The Benefits of Laughter

In an article entitled, “Give Your Body a Boost — With Laughter” and featured on WedMD, author R. Morgan Griffin writes about the physiological benefits of laughter:

  • We change physiologically when we laugh. We stretch muscles throughout our face and body, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen to our tissues.
  • When laughing, blood vessels expand and contract more easily.
  • Using humour may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells.
  • A study of people with diabetes demonstrated that laughter lowered blood sugar levels.

Griffin goes on to say that the science of laughter is early in its stages, with more studies needed in order to back up its true effects.

Until then, perhaps we can rely on the way laughter makes us feel as our own proof that it does our body good. Laughter opens up the face, produces a warm and welcoming smile; we feel lighter, brighter, connected to others and more relaxed. Sounds like a great prescription to me 🙂

To read the full article: https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter#1

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Just Ask Your Gut

There is mounting evidence that our gut is like a second brain. Now, this brain cannot think or express an opinion, but it can influence your mood and well being. Here are some interesting facts about your gut:

  • Serotonin (the hormone most often associated with happiness) is actually produced in your gastrointestinal tract.
  • There are close to 100 million neurons lining our digestive tract, creating an ecosystem that sends signals to our brain about our mood.
  • 90% of the cells responsible for our psychological stress response are found in our gut; explaining the feeling of nausea when anxious.
  • The second brain may be able to mediate the body’s immune response.
  • There is a higher percentage of people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and functional bowel issues who also present with depression and anxiety.

Although research is continuing to uncover the deeper connection between our brain and our gastrointestinal system, this part is clear: a healthier gut leads to a healthier mind. Now that is something to get cleaned up about 🙂

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The Power of Nature

The benefits of walking are without question; not just from a health perspective but also a psychological one. A study, conducted by Stanford University entitled “Stanford Researchers find Mental Health Prescription: Nature,” addresses the increasing trend of urbanization (we have reached the 50% mark for people living in urban areas) and along with this statistic, two accompanying trends: a decrease in the amount of exposure we get to nature and an overall increase in mental illness including anxiety and depression.

For the study, participants went for a walk either in a natural setting or on a busy street, both near Stanford U campus. Their brains were scanned before and after their walk; the participants walking in nature had decreased rumination (the looped cycle of negative thinking that often accompanies the onset of depression) whereas for the urban participants, there was no change.  “These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world,” said co-author Gretchen Daily. 

Although the article highlights the benefits of planning green space into urban settings, perhaps this study can also encourage those of us who live in small towns or rural areas to get outside. It would seem that the very act of being in nature soothes the mind and gives us the space to slow things down, bringing clarity to our thoughts and a feeling of weightlessness to our spirit.

To read the full article (there is a 2 min video): https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/

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Cortisol: A Bad Rap

Cortisol, the hormone that courses through our system when under stress, is often given a bad rap. Known as the “stress hormone,” elevated cortisol levels have been linked to health issues as well as an increased risk for developing a mental illness. But what is it’s core function? Cortisol is secreted as part of the body’s stress response; a perceived or experienced threat will create a physiological response, eliciting a quickening of our pulse, a burst of adrenaline and the release of cortisol which helps to regulate our system.  Essentially, cortisol plays an important role in helping the body respond to stress. That is, acute stress; stress in the moment, periodic lapses of feeling overwhelmed (trying to get out the door in the morning), and moments when we immediately need to respond (a car veering into our lane).

It is chronic stress that elevates cortisol to levels that our system has difficulty with. Our bodies need to get back to the relaxation response that is necessary for the cortisol loop to best function. Reducing overall stress in our lives can be difficult, but necessary. In tomorrow’s post, we will look at ways to help reduce chronic stress and give cortisol its rightful place on the podium. 🙂

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Resources for ADHD

If your child was recently diagnosed with ADHD/ADD or you suspect that a diagnosis is on the horizon, let’s begin with information from Statistics Canada:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, and is one of the most common mental health conditions in children.
  • Boys are three times more likely to develop ADHD than girls.
  • Symptoms of ADHD usually arise between the ages of three and five but are typically most prominent in the elementary school grades and often persist throughout adulthood. In fact, approximately 75% of cases will continue to have the diagnosis through adolescence, and over half of the cases continue into adulthood.
  • The most effective treatment for ADHD is currently considered to be a combination of medication with psychotherapy, behavioural therapy, and/or emotional counseling.

