Month: December 2015

Most Americans Don’t Think The Flu Shot Works, But It Does

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According to EverydayHealth, a recent survey by the Harris Poll found that 32% of Americans don’t believe the flu shot will protect them against the flu. In the same poll, 42% of respondents agreed that “people take the flu season too seriously.”

These beliefs were more prevalent among the youngest people. Older respondents will remember a time when vaccination rates were substantially lower, and flu mortality rates were higher. They may remember flu pandemics in the ’50s and ’60s that claimed a million lives or more. Younger people, meanwhile, have spent most of their lives surrounded by an anti-vaccine movement championed by celebrities and given legitimacy by some news organizations. These movements want parents not to immunize their children, and in some places want parents to deliberately expose their children to diseases as a “natural” alternative to vaccination. These practices will only become widespread if they encourage young people to be skeptical of accepted medical facts.

While accepted medical facts can change as new research comes to light, the research on flu vaccines is quite clear. Flu vaccines don’t work for everyone, but they make you less likely to get the flu. The principle of “herd immunity” multiplies that effect as fewer people are getting the flu and passing it on to others. Herd immunity is a very simple idea: if you get the flu, it’s probably because you caught it from someone who caught it from someone else. Say the flu vaccine makes you half as likely to get the flu. Even if you aren’t vaccinated, if both of those other people are vaccinated, there’s a three quarter chance that the flu won’t get to you through that route.

Here are the actual statistics: during the 2011-2012 flu season, vaccination was associated with a 71% (among adults) or a 74% (among children) reduction of flu-related hospitalizations. Some of that is the effect of individual vaccinations, and some of it is the result of herd immunity among communities with high vaccination rates. So by getting immunized, you’re helping the people around you as well as yourself.

Lincoln Research would like to wish everybody a happy and healthy new year as 2015 becomes 2016.

Seven Ways College Students Can Take Care Of Their Bodies and Minds

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We’ve been keeping a close eye on Psychology Today’s excellent ongoing coverage of the college mental health crisis. Our most recent post on the subject listed several theories as to the cause of rising anxiety among students. This post, taking its cue from part of an interview between Dr. Greg Henriques and Mike Veny, will talk more about solutions. How can college students take care of themselves in an environment that makes so many demands on them? The trick is to recognize that what happens inside your head is interconnected with what’s happening in your body and in your environment. Here are seven tips to taking care of yourself, inside and out:

1. Balance work, relaxation, and relationships: It may seem like schoolwork is taking up all your time, but if you keep track of your schedule, you’ll probably find that this isn’t as true as you thought it was. What are you doing with the time available to you? Are you spending too much time by yourself, or not enough? Which of your friendships are easygoing and rooted in having fun, and which can provide stronger emotional bonds? Which of those things do you need right now?

2. Get enough sleep. The “all-nighter” is a vicious cycle–the longer you go without sleep, the harder it is to finish what you’re doing and get to sleep. But undersleeping can have subtle long-term consequences as well as obvious short-term ones, and coffee is no substitute. Plan your weekends to come to an end eight or nine hours before you have to wake up; it’ll make you a happier and more effective student.

3. Eat well. The dieting industry wants to make healthy eating seem much more complicated than it really is; the best thing you can do for your mental health is to eat enough–but not too much–and not to eat too many simple carbs. College campuses provide healthy, protein-based food options that you might look past on the way to the bagels and pasta. A substitution or two every day might make a world of difference.

4. Have a healthy sex life. College hookup culture and casual sex can be a healthy expression of a healthy sex drive. Other times, people can get pressured into it out of a sense of a sense of competition, or to fit in. Step back and take stock of what you really need out of your sex life. Are you masturbating as much as you want to? Try not to become dependent on casual sex partners for sexual fulfillment.

5. Adjust your surroundings. Places and environments can take on a lot of meaning in someone’s mind, for good or bad. Many college students have a “study spot” that they attend like church; sitting in a certain corner or room helps them get their homework done twice as fast. What’s your “well being spot”? Is it in a dorm with a couple friends? A quiet library? A crowded dining hall? Sitting out in the sun? Take a little of your free time to explore your campus, and take stock of how different places make you feel.

