Tough times are inevitable in life, whether you’re dealing with a serious health problem or you’re faced with a financial crisis. And it’s during those tough times that your mental strength will be tested.
Without adequate mental strength, life’s challenges can fill you with self-doubt and anxiety. Those uncomfortable feelings can then lend way to negative thinking. This will affect your behavior, which can inadvertently turn your catastrophic predictions into self-fulfilling prophecy.
Staying strong in the midst of hardship requires you to manage your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Paying attention to all three of these areas will help you emerge from your struggles even stronger than before. To remember how to stay strong during life’s toughest challenges, follow this A-B-C formula:
1. Accept reality.
Acceptance doesn’t mean agreement. Instead, it’s about acknowledging what is happening from a realistic standpoint. For example, while you do not agree with things like racism, you can accept that they happen.
Digging in your heels and saying, “I shouldn’t have to deal with this,” only wastes your valuable time and energy. Accepting what is happening right now—regardless of whether you think it’s right—is the first step in deciding how to respond.
For example, one person stuck in a traffic jam says, “This isn’t fair! Why do these things always have to happen to me?” His thoughts cause him to feel angry, frustrated, and anxious. He starts banging his fists on the dashboard or screaming at other drivers.
Another driver stuck in the same jam reminds himself, “There are millions of cars on the road every day. Traffic jams are bound to happen.” His point of view helps him stay calm and he listens to a podcast while he waits for cars to start moving again.
Accepting reality is about recognizing what’s within your control. When you can’t control the situation, focus on controlling yourself.
2. Behave productively.
Accepting reality helps you manage your thoughts and regulate your emotions—which are key to productive behavior. The choices you make when you’re faced with problems determine how quickly you’ll find a solution.
Even when you’re faced with a problem you can’t solve—like the loss of a loved one—you make choices about how to respond.
Unproductive behavior, like complaining or throwing a pity party, will keep you stuck. Those behaviors will rob you of mental strength.
So it’s important to ask yourself, “What’s one thing I can do right now to help myself?” Whether productive behavior involves facing a fear or doing something you really don’t want to do, take action.
3. Control upsetting thoughts.
Your mind can be your best asset—or your biggest enemy. If you believe your negative thoughts, your self-limiting beliefs will prevent you from reaching your greatest potential.
Thinking, “This will never work. I’m not good enough,” or, “I can’t stand one more minute of this,” will keep you from reaching your goals. It’s important to recognize when your inner monologue becomes overly pessimistic. Remember that just because you think something, doesn’t make it true.
Talk to yourself like you’d talk to a trusted friend. When your thoughts become catastrophic or unhelpful, respond with a more realistic statement that confirms your ability to handle your struggles.
You can even create a mantra that you repeat during tough times. Doing so can help you quiet the negative chatter that threatens to drag you down.
Build Mental Strength Before Strong Is the Only Choice You Have
Building mental strength is similar to building physical strength. You may not think about your mental muscle until you need it the most, but a crisis isn’t the best time to try to build mental strength. You don’t want to wait until you have to lift a heavy object to start building your physical strength, right? Pumping iron for five minutes before you move a couch isn’t going to do you much good. But steadily building strength over time can ensure you have the muscle you need when you have more weight to carry.
Think of mental strength in the same way: There will be times when you’re going to need all the mental strength you can muster so it’s important to make mental strength training a daily habit. And then, when you find yourself going through tough times, practice the formula. These three steps can help ensure that your struggles just make you stronger.
Want to know how to give up the bad habits that rob you of mental strength? Pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.
This article was co-authored by Nicolette Tura, MA. Nicolette Tura is an Authentic Living Expert who operated her own wellness business for more than ten years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nicolette is a 500-hour Registered Yoga Teacher with a Psychology & Mindfulness Major, a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, and is an expert in authentic living. She holds a BA in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley and got her master’s degree in Sociology from SJSU. She constantly draws from her own wounds and challenges; with her training in the healing arts and sociology, she offers potent content, powerful meditations, and game-changing seminars on inspiring elevation on a personal and corporate level.
