Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘mental health

Hippocampal Neurogenesis

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Secret weapons. I have two of them. One is love. Okay, that one’s not so secret. The other one is my new favorite phrase: hippocampal neurogenesis. Isn’t that just the best? It’s fun to say and it describes the mental health benefits available from exercising.

You can read about the details in this March 2018 Psychology Today article, “How Your Mental Health Reaps the Benefits of Exercise,” by Sarah Gingell, Ph.D. 

I just discovered a link to the article earlier this week, and the marvel of new growth of neurons in the hippocampus has me giddy over this hidden benefit of exercising. In particular, the insights of these three paragraphs:

Evidence is accumulating that many mental health conditions are associated with reduced neurogenesis in the hippocampus. The evidence is particularly strong for depression. Interestingly, many anti-depressants — that were once thought to work through their effects on the serotonin system — are now known to increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

What does this all mean? Theories suggest that newborn hippocampal neurons are likely to be particularly important for storing new memories and keeping old and new memories separate and distinct. Thus, neurogenesis allows a healthy level of flexibility in the use of existing memories, and in the flexible processing of new information.

Much mental ill health is characterized by a cognitive inflexibility that keeps us repeating unhelpful behaviors, restricts our ability to process or even acknowledge new information, and reduces our ability to use what we already know to see new solutions or to change. It is therefore plausible that exercise leads to better mental health in general, through its effects on systems that increase the capacity for mental flexibility.

Exercise increases blood flow to our brains, bringing oxygen and nutrients to create new neurons in the hippocampus. As a result, we are rewarded with increased ability to process new information, and deal with change because of increased mental flexibility.

That means a lot to me because I can look back at some of the struggles I dealt with under the weight of depression and vividly recognize a particular inflexibility of my thinking, as well as an aversion to the stresses of change.

Today, I am all about hippocampal neurogenesis. You might say, it’s my healthy drug of choice.

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Mental Health

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Every day. A quest for optimal health is an every day endeavor. Just as I make conscious choices about the food I eat and the exercises I do, I also tend to my mental health every single day.

May is mental health awareness month. Pay attention!

I am eternally grateful for the professional treatment I have received, and the educational information I’ve been given, to successfully resolve a depression that negatively colored my perspective for much of my early life. Today I enjoy the ability to more fully enjoy good moments, and recover much more quickly from bad ones.

Mental illnesses are treatable. They deserve the same healthy attention that our physical illnesses get.

Mental illness deserves to be free of stigma. Learning to be comfortable discussing mental disorders does wonders for both those of us who experience them and those around us who don’t. With a statistic of 1 in 5 Americans affected by a mental health condition, nearly everyone has a connection that deserves attention free of stigma.

Choose health. Optimal health. Mind, body, and soul.

Break the stigma.

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Conversation

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how do you have
the conversation
that is easily avoidable
because some are uncomfortable
about things inevitable
saying out loud
the worst that could happen
along with wishes they might not
can cloud the visual
of events in our minds
that haven’t happened yet
but will in due time
precious time
to crown a life well lived
with love and affection
establishing peace
understanding
forgiveness
resolution
celebration
demonstrating to the world
an extraordinary bookend
to the miracle
of birth

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Infuriating Sounds

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I’m just discovering this now. The irrational over-reaction I occasionally experience –say, to the mouth sounds of my wife chewing beside me– has a label: Misophonia. I’m well aware of plenty of people who voice irritation over a variety of particular sounds, but reading about the fight-or-flight reaction being triggered in the brain really caught my attention.

When I feel this surprisingly intense anxiety pop up, as the ambient quiet of an evening gets disrupted by the munching of almonds, I have been curious about a sudden desire to crawl out of my skin in hope of escape.

It’s as if I’m being attacked.

Since it is obvious that I’m not, the idea that my brain is firing as if the command to run away has been triggered, seems like a very plausible explanation.

