TIME health

12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

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You regularly ransack the house to find your keys. You suddenly can’t recall the name of your kid’s teacher. You made your six-month dentist appointment three months late. Sound familiar? Fear not: most forgetfulness isn’t anything serious, says Majid Fotuhi, MD, PhD, founder and chief medical officer of NeurExpand Brain Center in Luterville, MD and co-author of The Memory Cure. Lack of sleep, certain medications, and even stress can impact your memory. “Fortunately, your brain is malleable, meaning it changes and improves,” says Dr. Fotuhi. “Memory can be boosted with simple powerful interventions.” Here are surprising things that impact your memory in both good and not-so-good ways.

A dysfunctional thyroid

When your thyroid’s out of whack, you may feel too hot, too cold, anxious, depressed—and your memory may also be lagging. “Although the thyroid doesn’t have a specific role in the brain, memory loss is the one thing a person notices when it stops functioning normally,” says Dr. Fotuhi. A butterfly-shaped gland that sits along the front of your windpipe, the thyroid reigns over almost all your body’s metabolic processes. “People with high or low thyroid levels—which are very common in women—may have difficulty with memory and concentration,” he says. Ask your doctor for a simple thyroid test to determine if it’s the culprit behind your memory problems.

Health.com: 19 Signs Your Thyroid Isn’t Working Right

Hot flashes

Every time hot flashes make you you feel like sticking your head in the freezer, you may also feel a fog rolling into your brain. “The more hot flashes a woman experiences during menopause, the worse her ability to remember names and stories,” says Dr. Fotuhi. “Fortunately, hot flashes don’t damage the brain in any way. Memory improves once the hot flashes subside.” Other menopause-related symptoms contribute to memory loss, including insomnia and sleep apnea, Dr. Fotuhi says.

Lack of sleep

Last night’s late party makes it less likely you’ll remember your new coworker’s name the next day. “While some part of the brain takes a siesta when we sleep, deeper areas involved with memory and emotional response become relatively more active,” says Allen Towfigh, MD, medical director of New York Neurology & Sleep Medicine. “Individuals with sleep deprivation and sleep disorders not only suffer from impaired memory but also daytime fatigue, impaired attention, and reduced reaction time.” The standard recommendation of eight hours of sleep a night doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. If you wake up fatigued and fall asleep unintentionally during the day, then you may need more sleep, says Dr. Towfigh.

Health.com: How to Fake a Good Night’s Sleep

Anxiety and depression

Worrying about an upcoming presentation in front of the CEO may also hinder your memory, several studies show. “We don’t understand the exact link, but strong evidence indicates depression, anxiety, and bipolar disease disrupts the neural circuitry involved in developing and retrieving memories,” says Dr. Towfigh. “The severity of the memory loss often mirrors the severity of the mood disorder—severe depression brings about equally severe memory loss.” Prolonged periods of everyday stress increase cortisol levels in the brain, which causes our brain cells to lose synapses (the bridges that connect our brain cells to one another), and make it more difficult to create and retrieve memories. The good news is when memory loss exists with a mood disorder (including anxiety and depression), the memory loss is usually at least partially reversible. “As the individual’s mood improves, often so does the memory loss,” says Dr. Towfigh.

Prescription drugs

Check your medicine cabinet: many common prescription drugs can make you feel forgetful. Anxiety disorder meds like Xanax, Valium, and Ativan (which are benzodiazepines) put a damper on the part of the brain that moves events from the short-term to the long-term memory. Tricyclic antidepressants have a similar effect. Heart medicines including statins and beta blockers have also been linked to memory issues, as have narcotic painkillers, incontinence drugs, sleep aids, and even antihistamines like Benadryl. Bottom line: Don’t stop taking your (potentially life-saving) medications, but talk to your doc if you believe any drug you’re on may be messing with your memory.

Smoking

If you’re still smoking, that may help explain memory lapses. “Smoking damages the brain by impairing its blood supply,” says Dr. Towfigh. Research published in the Archives of General Psychiatry gathered from data obtained from more than 7,000 men and women found a more rapid decline in brain function (which included memory along with vocabulary and other brain functions) with age than from those who never smoked. “Furthermore, cigarette smoking promotes the accumulation of abnormal proteins which impair the brain’s ability to process and relay information,” says Dr. Towfigh.

Health.com: 15 Ways Smoking Ruins Your Looks

A high-fat diet

Greasy burgers and French fries pack on pounds and are hard on your heart—and they may also cause memory issues. One study revealed that adolescent mice had poorer learning and memory skills after being fed a high-fat diet for eight weeks, while another study on middle-aged rats found that the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for short-term memory) may be particularly vulnerable to the impact of high-fat diets.

More research is needed to determine for sure whether or not high-fat diets impact human memory, but here’s what we do know: Calorically dense diets promote type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, which can all do damage to our brains, says Dr. Towfigh. “This holds true earlier in life, too. Studies link childhood obesity with a reduced attention span and impaired concentration and focus.”

Stress

A sudden emergency can make it tough to recall something as simple as your home address. A rat study published in Neuron shows that stress hormones influence an area of the brain area that controls working memory. Researchers found that repeated stress reduced receptors in the part of the brain that’s connected to thought processes Although this study involved animals, the human brain works similarly, explains Dr. Towfigh. “Repeated or chronic stress can be harmful. Regular exposure to elevated glucocorticoids (a hormone released by the adrenal gland) also causes our brain cells to reduce receptors, making brain cells less capable of responding to neurochemical (brain chemicals) cues.” Finding ways to relieve stress may help: Practicing meditation does double duty by easing stress and helping improve memory, according to a study from the University of California, Santa Barbara. College students who completed eight 45-minute meditation sessions over two weeks increased their average GRE exam scores from 460 to 520 and showed improvement on tests of working memory.

