By Kristen Fuller, M.D.
The warmth, relaxation and flexibility that the summer months bring can be exciting for vacations and sunshine, but for some, summer months can have the potential to trigger feelings of being overwhelmed and losing control. Expectations of being carefree can put a lot of pressure on those who are struggling with depression or anxiety. Below are self-care tips and tricks that can be used to maintain your mental health during the summer months.
1. Take care of your mental health this summer by getting outside.
Exposure to natural sunlight increases levels of vitamin D and serotonin, which are known to boost your mood. Taking a moment to step outdoors, smell the roses, feel the sand under your toes or watch a sunset can provide a sense of calming and well being. Pick up a new outdoor hobby where you can spend 30 minutes in the sunshine. Whether it is gardening, hiking or paddle boarding, spending time outdoors is an essential element of self-care.
2. Take time to unwind by using your vacation time.
Many of us use paid vacation time to accomplish tasks around the house that we neglect during our busy workweeks. Instead of cleaning out the closet, organizing the garage and attending long-overdue appointments, use your vacation to enjoy yourself. Such activities can include reading a book at home or traveling to a new place for the day. Your vacation time should be spent unwinding and enjoying time away from your to-do lists.
3. Re-focus your energy by planning a getaway.
Getting out of town and experiencing a change in scenery is a great way to unwind and re-focus your energy on the present. Whether it is an overnight getaway or a multi-week international trip, escaping the business from the daily grind can help clear your mind and boost your mood. This can help you immensely on your return home back to your everyday routine.
4. Maintain a healthy sleep schedule for mental health.
Just because school is out for summer and your kids can stay up late and sleep in does not mean they should. If you are a parent, try to maintain a healthy and steady sleep schedule for yourself and your kids, regardless of work and school schedules. It is recommended that we obtain 8-10 uninterrupted hours of sleep, as sleep hygiene is an essential component of our mental health.
5. Stay physically active.
Whether it is going to the gym, signing up for a yoga class or taking a walk outside, physical activity is known to boost your mood. During the summer months, it is easy to stay on the couch and binge-watch the latest television series, but an idle activity can promote negative consequences on our physical and mental health. Try to maintain 20-30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each day. You may be surprised how good you feel.
If you or someone you love needs support with their mental health, Discovery Mood & Anxiety Program is here to help.
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a clinical content writer and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a family medicine physician and author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies within educating the public on preventable diseases, including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is also an outdoor activist and spends most of her free time empowering other women to get outside into the backcountry.
Kendra Winchester May 3, 2022
Every May, Mental Health Awareness Month focuses on bringing attention to how mental health plays such a huge role in everyone’s life. It educates about the different ways people can struggle with their mental health. Whether it’s grief after the death of a loved one, PTSD after a traumatic event, a generalized anxiety disorder, or schizophrenia, mental health struggles come in all shapes and sizes. But while most people will struggle with their mental health at some point in their lifetime, mental illness can make people feel alone, lost with no way out of their current mental state.
Reading books about mental health struggles can help people feel seen and less alone. Whether fiction or nonfiction, these works illustrate the wide range of experiences of characters grappling with mental health while trying to get from day to day. No two stories are alike. Each experience is unique, but all share the universal qualities of pushing for something better, for learning how to better care for themselves or their loved ones.
In that vein, here are ten books — some fiction, some nonfiction — that represent a different facet of what it’s like to struggle with mental health.
HEART BERRIES BY TERESE MARIE MAILHOT
While at a mental health care facility, Terese Marie Mailhot begins writing in her journal as if her life depends on it. In fact, it does. Having struggled with her mental illness for almost as long as she can remember, Mailhot hopes this is the thing that will make the difference. Mailhot is from Seabird Island Band in the Pacific Northwest. In her writing, she begins to grapple with past trauma, fighting for the life she has made for herself.
BROKEN (IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY) BY JENNY LAWSON
Since her debut book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson has dazzled readers with her incredible wit and hilarious stories. But in Broken, Lawson takes a slightly more serious tone as she describes her intense struggles with depression. Nothing seems to break her out of her fog. She fights insurance companies to cover better treatment and shares an intimate look into her experience.
