Category: Mental Health

Meditation and Stress Relief

Earlier this semester, I heard about Transcendental Meditation (TM) for the first time. It’s defined as a technique that trains one to turn “attention inwards towards the subtler levels of a thought until the mind transcends the experience of the subtlest state of the thought and arrives at the source of the thought” (Mahesh Yogi, 1969). A distinguishing characteristic of this form of meditation is the carefulness with which the pedagogy is preserved–requiring a training process to certify preservation of fidelity to the method. (Wallace, 1970).

An early and foundational study noted physiological changes attributed to practicing TM.  These included decreased heart rate and oxygen uptake, and changes in EEG frequency (Wallace, 1970). Generally, as we’ve heard in class from various individuals who practice, these manifest themselves as lower stress levels, in creased focus, and increased clarity and decision-making power.

Other positive benefits have been described in a variety of populations. TM has been suggested to facilitate decreased drop-out rates from urban schools, improve quality of life in children living with Autism Spectrum Disorder ,  boost immunity levels , and generally improve mental health and well-being.

This New York Times article chronicles the experiences of schools implementing TM in classrooms around NY, largely featuring success stories, while still noting that research on the use of TM in an academic setting is not yet conclusive.

There is room to speculate whether TM is radically different form other forms of inward reflection. Surely, there are many ways to reduce stress and enhance productivity, of which TM is just one. With TM on my radar, I look forward to seeing if research can discern TM as a distinctively beneficial.

 

Non-linked References:

M. Mahesh Yogi, The Science of Being and Art of Living (International SRM, – London, rev. ed., 1966), pp. 180-209.

Wallace, R. K. (1970). Physiological effects of transcendental meditation. Science, 167(3926), 1751-1754.

*credit for articles/reference guidance to EPID799c course resources made available to students

Why our perception of beauty is skewed

My friend asked me last night, seemingly out of the blue, “Do you ever wonder why stores separate their plus size clothes?”

The truth is, it didn’t cross my mind until she asked it. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it since because, really,  it seems like a classic microagression–a small, perhaps mundane but not insignificant–manner by which to separate people who lie outside of what, at some point, became considered the norm. Not that it should matter, but a 2016 VCU article cited data claiming that over 60% of women in the US wear clothes that are plus or extended sized. Another article notes that plus size women account for 28% of the clothing market (Binkley, 2013). With an affected population that substantial, it’s even more glaring how insensitive we can be.

A 2016  article published in Body Image links anti-fat attitudes, body shaming, self-compassion, and fat-talk in female college students. They found that internalizing body-shaming led to engaging in fat-talk, among other negative anti-fat attitudes. They found the converse to be true as well–that self-compassion leads to better psychological well-being and less engagement with objectification and self-denigration. The health education and communication implication of all this, is to promote self-compassion (Webb, 2016).  It isn’t hard to imagine that segregated stores don’t play into a healing cycle very well.

Though there has been a recent movement for models to that match all body types, the retail industry still largely caters to a frankly thinner than average body type. Consider the last mannequin you saw that wasn’t unrealistically proportioned. I can’t recall a single one…

One article says these social pressures, among others like harsh lighting and narrow spaces in dressing rooms,  are driving plus-sized women to opt towards online shopping (Money, 2017).  Despite some small successes, Money says, men and women of size “are clearly tired of limited options and unwelcome shopping experience”.

The thing is, it wasn’t a question out of the blue. She had gone shopping with her cousin. It should have been a fun  outing– bonding, enjoying rare time together, catching up and picking out clothes for each other. Instead, they parted ways near the entrance of the store.

References:

Binkley, Christina (2013, June 12), “On plus side: New fashion choices for size 18,” The Wall Street Journal, Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB100014241278873 23949904578540002476232128.

Money, C. N. (2017). Do the Clothes Make the (Fat) Woman: The Good and Bad of the Plus-Sized Clothing Industry. Siegel Institute Ethics Research Scholars, 1(1), 1.

