Neuroscientists are interested in looking into why some people able to bounce back from difficult experiences, both sought out and unexpected, and others are not. They are studying this using real-time imaging of the brain, as people experience stressful situations.
On an evolutionary level, stress can be beneficial as it fires up your heart and legs to run from predators. In our modern lives, stress is abundant – from bills and a parking tickets to the death of a loved one. It is associated with multiple health conditions such as fatigue and depression and an increased risk of heart disease and Alzheimers. Unfortunately, stressing out and worrying only strengthens the neuronal pathways (and thus thought patterns) in our brains.
However, it appears that we can train our brains to handle stress better and be more resilient! Apart from mindfulness and meditation, here are the “10 tips for toughness”:
- Identify a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake
- Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened
- Try to maintain a positive outlook
- Take cues from someone who is especially resilient
- Don’t run from things that scare you, face them
- Be quick to reach out for support when things go haywire
- Learn new things as often as you can
- Find an exercise that you will stick to
- Dont beat yourself up or dwell on the past
- Recognize what makes you uniquely strong – and own it
Studies on children have indicated that mindfulness exercises can help kids be “more kind,” improve math scores, have fewer ADHD symptoms, exhibit more self control, and experience less depression.
iPhone Knows When You’re Depressed
Software loaded onto study participants phones measured their location and phone usage. The more people used their phone, the more highly they rated on a depression scale. Depressed people used their phone 68 minutes a day, non-depressed people used their phones an average of 17 minutes per day.
Lauren’s note: Was this a pilot of Ginger.io?
Probiotics Can Improve Your Mood
A recent study suggests that some bacteria may influence mood by releasing compounds that travel from the gut to the brain. 40 young adults either took a nightly probiotic or placebo for 4 weeks and those who took the probiotic reported significantly less reactivity to sad moods. Hypotheses include that the bacteria raised tryptophan levels (a precursor to the happy neurotransmitters) or decreased inflammation via decreasing permeability of the intestine.
Lauren’s note: Another score for gut flora! However, note that each species of bacteria can secrete a differing compounds and have a different effect on an individual – not to mention the synergistic effects of complex populations of bacteria in our gut.
On a personal note, I am heading to medical school in August with the intention of going into Gastroenterology (GI). I would love to do research on the relationship between diet, the microbiome and IBD/other conditions. I’d also love to get involved in research looking at the gut-brain axis and how our intestinal health interplays with our mental health.
How To Improve Memory
- Focus on your sense of purpose
- Go dancing – physical activity protects the brain, learning lets it grow, and socialization helps it thrive
- Learn something new
- Take omega 3 fatty acids – the combo of DHA and EPA increases blood flow to the brain according to some research, and decreases inflammation
- Exercise – people who exercised daily in a 2 year study had 2% growth in their hippocampus (key for memory)
Lauren’s note: When buying probiotics or any supplement, be sure to spend the money on a reputable brand. Not all supplements need to be top of the line, but fish oil and probiotics do. Remember that supplements are not considered foods and thus do not need to pass any federal purity requirements. Look for third party tested products. I like Vitamin Research Products and VSL probiotics. I also religiously refer to the third party testing company Lab Door.