THE UNDOCUMENTED AMERICANS BY KARLA CORNEJO VILLAVICENCIO
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio arrived in America as a young child, meeting her parents at their new home in New York City. She and her parents lived undocumented, just trying to get by, and Cornejo Villavicencio found herself struggling with her mental health. When she started interviewing other undocumented migrants for this book, she found that many of them also struggled with their mental health, the pressure of making their way in America taking its toll.
RUST: A MEMOIR OF STEEL AND GRIT BY ELIESE COLETTE GOLDBACH
While working on her master’s thesis, Eliese Colette Goldbach’s mental health deteriorates, and she finds it impossible to finish her thesis. She decides to take a job at a steel mill, joining a blue collar workforce. She finds herself enjoying the work — and the incredible pay — and slowly starts feeling more like herself. But will she ever be able to finish her thesis?
I’M TELLING THE TRUTH BUT I’M LYING BY BASSEY IKPI
As a Nigerian American immigrant, Bassey Ikpi never felt like she fit in, her emotions roiling just beneath the surface. As an adult, she’s diagnosed with Bipolar II, and begins to get a better handle on her mental illness. But her experience isn’t linear, and she bravely shares her experience with her readers.
KNOW MY NAME BY CHANEL MILLER
After Brock Turner was sentenced to just six months in jail following a high profile sexual assault case, Chanel Miller identified herself as the victim under the pseudonym Jane Doe. In her memoir she steps out of the shadows, sharing her story on her own terms. As she tells it, she describes the intense toll that the trial had on her mental health.
ALL MY PUNY SORROWS BY MIRIAM TOWES
In All My Puny Sorrows, we follow Elf and Yoli, two sisters who have left the Mennonite faith of their upbringing. To Yoli, Elf has always been the shining star, the musician with such incredible talent, while Yoli is divorced and trying to raise two kids on her own. But Elf grapples with severe mental illness, always on the edge of life-ending action. This incredible portrait chronicles the toll that mental illness takes on those who experience it and the families who love them.
TAKE A HINT, DANI BROWN BY TALIA HIBBERT
Dani Brown has a flirtatious relationship with Zaf, the security guard in her building. But could it perhaps be more? Of course it can! This is a romance novel. Zaf is a former athlete who struggles with anxiety. Sensitive to his condition, he wonders if anyone will see and accept him for who he is.
THE BORDER OF PARADISE BY ESMÉ WEIJUN WANG
David grows up in postwar Brooklyn, and for as long as he can remember, he’s struggled with low moods. After his parents pass, he sells the family business and travels to Taiwan. There he falls in love, and his new wife returns with him to America. Eventually his mental illness returns with a vengeance.
EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL BY MIRA T. LEE
Miranda and Lucia, two Chinese American sisters, could not be more different. Miranda, the elder, is responsible, driven, and knows exactly what she wants out of life. Lucia, the younger, is free-spirited, ready to go wherever life takes her. While Miranda is protective of her younger sister, it’s more than just that she’s the eldest. Lucia has struggled with severe mental illness for most of her life. Though Miranda has Lucia’s best interest at heart, her interference in Lucia’s life is not always welcome.
Keep an eye out for these emerging trends and exciting new research developments in mental health in the new year.
Mental health became an important part of the public conversation in 2021, as Olympic athletes, celebrities, and other public figures came forward about their well-being and helped reduce the stigma.
As we enter the third year of the pandemic, we can expect mental health to continue to be a top priority in 2022, particularly as the United States reckons with a growing mental health crisis.
In fact, a recent poll by the American Psychiatric Association showed that one-quarter of Americans made a new year’s resolution to improve their mental health in 2022.
Although 2021 wasn’t without its challenges, the past year brought growth, understanding, and hopefully, renewed optimism. New developments in science, such as the COVID-19 vaccines, are a testament to humanity’s commitment to healing.
Other exciting research studies have shown us how we can improve mental health services, address racial and socioeconomic disparities, and ultimately, enhance our overall well-being from the inside out.
Suffice it to say, there’s a lot happening in the mental health space — too much for one article alone. To determine our top mental health trends of 2022, we consulted experts in the field and Psych Central’s Medical Affairs Team.
Note that some of these trends aren’t yet available, but we expect a continued increase in research and accessibility in the months to come.
1. Trauma-informed care
Nearly 61% of adults have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetimes, according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) studyTrusted Source. Around 1 in 6 adults endure four or more traumatic events during childhood, with women and people from minoritized communities facing a greater risk. Clinicians, health care practitioners, educators, and mental health professionals are widely embracing a trauma-informed approach to careTrusted Source to address trauma among the broader population.
