Green health: a tree-filled street can positively influence depression, study finds | Baltimore | The Guardian

Green health: a tree-filled street can positively influence depression, study finds | Baltimore | The Guardian

In 2005, when Celena Owens purchased an investment property in the up-and-coming East Baltimore neighborhood of Oliver, it was supposed to make her life better. But three years later, the housing market crashed, neighborhood renewal stalled, and the home that was going to be a rental became her full-time residence. Owens fell into what she describes as a “major depressive episode” that would last for the better part of a decade.

That’s when Owens, an IT developer for the state of Maryland, began to notice a pattern. During her workdays in the leafy suburbs of a nearby county, her mood would lift. “Even though I was still dealing with stuff, I felt a sense of calm, of comfort,” she remembers. On the commute back to the nearly treeless neighborhood she called home, that feeling would evaporate. “The closer I got to my house, the more depressed I would feel,” she says. “It was just this overwhelming sense of heaviness.”

Owens’s experience demonstrates the very real influence of tree inequity. In many cities, a map of urban tree cover reflects the geography of race and income, just as it does in Oliver, where 97% of residents are African American. This holds true across Baltimore, which still bears the scars of redlining, policies that denied mortgages and other financial services to entire communities of color. Black residents were essentially barred from purchasing homes in so-called greenlined neighborhoods, forced instead to choose among inner-city redlined areas.

A Baltimore neighborhood is lined with brick houses and trees.

Today, according to the US Forest Service, previously redlined areas have an average of 23% tree cover, while once-greenlined neighborhoods, living up to their old label, have an average of 43% tree cover. When Owens moved to Oliver, only about 10% of the neighborhood was tree-covered, according to Justin Bowers, associate director of the Baltimore Tree Trust, an organization that works to restore the city’s urban canopy. In a dense neighborhood without lawns, this meant a stark lack of green space.

The adverse effects of treeless neighborhoods are well-known and many. Bowers says that summer days in East Baltimore neighborhoods can be four to 16 degrees hotter than other parts of the city. In addition to heat-related illnesses, residents who lack tree cover consume more energy to stay cool, endure poorer air quality and – like Owens – report diminished mental health, he explains.

Trees have long been suspected to have a positive effect on city-dwellers’ overall happiness. But for many years, the correlation between urban trees and mental health remained difficult to prove.

Researchers in Germany have now provided concrete evidence of the link between trees and mental health, by studying the correlation between prescription antidepressants and tree cover across a range of neighborhoods. This allowed researchers to avoid the shortcomings of previous studies, which have taken various approaches to the question of: how do you define and measure mental health?

Even if a group of scientists chose to zoom in on a single mental illness, such as depression, there are still “a variety of self-reported questionnaires one can use to measure it”, says Melissa Marselle, an environmental psychologist and lecturer at De Montfort University who led the Germany study. “This made comparing the results [across studies] difficult, as each questionnaire may be measuring depression differently.”

Kwamel Couther, foreman for Baltimore Tree Trust, unloads wheel barrows outside a school in East Baltimore.

Past studies also failed to determine how close a tree needs to be to someone’s home to make a difference. Does simply looking out the window and seeing foliage have the same effect on mental health as visiting a city park? No one could say for sure.

To isolate the relationship between everyday green space and mental health, Marselle and a team of interdisciplinary researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and Leipzig University designed a study to figure out how the number, type and proximity of trees correlated to the number of antidepressants prescribed in a given neighborhood.

The researchers analyzed data collected from 10,000 Leipzig residents during the University of Leipzig’s Life-Adult Health Study, an exhaustive study that took place between 2011 and 2014 in which participants reported a wide array of health metrics, including their prescriptions. By combining that data with the number and species of street trees throughout the city, researchers were able to demonstrate in more material terms than ever before the correlation between trees and mental wellness.

They found that, regardless of species, more trees within 100 meters from the home was associated with a reduced risk of antidepressant use. “This everyday contact with nearby nature – either through a window view at the home or on the street – has been shown to be beneficial for mental health and wellbeing,” the researchers reported.

The association was especially pronounced in residents with low socioeconomic status. “This is important because those from social deprived groups are most likely to be prescribed antidepressants,” says Marselle.

Though the study has several limitations (some individuals with depression are not prescribed medication as part of their treatment; some don’t have access to treatment at all), it can serve as an important directive to urban planners. “While planning, guidance for urban green space is mostly based on intentional, purposeful visits for recreation,” the researchers wrote, “we suggest that such ‘unintentional’ everyday contact may reach more people and that such easily accessible urban green space can contribute to public health.”

This study comes on the heels of another that found that during Covid-19 lockdowns, people who could see trees and greenery outside their window reported lower rates of anxiety and depression, further demonstrating the importance of trees near the home.

Baltimore Tree Trust crew members plant a Red Maple in the Johnston Square neighborhood of Baltimore.

