Thursday, January 5, 2017

9 Signs That You Might Be a Perfectionist

you may not have a meticulously organized junk drawer or a closet full of clothes organized by color or sleeve length, but perfectionist traits may still be affecting your life—and holding you back. Can you relate to any of these habits?

  1. You think in all-or-nothing terms. Something is either right or wrong, good or bad, perfect or a disaster. You tend to think in one extreme or the other, rather than seeing the characteristics of people and situations existing along a continuum. For example, you tend to think, "She is mean,” instead of, “She can sometimes be mean.”
  3. You think, and then act, in extremes. Have you ever acted on a sentiment like this, more than once?: "I had one cookie and screwed up my diet...I might as well eat them all.”
  5. You can’t trust others to do a task correctly, so you rarely delegate. Others may see you as a micro-manager or control-freak, but you see your actions as just wanting to get the job done right.
  7. You have demanding standards for yourself and others. You believe in always giving your best and you expect others to do the same. And you are scared to death of looking like a failure.
  9. You have trouble completing a project because you think there is always something more you can do to make it better. You obsess about sharing your book, project, meal, invitation, business card, website, article, or speech with others. You want to make sure your work is the best it can be before revealing it.
  11. You use the word “should” a lot. “I should do this," and “They should do that,” may be common phrases, both out loud and inside your head. You have certain “rules” you believe that you, and others, should follow. And when those rules aren't followed, you are not pleased.
  13. Your self-confidence depends on what you accomplish and how others react to you. You strive for excellence and need validation from others to feel good about your accomplishments. What’s more, once you have achieved a goal, you quickly move on to the next one.
  15. You tend to fixate on something you messed up. You may have done something right, but still focus instead on the one mistake you made.
  17. You procrastinate, or avoid situations where you think you might not excel. It may seem counterintuitive, but many people who procrastinate or avoid doing something are actually perfectionists: They're afraid they will fail. Their rationale is, “I might not be able to do it perfectly, so why bother at all?”

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Benefits of Mind-Wandering

Robert M. Sapolsky on recent brain research about letting your mind wander—and why it’s good for you

it’s well known that an idle mind is the devil’s playground. Which makes me wonder if an idling engine is the devil’s mode of transportation. Which I’d realize is nonsensical, except that now I’m thinking of this beautiful California mountain town called Idyllwild, reminding me how Kennedy Airport used to be Idlewild Airport, which is mentioned in the theme song of the 1960s TV show “Car 54, Where Are You?” Which makes me wonder if 54 is a prime number. But then I feel embarrassed—it’s an even number, ninny!—reminding me of that really embarrassing thing I once did.
A wandering mind can bollox up all sorts of useful activities—like trying to finish the first paragraph of a newspaper column with a clearly stated thesis. In studies asking subjects at random what they’re thinking, researchers have found that during some tasks, we spend about half our time “mind-wandering,” that is, having thoughts unrelated to the work at hand.

How is mind-wandering generated in the brain? One finding is provocative. Stick people in a brain scanner, and when their minds are wandering, one region that activates is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). This is surprising, because it’s a relatively recently evolved brain region, central to executive functions like long-term planning, working memory and decision-making. It’s the last brain region that you would expect to get involved with something as frivolous as mind-wandering.
Perhaps the activation of this brain region is actually a response to mind-wandering rather than a mediator of it. Suppose the mind-wandering brain circuit, wherever that is, activates and the dlPFC tries to put a brake on it, essentially saying: “Hey, we’re trying to get something done—enough daydreaming!”
A recent study examined these issues and produced what was, to me, an unexpected finding. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vadim Axelrod of Bar-Ilan University in Israel and colleagues stimulated the dlPFC in subjects by giving them a repetitive task (monitoring number sequences on a screen and pressing the space bar whenever a certain digit appeared). Researchers asked the subjects intermittently what they were thinking about and, predictably, rates were high for “task-unrelated thoughts.” Their minds were wandering.

The scientists also used “transcranial direct current stimulation,” in which an electrode is attached to the scalp, sending low electrical currents that activate neurons directly underneath. Electrodes were positioned over the dlPFC (or, for a control group, over an unrelated brain region) and turned on or off during the repetitive task. (Importantly, subjects typically couldn’t detect the current.)
The result? Stimulating the dlPFC increased the amount of mind-wandering. And did performance on the task plummet? No; it even improved a smidgen.

