Good for the Body and the Brain

Good for the Body and the Brain

The research is old but it doesn’t hurt to remind everyone that dehydration and poor water consumption can easily impact our mental health. There are key nutrients, chemicals and vitamins in the body that affect our mood, including vitamin D and water. So if you feel lethargic, foggy, and low in mood, drink up! It makes sense. Here’s why. Well first, our brain tissue, like all the other cells in our body is made up of mostly water. So, low water in the brain means poor functioning. Second, dehydration impairs the body’s ability to detoxify, causing a depletion of essential amino acids and antioxidants, including tryptophan. You’ve probably heard about tryptophan before. Think turkey at Thanksgiving. Now here is where it gets tricky - some research suggests that tryptophan is converted to serotonin once it crosses the blood-brain barrier. Aha! So…if we are not making enough tryptophan, then we are not making enough serotonin, which is one of the major causes of depression. One cause of perhaps many. But remember, drinking other fluids like coffee, soda, alcohol and juice are not likely to help as these can act as diuretics and actually cause further dehydration. I know, I know. Drinking more water can be really difficult, and it’s easy to get lulled into consuming those fancy water beverages with all the sugar and additives. Try it plain and simple though by just adding a squeeze of fresh orange, or perpahs a little bit of lemon, cucumber or berries.

Big Belly, Big Brain

Have you ever wanted (or needed) a bigger brain? Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine might suggest getting pregnant then. Sorry guys. Indeed, their studies have concluded that after giving birth, new mothers demonstrate a steady growth in certain areas of the brain, and they attribute this to changes in key hormone levels. And it makes sense that the areas of the brain most affected by these changes in hormones include the midbrain, the area associated with behavior and motivation! New moms out there will certainly tell you that as much as they love their new little one, it’s still hard to get motivated to get up several times in the middle of the night. Perhaps these growth spurts help new moms to do the hard tasks. In fact, some of the researchers are tentatively concluding that our instinct to take care of our children is perhaps more related to these brain changes than actual instinct, and perhaps there are brain reductions in mothers suffering with postartum depression - another new area to look at to improve those suffering.

Understanding the Psychology of Adult Relationships

It's Hard Work

It's Hard Work

Relationships are a part of all our lives – they start from the time we’re born and continue till the day we die. Over the course of our life, we forge various kinds of bonds – some are familial ties that we have no control over, others are the ones that we seek out in the form of friends, lovers and spouses. Some people are great at them, and others just seem to screw up every time. So what is it about relationships that make them defining aspects of our lives? Why does everything else in life revolve around our relationships? Why do our moods and emotions, our character and conduct, and our behavior and attitude, depend on the nature of our relationships?

Relationships matter because we are not islands; man is by nature a social creature, dependent on the people he lives and works with. However, on the other side of the coin, relationships are also the reason for our despair and agony, our angst and sorrow. They drive us to the depths of sadness, and sometimes even to the end of life. Why does something that is so essential in life swing so violently between the extreme ends of emotions? And most important of all, why cannot we control our emotions and do what it takes to maintain healthy relationships throughout our lives?

The problem with love and other extreme emotions is that they drive out maturity and rationality; when people fall in love or enter into relationships, physical and emotional feelings drive them deeper and deeper into each other. At some point of time, the physical need peters out, and if you’re not emotionally strong, the relationship falls flat. Either one or both of you are unsatisfied, and you awaken to the realities around you and let other aspects of your life affect your relationship (work issues, money problems and spillovers from other relationships in your life). Third parties could also enter the picture and the rift widens. And finally, the emotional and physical bond you once so treasured is shattered and broken into pieces that cannot ever be put together the same way again.
Only a handful of people are able to make their relationships work – only because they understand that the key word when it comes to relationship success is “work”. Adult relationships are the sum total of your entire life so far – you use your prior experience to survive and grow in each new relationship, and if you have enough common sense, you soon learn that the only way to make relationships work is to give as much as you take, to satisfy expectations as much as you expect, and to focus on the positive and forget the negative. Relationships have to be “worked” on, constantly and continuously. The changing dynamics of relationships as time goes by makes this a big challenge; however, if you know what needs to be done and are willing to do it, there’s no reason why you cannot enjoy a successful, fulfilling and long-lasting relationship.

This guest post is contributed by Abby Nelson, she writes on the topic of Masters in Counseling. She welcomes your comments at her email:

It’s Not Over Yet

Wonder why we don’t hear much now about the 33 Chilean miners that were trapped underground for over two months? So much hype in the beginning and then the story faded away into the ethos. That’s because the miners are likely trying to get back into daily life quietly, perhaps some of them suffering with more psychological effects than they want the media to be aware of. Maybe not.