Health.com: 13 Ways to Beat Stress in 15 Minutes or Less

Germs

A nasty cold sore does more than make you feel self-conscious—it may be messing with your memory, according to a 2013 study in Neurology. Researchers found that people who exposed to many germs, such as herpes simplex type 1 (the cold sore virus), over their lifetimes were more likely to have memory problems than those exposed to fewer germs. Among more than 1,600 study participants, those with a higher “infectious burden” had a 25% increase in the risk of a low score on a cognitive test. Although there is no vaccine for the cold sore virus, childhood vaccinations against other viruses could help prevent problems later in life, the researchers suggest. In addition, regular exercise may help too—doctors think repeated infections may damage blood vessels, since a high infectious burden is also linked to a greater risk of stroke and heart attack.

Green tea

Now for some good news: chemicals found in green tea may help improve your memory, according to a University of Basel study. “Several compounds, EGCG and L-theanine, in green tea increase neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) in the hippocampus, the part of the brain used for short-term memory and learning new things,” says Dr. Fotuhi. How much green tea has not yet been determined, says Dr. Fotuhi, who recommends combining green tea with other healthy habits such as exercise for greatest memory improvement benefits.

Exercise

Regular sweat sessions also help keep memories sharp. “Physical exercise improves mood and sleep and by doing so, it invariably improves cognition and memory,” says Dr. Towfigh. An animal study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, for example, showed daily exercise increased brain cell growth after 12 weeks of conditioned running. Dr. Fotuhi recommends 45 minutes of aerobic exercise four days a week for the best memory boost.

Health.com: 20 Tricks to Make Exercise an Everyday Habit

Vitamin B12 deficiency

Vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of being deficient in vitamin B12, which keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA. That’s because B12 occurs naturally only in animal foods: shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. In addition to fatigue, loss of appetite, constipation, and weight loss, a B12 deficiency can also lead to memory problems. If you feel your meatless diet may be affecting your memory, your doctor can give you a blood test that determines whether you should be taking a vitamin B12 supplement.

Note: it’s not just veggies who are at risk for a B12 deficiency. Pregnant women, older adults, and anyone with pernicious anemia or gastrointestinal disorders like celiac disease and Crohn’s disease may need supplementation.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME health

5 Ways to Relax In No Time At All

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Ever felt like you just can’t unwind after a demanding week? That’s because stress triggers your body’s fight or flight response: your adrenaline starts pumping, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure rises, explains Ash Nadkarni, MD, an associate psychiatrist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. “Long-term overexposure to stress hormones can cause increased risk of health problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration problems,” Dr. Nadkarni adds.

That’s not exactly a relaxing thought. So what should you do when calming classics like downward-facing dog and chamomile tea don’t work? Check out these alternative ways to de-stress recommended by experts and recent studies.

Health.com: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

Wake up early

It may feel counterintuitive to deprive yourself of sleep, but giving yourself an extra 15 to 20 minutes before you head out the door will leave you feeling more refreshed—and less frazzled. “Take time in the morning to center yourself,” says San Francisco-based psychologist Leslie Carr, PsyD. “A lot of people shoot out into their days like a rocket ship and it never gets better from there,”

Consider that caffeine takes 20 minutes to be metabolized for you to feel its effect. During that time, think about your goals for the day or read something inspirational. You might find that your normally crazy day goes a little smoother.

Health.com: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

Create a soothing space

Research suggests that warm colors like red excite you and cooler, muted colors like blue, green, or grey relax you, says Molly Roberts, MD, president of the American Holistic Medical Association—but surrounding yourself in any color you find soothing can help bring on calm. “The theory behind the use of color therapy is that colors enter the eyes, which then send messages along the nerve pathways to the area of the brain that regulates emotion,” Roberts says. “There are a lot of ways to surround yourself with colors that can ease stress throughout the day.” Her suggestions: at home, paint an accent wall; and at the office, drape a soothing-colored scarf over the back of your chair and change your computer screensaver.

Clean out your junk drawers

When you’re feeling emotionally drained, chances are whipping out your Swiffer is the last thing you want to do. But the truth is, tidying up your home can also tidy up your mind. “Having a mindset of de-cluttering helps to manage stress,” says Lauren Napolitano, PsyD, a psychologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania. “Purging unused items gives a sense of order to your physical environment, which helps you feel calmer about your stressors.” She suggests starting with a small project, like your kitchen junk drawer. “Tangible or visible organization leads to emotional organization,” Napolitano says. If you’re ready to take it up a notch, schedule monthly donation pickups with Goodwill to keep yourself in the de-cluttering habit.

Visualize your stressful thoughts

Your coworker just threw you under the bus. Your husband forgot to walk the dog. When it’s that kind of day, try thought diffusion, “a sort of visual mindfulness meditation, a way to sweep out whatever is buzzing around unhelpfully in your head,” says Erin Olivo, PhD, an assistant professor of medical psychology at Columbia University and author of Wise Mind Living: Master Your Emotions, Transform Your Life.
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Here’s how it works: Imagine your thoughts are like clouds in the sky, and let them drift by above you. “When you begin to observe your thoughts as mental objects that simply come and go, they become less unpleasant, less threatening and less emotionally powerful,” Olivo says.

