7 Simple Ways to Ease Anxiety

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Anxiety serves a life-saving role when we are in real danger. Adrenaline pumps through our system, and suddenly we can run like Usain Bolt and lift a 200-pound man without much effort. However, most of the time, anxiety is like a fire alarm with a dead battery that beeps annoyingly every five minutes when there is absolutely nothing to worry about. We experience the heart palpitations, restlessness, panic, and nausea as if a saber-toothed tiger were 20 yards away.

Thankfully there are a few simple gestures to communicate to your body that there is no immediate danger — that it’s a false alarm… yet again. I have used the following activities to calm down my nervous system that is ready for an adventure, and to ease symptoms of anxiety.

Exercise

We have known for decades that exercise can decrease depression and anxiety symptoms, but a 2016 study by researchers at the University of California at David Medical Center demonstrates how. They found that exercise increased the level of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA, both of which are depleted in the brains of persons with depression and anxiety. The study showed that aerobic exercise activates the metabolic pathways that replenish these neurotransmitters, allowing the brain to communicate with the body.

You need not commit huge amounts of time. Short, ten-minute intervals of intense exercise (such as sprints) can trigger the same brain changes as long, continuous workouts.

Drink Chamomile Tea

Chamomile is one of the most ancient medicinal herbs and has been used to treat a variety of conditions including panic and insomnia. Its sedative effects may be due to the flavonoid apigenin that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. Chamomile extracts exhibit benzodiazepine-like hypnotic activity as evidenced in a study with sleep-disturbed rats.

In a study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Philadelphia, patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) who took chamomile supplements for eight weeks had a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms compared to the patients taking placebos.

Laugh

It’s difficult to panic and laugh at the same time. There’s a physiological reason for this. When we panic, we generate all kinds of stress hormones that send SOS signals throughout our body. However, when we laugh, those same hormones are reduced.

In a study done at Loma Linda University in California in the 1980s, Lee Berk, DrPH and his research team assigned five men to an experimental group who viewed a 60-minute humor video and five to a control group, who didn’t. They found that the “mirthful laughter experience” reduced serum levels of cortisol, epinephrine, dihydrophenylacetic acid (dopac), and growth hormone.

Take Deep Breaths

Every relaxation technique that mitigates the stress response and halts our “fight or flight or I’m-dying-get-the-heck-out-of-my-way” reaction is based in deep breathing. I find it miraculous how something as simple as slow abdominal breathing has the power to calm down our entire nervous system. One way it does this is by stimulating our vagus nerve — our BFF in the middle of a panic because it releases a variety of anti-stress enzymes and calming hormones such as acetylcholine, prolactin, vasopressin, and oxytocin.

Three basic approaches to deep breathing are coherent breathing, resistance breathing, and breath moving. But really, all you need to do is inhale to a count of six and exhale to a count of six, moving the breath from your chest to your diaphragm.

Eat Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate has one of the highest concentrations of magnesium in a food — with one square providing 327 milligrams, or 82 percent of your daily value — and magnesium is an important mineral for calming down the nervous system. According to a 2012 study in the journal Neuropharmacology, magnesium deficiencies induce anxiety, which is why the mineral is known as the original chill pill. Dark chocolate also contains large amounts of tryptophan, an amino acid that works as a precursor to serotonin, and theobromine, another mood-elevating compound. The higher percentage of cocoa the better (aim for at least 85 percent), because sugar can reverse the benefits of chocolate and contribute to your anxiety.

Color

Use anything that can distract you from the fire alarm going off every five minutes in your head—from the distressing thoughts and ruminations. Many people I know use coloring books to divert their attention. I now see them in doctor’s offices and acupuncture centers. A study published in Occupational Therapy International demonstrated that activities such as drawing and other arts and crafts can stimulate the neurological system and enhance well-being. This is partly because they help you stay fully present and they can be meditative. They are especially helpful for people like me who struggle with formal meditation.

Cry

You have to be careful with crying, as it has the potential you feel worse. However, I’ve always felt a huge release after a good cry. There’s a biological explanation for this. Tears remove toxins from our body that build up from stress, like the endorphin leucine-enkephalin and prolactin, the hormone that causes aggression. And what’s really fascinating is that emotional tears — those formed in distress or grief — contain more toxic byproducts than tears of irritation (like onion peeling). Crying also lowers manganese levels, which triggers anxiety, nervousness, and aggression. In that way, tears elevate mood.

I like Benedict Carey’s reference to tears as “emotional perspiration” in his New York Times piece, The Muddled Track of All Those Tears. He writes, “They’re considered a release, a psychological tonic, and to many a glimpse of something deeper: the heart’s own sign language, emotional perspiration from the well of common humanity.”