Trauma-informed care will only continue to be emphasized in 2022, according to Nathaniel Ivers, PhD, department chair and associate professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
For trauma-informed care to be effective, Ivers emphasizes the need for a holistic approach that includes treatments and strategies that play to an individual’s strengths versus their weaknesses. In some cases, trauma-informed care could run the risk of hyper-focusing on an individual’s trauma exclusively, rather than homing in on an individual’s strengths to effectively understand and treat them.
2. Blood tests for mental illness
Soon, you could have the option to take a blood test to easily detect a mental health condition like depression.
In April 2021Trusted Source, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine developed a novel blood test for mental illness, suggesting that biological markers for mood disorders can be found within RNA biomarkers.
The breakthrough study indicated that a blood test can determine the severity of depression and the risk for developing severe depression and bipolar disorder in the future. The blood test may also help tailor an individual’s medication choices.
“This is an exciting prospect for identifying biological markers of depression among researchers, but very preliminary in its understanding and potential for use,” says Matthew Boland, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Reno, Nevada, and a member of Psych Central’s Medical Affairs Team.
Although blood tests for mental illnesses are still in their early development stages, this scientific advancement could change, even improve, how mental health conditions are diagnosed, which is often by trial and error.
“This method will remain an adjunctive to traditional diagnostic tools, as mental illnesses are complex and have biological, psychological, and sociocultural etiologies,” Ivers adds.
3. Advancements in psychedelic research
Psychedelics have been used for religious, medical, and ceremonial purposes around the world for centuries, predominantly among Indigenous cultures.
And recent research suggests that psychoactive substances like psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, and ketamine can help treat mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and more.
Although psychedelics are still classified as controlled substances and illegal in many countries, including the United States, laws, policies, and stigma are starting to ease up.
For instance, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently authorized an increase in the production of psychedelics to meet growing research demands.
From Yale to Johns Hopkins to New York University, to the newly minted Center for Psychedelic Research and Therapy at the University of Texas, research scientists are becoming increasingly interested in the therapeutic value of psychedelics and other psychoactive substances.
In addition, emerging research shows the potential mental health benefits of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (PAP), a form of therapy combined with ingesting a psychoactive substance.
“Adjunctive therapy is needed to keep old habits [from] solidifying following dosing,” Boland says. “More established methods will be slower to adopt, partially due to legality and awaiting increased research findings for efficacy for many specific conditions.”
While psychedelic therapy is still at least a few years away from being offered at your therapist’s office, we’ll likely continue to see more scientific discoveries on the possible benefits.
4. Setting healthy boundaries with social media
If you have a smartphone, you’re probably well aware that limiting your screen time can be a challenge. Not to mention, spending too much time online can negatively affect your well-being.
And if you’ve watched Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma,” you’re familiar that Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest specifically designed these apps to hold your attention for as long as possible.
You might also recall when a former Facebook employee testified before Congress in October 2021 on the negative effects of Instagram on teens’ mental health, which was dovetailed by a global Facebook outage.
The events sparked an overdue dialogue about the potentially harmful effects of social media platforms and the need for taking an occasional break.
We can expect to hear more conversations about “digital wellness” and establishing healthy boundaries with social media, particularly as research continues to shed light on the negative effects on adolescents and adults alike.
“Larger overall scrutiny of the effects of social media on mental health will likely continue and increase,” Boland says. “Whether or not that translates to definitive action by lawmakers may be a different story.”
What “social media boundaries” might look like will vary based on the individual, and whether they’re effective is still up for debate. While more research is needed, Boland suggests that setting the following boundaries can be helpful:
5. Artificial intelligence in clinical settings
Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) technologies could improve the future of therapy sessions and mental health diagnoses. According to research published in December 2021, AI motion sensors can be used to detect symptoms of anxiety such as:
Although the use of AI in mental health training and treatment could increase in the new year and beyond, experts say the technology is unlikely to replace traditional mental health services with human beings.
6. Continued expansion in telehealth services
Therapy administered via telemental health picked up steam in 2020, sustained in 2021, and is here to stay, according to experts. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many mental health professionals now have the training, experience, confidence, and technology to conduct telemental health services effectively and ethically,” Ivers says. “It also has the potential to increase mental health treatment access to rural and older adult communities.”
