Anxiety & Depresssion

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March 2016 Updates

The World Health Organization says that your "health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being (emphasis mine) and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

As a health psychologist, I provide monthly updates of resources for individuals and families that support well-being.
Cheers, Marilyn Wilts Click on Read More below.

Note: I am not responsible for the content, claims or representations of the listed sites and post these links for informational purposes only

"You've got to sing like you don't need the money,
Love like you'll never get hurt,
You've got to dance like nobody's watchin',
It's gotta come from the heart
If you want it to work."
--Old blues/folk song by Susanna Clark, songwriter
Come from the Heart (Youtube: Kathy Mattea, singer)

Increasing Your Happiness Benefits Your Health
Dr. Vicek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General, has traveled to various communities throughout the country and has witnessed the unexpected benefits happiness can have on public health.

In an American Medical Association news release Dr. Murthy said:
"Happiness affects us on a biological level. Happy people have lower levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone," he said during a presentation at TEDMED 2015.

Happy people "have more favorable heart rates and blood pressure levels. They have strong immune systems ... and lower levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein that is linked to coronary heart disease. It turns out that even when you control for smoking, physical activity and other health behaviors, happy people live longer. There's something about happiness that seems to be protective."

Contrary to popular belief that happiness is innate, Dr. Murthy said research shows that people can actually "create happiness" using gratitude exercises, meditation and social connectedness.

A lesson on creating happiness: Visitacion Valley Middle School
"Perhaps one of the most powerful examples of cultivating happiness comes from Visitacion Valley High School in San Francisco," Dr. Murthy said. "Some years ago, Visitacion was struggling."

Dr. Murthy visited the school the day before giving his presentation at TEDMED 2015, which is where he learned that eight years ago, Visitacion school suffered from low test scores, high suspension rates and "so much violence that the school had to hire a full-time grief counselor."

Teachers tried afterschool programs, peer counseling and sports programs to help mitigate students' anger and improve attendance rates, but none of them proved effective. Then the school decided to "take a leap of faith" and try a non-traditional approach to reducing stress and improving mental health for students, Dr. Murthy said.

School staff "created two 15-minute 'quiet time' meditation sessions [for] each school day. They taught the teachers and students how to meditate. They taught the administrators how to meditate as well. And within a year, something incredible happened: Suspension rates dropped by 45 percent, teacher absenteeism dropped by 30 percent, and test scores and grade point averages rose markedly," Dr. Murthy said.

Students also reported that they were less anxious, slept better and "their self-reported happiness scores went from one of the lowest scores in San Francisco to the highest in the district .... These are remarkable stories," Dr. Murthy said.

Visitacion's meditation model is now being replicated as a tool for happiness and improving student health in various schools across the country.

"What is so striking about these tools for increasing happiness--meditation, gratitude, social connection, exercise--is that they are so simple and accessible," (emphasis mine) Dr. Murthy said. "We have become accustomed to thinking that complex problems require complex solutions, but that's not always the case. Sometimes simple solutions can enable us to take on some of our most intractable problems. That's what happiness can do when it comes to health. "

The full article is available at through the AMA Wire: The simple way to boost health you may have overlooked.

Letting Happiness Flourish in The Classroom
The *New York Times* includes an article, March 9, 2016, by Jessica Lahey, who reviews ways a Stanford researcher says we can help children experience happiness.

Here are some excerpts:
[begin excerpts]
Emma Seppala..., the author of "The Happiness Track," and science director of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, has not lost hope. Dr. Seppala admits that yes, happiness can be a rare beast in our classrooms, but we can create and protect learning conditions in which happiness can flourish.

Emma Seppala Photo from the New York Times: Emma Seppala

Happiness, Dr. Seppala explained in an email, is not something we can afford to lose at home or in our classrooms, as it forms the very foundation of deep, meaningful learning. Happy kids show up at school more able to learn because they tend to sleep better and may have healthier immune systems. Happy kids learn faster and think more creatively. Happy kids tend to be more resilient in the face of failures. Happy kids have stronger relationships and make new friends more easily.