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Psychology Around the Net: April 6, 2019

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This week’s Psychology Around the Net dives into how to stop worrying about what other people think of you, ways to defeat procrastination, why pets can help boost physical and mental health (especially in older adults), and more.

Enjoy!

Stop Worrying About What Others Think of You: 7 Tips for Feeling Better: The fear of rejection is at the root of caring what someone thinks of you. Learn how to understand what “rejection” really means, use rejection (when it actually happens) as a brilliant opportunity for growth, how to embrace your individuality, and more to overcome your fear of rejection and truly stop worrying what other people think about you.

How to Defeat Procrastination with the Psychology of Emotional Intelligence: A step-by-step guide to overcoming procrastination by using the psychology of emotion regulation and emotional intelligence, with some extra tips and tricks to boot? Sign me up! (Additionally, you might want to find out how anxiety affects procrastination.)

Here’s One Big Way To Help Working Mothers Thrive: This new study tackles how to reduce a mother’s work-family conflict and employment-related guilt.

Why It’s a Problem If ‘Joker’ Connects Mental Illness to Villainy: While most portrayals of The Joker have involved a character backstory that’s mysterious, if not outright nonexistent, there are hints that this new Joker will include not only a backstory, but a backstory that includes mental illness linked to becoming a violent criminal. However, shouldn’t we pause and determine whether the story links mental illness in general with violent and criminal behavior, or whether the story features one character who has a mental illness that drove him to violent criminal behavior?

Poll: Pets Help Older Adults Cope with Health Issues, Get Active, and Connect with Others: According to a recent national poll, pets can help older adults deal with physical and mental health issues; however, for some (18 percent of participants), pets bring various strains (for example, financial burdens and problems that arise from putting a pet’s needs before your own). Which is it for you?

What We Know and Don’t Know about How Mass Trauma Affects Mental Health: Researchers are working to figure out who is at most risk of suicide and other types of self-harm after mass trauma events such as wars and political violence, natural disasters, and — especially prevalent in today’s troubled climate — mass shootings, including school shootings.

Psychology Around the Net: April 6, 2019

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Psychology Around the Net: March 30, 2019

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Do you struggle breaking the ice during social or networking situations? Are you interested in spring cleaning your energy this weekend? Have you had some negative mental health experiences with fitness apps?

We’ve got the latest on each of these and more in this week’s Psychology Around the Net!

Psychologists Agree: ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Is the Only Icebreaker You’ll Ever Need: Talking to new people at a social function or networking event can be tough, especially for people with social anxiety. How do you get their attention? How do you start talking to them? How do you break the ice? Psychologists say the best way to do all that is with four simple words: tell me about yourself. Personally, I kind of freeze up and experience more anxiety when people ask me to tell them about myself (OMG what do I say?!), but here are six tips to help us all navigate the “tell me about yourself” process from start to finish.

Air Pollution Tied to Mental Health Issues in Teenagers: A recent study involving more than 2,000 British teenagers whose health researchers followed from birth until they turned 18 years old has associated urban air pollution with an increased risk for psychotic experiences. According to the study, almost a third of the participants reported they had experienced at least one psychotic experience, ranging from mild paranoia to a more severe psychotic symptom, since the age of 12.

9 Ways to ‘Spring Clean’ Your Energy: Entertaining “blah” thoughts, cluttered and dusty personal space, losing motivation to keep up healthy routines — you have to admit, these and others are ways your energy can get junked up during the dark winter months. Now that spring is here, let’s look at some of the ways you can clean that energy up.

These ‘Wear Your Meds’ Buttons Tackle the Stigma of Taking Mental Illness Drugs: Have y’all heard of the #WearYourMeds movement started by Lauren Weiss? Essentially, you wear a button (or buttons, depending) that depicts the mental health medication you take (alternatively, you can purchase a button that reads “Wear Your Meds”) as a way to, ideally, act as a conversation starter to promote mental health awareness. Although it’s not affiliated with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), all proceeds do go to NAMI. Thoughts?

Sports Psychologists Say Running Apps May Be Damaging Your Health: My knee-jerk reaction to this title was, “What?! I love my C25K app!” After reading the article, I realized the professionals make some good points. Sports psychologists Dr. Andrew Wood and Dr. Martin Turner believe fitness apps (and running apps in particular), which generally are designed to help us meet certain fitness or training goals, could do us more harm than good by contributing to an unhealthy relationship with exercise (and our need for social media validation).

