The physical benefits of exercise — improving physical condition and fighting disease — have long been established, and physicians always encourage staying physically active.
Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.
When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Or, if your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
Relationship of Exercise to Anxiety DisordersStress and anxiety are a normal part of life, but anxiety disorders, which affect 40 million adults, are the most common psychiatric illnesses in the U.S. The benefits of exercise may well extend beyond stress relief to improving anxiety and related disorders.
Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout. Some studies show that exercise can work quickly to elevate depressed mood in many people. Although the effects may be temporary, they demonstrate that a brisk walk or other simple activity can deliver several hours of relief, similar to taking an aspirin for a headache.
Science has also provided some evidence that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. Exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.
Exercise as Part of TherapyAccording to some studies, regular exercise works as well as medication for some people to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the effects can be long lasting. One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.
Although exercise has a positive effect for most people, some recent studies show that for some, exercise may not have a positive effect on anxiety or depression or may not make a strong impact on long-term mental health.
Like all forms of therapy, the effect can vary: Some people may respond positively, others may find it doesn’t improve their mood much, and some may experience only a modest short-term benefit. Nonetheless, researchers say that the beneficial effects of exercise on physical health are not in dispute, and people should be encouraged to stay physically active.
Fitness Tips: Stay Healthy, Manage Stress
The most recent federal guidelines for adults recommend at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking) each week, 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity (such as jogging or swimming laps), or a combination of the two.
If you have an exercise program already, keep up the good work. If not, here are tips to get you started.
Read all about it: Exercise for Mood and Anxiety, Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being, by Michael W. Otto, PhD, and Jasper A.J. Smits, PhD (Oxford University Press, 2011)
f you want to skip the misery that comes with fighting a seasonal cold or flu, new research explains why sleep is some of the best preventive medicine.
We already knew that not getting enough sleep can lead to an increased risk of getting sick, but Nathaniel Watson, a neurologist and sleep specialist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said this new research helps explain why.
Sleeping poorly can block specific genetic processes in the cells that make up your immune system, which is responsible for fighting off infections and disease, according to the new study.
“Your immune system is not functioning the way it was meant to when you’re sleep deprived,” Watson said.
This study is the first one that Watson and his colleagues are aware of that looks at what happens to the immune system’s DNA when you’re not getting adequate sleep.
“It’s further evidence of how important sleep is to human health and physiology,” Watson said.
Just an hour of lost sleep can cause cellular damageThe researchers followed 11 pairs of identical twins for the study. One twin reported sleeping at least seven hours per night, while the other slept approximately one hour less per night.
Looking at identical twins helped control for the fact that sleep needs vary by person, Watson explained. Genes account for about 50 percent of our sleep needs, meaning identical twins are the best-case scenario for getting a good comparison.
Each study participant wore a movement-tracking sleep monitor for two weeks, which confirmed that one twin in each pair slept, on average, one hour less than the other. (Total sleep time also included any daytime napping.)
The researchers took blood samples at the end of the study, which revealed that the immune system of the twin who slept less was less active than the twin who slept more. Those who slept less were actually making fewer proteins, the molecules that our bodies run on.
“They had an underperforming immune system,” Watson said of the shorter sleepers, “which would put them at higher risk of getting sick.”
To control for other potential factors that could affect sleep need and immune health, the researchers excluded people from the study who had diabetes, depression or other mental health problems and sleep disorders. They also left out shift workers, smokers, drug users and drinkers.
The big takeaway for individuals is that getting good sleep ― quality as well as quantity ― is a really important element of human health, Watson said.
“Add risk of infection to the myriad reasons why sleep deprivation is bad for you,” he said ― a list that already includes such issues as reduced performance during the day, depression, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and irritability
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Americans are quite sleep deprived these days, but what you might not know is all of that not sleeping could be affecting your mental well-being. Or, is it that your mental health is leading to sleepless nights and yawn-filled days? The data paints a picture: Nearly one in five Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health. Even more surprising, a whopping 50 to 80 percent of people living with typical psychiatric illnesses also report chronic sleep problems, compared to less than 20 percent of the general population.
Looking at the numbers, it seems clear that sleep and mental health are connected, but the question remains: How are they connected? Are sleep problems a cause of mental illness, or, rather, are they a symptom? To find out, and to learn more about the connection between sleep and mental health, we teamed up with Sleep Number. But hint: There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer.