Watch cat videos

There’s a reason Buzzfeed links are popping up all over your newsfeed. There’s nothing that will relieve some tension like watching a baby masterfully dancing to Beyonce or a cat riding a Roomba in a shark costume.

“After a stressful day, looking at these funny things actually activates the part of the brain that delivers tranquility and a calm physiological response,” says Rose Hanna, a relationship counselor and professor of psychology and women’s studies at California State University Long Beach. “This decreases anxiety and helps tremendously with reducing stress.”

Health.com: 14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

13 Ways to Beat Stress in 15 Minutes or Less originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME health

5 Workout Moves That Will Change Your Body

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Functional training gives you the kind of strength that matters at the end of the day. This type of training will give you power in your daily life for practical movements like hauling your cooler to the beach, moving furniture, or carrying a toddler. So instead of measuring your strength by how much weight you can bench press (or curl, or squat), get fit where it counts by doing exercises that stem from natural, everyday movements like bending, pushing, and twisting.

Try this 5-move functional workout to feel the power, fast!

  1. T Push-up

Start in push-up position with your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Lower into a push-up, and as you return to starting position, rotate your torso to the left raising your left arm up into the air so that you are in a T position. You will need to engage your core, and balance on your right hand and sides of your feet. Hold this position for a count of two, and return to push-up position. Repeat, next time twisting to the right side and raising your right arm. Complete 3 rounds of 8 push-ups.

Health.com: How to Do the Perfect Push-Up

  1. Squat with Overhead Press

Stand hip-width apart holding two dumbbells at your shoulders. Squat down until your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, keeping your weight back on your heels. Your torso should bend forward slightly with your knees tracking over your feet, without going past them. As you come back to standing, press the dumbbells up over your head to a full extension. As you lower back into another squat, lower the weights back down to starting position. Repeat for 3 rounds of 10 squats with overhead presses.

Health.com: How to Do a Squat with Perfect Form

  1. Reverse Wood Chop with Dumbbell

With your feet in a wide stance and knees slightly bent, hold a dumbbell in both hands by your right hip. From here, rotate your torso and engage your abs to bring the dumbbell up to your left shoulder in a fluid motion. Lower the weight back down and repeat. Remember to keep your abs engaged even as you lower the weight. Repeat for 3 rounds of 10 on each side.

Health.com: 24 Fat-Burning Ab Exercises (No Crunches)

  1. Hip Extension with Reverse Fly

This exercise will test your balance while working your back, shoulders, and legs. Stand with your weight on your right foot, holding a light dumbbell in each hand at your sides. Keeping your body in a straight line, lean forward while bringing your left leg out in a straight line behind you. As you lean forward, raise your arms out to the side into a T position. Your chest should be parallel to floor with your leg in a straight line. Hold for a count, and return to neutral. Repeat for 3 rounds of 10 on each leg.

Health.com: 11 Moves to Get Strong, Toned Arms

  1. Russian Twists

This move will work your obliques and also test your balance. Sit on your butt with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, holding a dumbbell with both hands. Lean back so that your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor. (If you’re more advanced, lift your feet off the ground and cross them at the ankles while balancing on your butt.) From this position, rotate your torso to the left and touch the dumbbell to the ground next to your body. Next, twist back over to the right tapping the weight to the ground on the right side of your body. That’s one rep. Repeat back and forth all while balancing, moving as quickly as possible. Repeat for 3 rounds of 20 twists.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME health

The Toothpaste Ingredient That Has Experts Worried

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How safe is your toothpaste? A flurry of recent news stories about Colgate Total Toothpaste and triclosan, a chemical with a somewhat checkered past, may have you wondering.

Triclosan is best known as an ingredient in antibacterial soaps that doesn’t seem to offer any extra germ-killing benefits, while possibly promoting drug-resistant bacteria in the environment. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration said in December that there was no evidence that triclosan-containing products are more effective than plain soap and water.

Colgate-Palmolive removed triclosan from Palmolive dish detergent and Softsoap hand soap back in 2011, according to Bloomberg News, but not their Total Toothpaste. They say it prevents gingivitis or early gum disease better than other brands, precisely because it contains triclosan. The FDA reviewed the data in 1997 and says “…the evidence showed that triclosan in this product was effective in preventing gingivitis.”

Health.com: 20 Things That Can Ruin Your Smile

So what’s the big deal? The issue is that there are lingering concerns about triclosan’s safety in general, not just as a problem in the environment. And those concerns are based on studies in the animals, which don’t always translate easily to human risk.

“A concern specific to triclosan is its potential to act as an ‘endocrine disruptor,’ which means that it can bind to hormone receptors and interfere with normal hormonal function, including thyroid and reproductive hormones,” says Joshua U. Klein, MD assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

However, the concentrations of triclosan researchers are feeding lab animals are “several levels higher than what humans would be exposed to,” says Jessica Savage, MD, a physician with Brigham & Women’s Hospital and a researcher with the Harvard School of Public Health’s NIEHS Center for Environmental Health, where she is conducting research on possible connections between triclosan and allergies.

And these animals are actually injected with or fed the triclosan, while humans absorb small amounts through their skin or from brushing their teeth.