6. Exercise. A lot of people really don’t want to hear this one, and a daily jogging regimen isn’t for everybody. But if you’re spending your whole day sitting in a chair, that’s going to have a poor effect on your physical health. Try standing at your desk, going for regular walks, or spending 15-20 minutes at the gym a few times a week. Give yourself fitness goals that you think you can reach. Once you get into the habit, it’ll become a lot easier.

7. Drink less. Here’s the other one that people don’t want to hear. Many college students are skeptical of the idea of peer pressure, but peer pressure in colleges is very real, very subtle, and very dangerous. Going out and getting drunk every weekend might seem just as essential to your social life as going to classes is for your GPA. But heavy drinking and other drug use can affect almost every other aspect of your mental well being. It reduces the quality of your sleep, hurts your dietary health, disrupts your sexual health, infringes on learning and memory, and stops you from developing healthy stress responses. Drink moderately and responsibly if you choose to drink; try to carve out a space in your social life that doesn’t involve substances at all. There are a million other ways to have fun in your free time.

Do you or a loved one suffer from mental illness? See if you qualify for Lincoln’s clinical research study on depression today!

Four Little-Known Secrets to Dealing with Panic Attacks

 

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If you’ve ever had a panic attack or an anxiety attack, you’ve probably heard a lot of the same advice from different sources. Most people know only one or two coping strategies from anxiety–breathe deeply, and maybe recite a mantra, until the panic subsides. Though these are good things to try, they don’t do the trick for many anxiety sufferers. Having exhausted the only strategies they know, some people will then turn to unhealthy coping methods, such as self-harm and self-medication.

However, there are many ways that panic attacks can be dealt with, beyond just deep breathing. Therese Borchard at EverydayHealth has named many that you may not have heard. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

1. Boost your magnesium levels. Magnesium is a mineral found in everyone’s body, and not having enough of it can lead to increased anxiety. There are a couple ways to get your magnesium back up that are relaxing on their own merits, too. The first is to take a bath in Epsom salts, and absorb the magnesium into your skin. The second is to eat dark chocolate–the higher the cocoa content, the better. Dark chocolate is a natural and healthy source of magnesium.

2. Warm your hands. Many people find that tea or coffee calms them down; this may have less to do with anything in the drink, and more to do with the sensation of holding a hot mug. Warming your hands can cause blood to flow away from the centers of tension in your body, and reduce stress that way. Apparently, even imagining an activity that would warm your hands can help to relieve anxiety.

3. Try rabbit pose. My friends with anxiety often talk about wanting to “curl up into a ball” when they’re anxious. In truth, this isn’t a bad instinct, especially if you do it the right way. If you can get away for a minute, try the yoga pose called rabbit pose, described in the link. Rabbit pose is therapeutic for anxiety and depression for a number of reasons, and it’s easy to learn.

4. Listen to binaural beats. Ambient sounds, such as crashing waves and nature tapes, reduce stress for many people. If you want to take that to a scientific level, try “binaural beats,” a type of ambient noise that reduces anxiety in many people. Today, you can find these sorts of beats on Spotify, Pandora, or another streaming service.

Do you or a loved one suffer from depression? See if you qualify for Lincoln’s clinical research study on depression today!

Have You Gotten Your Flu Shot Yet?

Photo courtesy of: freedigitalphotos.net/by Naypong

Photo courtesy of: freedigitalphotos.net/by Naypong

It’s the middle of December, and all around New England it still feels like early autumn, if that. There’s no snow on the ground. Geese still hang out on the grass in front of the Lincoln Research offices every morning. A friend found a tick on her leg just the other day. And many of us still haven’t gotten our flu shots.

Luckily, as winter lags behind, so does the flu. According to Huffington Post, the flu season still hasn’t really started in most of the country. That doesn’t mean the flu isn’t coming–in previous years, it’s started as late as February. However, it does give us all a little more time to go down to our local pharmacy and get vaccinated.

Vaccination is the best way to protect ourselves, and the people around us, from the flu. The Center for Disease Control recommends that everybody over the age of six months, with some exceptions, get the flu shot. The more people get it, the safer we’ll all be.

