Fraxel 411: What It’s Actually Like to Get Fraxel Laser Treatment

My dad owned a tanning salon when I was a kid. I was his first employee and got a quarter for cleaning each bed after use. When his business when bankrupt, we lugged one of the old tanning beds to our garage and I got free reign to bake myself as I pleased. This kind of recreational activity gave me the desired orangey-bronze skin tone I sought for homecoming photos, but caused serious repercussions.

At the age of 39, I have sun damage and am mercilessly backpedaling with obsessive SPF application and an increasingly complicated skin-care product regimen. But when I am occasionally being carded for wine, I give most of the credit to Fraxel laser treatment.

Fraxel is an FDA-approved laser device dermatologists use treat the signs of aging in the skin, such as fine lines, wrinkles, scarring, and sun damage (or age) spots. Doctors laud its results and the minimal downtime required for healing. It doesn’t come cheap; treatment often costs about $1,000 a pop. (Solta Medical, the company that makes Fraxel lasers, says patients will have noticeable improvements immediately but recommends three to five as “an effective treatment regimen.”)

During my first treatment, ten years ago, I wasn’t at all concerned about fine lines or wrinkles. I had melasma on my upper lip—what I referred to as my Burt Reynolds mustache—and significant hyperpigmentation along my forehead. I also had scarring from adult cystic acne that I acquired in my late 20s. I was insecure about both and a co-worker suggested her dermatologist, who performed Fraxel laser on her with fantastic results.

At the age of 29, I had the first of three treatments, spaced one year apart, and I had incredible results, too. After the first treatment, my melasma, acne scarring, and a large age spot had faded drastically; after three treatments, my skin was clear and as smooth as that of a newborn baby.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Or at least need touching up.

Seven years after my first Fraxel treatment, I went back for another.

This time, having begun to see the effects of 10 years of aging on my skin, I went in hoping to reap those benefits that didn’t interest me as a 29-year-old—and with the goal of avoiding fillers and Botox, the go-to treatments so popular with my peers. It’s not that I’m anti-needle. But if I can laser myself every few years or so instead of submitting to a quarterly Botox injection, then I’m knocking out signs of aging and dark spots in one yearly treatment.

It should go without saying, but finding a reputable doctor is key. I chose Mary Lupo, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine, who is one of the country’s leading experts in the field of non-surgical skin rejuvenation. Dr. Lupo tells me that Fraxel is an ideal way to combat aging for those who choose not to use Botox or filler since it’s actually building collagen. Fractional lasers make micro-injuries in the skin and the resultant healing process stimulates new collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid, she explains, which makes skin tighter, plumper, and more elastic. It also brings new skin to the surface, effectively replacing damaged, discolored skin. (Fraxel is a brand name; Dr. Lupo contends it can me more precisely tuned than other lasers of its kind, and gives the most uniform and even results. “All fractional devices are not the same,” she avers.)

During my consultation, Dr. Lupo informs me that I’m an ideal candidate for Fraxel laser, being that I’m a former sun worshiper, a 15-year outdoor runner, and now very careful about the sun. She tells me that, in fact, just about all skin types can be safely treated, but one must refuse to stay out of the sun pre- and post-treatment.

Courtesy of author

Fraxel take two: My second experience with Fraxel gave me great results, once again.

Here’s how the whole Fraxel process went down.

I arrived at Dr. Lupo’s office an hour early so that a topical lidocaine numbing cream could be applied, and spent a glorious hour to myself reading a book and scrolling through before and after Fraxel photos on Instagram.

Dr. Lupo treated me with a Fraxel Dual laser, which is used for fine lines, wrinkles, and sun damage. “Dual refers to the dual wavelengths,” Dr. Lupo explains, “1550 for texture (the dermal layer) and 1927 for surface pigment.” A physician can control variables, such as the laser strength and how deep into the skin it penetrates, to tune the device precisely to their patients’ needs. My treatment (a 1927 laser at an energy of 10, a level of 4 and 8 passes—considered a moderate treatment) began and—real truth—it hurt. I can only describe it feeling as if 100 bees were stinging my face at once. The pain was intense but short lived. Fortunately, I was expecting it—it felt exactly the way it had 10 years ago.

Post-treatment, I felt sting-y and hot for about an hour—so much that it seemed my ice packs were melting the moment they touched my flaming face. I was prescribed Prednisone for two days to combat swelling, and slept on elevated pillows that evening with zero pain.

It took a week to heal completely from the procedure.

Everyone recovers differently from this procedure, but I have sensitive skin and fell victim to the side effects of redness and puffiness (other common reactions include itching, dryness, and temporary and permanent changes in skin color). I worked from home for a few days to avoid exposure to the sun—and to other humans.

Courtesy of Author

By the second day, my face resembled a balloon made of sandpaper, which was terrifying to face in the mirror, but, I was assured, completely normal. By day three, the swelling and redness had dissipated but my face itched terribly as the top layer peeled away. I diligently applied thick layers of CeraVe Healing Ointment, which contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides (and can be purchased for less than $10 on Amazon. I noticed that some of the dry, sandpaper spots were starting to flake off and reveal new skin. This was reassuring and exciting because even though I was still part monster, I could leave the house for a brief errand (slathered with sunscreen, naturally).

On day four, the sandpaper was three-fourths gone and my face felt as if it were a human snake, shedding its skin to slowly reveal a new, pink, bouncy baby skin underneath. By the fifth day, the face snake had completely shed and I was pink and sensitive. On the one-week mark, my skin was completely healed, and my melasma and sun damage was mostly gone; my face showed a noticeable—shall I say—glow.

It wasn’t easy (or cheap) but it was worth it.