In 2012, a non-profit called ReBUILD Metro began investing in Celena Owens’s neighborhood, working with residents to remediate abandoned properties. Meanwhile, Justin Bowers says Baltimore Tree Trust “completely planted out”, the nine neighborhoods that make up East Baltimore.

“It definitely feels different,” Owens says. “It’s cooler on a physical level, obviously, but also on an aesthetic level. It creates a whole different vibe on the block and in the community in general.”

By 2015, her depression had abated. Today, she’s an outspoken community leader, spearheading efforts to build more parks and playgrounds in Oliver. She’s also dedicated to raising awareness about the benefits of street trees among her neighbors who she says sometimes object to tree plantings over concerns about weeds in the summer and leaves in the fall.

Owens may be busy creating change in her neighborhood, but she’s not quite done with her own space. Soon, she hopes to dig up the small concrete patio behind her rowhouse and “put in a nice little tree”.

This content was originally published here.

We Need to Rename ADHD – Scientific American

We Need to Rename ADHD - Scientific American

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It is an often-used quote, and for good reason. Juliet tragically underestimated the impact of the Montague surname. She was not the first, nor the last, to underestimate the power of the names we give.

In psychiatry, handbooks determine which names (or classifications) we give to the difficulties that people face. We use them so that when we say ADHD, schizophrenia or depression, people have a more or less consistent idea of what we mean. Moreover, it enables us to study groups of people with the same classification and learn about treatments and prognostics.

However, a severe and often overlooked side effect of this practice is that these names implicitly suggest causality. The classificatory terms we use all refer to disorders that cause symptoms, and therefore suggest that we understand the causes of the problems. Which we do not. At the very least, the term disorder suggests a common causal structure, which goes against all our current knowledge on causal heterogeneity in psychiatry. Moreover, these classifications are applied to individuals and therefore suggest that causes lie mainly with the affected individual.

The most common psychiatric handbooks (DSM-5 and ICD-11) are clear on the status of their classifications: they are purely descriptive and are not based on underlying causes. Still, in practice, we say things like “he is inattentive at school because he has ADHD.” It is a circular statement: a child is inattentive because of his inattentiveness. When we say that someone has an attention deficit, we are inclined to look for the cause of the problem. But when we say someone has an attention deficit disorder, we might wrongly assume we have already found the cause. Or, in a milder version, assume the cause to be located somewhere in the (brain of the) individual.

On the surface, this may seem like a silly, innocent mistake. However, social scientists have shown time and again that this systematically places the problem with the individual and diverts our focus away from the context (e.g. family/school/work) where traits lead to problems.

One clear example is the relative age effect in ADHD. The youngest students in class get diagnosed with ADHD more often and receive more ADHD medication than their older classmates. It is the mirror image of the well-known relative age effect in professional sports, where relative maturity in young athletes is mistaken for talent. It seems that in ADHD diagnostics, relative immaturity can be mistaken for ADHD; a consequence of these children being unfairly and unfavorably compared to their older classmates.

So, how does this work? How does our system of psychiatric classification divert our attention away from the context of the child and its problems? When a relatively young child presents with attention problems, an ADHD-classification is readily available. It is a name that is comprehensible to clinicians, parents and teachers alike. Moreover, as the term ADHD implicitly refers to a known cause, this name seems to provide both a distinct explanation (quod non) and a clear perspective for treatment. As a result, one element of the child’s context, being young compared to his classmates, is overlooked. And as such, a possible starting point for interventions is missed. The question “How can we best handle this child’s difficulties in this particular context?” is replaced by “How can we best treat his ADHD?”

Furthermore, the individual context has an even more elusive counterpart: the societal context. For instance, school systems with greater flexibility for delayed school entry (if that fits a child’s development better) also seem to have lower rates of ADHD.

Elements in a child’s individual context that may be overlooked include a divorce, sleeping problems or poverty. However, clinicians are trained to consider individual contexts and are therefore equipped to evade some of the risks of false causality (with the exception of the relative age effect). By contrast, a child’s societal context (e.g., state regulations on class size or the implementation of a debt relief program) lies well beyond the view of mental health professionals. We would like to argue that the biggest risk lies here: by presenting psychiatric classifications—ADHD in this case—as explanations rather than descriptions, we risk overlooking a variety of societal options to increase children’s well-being.

In any case, ADHD does not cause attention problems any more than low socioeconomic status causes poverty. Attention problems are just that, problems that are part of the definition of ADHD.

We propose a very basic modification to our current system of psychiatric classification that has the potential to bring the strength of descriptive classifications into balance with the pitfalls of falsely assuming a known and common cause. Our modification is as simple as it is effective: drop the term disorder from all classifications. Just drop it. In the case of ADHD, call it attention-deficit (and/or) hyperactivity. Nothing is lost in terms of definition, ease of communication or accessibility to research; nor does it detract from the significance of the problems that people face. The only thing we would lose is the false suggestion that when we use a psychiatric name we understand the causes of the problem at hand. In its place, we would gain an incentive to see a child in his full context and explore all options for improvement.

