HIV Prevention Starts at Home

HIV Prevention Starts at Home

HIV is still a major health issue in the United States and around the world. In fact, according to hiv.gov, there are approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States alone. About 13% of those are unaware they have it and require testing to determine their status. Despite our progress in treatment and prevention, we still have a lot of work to do in order to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  

People across the country continue to get and transmit HIV regardless of age, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. In 2019 alone, an estimated 1.7 million people were infected with HIV—roughly 5,000 per day— while over 690,000 died of HIV-related complications.  

One of the most important things that we can do is educate ourselves and our loved ones about HIV and how to prevent it.  

How HIV is Transmitted 

HIV is transmitted through unprotected anal or vaginal sex between partners of any gender or sexual orientation. HIV is also commonly transmitted through sharing needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment.  

HIV is not transmitted through saliva, sweat, or tears. HIV does not survive long outside of the human body and cannot produce outside of a human host. Therefore, HIV cannot be spread through using public restrooms, sharing dishes, through the air or through touch and closed-mouth kissing. 

Factors that Increase HIV Risk 

There are a few different factors that can increase your chances of contracting or transmitting HIV.  

A viral load is the amount of HIV in the blood of someone who is HIV-positive. The higher someone’s viral load is, the more likely they are to transmit HIV to a partner. Taking HIV medicine can lower someone’s viral load to a point where it is undetectable. If a viral load is undetectable, then HIV is less likely to be transmitted to another person.  

If someone already has other sexually transmitted diseases, then they are more likely to contract HIV. Using condoms can lower the risk of contracting or transmitting HIV and most other STDs.  

Alcohol and drug abuse can also increase your chances of contracting or spreading HIV. This is because when you are drunk or high, you are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including having unprotected sex. Cutting back on alcohol or drug use can lower your HIV risk. 

If You Are Already HIV-Positive

There are steps you can take to protect your partner(s): 

  • Take care of your health and visit your doctor regularly. 
  • Aim to achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load by taking your medication as prescribed and for at least 6 months. Having an undetectable viral load means that you are much less likely to transmit HIV to a partner. 
  • Educate your partner about PrEP and PEP, if they are HIV-negative. 

If You Are Unaware of Your HIV Status

then the first step is finding out whether or not you are HIV-positive. 

  • Visit gettested.cdc.gov to find an HIV testing location for an in-person test.  
  • You can also opt for at-home test kits, which are over 92% accurate at detecting HIV. 

Protect Yourself From HIV

  • Practice safe sex. Use condoms every time you have sex. 
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) if you have an HIV-positive partner. PrEP is a daily pill that can reduce your risk of getting HIV from sex by up to 99%. 
  • Visit a doctor right away if you think you may have been exposed to HIV. The doctor may decide that you should get post-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PEP. PEP is an anti-HIV medicine that may lower your chances of getting HIV after you have been exposed to the virus. 

HIV is preventable. Education and awareness are key in prevention, and we can all do our part to help stop the spread of HIV. By learning about HIV, talking about it openly, and getting tested regularly, we can work together to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy and safe. 

5 Ways to Handle Anxiety and Reduce Stress

5 Ways to Handle Anxiety and Reduce Stress

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in the United States. It can be caused by many different things, including stress, genetics, and chemical imbalances in the brain. Anxiety can lead to a number of physical and emotional symptoms, including chest pain, rapid heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, and nausea. Everyone worries about things now and again, but to suffer from anxiety means that worrying has a debilitating impact on your daily life. If you are struggling with anxiety, there are many things that you can do to reduce your stress levels and improve your quality of life. In this blog post, we will discuss five ways to handle anxiety and reduce stress. 

Practice Breathing and Mindfulness Techniques 

Improper breathing can upset the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, which can contribute to both anxiety and panic attacks. The next time you begin to feel anxious, there are a variety of breathing techniques to help calm you down. A few of these techniques are: 

Alternate Nostril Breathing 

This type of breathing exercise requires you to close your eyes or soften your gaze and then start to inhale and exhale. Close off your right nostril with your thumb, breathe in, close your left nostril, and then exhale. It is best to repeat this practice for ten full breaths before releasing your nostrils and breathing regularly.  

Belly Breathing 

This breathing practice has been shown to reduce stress when practiced for twenty minutes daily. Belly breathing requires you to place one hand on your chest, and the other on your stomach. Then breathe in slowly through your nose to feel your stomach expand, and exhale through your mouth. Your chest should stay still the entire time.  