My skin is clear and appears younger-looking, but what I love most is the confidence that I’ve regained. I’ve felt completely comfortable sans foundation—or even tinted moisturizer—and have worn nothing but sunscreen on several occasions, which is something I never do, in the month since the treatment.

I see why Fraxel laser may not be for everyone—it’s uncomfortable and expensive and there’s more downtime than other (non-laser) methods to reverse signs of aging, but Dr. Lupo says that with a disciplined skin routine, the results from my treatment can last for years. That’s enough to put off the needle for now—and spend more time practicing my #nomakeup #nofilter selfies.

Believing Women Means Believing the Plus-Size Ones, Too

In the year since The New York Times first reported Harvey Weinstein’s alleged decades-long pattern of sexual harassment and sexual assault, the long-stifled public conversation around such abuses of power has grown steadily louder. Reports of misconduct from the music industry and comedy to Silicon Valley to the U.S. Supreme Court have inspired many survivors of sexual violence to make public their own #MeToo tales, while more still have grappled privately with resurfacing memories and emotions—both about our assaults and/or harassment, and about how we were treated when we reported them. Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about the particular hurdles faced by plus-size women in regards to predatory entitlement, and to being believed.

And it’s not just Trumpian calls of, “Take a look at her; I don’t think so,” either. Take, for instance, Judge Jean Paul Braun’s comments about a 17-year-old assault victim’s looks last year in Quebec, Canada. “It can be said that she is a little overweight, but she has a pretty face,” Braun is reported to have said in an actual court of law, in regards to a case on which he was actually deliberating. He also noted that the victim’s “voluptuous” figure was memorable, and suggested that she was or should have been flattered by the attention of her 49-year-old assailant.

While Braun’s larger sentiments convey a pretty boilerplate misunderstanding (willful or otherwise) of “compliments” and consent, his observations about the victim’s body go one step further, reflecting the unique mix of lust and contempt predators and their apologists reserve for women of size (among other groups of marginalized people).

Street harassment, massage-happy bosses, date rape—plus-size women are subjected to the same myriad hideous behaviors that are regularly wielded against thin women, only we’re expected to be especially thankful. As though male desire is a precious, coveted commodity, and we’re clearly running low (I mean, look at us). This belief doesn’t come out of nowhere. Plus-size TV and movie characters fall almost exclusively into one of two (thoroughly cishetero) archetypes: the sad fat girl, a la Dietland’s eventual heroine Plum Kettle or the infamously problematic “fat Monica” from Friends; or the not-sad fat girl whose appetite—for sex, or attention, or men, if not for food, per se—cannot be sated, a la Insecure’s hilarious Kelli. One plays better for drama, one for comedy; both revolve around male approval and touch.

And then there’s a second set of abuses tailored specifically for our unforgivable bodies. There’s fatcalling, which differs from catcalling in its intent to insult, and fatphobic rape threats, like the kind filmmaker Lindsey Averill received for having the nerve to be plus-size on the internet. Some of these behaviors betray perpetrators’ feelings of (entitled) attraction, while others expose more clearly the long-simmering resentment that our society (male and otherwise) holds towards plus-size people. All are part of the colorful tapestry that is violence against women.

Add to all this that fat people are widely viewed as untrustworthy and incapable of making responsible decisions for ourselves, and we’re not only assumed by predators to be easy targets—we’re also disregarded as unreliable witnesses by courts of law and public opinion. Feigning or otherwise expressing revulsion towards fat women in order to wriggle out of sexual harassment or assault allegations isn’t a particularly novel trick, but in a world still run by men who either actually hate our bodies or are too insecure to own their attraction to them, an effective one. I can’t imagine how many assault and harassment accusations throughout history have been waved away with some version of “She was a four, bro—I would never!” and a hearty, co-signing round of laughter from men who understand not so much that their coworker/cousin/drinking buddy wouldn’t rape, but that he wouldn’t rape that.

Catcalling, fatcalling, and other corresponding behaviors occupy two sides of the same entitled coin; we ought to be thankful for men’s advances, the idea goes, but it ultimately doesn’t matter how we feel—our bodies and mental health, which in the larger scheme of generally discounted and disbelieved experiences of women hold especially scant currency, are theirs for the taking. Whether motivated by desire, hatred, or a mix of the two, sexual violence is never flattering. By definition, what separates it from consensual, “flattering” interactions is that one party involved doesn’t want it—a fact that doesn’t change because a victim’s body, in one way or another, strays from our personal or societal ideals.

Women and femme people live along a spectrum of dehumanization based on our size, color, ability status, sexuality, income level, and often a mix of those qualities and/or others. Making violence against fat, trans, and other marginalized women a thing of the past starts with each of us—and from our entertainment to our workplaces to our health care system, we’re failing.

Valuing all bodies means looking beyond our attraction (or lack thereof) and respecting them, and their owners, either way. If we are attracted to someone, and have bothered getting to know them with their consent, it falls on us to state our intentions clearly and truly listen to their answer, whatever it may be. If we’re not attracted to them, there’s no rational need to be malicious in word or deed. It’s certainly not the end of the discussion, but it’s a pretty simple start.

One bright spot in this past year of constantly relived trauma is the recognition of how little women have to gain by reporting harassment or assault; recognition that, in fact, they often have far more to lose. Let’s not forget how crucial it is to believe them, whatever their color, abilities, assigned sex at birth, or dress size.

Family Estrangement: 10 Tips for Dealing With It During the Holidays

For many, the holidays are the best time of year. The warm twinkle of fairy lights around town, the vacation days, and, of course, the extra family time make some people feel all of the joy.

But for others, the holidays can be traumatizing. In a time of year that prioritizes family, it can feel incredibly isolating when visiting relatives is just not an option for you—or, if it is, when it doesn’t feel like a safe or welcoming environment.