Almost everyone is irritated by the sound of fingernails across a chalkboard, but a misophonic reaction goes well beyond irritation.

Misophonia is characterized by intense emotion like rage or fear in response to highly specific sounds, particularly ordinary sounds that other people make…

“It’s as if the survival part of the brain thinks somehow it’s being attacked or it’s in danger…”

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/03/18/npr-misophonia-when-lifes-noises-drive-you-mad

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Choosing to just ignore the sound is not an option when your brain has fired and the whole body is revving up for a fight.

“Must. Stop. That. Sound. Before it kills me!”

My siblings may recall our family dinnertime ritual of being chastised by our beloved sister, Linda, for letting our teeth make contact with our fork.

I now have a better understanding of why that probably made her so angry.

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Written by johnwhays

March 22, 2019 at 6:00 am

Choose Twice

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In celebrating the accomplishment of my 10-years of posting daily, I am somewhat randomly exploring the “Previous Somethings” archive in search of anything that might catch my fancy. One of the first challenges I have discovered is dealing with a bit of embarrassment over plenty of what I am finding. Who wrote this stuff!?

Oh. I did.

Skip that one. And that one, too.

One of the features of “Relative Something” that evolved pretty early on was resorting to two-word post titles. On one hand, it took a lot of thinking out of the process of deciding what to title my posts. When writing every single day, trying to come up with a worthy title over and over again can become an inordinate burden. Limiting it to just two words simplified the task nicely.

However, when I started down the path of this feature, I didn’t realize how soon I would reach a point where I was coming up with titles that I’d already used. Most of the time, I make changes until I come up with something fresh, but as I’ve approached this tenth anniversary, I’ve decided it doesn’t really matter so much.

You may have noticed that I differentiate my poetry posts by using a single word title. It’s a lot harder avoiding repetition when reduced to one word.

Here are two poems that I posted under the identical title, “Choose.”

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From August, 2013:

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freedom
to choose health
in the face of other options
takes effort
that is rewarded
incrementally
sometimes infinitesimally
over time
do the math
not the science
that it takes
making rockets fly
simple addition
day after day
for months at a time
healthy emerges
for goodness sakes
like green on the grass
running in a river
rounding the rocks
headed toward forever
where life is esteemed
and success of good health
the spectacular garnish
that feeds on itself
in magical ways
running and jumping
with joyous persuasion
returning investments
of health options chosen
turn off that tv
go do something else
break down that routine
be someone else
that unlikely person
you never felt could
emerge from your shell
stuck there for good
just a choice
to be made
inside the mind
there’s reward to be nabbed
free for the choosing
life filled with promise
of better than good
outside the lines
of everyday drab
just beyond reach
of those who don’t try
it’s easy to grasp
for the bold few who do
exercise free choice
to choose better health
not just for a day
but from now on
days-months-years at a time

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.From October, 2017:

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Words on Images

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Written by johnwhays

March 17, 2019 at 6:00 am

Heading Somewhere

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Apparently, if my recent dreams are any indication, there is somewhere I’m trying to reach, but circumstances keep delaying my readiness to depart. But, isn’t that just an inherent existential dilemma? Why are we here?

It’s the journey, right? Not just the destination.

I love a good adventure, but the truth is, I’m not all that fond of traveling. One common thread of people’s stories about their travels are the hassles and struggles faced along the way. Getting through airport security, navigating the unknowns of destination ports, communicating through language barriers.

It’s all part of the package of traveling. Choosing to see those parts of the journey in a more positive light than as just being hassles, goes a long way toward helping a person accept them as pleasurable, as in, a puzzle to be solved. If you like puzzling, I mean.

If you are not traveling, you are still headed somewhere. Are the everyday challenges being navigated, hassles? Or are they puzzles being solved?

Are we trying to get ready to depart, or are these little conflicts actually the journey, itself?

Where the heck are we heading, anyway?