Pope Francis Wants Psychological Testing to Prevent Problem Priests. But Can It Really Do That? ICYMI: The Catholic Church is dealing with one sexual abuse scandal after another lately. Now, Pope Francis has announced a policy he wants to implement worldwide — one that would, ideally, prevent any man from becoming a priest if he can’t pass a psychological evaluation proving he’s suited to a life of chastity. However, scholars, researchers, and even others in the Church are questioning whether or not this is actually possible.

Psychology Around the Net: March 30, 2019

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Psychology Around the Net: March 23, 2019

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Ever wonder how food affects your mental health? Do you think social media addiction should be formally classified (and should the companies behind them be taxed for help)? What’s your stance on Amy Schumer’s discussion of her husband’s autism spectrum disorder diagnosis?

Let’s discuss it all and more in this week’s Psychology Around the Net!

Nutritional Psychiatry: Can You Eat Yourself Happier? We’re not talking about eating your feelings but eating foods that actually affect your feelings. After struggling with anxiety and depression throughout most of her life, Felice Jacka, the head of the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry, found that her diet, exercise, and sleep had a major affect on her mental health. Before you scoff (duh, don’t we already know this?), her findings initially weren’t received with open arms. Now, a ton of research, studies, and and peer-reviewed papers under her belt, it’s obvious what we eat affects our mental health.

Fluctuation of Depressive Symptoms May Help Predict Suicide: According to a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry, the severity and fluctuation of depressive symptoms are better at predicting suicide in at-risk young adults than psychiatric diagnoses alone. Says the study’s senior author Dr. Nadine Melhem, “Our findings suggest that when treating patients, clinicians must pay particular attention to the severity of current and past depressive symptoms and try to reduce their severity and fluctuations to decrease suicide risk.”

Social Media Addiction Is a Real Disease, U.K. Lawmakers Say—And Facebook and Google Must Be Taxed for It: The negative effects social media can have on mental health — especially teen’s and young adult’s mental health — is no news. We’ve been talking about it for years. Now, U.K. lawmakers aren’t just saying that social media addiction should be formally classified as a disease, but they’re also kicking it up a notch and claiming the companies behind social media platforms should have to pay a 0.5% tax on their profits to help solve the problem.

7 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned: Frankly, my life isn’t going quite as planned right now. This was helpful, and so I’m passing it along.

New Study: Performance-Based Pay Linked to Employee Mental Health Problems: Pay-for-performance compensation systems such as bonuses, commissions, piece rates, profit sharing, and individual and team goal achievements — which are prevalent in approximately seven out of 10 companies in the U.S. alone — are meant to act as incentives; however, according to this big-data study that combined objective medical and compensation records with demographics, these systems are actually taking a negative toll on employee mental health.

Amy Schumer Tells Why She Revealed Her Husband’s Autism Spectrum Diagnosis: Since her latest Netflix special, Growing, began streaming last Tuesday, fans and non-fans alike have talked more about how Amy Schumer discusses her husband Chris Fischer’s diagnosis than anything else in the show. Some are offended, claiming she had no right to talk about his health; others are fine, stating we shouldn’t jump the gun because, you know, Chris is her husband and therefore probably knew — nay, probably was consulted — about it long beforehand. Well, according to Amy during her appearance on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers, “We both wanted to talk about it because it’s [the diagnosis] been totally positive.” She then goes on to talk about the tools and resources they were given, how they’ve managed life and marriage, and how they both want to encourage people not to be afraid of the stigma. So, yeah. It sounds like Chris wasn’t a pawn in his wife’s comedy routine, nor was he ignorant to what she was going to say. Watch the interview clip.

Psychology Around the Net: March 23, 2019

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Does Calling Depression an Illness Worsen Stigma?

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I plead guilty to expounding on the biochemical vulnerabilities and abnormalities in neural wiring of depression to make the case that it is a legitimate illness alongside lupus, breast cancer, or psoriatic arthritis. I thought I was doing a good thing by quoting experts like Peter Kramer, M.D, who believes that because depression can be associated with the loss of volume in parts of the brain, it is the “most devastating disease known to mankind.”

My intention, like so many other mental health advocates I know, was to use science as a tool to lessen stigma. But is that really effective?

Proof of the Madness

I am relieved by clinical reports that explain why my efforts at cognitive-behavioral therapy aren’t enough to correct certain behaviors or thoughts — that brain imaging reveals the breakdown in normal patterns of processing that impedes the ability of depressed people to suppress negative emotional states and that high levels of activity in the amygdala part of the brain (the fear center) persist despite efforts to retrain thoughts. I would rather know that depression involves a problem in the wiring pattern of my brain than to know I simply wasn’t trying hard enough.