Could it be this simple? Could it be that the omission of a single word can change the way we approach children and parents in need of help? We would like to come back to the lesson Juliet learned the hard way: Never underestimate the power of the names we give.; not for what they are, but for what they represent.

Meet ADH: Attention-deficit (and/or) hyperactivity. No surname.

This content was originally published here.

Study shows parents, kids in virtual learning suffered more stress

Study shows parents, kids in virtual learning suffered more stress

Parents and children who attended school in person in the fall reported significantly less stress and anxiety than those who learned either online or in a combined setting, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

The report, released Thursday, found both parents and children who primarily learned through virtual means reported worse outcomes in 11 of 17 indicators of stress and physical and mental well-being than parents and children who primarily learned in person over the same stretch.

“These findings suggest that virtual instruction might present more risks than does in-person instruction related to child and parental mental and emotional health and some health-supporting behaviors, such as engaging in physical activity,” the authors write in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The survey of 1,290 parents of school-aged children found virtual-only learners were twice as likely to see a decrease in physical activity and a drop in the amount of time spent outside as those who were learning in person. Parents of virtual learners were more likely to say their child’s physical and mental health declined.

Seventy percent of parents of children who learned in person reported spending less time with friends, compared to 86 percent of virtual learners whose parents said they spent less time with friends.

The parents reported more stressors in their own lives, too. Parents of virtual learners were more likely to report having lost work, having experienced emotional distress and even difficulty sleeping.

The report comes as school districts across the country struggle to return to in-person learning and as teachers get priority in the line to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Experts have worried that a lack of in-person learning could create problems far beyond a lost chance to learn.

Health officials saw a dramatic decline in reports of domestic violence in the first weeks and months of the pandemic not as a promising sign, but as a worrying indication that school teachers and counselors were not able to observe their students as they might have in person. Reports of youth suicides are on the rise, though data that would shed light on those deaths will be released in the coming months and years.

“Schools are central to supporting children and families, providing not only education, but also opportunities to engage in activities to support healthy development and access to social, mental health and physical health services, which can buffer stress and mitigate negative outcomes,” the authors wrote.

This content was originally published here.

Pope Francis: Seeing a Psychiatrist When I Was Younger Helped With Anxiety

Pope Francis: Seeing a Psychiatrist When I Was Younger Helped With Anxiety

Pope Francis gave an interview in the Vatican last month recently published where he looked back at how therapy helped him deal with his anxiety when he was the Jesuit provincial in Argentina.

“Being provincial of the Jesuits, in the terrible days of the dictatorship, in which I had to take people in hiding to get them out of the country and thus save their lives, I had to handle situations that I did not know how to deal with.”

Pope Francis said he saw a psychiatrist about once a week when he was a younger priest serving in Argentina.

“Throughout those six months, she helped me position myself in terms of a way to handle the fears of that time. Imagine what it was like to take a person hidden in the car – only covered by a blanket – and go through three military checkpoints in the Campo de Mayo area. The tension it generated in me was enormous.”

He says today, his anxiety has been “tamed,” but when he was year had “anxious neurosis” which he described as “wanting to do everything now.”

“The treatment with the psychiatrist also helped me to locate myself and learn to manage my anxiety and avoid being rushed when making decisions. The decision making process is always complex. And the advice and observations that she gave me was very helpful. Her teachings are still very useful to me today.”

Speaking of dealing with his anxieties, he said “you have to know how to brake.”

“When I am faced with a situation or I have to face a problem that causes me anxiety, I cut it short. I have different methods of doing it. One of them is listening to Bach. It calms me down and helps me analyze problems in a better way. I confess that over the years I have managed to put a barrier to the entrance of anxiety in my spirit. It would be dangerous and harmful for me to make decisions under a state of anxiety. It would be equally harmful to make decisions dominated by anguish and sadness. That is why I say that the person must be attentive to neurosis.”

Ending his interview, Pope Francis recalled reading the 1938 book “Be Glad You’re Neurotic” was very interesting and “made me laugh out loud.”

“I’m convinced that every priest must know human psychology. There are those who know it from the experience of the years, but the study of psychology is necessary for a priest.”

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The post Pope Francis: Seeing a Psychiatrist When I Was Younger Helped With Anxiety appeared first on uCatholic.

This content was originally published here.

How Childhood Trauma Can Lead To Adult Identity Problems

How Childhood Trauma Can Lead To Adult Identity Problems

How are identity problems linked to childhood trauma?

Our identity (ie how we define ourselves) is based upon our beliefs, values, memories, behaviours and how we go about living our lives in general. It comprises, for example, our likes and dislikes, our religious beliefs/lack of beliefs, our general philosophy of life, our political leanings, our sexual orientation/behaviour, our hobbies and interests etc.

All being well, our identity starts to crystallize between the ages of about 18 and 25 years.