Sleep issues can both cause and be a sign of depression.“Disordered sleep can be both a symptom and cause of psychiatric disorders,” says Dr. Ash Nadkarni, director of Digital Integrated Care and instructor at Harvard Medical School. “For instance, in major depressive disorder, problems with early morning awakenings can be a cardinal symptom,” she says. “Alternatively, insomnia has been shown in longitudinal studies to be a risk factor for both new onset and recurrent depression.”
Sleep is restorative. When you miss out on shut eye, some pretty crazy things go on in your body. Because sleep problems can be both a symptom and a cause of mental issues, like depression, those who suffer from both can fall into a vicious Catch-22. Their mental health influences their sleep habits, which influence their mental health. It’s like the chicken or the egg: Eventually, it’s hard to tell which came first.
However, some sleep issues are obvious symptoms of a mental health problem. Flo Leighton, a psychiatric nurse practitioner in New York City, says post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder are two examples of psychiatric illnesses that have side effects that disrupt normal sleep patterns.
On the flip side, some mental health disorders, like anxiety, can be triggered by insomnia. Sleeplessness can disrupt the levels of essential neurotransmitters in the brain, like serotonin and gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), two important sleep regulators. When they are thrown out of whack, anxiety can rise.
“Because of these [chemical] disruptions, it makes sense that people who have a bad night’s sleep report things like having a harder time concentrating, not feeling ‘sharp,’ and generally being more easily stressed or irritable,” Leighton says.
Could controlled sleep deprivation be the solution?Hear us out on this one. With all the data backing up the connection between mental health and rest, the idea of dialing back those Zs as a way to improve your mood and well-being might seem counterintuitive. But new studies have found that chronotherapy can improve symptoms of depression.
“Chronotherapy is a way to reset your circadian rhythm,” Nadkarni says. “It involves changing the time you go to sleep and the time you get up, just a little bit, every day, until you’ve reset your sleeping and waking schedule to where you want it to be.”
Sounds easy enough, right?
When you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, your body releases melatonin ― a chemical that promotes sleep ― either too early or too late. Chronotherapy helps shift that melatonin release to just the time your body needs it, and can shift your mood in the process.
Try These Tricks For A Better Night’s Sleep, Tonight
1. Try Meditation
2. Take A Warm Bath
3. Ban Phones And Tablets Before Bed
4. Turn Down The Thermostat
Though more research is needed, initial studies seem to demonstrate the healing power of chronotherapy. One studyfound that 70 percent of participants with bipolar disorder (who did not have a history of drug resistance) “improved rapidly with sleep deprivation and early morning light,” and 57 percent felt better just nine months later. The second study included a combination of chronotherapy and antidepressants to treat patients with bipolar disorder. Some saw an alleviation of their depression symptoms after just 48 hours of treatment. For comparison, conventional antidepressants typically take two to eight weeks to work.
Though initial studies of the effects of chronotherapy and mental health appear positive, it’s important to remember that engaging in any kind of new health regimen without your doctor’s guidance isn’t advised. As an alternative, if you’re suffering from sleeplessness, opt for easy sleep solutions you can try tonight to catch more shut eye. Your brain will thank you.
By Brittany Nims
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WATCH: The new "Sold for Sex: Trafficking in Nebraska" 30-minute documentary which premiered Jan. 5 on NET News (Nebraska). Nebraskan's are being sold for sex.
Find out how trafficking happens and what is being done about it. This is occuring in states accross the US everyday.
Staying Safe: Tips for LGBTQ Youth for How to Protect Yourself and Your Community from Human Trafficking
While traffickers target many vulnerable populations, there are some particular circumstances or risk factors that human traffickers may try to exploit for their own profit, such as homelessness, or past histories of abuse or discrimination.
Unfortunately, youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) are especially likely to face difficulties like these, which makes them especially susceptible to traffickers.
Staying Safe: Tips for LGBTQ Youth for How to Protect Yourself and Your Community from Human Trafficking, made possible through the generous support of the Palette Fund, speaks directly to LGBTQ youth about this issue. While acknowledging and commending the tremendous amount of strength and resiliency LGBTQ youth show when facing hardships, Staying Safe also highlights important risk factors that they should be aware of, and teaches youth how to recognize and respond to signs of human trafficking within their own communities.
It is not enough to rely on law enforcement, service providers, or concerned citizens to intervene in potential trafficking situations. We have to continue to expand the safety net so that LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable communities are equipped with the tools to protect themselves and their fellow community members from trafficking and exploitation.
The report highlights several examples of trauma-informed interventions that aim to improve behavioral health for Native youth, families, and communities. The report also includes recommendations from the literature concerning promoting traditional healing, community-based practices, and integrated behavioral health services to improve overall wellbeing for AI/AN youth.