Health.com: 14 Foods that Make You Look Older

“We’re exposed to very little of this product,” Dr. Savage notes. “Especially when you’re brushing your teeth, you’re spitting [the toothpaste] out.”

The FDA says triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans, and considers it safe in products—just not effective at killing germs any better than soap. “There’s some animal data but I don’t think there’s human data that suggests a causal relationship between triclosan and adverse health outcomes,” says Dr. Savage. Even though she studies triclosan and allergies, she hasn’t yet found a link. “I’m not near saying triclosan causes allergies,” she adds. “I think we need more good data.”

Dr. Klein doesn’t recommend avoiding triclosan in toothpaste. However couples “focused on fertility and trying to eliminate any possible negative exposure might consider choosing alternative products that do not contain triclosan until further convincing studies are completed in humans,” he says. People concerned about fertility should bear in mind that good oral hygiene may actually increase (or at least preserve) the odds of starting a family. “There are several studies linking reduced inflammation and good oral health to reproductive health so this is significant to fertility in particular,” says Dr. Klein.

Health.com: Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth

For now, the evidence suggests that triclosan may be a bigger threat to the environment than to individuals.

“The issue with triclosan and triclocarban [a related chemical] is not so much that they present a direct threat to human health in concentrations that are found in toothpaste [and other consumer products],” says Robert Lawrence, MD, director of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s their long-term accumulation in the environment and their impact on the ecosystem that is most alarming.”

Health.com: 10 Bogus Health Trends That Waste Your Time

 

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Mental health/Psycholog

4 Signs Your Body Image Isn’t Healthy

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Last week, Tallulah Willis—daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore—bravely shared her struggles with body dysmorphic disorder in a video for StyleLikeU. “I’m diagnosed [with] body dysmorphia,” Willis, 20, told the fashion blog. “[My biggest insecurity] is my face. That’s where my diagnosis came into play. Because of the position I was born into, I would read these things on the Internet and I was like, well, Why would someone write that if there wasn’t some basis for truth out there?”

“It was something I never wanted to say out loud because it was so painful.” Willis goes on to talk about how hearing mean comments about her face drove her to dress provocatively and lose a lot of weight, thinking she could draw the attention to her body instead. “I started starving myself,” she says. “I got down to 95 pounds.”

Health.com: 10 Signs You May Have OCD

This is exactly why body dysmorphic disorder (or BDD) can be so difficult to diagnose, explains Health contributing psychology editor Gail Saltz, MD. “Disordered eating can be a symptom of it, but there is no surefire sign. What body dysmorphic disorder really means is that you are so preoccupied with either a real (but slight) or imagined imperfection that you become consumed by it.”

Plenty of healthy people have a body hang-up or two that makes very little sense (mine’s my fat ankles, full disclosure), so how do you know when someone you love is really struggling? Here are four ways to recognize body dysmorphia.

They always need reassurance about that one thing

“Most people who have body dysmorphia are not going to talk about it openly because they feel a lot of shame,” Dr. Saltz says. “But sometimes, it’s a friend who keeps asking you repeatedly for reassurance about this one body part.” If supportive comments like “No, your arms aren’t fat, really!” or “No, your nose is beautiful” don’t seem to make them feel even a little better, that could be a red flag.

Health.com: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

They dress in a way that doesn’t make sense

Obviously, you don’t have to agree with every style choice your friends make, but think twice if she’s dressing in a way that suggests she’s trying to compensate for that one thing. “For example, she’s putting on a tent of a dress and saying it’s to hide her belly that doesn’t exist,” Dr. Saltz says. Or in the case of Tallulah Willis, she mentioned that she would wear short-shorts and push-up bras in a bid to shift attention away from her face.

Health.com: 12 Ways We Sabotage Our Mental Health

They go to extremes

“Dysmorphia fits in with this constellation of anxiety disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder,” explains Dr. Saltz. “It’s a compulsion that gets in the way of your life.” So in the same way that no amount of hand washing satisfies a person with OCD, no amount of “fixing” seems to help people with BDD. Some patients may even get plastic surgery, and then still think they need more work done after they’ve healed, while others try a progressively restricted diet to lose, say, an imagined double chin.

Health.com: 7 Strategies to Love the Way You Look

They’re hiding out

“The thing separating a normal insecurity from a problem with body dysmorphia is how much it affects your ability to function,” Dr. Saltz explains. If you notice that that she’s not going out as much, or she doesn’t want to date, or maybe she’s turned down a promotion because she doesn’t want to have to give presentations, those are signs her body issues are getting in the way of her life.

Amelia Harnish is an Associate Editor at Health.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

3 Reasons To Keep Your Phone Away from the Bed

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Ever fall asleep while Insta-scrolling on your smartphone—or purposely leave it on your bed while you snooze? You’re not alone: 44% of cell phone owners have slept with their phone next to their bed to make sure they didn’t miss any crucial calls or texts, according to the Pew Internet Project. But while you may have good intentions, snuggling up to your phone could be hazardous to your health. Here’s why:

You could set your pillow on fire

A Texas teen recently woke up to a burning smell. The cause? Her Samsung Galaxy S4, which was under her pillow, had partially melted and it scorched her sheets and mattress, too. More specifically, it seems like a non-Samsung replacement phone battery was to blame: the phone’s instruction manual warns against using incompatible cell phone batteries and chargers. The manual also notes that there’s a risk of a fire if the gadget is covered by bedding or other thick material. Bottom line: Stick to phone accessories from the original manufacturer, and don’t leave your cell on your bed.