The psychologist, Erikson, suggested that four stages of development need to be traversed if we are successfully to get to this point (ie the point of developing a solid identity). These four stages are as follows:

1) 0 to 1.5 years – TRUST VERSUS MISTRUST




If we get through these stages successfully, they form firm foundations upon which our identity can be built. However, if we have problems getting through one or more of the stages, we are likely to develop significant problems with forming a strong identity in our adult lives.

As each stage builds upon the stage preceding it, problems traversing any of the stages leads to further problems traversing later stages.

Let’s now examine examples of problems which might occur at each of the four stages above, thus endangering and undermining the development of our identity and subsequent identity problems:


Successful completion of this stage allows the infant to perceive the world as essentially safe and to believe s/he can depend on her/his carers.

However, abuse, neglect and/or abandonment can severely adversely affect how the infant negotiates this phase, as can inconsistent parenting and parental stress that interferes with the parent-infant bonding process.


During this stage, the infant needs to start developing some autonomy whilst still feeling safe in the world. In other words, s/he needs to start seeing her/himself as a separate entity from her/his patents with her/his own unique will. For example, learning s/he can say ‘no’ or exploring her/his immediate environment on her/his own.

Parents who are over-protective can cause their child problems traversing this stage (ie by stifling their efforts to achieve a degree of ‘separateness’ from the parents).

Also, parents who are too permissive may also prevent their child from getting through this stage effectively. For example, if the parents are too permissive the child may not learn to behave in accordance with her/his society’s/culture’s expectations (eg s/he may ‘misbehave’ at nursery school) leading to feelings of shame when members of that society/culture criticise and punish the child for her/his ‘transgressions’.


In this phase the child endeavours to develop new skills (eg by helping her/his parents with cooking, gardening etc.).

If, however, the parents are critical, discouraging the child by pointing out every minor error, for example, s/he is likely to lose the confidence necessary to try new things and use initiative, thus preventing the successful completion of this stage.


During this stage, the young person needs to develop the requisite confidence, skills and abilities which will allow her/him to flourish within her/his particular culture. These include:

– work/career skills

– skills necessary to achieve independence

– solid self-esteem

– feeling good/fulfilled in relation to career/lifestyle

If the young person tries to develop these things, but in a way that the parents do not approve of (eg the parents may criticise the young person for wanting to specialize in the ‘wrong’ academic subjects at school, causing her/him to abandon the subjects s/he finds most interesting) then another obstacle is likely to be placed in her/his path to forming a strong sense of identity.


How the young person develops through these four stages will affect the first adult stage relating to identity, according to Erikson’s theory. Depending on how the first four stages were traversed, the first adult stage the young person enters (which lasts from about the age of eighteen to the age of thirty) may be any of the following four:

1) Identity achieved

ie we have obtained a solid sense of our own identity

ie in terms of our identity, we have moved on little since adolescence.

4) Identity confused:

i.e .our view of our own identity is extremely nebulous and we have no clear idea of ‘who we are’, what we want to do in life or what our values are.


Erikson suggested that in order to form a strong identity everyone needs to go through a period of rebellion which he called the psychosocial moratorium stage. This involves questioning the values and beliefs inculcated into us during youth and then breaking away from them, or embracing them, as the case may be. The point is that this allows us to truly ‘own’ our beliefs and values, rather than having them as a consequence of having been conditioned to hold them by authority figures in our youth.


In order to possess a strong identity, Erikson also stressed the importance of being committed to one’s values and beliefs. In other words, one needs to act on them rather than, say, just talk about them.

This content was originally published here.

A 20-Minute Meditation for Easing Into Sleep – Mindful

A 20-Minute Meditation for Easing Into Sleep - Mindful

Since staying awake while we’re meditating is often a big challenge, it’s no surprise that mindfulness has been shown to promote healthy sleep. It’s not all that exciting to sit quietly and breathe. It can be downright calming. But that’s not the whole story.

Mindfulness practice encourages nonjudgmental awareness—seeing things exactly as they are, with openness and curiosity. With sleep, as with meditation practice, intentions are easier said than done.

Neither sleep routines nor mindfulness practice responds well to a heavy hand. If you set out to force yourself into sleep, you’re less likely to sleep. If you strain for some picture-perfect mindset when meditating, you’ll create more stress and uncertainty. If you set yourself up with clear-sighted planning and patient resolve—intentionally but unforced—sleep and mindfulness are both more likely to follow.

A Guided Meditation for Better Sleep

A 20-Minute Guided Meditation for Sleep

In considering any meditation related to sleep, recognize that there’s nothing to force, and nothing to make happen. Since striving makes sleep more challenging, set out to practice without specific expectations or goals. We cannot make ourselves sleep, but perhaps, by aiming to stay settled and getting less caught up in our thoughts, we fall asleep anyway.

For the meditation that follows, there will be no ending bell or instruction. At the end, continue to practice if you like, or hopefully enjoy a good night’s rest instead.

Originally published on October 4, 2018.

