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Over the years, stress has become synonymous with modern hurried lifestyles. Though required in small doses to help us push our bodies to their full potential and accomplish tasks more efficiently, when experienced on a daily basis it can become a problem. As it turns chronic, it starts affecting general health, sleep, skin, as well as relationships.

As of last year, marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been another pandemic because of the constant coping with fear and uncertainty – that of stress and anxiety. Considering the pandemic doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for the time being, nor the measures in the likes of social distancing, lockdowns and quarantines, besides seeking professional help, establishing the right coping strategies in daily life proves to be important. Aromatherapy is one of them.

Aromatherapy as Your Pick-Me-Up

Known for its psychological and physical benefits, alternative medicine enthusiasts are slowly but surely turning aromatherapy mainstream because it’s a drug-free solution that’s been used by many civilisations for centuries. You too can easily incorporate it, given that it’s not difficult nowadays to come across certified 100% pure organic essential oils for stress and anxiety that can truly make a difference in your life.

The reason aromatherapy is so effective with changing one’s mood, promoting balance, relieving tension, and reducing stress in a short matter of time has to do with the fact the incredible aromas of the oils trigger an emotional response by stimulating the central nervous system. Moreover, when inhaled the aromas reach the lungs, and their beneficial natural occurring substances further offer therapeutic effects for one’s health and well-being.

organic essential oils

Oils Known to Tame Stress

The minute you decide to get on board with the aromatherapy trend, and start searching for oils, you’d come to realise just how extensive the range can be. While there are various options you can give a try, the following are some of the best-known choices for relaxation and stress relief:

  • Lavender is famous for its anxiolytic properties and the calming effect on the spirits;
  • Chamomile helps reduce the production of stress hormones;
  • Clary Sage promotes relaxation with its woody aroma, relieving stress and mild depression;
  • Geranium has muscle relaxing properties and assists with reducing fatigue;
  • Jasmine uplifts moods and brings comfort;
  • Bergamot invigorates your spirits, and improves negative emotions;
  • Marjoram soothes and eases the muscle tension;
  • Patchouli offers calming effects and increases energy;
  • Neroli helps put a halt to excessive worrying.

Ways to Use These Oils to Tame Stress

Great news is not only do you have a wide range of essential oils for stress and anxiety to choose from, depending on the aroma and the side benefits you’re after (e.g. antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties), but you’ve also got the flexibility with how you want to adopt aromatherapy.

bathroom oils

In the Bathroom

For instance, if you enjoy soaking in a nice warm bath relaxing your body and mind with great ingredients such as manuka honey, you could try another recipe consisting of your favourite essential oil. To make your skin absorbent, as well as reap utmost relaxing benefits, it’s recommended to add Epsom salts with three to five drops of your favourite essential oil.

Baking soda is another ingredient that comes in handy with this, so it’s not only useful for cleaning appliances at home. Speaking of which, it’s just as great for creating your own shower melts – simply mix one cup with 1/3 cup of water, add 20 drops of your chosen oils, and leave to set overnight in silicone moulds.

Now, if you’re more of a shower fan, along with investing in a better experience with the right shower head, you can enhance your shampoo or body wash with a few drops of organic certified essential oils for anxiety and stress. In case you’d like to get your DIY mode on, you can create your own DIY body wash

Same as when applying them topically with relaxing massages on different parts of your body, your main ingredient should be a carrier oil to prevent allergic skin reactions. Another way is to “carry” the oils to the shower, adding a few drops on cotton pads and placing them on the shower floor nearby, away from the direct flow, so you smell the aromas as they evaporate.

bedroom essential oils

In the Bedroom

When there’s stress, sleep is among the first aspects of your life to be impacted. As anxiety keeps your mind busy with problems, pumping cortisol in your body, it’s difficult to catch the z’s. Not being able to get shut-eye then leads to a vicious cycle of being worried of not being able to fall asleep, consequently resulting in insomnia.

You’d be able to tackle this issue effectively and get the quality sleep you crave using the help of aromatherapy. Besides applying some of the aforementioned techniques, you can bring the lovely relaxing scent of stress essential oil into your bedroom by creating your own mist.