Whether you’re estranged from your family completely or have strained relations that make the holidays difficult, here are 10 tips on how to make it through this emotionally trying time of year.

1. Actually say to yourself, “It’s OK to feel angry and hurt about this.”

It’s true what they say: The only way out is through. That applies to sucky emotions when it comes to family relationships, too.

“Humans are meant to be pack animals; we’re wired to be connected,” Gene Beresin, M.D, executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells SELF.

When you lose primary relationships with people who are supposed to be your caregivers or form some of your closest bonds, it doesn’t just hurt like hell. The stress you feel about it, especially when compounded by the holidays, can spark your fight-or flight-response, which is essentially when your body releases a surge of hormones that can result in physical symptoms of anxiety like a pounding heart and shortness of breath. Trying to ignore these feelings or castigate yourself for having them can simply make these emotions stronger, Dr. Beresin says, which can result in a vicious cycle.

If you’re the one who pulled back from one or more family members, remember that your instinct to protect yourself is valid. If they’re the ones who have created the distance, acknowledge how terrible that lack of control can feel. Either way, try to accept your feelings instead of fighting them. “The more we’re aware of our state of mind and emotions, the more we’re able to find coping mechanisms,” Dr. Beresin says. That brings us to our next point.

2. Identify at least one reliable coping mechanism you can use when negative emotions bubble up.

Only you know what’s going to help when you feel overcome with sadness or anger about your family situation. Perhaps it’s writing (but not sending) a letter to your estranged loved one, getting out some aggression with a quick boxing workout, or engaging in some mindful meditation, Dr. Beresin says.

The point is to figure out what will help before you need it. That way, when triggers like holiday photos from years past unleash a rush of negative emotions, you don’t have to devote valuable brainpower to finding a healthy coping mechanism. Instead, you can channel that energy directly into doing whatever you need to feel better.

3. Figure out how you’re going to spend the days that are most important to you.

It can feel paralyzing to think about how you want to spend, say, Christmas Day or Hanukkah evenings when you know you won’t be around family. But according to Jessy Warner-Cohen, Ph.D., health psychologist at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, it’s important that you do have some kind of outline for the big days during the holiday season.

“Any sort of change from your normal routine can be hard, so figure out what your game plan is going to be,” Warner-Cohen tells SELF. “Maybe you’re going to schedule some time at the gym, maybe you’ll do a volunteering project, but it’s important to stay active and engaged with things that make [you] feel fulfilled instead of just sitting by yourself.”

4. Delete any social media apps you think will cause stress during the holidays.

It can be helpful to go off the tech grid a bit and temporarily delete apps that foster negative emotions, Dr. Beresin says. “Be aware of what your triggers are,” he says. Will reading negative news on Twitter make you feel like the entire world is awful? Will seeing a ton of people posting family-filled Instagrams prompt a crying jag? If your relatives are getting together without you, where are those photos most likely to show up? Think about all of this in advance so technology doesn’t only add to your emotional burden.

5. Make a physical list of all of your positive attributes.

Warner-Cohen suggests making a list to remind yourself of everything great about you, especially if you fall into a habit of blaming yourself for your family estrangement or difficult relationships. This can be particularly helpful if cutting off family isn’t an option or may not be quite necessary, but you’re still dreading family time. (Many of the following tips can help in this situation, too.)

When spending time with your family feels like entering a lion’s den, it’s important to remember why you’re worthy of love and respect. “Just having that list there regardless of what anyone says is helpful,” Warner-Cohen says. Don’t only keep the list in your head, since you might blank on it when you get upset. Write it down or put it on your phone so you can call it up as needed.

6. Come up with a scripted response to steer the conversation away from touchy areas.

Whether it’s off-color political topics, jabs about you being LGBTQ+, snide remarks about you having a partner of a different race, or just incessant criticism about your life choices, you probably know exactly what your family might say to upset you. The only good thing about this is that, if you are going to see them, it can help you prepare.

Figure out the conversations that you absolutely will not engage in and a few responses that will help you set your boundaries kindly but firmly. For instance, if a family member body shames you just as you knew they would, you can say something like, “I appreciate your concern, but my weight is my business.” Then change the subject.

If you know you’ll have at least one ally in these situations, tell them beforehand which conversations you’re avoiding so they can help you guide the discussion elsewhere when it comes time, Warner-Cohen suggests.

7. Have an excuse ready when you need to escape, and consider bringing younger family members with you.

“[When you need alone time], offer to go to the grocery store or even just go take out the trash,” Warner-Cohen says. “I personally will get up and offer to help with dessert when I don’t feel like engaging in a particular conversation.”

Depending on the specifics, it may help to bring younger family members away with you, Dr. Beresin says.

“You don’t want them to see family as being a war zone,” he explains. “When it comes to the people you care about, you have to make those decisions of, ‘Am I going to make conflict, or will I show them a new way of doing things?’ So, you can take your younger family members and say, ‘Let’s go watch a movie, let’s go play Scrabble.’” It gets you away from drama and may even help end familial cycles of conflict.

8. Don’t isolate yourself due to stigma about family estrangement.

When you’re already feeling alone, it can feel easier to draw back from people instead of pushing yourself to be vulnerable. However, it’s important that you don’t isolate yourself even more. “You need to engage with others, with people who do provide you with a sense of security and connectedness,” Dr. Beresin says. “Expressing yourself and getting feedback during this time is really important.”

Even if you feel like the only person in the world who’s spending time away from their family during the holidays—or spending time with family but loathing every minute of it—you are absolutely not alone. Sharing a bit about your family situation with people you trust might even help you realize they’re dealing with similar issues.

9. Check in with a therapist before or after the holidays.

Maybe you already have a therapist who’s clued into exactly how you feel about the impending holiday season, in which case, great. Be sure to go over your emotions and game plan with them before, and fill them in on how it went after.