What does it mean that this hard-nosed, task-oriented, executive brain region helps to mediate mind-wandering? Why should the dlPFC want us to daydream? Probably because it can be beneficial.
For starters, mind-wandering fosters creative problem solving. It also aids decision-making by allowing you to run future-oriented simulations in your head: “Hmm, so how might things be if I decide to do X? How about if I do Y?” It’s ideal not just for thinking about possible outcomes but also for thinking about how different outcomes would feel.
There are also other benefits. You’re doing a tedious, repetitive task and you’re tempted to stop. This is a version of what psychologists call “temporal discounting”—that is, going for instant gratification instead of holding out for the larger delayed reward. In such situations, mind-wandering distracts from the temptation and, as shown experimentally, helps people resist temporal discounting. During more challenging tasks, in which mind-wandering would decrease performance, I’d predict that the dlPFC instead inhibits mind-wandering.
In short, this can-do executive region of the brain seems to have evolved to take into account two pieces of wisdom known to smart human executives: Distraction makes tedium more tolerable, and truly creative solutions to tough problems are often found by following a wandering path.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Gift Funds Neuroscience Research into Medical Marijuana


MCLEAN HOSPITAL, THE LARGEST psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School, has received a $500,000 gift that funds their new Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) Program. The donation, announced on October 6, comes from best-selling crime novelist Patricia Cornwell.
Most studies on medical marijuana to date have focused on its efficacy, or on patients’ symptoms. MIND head researcher Staci A. Gruber, director of the Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core at McLean and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, hopes that the new initiative, the first of its kind, will begin to answer questions about whether medical marijuana affects cognitive function, positively or negatively—and why—by gathering empirical data about change over time within patients.
The initial phase of the program is expected to run for approximately two years. Researchers will collect data from subjects who, suffering from conditions including pain, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, have been certified to take medical marijuana but have no substantial history of recreational use, and have not yet begun this course of treatment. Participants will take a number of cognitive tests, on paper and on the computer, and will undergo brain scans. The studies will also gather clinical information on the patients’ perceptions about how they feel, and about their quality of life. After a baseline is established, the subjects will maintain weekly contact with the researchers, checking in physically with the hospital at the three-month, six-month, and one-year mark for more extensive tests, including some using multi-modal imaging equipment. If the program were to grow, Gruber says, the next phase would use the collected data to design and conduct clinical trials, administering the drug to individuals.
Though marijuana has been used medicinally, spiritually, and recreationally around the globe for some 5,000 years—and American doctors had, since the mid-nineteenth century, used it to treat conditions ranging from asthma to insomnia—the federal government classified it as a Schedule 1 drug in 1970 (grouping it with heroin and LSD), with profound effects on criminal justice in the United States. Recent years have seen dramatic cultural shifts in attitudes toward marijuana, accompanied by legal change. California was the first state to legalize medical cannabis, in 1996, and now 35 states permit some form of medical marijuana use. Medical marijuana clinics operate in 20 states and in Washington, D.C. The resulting rift between state and federal law—and the often conflicting policies of employers, health-insurance providers, and other parties—has caused confusion about the terms of legal medical use.

Yet those legal gaps find their match in scientific uncertainties, meaning that lawmakers deciding which conditions qualify patients for marijuana treatment currently make those decisions based on very little hard clinical knowledge. As Gruber puts it, “Policy has outpaced science.” For example, though patients have a variety of methods for taking medical marijuana, including as vapor, oil, tincture, or smoke, these substances bear little resemblance to the manufactured, standardized cannabinoids—the chemical compound patients need from the marijuana—studied in many trials; most of these synthetic versions have yet to reach end-users. (Gruber hopes to gather and analyze samples of what her subjects are using.) A June 2014 literature review in the New England Journal of Medicine, surveying the gaps in current knowledge, singled out what it called “the need to improve our understanding of how to harness the potential medical benefits of the marijuana plant without exposing people who are sick to its intrinsic risks.”
In a press release, Gruber stated that marijuana, which has “shown promise in alleviating a range of symptoms, could potentially improve cognitive performance” of patients suffering from severe medical disorders that disrupt their cognitive function and mood. “Equally critical,” she added, is that “Data showing a loss or impairment of cognitive function following the use of medical marijuana could inform alternative courses of treatment and prevent unjustified exposure to harm, especially in vulnerable populations.”
Gruber’s previous research into the subject has focused on the impact of heavy recreational marijuana use on the developing brain—a question increasing in urgency as use has begun to climb among high-school students after more than a decade of decline (even as cigarette smoking and alcohol use continue to drop). Her studies have found that the drug alters white-matter connections in the brain and reduces inhibitions, resulting in more impulsive behavior. On MRI scans taken while participants completed cognitive tests, early-onset marijuana smokers activated a different part of the brain region controlling inhibition, attention, and error processing than did late smokers. (Gruber has appeared on ABC’s Nightline and on the Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN documentary Weed to speak about her findings, and will moderate a conversation with Gupta on medical marijuana at Harvard’s Institute of Politics tonight, October 8, at 6 P.M.)
Patricia Cornwell, who funded the program, is also a supporter of the Harvard Art Museum: she endowed the position of Cornwell Conservation Scientist at the Straus Center, and has donated collections of works by James McNeill Whistler, Augustus Edwin John, and Walter Sickert, in addition to advanced technological equipment. Her relationship with McLean coincides with her relationship with Gruber: they met when Cornwell visited McLean, on the recommendation of her contact at the Fogg Museum, to learn about brain imaging for a book project. “She asked incredibly good questions,” Gruber recalls. They married in 2005.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Depression On the Rise, Especially Among Adolescent Females