According to Boland, around 60% of mental health practitioners currently have full caseloads solely on telehealth.
“Clients largely appear to enjoy the convenience — only a few clients have requested in-person,” Boland says. “Some mental health and business analysts project that telemental health could expand even more.”
Virtual mental health services can be especially helpful for those who:
7. Increase in transcranial magnetic stimulation
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive method of brain stimulation, has been studied extensively in recent years and is being increasingly used to treat certain mental health conditions.
The safety and efficacy have been so promising that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Trusted Sourcecontinues to approve innovative TMS technologies like NeuroStar and BrainsWay. TMS stimulates areas of the brain that are known to be underactive in individuals with mental health conditions such as:
8. Virtual reality for chronic pain and care
The FDA recently authorizedTrusted Source marketing for a virtual reality (VR) program for chronic pain reduction as an alternative to opioid prescriptions. VR treatments could be revolutionary, offering a different type of therapy for folks who wish to avoid pain medication to relieve their symptoms.
“People are put into a virtual world where they conduct movements, learn about the nature of pain sensations in their body, and learn a number of behavioral and cognitive skills on how to effectively respond to pain and cope with the stress associated with it,” Boland says.“[VR] is meant to work along with medication, physical treatments, and behavioral clinician work,” he adds.
As VR technology becomes more accessible, experts say we’ll see a continued expansion for treatments for different mental health and medical conditions. “As virtual worlds become more prevalent and useful and as the metaverse evolves, I believe that medical and mental health professionals will find ways to help clients through these technologies,” Ivers says.
2021 was an innovative year for scientific research in the mental health space — and we’re excited to see what 2022 has in store. From trauma-informed care to psychedelic research to artificial intelligence and virtual reality, there are many exciting developments to be on the lookout for, especially as we all become a little more comfortable talking about our mental health.
If you’re curious as to what the future holds, you may wish to check back for more updates. We’ll continue to share the latest research, technologies, therapies, and resources that we believe will revolutionize how we approach our mental wellness.
In the meantime, we wish you a happy, healthy, and safe new year and hope you’re able to take good care of yourself in 2022 and beyond.
Medically reviewed by Kendra Kubala, PsyD, Psychology — Written by Morgan Mandriotaon January 3, 2022
Research has shown that adults, too, have a lot to gain from the act of playing.
July 7, 2018, 9:25 AM CDT / Updated July 7, 2018, 9:25 AM CDT
By Tolu Ajiboye
When you think of playing, some memories from childhood most likely come to mind: digging for dinosaur bones in the sandbox, a game of tag at recess, spending hours with your toy of choice (whether it was a Barbie doll, a Hot Wheel’s car or a pile of Legos).
But can you remember the last time you played?
If you can’t, then you may be missing out on an important way to give your physical and mental health a boost.
There’s a reason why we associate playtime with young children: Free play is how kids discover the world and how it works. “Play is essential as they grow, as it helps them develop language, vocabulary, social-cognitive, collaboration and turn-taking skills along with their emotional intelligence,” Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, Professor of Developmental Psychology at New York University, tells NBC News BETTER. “Children that aren’t allowed to play experience a loss of self-motivation and they run the risk of burn-out.”
Tamis-LeMonda explains that play is also a great learning tool for children. “There have been experiments measuring the success of teaching children with play as a tool versus teaching them in ways devoid of play," she says. "They all found that children learn more and retain information better when there’s play involved.”
We’ve come to accept that play as an important part of a healthy child’s development, but who says they have a lien on play’s advantages? Definitely not science. Studies and research show that adults, too, have a lot to gain from the act of playing.
The most obvious benefit comes from play that involves physical activity. When done frequently, it strengthens your heart, boosts your lung function and lowers your risk of developing coronary heart disease. Not only that, physical play like sports and exercise, also reduce your stress hormones (e.g cortisol and adrenaline) and trigger the release of endorphins — your feel-good hormones — which elevates your mood and helps you relax after a stressful day.
Physical play like sports and exercise reduces stress hormones and triggers the release of endorphins.
Laughter, which is present in many kinds of playful activities, releases those same feel-good hormones. The act of simply laughing with others will also foster a sense of camaraderie and strengthen your relationships, too.