There is no doubt that these miners, faced with unbelievable odds, are some of the most corageous, perseverent and resilient people, who used teamwork and engenuity to maintain composure during the dark days underground. But there is likely to be some dark days above ground too. Even with the elation and relief they are likely to feel, those initial feelings may break down as they adapt to their situation and figure out what to do next.

Research psychologists have learned that both men and women in extremely stressful situations like this, including hostage events, space travel, combat, or natural disasters, may function well during the event, or immediately after, but then struggle to various degrees afterwards. Some of the things psychologists and counselors will look for is anxiety. Yes, this includes PTSD, but it could also include phobias of the dark, enclosed places, or being alone. It might also include restlessness, a sense of doom, and reliving the trauma through flashbacks. Professionals might also look for mood changes, such as depression or irritability. This happens as the individual begins to think about the extent of what has happened to them, and allows themselves to truly experience those feelings. With anxiety and depression, there could also be parallel concerns related to sleep (insomnia, nightmares, and changes in their circadian rhythm), appetite and eating problems, social withdrawal, cognitive symptoms, grief, and difficulty adapting to daily life.

Of course, there is a possibility that the miners, after emerging from the rescue shaft, will experience only happiness and relief to be alive and be with their families again. Again, they are extremely resilient individuals with many psychological strengths to have endured such an ordeal. But one can’t help but wonder why we don’t hear much about them now? We can only hope that they are well.

Messy Media

This summer, there was a whole month devoted to healthy media, so I decided to search around and see what kids could find out there in the media, aside from pornography websites kids might trip upon.

I am a big proponent of the internet and I think kids and teens should use the internet - safely. I am always shocked, however, about what you can find out there. For example, there are multiple and easy-to-find websites devoted to infidelity, one in which you can actually pay to find other individuals who want to cheat on their spouses. Other unhealthy websites include pro-ana and pro-mia websites that promote, support and provide tips to readers on disordered eating and unhealthy body images. In addition, it was not hard to find a blog on which someone commented in a pro-Columbine attitude about how the shooters should be hailed as heros. What about the website that outlines “The Practical Guide to Suicide”. And are your kids on Facebook? Well there are all sorts of weird and unhealthy Facebook pages out there, including I Want to Punch Slow-Walking People in the Back of the Head.

What if your kids watch a lot of television? Of course, the tv and television media has been studied and criticized for years. I could not believe however, when I saw this summer a Jenny Craig weight loss ad featuring a teen who spoke about how much weight she had lost in the program. I could just see all the adolescent girls watching this ad, thinking about how they would like to lose some weight, and thinking it would be a good idea for them to join. While I think many teens do need to lose weight, I believe physicians would promote exercise, working with a nutritionist, and balanced meals rather than starting adolescents on the never-ending diet roller coaster.

Regardless, you as a parent know that this and all sorts of weird stuff is out there. Beware of what your kids are doing on the computer, and what they are watching on television. Do not assume that one conversation with kids about safe media is doing it. And do not assume that internet controls and software is keeping your teen safe, as it is not likely limiting access to the kinds of things posted here today. Provide good supervision. There’s nothing else to replace careful observation.

Is Your Teen Sleeping Enough?

Looking for a New Year’s challenge? How about getting your teenager to sleep more hours during the week? New research out this week suggests that this is more important than we’ve realized, and that there are some dire consequences when your adolescent is chronically sleep-deprived. Indeed, teenagers with earlier bedtimes have fewer incidents of depression and think less often about suicide. Also, risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity decrease with more sleep.

Health psychologists have believed for some time that adequate sleep is vital for teenagers, and that teens need nine or more hours of sleep per night, as much as young children. However, as many of us know, adolescents rarely get that much sleep because of after school obligations, late-night texting, and early start times at school. Three New York researchers in a recently published science article in the journal Sleep, suggest in their study of nearly 16,000 teenagers across the U.S., that adolescents whose bedtimes were 10p or earlier were 24% less likely to describe symptoms of depression to interviewers, and 20% less likely to admit to having had thoughts of killing themselves. However, only half of the teens in the study had bedtime set by parents to be 10p or earlier, and as much as a quarter were allowed to stay up past midnight. Professor Gangwisch, the lead author in the Columbia University study, surmises that decreased amounts of sleep affect judgment, concentration and impulse control which could ultimately hinder the ability to cope with daily stress and put a teen at risk for depression.

So even if you find it’s a struggle, it could be worth enforcing a regular and earlier bedtime for your teen. Sometimes, it helps to develop new rules such as lights out, or lights low at a certain time, rather than think that you can make your teen actually sleep. If you are very concerned about your teen’s sleep habits, taking away cell phones and ipods at night can also help. And letting them sleep in for a few hours on weekends can certainly prevent the chronic sleep deprivation scientists are concerned about.