There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
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Enjoying strong mental health means understanding the meaning of well-being, functioning normally in everyday life, and having enough confidence to overcome the hurdles that confront you on a daily basis. In many ways, mental health is no different than physical health in that actions can be taken to promote a healthy mind. It is important to take care of your mental health from childhood through adulthood in order to avoid depression, anxiety, excessive stress, and addiction, conditions that can impact anybody. Having a peaceful mind should always be an important goal throughout life.
When most people set out to become fitter in the New Year, they’re thinking about their physical fitness: Getting in better physical shape tops the list of New Year’s resolutions. According to a Nielson survey, 37 percent of people aim to stay fit and healthy in the new year, while 32 percent of people want to lose weight. Sadly, most people will never achieve those goals. Statistically speaking, only about 8 percent of people keep their resolution.
If more people focused on their mental fitness, however, they’d likely become more successful in achieving the goals they set for themselves—physical fitness or otherwise. After all, your body won’t do what your mind doesn’t tell it. Building mental muscle is the key to self-discipline, delayed gratification, grit, and perseverance. And those are the skills you need to become the best physical and mental version of yourself.
Here are 10 resolutions that will help you grow mentally stronger:
1. I will spend at least 15 minutes a day in quiet reflection.
A few minutes of quiet time gives you an opportunity to reflect on your progress and think about what you want to do better. Schedule a few minutes every day to recharge your batteries with a little bit of solitude. It will help you gain clarity and renew your motivation to reach your goals.
2. I will do at least one tough thing every week.
Whether you sign up for a photography class or join toastmasters, do something that forces you to step outside your comfort zone. Facing your fears head-on can shift the way you see yourself. Rather than assume you need to avoid hard things because you might fail or because you can’t tolerate the stress, you’ll chip away at your self-limiting beliefs.
3. I’ll write in a gratitude journal.
Write down three things you’re grateful for every day and you’ll change the way you see the world. Studies link gratitude to a multitude of benefits, from better sleep to reduced psychological distress. It only takes a few minutes each day, but it’s an easy way to boost your mental strength.
4. I’ll take better care of my physical health.
Your mind won’t operate efficiently if you’re not fueling it with sleep, exercise, and healthy food. But don’t make your goal to be thinner or to look good in a bathing suit. Aim for building a healthy body so you can enjoy a healthier, stronger mind.
5. I’m going to develop a kinder inner dialogue.
The conversations you have with yourself impact the way you behave and how you feel. Harsh self-criticism only holds you back. Commit to talking to yourself the same way you’d speak to a trusted friend and you’ll unlock potential you never knew existed.
6. I’m going to become more aware of my feelings.
Aside from happiness or anger, most adults aren’t comfortable sharing their feelings. Many are willing to concede, “I’ve got butterflies in my stomach,” or “There was a lump in my throat,” because it feels less vulnerable than saying they feel sad or scared. But your emotions play a huge role in every decision you make.
Decide to become better connected to your feelings. Label your emotions and spend time thinking about how they influence the way you think and behave.
7. I’m going to create a timeline for my dream.
A lot of people say, “I’d like to write a book someday,” or “Someday I’m going to launch my own business.” But since Someday never appears on the calendar, it’s unlikely you’ll actually do it. Turn your dream into a goal by creating a realistic timeline for yourself. Even if you can’t tackle it for another a year or two, start researching or learning more about your dream now.
8. I’ll spend more time with friends and family.
It’s easy to become so caught up in the day-to-day grind that you don’t set aside time for friends and family. But studies show that spending time with loved ones is critical to your well-being. Make it a priority to spend time with the important people in your life.
9. I’ll create a life that is in line with my values.
It’s one thing to say you value giving back to the community or that you value caring for the environment—living according to those values isn’t always so easy. Evaluate where you devote your time and energy and see if you want to make any lifestyle shifts that would help ensure that your life is in line with your values. Living according to your values is an essential component to mastering your mental strength.
10. I’m going to give up one bad habit.
Letting go of a bad habit can help you work smarter, not harder. So rather than saying you’re going to eat more vegetables, commit to giving up that bag of chips you eat at lunch every day. Giving up bad habits that rob you of mental strength, like feeling sorry for yourself, will ensure your healthy habits are much more effective.