I get excited about the progress of finding genomic biomarkers for different types of mood disorders and about twin studies that show if one twin developed depression, the other twin also suffered from depression in 46 percent of identical twins. I am delighted that experts have found a common genetic mutation associated with a person developing clinical depression when faced with traumatic events in his or her life because it means that I’m not making this stuff up, that genetic variations exist that increase a person’s vulnerability to depression and other mood disorders.

No illness, please.

But apparently, people want their distance from those with illnesses or defined diseases. According to some research, concentrating on the biological nature of mood disorders can actually worsen stigma.

In his article, “Hyping biological nature of mental illness worsens stigma,” Patrick Hahn cites several studies that have shown public attitudes toward those who suffer from mental illness have worsened with the promotion of bio-genetic theories. One was a German study that found that between 1990 and 2001, the number of respondents who attributed schizophrenia to hereditary factors increased from 41 to 60 percent. In the same report, an increased number of respondents said they didn’t want to share a building, job, or neighborhood with a schizophrenic.

In the U.S. the General Social Surveys of 1996 and 2006 say pretty much the same. As the neurobiological explanation of mental illness gained approval, there was an increase in the number of people who didn’t want to be closely associated with someone with a mental illness, not as a co-worker, neighbor, friend, or in-law.

Extreme versus Sick

Hahn explains the two ways of looking at mental illnesses:

We could regard them as more extreme versions of the despondency, fear, wrath, or confusion that we all experience, as perfectly understandable reactions to overwhelming abuse and trauma. Or we could regard them as brain diseases, probably genetic in origin, requiring the sufferer to take powerful mind-altering drugs, quite likely for the rest of her life.

One approach emphasizes our common humanity, and the other seems to regard the sufferer as a mere biological specimen. One approach invites us the consider the societal and economic factors that lead individuals to feel despondent, fearful, wrathful, or confused, and to think about ways of changing them, while the other seems to regard society as basically sound, but unfortunately plagued by those individuals with faulty genes or guilty brains who can’t fit in.

I see room for both perspectives. While I regard some of my symptoms as exaggerations of the human condition — allowing me to explore the societal and psychological causes — I also recognize when my despair falls into the category of illness, an assessment that offers me a kind of relief — to know that my brain scans look different than the average Joe’s, and that there is a reason therapy and meditation and all my other efforts can’t fix it.

Embracing All Illness

Mood disorders are thorny and different from other biological illnesses in that some of their symptoms can be experienced by persons who are not diagnosed with them and their symptoms can overlap with a variety of conditions. For example, a person without major depressive disorder can feel lethargic, sad, and irritable.

But I’m not going to let the complicated nature of depression stop me from promoting research about biomarkers or genetic studies. I firmly believe that depression and all mood disorders need to be understood in their biological context. In my perspective, if the stigma increases with the acceptance of the bio-genetic model, then we need to work harder at embracing everyone who is ill, whether they have cancer, lupus, or depression.

Does Calling Depression an Illness Worsen Stigma?

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Psychology Around the Net: March 16, 2019

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Hello, lovers of all things psychology, psychiatry, and mental health related!

Today we’re going to take a look at how vitamins and other supplements don’t ward off depression, why it’s important not to get swept up in “boutique” wellness trends (and what to do instead), the ways in which you can manipulate your brain to completely forget something (really?), and more.

Enjoy!

Study: Diet Supplements Don’t Ward Off Depression: New research involving more than 1,000 overweight or obese participants located in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom who were at risk for depression — but not currently depressed — showed that taking vitamins and other supplements won’t prevent depression; however, better eating habits might help.

Are Eyes the Window to Our Mistakes? Researchers from the University of Arizona report that because the size of our pupils change when we make certain types of mistakes, we might have a glimpse into what’s going on in our brains when we make, err, crappy decisions.

When It Comes to Mental Health Forget the Wellness Trends and Just Keep Moving to Feel Your Best: Boutique wellness centers have become so much of a thing that many people — especially those who are just starting out with exercise — are either a) getting too stressed from this “ideal way” incorporating itself into every area of their everyday lives to continue, b) getting too burnt out to continue, or c) becoming too intimidated to even start. Pip Black, founder of Frame, says when this is the case, ditch the trends and just focus on moving, getting some outdoor time, and always reminding yourself tomorrow is a new day.

Stop Using the Words ‘At Least’ to Comfort: Says Lifehacker’s Meghan Moravcik Walbert, “Most people who use ‘At least…’ to try to comfort are well-meaning. They think they’re being helpful by pointing out the ‘bright side.’ But people in pain do not want to see the bright side; they want to feel heard and understood.”

