Category: Mental Health

Making Time for Self Care


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. (


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


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.




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.

New Year, New You. Why Mental Health Is Just As Important.

At the start of the new year, my conversations with friends and social media feeds are usually filled with people talking about their New Year’s resolutions. Every year it seems people wait for January 1st to make big changes in their life, usually health-related, whether it’s losing weight or vowing to eat healthier. While these goals (if followed through) can be beneficial to your overall physical health, most people tend to neglect mental health along the way.

However, mental health can be just as, if not more, important to our overall well-being and one in four people worldwide will experience a mental health issue at some point in their life. So this year, I challenge everyone to go back and add at least one mental health resolution to their list. If you can’t think of any, here are a few examples:

1.) Compliment yourself more. New Year’s resolutions usually involve pointing out the things you don’t like about yourself, or want to “fix”. To counter this, try to find one thing every day to compliment yourself on. Whether it’s how great you look in the new sweater you bought or reminding yourself how smart you are, the more you begin to love yourself, the better you’ll feel.

2.) Try meditation. Meditation has been shown to have a variety of mental health benefits, including improvements in memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress relief. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t require a large time commitment. Try beginning or ending each day with just five minutes of meditation.

3.) Say yes to new things, but also learn to say no when you need to. Go to that new spin class with your friend, enter that essay contest you’ve always wanted to, and don’t let your anxiety get in the way of pursuing new opportunities. At the same time, saying “yes” to everything can bring more harm then good, so make sure to learn your limit and find a good balance between the two.

Mental health Monday: Orange County gets dementia-friendly

Dementia friendly logoNovember is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and Family Caregivers Month, and both are being marked in Orange County by the rollout of the Orange County Dementia-Friendly Business Campaign.

That doesn’t mean that Orange County businesses want to drive you to dementia. Rather, participating businesses have committed to their consumer-facing employees taking a two-hour training in how to interact with people who may have dementia. Those businesses will also display the program’s logo near their entrances.

The idea is to recognize that more than 5 million Americans—more than 1 in 9 older people—are living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. They have unique needs, especially when they interact with the community at large. Participating businesses are signaling that they are sensitive to those needs.

DeWana Anderson, a Carrboro veterinarian, said in a Chapel Hill News article that she found the training useful in working with some of the older people who bring their pets in for help.

“They may know what they want to say and they may know how they want to say it,” she said, “but when stuff hits them too fast, it can flabbergast them.”

The article said the staff at The Animal Hospital “learned through the training to ask simple questions and provide clear instructions to someone who has trouble understanding.”

The Dementia-Friendly Orange County site has more information on how to participate in the program, including a 19-minute training video. It’s aimed at teaching businesses how to be dementia-friendly, but which contains a lot of good tips for anybody who interacts with folks with dementia.

Have a Healthy Serving of Gratitude this Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is not usually considered a healthy holiday. Although it may mean trouble for your waistline, the holiday’s emphasis on gratitude makes Thanksgiving a great time to boost your mental health and sense of well-being.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude: noun grat·i·tude \ˈgra-tə-ˌtüd, -ˌtyüd\ a feeling of appreciation or thanks.

How does it impact health and well-being?

Gratitude is the process of recognizing and acknowledging the good things in life. It can create a positive shift people’s attitudes and perspectives by helping them focus on what they have instead of what they lack. Gratitude can help people appreciate and build stronger relationships with the people in their life, relish good experiences, improve their health, and better deal with adversity. In these ways, increasing gratitude is associated with an increase in happiness and feelings of well-being.

How can I practice gratitude?

-Write a thank-you note. Even if you don’t send it, the process of putting your feelings into words can be a therapeutic and worthwhile exercise.

-Keep a gratitude journal. If you already have a journal, consider adding a few lines at the end of each entry about the things you’re thankful for.

-Count your blessings. Start small by trying to mentally list 3-5 things that you’re grateful for at the end of each week.

-Meditate or pray. Take some time to create a calm atmosphere where you can quietly reflect on the things in your life that you’re grateful for.


Take a few minutes now to think about some of the things that you’re thankful for, and feel free to share in the comments below!