Build Your Mental Muscle
Don’t overwhelm yourself by tackling too many things at once; start with one change you want to make. You can start new goals any time of the year. Maybe you’ll decide to start a gratitude journal in January. Then, once you’ve turned that into a daily habit, commit to going to sleep 30 minutes earlier in February. Remember, genuine self-improvement isn’t about setting a goal on an arbitrary date and declaring it a success or failure two weeks later. Mental strength training is about becoming a little better each day throughout the entire year.
Want to know how to give up the bad habits that you of mental strength? Pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.
Millions of us are struggling to find normalcy in the age of COVID-19. The uncertainty over our health, jobs, finances and when we’ll be able to see our loved ones again has taken its toll. In fact, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, nearly half of Americans — 45 percent — say their mental health has been negatively affected as a result of the pandemic.
I recently chatted with Amanda White, a licensed therapist and the creator of the popular Instagram account @therapyforwomen. We discussed the roller coaster of emotions many of us are suddenly experiencing and how we can cope.
“When an initial event is happening, we have that fight or flight response and then the event is over and we’re able to process is,” White explained during my weekly Instagram Live series for Know Your Value.
White noted this time period is especially challenging because it’s “so extended that we are consistently going through fight, flight, freeze, and our brain doesn’t know when this is going to end. So, it continues to happen over and over, because it doesn’t know which fight, flight, or freeze is going to be most effective in dealing with this.”
‘Happiness Lab’ professor Laurie Santos shares 5 ways to feel better
In addition to White, I spoke to holistic coach and wellness teacher Lily Silverton and clinical psychologist Christie Ferrari. Here are a few tips and strategies they suggested to help lower stress and anxiety during this uncertain time:
1. Get rid of the shame associated with grieving
The reality is that we are all grieving in one way or another.
The best thing to do as we continue to heal, is to “try and normalize it” White said. “Now is the time to share what you are feeling with others — family, friends, on social media, or wherever you feel safe doing so. We are collectively grieving, and the shared experience in knowing you are not alone will help the healing process.”
And don’t feel ashamed of your emotions. “Shame often acts as this binding agent over the deeper emotions that are going on, and it stops ourselves from feeling the deeper emotions that are going on,” said White.
2. Implement mindfulness in your everyday routine
Yoga and meditation has helped me during this time stressful time, and has resulted in me being more mindful throughout the day. But don’t just take it from me; Science also says the benefits of yoga and meditation to our mental and physical health are significant.
If you’re new to meditation, or like to be guided through one, check out this mediation by holistic coach and wellness teacher Lily Silverton. According to Silverton, meditation “increases grey matter in the pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for reasoning and thinking – both tools we need to combat anxiety.”
White added that it’s also important to practice noticing our emotions , and not judging them. “When we engage in judgement about our thoughts and emotions we get stuck in an anxiety loop,” she said.
3. Remember that your breath is the gateway to the present
If you feel yourself getting anxious, focus on your body cues, said clinical psychologist and blogger Christie Ferrari. “Is your heart racing? Are you breathing quickly and chest-breathing mostly? Are you tense? Are your hands clammy?”
If the answer is yes, certain breathing techniques can help calm down your nervous system. Ferrari advised to practice deep belly breathing. “An easy way to get good at this is to lay down for five minutes with a plastic cup or light book on your stomach and practice having this item rise when you take a deep breath in, holding it for four seconds, and then releasing and exhaling and watching this item go down as your belly goes down for three to four seconds.”
Silverton recommended this breathwork tool, which incorporates deep belly breathing. “You can do this anytime of day or night, when you feel that swell of anxiety starting to rise up.”
4. Create routines
Having a consistent routine even for just five minutes will help ground you. “A routine can do a lot of good. It keeps a sense of normalcy, can boost productivity and provide structure” said Ferrari. She suggested getting out of your pajamas as part of your routine, and sticking to clothing that is casual and comfortable but still looks polished “A loose dress and a cardigan, for example, or linen pants with a blouse,” she said. Getting dressed, even while we’re home, will help you get into the right mindset for the day ahead.
