Depression is much more widely experienced than is generally known. Depression is a medical condition that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest” says the Mayo clinic. Other symptoms of depression include irritability or frustration, reduced sex drive, anxiety, insomnia (or excessive sleeping), changes in appetite, slowed thinking, fatigue or indecisiveness.
The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of the global burden of disease.
Therapy, anti-depressant medication (pharmaceutical and natural, such as St John’s Wort) and life style changes can work together to turn depression around. Yet, many people lack the resources or accessibility to quality help.
New research at Kings College London is investigating the impact of stress hormones in reducing the number of new brain cells – a process considered to be linked to depression – and a key protein that may be responsible. Compounds that block this protein may provide a new direction of treatment.
If you or someone you care about are experience symptoms that may be depression, get up and talk with your doctor, or consult with a mental health professional about your options.
A tucan flies by, landing in the mango tree. Hearing the crash of the ocean waves, I am aware of the mind-calming qualities of this sound. A group of spider monkeys finds me a curiosity. I laugh. I notice how relaxed I feel. I am in Costa Rica on vacation.
Common sense tells us that there are many benefits of vacations for the mind and body. So why are Americas taking, on average, only 14 of 18 accrued days of vacation a year, compared to Europeans’ 35 days, according to an Expedia study? Perhaps if people become more aware of the short-term and long-term benefits of vacations, they would grab those benefits and head out of town.
The relaxed mind is a powerful aid in healing the body. Exercise, meditation and stress-reduction are important tools to achieve this goal, but vacations
Clinical psychologist Deborah Mulhern of Bethesda, Md., also has found that people who don’t take enough time to relax may find it harder to relax in the future.
“Without time and opportunity to do this, the neural connections that produce feelings of calm and peacefulness become weaker, making it actually more difficult to shift into less-stressed modes,” says clinical psychologist Deborah Mulhern in an article in USA News. “What neuroscience is showing is that we require down time in order for our bodies to go through the process of restoration. It is only when we are safe from external stresses that our bodies can relax enough to activate restoration.”
So when is your next vacation? Mini or major.
War and trauma ravage the mind and body. I remember the soldiers coming back from Vietnam. To this day, I see some of the unlucky vets with mental illness living under the highways and sleeping in doorways. Over the past several years, Congress has dramatically increase psychological health research funding, with some 900 important studies paid for and yielding results.
“Research advances in mental health and care provided for Soldiers is light years ahead of what it was during the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan” reports the director of Army Medical Command. Combat stress teams are now in the war zones to detect and treat combat stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD and other stress disorders affect many civilians – of all ages – due to poverty, domestic violence, substance use/abuse, bullying, work-place stress, and even being nagged at. I hope the ‘trickle down’ concept applies. May improved mental health services as a result of these findings work for soldiers and their country folk at home.
Read more. (Army Military News)
Have you looked down at the waistline and pondered “How am I going to get rid of this extra weight?” The mantra is diet-exercise-diet-exercise, but what few people realize is how important social support can be in effective weight loss. ‘Social support’ in Weight Watchers programs means weekly support group participation – and it works.
Researchers found that, on average, Weight Watchers participants lost more than three times the amount of the self-help group, and it stayed off longer. There are other types of weight loss programs that involve social support. ‘Social support” might mean joining a program with a friend. And that’s a very healthy choice to make. In one study, two-thirds of those who enrolled with friends had kept the weight off six months after the meetings ended, compared to people who attended on their own.
I suspect that participating with others increases feelings of connectedness, fun, accountability, and reduces stress. Stress is another important key in the weight gain puzzle, but I’ll devote a separate article or two to that topic.
Let’s tweak the mantra a bit: diet-exercise-social support-meditate.
This American Psychology Association article will give you more information.
Throw away the vending machines, and put a stationary bike in its place! And while the office is being revamped, how about adding a meditation area with a babbling fountain? It is probably no surprise that mindfulness about food and exercise boosts our performance at work. Opportunities to reduce stress should not be neglected either. Yet another study reported in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has found that eating healthy through the day and getting 30 minutes of exercise a few times a weeks has measurable beneficial effects on the job. The study also found that chronic diseases related to weight lead to higher absenteeism among people who are obese.
Making changes to naturally boost our performance in these ways is the harder part. I suggest to my clients that they think of changing habits as a step-by-step process over 30 days. Pick one step you can take, such as ‘no more soda’ and do it faithfully over a month. Be patient with yourself. Once formed, a new habit has a good chance of sticking.
For more research on the subject of fitness and productivity, you’ll find more in this article.