Yes, It’s Possible to Intentionally Forget Something—Here’s How: Ah, that sounds lovely, but be warned: you’re probably going to have to spend a lot of time remembering it before you can actually forget it.

ACLU Says Schools Need More Mental Health Professionals, Not Police: According to a recently released report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), nearly one-third of public school students (that’s more than 14 million kids) attend schools that have police officers but not nurses, psychologists, counselors, or social workers.

Psychology Around the Net: March 16, 2019

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When Faith Alone Can’t Heal Depression

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There is no question that religion and spirituality can help pull us out of darkness and provide the hope and inspiration that is needed to persevere through despair. Several studies over the last decade have confirmed the positive role of faith in recovery from depression.

How Faith Helps Depression

A 2016 study from the University of Utah School of Medicine demonstrated how religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits. In the study 19 young-adult Mormon church members performed four tasks in response to content meant to evoke spiritual feelings. Based on the brain imaging scans (fMRI), researchers found that when participants experienced spiritual emotions, there was activation in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain critical for processing reward, and in the medial prefrontal cortex, responsible for judgment, moral reasoning, and focused attention.

In a 2014, researchers at the Columbia University’s Teachers College documented other brain changes caused by religious experience that contribute to emotional resilience. Lisa Miller, professor of psychology, and colleagues found that the participants in the study who valued spirituality showed thicker portions of brain cortices that may protect against depression, especially in those at high risk. A previous study by Miller and her team published in The American Journal of Psychiatry showed a 76 percent decrease in major depression in adults who said they highly valued spirituality or religiosity, and whose parents suffered from the disease.

Religion not only provides hope, it assigns meaning to suffering. Stories of redemption encourage us to look at the bigger picture and find consolation in the wider, spiritual perspective of our hardships. In other words, they place our pain in the context of other faith heroes, which makes us feel less alone in our dark night.

Stigma and the Church

But what about when we spend hours on our knees and feel no respite or consolation at all? What about when our faith fails to heal us? Are we bad Christians? Bad Catholics? Do we not believe enough?

Just as religion and spirituality can lift us out of despair, a simplistic approach to faith can worsen symptoms of depression and interfere with treatment and recovery. When some believers don’t get better, they feel as though they have failed at one more thing – that they aren’t the disciples that Jesus called them to be. Unfortunately, this kind of stigma is reinforced in many congregations.

A while back, a reader left this comment on one of my blogs:

I am a Christian and I truly believe in Jesus Christ, the son of God, and He has helped me through many dark times, but just as the diabetic, the heart patient, the patient with high blood pressure I must have medicine to treat my illness. Unfortunately, many pastors and other Christians say that I am on happy pills, never thinking how sad that makes those of us who struggle with this illness.

Her experience is hardly unique. Consider the following statistics (which I edited for clarity) from several LifeWay research studies:

  • A third of Americans say mental illness could be overcome with Bible study and prayer alone.
  • Almost half of pastors say they rarely or never speak to their congregation about mental illness.
  • Less than 5 percent of churchgoers who lost a loved one to suicide say church leaders were aware of their loved one’s struggles.

When I was a sophomore in college, I attended a Mass in the chapel of one of the dorms. I was struggling with suicidal thoughts at the time and had just agreed to start taking an antidepressant after fighting about it for a year and a half with my therapist.

“Psychologists’ offices are starting to replace confessionals,” the priest said. “We need to bring sin and spiritual warfare back to church, where they belong.”

I stood up and walked out. With those two irresponsible sentences, he discounted the 18-month struggle I endured to arrive at a place where I was finally okay seeking treatment. That was the beginning of a recovery that last 15 years, the start of a new life for me. Had I listened to him, I may not be here today. I continue to hear variations of his words today in homilies today. Each time, I walk out.

Redefining Miracles

Let me be clear. I do believe in miracles, very much so. And I believe our faith can bring on miracles. I have witnessed the line of crutches hanging over the grotto in Lourdes, France, proof of hundreds or thousands of disabled persons whose faith somehow allowed them to walk away. A year ago, a friend of mine claimed that she was “healed” of her depression during a prayer service and has been able to reduce her meds.

Most of the time, though, I believe that God offers us certain tools for intervention — medication, psychotherapy, support networks. It is by employing them that we are healed. The work isn’t separate to our faith. We don’t just sit back and wait for Jesus to relieve our symptoms.

I suppose my God is more high maintenance, demanding a little action and cooperation from me, much like the joke about the guy who dies in a flood despite his prayers for God’s rescue:

As the floodwaters rise, a man named Sam calls for God’s help.

First a neighbor offers him a ladder.

“Nope, my God is coming,” Sam replies.