If you don’t have a therapist but are really struggling with how you’re going to handle this holiday season, it might be a sign that seeing a mental health professional can be a good idea. Dr. Beresin says his patient caseload for therapy always ticks up this time of year.

It may be hard to get in to see someone, especially right now, in which case it might help to read up on classic mental health tips therapists recommend to their patients. Then, when you are able to see a therapist, you can debrief on how the holidays went and, hopefully, have ample time to prepare before the next round.

10. Remind yourself that the holidays won’t last forever.

“We emphasize holiday culture, but just remember that it’s only a few [weeks] out of the year,” Warner-Cohen says. “Remembering that can help put things into perspective.”

Granted, dealing with family estrangement or tough family relationships is hard at any time. But the added holiday stress of feeling like you should be on extra happy and extra close to those in your family? That, at least, is temporary.

Related:

Dealing With Grief During the Holidays: 5 Important Lessons I’ve Learned

The end-of-year holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, were always the most beautiful, loving, and hopeful time of the year. Unfortunately, it’s not so much the case this year, and I’m working on enjoying the jingle bells ringing, the good times and singing, and the feeling of life all aglow.

Last year, my family spent the Thanksgiving holidays at my house, and we had a great time together like we always do. The following Tuesday, my husband took my father home. On Thursday, I sat down for dinner with my girlfriend from out of town. As I put the fork in my mouth to enjoy my first bite of food, the phone rang. It was my mother. I’ll never forget the panicked voice on the other end that cried out, “Dixie! I think something is wrong with your dad. I just came home and met him in the chair, and he’s cold.”

A feeling of nausea washed over me, and I sprang into action telling my mom to dial 911. I immediately started calling friends and family who were close by to go be with her, all while summoning up the courage not to crack into a million pieces. I somehow managed to make it through the many hazy hours following that phone call, only to realize several hours later I still had food shoved in the back of my left cheek.

Exactly seven days after Thanksgiving day, my father passed away.

The days that followed were tumultuous, painful, numbing, and sad. For the first time there was no Dad around for Christmas and New Year’s. The shocking reality set in that he would also not be there for Valentine’s Day, my birthday, the kids’ birthdays, his birthday, Father’s Day, and all the other holidays, including the last holiday we spent together, Thanksgiving.

It’s been almost a year now, and as September rolled in and the anniversary of his death began to draw near, a feeling of trepidation began to mount in my body. How was I going to deal with this unbearable pain again? And then the unthinkable happened. I received a call one evening that one of my dearest friends was in a coma, and the prognosis was grim. Less than 24 hours later, I received the text that she was dead. To make matters worse, coincidentally, my dear girlfriend’s body was housed in the same funeral home as my dad, and she was eulogized and viewed in the same room as he was.

Nathalie’s death brought my grief back in full focus. Square one. Like with Dad, I was shocked. I felt depressed and wanted to crawl into my bed and not get out for a long time. Nonetheless, I got up. I had to remind myself that I’m alive. I’m living, and living includes happiness, pain, and sorrow. The goal now was to take care of myself and implement self-care practices that would ease the pain and sorrow and bring happiness back into my reach.

Grief is a process, and it always helps to have a toolkit. I turned to mine, which included resources I’ve acquired over the years from phenomenal teachers, healers, coaches, and gurus.

Here are five things I’ve learned to do to cope with my grief as the holiday season approaches.

1. I take time for myself.

Taking time for myself has empowered me on this grief journey. I am very intentional about making time for my well-being by doing something to nourish my mind, body, and spirit every single day. For example, in my moments of grief I do not feel hungry. However, the self-care connoisseur in me knows I need to nourish my body with wholesome, healthy foods in order to stay healthy.

When you lose a loved one, sadness is inevitable. It comes in waves, and I felt like I was trapped in a big wave, being tossed up and down and all around. It can also come with lethargy and feelings of depression. To counteract those feelings, I turn to exercise (Zumba) and restorative movements like yoga and qigong. Although I’m still working on solidifying my meditation practice, I’m able to use it to center and focus as I turn inward to help with my morning ritual of prayer.

These were all routines I practiced on a regular basis prior to my dad’s death. However, I’ve had to amplify and deepen every aspect of my movement, my nutrition, and my spiritual practice. It’s made accepting reality so much easier. It’s helped me diminish my fears and bolster my hopefulness for the future.

I also reached out to a therapist. It always helps to have someone to turn to who has an objective viewpoint and one who is knowledgeable about the grief process.

2. I feel my feelings without guilt.

For some, being close to family and basking in the holiday traditions that their deceased loved ones appreciated is comforting. However, for others that may not be the case. Being around family and holiday traditions can trigger unwanted and painful memories. As a result, some would rather be alone. I wanted to be alone with my family last Christmas, and I want to be alone with them this Thanksgiving and holiday season too. We’ve talked about it as a family and agreed we would understand if one person wants to pull out and be alone. And guess what? One sister pulled out, and she’s OK, and we’re OK. She’s feeling her feelings. We’re feeling ours. No judgement. Only healing.

Honor your individual feelings. It’s OK if you’re not ready for what others might be ready to do. Proceed at your own pace and be sure to allow yourself to process your feelings.

3. I talk about my loved one whenever I feel like it.

We talked about Dad all the time for about a month or so after he passed. However, as the time went by, I noticed no one, including me, was bringing up his name, especially if my mother was present. I could feel the tension in our immediate family gatherings. I didn’t want to bring him up all the time because I was afraid it would trigger unpleasant emotions in other family members. What I didn’t realize is that they were thinking the very same thing I was. I’ve since learned that it’s OK to talk about your deceased loved one whenever you feel the need. I now freely share memories and stories. It’s a part of the healing process. I don’t hold back. We don’t hold back.

