 476,100 are Black. 

Black People Still Die from HIV More Than Any Other Group

Between 2010 and 2017, the number of HIV deaths for Black people decreased by 8%. Still, they accounted for 44% of all deaths among people with an HIV diagnosis in 2017, though that also includes deaths due to any cause, according to the CDC. 

Among African-Americans, Black Gay and Bisexual Men Are Impacted Most

From 2015-2019, Black and African American men who have sex with other men accounted for more than 30% of HIV diagnoses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). That percentage surpassed that of their White and Hispanic peers. 

Among All Women, HIV Has Hit Black Women the Hardest 

Black women as a whole made up the largest share of new HIV cases at 4,114 or 58% in 2018. At the end of 2017, they also made up the largest share of women living with HIV, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported

The Rate of New HIV Cases for Blacks Far Surpass that of White Americans

In 2018, the rate of new HIV cases for Black adults and adolescents was at 47.5 per 100,000, which is eight times that of whites and more than twice that of Latinos. 

Most HIV Cases Involve Black People in the South

The South accounts for the majority of cases involving Black people newly diagnosed with HIV (63% in 2018). It is also the region where the majority with an HIV diagnosis lived at the end of 2017 (58%).