To a better place. Free from pains, both physical and mental. We are looking for peace and love.

Don’t just be a consumer of those commodities, though. Be a distributor, as well.

Yesterday, after my well-health check-up physical with my doctor, I needed to visit our local pharmacy. To my surprise, I was offered the option of trying out a short-term regimen of an oral corticosteroid to see if it would settle the lung congestion left over from my recent cold. This, in contrast to the usual long-term (and much more expensive) daily inhaled asthma treatment.

Without thinking fast enough, I let them transmit the prescription to an Ellsworth pharmacy that Cyndie recently discovered was not functioning well. They are understaffed, overburdened, and may be headed out of business.

We phoned to see if they had my common prescription ready for pickup. So far, so good.

They’ve closed the drive through (because it’s too cold outside?), so I had to go in. I was not surprised to see a queue of visibly frustrated customers waiting. The angst in the vicinity was palpable.

Armed with prior warning, I was not flapped by this. I brought love and peace. Calmness. Understanding. Smiling. My energy smoothed some of their rough edges, while I accepted the process of waiting.

I enjoyed an added bonus of being able to find someone on my way out, and tell them they had forgotten their insurance card, which I had witnessed the staff fretting over.

Where are we heading?

Oh, yeah. To peace and love.

And better health, too. What an adventure!

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Other Examples

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As long as I’m on the subject of sticktoitiveness, there are two other examples in my life that have slowly rewarded me for staying the course day after day, in one case, for years.

When I finally took action to address an addiction to sugar which manifested in cravings that controlled my decisions, I had no idea what lay ahead for me. I had previously experimented with simply cutting out desserts and cookies or candy treats for a random period of weeks, just to see if I could, but I neglected to account for the amount of sugar I was getting from other sources.

My cravings for breads and cereals would ramp up to impressive levels, and I would allow myself those compromises.

After learning more about where I was getting most of the sugar in my diet, and discovering the actual measurement of sugar recommended by the World Health Organization for percentage of daily calories, I set out to control it by watching the numbers.

That made a big difference. First of all, it showed me how physically addicted my body, and mind, had become. I experienced withdrawal symptoms that included headaches, dizziness, nausea, and tremors, not because I cut out sugar completely, but simply by strictly limiting the amount of sugar in the food I was eating.

It has taken me years at the rate I am working it (because I waver with my level of strictness), but self-control slowly improved to a point where it hardly takes mental energy to employ anymore. Most importantly, I am not just doing this for a period of weeks. This is forever. I always measure how much cereal I eat, and I always check serving size information to figure out how much sugar there is.

A more recent adventure in every day tenacity that I am watching produce slow results is, my daily planking exercises. When I started back in the last week of March, I decided to see what results I might achieve if I did the exercises my physical therapist recommended for the entire month of April. These were focused on strengthening my core to treat the painful symptoms of degenerating discs.

It is really helpful to not be constrained by debilitating pain when doing daily chores to care for our animals.

Thirty consecutive days of planking in April established enough of a pattern that I found it easy enough to keep going through May. Then two months became four, and in a blink, I’ve made it eight months of pretty regular planking. In that time I have slowly gained enough strength that I have modified my methods to match.

The current plank that is my primary exercise is four minutes long, starting with a minute and a half of a basic horizontal planking, then 45 seconds of lifting an opposite arm and leg for a two-point plank, 45 more seconds with the other arm and leg, and then finishing with a final minute of the basic plank again.

There are other leg exercises and some yoga stretches that get mixed in after the planking, depending on how much time I have to spend, but the planking is key.

Between these two daily efforts of healthy controlled-sugar diet and regular exercise, practiced over months and years, my physical health is in better shape than most of my previous adult life.

That is providing plenty of incentive for me to stick to this indefinitely.

Maybe the fact that these steps are not a quick fix, makes the positive results that much more satisfying. It definitely provides a welcome bonus of boosting my mental health, as well.

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