4. I am patient with the process.

Like most people, my holidays were filled with rituals of celebration. Life after loss requires lots of adjustments, especially during the holidays and celebratory days like birthdays. That adjustment takes time, which in turn requires a certain degree of patience. I’m different from my mother, my sisters, and my brother, and each of our adjustment period differs. I’ve learned not to beat myself up if they are seemingly doing well and moving faster than I am. What’s important is that I’m practicing healthy habits so I can move forward in a positive way.

5. I am crystal clear about what I want to do for the holidays.

This one is a biggie. Our family had to deal with Christmas three weeks after Dad was buried. Needless to say, I was extremely concerned about family expectations for the holiday. The fact is, I wasn’t ready to fulfill any expectations and follow any rituals and routines. I, along with my immediate family members, was not in the frame of mind to dive back into the festivities with food, trees, lights, people, and presents.

So, we honored our feelings and gave ourselves permission to switch and pivot. Instead of the usual excessive cooking, tree lights, and presents, we gathered, watched movies, took long walks, ordered our meals, and reminisced about the good times. To date I’ve not created any new rituals, but I know if and when I decide to, it will be totally my prerogative and OK.

This year, since it’s the first Thanksgiving without Dad, I’ve made it very clear that I’m not doing the big cooking and celebration. It’s going to be a toned down and reflective time. Now, is that to say next year and the following years will be the same? Of course not. It’s simply what I truly want this year, and I’ve made it crystal clear.

Alzheimer’s: Dealing With Daily Challenges

People who have Alzheimer’s disease often need help handling routine daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, eating, and using the bathroom. If your loved one needs this type of care, balance his or her loss of privacy and independence with gentleness and tact.

Bathing

Bathing can be a confusing experience for a person who has Alzheimer’s. Having a routine can help. Consider these tips:

  • Make it comfortable. Make sure the bathroom is warm and well-lit. Keep towels handy. Play soft music if it seems to help promote relaxation.
  • Keep it private. If your loved one is self-conscious about being naked, place a towel over his or her shoulders or lap. Use a sponge or washcloth to clean under the towel. Have him or her help as much as possible.
  • Help your loved one feel in control. Explain each step of the bathing process as you go.
  • Alternate full baths or showers and sponge baths. A full bath or shower two or three times a week is likely enough. In between full baths or showers, sponge bathe your loved one’s face, hands, feet, underarms, and genitals. It also might be easier to wash the person’s hair in the sink, rather than in the shower or bath.
  • Never leave a confused or frail person alone during bathing. Have your supplies ready beforehand.

Dressing

The physical and mental impairment of Alzheimer’s can make dressing a frustrating experience. Here are some hints to help your loved one maintain his or her appearance:

  • Provide direction. Lay out pieces of clothing in the order they should be put on—or hand out clothing one piece at a time as you provide simple dressing instructions.
  • Limit choices. Put away some clothes in another room. Too many choices can complicate decision-making.
  • Consider your loved one’s tastes and dislikes. Don’t argue if your loved one doesn’t want to wear a particular garment or chooses the same outfit repeatedly. Instead, consider buying a few pairs of the same outfit.
  • Make it easy. You might replace shoelaces, buttons, and buckles with fabric fastening tape or large zipper pulls.

Eating

A person who has Alzheimer’s might not remember when he or she last ate—or why it’s important to eat. To ease the challenges that eating might pose:

  • Eat at regular times. Don’t rely on your loved one to ask for food. He or she might not respond to hunger or thirst.
  • Use white dishes. Plain white dishes can make it easier for your loved one to distinguish the food from the plate. Similarly, use place mats of a contrasting color to help your loved one distinguish the plate from the table. Stick with solid colors, though. Patterned plates, bowls, and linens might be confusing.
  • Offer foods 1 at a time. If your loved one is overwhelmed by an entire plateful of food, place just one type of food at a time on the plate. You could also offer several small meals throughout the day, rather than three larger ones.
  • Cut food into bite-sized portions. Finger foods are even easier—but avoid foods that can be tough to chew and swallow, such as nuts, popcorn, and raw carrots.
  • Limit distractions. Turn off the TV, radio, and telephone ringer. Put your cellphone on vibrate. You might also clear the table of any unnecessary items.
  • Eat together. Make meals an enjoyable social event so that your loved one looks forward to the experience. If necessary, provide snacks to ensure his or her nutrition.

Toileting

As Alzheimer’s progresses, problems with incontinence often surface. To help your loved one maintain a sense of dignity despite the loss of control:

  • Make the bathroom easy to find. Post a sign on the bathroom door that says “Toilet,” or post a picture of a toilet. At night, use night lights to help your loved one find the way to the bathroom.
  • Be alert for signs. Restlessness or tugging on clothing might signal the need to use the toilet. Be aware that your loved one might use a trigger phrase or words that might have nothing to do with going to the bathroom.
  • Don’t wait for your loved one to ask. Consider taking your loved one to the bathroom on a regular basis, whether or not he or she needs to go.
  • Make clothing easy to remove. Replace zippers and buttons with fabric fasteners. Choose pants with elastic waists.
  • Take accidents in stride. Praise toileting success—and offer reassurance when accidents happen.

Patience is key.

As you help your loved one meet daily challenges, be patient and compassionate. If a certain approach stops working, don’t be discouraged. Instead, try something new or turn to support groups for ideas. As Alzheimer’s progresses, your understanding, flexibility, and creativity will become invaluable.

Updated: 2015-02-28

Publication Date: 2002-12-05

18 Tech Gift Ideas for Your Friend Who Belongs in the Future

We all know those people who just always want the latest and greatest technology has to offer—whether they really need new things or not. When it comes to finding new things to try, the technology world never disappoints. There’s always going to be some cool new launch that promises to do awesome things for you if you’re willing to spend the money. But while some techie things are really just fun to play with, other devices actually can make life a little easier and more enjoyable (even if it’s just in a very small way).

