Tag Archives: mental health

Hurts so good: Neuropsychology and Chili Peppers

Ghost peppers
The world’s hottest peppers, originally grown in Assam Province, Northeast India, epitomize the lure of pain and pleasure. Also known as raja mircha (king chili), ghost peppers or bhut jolokia originated in a region of the country where the cooler temperatures, heavy rains/monsoons, and soil quality made them grow naturally.

Currently, they are served most delectably as a condiment with mounds of rice ladled with curry, lentils, salad, and vegetables. They also pack a punch served with Maggi noodles, a South Asian comfort food, leaving you with a runny nose, sweating face, and a slow burn of volcanic heat.

The neural science
Brain pain receptors are proteins that have a certain shape that only fit specific molecules. Some pain receptors have the correct shape for capsaicin, the heat component of all peppers to fit into, like a lock and a key. When a capsaicin molecule binds to one of these pain receptors, there is a release of neurotransmitters that send a message to the brain. All neurotransmitters are chemicals that are transmitted from one neuron to the next, instant messaging, saying this is HOT. There is a quick burst of endorphins, the pain alleviating neurochemicals. Capsaicin also stimulates the thermo receptors that perceive heat, stimulating sweating and flushing. This actually has a cooling down effect, crucial in hotter climates. Not surprisingly, many countries with extremely hot menus are found in Africa, South Asia, the Caribbean (the Trini Scorpion chili pepper will make you gasp), and South America, where the temperatures are often steamy.

Why yearn for the burn? A sample of the research.
-Longevity: All chili peppers have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer (free radical), and blood-glucose regulating effects. Many of the health benefits have specifically been attributed to capsaicin molecules. Additional benefits include lower levels of bad cholesterol, increased metabolism, better gut health, analgesia (increased pain tolerance), and a general boost in immunity.

-Personality: A number of studies have found that more adventurous people are drawn to spicier and more stimulating foods. Chili 🌶 lovers are eager to try new things; willing to take risks; have a higher level of mental flexibility; and may be hungry for a variety of strong emotions, visceral experience, and adventures. This means they have a high degree of curiosity; or in other terms, they may be easily bored.

-Mood: Spicy foods create a safe high. The burst of endorphins produced by biting into a searingly hot pepper creates a burning sensation and then a sense of euphoria.

-Social Interaction:  Sharing hot food creates a sense of connection or similarity. Couples and family research shows that arguing over ‘what to eat for dinner’ is a common source of potential conflict or compromise.  “Because what I eat, what I drink, is in itself the ‘second self’ of my being,” wrote the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. Figuring out what each person would like to eat, or not, is part of relational negotiation: do we fit together?

Also see: On nutraceuticals and mental health – Turmeric and Mental Health.

The power of social activism + neural science.

Dr. Anne Beaumanoir was a human rights activist and clinical neuropsychologist/neurologist in France during World War II. Her parents were activists who appreciated education, science, and research as tools to help improve daily lives. Her mother, the milkmaid daughter of an organic farmer, and her father who owned a bicycle shop, were both shunned by their families for their marriage. Together, they opened a popular bistro where they served local food and libations. The bistro was known as a gathering place for intellectuals and the bookish.

Dr. Beaumanoir spent many hours in the family restaurant where she had the opportunity to interact with her neighborhood and community. She helped Jews in her town evade Nazis, once saving two teenage neighbors by arriving at their home just before the Gestapo came to their door, to spirit them away to her parents’ restaurant. Later, she moved to Algeria which was a colony of France in North Africa, and worked with the Algerian resistance movement, doing everything from working as a chauffeur to hotel bellhop.

She completed medical school in France and fell in love with EEG technology. She is one of the first advocates of using EEGs to diagnose different types of seizure activity. Throughout her lengthy career, she emphasized the importance of using medical research to help the less advantaged and was especially interested in cerebrovascular disease and childhood epilepsy. She died in March 2022 at the age of 98, in Quimper, France.  Learn more:  Anne Beaumanoir, Activist and Clinical Neurologist, Dies at 98

Diabetes and Mental Health

37.3 million Americans—about 1 in 10—have diabetes.

About 1 in 5 people with diabetes don’t know they have it.

96 million American adults—more than 1 in 3—have prediabetes.

More than 8 in 10 adults with prediabetes don’t know they have it.