Webb, J. B., Fiery, M. F., & Jafari, N. (2016). “You better not leave me shaming!”: Conditional indirect effect analyses of anti-fat attitudes, body shame, and fat talk as a function of self-compassion in college women. Body image, 18, 5-13.

http://www.hercampus.com/school/vcu/problems-womens-plus-size-clothing

 

Study Drugs Limitless? More Like Limited: Know the Risks

By: Shauna Ayres MPH: Health Behavior candidate 2017

There has been much attention on the opioid and heroin epidemic in the last several years. Appalachian states in particular have suffered a great deal from a sharp rise in addiction and overdoses caused by opioid drugs. However, like many other addictive behaviors, there is silent rise in rates of “study drugs” on college campuses across the nation. Study drugs are prescription drugs, such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse, that are used to treat Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Those with ADHD suffer from a brain abnormality that causes difficulties in concentration and increases impulsivity; but, college students without ADHD are using them to increase focus, sleep less, or do more academic, professional, and/or social activities.

The strong marketing and pressure by drug companies to prescribe and sell new ADHD drugs has resulted in more youth being diagnosed with this disorder and more prescriptions being written. There are currently 2.5 million Americans prescribed ADHD drugs and manufacturing of prescription stimulants has increased by 9 million percent in the past decade! I think the real questions are: Do more Americans suffer from ADHD? Or, has American’s need for drugs increased? The sad reality is that the more drugs available, the more opportunities there are to abuse those drugs.

It is estimated up to one third of college students have used study drugs. Common characteristics of users include being white, belonging to a fraternity or sorority, and having a grade point average of a B or lower. Interestingly, these drugs may keep students awake longer, but do not increase cognitive ability or capacity, or said another way, they do not make students smarter and are not like the magic pills in the movie Limitless. Most college students report getting or buying these types of drugs from a friend or peer with ADHD and a legit prescription.

Just because a drug is approved by the FDA, does not mean it does not have side effects, especially if it was prescribed to someone other than the person actually consuming it–every drug comes with risks. Some of the more common consequences of ADHD stimulant drugs are increased blood pressure, irregular heart rate, restlessness, anxiety, nervousness, paranoia, headache, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth, changes in appetite, diarrhea, constipation, and changes in sex drive. Hallucinations, cardiac arrest, and death have been reported among people with prior heart conditions. In addition, ADHD stimulants are classified as a schedule II drug due to being highly addictive and the suggested sentence for distribution of schedule II drugs is 20 years in prison and a fine of 1 million dollars.

So, if you are using or considering using these types of drugs, please seek support from Campus Health Services or another health professional.

If you have these drugs for ADHD, do not share them with others. Here is a link to ways to “Protect Your Prescription”.

Resources

Cherney, Kristeen (2014). ADHD Medications List. Healthline. http://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/medication-list#Stimulants2

University of Texas at Austin, University Health Services. HealthyHorns: Study Drugs. https://healthyhorns.utexas.edu/studydrugs.html

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Campus Health Services: Home. https://campushealth.unc.edu/

Drug Enforcement Administration. Federal Trafficking Penalties for Schedules I, II, III, IV, and V (except Marijuana): https://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ftp_chart1.pdf

Center on Young Adult Health and Development (n.d.) Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants: What college administrators, parents, and student need to know. University of Maryland School of Public Health. http://medicineabuseproject.org/assets/documents/NPSFactSheet.pdf

Aberg, Simon Essig (2016). “Study Drug” Abuse by College Students: What you need to know. National Center for Health Research. http://center4research.org/child-teen-health/hyperactivity-and-adhd/study-drug-abuse-college-students/

Making Time for Self Care

drinking-tea

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

The weather is getting (a little bit) colder, and my to-do list is getting much longer. I’ve had several recent conversations with friends in passing about how busy and overwhelmed we are starring to feel as assignments and obligations start to pile up. And I’ve started to rationalize that if I skipped my planned exercise class or morning walk or cancelled plans, I would have more time to tackle all of the things that need to get done. However, even though it’s important to do well and succeed in school, it is also important to take care of yourself! Practicing Self are will help to prevent overload burnout, will reduce the negative effects of stress, and will also help you refocus.

Here are some tips for Self Care

  • Make time to eat well and exercise: No need to cook gourmet meals and workout for multiple hours per day, but it is important to remember to fill your body with good and nutrient dense food (with occasional treats!) and to take time to move your body every day.
  • Don’t overschedule: It may be tempting to fill your schedule up with extracurricular activities and social events on top of classes and homework, but everything starts to add up eventually. Set aside time each week for yourself even if it means saying no.
  • Get enough sleep: Make getting enough sleep a priority. I set an alarm on my phone every day 45 minutes before my ideal bedtime, which gives me enough time to get organized for the next day and to wind down any activity or assignment that I am working on, which has improved the amount of sleep that I get. It may also be helpful to set a caffeine cut off time each day and to limit screen time before bed.
  • Spend time each day NOT working: Even though there is always something productive that you could be doing, it is important to take a break each day. Take a study break by going on a short walk with a friend or take real break at lunchtime and don’t look at your computer. Make time for hobbies and activities that you enjoy like reading for pleasure, sports, and cooking.