The cool thing about the holidays is that those “toys” really do make perfect gift ideas. From headphones to speakers to gaming devices and more, check out some great tech gift ideas to help you shop for the person who could spend hours messing with whatever gadgets they can get their hands on.

Becoming Sober Made Me Realize How Problematic ‘Wine Mom’ Culture Really Is

My sobriety doesn’t define me. I’m a whole lot more than a sober person. I’m a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a writer, a feminist. But sobriety is a thread running throughout all of those other things. It makes me better at all those other things. It’s given me a greater understanding of what it is to be all those other things, and be the best at them I can be.

Sobriety has also made me acutely aware of how screwed up the narrative specifically around mothers and drinking is. I’m the first person to hold my hands up and admit that I bought into that narrative for a long, long time. Like matching a man beer for beer was some kind of feminist statement. Like binge drinking on every day of my summer vacation was normal because “it’s what everybody else does.” Like a bottle of wine after I got the kids bathed and in bed was my rightful reward as a parent.

I was 100 percent on board with the “Mommy needs wine” culture.

That is, until I got sober, and I saw it for what it is: hugely problematic, potentially offensive, and dangerous for those moms who are genuinely struggling to keep it together and might not know how or where to get help.

As with many contemporary cultural trends, the internet has been instrumental in delivering the “Mommy needs wine” mantra to the masses. We’ve all read—and probably laughed at—memes about needing to drink in order to cope as a parent. Most people who post and share this stuff across social media (and it’s everywhere) don’t actually need the alcohol. They haven’t dealt with addiction or alcohol abuse issues. They just think they’re being funny and relatable.

It doesn’t stop with the social media memes. There are T-shirts, baby onesies, wall hangings, mugs, coasters. In fact, anything you might find in the average home that has room for a logo is fair game for “They whine, I wine,” and “Mommy needs an alcohol day,” or “Mommy’s fidget spinner” with the sketch of a corkscrew to complete the joke.

But where did the Wine Mom culture even begin? Nobody knows for sure, but psychotherapist Jean M. Campbell, LCSW, who has worked with women with alcoholism (many of them mothers) for over 20 years, tells SELF that she likens it to the “Mother’s Little Helper” epidemic of women using Valium in the 1960s. During this time, doctors, mostly male, were reportedly prescribing Valium as a way for women to manage their anxiety, rather than teaching them coping and self-regulation tools, she describes.

So perhaps it’s natural, with the passing of time and our changing society, that “Mommy needs wine” has taken over from “Mother’s Little Helper.” Valium may not be a socially acceptable self-care mechanism anymore, but alcohol certainly seems to be, despite the fact that it’s a highly addictive drug.

What’s so offensive about this Wine Mom messaging is the “idea that mothers need to drink wine to be mothers,” Campbell says.

“Many women who are raising children feel incredibly fulfilled doing it—it’s the most important job they’re ever going to do, and they’re really good at it,” Campbell goes on. “The idea that they would need something to cope with overwhelm makes perfect sense: Being a mother is overwhelming. But to say they’d need to turn to alcohol to manage the experience is offensive.”

Another issue I have with this pervasive meme is the message it sends to our kids. By putting the baby in “I’m the reason Mommy drinks” onesie or complaining to a friend on the phone that we’ve had a terrible day and “need” a glass of wine, we’re telling our children that we can’t cope without alcohol, that we need to self-medicate to tolerate them, and that alcohol is self-care.

But my biggest problem with the Wine Mom culture is that the message can get absorbed by moms who need real, sustainable help and support. Drinking alcohol can worsen the symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to American Addiction Centers. So surely the last thing a woman suffering from anxiety or depression needs is constant encouragement to drink? (Around 5.3 million American women suffer from alcohol use disorder, according to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.)

“We need to think about the message the ‘Mommy needs wine’ culture sends to women,” Channing Marinari, a licensed mental health counselor and certified alcohol and drug counselor, tells SELF. “That moms need wine to handle the chaos of raising kids and life? That moms can only socialize over wine? That wine solves the problem of motherhood? None of those things are true, and the ramifications can be serious.” When you picture a mom who realizes she’s using alcohol on a daily basis to cope with a loss of control in her life, suddenly those lighthearted, funny memes don’t seem so funny after all.

Help for that mom shouldn’t come in the form of “Mommy Juice.”

Help should come in the form of supportive partners and loved ones, encouragement to develop healthy self-care practices, and affordable access to mental health services.

“Most of us are not given permission to admit we’re struggling with our lives, our feelings, and our thoughts, and almost none of us are taught any kind of self-regulation skills, such as deep breathing, meditation, etc.,” Campbell says. “If mothers were given permission to admit they’re overwhelmed and struggling, my sense is there would be far less need for wine in the first place.”

I also realized early on in my sobriety that alcohol seems to be the only drug we need to justify not taking, which is ridiculous. Marinari agrees that there is a sense of ostracizing moms who don’t drink from those who do. “In essence, we have to liberate mothers from this culture in order to help them bond in healthier ways,” she says.

Of course, every mom has the right to decide whether to drink or not.

I’m no prohibitionist—all of my close friends and family drink, and my husband and guests drink in our home. I genuinely don’t have a problem with any of it. I see absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a couple of drinks over dinner or meeting girlfriends for a bottle of wine once in a while to catch up and unload.

However, I know from experience that there can be fine line between responsible social drinking and numbing yourself with booze to deal with being a parent (or with work, or a relationship, or mental health issues, or any number of stressful circumstances).