Whether dealing with health issues, workplace stress, or a financial crisis, life’s inevitable challenges can make it tough to function. Some people struggle to take action for fear of making things worse. Others grow impulsive and start taking any action they can without thinking about the best solutions.
Mentally strong people, however, stay strong when their world is crumbling. They manage their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in a way that helps them get through tough times.
In fact, they often emerge from hardship better than before. They may even feel happier, healthier, and more hopeful after going through tough times.
In my experiences as a therapist and through the research for my book, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” I discovered that mentally strong people use the following strategies to stay strong even when it feels as though their world is crumbling:
1. They acknowledge their inner strength
Thinking, “I can’t deal with this,” or, “I’ll never get through this,” diminishes your ability to cope. Fortunately, mentally strong people don’t believe everything they think.
When their thoughts become unrealistically negative, they remind themselves that they’re stronger than their brains give them credit for. Giving themselves pep talks that remind them of past tough times they’ve endured helps them gain the confidence they need to handle whatever life throws in their way.
2. They take care of themselves
Mentally strong people make self-care a priority, even during the toughest times, because they know the struggle to cope with distress will be more difficult if they’re not taking care of their mind and body. They eat healthily, exercise, and get plenty of rest so they can be at their best when tackling challenges.
3. They focus on what they can control
Mentally strong people don’t waste time rehashing conversations, worrying about catastrophic outcomes, or wishing things were different. They know such things will drain them of the mental strength they need to solve problems. So they put their resources into things they can control — even if that only thing is their attitude.
4. They shuffle their priorities
Rather than beat themselves up for not spending as much time with their kids, or for declining invitations with friends, mentally strong people know that priorities need to shift during tough times.
They shift their attention to problems that need to be addressed, like paying off debt, driving a family member to medical appointments, or sending out resumes to land a new job.
5. They take action
You won’t catch a mentally strong person avoiding problems or hosting a pity party. They take productive action by tackling challenges head-on. If a problem can’t be solved (as in the case of a loved one’s illness), they take action to cope with distress in healthy ways.
6. They remain psychologically agile
Rigid thinking — like telling yourself that a situation has to turn out a certain way, or that you shouldn’t feel a specific emotion — can make things worse.
Mentally strong people know they need to stay flexible. They’re open to changing their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral patterns to adapt to new challenges they face.
7. They look for new opportunities
Whether it’s a job loss or health scare, mentally strong people know that difficult times may require them to pivot. They acknowledge that changing course can be scary, as well as exciting. They’re open to new opportunities as they strive to turn struggles into something positive.
8. They practice gratitude
Mentally strong people practice gratitude, even during the toughest times. That’s not to say that they ignore pain or minimize hardship — they certainly acknowledge their emotional wounds. But they also remind themselves of all the good things in life and the resources they have to manage the tough times.
9. They reflect on what they’ve learned
While it’s not helpful to replay painful memories over and over again, thinking about what your pain taught you can help you heal and grow. Mentally strong people know that they can learn a lot about themselves in their darkest hours. So they spend time reflecting on what is gained from challenges they endure.
10. They seek support
Mentally strong people know that asking for help — whether asking a family member to watch their children in order to work on an issue, or reaching out to a therapist for emotional support — is a sign of strength, not weakness. They know they don’t have to do everything on their own. Instead, they’re willing to reach out to people who can assist them in getting through tough times more easily.
This article was originally published on Business Insider March 3, 2020.
Long-distance racing drains not only the body, but also the mind. Runners can develop a negative mindset as the miles pass and the lactic acid builds up, making the race harder to finish.
“Mental toughness, or tracking cognitive thoughts during a marathon, has a large impact on the outcome of a run,” says Kate Cummins , PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist.
So, to channel your inner optimist and wash away destructive thoughts during endurance challenges, these experts provide 10 tips to help keep your mind from turning sour in a race:
“Some people think of squishing a boss’ face with each step,” says Meghan Kennihan , NASM certified personal trainer and a USATF run coach. If you want to concentrate on something more positive, she suggests imagining yourself as a “gazelle prancing gracefully through the finish line.”