For the past three years, approximately 1.5 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed each year. Many more go undiagnosed.

For people aged 10 to 20 years, new cases of type 2 diabetes increased for ALL racial and ethnic minority groups, especially Black teens.

This past week, the House of Representatives passed a bill capping the cost of insulin on Thursday night with unanimous Democratic support, a mere 12 Republicans voted for the legislation, with 193 voting against it (five didn‘t vote at all). The House (Democrats) voted to cap the price of insulin at $35. (The bill will go to the Senate after Easter).

FACT: The cost of insulin for patients WITH insurance ranges from $334 to $1,000 a month.
FACT: The manufacturing cost for a vial of insulin is approximately $10.
FACT: Many diabetes patients ration their medicines or discontinue them because of the cost.

NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL AND MEDICAL IMPLICATIONS

  • uncontrolled diabetes is implicated in a threefold increase in vascular dementia
  • uncontrolled diabetes drastically increases the chance of stroke, which also brings an entire set of cognitive and physical consequences
  • untreated diabetes and prediabetes results in impaired attention and concentration, brain fog, fatigue, headaches, learning problems, and lethargy
  • diabetics have a much higher level of clinical depression and anxiety, medical related worries, financial hardship, and overall stress
  • diabetics are at higher risk for secondary events, such as car accidents, work disability, and falls
  • people with prediabetes are at far greater risk for long-term cognitive decline and memory problems because they most often walk around without any diagnosis or treatment
  • most people will have/will have a loved one, family member, colleague, or friend who suffers from diabetes and related sequela in their lives. As such, diabetes affects everyone
  • BIPOC individuals have a significantly higher rate of diabetes, with the highest group being Black men, women, and children
  • diabetic medical consequences that affect daily life include vision problems, neuropathy, chronic pain, kidney problems and possible renal failure, memory weakness, increased risk of hypertension, sexual dysfunction, tooth/gum problems, and foot/mobility problems
  • individuals with diabetes have a much higher chance of long-term consequences from COVID-19
  • the consequences of untreated or undertreated diabetes will create an added strain on the medical and mental health system, which is already under severe pressure. This, in turn, has a trickle-down effect on treatment of other conditions
  • as a psychologist, management of diabetes, medication regimen, diabetic self-care, nutrition, and related stressors are often a focus of treatment

(Data sources: Kaiser Health, WebMd 4/22, CDC, 1/22)

The Psychology of Pranking

Psychologists have studied pranks for years. Humor, in general, is good for us. Neuropsychology research has shown that laughing improves well-being.

Humor and laughter release endorphins and oxytocin, neurochemicals that are associated with happiness and social bonding. But why are practical jokes or pranks even funny in the first place?

From clinical psychology, a summary of research on pranks:
*Practical jokes are a subtle form of “play-fighting.” Jokes imply a sense of closeness or insider group feelings in the relationship. That is, you tend to prank those you believe you’re close with or can handle the joke.

* A good prank satirizes human fears or vulnerabilities, and is found in a wide variety of international initiation rites and coming-of-age rituals. The Daribi of New Guinea, for example, have children make a small box and bury it in the ground, telling them that after a while a treasure will appear inside but they must not peek. Invariably the youngsters succumb to curiosity, only to find a box of animal feces (research cited from the University of Virginia, department of psychological anthropology).

* The prank releases inhibition, liberating us for a moment from having to act “properly”.

* In psychoanalysis, motivations for the impulse to prank one’s own family or friends has been described as a subtle form of the desire to do bad things to the very people one claims to care for. It may be one of the modalities through which everyday sadism can manifest (i.e., potentially obtaining pleasure from hostile forms of humor, sarcasm, and practical jokes).

When NOT to Prank:
Has the target of the prank stated they want this behavior to stop, or have they shown previous distress with any pranks?

Is the target of the prank a vulnerable person, such as a child, an individual with a mental disorder, or person with disabilities?

Could this prank in any way cause harm to a person, either psychologically, physically, or both?

The Late Night Call

For many of us in psychology/mental health, when the phone rings or a text pings late night, there is an immediate frisson of worry and concern. It’s a cold shiver in your spine. Bad news is going down. I work with a lot of young people, teens through 30s, and I am readily accessible most of the time. No one abuses this. When people call you late at night, it’s usually not to say hello.