So let’s stop perpetuating the message that alcohol is a woman’s only crutch to get through the stresses of motherhood. The demands of parenting are real, and all parents should be encouraged to have healthy, productive self-care outlets that go beyond a wine glass.

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10 Simple But Crucial Ways to Deal With Holiday Travel Stress

Thanksgiving is one of the busiest—and as a result, most stressful—travel times of the year. With everyone around you trying to get to their holiday destinations, that means some serious crowds, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and delays that zero people are psyched about.

“Travel in general can already be stressful for certain people, and the holidays have a mix of even more travelers, unpredictable weather, and dealing with relatives,” Simon Rego, Psy.D., chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, tells SELF. “Those things converge for people and can make them even more stressed than usual.”

We don’t blame you if you’re already anticipating feeling seriously stressed out trying to get from point A to point B, or even if you’re already feeling overwhelmed and scattered right now. That’s why we polled mental health pros for their best holiday travel tips, so that it doesn’t have to wipe you out emotionally and physically.

Here are a few things mental health experts recommend to help you keep your cool this week.

1. Make a list of what, exactly, about holiday travel stresses you out.

Sure, pretty much everyone will say that holiday travel is stress-inducing on some level. But the reason why it makes you feel frazzled can be pretty individual—and identifying your specific stressors is the first step in helping you combat them, Cheryl Carmin, Ph.D., director of clinical psychology training at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF.

That’s why it’s a good idea to write down all of your anxious feelings and worries on paper before you travel, Jason S. Moser, Ph.D., director of the Clinical Psychophysiology Lab at Michigan State University, tells SELF. Perhaps you’re most concerned about hustling through the airport with your crying newborn, for example; put this on paper and then think of a few solutions for this, like bringing their favorite toy to distract them or talking to your partner about your worry ahead of time so you can plan and support each other through a worst-case scenario.

“This is called expressive writing,” Moser says. “That effectively can ‘offload’ those thoughts and feelings on paper, make them more concrete, and facilitate rethinking and problem solving.” It can even help to toss the whole thing in the trash after you write it to mentally and physically throw away your fears, he adds. Once it’s on paper and out of your head, you can give yourself permission to stop agonizing over it.

2. Make it near-impossible to forget the most important items on your packing list.

If you know you’re going to be up at night worrying that you’ll forget something, or if you’ll completely freak and beat yourself up if you do end up forgetting that precious item, write it down, Rego says. Then, put that reminder somewhere visible (the front door, a bathroom mirror). “It’s a productive action,” he explains.

If you’re still fretting about leaving, say, your niece’s holiday present at home, you could even go as far as packing it way in advance in the luggage you know you’ll be carrying so that it’s there from the start. “If there is something that’s stressing you out and you can do something about it right now, do it. If you can’t, put it on a to-do list to do at another time,” Rego says. Here are more logistical travel tips to make the whole process a little less chaotic.

3. Try to travel during off-peak times, if you can swing it.

Crowds can be a large source of anxiety for some people. And while masses of people and long lines are pretty inevitable during the holidays, they’ll be less overwhelming during less popular times or days. So to whatever extent you can, schedule your travel on days and times when the crowds are likely to be a little thinner, Rego says, like super early in the morning. Or, if your job permits, consider leaving a few days earlier and working remotely from your destination to avoid the mad rush that typically occurs the day before the actual holiday.

4. Download whatever will help distract you from the chaos.

Given that you may still find yourself in some serious body-to-body situations, make a Spotify list of soothing songs before you leave the house so you can tune people out, Carmin suggests. Or, if meditation is your thing (and you feel like you can do it effectively even when others are around), download meditations from an app like Calm or Headspace.

If you have access to Netflix, you can even download some TV shows, movies, or stand-up to distract you from whatever is happening at the airport. But remember: You’ll likely need wifi to make these downloads, so take care of it before you leave the house. And, take it from us, you’ll want to download way more than you think you’ll need…just in case there are major delays.

5. If you’re not driving, have a pre-travel beer if you’d like.

If you’re at the airport or train station and could really stand to chill a little, it’s OK to have a pre-flight glass of wine or beer to unwind, Carmin says. Of course, you know yourself better than anyone, so skip this one if alcohol isn’t for you.

If you have a serious fear of flying and feel as if you’ll need something to help you get on and then stay calm on the plane, talk to your doctor in advance about whether an anti-anxiety medication for the flight might be suitable for you, Carmin says. That said, you definitely don’t want to mix alcohol and medication together, so this is an either/or situation.

6. Talk to yourself in the third person.

This may sound a little strange, but it can help. Practice labeling what you’re feeling, but use your own name and other non-first person pronouns like “he” and “she,” rather than first person pronouns like “I” and “me,” Moser explains.

“What you notice after a while is that you start to give yourself advice like you are talking to someone else,” he says. For example, maybe you hate turbulence and feel like the plane is going to fall out of the sky. Try saying out loud, Moser says, “But [your name] knows air travel is very safe and even safer than driving. [Your name] knows that this will pass.”

7. Lay a few ground rules for your car.

If you’re the designated holiday driver, you’re the one who needs to be the most relaxed during the journey—and that means you get to set the rules, Carmin says. For instance, consider having a quick reminder chat with your passengers to tell them that you’ll be using your navigation method of choice and don’t need backseat Siris, or that you need everyone to avoid arguing while you’re in the car.

Also, the driver gets to pick the music or podcast—that’s just the way it goes.

8. Be ready for delays and conflicts before you even leave.

Remind yourself that there’s (sadly) a good chance your plane will be delayed. Or that you always feel uptight when you’re around Uncle Al for an extended period of time. So if your flight is leaving two hours later than you’d hoped, or you’re going to be stuck in the car with that relative that you have a tense relationship with, wrap your mind around these things in advance so they don’t catch you off guard. (Plus, you’ll be in an even better mood if these situations don’t end up coming to fruition.)