Remember playing games on long car drives with the family as a kid? You can do the same thing during a race, such as occupying yourself with alphabet list games. “I would name cities to travel to starting with A, then B, then C and so on all the way to Z,” says runner Lisa Alemi . “This would keep my mind busy so I wouldn’t realize how long I was having to run.” For long races, she continues with other lists, such as foods she’s tried, people she met after graduate school and store names.
“Sometimes even writing phrases on athletic tape, silicone bracelets, etc. can help,” says Chelsi Day , PsyD, a clinical and sport psychologist for athletes at Indiana University.
Tracy Green says she writes mantras on stickers that she affixes to gels. “Each mantra corresponds to a certain part of the course, ‘Calm and Comfortable’ for the first section, and ‘Fast and Fierce’ for the final section.” She focuses on each mantra and repeats it to herself as often as she needs until she opens the next gel.
Heidi McBain , MA, a licensed professional counselor says to simply visualize yourself crossing the finish line at any point during the race when you’re feeling discouraged.
“I break up the remaining race into minuscule parts and tell myself, ‘I only have to get to the next one,’” says James Goodwillie, founder of onetomulti.com . Doing this helps Goodwillie remind himself that he could hang on longer in training, so he can make it in the race.
“Most people are struggling to get through the race just like you are,” says David Bennett, certified counselor, relationship expert and co-author of seven self-help books. He suggests intermingling with others could be a simple as running past crowds and giving high fives to spectators or providing positive affirmations to other runners.
“Consider creating multiple playlists based on how you will feel throughout the race,” says Ashley B. Hampton, PhD, a business coach for women entrepreneurs. She says that calm, classical music at the beginning of a long-distance race could help create a smooth start, and upbeat music near the end might help you forget the burn in your muscles.
“Crafting my own posts in my head while I’m exercising or racing is great motivation for finishing what I started,” says Carolee Belkin Walker , a wellness blogger and podcaster.
During races, Cody Higgs , a licensed professional counselor and endurance runner thinks of his son, wife and friends, giving him an overall feeling of positivity. “There was an obstacle race when I had to remember a group of random numbers for about 2.5 hours, and I was able to relate all the numbers to people close to me, causing me to think about those people the whole race. It was a huge help,” he says.
About the Author
Jennifer is a Southern California-based freelance writer who covers topics such as health, fitness, lifestyle and travel for both national and regional publications. She runs marathons across the world and is an Ironman finisher. She is also a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. You can follow her on Twitter @jenpurdie.
Having a peaceful mind despite all the stresses life brings you should be your primary goal – after all, without a peaceful mind, how can you expect to get any work done? 2017 is shaping up to be a pretty busy year, so follow our simple guide to keeping your stress levels low and your happiness high, even when you’ve got a ton of work to complete.
Ways To Stay Mentally Strong
Way #1: Find a hobby
If you don’t already have one, go out and find a hobby! It could be anything, from playing tennis to collecting stamps to reading books. Everyone needs some way to blow off steam and unwind from work (and life), so find your way.
Participating in a hobby is probably the best way to stay productive while taking a breather, plus, engaging in an activity you love will help reduce anxiety and keep you happy.
Way #2: Spend time with family and friends
Don’t neglect the people you love for your job. Spend time with your family and friends – these are the people that love you and care about you the most. Any problems or worries you have, they’ll be able to help you come up with a solution, or at least help you feel better.
No matter how busy you are, allocate a few hours a week (or even a whole day) to just spending time with your family and friends.
Way #3: Volunteer
Participate in volunteering activities. You could volunteer at the nearby animal shelter or read to kids on the weekends. If you’re especially busy, even helping your elderly neighbor carry groceries into her house or shoveling snow from your neighbor’s driveway counts as volunteer work.
When you help others, you actually help yourself too. Making others happy will make you happy and it will increase your self-esteem. To look at it biologically, when you help others, your brain releases the hormone “oxytocin”, which is a feel-good hormone that promotes trust and relaxation.
Way #4: Exercise
Exercise doesn’t just help your body, it helps your mind too! When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, another feel-good hormone that promotes happiness. Plus, it will make you more energetic – both physically and mentally.