One of my mentors is a top authority in suicide research in the world. When I asked him, as a doctoral student, why he got into this painful area where he has done so much to help, he said we pursue what we fear. It might seem counterintuitive but there is no greater courage than facing the fears we have by helping others with theirs.

I started my own company several years ago after being Clinical Director elsewhere because I believe that mental health is for all. It is often excluded for many people because of financial constraints, stigma, lack of cultural competence, lack of hours to actually go see someone, and a potentially ‘authoritative’ relationship that is anathema to many.

I will tell you this.
NO doctor or therapist can do anything without their team. The team is: found or biological family or parents, other medical providers, friends and social supports of the person that you are working for and with, chosen spiritual beliefs, community, teachers (as burdened as they are are, they are very often the person that young people turn to), genuine Internet connections, ancestry/culture, companion animals, and fostering self-compassion relentlessly.

We are always so shocked and horrified to hear about someone taking their life. But when most ask people how they’re doing, they expect to hear ‘fine’.

We need to facilitate conversation where somebody can say they feel absolutely lousy. It’s been a terrible day. Right now, people at your job, your neighborhood, your home, feel absolutely lousy.  They don’t know what to do. We need dialogue about mental health so it becomes a natural thing.

It takes a village, the most trite and true statement.

The Power of Texting

Beautiful artwork, P. Cochrane

Sending a supportive text has been shown to be of significant benefit for someone struggling to cope.
What to say to a loved one:

8 Texts For Mental Health Support

  • The specific offer of help text
    Hey, I’m going to the store shortly, what are some things I can pick up for you? I’m taking the dog to the park later, can I come by and pick up yours to take with us?
  • The you are not alone text
    Why don’t we go for a walk this afternoon? Would you like to watch a movie together tonight from our own homes? Let’s FaceTime later today.
  • The checking-in text
    Just wanted to check on you, no rush to reply. I’m here.
  • The gratitude text
    I really appreciate you and having you in my life.
  • The thoughtful gift text
    I wanted to let you know I swung by and left some beer/wine/coffee and snacks at your front door.
  • The timing and dosage text
    I’m here to talk when you feel like it and as little or as much as you want to say. Or, I can come by and we can both sit quietly together.
  • The photo text
    Here’s a picture of this beautiful beach… It’s so soothing to imagine being there with you.
  • The solidarity text
    You are not alone.  I can come with you to…

SEVEN DAYS: A mental health challenge

DAY 1. Each day, clean up online. Block, unsubscribe, delete.

DAY 2. Each day, practice your morning and night time routine. Also see, The Morning Routine Checklist for Anxiety.

DAY 3. Each day, pick a mantra or affirmation to repeat throughout the day.  Say it loudly into the air. Write it on a post-it or card. Put it in your Reminders. Email or text it to yourself. Mine is: No One To Be.

DAY 4. Have a date night with yourself. Cook your favorite, or order a scrumptious meal. Put on your favorite music. Use your favorite bath oil or lotion. Watch your favorite show.Cuddle under your softest blanket.  Check out How to Self-Hug.

DAY 5. Each day, pick one of these:  Meditate/Pray/Yoga/Breathwork.
See Deep Breathing and Anxiety for more info.

DAY 6. Each day, go outside and engage your senses. Pretend you are an explorer on an expedition. Mentally record: what do you see, what does the air and sun feel like on your skin, what are the scents, what do you hear?
See The Sun and Mental Health.

DAY 7. Each day, spend 15 minutes writing. Don’t get discouraged if your first attempt at writing is not to your satisfaction. It’s the action, not the product. As a gifted writer told me, write about both the what and the why. It trains your brain to think about both.  Also see: The Psychology Behind Journaling and: The Way is Through, Not Around.

Neuropsychology research shows that new neural pathways start to form by practicing an activity or exercise for at least a minimum of 21 to 28 days.

Try it, 7×4.

On Friendship and Mental Health

Connecting with true friends is one of the best things we can do for our health and happiness. The research unequivocally shows that having true friendships is good for our medical and mental health, decreases stress, helps manage depressive and anxious symptoms, and contributes to overall life satisfaction. Friends help us live longer: Seniors with a strong connection to a network of social support live longer and healthier lives.

Like any powerful relationship, friendships can hurt and harm.