HealthDay News — Depression is on the rise among American teens and young adults, with adolescent girls showing the greatest vulnerability, according to research published in Pediatrics.

Ramin Mojtabai, MD, PhD, MPH, a professor in the department of mental health at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, and colleagues examined data collected between 2005 and 2014 by the US National Surveys on Drug Use and Health. Included in the study were 172,495 American teens (aged 12 to 17) and 178,755 young adults (18 to 25).

Overall risk over the course of a single year rose from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.3% by 2014 among all teens, and from 8.8% to 9.6% among young adults. Teenage girls were found to be significantly more vulnerable to depression than teenage boys, the researchers said. Back in 2005, the risk of major depressive disorder for teenage boys was 4.5%, and 13.1% for teenage girls. By 2014, however, boys' risk of depression rose to 5.7%, but for girls it increased to 17.3%.
Dr Mojtabai told HealthDay that the jury remains out as to why, though he and other researchers have theorized that girls may simply be exposed to more depression risk triggers than boys. For example, "there is some research indicating that cyberbullying may have increased more dramatically among girls than boys," Dr Mojtabai said. In addition, "as compared with adolescent boys, adolescent girls also now use mobile phones with texting applications more frequently and intensively. And problematic mobile phone use among young people has been linked to depressed mood. These associations, however, remain speculative," he noted.
  1. Mojtabai R, Olfson M, Han B. National Trends in the Prevalence and Treatment of Depression in Adolescents and Young Adults. Pediatrics. 2016 Nov 14; doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1878 [Epub ahead of print]
  2. Glowinski AD, Amelio G. Depression Is a Deadly Growing Threat to Our Youth: Time to Rally. Pediatrics. 2016 Nov 14; doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2869 [Epub ahead of print]

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Medical marijuana and the mind