At work, play increases your productivity levels and makes you more creative. In fact, in their book "Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College," Dr. Sam Wang and Dr. Sandra Aamodt discuss how play contributes to successful problem solving, not just at work, but in your personal life, too. "Work in adult life is often most effective when it resembles play. Indeed, total immersion in an activity often indicates that the activity is intensely enjoyable; this is the concept of flow, or what athletes call being in the zone," they wrote. "Flow occurs during active experiences that require concentration but are also highly practiced, where the goals and boundaries are clear but leave room for creativity. This describes many adult hobbies, from skiing to music, as well as careers like surgery and computer programming."
Finally, as you age, play (especially the social and group kinds) facilitates happiness, wards off depression, improves cognitive health and lowers your risk of developing age-related diseases like dementia.
So you’re convinced that you could benefit from adding play back into your weekly routine. But what exactly does play look like for adults?
Think of play as more of a mental approach to activities, not necessarily the particular activities themselves. In fact, you don’t really need to worry about if an activity constitutes as play or not, as long as you adopt a playful mindset and of course, have fun, while you’re partaking. It could be taking part in your favorite sport, playing a board game with your family, solving sudoku puzzles on the commute to work, swimming with friends, taking an exercise class or cooking a new recipe.
Being happy, relaxed, free, feeling like time is flowing, not constantly checking your watch — those things signify that you are in play mode.
What feels like play to you may not to the next person, and that’s okay. (A friend may love playing volleyball at the beach, while you, on the other hand, see it as self-inflicted torture.) “The definition of play connotes voluntariness and vulnerability. It’s anything you feel like doing without being made or forced to,” explains play expert, creative strategist and toy designer Yesim Kunter. Kunter develops play experiences and applies play philosophy to spaces, environments and communities, She also trains organizations to leverage creativity and innovation through play workshops. “Being happy, relaxed, free, feeling like time is flowing, not constantly checking your watch — those things signify that you are in play mode.”
Clinical psychologist and chief of the Division of Psychology at Ellis Hospital, Dr. Rudy Nydegger, says there are two basic tenets of play. “First, it is something that we do for recreation that is purely for enjoyment and/or entertainment — it is something we do just for fun," he says. "Second, it is something that is intrinsically motivating. In other words it is something that we want to do and is not something we need to be coerced or 'bribed' into doing. It is voluntary; we do it just because we want to.”
You can either carve out a special time for play, such as planning a weekend activity with friends, finishing a crossword puzzle every night before bed or heading out for daily morning runs. Or you can also decide to incorporate play into regular tasks that are already on your to-do list: like doodling while you’re on a conference call at work or singing and dancing in the shower or while you clean.
Because most adults spend the bulk of their waking hours at the office, making sure you experience some type of play there is crucial. “A lot of offices are sterile and ‘unplayful,’ so it could be simple and subtle playful things like using colorful pens on your tables or having posters with nice inspirational quotes on your desk wall,” Kunter explains. “And if your office allows it, playing a board game for just 15 minutes with your colleagues is a great way to play and refresh yourself during office hours.”
Here are five ways Kunter says you can easily incorporate play into your office space:
Tamis-LeMonda advises us to take a page out of a children’s book. “That’s what’s really cool about children, they don’t worry about the future, they don’t check things off their to-do lists,” she explains. “They live in the moment. There doesn’t have to be a final goal and they play for the sake of play. The truth is, play is being joyfully immersed in the moment, and as adults, we rarely do that.”
In a way, it is an active form of mindfulness, which is widely recommended and advocates being present and in the moment. Mindfulness has been proven to alleviate anxiety and depression. Studies also suggest that it can help you manage stress better and maintain a healthy weight.
So how often should we play? The short answer is every day. “It differs from person to person,” Kunter says. “Having a playful mind is the most important thing, but implementing ‘play-time’ into your daily routine will strengthen your ability to cope with stress and bring joy into your life.”
“Your brain can get injured just like any other body part, and it can heal just like any other body part.”
Olympic Runner Alexi Pappas had no choice but to be surrounded by mental health growing up. Her mother, who had bipolar disorder, died by suicide when Alexi was only four years old. That did not mean, however, that she really understood mental health or had the vocabulary to describe it. It was both a taboo subject in the 1990s and in her household. Nobody around her talked about it in a way that helped her to know that mental illness was treatable and her mother’s death in any way preventable.