Sufficient sleep heals our bodies and minds, but for many reasons sleep doesn’t always come easily. Mindfulness practices and habits can help us fall asleep and stay asleep. Consult our guide to find tips for meditation, movement, and mindfulness practices to ease into sleep.
Read More 

Find out how establishing a wind down routine can help keep sleep patterns in sync.
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This content was originally published here.

What is Qelbree? FDA approves new ADHD drug for kids

What is Qelbree? FDA approves new ADHD drug for kids

U.S. regulators have approved the first new drug in over a decade for children with ADHD, which causes inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

The Food and Drug Administration late Friday OK’d Qelbree (KELL’-bree) for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children ages 6 to 17. It comes as a capsule that’s taken daily.

Unlike nearly all other ADHD medicines, Qelbree is not a stimulant or a controlled substance, making it harder to abuse than older drugs. That’s been a problem with earlier ADHD treatments like Ritalin, nearly all of which contain the stimulants amphetamine or methylphenidate.

Qelbree, developed by Supernus Pharmaceuticals of Rockville, Maryland, carries a warning of potential for suicidal thoughts and behavior, which occurred in fewer than 1% of volunteers in studies of the drug.

Supernus wouldn’t disclose the drug’s list price, but it’s sure to be higher than the many cheap generic ADHD pills.

ADHD affects about 6 million American children and adolescents. For many, problems include trouble paying attention and completing tasks, fidgeting and impulsiveness.

Experts say the drug may appeal to parents who don’t want to give their child stimulants.

It also could be an option for kids who have substance abuse problems, dislike the side effects of stimulants or need additional therapy, said Dr. David W. Goodman, director of Suburban Psychiatric Associates near Baltimore and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Goodman said most ADHD patients taking medication currently are prescribed long-acting stimulants, which are harder to to abuse to get a high than the original, fast-acting versions.

In a key late-stage study funded by Supernus, 477 children ages 6 to 11 took the drug for six weeks. Inattention and hyperactivity symptoms were reduced by about 50% compared to the placebo group. Qelbree, also known as viloxazine, helped reduce symptoms in some study volunteers within a week. Common side effects include sleepiness, lethargy, decreased appetite and headache.

Supernus is in late-stage testing for adults with ADHD. That’s a much smaller group than children, but that market is growing because few adults currently take ADHD medicines.

Viloxazine was sold as an antidepressant in Europe for several decades, but was never approved by the FDA. The maker ended sales for business reasons nearly two decades ago, as popular pills like Zoloft and Prozac came to dominate the market.

Story by Linda A. Johnson on Twitter: @LindaJ_onPharma. The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

This content was originally published here.

Is Meditation a Medicine? | MedicAlert UK

Is Meditation a Medicine? | MedicAlert UK
It’s likely that you’ve heard of the term ‘mindfulness’ before. It’s a fairly simple word that suggests you’re fully aware of what’s happening, what you’re doing and how you’re interacting with the environment around you. 

While this may sound trivial, often we can find ourselves distracted by the fast pace of daily life. Our lives can cause us to stray from the simple act of staying in touch with our bodies and wider surroundings and instead force us to obsessively concern ourselves with matters relating to work, our relationships, money and just about anything else. These unwelcome obsessions can cause us to become anxious and for the many of us who suffer from existing health conditions, it can make us feel worse. 

Mindfulness is a basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing and not overwhelmed by what’s happening around us. However, it is an ability that we may need to practice, especially if we have lost our innate habit. 

No matter how far our distractions take us, mindfulness can help to bring us back to the present in what we’re doing and how we’re feeling. It can also be a profound help for those of us living with illnesses that may affect our daily lives. 

To take a deeper look at how mindfulness can benefit all of us, let’s explore what the term actually means, how it works and the 5 proven benefits: 

What is Mindfulness

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment level of awareness surrounding your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the wider environment. 

Practising mindfulness also revolves around acceptance. It means that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them and without seeking out ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ solutions to the way we interpret things. When mindfulness is practised, our thoughts can tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment, rather than conjuring up memories of the past or looking to the future. 

Mindfulness is linked to Buddhist meditation, but in recent years the practice of mindfulness has been adapted for western mainstream audiences. Over time, there have been countless studies that have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in general and MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) – which has been adapted to help the lives of students, patients, veterans, prisoners and many more members of society. 

How to Practice Mindfulness

Technology has paved the way for more of us to practice mindfulness in a way that suits our needs. Today, app stores feature countless mindfulness applications – many of which are free to download – that can help us to focus and find peace of mind in a way that best suits us. 

While mindfulness might seem simple, it’s not necessarily that straightforward to practice. Many of us can work on our mindfulness in any way we like, but making the time each day to clear our minds of our distractions can be difficult. However, here’s a quick look at how you can act to practice mindfulness wherever you are: 
It’s as simple as that. However, there are many interpretations of mindfulness that can work for you, so it’s largely about finding a pattern that you’re comfortable with and that you can feel the benefits of. 