Two websites that you may find to be particularly helpful include:

  • The Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada which has a wide variety of topics and resources regarding everything from understanding ADHD, to assessment, best practice, useful tools and techniques, a podcast and so forth.
  • ADDitude – Inside the ADHD Brain is a website that includes just about everything you can think of when it comes to ADHD, including lots of great articles to read.

As with most things, knowledge is power. When we read up on the ins and outs of a topic, we are less likely to be led by fear and assumptions. Instead, we feel validated, supported, and can move with confidence in the decisions we are making for our children. 🙂

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10 Facts About the Brain

Here are some amazing brain facts from The Nature of Things with David Suzuki:

  1. Your brain contains 100 billion neurons: about 16 times the number of people on earth.
  2. 95% of your decisions take part in the subconscious mind.
  3. The language and consciousness part of the brain (neocortex) accounts for 76% of the brain’s mass.
  4. Your gut, or “second brain,” contains 100,000 neurons.
  5. Your brain keeps developing until your late 40’s.
  6. Our IQ’s have dropped over 13 points since the Victorian era. 🙁
  7. Women have more grey matter and a larger hippocampus (involved in emotional processing) than men.
  8. The brain consumes 20% of the body’s energy production.
  9. The brain is capable of re-wiring, re-engineering itself.
  10. Neuroplasticity is the science behind the “wires that wire together, fire together.”

With the notion that the brain is not fixed; that it can change itself, we can begin to really appreciate what our brains do for us in terms of not only our physical being, but our psychological lives as well. All the more reason to holistically take care of ourselves on a daily basis; it’ll do the brain good!

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The Role of Serotonin in Our Gut

Serotonin is the hormone that is responsible for stabilizing our mood. It produces feelings of well-being and happiness, and helps to regulate sleep and digestion. And 90% of its receptors are located in the gut. Because of this fact, serotonin plays a vital role between your brain and your gut health. As a result, researchers have begun examining inflammation and its link to the symptoms of depression.

In order to naturally boost serotonin, and thereby reducing inflammation, we can:

  • Eat foods rich in Tryptophan. An amino acid, tryptophan tends to be found in foods that are rich in protein. Chicken, eggs, cheese, fish, tofu, turkey, pumpkin seeds, avocados and chocolate are some examples of food rich in tryptophan.
  • Exercise regularly. When we get moving, we increase the amount of serotonin that is fired in the brain.
  • Manage stress levels. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our hormones; creating balance with a focus on self-care will help manage stress levels, allowing serotonin to do its job.
  • Get a massage. Research has shown a link between regular massage therapy and increased serotonin levels.

By incorporating some of these natural ways to boost serotonin, we are supporting a healthy mind body connection by taking good care of our gut. Sounds like a good plan to me. 🙂

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Why Crying is Good For Us

When we have a good cry, we generally feel better. In an article entitled “8 Benefits of Crying: Why it’s good to shed a few tears” by Lana Burgess and featured on MedicalNewsToday, we get a backing up with science as to why crying is good for us. A few points that resonated:

  • It creates a soothing effect. “Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which helps people relax.” Hello comfort system 🙂
  • Crying is primarily an attachment behaviour. When we cry, we also get soothed by others as they are drawn by compassion; this also helps to strengthen connection.
  • Crying is a mood booster. “Research has found that in addition to being self-soothing, shedding emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins.” This is great news for not only lifting our spirits, but for relieving pain as well.