Alexi explains she thought that her mother, “Was so sick and unhelpable that she had to go. Therefore, I wanted to never be in that situation where I reminded myself of her, because I thought in that case I might be unhelpable, too, and I might have to go.” So, Alexi tried to do everything she could to be different from her mother. To her, that meant becoming someone great, someone happy, and ultimately an Olympian. She did what she describes as, trying to solve an internal problem with an external solution.
But, that that didn’t stop her from becoming depressed. It did, however, make her unprepared for it.
After the Olympics she experienced a post-Olympic low, as many athletes do. She describes herself as being nearly at crisis level. She says, “I was in the middle of Mammoth Lakes, California with no vocabulary or understanding [about mental health] and just a complete denial that I was experiencing certain feelings, because I thought if I admitted it...if I wasn't okay, then I really might not be okay. And that just, of course, makes things worse.”
She didn’t even notice how bad she was herself. It was actually her dad who made her get help. Even still, getting to help was much harder than she could have ever imagined. She did not know how to find a provider and describes the process as humiliating, feeling she needed to ask for favors to find doctors and get in quickly given her urgency. This humbling experience inspired how she thinks about the challenges in the mental health system. It is one of the reasons she has since teamed up with Monarch, the largest therapist directory in the United States that allows people to both find a therapist and to request an appointment directly, as she believes that if it had existed when she tried to get help, a lot of her story would not have happened the way that it did.
Her treatment also profoundly changed the way she viewed mental health by her doctor simply reframing it for her. All it took was the right words that she was missing all along.
Her doctor explained, “Your brain can get injured just like any other body part, and it can heal just like any other body part.” By equating physical injury to mental injury, Alexi felt she could commit to healing her brain, just like an athlete commits to recovering from a physical injury. Healing, she says, then became a process she could understand just like an Olympic goal. When she explained the same concept to soldiers about PTSD in a talk she gave with the Pentagon’s US Army Resilience Directorate, they also resonated with it.
For Alexi, this messaging has been the number one thing that changed the course of her healing from mental illness. Understanding depression as a broken bone, allowed her to give herself grace for how long it could take to heal. Broken bones, she says, take time, and that is OK. Just like there are not many things that could prevent someone from breaking a bone in the first place, the same is true of an episode of depression or a mental health crisis. Within that frame, it became easier for her to have self-compassion and focus only on healing. Struggling with your mental health is not your fault, let alone the timing of those struggles.
There is perhaps no better example for this than Simone Biles withdrawing from her Olympic events, as one can only imagine that given the option no one would want to have to stop competing mid-competition at the Olympics.
Yet, if a person feels they can’t compete, physically or mentally, it should their decision to make. Alexi explains that if an athlete said they thought they would risk a leg injury by playing a match or doing an event, people would embrace the decision, and understand that they don’t want her to hurt her leg. Mental health is no different.
Alexi emphasizes, “[It] is a legitimate bodily need. I think the answer is so simple. It's like, what do you need in order to compete? And if you're unable to compete, because you're risking your body then don't compete.” By understanding that the brain, too, can get injured, Simone’s decision, and Naomi Osaka’s, make so much sense. But, given some of the backlash, perhaps more people could use to understand the vocabulary.
Mental health, like physical health, is also not only for the people who are extremely ill, or as Alexi describes, so self aware that they know what to look for. It is for everyone along the healing spectrum, and includes, where Alexi is now, maintenance. Her goal today, by going to psychiatry and therapy appointments, is to continue her health after her injury, or prevent another injury from occurring in the first place, with what she calls “prehab.”
In her newfound conceptualization of mental health, Alexi has also changed how she views sports and how we can actually be mentally prepared to survive and thrive within them. She says, “I think the big misconception is that the problem is chasing the dream. I think we could be much more prepared to handle that dream and to handle the moment after as like a legitimate chapter in the process.”
In other words, the problem is not wanting to be the best, or striving to be an Olympian, or even becoming one, but not including mental health in every conversation. Pappas, who is also the author of Bravey, adds, “I think it's just being able to come into it as prepared mentally as your body is prepared...We might be physically peaked, but mentally, we’re still human beings”
Even the GOAT Simone Biles is slowly realizing that herself.
by: Jessica Gold, July 29, 2020
by Elizabeth Millard, Oct. 13, 2020
Oxytocin, a hormone related to feelings of love and bonding, may play a major role in regulating gastrointestinal functions, especially as it pertains to stress, according to the preview of a new study to be published in The Journal of Physiology.