Then the police arrive with a rescue boat. “Hop on board!” they instruct him.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Sam says, “God will save me.”

And finally, the national guard provide a helicopter, and he tells them to go away, too.

Sam dies, goes to heaven, and asks God, “Why didn’t you rescue me?”

“I sent a ladder, a lifeboat, and a helicopter…what more could I do?” says God.

When it comes to depression, don’t be Sam. Get on your knees. Derive a sense of hope and meaning from your religion or spirituality. However, if your faith doesn’t cure you immediately, don’t beat yourself or become idle in your recovery. Continue to do the hard work. Because most miracles demand a little sweat.

When Faith Alone Can’t Heal Depression

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OCD and Autism

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I have written before about atypical presentations of obsessive-compulsive disorder in children, where I discuss how the symptoms of OCD are sometimes confused with autism, schizophrenia, and even Bipolar Disorder. I’ve also written about how diagnosing these various conditions can be difficult, as symptoms of each one often overlap. Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are talking about a whole person’s state of being, not just a specific diagnosis. No doubt people have manifested symptoms of these various illnesses long before the disorders were differentiated by names.

Still, a proper diagnosis is important to move forward with appropriate treatment, which varies for each above-mentioned disorder.

To confuse matters more, it is not unusual for someone to have comorbid mental health disorders — more than one diagnosis. As I discussed here, when my son Dan was diagnosed with OCD, he also received diagnoses of depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as well.

What doctors have recently confirmed is that autism and OCD frequently occur together. Autism and OCD initially appear to have little in common, yet studies indicate that up to 84% of people with autism have some form of anxiety and as many as 17% might have OCD. Additionally, an even greater proportion of people with OCD might also have undiagnosed autism. A 2015 study in Denmark tracked the health records of almost 3.4 million people over 18 years, and researchers found that people with autism are twice as likely as those without to be diagnosed with OCD later in life. The same study found that people with OCD are four times more likely than others to later be diagnosed with autism.

It can be tough to sort it all out. OCD rituals can resemble the repetitive behaviors that are common in autism, and vice versa. Also, people with either condition may have unusual responses to sensory experiences. Some autistic people find that sensory overload can readily lead to distress and anxiety, and the social problems people with autism experience may contribute to their anxiety as well. Anxiety is a huge component of OCD also, so it gets complicated.

How do we distinguish the two, or determine if someone has both conditions? It is interesting to note that people with both OCD and autism appear to have unique experiences, distinct from those of either condition on its own. Also, a crucial distinction found in this analysis is that obsessions spark compulsions but not autism traits. Another finding is that people with OCD cannot substitute the specific rituals they need with different rituals. Says Roma Vasa, director of psychiatric services at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland:

“They [those with OCD] have a need to do things a certain way, otherwise they feel very anxious and uncomfortable.”

People with autism, on the other hand, often have a repertoire of repetitive behaviors to choose from. They just need to perform rituals that are soothing, not necessarily a particular behavior.

More research is needed, not only in the area of diagnoses, but also treatment. The gold standard treatment for OCD is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) known as exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, but for those with both autism and OCD, it often does not work well. Whether this is due to auditory-processing difficulties, cognitive inflexibility, or something else, might vary from person to person. Researchers are trying to adapt CBT for people with autism, and agree that a personalized variation of the therapy can be beneficial.

We have a long way to go in figuring out just how OCD and autism are connected. Just knowing that there is a connection, however, should help clinicians when they are diagnosing and treating their patients.

OCD and Autism

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Psychology Around the Net: March 9, 2019

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Happy Saturday (or whatever day you’re reading this) sweet readers!

This week’s Psychology Around the Net covers a personal account of how running helped one author’s anxiety and fear, how green spaces work to boost your well-being and social connections, why “hip” office settings aren’t benefiting employees the way employers would like them to, and more.

Enjoy!

Moving the Body, Boosting the Mind: Running Your Way to Better Mental Health: Bella Mackie, author of Jog On: How Running Saved My Life, weighs in on how physical activity (specifically, running) helped release her from a life of anxiety, fear, and intrusive thoughts.

Hyperhidrosis Associated with Higher Anxiety, Depression, ADD: New research shows patients who have primary hyperhidrosis — “a rare disorder characterized by excessive sweating on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, in the armpits (axillary), in the groin area, and/or under the breasts” — are significantly more likely to develop mental health conditions such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), anxiety, and depression.

Green Spaces Can Help You Trust Strangers: Last week I directed you to research about how growing up in an area lacking in green spaces can contribute to depression in adult years; now, we learn from a new case study about how green spaces and other colorful urban design elements can increase the well-being and social connections among the city’s residents.