For full website listing click here
By Jennifer Sterling
Your body keeps a physical memory of all of your experiences.
You have lots of memories stored in your brain that you can recount at any given moment. You can recall names, faces, where the event took place, what it smelled like. But over time, these memories fade or change as time passes and we mature. However, even when the memory begins to fade from your brain, it lives on in your body in the form of physical sensations and behavior patterns.
The body doesn’t forget.
The events of our lives leave physiological imprints in our bodies, especially when we experience trauma or situations of extreme stress that cause the body to fight, flee, or freeze in order to cope.
In a perfect world, we would be able to release the trauma or soothe the stress response soon after it was triggered. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so we’re all walking around with physical imprints of past experiences (good and bad) stored in our bodies. Most of us don’t know how to release them because we don’t even realize they exist!
You may feel your body tense up when you have to ask for help or borrow money, or your face may get hot when you’re asked to speak in front of a crowd. The sensation is your body remembering.
It’s remembering a past experience when you asked for help and it didn’t go well. Maybe someone made you feel ashamed because you “should be able to handle it yourself.” Perhaps you were called to the front of your third grade class and asked a question you didn’t know the answer to, so you felt embarrassed and humiliated.
The body doesn’t have words to express itself, so it responds with physical sensations.
You can forget, block, or intellectualize the memories that are stored in our brains, but how do you work through the memories being stored in your body?
Animals shake when they experience trauma or anxiety. Think of a dog who’s been in a fight with another dog: Once the fight is over, both dogs will shake to calm their nervous systems and quiet the fight, flight, or freeze response. This enables them to move on without the physical memory of the situation.
Humans, however, don’t naturally do this. Instead we carry our stress, anxiety, and trauma around with us every day and use food and other addictive behaviors to soothe ourselves and quiet the emotional discomfort.
There’s nothing wrong with turning to food or other means to soothe yourself, but typically habitual behaviors provide a short-term solution, and you’ll continue to feel the discomfort until you release the memory from your body.
I am a recovering sugar addict. I used to stuff myself with cake, cookies, and ice cream any time I felt sad, angry, or alone. The sugar high helped me cope with difficult emotions and soothed the pain of a childhood marred with stress and abuse.
It was a behavior that eventually made me sick. Chronic yeast infections, migraines, and fatigue were the norm for ten years before I realized sugar was making me sick. I eliminated it from my diet, but the changes in my physical health were minimal.
In order to truly heal my body, I had to address the emotional issues that caused me to self-medicate with food. I did this by creating an emotional tool-kit.
In order to release the emotions and create a more peaceful state of being, it’s important to create an emotional tool-kit to help regulate your nervous system and soothe the discomfort.
1. The first tool to put in your emotional tool-kit: non-judgment
When you feel emotionally triggered and tempted to turn to food or other addictive behaviors for comfort, try not to judge the reaction. Our bodies are programmed to seek pleasure, not discomfort, so it’s natural to try and find something to soothe the pain and make yourself feel better.
The need to soothe yourself with food or other means doesn’t make you a bad person—it makes you human.
2. The second tool in your emotional tool-kit: permission
Give yourself permission to feel—you have to feel it to heal it.
Often the reason we feel the need to numb what we’re feeling is because we believe that the emotion we’re feeling isn’t allowed. We think we’re not allowed to be angry or we’re supposed to be strong, so we can’t cry.
Giving yourself permission to feel allows you to have power over it—you control it instead of allowing it to control you, and in the process you create the space to heal.
The healing process will bring up lots of different feelings and emotions; many will be uncomfortable. When these uncomfortable emotions come up, allow them to come up without becoming attached to them; notice them for what they are and know that there is a natural ebb and flow to them.
It may be horribly uncomfortable initially, but allow yourself to witness them without judgment or reaction. This will allow you to respond objectively. Feelings aren’t forever. They come and go—if you let them.
3. The third tool in your emotional tool-kit: releaseNow that you’ve allowed yourself to feel, it’s time to release the emotion from your body.
You can do this by gently shaking. Start with your feet and work your way up, one body part at a time, or you can turn on a song that mirrors the way you’re feeling and sing, dance, or cry until you feel physically and emotionally satisfied. All of these things will help give the emotion a voice and move the emotion out of your body.