Looking at rats in a controlled laboratory setting, researchers introduced stress through several scenarios, such as by restraining them or forcing them to swim in a container where they couldn't touch the bottom. They then tested the rats' gastric emptying rate—how quickly food leaves the stomach—of a solid meal, along with assessing their hormone levels.
Thirty minutes before the stress tests, researchers injected the rats with a saline solution (control) or a drug designed to trigger the release of oxytocin. They found that oxytocin had a significant effect on gastric emptying. The rats that had been under the most stress had the slowest emptying rate, but when oxytocin was triggered, it increased muscle contractions in the stomach and shortened the delay.
While the results of the study only provide preliminary evidence, they do hold promise for further investigation. The information could lead to new targets for digestive drug development in the future, especially since oxytocin hasn't been investigated as a stress-response hormone in the past.
Reevaluating the Role of Oxytocin
In terms of stress response and gut health, oxytocin has not been thought to be a major player compared to other hormones like cortisol, dopamine, and serotonin.
Serotonin in particular has garnered the most attention. Since it's so strongly connected to mental health, it's often a target in antidepressant medications. About 90% of serotonin is produced in the digestive tract, which then sends signals up to the brain, according to Elaine Hsiao, PhD, research assistant professor of biology and biological engineering at Caltech.
Oxytocin, sometimes called the "love hormone" or the "cuddle hormone" because it's released when people bond socially or physically touch each other, is often highlighted not for its potential role in gut health, but for the birth process. The hormone causes uterine contractions, helps shrink the uterus after delivery, aids in breastfeeding, and promotes mother-child bonding.
A 2007 study in Psychological Science concluded that the higher a woman's oxytocin levels in the first trimester of pregnancy, the more likely she would be to initiate bonding behaviors with a baby, such as singing to the infant.
What This Means for You
You’ve likely experienced the negative effects of stress on your digestion—it can cause all kinds of symptoms like stomach aches, bloating, and nausea.4 Understanding the role of oxytocin on stress and digestion should encourage you to seek out activities that promote the production of this hormone, like working out or spending time with people you love, which in turn could help alleviate the associated gastrointestinal symptoms.
Gut and Brain Health
Highlighting oxytocin's potential role in digestive health adds to evidence about the importance of the gut-brain axis, says Lisa Mosconi, PhD, author of Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power.
"The value of maintaining good gut health for better emotional regulation can't be overstated, because they're so connected," she says, adding that if one is thrown off, the other can be affected, sometimes dramatically. "It's a delicate balance because they're sending messages to each other all the time. But that's also the good news because if you work to improve one, you'll likely see benefits for the other."
The value of maintaining good gut health for better emotional regulation can't be overstated, because they're so connected.
— LISA MOSCONI, PHD
That means taking steps for better brain health—like eating healthy foods and pursuing de-stress strategies—can also be beneficial for your digestion.
Focusing on foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can be useful for better hormone regulation, but another solid strategy is simply to move more. Potentially a lot more.
“Your brain is wired to respond positively to exercise,” says Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD, author of Habits of a Happy Brain. “When you exercise consistently, your brain gets even more efficient at making and releasing the natural chemicals that keep you upbeat, like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.”
Although the recent study focused on oxytocin specifically, hormones like these don't work independently, says Breuning. Rather, they are released in combinations that are thought to improve functioning—creating streamlined processes related to everything from blood sugar control to stress relief to digestion.
When you exercise consistently, your brain gets even more efficient at making and releasing the natural chemicals that keep you upbeat, like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.
— LORETTA GRAZIANO, PHD
Exercise can provide a major boost. Other strategies that could help with oxytocin include:
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March 31, 2021
A new study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences has found that the presence of a stress hormone may aggravate nasal allergies.2 The findings may eventually open the door to new treatments for seasonal allergies in the future.
Here’s what to know about the latest research on the relationship between stress and allergies.
In a study published earlier this month, a team of researchers led by scientists in Osaka, Japan, ran a series of experiments to explore the link between increased allergic reactions and the corticotropin-releasing stress hormone (CRH). Stress causes the body to release CRH, which then helps release cortisol, the primary stress hormone that puts the body in fight-or-flight mode. When people are stressed out, it worsens all allergic conditions. Sinus allergies get worse, and if a person is prone to hives or rashes, that gets worse, too.