Five Perspectives on Anxiety and Distress Among College Students

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There’s been a lot of discussion on the news and social media lately about whether college campuses are still a good environment for learning, free thought and speech, and self-development. A lot of this talk has placed the blame on college students, calling them “entitled” and criticizing their “censorship” of faculty members.

This sort of “kids these days” excuse is easy to shake off, but research suggests that this generation has different emotional responses than older generations did. The rate of mental illness among college students is increasing rapidly, and many more students are turning to medication as a first response, with mixed results. But obviously the buck doesn’t stop with the kids. What are the reasons why the emotions of young people have changed? Peter Gray at Psychology Today collected responses from five different groups, all of whom had their own perspectives on the problem.

College students reported that they and their peers were, indeed, often anxious and depressed and had difficulties dealing with the demands of the college environment. They were also quick to point out that they are entering college at a different time than their parents. A college degree isn’t as likely to get you a good job as it used to, and is far more likely to give you crippling social debt. Much like high school, undergraduate education becomes a numbers game–rather than taking the time to learn and develop themselves, students are pressured to get perfect grades so they can get into good graduate programs. It’s not their choice to treat their college years as a sort of extended adolescence–by design, college has been turned into a continuation of the stresses of high school. They count on empathy from professors, and robust school counseling services, to help reduce the rate of addiction, serious mental disorder, and even suicide among their peer groups.

Elementary through high school teachers gave their perspectives on where these pressures come from. Though most teachers genuinely want their children to learn good work habits and coping skills, this doesn’t line up with the goals of the administrators, students, and parents who control their career prospects. School administrators want to increase average grades and lower the failure rate, because this looks favorably upon the school. Parents–especially the parents of “honors track” students–want their children to outperform other children, so they can get them into good colleges. When schools become dysfunctional in this way, the grading system becomes a way to alternately torture and coddle students, rather than an honest appraisal of a student’s progress. Many of these teachers support a decreased emphasis on grades and test scores, so that they can be free to teach and prepare their students for the college environment.

College professors have similar problems coming from school administrators, and even, again, from parents. In many schools, the burden of teaching basic skills to college freshman falls upon teachers’ assistants and adjunct professors who have low pay and little job security. These entry-level courses are often rote, overfilled, non-participatory, and elicit the least enthusiasm from students and teachers alike. The adjunct professors are dependent on positive student evaluations, but have little freedom to really engage with students or enable them to learn; instead, they suffer the same pressure to give good grades and respond to students’ immediate emotional needs. By the time students are given access to tenured professors–who have both the experience and the freedom to create challenging, adaptive learning environments–many of them have been conditioned to think of college as an extension of high school, and many have developed unhealthy responses to failure and stress.

Employers were the least solution-focused group that Peter heard from. Most of them simply complained of the lack of high-quality employees coming through the college system. They portrayed themselves as representing “the real world,” and blamed parents and the educational system for not preparing students to enter the “work force.”

Parentstalking of their peers, talked about the practice of “helicopter parenting” and overscheduling children, from a young age. Most of these supported giving children more freedom to play, and putting less emphasis on safety, in parenting. However, parents who worried about their kids’ economic future said that they found it hard to resist the grade-crunching and hand-holding of secondary education. Scholarships and financial aid programs are reflections of the children’s performance, but punish the parents’ finances. In this way, parents come to feel that they have to “take control” of their child’s education.

Young people suffering from mental illness need our empathy, and the best care they can get. This is beyond question. But creating a healthy population requires that we also look into the causes of the things that are hurting us. How do you think we can ensure that the next generation of children grows up to be healthy adults? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Do you or a loved one suffer from depression? See if you qualify for Lincoln’s clinical research study on depression today!

 

Aiding In Depression Through Gratitude

Image courtesy Pixabay

Image courtesy Pixabay

If you’re suffering from depression or another mental illness, you may feel like you have little to be thankful for. You may also feel that, even though you rationally know you enjoy many privileges, depression is preventing you from being as grateful as you should.