Physician Mental Health: The Role of Self-Compassion and Detachment: Finding the professional balance between showing compassion to and engaging emotionally with their patients can leave medical providers suppressing their feelings, doing a disservice to their own mental health and well-being. Enter REVAMP.

Hip Offices Are Part of Our Mental Health Crisis. Here’s Why: Taking the occasional mental health day has become the corporate cure-all for employees experiencing burnout, but now offices are trying to create “hip,” “cool” workplace environments in an attempt to prevent burnout and even help employee mental health. According to one entrepreneur, these aren’t effective methods.

Motivation Through Appreciation: The Science Behind a Happy Workplace: On that note, here’s a look at how something as seemingly simple as employee appreciation can boost happiness and motivation. So, what are some super basic yet super effective ways employers can show appreciation to their employees?

Psychology Around the Net: March 9, 2019

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CBD Oil for Depression, Schizophrenia, ADHD, PTSD, Anxiety, Bipolar & More

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

See credits below.


You can extract over 70 different components from a marijuana plant, technically known as cannabis sativa. Two of the most common constituents are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (known colloquially as THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Because CBD is not as regulated as THC (though may be technically illegal under federal laws), nor does it provide any accompanying “high” as THC does, it has become increasingly marketed as a cure-all for virtually any ailment. You can now find CBD oil products online to treat everything from back pain and sleep problems, to anxiety and mental health concerns.

How effective is CBD oil in the treatment of mental disorder symptoms?

Unlike it’s sister THC, CBD doesn’t have any of the associated negative side effects of tolerance or withdrawal (Loflin et al., 2017). CBD is derived from the cannabis plant, and shouldn’t be confused with synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists like K2 or spice.

Because of its relatively benign nature and more lax legal status, CBD has been more widely studied by researchers in both animals and humans. As researchers Campos et al. (2016) noted, “The investigation of the possible positive impact of CBD in neuropsychiatric disorders began in the 1970s. After a slow progress, this subject has been showing an exponential growth in the last decade.”

Research has shown that CBD oil may be effective as a treatment for a variety of conditions and health concerns. Scientific studies demonstrate effectiveness of CBD to help relieve some of the symptoms associated with: glaucoma, epilepsy, pain, inflammation, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. It appears to help some people with gut diseases, such as gastric ulcers, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome as well (Maurya & Velmurugan, 2018).

You can find low-end and high-end CBD oil products. The most popular CBD oil product on Amazon.com retails for around $25 and contains only 250 mg of CBD extract.

ADHD

In a pilot randomized placebo-controlled study of adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a positive effect was only found on the measurements of hyperactivity and impulsivity, but not on the measurement of attention and cognitive performance (Poleg et al., 2019). The treatment used was a 1:1 ratio of THC:CBD, one of the common CBD treatments being studied along with CBD oil on its own. This finding suggests more research is needed before using CBD oil for help with ADHD symptoms.

Anxiety

There are a number of studies that have found that CBD reduces self-reported anxiety and sympathetic arousal in non-clinical populations (those without a mental disorder). Research also suggests it may reduce anxiety that was artificially induced in an experiment with patients with social phobia, according to Loflin et al. (2017).

Depression

A review of the literature published in 2017 (Loflin et al.) could find no study that examined CBD as a treatment for depression specifically. A mouse study the researchers examined found that mice treated with CBD acted in a way similar to the way they acted after receiving an antidepressant medication. Therefore, there is virtually little to no research support for the use of CBD oil as a treatment for depression.

Sleep

Loflin et al. (2017) only found a single CBD study conducted on sleep quality:

Specifically, 40, 80, and 160 mg CBD capsules were administered to 15 individuals with insomnia. Results suggested that 160 mg CBD was associated with an overall improvement in self-reported sleep quality.

PTSD

There are currently two human trials currently underway that are examining the impact of both THC and CBD on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. One is entitled Study of Four Different Potencies of Smoked Marijuana in 76 Veterans With PTSD and the second is entitled Evaluating Safety and Efficacy of Cannabis in Participants With Chronic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. The first study is expected to be completed this month, while the second should be completed by year’s end. It can take up to a year (or more) after a study has been completed before its results are published in a journal.

Bipolar Disorder & Mania

The depressive episode of bipolar disorder has already been covered in the depression section (above). What about CBD oil’s impact on bipolar disorder’s manic or hypomanic episodes?