5 Proven Benefits of Mindfulness:

There are countless studies that have found connections between mindfulness and countless health benefits. To look at these tried and tested benefits in more detail, let’s explore five key perks:

Decreased Stress

The most commonly known benefit of mindfulness and meditation revolves around its ability to lower stress and anxiety levels. 

By training your mind to abandon thoughts about your daily stresses at work or about money, and to simply focus on your breathing in the here and now, it can have a profound effect on your wellbeing. 

In fact, according to a 2013 Massachusetts General Hospital study, 93 individuals with DSM-IV-diagnosed generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) were randomly assigned to an eight-week group intervention with mindfulness-based stress reduction, or to a control group. It was subsequently found that the mindfulness-based stress reduction program was associated with far lower levels of anxiety among individuals. 

Managing Illness

Another study published in March 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found mindful-based therapy can improve symptoms in adults suffering from chronic lower back pain. 

Furthermore, a study from around the same time in The Journal of Neuroscience found that mindful meditation can help to ease chronic pain by using a different pathway in the body than that which is used by typical opioid painkillers. 

This means that individuals who suffer from chronic illnesses or struggle to find comfort in their day-to-day lives can find peace of mind through mindfulness practices. 

According to Dr. Golubic, the meditation practice along with yoga has been shown to decrease inflammation in white blood cells: “The higher inflammation you have the more pain you have. The way that aspirin, ibuprofen, all of other NSAIDs, work is they inhibit those pain mediators that are inflammatory,” he explained. 

If meditation really does reduce inflammation, then it’s likely that this might be the mechanism that reduces feelings of pain, Golubic concludes. Although more studies will be needed to verify the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation in this way, it appears as though the practice can largely help individuals to manage their illnesses and the pain that they may feel. 
Mindfulness has shown great promise for individuals in recovery from physical and mental health issues like stroke, traumatic brain injury, addiction, depression and other mental illnesses. 

Much of these health issues negatively alter the wiring of the brain, overriding its normal functioning. However, the brain is neuroplastic so, for many changes that may occur, they can also be worked on through practice and perseverance. 

In the case of traumatic brain injuries, these tend to be physical changes that can negatively impact the brain’s circuitry. However, for those with addictions to alcohol or drugs, the substances alter the structure of the brain so that it becomes reliant on it to take the place of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. 

Mindfulness and meditation can help to return the brain to more normal functioning for individuals in various states of recovery. Because they’re focussed on calming the mind, the brain becomes more efficient at handling routine tasks, as well as generally improving mood, relationships and the patient’s outlook on life. 

Better Mental Health

Mindfulness encourages you to slow down and to gain a deeper sense of self-reflection. It can also help you to discover positive attributes about yourself. 

According to Brian Wind, Chief Clinical Officer at JourneyPure, mindfulness “helps increase self-awareness by increasing the ability to examine one’s thoughts and feelings without judgment, which ends up improving self-esteem.” 

Researchers at Stanford University have also found that meditation can help individuals to overcome feelings of social anxiety. In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 14 participants with social anxiety disorder participated in two months of meditation training and agreed that they felt decreased levels of anxiety and a greater feeling of self-esteem after finishing the program. 

Better General Health

Alongside the many mental health benefits attached to mindfulness, it can also significantly improve your general health. 

For instance, a study of how the two facets of mindfulness impact health behaviours found that practising mindfulness can enhance behaviours related to health – including the act of getting regular check-ups, being more active physically, using seat belts and avoiding harmful substances like alcohol or nicotine. 

Another study on mindfulness and health illustrated how the practice is related to better cardiovascular health through a lower incidence of smoking, more physical activity and a healthier BMI (body mass index). 

Furthermore, mindfulness has been positively linked with lower blood pressure – particularly when the practitioner is skilled in non-judging (experiencing thoughts and feelings without judging them or criticizing oneself) and non-reactivity (allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without reacting to them or getting caught up in them). 

In a study constructed to focus on the impact of mindfulness on the psychological and physical health of overweight or obese adults, researchers found that mindfulness aided patients in losing weight and improving their diet and general attitude – all while decreasing incidences of depression and anxiety. 

Including MedicAlert in your practice and daily life

At MedicAlert, we’re passionate about providing you with peace of mind in a similar way to that of the mindfulness measures that you can take to manage your health. Our medical alert services and medical jewellery are designed to provide you with the confidence you need to live your life to the full and avoid feeling burdened by any perceived limitations. 

By setting up a medical ID with us, you can continue doing the things you love in confidence, knowing that you’re well covered should a setback occur. By combining MedicAlert with mindfulness, you can live a comfortable life, supporting your ongoing physical and mental health. 

This content was originally published here.

