mental health
How Stress Affects Your Brain

We all know that stress is bad for us. It makes us feel terrible, it messes with our sleep, it affects our eating habits and digestion. In occasional bursts, stress isn’t harmful and can actually be useful, but it it becomes chronic it can alter our brains themselves.

When your brain detects a stressful situation, your HPA axis is instantly activated and releases a hormone called cortisol which primes your body for instant action.

But high levels of cortisol over long periods of time wreak on your brain. For example, chronic stress increases the activity level and number of neural connections in the amygdala, your brain’s fear centre. And as levels of cortisol rise, electric signals in your hippocampus–the part of your brain associated with learning, memories, and stress control–deteriorate.

Thankfully there are many ways to reverse the effects of cortisol the brain. As the video mentions, exercise and meditation are proven methods to restore a healthy balance within the brain. Just try not to become stressed out about your stress levels…

"What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly."
Clear Things Out

Most of us have been spending a little more time at home lately. And living, working and socialising in the same space is bound to lead to some clutter, as well as some frayed nerves.

It’s not just our physical environment either. Email, social media, our never-ending to do lists, all of them pile up so quickly that were under constant threat of being overwhelmed by them.

But while it’s natural to feel like the only way to stay afloat is to keep moving forward, swimming against the tide as it rises ever higher, it’s worth remembering that we can also stop, pick up a metaphorical bucket, and start bailing.

Today, Leo Babauta reminds us of the importance of clearing things out. Tidying away the old to make room for the new—not to mention to give ourselves room to breathe.

It’s a simple truth that wherever things can accumulate, they will. Emails pile up, clutter piles up, read later list piles up, small admin tasks build up like cruft.

This is the nature of things: they accumulate if we don’t tend to them.

And so, we must tend to them.

What Is Depression?

Depression seems to be becoming an increasingly common problem. This may be partially due to the fact that people are talking about it more openly, but there’s little doubt that more and younger people are suffering from its effects. Even worse, According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, the average person waits over 10 years before asking for help.

Despite all of this, depression is still poorly understood. It’s often seen as a failure or a weakness instead of a medical condition like any other. From the video above:

One major source of confusion is the difference between having depression and just feeling depressed. Almost everyone feels down from time to time. Getting a bad grade, losing a job, having an argument, even a rainy day can bring on feelings of sadness. Sometimes there’s no trigger at all. It just pops up out of the blue. Then circumstances change and those sad feelings disappear.

Clinical depression is different. It’s a medical disorder, and it won’t go away just because you want it to. It lingers for at least two consecutive weeks, and significantly interferes with one’s ability to work, play or love. Depression can have a lot of different symptoms. A low mood, loss of interest in things you’d normally enjoy, changes in appetite, feeling worthless or excessively guilty, sleeping either too much or too little, poor concentration, restlessness or slowness, loss of energy, or recurrent thoughts of suicide.

If you have at least five of those symptoms, according to psychiatric guidelines, you qualify for a diagnosis of depression.

The Best Mental Health Advice I’ve Ever Heard.

Johann Hari on the importance of looking at mental health from a social perspective as well as a pharmaceutical one. He cites the example of a a GP named Sam Everington who in addition to offering antidepressants, encouraged the patients who came to him with depression to work together to turn a pice of derelict land into a garden:

As they got to know each other, they did what human beings do when we form tribes and groups; they started to solve each others’ problems.

So for example one of the people in the group was sleeping on the bus was sleeping on a bus. Everyone else in the group was like “well of course you’re depressed, you’re sleeping on a bus! They started lobbying the local council to get him a house. They got him housed. It was the first time most of them had done something for someone else in years. That made them feel really good.

And the way Lisa put it to me “As the garden began to bloom, we began to bloom.”


Is Racism A Mental Illness?

An interesting piece in Vice on whether racism should be classed as a mental illness. It’s a tempting comparison to make, but as mental health advocates point out, classifying a failure of basic critical thinking such as racism, in the same way we classify genuine illnesses like depression and schizophrenia, is only likely to further stigmatise mental illness.

This video of Jane Elliot speaking on the Oprah Winfrey Show is priceless though, and I think her classification of racism as an illness is a reflection of the time when she made her comments rather than any attempt to dismiss real mental health concerns:

If you judge other people by the color of their skin, by the amount of a chemical in their skin, you have a mental problem. You are not dealing well with reality.”

Why do I sometimes feel depressed for no reason?

Mild depression is quite common. We all have periods in our lives when we feel sad, and have trouble shaking it off. It may not seem like a big deal, but if we let mild depression fester, then it can diminish our health and quality of life.

With everything that’s going on at the moment, our mental health is under greater threat than ever before. Lifehack.org offers an interesting look at why we sometimes feel mildly depressed for no apparent reason, as well as some tips for dealing with the blues when they arise.