You could keep yourself awake

Cell phones (and tablets, TVs, and other gadgets with LED screens) give off what’s known as blue light—a type that studies suggest can inhibit the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and disrupt our circadian rhythms. This may be because blue light emits wavelengths similar to daylight, which can make our bodies think it’s daytime, at any time. To fall asleep when you want (and need) to, power down all electronics two hours before bedtime. Better yet, keep your phone and laptop in another room while you slumber.

The health risks of cell phones are murky

There’s been no research that proves cell phone use causes cancer; in fact, the links to any kind of health risk aren’t yet clear. In general, cell phones are said to give off such small doses of electromagnetic radiation—which is also emitted from X-rays and microwaves and can lead to tumor growth in high amounts—that they’re perfectly safe to handle. Still, the World Health Organization warned in 2011 that usage may be possibly carcinogenic to humans, especially in children, whose scalps and skulls are thinner than adults’, and more vulnerable to radiation. So if you’re at all worried about the possible cancer risk, try to text instead of call, hold the phone away from your ear, or use an earpiece or the speakerphone setting as much as possible—and definitely don’t sleep with the phone next to your head.

More from Health.com:

9 Everyday Sources of Radiation

How to Beat 16 Summer Health Hazards

11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep

Camille Chatterjee is the Deputy Editor of Health magazine.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Things I Learned When I Quit Facebook

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I have a Facebook problem.

The problem is, I love Facebook. I love posting about my day, connecting with friends near and far, and seeing the funny/crazy/sweet things people share. But I also hate Facebook, for being such a time suck, for making me feel bad about myself when other people’s lives seem so much more exciting than mine, and for leading me to spend more time interacting with a screen than with the real world. And when I log off Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are there clamoring for my attention, a never-ending scroll of links and tweets and photos and conversations that feels impossible to keep up with.

A few weeks ago, I’d had it. It seemed like social media was bringing me more guilt and frustration than happiness. So I decided to go on a fast, starting immediately. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Health.com: 27 Mistakes Healthy People Make

Cold turkey was the way to go

I’ve made attempts to cut down before, setting rules like “Only check Facebook first thing in the morning” or “Only check Twitter during lunch” or, when I came back to work after maternity leave, “Only use social media while pumping breast milk.” But one quick check in the morning always turned into needing to get back on at 11am to see if anyone commented on that one post, which turned into composing witty replies to those comments, which turned into OMG I’m late for that meeting! I had no self-control. Cutting myself off from social media completely was the only way to ensure I’d stay honest. I even deleted the Facebook app from my phone.

Health.com: 22 Ways to Boost Your Happiness—Instantly

The FOMO wasn’t as bad as I’d feared

Yes, I missed a bunch of birthdays, and yes, I would have missed the news of a former coworker’s engagement if another friend hadn’t seen the post and clued me in. But to my surprise, even from day 1 of my fast, I didn’t feel like I was truly missing out on anything. My best friend from high school texted me cute pictures of her 2-year-old. I caught up with people over email or even on the phone (remember that?). I checked my favorite news sites for the day’s headlines. I was good.

What I wasn’t getting: constant updates about the awesome vacations people were taking (making me feel like a boring homebody), or the amazing educational activities they’d planned for their kids (making me feel like a slacker mom), or the IMPORTANT POLITICAL THING WE SHOULD ALL TAKE ACTION ON NOW that inevitably devolved into a nasty name-calling flame war (making me feel tired). I didn’t miss any of that at all.

Facebook, on the other hand, seemed to think I was missing out big-time. Since day 3 of no Facebook, I’ve been getting increasingly desperate daily emails like this one…

Health.com: 14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

I was way more productive

I had never realized how often during the workday I clicked on Facebook out of sheer habit—I caught myself typing in the URL on autopilot way too many times that first Facebook-free day. But the real shocker was how much more I got done at home, when my evenings no longer disappeared into a black hole of sitting on the couch scrolling through my feeds. I read actual books! I made a quilt! I worked out! It was almost embarrassing how much time I suddenly had on my hands.

I was more present

When I wasn’t constantly thinking about how to describe every moment in a perfect tweet or status update, I got to actually live the moment. I took pictures of my kids just for me, rather than for a filtered-and-framed Instagram shot. When we went to the beach or had dinner with friends, I savored the experience for itself, not for how good it would make me look when I posted about it.

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I might be cured of my Facebook addiction

I stayed on total social media blackout for two full weeks. Then I decided to let myself hop back on Instagram once, to post a photo of the Lightning McQueen cake I made for my son’s birthday. A few days later, I started sending out a few tweets. But Facebook…oh, Facebook, you ultimate time-suck. I was really worried that I would get back on Facebook and immediately fall back into my old ways. Was it even possible for me to use Facebook in a healthy way?

Last night I got on Facebook, for the first time in more than three weeks. I scrolled through my feed for about five minutes. And then…I closed my browser. I put away my laptop. And I went to bed. And I don’t really feel like going back.

It turns out my Facebook addiction was just a (really) bad habit. By interrupting the habit, I might have broken the cycle. I won’t quit Facebook completely—all those things I love about it haven’t changed. But now that I know I can go without it entirely, it seems easy to limit myself to just checking in, say, twice a week. Wish me luck!