More is known about the psychiatric risks than the benefits.
The movement to legalize marijuana for medical use in the United States has renewed discussion about how this drug affects the brain, and whether it might be useful in treating psychiatric disorders.
Unfortunately, most of the research on marijuana is based on people who smoked the drug for recreational rather than medical purposes. A review by researchers in Canada (where medical marijuana is legal) identified only 31 studies (23 randomized controlled trials and eight observational studies) specifically focused on medical benefits of the drug.
A separate review by the American Medical Association (AMA) also concluded that the research base remains sparse. This was one reason that the AMA urged the federal government to reconsider its classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance (prohibiting both medical and recreational use), so that researchers could more easily conduct clinical trials.
Consensus exists that marijuana may be helpful in treating certain carefully defined medical conditions. In its comprehensive 1999 review, for example, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that marijuana may be modestly effective for pain relief (particularly nerve pain), appetite stimulation for people with AIDS wasting syndrome, and control of chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting.
Given the availability of FDA-approved medications for these conditions, however, the IOM advised that marijuana be considered as a treatment only when patients don't get enough relief from currently available drugs. Additional research since then has confirmed the IOM's core findings and recommendations.
Although anecdotal reports abound, few randomized controlled studies support the use of medical marijuana for psychiatric conditions. The meager evidence for benefits must be weighed against the much better documented risks, particularly for young people who use marijuana.
Key points
  • Medical marijuana may be an option for treating certain conditions, such as nerve pain or chemotherapy-related nausea.
  • There is not enough evidence to recommend medical marijuana as a treatment for any psychiatric disorder.
  • The psychiatric risks are well documented, and include addiction, anxiety, and psychosis.
Challenges in drug delivery
Marijuana is derived from the hemp plant, Cannabis. Although marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals, researchers best understand the actions of two: THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and cannabidiol.
THC is the chemical in marijuana primarily responsible for its effects on the central nervous system. It stimulates cannabinoid receptors in the brain, triggering other chemical reactions that underlie marijuana's psychological and physical effects — both good and bad.
Less is known about cannabidiol, although the research suggests that it interacts with THC to produce sedation. It may independently have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, or antipsychotic effects, although the research is too preliminary to be applied clinically.
Drug delivery remains a major challenge for medical marijuana. The FDA has approved two pills containing synthetic THC. Dronabinol (Marinol) combines synthetic THC with sesame oil. Most of the active ingredient is metabolized during digestion, however, so that only 10% to 20% of the original dose reaches the bloodstream. Nabilone (Cesamet) uses a slightly different preparation of synthetic THC that is absorbed more completely into the bloodstream. Among the concerns about both of these drugs, however, are that they do not work rapidly, and the amount of medication that reaches the bloodstream varies from person to person.
Another medication under investigation in the United States (and already approved for sale in Canada) combines THC and cannabidiol. In Canada, it is marketed as Sativex. This drug is sometimes referred to as "liquid cannabis" because it is sprayed under the tongue or elsewhere in the mouth, using a small handheld device. However, it takes time to notice any effects, as the drug has to be absorbed through tissues lining the mouth before it can reach the bloodstream.
Inhalation is the fastest way to deliver THC to the bloodstream, which is why patients may prefer smoking an herbal preparation. But while this method of drug delivery works fast, smoking marijuana exposes the lungs to multiple chemicals and poses many of the same respiratory health risks as smoking cigarettes. Limited research suggests that vaporizers may reduce the amount of harmful chemicals delivered to the lungs during inhalation.
More psychiatric risk than benefit
Part of the reason marijuana works to relieve pain and quell nausea is that, in some people, it reduces anxiety, improves mood, and acts as a sedative. But so far the few studies evaluating the use of marijuana as a treatment for psychiatric disorders are inconclusive, partly because this drug may have contradictory effects in the brain depending on the dose of the drug and inborn genetic vulnerability.
Much more is known about the psychiatric risks of marijuana (whether used for recreational or medical purposes) than its benefits.
Addiction. Observational studies suggest that one in nine people who smokes marijuana regularly becomes dependent on it. Research both in animals and in people provides evidence that marijuana is an addictive substance, especially when used for prolonged periods.
Addiction specialists note with concern that THC concentration has been increasing in the herbal form of marijuana. In the United States, THC concentrations in marijuana sold on the street used to range from 1% to 4% of the total product; by 2003, average THC concentration had risen to 7%. Similar trends are reported in Europe. This increased potency might also accelerate development of dependence.
Less conclusive is the notion that marijuana is a "gateway drug" that leads people to experiment with "hard" drugs such as cocaine. The research is conflicting.
Anxiety. Although many recreational users say that smoking marijuana calms them down, for others it has the opposite effect. In fact, the most commonly reported side effects of smoking marijuana are intense anxiety and panic attacks. Studies report that about 20% to 30% of recreational users experience such problems after smoking marijuana. The people most vulnerable are those who have never used marijuana before.