Box Breathing 

Box breathing is simple and only requires you to breathe in for four seconds, hold the air in your lungs for four seconds, exhale slowly for four seconds, and then wait to inhale again for another four seconds. This type of breathing can calm you down and return your breathing to a normal pace. 

Exercise More Frequently 

Working out may feel like the last thing you want to do when struggling with your mental health, but exercise will release endorphins and reduce stress, anxiety, and tension. The word “exercise” may have you thinking about weight rooms or running on a treadmill, but physical activity can be a variety of ways that get your body moving. Some of these activities could be yoga, gardening, participating in sports, washing your car, or even a walk around the block.  

Moving your body for 30 minutes 3-5 days a week can greatly reduce your anxiety and depression levels. However, moving for 10-15 minutes a day can also improve your mental wellness and help you start to feel better.  

Eat Healthy, More Balanced Meals 

The food we eat has a significant impact on our daily lives. Food fuels our bodies and our minds, and foods rich in certain nutrients can improve the way our mind functions. For example, foods rich in magnesium tend to help lower stress levels. These foods include leafy greens (such as spinach and Swiss chard), nuts, seeds, wholegrains, and legumes. Foods rich in zinc have also been tied to lower anxiety levels. These foods include oysters, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks. Eating a balanced diet can help improve mental health and increase energy levels. 

Write in a Diary 

Journaling is a great way to release the built-up pressure from your day. Writing can help you discuss worries and fears, as well as check whether those fears are rational or not. When left unchecked, anxiety can cause overthinking and rumination. Sometimes getting thoughts down on paper just makes everything seem less overwhelming. You can get the most out of your journaling experience by writing exactly how you feel and what you are worried about, and then rereading what you have written. For each concern you have, try to write two ways to think about the situation differently. You can also experiment with freewriting, which means writing for a set period of time without filtering your thoughts or stopping.  

Lean on Your Support System 

Sometimes we just need to be around the people who love and support us. Having a support system can have a positive effect on your overall health. A support system can include family, friends, teachers, faith leaders, neighbors, peers, or therapists and counselors. Having a few people you trust and can turn to can help you manage everyday challenges, make difficult decisions, or even help center you during a crisis situation.  

Anxiety can feel like a very debilitating condition, but there are many things that you can do to reduce your stress levels and improve your quality of life. When lifestyle changes do not help, then there is no shame in seeking treatment for mental health problems; in fact, it shows that you are strong enough to admit that you need help. You are not alone in this fight; millions of people struggle with anxiety on a daily basis. With the right tools and support, you can overcome your anxiety and regain control of your life. 

Hyaluronic Acid: The Powerhouse Skincare Ingredient

Hyaluronic Acid: The Powerhouse Skincare Ingredient

Hyaluronic Acid is a powerhouse skincare ingredient that plumps and tightens skin, deeply moisturizes, and reduces the appearance of wrinkles. It is an ingredient that can be found in facial serums, moisturizers, lip balms, and other cosmetics. While Hyaluronic Acid may seem intimidating to pronounce, the ingredient is not as scary as it sounds- Hyaluronic Acid is naturally occurring. Hyaluronic Acid is also great for all skin types- whether oily, dry, sensitive, or combination.  

What is Hyaluronic Acid? 

Hyaluronic Acid is a protein that is present in all connective tissues and is found in high concentrations in the viscous fluid that surrounds your eyes. Hyaluronic Acid cushions and lubricates your joints, attracts moisture, and can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. Unfortunately, the presence of Hyaluronic Acid in our bodies tends to fall away as we age. This is why it is an ingredient found in serums and moisturizers, lip plumpers and even makeup. There are many forms of Hyaluronic Acid, so multiple varieties can be found in a single product.  

The Perks of Hyaluronic Acid in Skincare 

1) Plumps the Lips and Skin 

The moment you apply a product containing Hyaluronic Acid, your skin will appear plumper and more hydrated than ever before. This is because the ingredient binds with water in order to make it easier for cells on our bodies to do their job- which means that they are able rejuvenate old looking or thinning out facial features.  

2) Reduces Fine Lines and Wrinkles 

The power of Hyaluronic Acid is also found in eye care products. Hyaluronic acid draws in water to temporarily fill out fine lines upon application. While some may hesitate to put skincare products around their eyes because of how sensitive the area can be, hyaluronic acid is safe to use and will lessen the appearance of fine lines around the eyes.  