Sadly, this has not yet been studied. What has been studies is cannabis use on the effect of bipolar disorder symptoms. More than 70 percent of people with bipolar disorder have reported trying cannabis, and around 30 percent use it regularly. However, such regular use is associated with earlier onset of bipolar disorder, poorer outcomes, and fluctuations in a person’s cycling patterns and severity of manic or hypomanic episodes (Bally et al., 2014).

More research is needed to see whether supplementing CBD oil might help alleviate some of the negative impact of cannabis use. And additional research is needed to examine whether CBD oil on its own might provide some benefits to people with bipolar disorder.

Schizophrenia

Compared to the general population, individuals with schizophrenia are twice as likely to use cannabis. This tends to result in a worsening in psychotic symptoms in most people. It can also increase relapse and result in poorer treatment outcomes (Osborne et al., 2017). CBD has been shown to help alleviate the worse symptoms produced by THC in some research.

In a review of CBD research to date on its impact on schizophrenia, Osborne and associates (2017) found:

In conclusion, the studies presented in the current review demonstrate that CBD has the potential to limit delta-9-THC-induced cognitive impairment and improve cognitive function in various pathological conditions.

Human studies suggest that CBD may have a protective role in delta-9-THC-induced cognitive impairments; however, there is limited human evidence for CBD treatment effects in pathological states (e.g. schizophrenia).

In short, they found that CBD may help alleviate the negative impact of a person with schizophrenia from taking cannabis, both in the psychotic and cognitive symptoms associated with schizophrenia. They did not find, however, any positive use of CBD alone in the treatment of schizophrenia symptoms.

Improved Thinking & Memory

There is little to no scientific evidence that CBD oil has any beneficial impact on cognitive function or memory in healthy people:

“Importantly, studies generally show no impact of CBD on cognitive function in a ‘healthy’ model, that is, outside drug-induced or pathological states (Osborne et al., 2017).”

If you’re taking CBD oil to help you study or for some other cognitive reason, chances are you’re experiencing a placebo effect.

CBD Summary

As you can see, CBD research is still in its early stages for many mental health concerns. There is limited support for the use of CBD oil for some mental disorders. Some disorders, like autism or anorexia, have had little research done to see whether CBD might help with its symptoms.

One of the interesting findings from research to-date is that the dosing found to have some possible beneficial effects in research tends to be much higher than what is found in products typically sold to consumers today. For instance, most over-the-counter CBD oils and supplements are in bottles that contain a total of 250 to 1000 mg.

But the science suggests that an effective daily treatment dose might be anywhere from 30 to 160 mg, depending on the symptoms a person is seeking to alleviate.

This suggests that the way most people are using CBD oil today is not likely to be clinically effective. Instead, at doses of just 2 to 10 mg per day, people are likely mostly benefiting from a placebo effect of these oils and supplements.

Before starting or trying any type of supplement — including CBD oil or other CBD products — please first consult your prescribing physician or psychiatrist. CBD may interact with psychiatric medications in a way that is unintended and could cause negative side effects or health problems.

We also do not really understand the long-term effects and impact of CBD oil use on a daily basis over the course of years, as such longitudinal research simply hasn’t yet been done. There have been some reported negative side effects experienced in the use of cannabis, but it’s hard to generalize such research findings to CBD alone.

In short, CBD shows promise in helping to alleviate some symptoms of some mental disorders. Much of the human-based research is still in its infancy, however, but early signs are promising.

For further information

Reason Magazine: Is CBD a Miracle Cure or a Marketing Scam? (Both.)

Thanks to Elsevier’s ScienceDirect service in providing access to the primary research necessary to write this article.

References

Bally, N., Zullino, D, Aubry, JM. (2014). Cannabis use and first manic episode. Journal of Affective Disorders, 165, 103-108.

Campos, AC., Fogaça, M.V., Sonego, A.B., & Guimarães, F.S. (2016). Cannabidiol, neuroprotection and neuropsychiatric disorders. Pharmacological Research, 112, 119-127.

Loflin, MJE, Babson, K.A., & Bonn-Miller, M.O. (2017). Cannabinoids as therapeutic for PTSD
Current Opinion in Psychology, 14, 78-83.

Maurya, N. & Velmurugan, B.K. (2018). Therapeutic applications of cannabinoids. Chemico-Biological Interactions, 293, 77-88.

Osborne, A.L., Solowij, N., & Weston-Green, K. (2017). A systematic review of the effect of cannabidiol on cognitive function: Relevance to schizophrenia. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 72, 310-324.

Poleg, S., Golubchik, P., Offen, D., & Weizman, A. (2019). Cannabidiol as a suggested candidate for treatment of autism spectrum disorder. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 89, 90-96.

CBD Oil for Depression, Schizophrenia, ADHD, PTSD, Anxiety, Bipolar & More

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