Eight of Literature’s Most Powerful Inventions—and the Neuroscience Behind How They Work | Innovation | Smithsonian Magazine

Eight of Literature’s Most Powerful Inventions—and the Neuroscience Behind How They Work

    | Smithsonian Magazine

Shortly after 335 B.C., within a newly built library tucked just east of Athens’ limestone city walls, a free-thinking Greek polymath by the name of Aristotle gathered up an armful of old theater scripts. As he pored over their delicate papyrus in the amber flicker of a sesame lamp, he was struck by a revolutionary idea: What if literature was an invention for making us happier and healthier? The idea made intuitive sense; when people felt bored, or unhappy, or at a loss for meaning, they frequently turned to plays or poetry. And afterwards, they often reported feeling better. But what could be the secret to literature’s feel-better power? What hidden nuts-and-bolts conveyed its psychological benefits?

After carefully investigating the matter, Aristotle inked a short treatise that became known as the Poetics. In it, he proposed that literature was more than a single invention; it was many inventions, each constructed from an innovative use of story. Story includes the countless varieties of plot and character—and it also includes the equally various narrators that give each literary work its distinct style or voice. Those story elements, Aristotle hypothesized, could plug into our imagination, our emotions, and other parts of our psyche, troubleshooting and even improving our mental function.

Aristotle’s idea was so unusual that, for more than two millennia, his account of literary inventions existed as an intellectual one-off, too intriguing to be forgotten but also too idiosyncratic to be developed further. In the mid-20th century, R. S. Crane and the renegade professors of the Chicago School revived the Poetics’ techno-scientific method, using it to excavate literary inventions from Shakespearean tragedies, 18th-century novels, and other works that Aristotle never knew. Later, in the early 2000s, one of the Chicago School’s students, James Phelan, co-founded Ohio State’s Project Narrative, where I now work as a professor of story science. Project Narrative is the world’s leading academic think tank for the study of stories, and in our research labs, with the help of neuroscientists and psychologists from across the globe, we’ve uncovered dozens more literary inventions in Zhou Dynasty lyrics, Italian operas, West African epics, classic children’s books, great American novels, Agatha Christie crime fictions, Mesoamerican myths, and even Hollywood television scripts.

These literary inventions can alleviate grief, improve your problem-solving skills, dispense the anti-depressant effects of LSD, boost your creativity, provide therapy for trauma (including both kinds of PTSD), spark joy, dole out a better energy kick than caffeine, lower your odds of dying alone, and (as impossible as it sounds) increase the chance that your dreams will come true. They can even make you a more loving spouse and generous friend.

You can find detailed blueprints for 25 literary inventions, including step-by-step instructions on how to use them all, in my new book, Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature. And to give you a taste of the wonders they can work, here are eight basic literary inventions explained, starting with two that Aristotle unearthed.

A brilliant examination of literary inventions through the ages, from ancient Mesopotamia to Elena Ferrante, that shows how writers have created technical breakthroughs—rivaling any scientific inventions—and engineering enhancements to the human heart and mind.

The Plot Twist

This literary invention is now so well-known that we often learn to identify it as children. But it thrilled Aristotle when he first discovered it, and for two reasons. First, it supported his hunch that literature’s inventions were constructed from story. And second, it confirmed that literary inventions could have potent psychological effects. Who hasn’t felt a burst of wonder—or as Aristotle called it, thaumazein—when a story pivots unexpectedly? And as modern research has revealed, that wonder can be more than a heart-exciting sensation. It can stimulate what psychologists term a self-transcendent experience (or what “father of American psychology” William James more vividly termed a “spiritual” experience), increasing our overall sense of life purpose.

That’s why holy scriptures brim with plot twists: Davids beating Goliaths, the dead returning to life, golden bowls floating upstream. That’s why the oldest complete Greek tragic trilogy—The Oresteia—ends with the goddess Athena performing a deus ex machina to flip violence into reconciliation. And that’s why we can get an emotional uplift from pulp-fiction twists like Obi-Wan Kenobi ghosting back in the original Star Wars to guide Luke Skywalker on his Death Star attack: Use the Force. . .

The Hurt Delay

Recorded by Aristotle in Poetics, section 1449b, this invention’s blueprint is a plot that discloses to the audience that a character is going to get hurt—prior to the hurt actually arriving. The classic example is Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus, where we learn before Oedipus that he’s about to undergo the horror of discovering that he’s killed his father and married his mother. But it occurs in a range of later literature, from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to paperback bestsellers such as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Aristotle hypothesized that this invention could stimulate catharsis, alleviating the symptoms of post-traumatic fear. And modern research—including Aquila Theatre’s NEH-funded outreach to military veterans, in which I was fortunate to myself participate—has supported Aristotle’s conjecture. That research has revealed that, by stimulating an ironic experience of foreknowledge in our brain’s perspective-taking network, the Hurt Delay can increase our self-efficacy, a kind of mental strength that makes us better able to recover from experiences of trauma.

The Tale Told From Our Future

This invention was created simultaneously by many different global authors, among them the 13th-century West African griot poet who composed the Epic of Sundiata. Basically, a narrator uses a future-tense voice to address us in our present. As it goes in the Epic: “Listen to my words, you who want to know; by my mouth you will learn the history of Mali. By my mouth you will get to know the story. . .”