Unfortunately, we put our children's happiness at risk when we model what Dr. Seppala calls the "myths of success": the belief that success is inextricably tied to stress and anxiety, perseverance at all costs, avoidance of personal weakness, and a myopic focus on cultivating expertise in a specialized niche.

We may tell kids that we want them to be happy, and that we care about their learning more than we care about their grades, but when we model the myths of success in our own lives, they know the truth. Perpetuating these myths, whether through our words or actions, undermines the very happiness and learning we claim to value.
We must model behaviors that, according to Dr. Seppala, make us happier, healthier and more productive. (Note: I have highlighted this researcher's main points below.)

* Live in the moment. Rather than encouraging children to live from one to-do item to the next, help them focus and enjoy whatever activity they are engaged in now. "Research shows our minds wander off task 50 percent of the time. Yet when our mind wanders, we have more negative emotions. While a little bit of stress about the next to-do can serve as a motivator, long-term chronic stress impairs both physical health and intellectual faculties such as attention and memory," Dr. Seppala said in an email.

*Model resilience. "While we can't often change the work and life demands our children face in their lives, we can help them train their nervous systems to be resilient, and to thrive in the face of difficulties and challenges," Dr. Seppala said. Talk about how you have overcome challenges, model healthy resilience, and help kids find respite from the pressures of achievement. Techniques such as meditation, yoga and breathing exercises help your children rest their minds and bodies, and allow them to recover from the physical and emotional damage stress can impart.

*Manage your energy. While negative emotions can be damaging to kids' mental and physical health, our society's penchant for constant, high-intensity positive emotions takes a toll as well. "Western societies value excitement and other high-intensity positive emotions over low-intensity positive emotions such as calm. While there's nothing wrong with excitement and fun, children need to know how to balance excitement with the ability to calm down and function from a centered, peaceful place, saving precious mental energy for tasks that need it most," Dr. Seppala said.

*Do nothing. "Taking time off to disconnect and relax focus helps promote kids' creativity and insights," Dr. Seppala wrote. "Children need time for idleness, fun and irrelevant interests, and as research shows C.E.O.s currently value creativity higher than any other trait in the incoming workforce, it behooves you to let your kids relax and access their inner inventor."

*Be kind to yourself. While it's good to strive for improvement, excessive self-criticism can backfire, and become self-sabotage. Self-criticism maintains focus on the negative, leaving kids anxious, afraid of failure and less likely to learn from mistakes.
*Be kind to others. Research shows that people who are supportive and compassionate toward others are more successful. Fortunately, Dr. Seppala said,
Children should not be surprised by joy. If they are, the responsibility for its absence lies at the feet of parents, teachers and administrators who have pushed happiness out of its native habitat to make room for the toxic, invasive species of anxiety, stress and fear.
[end excerpts]

The above is excerpted courtesy of Ken Pope, a psychologist who posts articles he feels are of interest. The full article is on line through Dr. Pope at Letting Happiness Flourish.

Symptoms Outdo Diagnoses in Predicting Bipolar Disorder in At-Risk Youth

Below is a summary from NIMH (photo to left is from NIMH):
The National Institute of Mental Health has published an update on how certain identified symptoms may help predict whether a youth who has one parent with bipolar disorder will go on to develop this disorder. Based on a study of 391 at-risk youth, the three types of symptoms identifies - related to anxiety/depression, affective lability (unstable mood, including irritablity), and low-level manic symptoms - prove a more specific roadmap than previously available for assessing risk of bipolar disorder early in at-risk youth, and one that is based on symptoms, not traditional psychiatric diagnoses.

The full news article is available from NIMH's Science News of 2016: Symptoms Outdo Diagnoses in Predicting Biopolar Disorder in At-Risk Youth As the article states, "It's important to note that over half of those with four of the most powerful risk factors did not develop bipolar disorder by the end of the study," (Note: the study followed children of parents with bipolar disorder and a similar group of youth with no family history of the condition for eight years.)

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