Dose of THC also matters. At low doses, THC can be sedating. At higher doses, however, this substance can induce intense episodes of anxiety.
It is not yet known whether marijuana increases the risk of developing a persistent anxiety disorder. Observational studies have produced conflicting findings. Studies of recreational users suggest that many suffer from anxiety, and it's difficult to know what underlies this association. Possibilities include selection bias (e.g., that anxious people are more likely to use marijuana), a rebound phenomenon (e.g., that marijuana smokers feel worse when withdrawing from the substance), and other reasons (e.g., genetic vulnerability).
Mood disorders. Little controlled research has been done about how marijuana use affects patients with bipolar disorder. Many patients with bipolar disorder use marijuana, and the drug appears to induce manic episodes and increases rapid cycling between manic and depressive moods. But it is not yet clear whether people who use marijuana are at increased risk of developing bipolar disorder.
The small amount of research available on depression is also muddied. In line with what studies report about anxiety, many marijuana users describe an improvement in mood. Animal studies have suggested that components of marijuana may have antidepressant effects. Yet several observational studies have suggested that daily marijuana use may, in some users, actually increase symptoms of depression or promote the development of this disorder.
For example, an Australian study that followed the outcomes of 1,601 students found that those who used marijuana at least once a week at ages 14 or 15 were twice as likely to develop depression seven years later as those who never smoked the substance — even after adjusting for other factors. Young women who smoked marijuana daily were five times as likely to develop depression seven years later as their non-smoking peers. Although such studies do not prove cause and effect, the dose-outcomes relationship is particularly worrisome.
Psychosis. Marijuana exacerbates psychotic symptoms and worsens outcomes in patients already diagnosed with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders. Several large observational studies also strongly suggest that using marijuana — particularly in the early teenage years — can increase risk of developing psychosis.
An often-cited study of more than 50,000 young Swedish soldiers, for example, found that those who had smoked marijuana at least once were more than twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as those who had not smoked marijuana. The heaviest users (who said they had used the drug more than 50 times) were six times as likely to develop schizophrenia as the nonsmokers.
Until recently, the consensus view was that this reflected selection bias: Individuals who were already vulnerable to developing psychosis or in the early stages (the prodrome) might be more likely to smoke marijuana to quell voices and disturbing thoughts. But further analyses of the Swedish study, and other observational studies, have found that marijuana use increases the risk of psychosis, even after adjusting for possible confounding factors.
Although cause and effect are hard to prove, evidence is accumulating that early or heavy marijuana use might not only trigger psychosis in people who are already vulnerable, but might also cause psychosis in some people who might not otherwise have developed it.
Certainly genetic profile mediates the effect of marijuana. People born with a variation of the gene COMT are more vulnerable to developing psychosis, for example. Because there is as yet no reliable way for clinicians to identify vulnerable young people in advance, however, it is safest to restrict use of medical marijuana to adults.
Other effects
A review of side effects caused by medical marijuana found that most were mild. When compared with controls, people who used medical marijuana were more likely to develop pneumonia and other respiratory problems, and experience vomiting, and diarrhea.
There's no question that recreational use of marijuana produces short-term problems with thinking, working memory, and executive function (the ability to focus and integrate different types of information). Although little research exists on medical marijuana, anecdotal reports indicate that some patients take the drug at night to avoid these types of problems.
The real debate is about whether long-term use of marijuana (either for medical or recreational purposes) produces persistent cognitive problems. Although early studies of recreational users reported such difficulties, the studies had key design problems. Typically they compared long-term marijuana smokers with people who had never used the drug, for example, without controlling for baseline characteristics (such as education or cognitive functioning) that might determine who continues to smoke the drug and who might be most at risk for thinking and memory problems later on.
Studies suggest that although overall cognitive ability remains intact, long-term use of marijuana may cause subtle but lasting impairments in executive function. There is no consensus, however, about whether this affects real-world functioning.
Additional research, focused on the benefits and consequences of medical marijuana use for specific disorders, may help to clarify some issues. In the meantime, there is not enough evidence to recommend marijuana as a medical treatment for any psychiatric disorder.
Crippa JA, et al. "Cannabis and Anxiety: A Critical Review of the Evidence," Human Psychopharmacology (Oct. 2009): Vol. 24, No. 7, pp. 515–23.
Grinspoon L, et al. Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine (Yale University, 1997).
Iversen LL. The Science of Marijuana, Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 2008).
Wang T, et al. "Adverse Effects of Medical Cannabinoids: A Systematic Review," Canadian Medical Association Journal (June 17, 2008): Vol. 178, No. 13, pp. 1669–78.
For more references, please see
Originally published: April 2010