Not quite ready to move your body? Grab a journal and write. No filter, no editing; leave the anger, frustration, sadness, and anything else you’re feeling on the page. Feel free to tear or safely burn the pages when you’re done as a symbolic release.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to release. There will be times when moving your body helps, and other times singing or writing will feel more effective. Choose the method that feels best to you in the moment.
4. The fourth tool in your emotional tool-kit: forgiveness
This is the most important tool in your tool-kit. In order to truly heal, you have to be able to forgive yourself.
Beating yourself up for past transgressions isn’t productive, and certainly doesn’t make you feel good about yourself.
Understand that no matter what situation(s) led you to numb yourself with food, drugs, sex, or your self-soothing mechanism of choice, you did the best you could with the information you had on a physical, mental, and emotional level. You dealt with your emotions in the best way that you knew how.
Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to get caught up in the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” spiral of shame when looking back on a situation. But when we’re in a state of discomfort, we don’t always have the capacity to think logically or rationally. Your brain and body respond to discomfort based on what feels like the safest option in the moment, and sometimes that means turning to habitual or addictive behaviors.
Forgive yourself because you did the best you could at the time, and move on knowing that you have the knowledge and tools to think differently next time.
Finally: time.We have a tendency to look for the quick fix, but there’s no six-hour healing elixir that can magically erase the pain and discomfort from old wounds. Healing takes time.
Give yourself time to fill your emotional tool-kit and understand that healing is a journey—one that lasts a lifetime.
Of course, practice makes the journey easier, but there is no perfection. There will be times when you fall back on old patterns and behaviors, when that happens reach into your emotional tool-kit and take what you need. You are equipped. You can do this.
The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
— William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun
A well-documented feature of trauma, one familiar to many, is our inability to articulate what happens to us. We not only lose our words, but something happens with our memory as well. During a traumatic incident, our thought processes become scattered and disorganized in such a way that we no longer recognize the memories as belonging to the original event. Instead, fragments of memory, dispersed as images, body sensations, and words, are stored in our unconscious and can become activated later by anything even remotely reminiscent of the original experience. Once they are triggered, it is as if an invisible rewind button has been pressed, causing us to reenact aspects of the original trauma in our dayto-day lives. Unconsciously, we could find ourselves reacting to certain people, events, or situations in old, familiar ways that echo the past.
Sigmund Freud identified this pattern more than one hundred years ago. Traumatic reenactment, or “repetition compulsion,” as Freud coined it, is an attempt of the unconscious to replay what’s unresolved,so we can “get it right.” This unconscious drive to relive past events could be one of the mechanisms at work when families repeat unresolved traumas in future generations.
Freud’s contemporary Carl Jung also believed that what remains unconscious does not dissolve, but rather resurfaces in our lives as fate or fortune. “Whatever does not emerge as Consciousness,” he said, “returns as Destiny.” In other words, we’re likely to keep repeating our unconscious patterns until we bring them into the light of awareness. Both Jung and Freud noted that whatever is too difficult to process does not fade away on its own, but rather is stored in our unconscious.
Freud and Jung each observed how fragments of previously blocked, suppressed, or repressed life experience would show up in the words, gestures, and behaviors of their patients. For decades to follow, therapists would see clues such as slips of the tongue, accident patterns, or dream images as messengers shining a light into the unspeakable and unthinkable regions of their clients’ lives.
Recent advances in imaging technology have allowed researchers to unravel the brain and bodily functions that “misfire” or break down during overwhelming episodes. Bessel van der Kolk is a Dutch psychiatrist known for his research on posttraumatic stress. He explains that during a trauma, the speech center shuts down, as does the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for experiencing the present moment. He describes the “speechless terror” of trauma as the experience of being at a “loss for words”, a common occurrence when brain pathways of remembering are hindered during periods of threat or danger. “When people relive their traumatic experiences,” he says, “the frontal lobes become impaired and, as result, they have trouble thinking and speaking. They are no longer capable of communicating to either themselves or to others precisely what’s going on.”
Still, all is not silent: words, images, and impulses that fragment following a traumatic event reemerge to form a secret language of our suffering we carry with us. Nothing is lost. The pieces have just been rerouted.
Emerging trends in psychotherapy are now beginning to point beyond the traumas of the individual to include traumatic events in the family and social history as a part of the whole picture. Tragedies varying in type and intensity—such as abandonment, suicide and war, or the early death of a child, parent, or sibling—can send shock waves of distress cascading from one generation to the next. Recent developments in the fields of cellular biology, neurobiology, epigenetics, and developmental psychology underscore the importance of exploring at least three generations of family history in order to understand the mechanism behind patterns of trauma and suffering that repeat.
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