The truth is that gratitude is a series of choices we make every day, and that we can train ourselves to practice gratitude in our every day life. This is true no matter what your circumstances and the way your mental illness presents itself. And this isn’t just an academic exercise: practicing gratitude has been shown to help relieve depression symptoms and increase one’s overall mood.

Therese Borchard at Everyday Health has compiled a list of tips toward improving your mood through gratitude. They include:

1. Think of the less fortunate. Many people with depression often compare themselves to those who are better off than they are. If you find yourself doing this, think instead of the people who don’t enjoy the privileges and advantages that you have. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to make yourself feel guilty, but to understand that the world is full of people in all sorts of circumstances, both positive and negative. We each have our own special place in the world, and that’s something to be grateful for.

2. Help others. Once you start paying attention to the suffering and difficulty of the world, it’s likely that you’ll be motivated to get in there and help people. Whether as part of your career, your studies, or just on a volunteer basis, serving your community can help cultivate your gratitude as well as pass it on to others.

What do you care about? There are lots of opportunities to help others with mental illness; to help the poor; to help animals, or the environment; or to involve yourself in any number of causes. Look around your community and on the Web and you’ll find other people who care about the same things as you and have devoted themselves to helping. This will make you feel better, too.

3. Take a moment. Many religions have a cultural practice equivalent to the Christian tradition of  saying grace. When you say grace, you take a moment before a meal to give thanks for the circumstances–spiritual or otherwise–that have brought you together and set this meal before you. Whatever your spiritual or religious beliefs, this might be useful. Is there a time you can set aside every day to state your thanks, or express your gratitude through some other ritual?

From a more secular viewpoint, meditation may serve a similar purpose. There’s a kind of meditation called loving-kindness meditation, where you sit and direct good thoughts and well-wishes to the people in your life. This has been shown to increase gratitude as well as other positive emotions.

4. Write it down. Writing is a powerful way to direct and control our thoughts. Consider writing “thank you” letters to the people in your life who have helped you; you don’t have to send them, but just getting that gratitude down on paper might help. Or start a gratitude journal, ending every day or week by writing down the things you’re grateful for during that period.

Some forms of therapy involve putting your thought processes into writing. When you’re experiencing a negative thought, try writing down the answers to these four questions: 1) Is the thought real? 2) Can I be absolutely sure that it’s true? 3) How do I react when I have this thought? 4) Who would I be without this thought? Thinking through these negative thoughts doesn’t always make them go away, but it can help us understand them. With understanding comes gratitude.

Do you or a loved one suffer from depression? See if you qualify for Lincoln’s clinical research study on depression today!

What You Should Know About SAD

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Last week, we published a post about the Holiday Blues; one of the most important takeaways from that article was the difference between SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and the holiday blues. Hopefully, many of our readers will be experiencing a reprieve now that the stress of Thanksgiving weekend is in the past. However, many others may indeed be suffering from seasonal depression, and fear that their symptoms won’t let up until the springtime.

Lindsay Holmes at Huffington Post has published an excellent article explaining SAD and what you need to know. Here’s our rundown of the most important points from that article:

1. SAD is connected to depression. For most sufferers of SAD, seasonal symptoms are only one component of a depressive disorder such as MDD or Bipolar Disorder. This should be kept in mind when considering treatment. Treatments that tackle the underlying depression, such as talk therapy, have been shown to be just as effective as treatments that treat SAD alone, such as light therapy.

2. SAD is serious. An estimated ten million Americans suffer from SAD; it is a serious mood disorder not to be taken lightly. Common symptoms include fatigue, headaches, a loss of appetite, sadness, and a lack of motivation. This can have a debilitating effect on productivity and physical health, as well as quality of life.

3. Not everyone is affected equally. Evidence suggests that SAD is more common in colder areas farther from the equator, such as the northern United States. It is also more common in women than in men. But don’t take anything for granted about this complex condition–it doesn’t always cause sadness, and doesn’t always even occur in the summer. There have been cases of patients becoming more anxious and irritable during the summer months, and at least one woman who experienced OCD flareups during the winter.

If you have experienced multiple episodes of SAD-like symptoms, please speak to a mental health professional.

Do you or a loved one suffer from depression? See if you qualify for Lincoln’s clinical research study on depression today!

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