“Self-care” is a term used by social workers and psychologists, and it usually refers to activities that are pleasurable. Helping professionals often suggest a walk in nature, a yoga class, or a bubble bath. In a recent article on The Mighty, contributor Mawiyah Patten writes about her own experience of depression and the role of self-care.
Most of us have now heard of mindfulness, but you may have only a vague understanding of the term. Mindfulness is often recommended to reduce stress and anxiety. Scientists have proven its positive health outcomes in terms of neuroscience, and people all over the world are enjoying the benefits of this increasingly popular practice.
Dr. Joseph Mercola argues that depression is not a “disease.” Instead, he considers depression “a sign that your body and your life are out of balance.” While he acknowledges drugs may occasionally be appropriate, he believes antidepressant medications are seldom the best answer to depression. Instead, he recommends diet and general lifestyle changes to resolve this common mental health issue.
We all lead busy lives these days. Frequently, our eating patterns reflect that, as we unconsciously reach for snacks that may not be the ideal fuel. Too often we choose foods that not only fail to provide solid nourishment; they also have a negative effect on our mood.
Research has now proven beyond doubt that the food you eat affects your mental health. To maintain a state of optimal mental and emotional balance, you must factor in the decisions you make around food. That is true of depression as well as other mental health issues.
Mental illness is still in large part a mystery and very little has been done to figure out what causes it or who may be more susceptible. Now, new research may be taking us one step closer to assessing the origins of this debilitating disease and opening new doors to the prevention of it.
Recently, scientists from the Washington University of St. Louis ran a 12 year long study of 145 preschool age children. These children were assessed for feelings of guilt and depression through the ages of 3-6. Later, during their 7th to 13th years, these same children were given fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) brain scans every year and a half. Although the initial findings of this study has already been published, these children will continued to be studied for the next 5 years.
The study concluded an interesting and intricate relationship between feelings of guilt, depression and future mental illness. 47 of the 145 preschoolers were found to have feelings of depression. Of these 47 children, over half of them showed feelings of pathological guilt. On the other hand, of the non depressed children, only 20% of them displayed guilt.
The rather shocking discovery was that the children who dealt with guilt, whether or not they also had depression, had a smaller volume in their anterior insula – the part of the brain that has been connected to mental illness such as schizophrenia and mood and anxiety disorders. The anterior insula is also responsible for the regulation of emotion and self perception. Small anterior insula volume is already known as an indicator of later occurring depression. Accordingly, the children with the smaller anterior insula volume were also more likely to have recurring episodes of depression in their future.
This study is the first of its kind to link childhood guilt to actual changes in brain matter. What is exciting about this research is that it shows that with early intervention, it might be possible to stave off mental illness in a person’s future. This research promises to develop some crucial tools for assessing children at risk and empowering their caretakers to recognize early symptoms and take steps to change their life.
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While performing a completely unrelated experiment, researchers from John Hopkins University may have accidentally found a virus that causes “stupidity” in people. The algal virus, called ATCV-1, may impair brain activity, learning and memory in those infected, which could impact mental capacity and intelligence levels.
This virus typically infects a specific type of algae found in rivers and lakes. It has not been known to infect humans before, but the researchers found the virus in 43.5% of the 92 healthy volunteers who were participating in the study.
After unexpectedly stumbling across traces of ATCV-1 in human DNA samples from throat swabs from healthy volunteers, the research team did a database search to identify the unknown virus. They then continued with the research to find that the presence of this virus in humans was linked to decreased spatial awareness, lower attention spans and a “statistically significant decrease in the performance on cognitive assessments of visual processing and visual motor speed.”
Further tests were done on mice, in which the mice were injected in the mouth with infected algae. The mice that were infected showed significantly less ability to find their way out of mazes, and seemed perplexed by new objects placed in with them. The study reported that the virus appeared to impact the “learning, memory formation, and the immune response to viral exposure” of the mice.
Dr. Robert Yolken who led the research team, said that ATCV-1 may work by changing gene expression in the brain area that is responsible for higher brain functions. He added that he had suspected for some time that viruses are capable of affecting human intelligence.
Although this study was unintended, it does give a good example of how human behavior and psychology is more than the sum of the genes you inherit from your parents. It shows the yet to be researched potential of how much we are influenced by the trillions of microorganisms that live in our bodies.