— PURVI PARIKH, MD
When the researchers added CRH to a nasal polyp organ culture, they noticed that the number of mast cells, which drive allergic reactions, increased substantially in human nasal mucosa (the lining of the nasal cavity). The reaction also stimulated activity in mast cells, which leads to the release of chemicals that trigger allergic reactions.
“Mast cells have receptors where allergens and antibodies can interact. When the allergen and antibodies get connected to the mast cell, the mast cell extrudes chemicals responsible for itchiness, mucus production, or coughing that can go along with allergy symptoms,” explains Dr. Tiffany Owens, an allergist and immunologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Everyone has mast cells, but not everyone’s mast cells interact with antibodies because the allergy antibodies are made by the individual person.”
The researchers also explored the potential of antalarmin, an experimental drug that blocks CRH receptors, as a treatment for allergies. They found that antalarmin helped prevent stress hormones from increasing the number of mast cells and their activity in the nasal mucosa of mice. Still, more research is needed to determine the effect of the drug on humans.
“We don’t have antalarmin as a treatment we use now, but if it helps prevent stress-related inflammation, it could be a potential treatment option far down the road in the future,” says Dr. Owens.
The findings offer confirmation of what some allergists like Dr. Purvi Parikh, spokesperson for the Allergy & Asthma Network, have seen when treating patients with allergies and high levels of stress.
“When people are stressed out, it worsens all allergic conditions. Sinus allergies get worse, and if a person is prone to hives or rashes, that gets worse, too,” she says. “We also notice that people have anaphylactic reactions even more so when they are under stress, either physical or mental.”
Earlier Research on Stress and Allergies
This new research builds upon earlier studies on the relationship between stress and allergies.
A 2013 study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that people who had persistent emotional stress tended to have a higher frequency of allergy flares. However, it did not find that cortisol was associated with allergy symptoms.
It’s hopeful that’s this is not just a pharmaceutical study focused on what drug we can sell you to make this better.
— TIFFANY OWENS, MD
And a randomized controlled trial from 2009 showed that stress and anxiety could worsen and prolong symptoms of allergic rhinitis, a group of nasal symptoms (like sneezing and itchy, watery eyes) that occur when you inhale something you’re allergic to. The latest study helps advance scientific understanding of how a particular stress hormone can lead to an allergic reaction.
“This continues to intrigue us as physicians and as patients, to think about our bodies as this complex machinery interacting with our internal and external environments, and there are many factors involved,” says Dr. Owens. “It’s hopeful that’s this is not just a pharmaceutical study focused on what drug we can sell you to make this better.”
Coping With Allergies
If allergies make you miserable in the spring (or any time of year), consider working with an allergist to control your symptoms. They may recommend medications to ease your symptoms and/or allergy shots (immunotherapy) to build your tolerance to certain allergens, such as pollen. While the research on stress and allergies is promising, experts say that reducing stress probably isn’t enough to provide relief from allergy symptoms.
“I want to stress that this is not a replacement for traditional therapies,” says Dr. Parikh. “Managing stress should be done together with other treatments. Sometimes people think, ‘I’ll do yoga and not take my medications,’ but you should do both if you need them.“
I want to stress that this is not a replacement for traditional therapies. Managing stress should be done together with other treatments.
— PURVI PARIKH, MD
The findings on the latest study are just further evidence that stress reduction should be incorporated into a broader healthy lifestyle routine — not only for people with allergies, but for everyone, says Dr. Owens.
“I do recommend stress reduction, not so much if someone came in and said they have itchy eyes and a runny nose, but more in terms of general health and wellness,” she says. “This is just another encouragement to take care of ourselves, pay attention to what our bodies are telling us, and do the least amount of detriment. We can do some really good things for ourselves by taking time to rest and pay attention to healthy habits.”
What This Means For You
High stress levels can damage your physical and mental health. Now, new research shows that it may also aggravate symptoms of seasonal allergies, which affect up to 60 million people in the U.S. each year.
While experts say that stress reduction is not a substitute for traditional allergy treatment, it can be beneficial to incorporate it into an overall healthy lifestyle routine that may, in turn, improve your symptoms. If your allergies are acting up, get in touch with an allergist to see if medications or immunotherapy can help.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a favorite mindfulness technique to improve body awareness and help tackle feelings of anxiety and depression. Use this guide to try it out!
Krysta Oehm, the founder of Mind Matters.
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