In the late 19th century, this invention was engineered into the foundation of the modern thriller by authors such as H. Rider Haggard in King Solomon’s Mines and John Buchan in The Thirty-Nine Steps. Variants can be found in The Bourne Identity, Twilight and other modern pulp fictions that begin with a narrative flash-forward—and also in the many films and TV shows that open with a glimpse of an event to come. And no less than the two inventions that Aristotle dug up, this one can have a potent neural effect: by activating the brain’s primal information-gathering network, it boosts curiosity, immediately elevating your levels of enthusiasm and energy.

The Secret Discloser

The earliest-known beginnings of this invention—a narrative revelation of an intimate character detail—lie in the ancient lyrics of Sappho and an unknown Shijing poetess. And it exists throughout modern poetry in moments such as this 1952 love song by e. e. cummings:

“here is the deepest secret nobody knows

I carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)”

Outside of poetry, variants can be found in the novels of Charlotte Brontë, the memoirs of Maya Angelou, and the many film or television camera close-ups that reveal an emotion buried in a character’s heart. This construction activates dopamine neurons in the brain to convey the hedonic benefits of loving and being loved, boosting your positive affect and making you more cheerful and generally glad to be alive.

The Serenity Elevator

This element of storytelling is a turning around of satire’s tools (including insinuation, parody and irony) so that instead of laughing at someone else, you smile at yourself. It was developed by the Greek sage Socrates in the 5th-century B.C. as a means of promoting tranquility—even in the face of excruciating physical pain. And such was its power that Socrates’ student Plato would claim that it allowed Socrates to peacefully endure the terrible agony of swallowing hemlock.

Don’t try that at home. But modern research has held up Plato’s claim that the invention can have analgesic effects—and more importantly, that it can convey your brain into the serene state of feeling like it’s floating above mortal cares. If Plato’s dialogues are bit outdated for your reading style, you can find newer versions in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Tina Fey’s “30 Rock.”

The Empathy Generator

In this narrative technique, a narrator conveys us inside a character’s mind to see the character’s remorse. That remorse can be for a genuine error, like when Jo March regrets accidentally burning her sister Meg’s hair in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Or it can be for an imagined error, like the many times that literary characters rue their physical appearance, personality quirks or other perceived imperfections. But either way, the invention’s window into a character’s private feeling of self-critique stimulates empathy in our brain’s perspective-taking network.

The invention’s original prototype was tinkered together by the anonymous Israelite poet who composed the verse sections of the Book of Job, likely in the 6th century B.C. Since empathy is a neural counterbalance to ire, it may have reflected the poet’s effort to promote peace in the wake of the Judah-Babylonian-Persian wars. But whatever the reason for its initial creation, the invention can help nurture kindness toward others.

The Almighty Heart

This invention is an anthropomorphic omniscient narrator—or, to be more colloquial, a story told by someone with a human heart and a god’s all-seeing eye. It was first devised by the ancient Greek poet Homer in The Iliad, but you can find it throughout more recent fiction, for example, in the opening sentence of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

The invention works by tricking your brain into feeling like you’re chanting along with a greater human voice. And that feeling—which is also triggered by war songs and battle marches—activates the brain’s pituitary gland, stimulating an endocrine response that’s linked to psychological bravery. So, even in the winter of despair, you feel a fortifying spring of hope.

The Anarchy Rhymer

This innovation is the slipperiest of the eight to spot. That’s because it doesn’t follow rules; its blueprint is a rule-breaking element inside a larger formal structure. The larger structure was originally a musical one, as in this 18th century Mother Goose’s Medley nursery rhyme:

“Hey, diddle, diddle,

The cat and the fiddle,

The cow jumped over the moon;

The little dog laughed

To see such sport,

And the dish ran away with the spoon.”

You can easily spot the lawless elements, like the rebel dinnerware and the cow that doesn’t obey gravity. And you can hear the structure in the singsong cadence and chiming rhymes: diddle and fiddle; moon and spoon.

Since those early beginnings, the invention’s larger structure has evolved to assume narrative shapes, such as the regular geography of Christopher Robin’s Hundred Acre Wood (where the anarch is the merrily spontaneous Winnie-the-Pooh). But regardless of what form it takes, the invention activates a brain region known as the Default Mode Network, helping to boost your creativity.

This content was originally published here.

Hair loss. Anxiety. Brain fog. A COVID ‘long hauler’ struggles with lingering symptoms

Hair loss. Anxiety. Brain fog. A COVID ‘long hauler’ struggles with lingering symptoms

“It is the loneliest feeling to be alone in your room with a fever of 101, 102 that’s with Tylenol and Ibuprofen, exhausted, not being able to breath and hearing life going on around you,” said Alau.

The National Institutes of Health is launching a $1 billion study to understand so-called “COVID long-haulers” like Alau. Some studies show up to 30% of patients report symptoms that can last for months.

This content was originally published here.