Do you agree with the idea that negative emotions are linked to increased risk of illness and positive emotions are linked to health and longevity? The popular notion that ‘thinking positive’ is definitely the best policy has been challenged in a ten-year study published in Social, Psychological and Personality Science. It turns out that feeling So-So may not be such a bad thing after all. These researchers found that “the greater the frequency of people’s mixed emotional experiences over time, the slower their age-related health decline” says author Lauren Friedman in Psychology Today.
Let’s think about this for a moment. Difficult events in our lives often bring with them negative and positive emotions. Using our bank of defense mechanisms, we can chose to suppress or ignore or express negative feelings. Texas Tech psychologist Jeff Larsen observes “The ability to withstand the tension of feeling both positive and negative emotions may represent an important human strength.”
Improving our life skills like coping with stress, resilience, and handing feelings can not only help us in difficult, ambiguous times; this study suggests that taking the good with the bad in a more balanced way may actually help longevity and health.
Do you remember a time when you doubled over with laughter, or when the giggles could not be suppressed? Even human babies laugh! Laughter is good for us in many ways, and most especially in times of stress. “When the fearful strain is on me day and night, if I did not laugh I should die,” Abraham Lincoln observed. There is a word for being unable to laugh. It is agelast. I never heard that word, and I surely hope I never catch that condition!
Gelotology is the study of laughter. If my psych professors at UCB had told me about that field of psychology, I would have been seriously tempted to devoted my career to it. Mounting scientific evidence confirms that laughter is psychologically, physically and interpersonally powerful. Laughter is our response to humor. Relaxation of skeletal and cardiovascular muscles, increased oxygen levels, strengthening connections between people, and improvement of mood are just a few of the benefits.
When I studied with the renowned Tao physician Mantak Chia in Thailand, he told us that laughter is how we massage the internal organs naturally. You do your body good with those big ol’ belly laughs.
Are you making use of the benefits of laughter? Check out this good PBS article by Suzanne Phillips, PsyD on laughter and ideas to cultivate more of it into your life.
This is a personal story. About a year ago, I set out to get good at ballroom dancing. I had done some salsa and merengue, but I knew little about the world of ballroom dancing and nothing about competitive dancing. Way back in my 20′s, I was a professional modern ballet/jazz dancer with a few dance companies. Being a ‘professional’ dancer means that you are paid, but it is surely not enough to live on. I taught preschool during those years, rather than wait tables, and because I really like working with children. Long story short, I had a love of dance that had been denied for a long time.
Reducing the risk of dementia was not forefront on my mind in taking up social dancing, but it is a nice perk. The human mind benefits from challenges. There is plenty of exciting data out there on the “neuroplasticity” of our brains, and how are capable of making new neurons throughout our lives. Whether physical or mental, activities in which we are completely absorbed – being in the “flow” – also brings about inner peace.
Fast forward to a western US dance competition in which I just competed in five International Latin dances with my pro/am partner, the incomparable Mark Novak, in the newcomer division. You’re all thinking “Like Dancing with the Stars?” Not the TV, not the voting crowd, but yes, judges and contestants in fabulous dresses and awards.
I had my first chest cold in years going on, but the clock had run out, and it was show time for me. I had told a good friend that I was competing with myself, in doing this, not “against” others. On a floor crowded with about a dozen couples, I danced the romantic rumba. The sassy cha cha. The non-stop hip swirling samba. The intense bull-fighter inspired paso doble. Last, the fast-paced playful jive. I concentrated on my technique and my connection with my pro/am partner. We felt good about how I danced.
I was awarded 1st place in all dances in the “Newcomer” division. My brain was tickled pink. My chest cold took me straight to a hot bath and bed, but you know, I set the bar a little higher and I jumped over it. That feels darn good.
Have you thought about something you’ve been wanting to do?
Caveat: After the event, I learned that I had actually gotten exactly what I expected. Those other dancers out there on the floor were in another division. I really was competing with myself.
With the harrowing increase over the past decade in youth diabetes, overweight, obesity and other ailments in the United States and worldwide, predictions are that this may be the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents, despite all the advances of medicine!
Coping skills (e.g. ability to manage stress through relaxation, meditation, mindfulness); healthy diet and more activity are widely known in the health profession to be crucial to turning the tide.
What are your thoughts on the cause, and how can this can be turned around?
Would any of us encourage our adolescent children to have unrestricted access to coffee? Of course not. We know that caffeine isn’t good in quantity. So what’s going on with so-called “energy drinks”? In an article in Pediatrics in Review, a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics, it reports that energy drinks have an unregulated amount of caffeine in them, plus chemicals that enhance the effects of caffeine, a potent combination that is bad for the health of teens. Insomnia, cardiovascular issues and anxiety are just some of the effects. Read the article and share the findings with teens and adults you care about today. It’s an opportunity to have open conversation about deception in advertising, too. That drink isn’t giving anyone energy. In fact, with all that loss of sleep, you’ll be dragging your feet in no time flat.