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Nutritional strategies to ease anxiety

POSTED APRIL 13, 2016, 9:30 AM

According the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. That’s 40 million adults—18% of the population—who struggle with anxiety. Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, with about half of those with depression also experiencing anxiety.
Specific therapies and medications can help relieve the burden of anxiety, yet only about a third of people suffering from this condition seek treatment. In my practice, part of what I discuss when explaining treatment options is the important role of diet in helping to manage anxiety.
In addition to healthy guidelines such as eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water to stay hydrated, and limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine, there are many other dietary considerations that can help relieve anxiety. For example, complex carbohydrates are metabolized more slowly and therefore help maintain a more even blood sugar level, which creates a calmer feeling.
A diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits is a healthier option than eating a lot of simple carbohydrates found in processed foods. When you eat is also important. Don’t skip meals. Doing so may result in drops in blood sugar that cause you to feel jittery, which may worsen underlying anxiety.
The gut-brain axis is also very important, since a large percentage (about 95%) of serotonin receptors are found in the lining of the gut. Research is examining the potential of probiotics for treating both anxiety and depression.
Foods that can help quell anxiety
You might be surprised to learn that specific foods have been shown to reduce anxiety.
  • In mice, diets low in magnesium were found to increase anxiety-related behaviors. Foods naturally rich in magnesium may therefore help a person to feel calmer. Examples include leafy greens such as spinach and Swiss chard. Other sources include legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
  • Foods rich in zinc such as oysters, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks have been linked to lowered anxiety.
  • Other foods, including fatty fish like wild Alaskan salmon, contain omega-3 fatty acid. A study completed on medical students in 2011 was one of the first to show that omega-3s may help reduce anxiety. (This study used supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids). Prior to the study, omega-3 fatty acids had been linked to improving depression only.
  • A recent study in the journal Psychiatry Research suggested a link between probiotic foods and a lowering of social anxiety. Eating probiotic-rich foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir was linked with fewer symptoms.
  • Asparagus, known widely to be a healthy vegetable. Based on research, the Chinese government approved the use of an asparagus extract as a natural functional food and beverage ingredient due to its anti-anxiety properties.
  • Foods rich in B vitamins such as avocado and almonds
  • These “feel good” foods spur the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. They are a safe and easy first step in managing anxiety.
Are antioxidants anti-anxiety?
Anxiety is thought to be correlated with a lowered total antioxidant state. It stands to reason, therefore, that enhancing your diet with foods rich in antioxidants may help ease the symptoms of anxiety disorders. A 2010 study reviewed the antioxidant content of 3,100 foods, spices, herbs, beverages, and supplements. Foods designated as high in antioxidants by the USDA include:
  • Beans: Dried small red, Pinto, black, red kidney
  • Fruits: Apples (Gala, Granny Smith, Red Delicious), prunes, sweet cherries, plums, black plums
  • Berries: Blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries
  • Nuts: Walnuts, pecans
  • Vegetables: Artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli
  • Spices with both antioxidant and anti-anxiety properties include turmeric (containing the active ingredient curcumin) and ginger.
Achieving better mental health through diet
Be sure to talk to your doctor if your anxiety symptoms are severe or last more than two weeks. But even if your doctor recommends medication or therapy for anxiety, it is still worth asking whether you might also have some success by adjusting your diet. While nutritional psychiatry is not a substitute for other treatments, the relationship between food, mood, and anxiety is garnering more and more attention. There is a growing body of evidence, and more research is needed to fully understand the role of nutritional psychiatry, or as I prefer to call it, Psycho-Nutrition.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress

OSTED JANUARY 08, 2014, 1:05 PM , UPDATED JANUARY 15, 2016, 10:38 AM

My mom began meditating decades ago, long before the mind-calming practice had entered the wider public consciousness. Today, at age 81, she still goes to a weekly meditation group and quotes Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist monk known for his practice of mindfulness meditation, or “present-focused awareness.”
Although meditation still isn’t exactly mainstream, many people practice it, hoping to stave off stress and stress-related health problems. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has become more popular in recent years. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. (Or, as my mom would say, “Don’t rehearse tragedies. Don’t borrow trouble.”)
But, as is true for a number of other alternative therapies, much of the evidence to support meditation’s effectiveness in promoting mental or physical health isn’t quite up to snuff. Why? First, many studies don’t include a good control treatment to compare with meditation. Second, the people most likely to volunteer for a meditation study are often already sold on meditation’s benefits and so are more likely to report positive effects.
But when researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, they found 47 trials that addressed those issues and met their criteria for well-designed studies. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.
Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that mindfulness meditation makes perfect sense for treating anxiety. “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power,” she explains. “They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”
“If you have unproductive worries,” says Dr. Hoge, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. “You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self,'” says Dr. Hoge.
One of her recent studies (which was included in the JAMA Internal Medicine review) found that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program helped quell anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder, a condition marked by hard-to-control worries, poor sleep, and irritability. People in the control group—who also improved, but not as much as those in the meditation group—were taught general stress management techniques. All the participants received similar amounts of time, attention, and group interaction.
To get a sense of mindfulness meditation, you can try one of the guided recordings by Dr. Ronald Siegel, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. They are available for free at
Some people find that learning mindfulness techniques and practicing them with a group is especially helpful, says Dr. Hoge. Mindfulness-based stress reduction training, developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA, is now widely available in cities throughout the United States.
My mom would point you to Thich Nhat Hahn, who offers this short meditation in his book Being Peace: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.”