Although we have often been taught that crying is a sign of weakness, we can begin to recognize and appreciate the therapeutic role of shedding tears. Shared tears can also lend ourselves to greater experiences of bonding as we often feel comforted when others share our pain. And crying in therapy is nothing we ever need to apologize for – as a client recently said to me “If you’re peeling the onion, you can expect to cry.”

To read the article cited above: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319631#benefits-of-crying

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Music Works its Magic on Our Mental Health

Putting on my ‘dance music’ play list is a must when I clean the house; ‘Jazz’ when I am cooking in the kitchen, and ‘Good Mood Music’ when on a road trip. We can all attest to the powerful effect that music has on us – it can uplift us when we are feeling blue, it can accompany us through our daily tasks, it has the ability to relax us.

In a recent article entitled “Music takes 13 minutes to ‘release sadness’ and 9 to make you happy, according to new study” by Helena Asprou and featured on Classic fm, we read about a study that was conducted at the British Academy of Sound Therapy (BAST), in which participants noted that the use of music helped them to relax, to feel happier, to process sad feelings and to concentrate. I quote:

“The best music for relaxation had a slow tempo, simple melody and no lyrics, with an optimum listening time of 13 minutes – and many benefits were reported, including ‘decreased muscle tension, negative thoughts disappearing, feeling peaceful and contented and being able to sleep better. Meanwhile, only nine minutes of music (mostly songs with a driving rhythm, fast tempo and positive lyrical content) is required to make people feel uplifted. An impressive 89 percent had improved energy levels, 65 percent laughed more and others felt more in control of their lives or able to ‘take on anything’ – an encouraging result for medical professionals looking for new ways to treat patients with mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.”

We most likely can all confirm that we have experience with music that echoes this study’s results. This article is a lovely reminder that in order to allow music to work its magic on our emotional health, we have to consciously use it; making sure our playlists are full and we have built them into our daily routine. 🙂

To read the full article (they include a lovely summarized chart): https://www.classicfm.com/music-news/music-to-release-sadness-and-feel-happier-study/

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A Promising Study: The Effects of Cannabis on the Teenager’s Brain

I often sit with young people in my office who are quick to point out the positive effects of smoking pot. Pretty mired in their opinion, my caution to them always comes with amount of use. Smoking pot socially looks a whole lot different than smoking it in a chronic way; any time that we are relying on an outside substance to manage our emotional health, we move to dysfunction and not to growth. 

In an article entitled “Halifax researcher studies how cannabis affects brain function in young adults” by Aly Thomson and featured on CBC News, we meet Dr. Philip Tibbo, a professor of psychiatry, who is conducting a study with researchers at Western University in London, Ont. It involves 180 people in both provinces between 18-35 who use cannabis to varying degrees.

Tibbo remarks “Each area of the brain doesn’t work independently — it’s all interacting. It’s very complex. If you have more dysfunctional connections, the brain is not working the way that it should be.”

“What I usually say clinically is if you’re going to be smoking, you’re doing it because it’s supposed to be a pleasurable experience,” he said.
“But if you’re smoking pot and you’re getting a bit more paranoid, or you’re feeling a little bit more sketchy, well then perhaps there’s some vulnerability there to have negative outcomes, and is that because of the effects of cannabis on your brain white matter? He said he hopes the study will eventually arm adolescents and young adults with more information to make informed decisions about cannabis use.”

In a similar article entitled “Your brain on cannabis: Halifax researcher probes effects on white matter, behaviour” by John McPhee and featured on The Telegram, Tibbo (who treats teenagers and young adults with significant psychiatric disorders such as early phase psychosis) notes:

“I figure about 80 per cent of my patients have some exposure to cannabis; actually about 25 to 35 per cent would meet criteria for a cannabis use disorder, which can have very significant negative outcomes on their mental health.”

Bottom line? When smoking pot, it is best to proceed with caution.

To read the first article: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/halifax-dalhousie-researcher-cannabis-brain-function-1.5457140

To read the second article: https://www.thetelegram.com/news/canada/your-brain-on-cannabis-halifax-researcher-probes-effects-on-white-matter-behaviour-408888/

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