3) Improves Makeup Application 

Hyaluronic acid is like a built-in beauty blender, making foundation go onto your skin in perfect lines. The ingredient Hyaluronic Acid has the ability not only to hold moisture but also smooth out any rough patches of our complexion making concealer and other products applied over it glide across smoothly without creasing or settling into wrinkles unlike many others do.  

4) Hydrates your Skin 

Many moisturizers only draw on the available moisture in your complexion, but Hyaluronic Acid actually provides its own moisture when applied to your skin. This delivers a powerful boost of hydration that leaves skin dewy, healthy, and youthful. Applying a serum that contains Hyaluronic Acid before your moisturizer will attract even more moisture than just applying it on its own. Aging skin loses its firmness, becomes less supple and often looks dehydrated. Using a product that contains Hyaluronic Acid can replenish the moisture that aging skin is lacking, improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and make the skin appear smoother.  

Other Factors of Hyaluronic Acid 

There is a persistent myth that adding moisture to an acne prone complexion will cause more breakouts. However, drying out your skin with overprocessing or exfoliates can irritate skin and allow bacteria to grow. Hydrating inflamed or irritated skin can help speed up the healing process and improve your complexion. Hyaluronic Acid has already proven to be a powerhouse moisturizer and can help to hydrate inflamed skin.  

While the “acid” in Hyaluronic Acid may sound dangerous or scary, it is actually incredibly gentle and can be used on even the most sensitive skin types.  

Although Hyaluronic Acid is already present in our skin and body, it is still important to include a Hyaluronic Acid serum in your skin care routine since our naturally occurring levels tend to decline with age. For the best use, it is recommended to apply a moisturizer containing Hyaluronic Acid at least twice a day- once in the morning and once at night. However, more oily skin types can reduce their use to once per day with a serum or moisturizer.  

We all want to stay youthful and healthy, but sometimes it is hard to know what products will work for us. Fortunately, we know products containing Hyaluronic Acid and its varieties will improve the health of skin. Regardless of age, skin type or concern, everyone can and should be using a product containing Hyaluronic Acid.  

Protecting Against COVID-19 and its Variants

Protecting Against COVID-19 and its Variants

In these uncertain times, it has never been more important to stay informed and aware. The rise of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 has resurfaced concerns in some over how to stay safe during the continuing pandemic, and we want to help alleviate your fears as much as possible and help you practice healthier hygiene habits. We have compiled a list of ways to help keep yourself and your loved ones healthy during these unprecedented times. 

Cover Your Face  

We have seen the practice of wearing a mask transform from being simply to protect your health and that of others, into something more political. However, simply covering your nose and mouth when around others greatly reduces the chances of transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections. Some places require face masks; where it is not required, it is still best to wear one. Masks work best when everyone is wearing one.  

When you wear a mask, you protect others as well as yourself. COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets travel into the air when you cough, sneeze, talk, shout, or sing. These droplets can then land in the mouths or noses of people who are near you, or they may breathe these droplets in. Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent your respiratory droplets from reaching others. 

Wash Your Hands 

Keeping up good hygiene is an important way to keep yourself healthy. The rise of COVID-19 made us all become more aware of the way we wash our hands- and this is a good thing. Washing your hands well and often is a great way to protect yourself against the virus, and other illnesses. The CDC provides a five-step reminder for handwashing:  

1) Wet your hands with cold or warm water. 

2) Lather your hands with soap. Lather the backs of your hands, under your fingernails, and between your fingers. 

3) Scrub your hands for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the tune of “Happy Birthday” twice through. It is also okay to not scrub aggressively. Scrubbing too hard can irritate your skin.  

4) Rinse your hands under clean, running water. 

5) Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dryer 

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. If soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.  

Follow Proper Sneeze and Cough Etiquette 

To help slow or stop the spread of germs, it is important to cover your nose or mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. After tissues have been used, immediately throw them away and then wash your hands. If no tissue is available, then cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm to stop the germs from spreading.  

Stay Home if You Feel Sick 

Staying home from work, school, or other social situations when you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 is a simple way to protect the people in your life. Symptoms to look out for include a cough, a fever, or any shortness of breath. If you are experiencing any symptoms of being ill, whether it is from COVID-19, the flu, or a cold, then staying home will help to stop the spread and keep your loved ones safe.  

Be Aware of Your Community & Covid-19 

Staying informed about outbreaks in your local community can help you be more aware of when to practice stricter safety protocols. When COVID-19 cases are higher, it is a good idea to practice social distancing and shrink your “COVID bubble” to a smaller group of people. While this can be hard to put into practice in a consistent way, it is smart to limit the number of people with whom you interact. Wearing a mask in public during outbreaks can also protect those around you. 

