Q: My dad has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and my kids are 13 and 17 and struggling in school. On top of that, I used to love my job, but the company’s been sold twice in five years, downsized at every turn, and I’m doing the work of three people. Sometimes I just want to get in my car and drive away. What’s wrong with me? -- Maria C., San Diego
A: Our guess is that you’re suffering from burnout, an all-too-common condition that combines physical and emotional exhaustion from handling ongoing -- and seemingly neverending -- problems and depression. A new study of 1,386 teachers in New York City revealed that 10 percent of women and 7 percent of men registered that combo of mental exhaustion and signs of depression, such as not taking pleasure or interest in things you once enjoyed, like your job. And burnout takes a toll: It’s associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, being overweight and diabetes.
But Maria, don’t despair. You can cool down your burnout and protect your health without running away from home! Try these techniques:
Move it! Don’t tell yourself you’ll exercise tomorrow. Do it today. Take a 10-minute walk (heading for 30-60 minutes daily; after you’ve mastered that, go for 10,000 steps daily). It’ll ease mild depression and counteract burnout’s damage to your cardiovascular system.
Practice mindfulness. In a University of Wisconsin study, many teachers who practiced mindful meditation prevented burnout.
Draw a line between home and work. Getting texts from your kids while you’re working and checking work email at home boosts burnout. Set aside 15 minutes after dinner to read office email, ask your kids to call/text you just once after school (unless there’s an emergency), and no digital devices in the bedroom.
Get help. There are elder-care organizations, support groups and visiting-nurse services that can help you manage your father’s illness. Take advantage of them pronto -- it’s good for Dad, too!
Q: I keep hearing about the damage certain chemicals in plastics can do to kids, and I don’t know how to protect mine! Suggestions, please. -- Jonda H., Tampa, Florida
A: Exposure to phthalates and BPA/BPS in plastics is a problem. A report by Belgian researchers, delivered at the recent Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Boston, highlights how phthalates in tubing used to help manage the care of children in pediatric intensive-care units increased their blood levels of phthalates a whopping 18 times, putting those kids at an increased risk for ADHD. Premature infants also end up with higher blood levels of phthalates, and that may contribute to future health complications. Additional animal studies indicate that phthalates, as well as BPA/BPS, are associated with damage to the liver and reproductive system, and may contribute to cancer and other systemic problems.
Plus, a study by the Milken Institute School of Public Health in Washington, D.C., found that folks who regularly ate fast food had up to 40 percent higher levels of metabolized phthalates in their blood than those who passed by the drive-thru. Grain (especially bread, cake, pizza, burritos) and meat were the two major sources. The chemical gets into the food through the production process and packaging at the restaurant.
Now, you can’t dodge all phthalates and BPA/BPS, but you can avoid nutritionally empty, overly processed fast foods. You also can buy products that come in glass, store your foods in glass and avoid taking receipts (they have BPA; wash your hands if you do handle them). When storing foods in plastic, make sure your containers are labeled with the recycling numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5; avoid 3, 6, 7. As for kids’ toys, opt for all-natural products, and keep plastics out of baby’s mouth. And remember: Your kids (and you) will thrive if you also focus on getting plenty of physical activity (60 minutes minimum daily), eating 5-9 servings of produce a day, and getting plenty of sleep.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at