Transactional friendships
Some people are friends with you because of what you can do for them. Red flags include friends who repeatedly try to sell you something, ask to borrow money, ask your help to buy things or services, or keep tabs on favors. These friends routinely cross the line between friendship and business. Unlike business, friendships can emotionally hurt you, because what you regarded as care or love was actually convenience.

Narcissus friendships
This friendship works great, initially, because you have a common factor: you both adore the narcissist. As long as you are both on the same page, aligned on the superiority of one, you get along well.

When needs become mutual, the relationship breaks down. The relationship might also be more subtle — they may love you back when you consistently admire them, and they validate you with heart emojis. In return you get a shot to your self-esteem.

Mutually unhealthy friendships
In 2007, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine tracked the spread of obesity through a “deeply interconnected social network” of more than 12,000 people, underscoring that social ties link to health behavior. Healthy (or unhealthy) habits can circulate within any friend group, too. For instance, unhealthy psychological habits like a tendency to put each other down, self criticize or denigrate, or to complain constantly can spread from friend to friend. Over-eating, substance abuse, and even overworking can become an acceptable and approved part of a friend group.

Emotional labor friendships
This is where you do all the emotional work — talking them down, shoring them up: “Of course you’re amazing. Sure, let’s talk about all the ways you rock. Again. Tell me about your terrible week.“ If you’re doing all the work in the relationship, you’re an employee, not a friend. Of course, over time the balance will shift back and forth — you will inevitably have a major life crisis at the same time your friend gets a promotion or falls in true love, but good friends are there to share in your successes and your struggles. You should feel sure in your friendship; winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call.

Historical friendships
Historical friends are those who have stayed in our lives as we’ve grown up, for whatever reason. They are not necessarily the closest friends we have, but they have stood the test of time. These are the friends we usually meet in school. We bond with them and the bond may fade but never disappear. We may meet up with these friends only once in awhile, but when we do, we fall back into the rhythms of the relationship in no time at all. Then after the meeting we all go ou own way until our paths cross again. But historical friends make up a piece of our identity. Lifestyles, interests, and values may have drifted apart, but it’s OK to hold them in your heart without having to force time together.

True friendships
Your “friends of the heart” are the people you can call at two in the morning when you have a problem. They listen to you, give you their full attention, and are on your side no matter what. They know everything, or almost everything, about your life. With them, you feel confident and don’t need to hide your true self because the foundation of your friendship is acceptance.

They make time to be with you. You may disagree, even argue, but neither one of you exits the relationship. They tell you when you have messed up, and pull you up at the same time. Research on friendship indicates that most people generally only have between four and six ‘true’ friends, because friendship requires dedicated commitment, time, communication, and growth.Our brains are only dedicated to a special few people.

Also see:
Nine Reasons Why Cross-Cultural Friendships Are Great for Your Brain
The Ingredients of Friendship

Six Paradigm shifts: mental tweaks that matter.

  • Other than your closest friends and the family that matter, you don’t owe anyone anything. Just because you’re good at (fill in the blank), you don’t have to help somebody else with it. If they value your skill, they will offer to compensate you for your time, help, and energy. You are under no obligation to give away your protocols, strategies, and knowledge without a clear consensual understanding on both sides.
  • Learn to ask for help. It will save you time and grief. Being able to rely on the skill sets of another is a great gift.  See How to Ask for Help Without Feeling Weird for tips.
  • Don’t over-explain but be gracious. Many years ago, I watched a male friend turn down an invitation to a major event. ”Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not going to be able to make it.” Another friend: “I am so sorry… I am just so busy… The kids and work deadlines… I feel awful, I would totally come if I could.” These are just examples, of course, but frequently we have a propensity to over explain and over apologize.
  • Don’t personalize hurts. Your friends might be busy with their work commitments, children and families, and hopefully self-care. If they are not readily available, it’s not because they don’t love you.
    Also see What to Do When You Don’t Feel Valuable.
  • Ask, don’t assume. Every single time. In my couples therapy sessions, one set of research I use in the work explores the ‘stories’ that everyone brings into their intimate and romantic lives. Universally, there are certain beliefs that people bring with them to most of their interactions that are left unspoken and yet are assumed.  Speaking them matters.
  • Do not put your values and standards on another person. We all need different amounts of rest, sleep, recreation, challenge, hustle, and social time. Differences are not hierarchical.

What are some mental shifts that helped you?

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.