Being aware of these things in advance, recognizing that they might be issues, and thinking about how you’re going to handle them can help reduce some of your anxiety, Reid Wilson, Ph.D., director of the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center and adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, tells SELF.

9. Whatever your preferred method of self-care is, do it before you leave.

Go for a jog before you leave, or take a quick bath. “Don’t leave things out that help you manage your stress,” Carmin says. Many people will brush off their regular exercise or self-care before they travel to try to save time, but it can make the difference between you stressing on the highway or keeping your cool. Also, don’t forget to bring workout clothes and sneaks for once you arrive—you’re probably going to need it at some point, Carmin says.

10. Leave (way) earlier than you think you need to.

This one seems obvious, but running behind schedule is often a big part of the reason why people get so stressed out about holiday travel. “If you can do things like pack a little bit earlier, leave for the airport a little earlier, or get out earlier, that can help decrease the pressure that people will feel that make them stressed when they travel,” Rego says. If you’re traveling with other people, don’t be afraid to tell them to show up at a time even earlier than you’re actually planning on leaving to give yourselves a cushion.

Worst case scenario? You have extra time to kill at the airport or train station, or you arrive at your destination earlier by car—far better scenarios than turning into a ball of stress because you’re cutting it too close.

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Flu Shot Side Effects: No, the Vaccine Didn’t Give You the Flu

People offer up plenty of…questionable…excuses for not getting their annual flu vaccine. Exhibit A: wanting to avoid flu shot side effects that “prove” they’ve caught influenza from the very thing meant to protect them. If only we could grab a bullhorn and shout this from every rooftop: “You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. Seriously, this is not a thing that is even remotely possible.

Instead, you might experience totally normal side effects from the flu vaccine that may make you think it’s given you the flu when it really hasn’t. Once you read the information below and understand why it’s impossible to contract the flu from the flu vaccine, tell your friends, will you? The more people who know this, the better.

You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine because it only exposes you to dead, partial, or weakened forms of the influenza virus.

Researchers pick the strains of the influenza virus that go into the vaccine based on data that suggests which will be the most common and dangerous in the upcoming flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This changes each year, which is why doctors recommend that you get your flu vaccine annually.

Although the flu shot is often in the spotlight, the CDC is also recommending an additional form of the flu vaccine for this flu season: the nasal spray.

The shot contains inactivated (completely dead) or incomplete strains of the influenza virus, while the nasal spray contains live attenuated (weakened) strains. The main point is that neither form of the vaccine contains live flu viruses that can thrive in your body, the CDC explains. “You get the flu from being infected with the flu virus,” Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and an associate professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells SELF. “The vaccine cannot cause the flu.”

However, these dead, partial, and weakened viruses are enough to provoke your immune system to develop antibodies to guard you against live and threatening flu viruses, the CDC explains. It usually takes about two weeks for those to kick in and offer you protection.

The flu vaccine is most likely to cause minor side effects like soreness or a runny nose, but some people can develop flu-like symptoms, too.

Most people won’t experience post-vaccine symptoms at all, according to the CDC. The most common side effect in people who do have symptoms from the shot is soreness at the injection site, Dr. Adalja says.

Other possible flu shot side effects include hoarseness, a cough, fever, aches, headaches, itching, fatigue, and sore, red, or itchy eyes, the CDC says. If you’re going to experience these issues, it’s most likely that you’ll have them soon after receiving your shot and that they’ll only stick around for one to two days.

With the nasal spray vaccine, you could get a runny nose, sore throat, cough, chills, fatigue and weakness, and a headache, the CDC says. These also typically go away within a few days.

Flu vaccine side effects are all signs that your immune system is responding to the dead or weakened influenza strains.

“When you get any type of vaccine, the whole purpose is to expose your immune system to the virus,” Dr. Adalja explains. “Your immune system will start to rev up in response.” Sometimes your immune system does this without causing noticeable symptoms, but other times, you’ll experience a few minor side effects as a result.

“Some of the symptoms might overlap, but it’s not the flu,” Dr. Adalja says. For reference, the flu tends to cause the sudden onset of a fever over 100.4 degrees, achy muscles, chills and sweats, a headache, a dry and persistent cough, fatigue, weakness, nasal congestion, and a sore throat, according to the Mayo Clinic. In young and healthy adults, these symptoms typically abate after a week or two. That’s longer than it takes flu shot or nasal spray side effects to disappear, and these symptoms will be way more intense if you have the actual flu.

If you think you have the flu after getting vaccinated, you might—but it didn’t come from the vaccine itself.

It’s completely possible to pick up the flu in the two weeks between when you get the vaccine and when your antibodies kick in, Dr. Watkins says. The longer you wait to get vaccinated, the higher likelihood you’ll encounter the virus without protection. “This is why people should get the flu vaccine early, in October or November,” Dr. Watkins adds, though better late than never. And even if you do get the flu, you should still go get vaccinated to guard against other strains of the virus, because getting the flu twice in one season is indeed possible.

Beyond that, you can get vaccinated against the flu then pick up something like rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, and which can prompt some similar symptoms to the flu, the CDC says.

Finally, we’d be remiss not to acknowledge that even if you do get the flu vaccine, it’s not 100 percent effective. Does it increase your chances of making it through flu season unscathed? Yes. Does it lower your chances of complications if you do wind up with the flu? Yes. Does it reduce your chances of passing the flu along to vulnerable people like babies and the elderly? No surprise here: yes.

The bottom line is that you should absolutely still get vaccinated even though the vaccine isn’t perfect. Dealing with possible side effects from the flu shot or nasal spray is much, much better than coming down with the actual flu itself.

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