Health.com: 22 Ways to Boost Your Happiness—Instantly

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Jeannie Kim is the Executive Deputy Editor at Health.

TIME

6 Foods That Can Age Your Skin

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There’s a reason why your skin feels a little off after a series of holiday parties, BBQs, or mojito-filled beach days: “What you eat affects your skin—for better or worse,” says Ariel Ostad, MD, fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. While a few indulgences won’t age you overnight, a continuously poor diet can accelerate the aging process of your skin (and teeth) over time. Here, 6 foods to consume in moderation in order to look as young as you feel.

Health.com: 13 Everyday Habits That Age You Faster

Sweets

Sugar overload may kick-start a process called glycation. The theory: When you eat more sugar than your cells can process, the excess sugar molecules combine with proteins, creating “advanced glycation end products” (appropriately referred to as “AGES”), explains Dr. Ostad. Ultimately, AGES may damage your skin’s collagen (the protein that keeps skin firm and youthful).

Unsurprisingly, too much sweet stuff is also bad for your smile. “Sugar sticks to your teeth, encouraging bacteria, decay, and discoloration,” says Brian Kantor, a cosmetic dentist who practices in New York City. If you treat yourself to something sweet, swish water around your mouth afterward to remove any buildup.

Health.com: 10 Easy Ways to Slash Sugar From Your Diet

Alcohol

A healthy liver means healthy skin. “When your liver is functioning well, toxins that could potentially affect the skin are expelled naturally through your body,” says Dr. Ostad. “But if toxins build up in your liver, and aren’t broken down properly, your skin can develop a variety of issues, like acne, sallowness, and wrinkles.” Drinking can also trigger rosacea outbreaks.

To top it off, alcohol is dehydrating and bad for your sleep, which was associated with accelerated aging in a Case Western Reserve University study. “Inadequate sleep is linked to wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, and reduced skin elasticity,” says Dr. Ostad.

White wine

White wine falls into its own category because of its surprising dental damage. While a glass of red will give you instant “wine mouth,” the acid in white wine damages your enamel and makes your teeth more prone to longer-lasting stains. So if you always end your day with a glass of chardonnay, your teeth may be more vulnerable to those coffee stains the next morning.

Here’s what not to do: brush your teeth immediately after drinking (same goes for any acidic drink). Brushing already acidic teeth can further the erosion of your enamel. “You need to give your teeth time to remineralize after being bathed in an acidic beverage,” says Maureen McAndrew, clinical professor at the New York University School of Dentistry. “I’d wait an hour after drinking before lifting a toothbrush.”

Charred meat

That black char on your burger? It may contain pro-inflammatory hydrocarbons, which could present a problem since inflammation breaks down the collagen in your skin, explains Dr. Ostad. You don’t necessarily need to banish BBQ from your vocab, but at least make sure you scrape off the black stuff, and clean the grill afterward so you don’t contaminate your next meal.

Health.com: 6 Ways to Have a Healthier Barbecue

Salty foods

You might not cook with salt, but that doesn’t guarantee your intake is low. “Many canned foods are preserved with sodium, which can make you retain water and cause a ‘puffy’ look,” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, former president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology & Aesthetic Surgery, and dermatologist practicing in Massachusetts. If you need a quick fix, combat fluid retention with a moisturizer that contains caffeine (it’s known for reducing puffiness when applied topically).

Health.com: 13 Shockingly Salty Foods

Processed meats

Think: Deli meat, sausage, and bacon. “Many of these meats have sulfites and other preservatives, which can trigger inflammation in the skin, and accelerate the appearance of aging,” says Dr. Ostad. They also tend to be high in salt, which can make you look puffy. (Not to mention, processed red meats have been linked to heart disease.) Try swapping the deli meat on your sandwich for chicken or turkey. If you can’t say goodbye for good, use less meat, and load up on veggies.

14 Foods That Make You Look Older originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME allergies

The Hair Dye Allergy You Should Know About

hair dye
Marc Vuillermoz—Getty Images/Onoky

Not a natural blonde or brunette? You might want to be more cautious about coloring your hair. Turns out some people can be extremely allergic to hair dye, as NCIS star Pauley Perrette found out last week when she landed in the hospital with a severe reaction to the stuff.

“Was in ER. Just got home from hospital. Awful. My head swelled up huge like a melon,” Perrette tweeted after posting a photo of her swollen face. Now the star is urging others to read up on hair dye allergies themselves.

“The most important thing to me is that anyone out there that dyes their hair, particularly black, you need to be aware of the symptoms,” she told a local CBS station in Los Angeles.

The actress, who’s a natural blonde, had been dyeing her locks jet black for more than 20 years without incident. Then about six months ago, she developed a rash on her neck and scalp which got worse with every coloring.

Health.com: 16 Hair Myths You Need to Stop Believing

An allergy to hair dye is quite rare, affecting about one in 250,000 people, says Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules. Still, it can prove to be just as serious as a nut or shellfish allergy, especially if you’re someone who’s prone to allergic reactions. And while some people may see symptoms the first or second time they use hair dye, it may not happen as fast as you think.

“To be allergic to something, usually your immune system has to come in contact with it and decide it doesn’t like it,” Dr. Jaliman says. “Depending on how sensitive your system is, the allergy may develop more slowly than others.”