You don’t have to go to the gym to get some exercise either, there’s nothing better than going for a jog in the park amongst all the beautiful trees and flowers. Alternatively, you can invest in a cardio machine in your home to work out in the comfort of your living room. You can get more ideas from garagegymplanner.com and get your own home gym set up.
Way #5: Eat right
What you put into your body shows on the outside – if you eat a ton of oily food, your face breaks out in pimples. If you eat a ton of fatty foods, you’ll start to gain weight. These are just physical effects, but eating large amounts of unhealthy food also leads to an unhealthy mind and an unhealthy way of thinking.
Incorporate fruits and vegetables into your diet. These are loaded with all the vitamins and minerals you’ll need. Don’t forget to get sufficient carbohydrates and proteins too – your brain runs on carbs and your body runs on protein.
Way #6: Drink water
Stay hydrated! Drink at least 2 liters of water a day, your body needs the water to stay focused. In fact, dehydration has been linked with irritability, a lack of concentration and an overall negative mood.
Everyone has the occasional “senior moment.” Maybe you’ve gone into the kitchen and can’t remember why, or can’t recall a familiar name during a conversation. Memory lapses can occur at any age, but aging alone is generally not a cause of cognitive decline. When significant memory loss occurs among older people, it is generally not due to aging but to organic disorders, brain injury, or neurological illness.
Studies have shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia with some basic good health habits:
- staying physically active
- getting enough sleep
- not smoking
- having good social connections
- limiting alcohol to no more than one drink a day
- eating a Mediterranean style diet.
Memory and other cognitive changes can be frustrating, but the good news is that, thanks to decades of research, you can learn how to get your mind active. There are various strategies we can use to help maintain cognitive fitness. Here are several you might try.
1. Keep learning
A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. Experts think that advanced education may help keep memory strong by getting a person into the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Many people have jobs that keep them mentally active. Pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, volunteering or mentoring are additional ways to keep your mind sharp.
2. Use all your senses
The more senses you use in learning something, the more of your brain that will be involved in retaining the memory. In one study, adults were shown a series of emotionally neutral images, each presented along with a smell. They were not asked to remember what they saw. Later, they were shown a set of images, this time without odors, and asked to indicate which they’d seen before. They had excellent recall for all odor-paired pictures, and especially for those associated with pleasant smells. Brain imaging indicated that the piriform cortex, the main odor-processing region of the brain, became active when people saw objects originally paired with odors, even though the smells were no longer present and the subjects hadn’t tried to remember them. So challenge all your senses as you venture into the unfamiliar.
3. Believe in yourself
Myths about aging can contribute to a failing memory. Middle-aged and older learners do worse on memory tasks when they’re exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory, and better when the messages are positive about memory preservation into old age. People who believe that they are not in control of their memory function — joking about “senior moments” too often, perhaps — are less likely to work at maintaining or improving their memory skills and therefore are more likely to experience cognitive decline. If you believe you can improve and you translate that belief into practice, you have a better chance of keeping your mind sharp.
4. Prioritize your brain use
If you don’t need to use mental energy remembering where you laid your keys or the time of your granddaughter’s birthday party, you’ll be better able to concentrate on learning and remembering new and important things. Take advantage of smart phone reminders, calendars and planners, maps, shopping lists, file folders, and address books to keep routine information accessible. Designate a place at home for your glasses, purse, keys, and other items you use often.
5. Repeat what you want to know
When you want to remember something you’ve just heard, read, or thought about, repeat it out loud or write it down. That way, you reinforce the memory or connection. For example, if you’ve just been told someone’s name, use it when you speak with him or her: “So, John, where did you meet Camille?”
6. Space it out
Repetition is most potent as a learning tool when it’s properly timed. It’s best not to repeat something many times in a short period, as if you were cramming for an exam. Instead, re-study the essentials after increasingly longer periods of time — once an hour, then every few hours, then every day. Spacing out periods of study helps improve memory and is particularly valuable when you are trying to master complicated information, such as the details of a new work assignment.
For more information on diagnosing memory problems and boosting your memory, read Improving Memory, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
Image: Martin Prescott/Getty Images
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