Self-Injuring Adolescents on the Rise

In my practice, I’ve noticed an increase in adolescents who are harming themselves by cutting, burning, pinching or abrading themselves. The research confirms this increase as well, unfortunately. Indeed, an estimated 14-17% of adolescents hurt themselves deliberately. So psychologists are wondering why there has been an increase.

For one thing, the behavior has gained more acceptance among peers and within our culture. Even pop stars are admitting that they’ve cut at some point in their lives (Princess Diana, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie). Other researchers have found that while some teens do it just because it’s novel and maybe even a little mysterious, other teens are doing it in seearch of self-preservation - an attempt to remind themselves that they can physically or emotionally feel something.

But with an adolescent who is self-injuring, severe pathology and suicide is always a possibility and any teen engaged in this behavior should be seeing a professional. In fact, a study last year from New York’s Stony Brook Univeristy finds that 11% of self-injuring college students are at high risk for suicide attempts. Other research suggests that someone with a history of cutting is nine times more likely to make a suicide attempt than someone without one. So don’t ignore. When your teen is hurting themselves, get them some help.

Jury is Still Out on Autism

With flu season here and the frenzy about both flu and H1N1 vaccinations, there has been a flury of new media attention on the reported increase in Autism and it’s causes. About 1 in 150 American children are now believed to have Autism or related conditions such as Asperger’s Disorder. Indeed, there has been as much as a 600% rise in Autism-related disorders in some states. Autism is thought to be a neurological disorder that signficantly impairs social and emotional functioning, making it very difficult for these children to connect in a meaninful way to other humans.

Popular opinion indicates that one of the primary causes of Autism involves introduction to toxins early in development, including perservatives and mercury in childhood vaccinations. Pediatric and developmental researchers who have been researching this spectrum of disorders for decades now believe that there has not been a rise in Autism at all. Instead, many scientists now conclude that there has been an increase in diagnosed cases because of better systems established in school for early detection, as well as broader definitions of symptomatology. Furthermore, many researchers now believe that the connection between the rise in Autism and the use of perserveratives such as thimerosal in vaccinations is coincidental and not truly correlated.

So with these concerns, should parents have their children vaccinated? Talk with your pediatrician. Most pediatricians have been reading and following the research and have also concluded that there is no concern about getting your chld vaccinated. Indeed, many physicians suggest that it is far more dangerous and complicated to expose children to potent diseases that can now be prevented with simple immunizations.

Colorado Ranks High in Brain Health

Healthy Colorado Brain

Healthy Colorado Brain

A recent study indexed 21 different brain health indicators for people across the United States. Colorado ranked in the top 10 healthiest brain states. What does that mean? Well, as we know, Coloradoans tend to be overall very healthy people compared to others across the nation, and this includes factors for brain health as well. What the researchers found indicated that those in healthy brains states lived a lifestyle that keeps the brain balanced and active well into the golden years. And we do that by making healthy nutrional choices including foods high in DHA or omega-3’s, avoiding toxins to the brain such as smoking, and keeping the mind active with higher levels of personal reading and active game playing such as chess etc. Basicly, what this all boils down to - having good personal balance in your life. Balancing stressful activities such as work with relaxing activities like hobbies are key to overall physical and mental health.

If you don’t think you are being kind to your brain, you can do the following to give it a little boost:
1) Eat foods high in DHA or omega-3, as well as those that provide good defense against free radicals (colorful fruits and vegys like cranberries, grapes, and tomatos).

2) Make wise health decisions - quit smoking, get exercise and try to get adequate sleep daily

3) Keep your brain challenged - try a new puzzle, learn a language, or get some good books to keep your mind sharp!

Smoke Signals

Trying to quit smoking? Well, new research out this summer suggests that you may have a harder time being successful if you are a woman. Indeed, a review of clinical trials by Dr. Shiffman at the University of Pittsburgh indicates that women have a 25% lower success rate than men who are trying to quit.

New theories among research psychologists outline the role emotions and stress reactions play in quitting for women. Basicly, it seems that relapse back to cigarettes is often triggered in women because of experiencing acute emotion. The researchers aren’t saying that women are more emotional. They are just saying that women turn to smoking when they are dealing with high stress and that cigarettes play a larger role in women’s lives in reducing negative mood, stabilizing weight, and managing the stresses of every day life. Hence, it is harder for women to give up their cigarettes, and they are at higher risk for relapse when something stressful happens.

Physicians have also noticed that women do not do as well with first-line treatments for smoking cessation - nicotine replacement. Women may do better with stress management techniques. So if you are trying to quit, try some of these strategies to manage stress and keep a better handle on your quit program:

1) Try short term therapy
2) Exercise, especially yoga and pilates
3) Talk to friends daily
4) Journal
5) Listen to music or read a good book
6) Deep breathing and muscle relaxation
7) Make sure you’re getting good sleep
8) Be sure to tell yourself positive things about your efforts
9) Pamper yourself
10) Coordinate your quit program around time-off at work