That means if you start to see signs of redness, swelling, itching, or burning after several uses of hair dye, don’t write it off. This is your body’s way of telling you an allergy is building up, and continuing to use the dye could actually be fatal. “If you develop a severe allergy, you could get blisters and hives and, though rare, difficulty breathing similar to an anaphylactic reaction,” Dr. Jaliman says. See an allergist or a dermatologist for advice on how to treat your allergy, whether that’s with topical creams or pills like antihistamines.

Health.com:11 Secret Allergy Triggers

If you’re allergic to hair dye, you can blame a chemical called paraphenylenediamine or PPD for your symptoms, Dr. Jaliman says. It’s in most commercial dyes you’d find at both drugstores or hair salons and it helps protect color from fading. Though Perrette called out black dye as being worse than others, you could get a reaction no matter the shade you’re using—or the original color of your hair, Dr. Jaliman says.

If you’re going to dye your hair for the first time, there’s an easy way to tell if you may be allergic. Before coloring your hair, do a skin patch test, typically recommended on most boxed hair color. Basically, you put a bit of dye on your skin and wait 48 hours to see if a reaction develops. If you pass the first time, it’s likely you’re in the clear whether you color at home or the salon, Dr. Jaliman says, and you shouldn’t need to do the test again.

If you do develop an allergy, there are other ways to color your locks safely. Dyes like henna or the line from EcoColors are great natural and non-toxic solutions, she says. Even highlights could be better for you as most use bleach and don’t add color, Dr. Jaliman says. Ask your colorist what formula would be used on your hair.

Health.com: 20 Ways to Stop Allergies

One thing’s for sure: even a mild reaction to hair dye could turn serious. “I wouldn’t be looking into putting chemicals in your hair if you have a history of allergies,” Dr. Jaliman says. “It would probably be best to switch to a chemical-free dye because you don’t want it to escalate into a life-threatening situation.” As for Perrette, she says she’s going to look into natural dyes or wigs.

The Hair Dye Allergy You Need to Know About originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Research

15 Diseases Doctors Often Get Wrong

Doctor looking at x-ray
Chris Ryan—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

When you experience strange pains, mysterious digestive issues, or other unexplained symptoms, you’d hope a trip to the doctor would solve your health woes. But sometimes, doctors have just as much trouble identifying certain disorders and conditions as their patients. “A lot of symptoms are nonspecific and variable, depending on the person,” says David Fleming, MD, president of the American College of Physicians and a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri. “On top of that, many diagnostic tests are expensive and aren’t done routinely, and even then they don’t always give us a black and white answer.” The following 5 conditions are notoriously difficult to pin down.

Health.com: 27 Mistakes Healthy People Make

Irritable bowel syndrome

Some conditions are difficult to diagnose because there is no real test to prove their existence; rather, they require a “diagnosis of elimination,” says Dr. Fleming, as doctors rule out all other possibilities. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—a chronic condition that affects the large intestine and causes abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation—is one of these cases. According to diagnostic criteria, a patient should have symptoms for at least six months before first being seen for a formal evaluation, and discomfort should be present at least three days a month in the last three months before being diagnosed with IBS.

Celiac disease

So much confusion surrounds celiac disease—an immune reaction to gluten that triggers inflammation in the small intestine—that it takes the average patient six to 10 years to be properly diagnosed. Celiac sufferers would, in theory, have digestive problems when eating gluten-containing foods like wheat, barley, and rye, but in fact, only about half of people diagnosed with the disease have experienced diarrhea and weight loss. Celiac disease can also cause itchy skin, headaches, joint pain, and acid reflux or heartburn, and it’s all too easy to blame these symptoms on other things. A blood test can diagnose celiac disease no matter what symptoms are present, and an endoscopy can determine any damage that’s been done to the small intestine.

Health.com: 14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia, which is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, involves “medically unexplained symptoms”—a term doctors use to describe persistent complaints that don’t appear to have an obvious physical cause. When doctors can’t find a root cause for a patient’s chronic pain and fatigue, they often settle on this diagnosis. This may involve seeing specialists and ruling out other diseases, some of which prove equally difficult to diagnose, says Eugene Shapiro, MD, deputy director of the Investigative Medicine Program at Yale University. “There are studies that show that people with certain symptoms who show up at a rheumatologist will be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, but if the same patients show up at a gastroenterologist they’ll be diagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome.”

Rheumatoid arthritis

Unexplained aches and pains may also be caused by rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disorder. Unlike osteoarthritis (the “wear and tear” kind that appears as people get older), RA causes inflammation and painful swelling of joints and can occur at any age. “Early stages of RA can mimic many other conditions—sometimes it’s just a sense of aches or stiffness in the joints, which could be caused by a lot of different things,” says Dr. Fleming. Blood tests can help detect the presence of inflammation in the body, he says, but an exact diagnosis of RA also must take into account a patient’s medical history and a doctor’s careful physical exam.

Multiple sclerosis

Another autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s own nerve cells and disrupts communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Some of the first symptoms of MS are often numbness, weakness, or tingling in one or more limbs, but that’s not always the case. “Multiple sclerosis can be episodic; the disease waxes and wanes,” says Dr. Shapiro. Depending on the number and location of lesions in the brain, he adds, signs and symptoms may be more or less severe in different people. Once a doctor does suspect MS, however, a spinal tap or MRI can help confirm the diagnosis.

Health.com: Could You Have MS? 16 Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

Lyme disease

You probably know to look out for tick bites and the telltale bullseye rash that can form around them if a person is infected with Lyme disease. But not everyone develops this rash—and Lyme disease’s other symptoms (like fatigue, headaches, joint pain, and flu-like symptoms) can easily be confused for other conditions, says Dr. Shapiro.