Get Vaccinated or Boosted 

While the vaccine has been surrounded by myths because of its politicization, it has been shown to protect against catching COVID-19 or preventing its symptoms. The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johson & Johnson vaccines do not alter your DNA, nor do they contain ingredients like preservatives, tissues, antibiotics, food proteins, medicines, latex, or metals.  

If you received your vaccine over 2 months ago (for Johnson & Johnson) or over six months ago (for Pfizer or Moderna) then you are eligible for the vaccine booster. Boosters are a half-dose of the vaccine which increase your protection against COVID-19. Moderna has been shown to increase your protection 37-fold from the new Omicron variant.  Learn more about the effectiveness of a vaccine booster, from the CDC, here.

The key to staying safe during a pandemic is understanding how it has changed and adapting your own personal habits accordingly. Although we are still in the midst of this global health emergency, there have been some great strides made towards ending COVID-19. Wearing a mask, practicing good hygiene, getting vaccinated, and social distancing all play a part in ending the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.  

6 Ways to Improve Your Mental Wellness All Year

6 Ways to Improve Your Mental Wellness All Year

It is more than okay to not be okay sometimes, but we all want to be mentally well and happy. Mental wellness is integral for living a fulfilling life but maintaining it can come with its challenges. And yet, we often neglect our own mental health in favor of other priorities like work, family, relationships, obligations, or friends. Thankfully, there are many options for those seeking to improve their mental wellbeing and their lives.

Lifestyle Changes 

For many people, their mood can be heavily impacted by their stresses in life. Focusing on self-care and choosing healthy coping mechanisms for challenging life situations can help you build your mental strength and actually improve your mood. There are many options for those who wish to prioritize their mental health: 

1) Keep moving 

Every little bit of exercise can help elevate your mood. It improves self-perception and self-esteem, mood, and sleep quality, and it reduces stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Physically active people have up to a 30% reduced risk of becoming depressed and staying active helps those who are depressed recover. You do not have to be a fitness fanatic to receive the mental health benefits of exercise. Even a simple 30-minute walk outdoors can drastically improve your wellness.  

2) Eat healthy 

What we put in our bodies to give us energy plays a huge factor in how our brain functions. The brain and the gastrointestinal system are intimately connected to one another. Your gut health can be a cause or a product of poor mental health. One way to help lower anxiety, depression, or stress is by being mindful of the things you eat. It is best to avoid highly processed and sugary foods, and instead opt for a healthier diet. Leafy greens, fruits, and leaner meats like salmon are all better options for those seeking to eat healthier. There are also many foods that directly improve your gut health- these include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, kimchi, olive oil, peas, bananas, garlic, and ginger.  

3) Make time for yourself 

Self-care routines can look different for everyone. It is important to take time for yourself and participate in hobbies or activities that are meaningful to you and that can lessen stress or anxiety. This could be anything from reading, journaling, watching your favorite movie, or treating yourself to a relaxing night in. Taking time to explore your favorite hobbies, or even try new ones, can help relax your mind and lower stress levels. Always remember it is okay to set boundaries with work and friendships to take the time to improve your own mental wellbeing.  

4) Connect with others 

Building your own support system is also a great way to lessen stress, anxiety, trauma, and depression. It may feel difficult to open up to others about how you are feeling, but connecting with others can help our mental health improve and elevate our mood. Your support system can be family, friends, or even professionals like a therapist who can help guide you through the more challenging times in your life.  

5) Be kind to yourself 

The journey to better mental health will not happen overnight. There may be days where there is still a struggle to stay motivated, but it is important to remember that healing and growth are not linear. It may take time, but a commitment to these different lifestyle changes can lead to long-term improvements in your mental wellbeing. 

6) Check out your prescription options 

If all of these lifestyle changes still do not help your mental health improve, or if you are finding it difficult to get started on these things without extra help, then there are many prescription options that can help you. There is no shame in seeking medical help to address your mental wellbeing. If you want to turn to medications to help you manage your mental health, then it is important to always be honest with your healthcare provider.  

There are many strategies for how you can take control and overcome mental illnesses. Coping with stress, anxiety or depression may seem challenging but there is hope! Always remember you are not alone, and there is always a new option to try that can help. If all of these self-help strategies do not help, then please seek additional help from a medical professional.