Check out this list of TED Talks to learn more about self-care.

Don’t let depression get you down, get help

By: Shauna Ayres MPH: Health Behavior candidate 2017

People tend to loosely use the word depressed as meaning temporarily disappointed or sad, but depression is a serious mental illness that effects many young adults. In fact, the age group experiencing the highest levels of depression are those 18-25 years old at approximately 9.3% of this population as compared with 6.6 % of all US adults. Going to college is a monumental transition period in people’s lives and living independently for the first time, having a difficult course load, interacting with new people, and changes in diet, sleep, and lifestyle habits can increase your susceptibility of depression. If you are feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable for longer than normal (typically measured in at least 2 weeks or more), you may have depression. However, this common illness is treatable. (NIH.gov)

 TREATMENTS:

Therapy: We could all benefit from talking with a professional, but for those with depression, it is even more important. There are different types of therapies that can be done over the phone, face-to-face, or in a group. CAPS Services at UNC offer a range of therapy and counseling options for students.

For CAPS Walk-In Services:

Go to the 3rd floor of the Campus Health Services Building.

MON-THURS: 9 am – noon or 1 pm – 4 pm

FRI: 9:30 am – noon or 1 pm – 4 pm. 

Medications: A range of medications are available for treating depression including SSRIs, anti-anxiety medication, and mood stabilizers. You should discuss medications with your primary care doctor and/or learn more about your options at your CAPS assessment.

 Other Strategies to Reduce Depression:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Spending time outside in nature
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Get enough sleep
  • Learn a relaxation technique, such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscule relaxation.
  • Avoid using drugs
  • Don’t drink alcohol, or only drink in moderation
  • Break up large tasks into small ones.
  • Try to spend time with people who are supportive, including family, friends, student groups, etc.
  • Try something new and try to have fun

(NIH.gov)

Don’t let depression get you down. Your college years are supposed to be some of the best of your life, so get the help you need now and start living the life you’ve imagined.

The Brain Controls the Body, But Can the Body Control the Brain?

We all know our moods can affect how active we are, but did you know how much you move can also have an affect on our mood?

That’s right, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School, the connection between your brain and your body is a two-way street. They found that consistent exercise, such as running, cycling, and aerobics can affect your mood by increasing a protein found in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or simply BDNF, which aids in the growth of nerve fibers.

Other studies have shown that those with ADHD can reduce their symptoms (although only temporarily) by doing 20-minutes of exercises such as cycling. Afterward, participants were motivated to do tasks that required thought and were less depressed, tired, and confused.

Forms of meditation, such as yoga, qigong, and tai chi were all shown to be helpful at alleviating depression, by allowing people to pay closer attention to their bodies and not on external factors. These changes in posture, breathing, and rhythm have all shown to affect the brain in a positive way. In some cases, people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) no longer met the qualifications for it once they began practice meditative movement.

Additionally, another study has shown that while exercise is beneficial for well being, self-esteem if further improved when moving synchronously with someone else. Moving along with someone else also showed signs of cooperation and charity toward others, as well as improved memory and recall skills.

Ultimately, these findings only stress the close connection held between your brain and body, and show that how much you move can not only help you stay physically fit, but can also affect the way you think and feel. These findings also present an alternative remedy to more traditional treatments for depression, such as psychotherapy and medication.

So next time you find yourself exhausted and completely overwhelmed, put on your sneakers and take a few minutes to get some exercise. You’ll not only sleep better, but in time, you may find yourself feeling more positive about life as well.

Are you feeling lucky?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Everyone’s heard the phrase “the luck of the Irish” but it turns out that you don’t need to be Irish nor do you need to find a four leaf clover in order to experience the benefits of good luck, all you have to do is believe that luck is one of your stable intrinsic personal attributes.