A blood test can check for Lyme disease antibodies in the blood, but those usually don’t show up until a few weeks after infection and the test is notoriously unreliable. It’s important to remove the tick immediately and see a doctor right away. Quickly removing a tick can possibly prevent the transfer of dangerous bacteria, and antibiotics for Lyme disease are most effective when given immediately.

Lupus

The most distinctive sign of lupus—another chronic inflammatory disease—is a butterfly-shaped rash across a patient’s cheeks, but that’s not present in all cases. For those who don’t develop the rash, diagnosis can be a long and difficult process, says Dr. Shapiro. “Lupus can present in different ways; it can affect the joints, kidneys, brain, skin, and lungs, and can also mimic many different issues.” There is no one way to diagnose lupus, but blood and urine tests, along with a complete physical exam, are usually involved. Treatment also depends on a patient’s individual signs and symptoms, and medications and dosages may need to be adjusted as the disease flares and subsides.

Polycystic ovary syndrome

Irregular periods, unexplained weight gain, and difficulty getting pregnant can all be symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder affecting women of reproductive age. Many women with this condition also have enlarged ovaries with numerous small cysts, but not everyone with PCOS has these enlarged ovaries, and not everyone with enlarged ovaries has PCOS. To be diagnosed with PCOS, a woman must also be experiencing infrequent or prolonged periods or have elevated levels of male hormones, called androgens, in her blood. Androgen excess may cause abnormal hair growth on the face and body, but women of certain ethnic backgrounds (like Northern European and Asian) may not show physical signs.

Appendicitis

You might think that an inflamed or burst appendix should be easy to identify, and often, it is: typical appendicitis symptoms include nausea, pain and tenderness around the belly button, and possibly a low-grade fever. But not always. “Some people have an appendix that points backward instead of forward in the body, so the symptoms present in a different location,” says Dr. Shapiro. “And sometimes people do have pain, but then the appendix ruptures and the pain is relieved so they think they’re fine.” In this case, he says, intestinal fluids can seep into the abdominal category and cause a potentially life-threatening infection—but it can take days or even weeks before these symptoms appear.

Endometriosis

Many perfectly healthy women deal with menstrual pain and discomfort, so it’s not surprising that endometriosis is often misdiagnosed. However, women with endometriosis (in which uterine tissue grows outside the uterus) often report pelvic pain, cramping, and heavy bleeding that’s far worse than usual, and that gets worse over time. A pelvic exam can sometimes detect endometrial tissue or cysts that have been caused by it. In other cases, an ultrasound or laparoscopy is required for a definite diagnosis.

Migraines

For many migraine sufferers, nothing could be more obvious than the severe headaches, which are usually characterized by intense throbbing or pulsing and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and sound. But some people may get migraines without even knowing it, says Dr. Fleming.

“Sometimes migraine symptoms can be very severe, where the patient can even develop paralysis, and other times they can be very subtle,” he says. “Patients might feel dizzy or lightheaded or feel a vague discomfort in their heads, and oftentimes they’ll get treated with medication that might not be appropriate for a true migraine.” A neurologist should be able to rule out other possibilities, and make the proper diagnosis.

Cluster headaches

Another headache disorder that’s often misunderstood, cluster headaches are extremely painful but also very rare—affecting less than 1 million Americans. Cluster headaches tend to occur close together, often on the same day, and last 30 minutes to three hours, on average. Scientists aren’t sure why, but cluster headaches tend to occur when seasons change. Because of this, they can sometimes be misdiagnosed as allergy-related sinus headaches.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism (also known as underactive thyroid) is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces an insufficient amount of the hormones that help regulate weight, energy, and mood. In the early stages, thyroid problem symptoms are subtle and can include fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, muscle aches, and impaired memory. “It can mimic depression, fibromyalgia, and many other conditions,” says Dr. Shapiro. And because hypothyroidism is most common in people (especially women) over 60, it’s easy to attribute its symptoms to simply getting older and more out of shape.

Health.com: 19 Signs Your Thyroid Isn’t Working Right

Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can’t stay hidden forever; if left untreated, it can cause life-threatening damage to the body’s major organs. Before signs of diabetes develop, says Dr. Fleming, adults can have diabetes for years without knowing it. “There are a lot of people out there with elevated blood sugar levels who aren’t getting to the doctor regularly, so they aren’t getting checked for it,” he says. “They won’t realize it until it gets severe enough that they start developing side effects, like problems with their vision or numbness in their feet or hands.” To avoid these problems, watch for earlier symptoms like increased thirst or hunger, frequent urination, sudden weight loss, and fatigue.

Inflammatory bowel disease

There are primarily two types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)—Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both cause inflammation of the digestive tract, as well as pain, diarrhea, and possibly even malnutrition. Because there’s no one test for IBD, however, it is diagnosed primarily by excluding everything else. “If a patient comes in with severe abdominal pain, we might first think it’s their gallbladder,” says Dr. Shapiro. “If he comes in with loose stools, we might think it’s an infection. So we go through a litany of tests—imaging, blood tests, assessments—and sometimes we finally come down to the fact that we’ve ruled out every other possibility, so this is what we’re going to treat you for and we’ll see if it works.”

15 Diseases Doctors Often Get Wrong originally appeared on Health.com.

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