A belief in luck was originally thought by psychologists to be an irrational and maladaptive belief with negative consequences for health. For example, if you believe that you’re lucky you may engage in risky behaviors like smoking or indoor tanning because you don’t think you’ll suffer harmful consequences like cancer.

However, psychologists now believe that a belief in luck might actually be a positive attribute which could lead to greater feelings of confidence, control, and optimism. In addition to allowing people to be more open and optimistic about new experiences and opportunities, people who believe in luck have also been shown to be less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than those who do not believe in luck.

Also, when negative events outside of their control occur, those who believe in luck may be better able to cope with these experiences due to their increased ability to remain optimistic and persevere.

So, are you feeling lucky?

The New Suicide Prevention App Designed to Save Lives.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 800,000 people in the world commit suicide each year, and many more attempt it. While suicide is often preventable, those at risk don’t always have access to care when they need it the most. Because of this, developers have created MindMe, a new mental health app designed to put the resources and care needed right on your phone.

The app, currently in it’s beta stages, hopes to use the emerging idea of telemedicine to address the critical need for healthcare delivery to become more accessible for individuals in times of crisis. The app is not meant to replace a therapist, but rather allow therapists to use technology to provide real-time support.

So, how does the app work? Well, during a time of crisis, the app first suggests exercises to users that are preset by the users’  therapist and vary depending on intensity of the situation. These exercises can range from playing a game on a phone to watching a video pep-talk from a therapist, and are overall tailored to what has previously worked best for the user.

 

Users can also use the app to log triggers of suicidal thoughts, and emotions felt throughout the day. This information can be accessed by therapists in order to monitor well-being and progress over time.

Developers of the app are currently crowdfunding to raise money for a large clinical trial that will help prove the app is successful in leading to fewer suicides and better mental health care. If you wish to donate money to help them reach there goal, you can do so here.

If you or someone you know is in danger of harming themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1 (800) 273-8255.

I’m one in a million, are you?

The American Heart Association’s CPR & First Aid training has become a common certification. In fact, I first became certified when I was required to complete the training as part of my 8th grade health class. Chances are that you or someone you know has gone through the training at some point in time. Much more recently, however, I also learned about and was trained in a newer form of first aid that you probably haven’t heard about, and that’s mental health first aid.

Mental Health First Aid, a training course offered by the National Council for Behavioral Health, teaches participants how to help a person who is experiencing a mental health crisis or problem. This is incredibly important since 43.6 million Americans met the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness in 20141, a far greater number than the 359,400 Americans who experienced cardiac arrest in 20132. But despite the high prevalence of mental health issues in our society, most Americans receive little to no education or training regarding mental health disorders.

The National Council for Behavioral Health is trying to reduce this training gap and has set a goal to train 1 million mental health first aiders in the U.S., hoping to make the training as common as CPR certification.

Visit this website to learn more about Mental Health First Aid or to find a course near you. Or follow #1in1m on Twitter.

 

1http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-us-adults.shtml

2http://cpr.heart.org/AHAECC/CPRAndECC/General/UCM_477263_Cardiac-Arrest-Statistics.jsp

Using Moog for Mood? Digitally altering voices induces mood changes.

How audio can induce mood changes in humans. Credit: science team; Source: Science Daily

Have you ever given yourself a pep talk in the mirror to boost your confidence? Sometimes our own behavior informs us of how we are feeling; if you smile, you might start to feel happier, for instance. However, what would happen if you heard a digitally altered, happier version of your own voice? Would that make you feel more positive? Based on a study published this month in PNAS, there’s a good chance it would. To test the awareness of people’s emotional expressions, a team of researchers developed digital algorithms that alter voices to sound happier, sadder, or more fearful. These digitally altered voices were subsequently played back in real time to unknowing participants. Surprisingly, hearing their altered voice subsequently caused a change in their mood. When hearing their own “sad” voice, participants reported feeling sad, and when hearing their own “happy” voices, participants reported feeling happier. This suggests that auditory feedback has a direct influence on our emotional state – even if it didn’t actually emanate from our own vocal cords.

While there is still much more basic research that needs to be done using these digital algorithms, there is great potential for the development of new therapies to treat mood disorders. For example, digitally altering a patient’s voice may help induce positive attitude change or reduce the emotional impact of traumatic events.

Original research article: 10.1073/pnas.1506552113

This post is part of the Psy-Friday series; every Friday Zan talks findings in psychology, and how knowing the mind can influence health and well-being.