The simple mixture of distilled water with drops of your favourite oils would prove to be perfect for refreshing the room as you prepare it for slumber, as well as for adding the soothing aromas to your bedding. Once you start applying this, your brain would create an association between a specific scent and sleep, so breathing in from the mist would immediately put you in a sleepy mode.

diffuser

In the Home in General

When using them as air fresheners, vaporisers and diffusers would assist you with dispersing the particles of the essential oils for stress and anxiety in the room. Don’t be surprised if all of a sudden you find yourself feeling like your home became your personal spa as the aromas create a calming and healing environment!

Inhalation isn’t only perfect for when you’re congested or fighting colds and the flu – it can work wonders on a day-to-day basis if you use it as a two-minute method to unwind. All you’d have to do is pick a heatproof bowl, fill it up with boiling water, add up to seven drops of your chosen oil, cover your head with a soft towel, and breathe through the nose. Lastly, the simple old-fashioned way to reap the incredible aromatherapy benefits is to just take a few deep breaths smelling directly from the bottles.

 

The nausea, the pain and the mental strain placed over the 19-year-old became too much. She sat in the hospital bathroom, holding herself close, alone yet crowded by excessive thoughts. She lifted her phone and started to record.

“This is so dreadful… this is terrible, this is something I have to do, and I know I’ll get through, it’s just, this is my life for the next four to six months,” she shares. “Day four, it sucks.”

I met up with Emili months after COVID-19’s claustrophobic isolation. The tight wrap of her arms reminded me greatly of the fragility of life. After many months of lockdown, I noticed how her hair had changed. No longer was it a thick shade of dark brown but now it waved lightly over her pale cheeks. Its reflective light brown was highlighted by her wide smile, matching her cosmically brown eyes. Her face lit up the room with a rare positivity, yet her voice was croaky – alluding to the reality of her treatments.

In 2020, 19-year-old Emili Milosevska was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin Lymphoma. Over many months of chemotherapy, Emili has won the battle against the tumour that called her lung home. Emili’s outlook on life remained positive throughout, relying on a number of tools to help restrict chemos intense blow. As the chemo progressed and the negative thoughts shrouded, Emili embraced humour to ward off their ugly heads.

Her Experience

In late 2016, a 15-year-old Emili experienced a nasty, recurring cough. It got worse, and doctors diagnosed her with asthma, but the puffers never helped rid of the asthma attacks.

“The thing is they did the scans… but they diagnosed it wrong,” Emili said.

Then last year the physical pain started. Doctors scoured for an answer, and after the years of suffering, she finally received the news that a large tumour had been discovered. After learning the news, the joy-filled Emili decided to give the tumour a name in an effort to de-emphasise the defeatist grip it would hold over her life. Rob began to press against her nerves, causing such immense affliction. The pain was overwhelming and exhausting. Rob was an unwanted foe, thus began the demanding and debilitating process of chemotherapy.

Her Resilience

The first 14 days of her first chemotherapy cycle brought many challenges. Doctors attempted to find medications that could be taken home so Emili could continue her treatments in the comfort of her abode. This process, however, was difficult. The medication caused a number of problems that Emili was not equipped to handle.

“I remember that I was hallucinating. I was sitting in bed; I couldn’t move I was so high.” Emili said.

With a hallucinating spell cast over her, she noticed a nurse who attempted to kidnap her. She cried out in horror and began to hyperventilate. The nurse, in fact, had no plan to kidnap Emili, only wishing to continue the work in which they started. In actual fact, Emili had taken medication, anxiety medication, meant to generate a calming effect. However, the opposite occurred.

As the second round of chemotherapy approached, fear tied Emili down. Memories of the first cycle and the torment 11 days spent in hospital had, ate away at her nerves. But her strength and resilience allowed her to face the wall of anxiety as she danced her way into TikTok.

@emilimilosevskaI’m so bored haha. ##foryourpage ##feauture ##fyp ##shakira ##dance ##hipsdonttlie

♬ Hips Dont Lie by Shakira – goalsounds

“You know how positive I am, how crazy, so this process was a lot easier for that, because of my mentality.”

Emili still had a long way to go, not only having to experience the dread of chemo, but she also had to endure gut-wrenching fertility treatments. The thought of children had previously occurred to Emili in passing conversations with friends. She never wanted to go through the horror that is childbirth, so she often thought of adoption. In spite of this, she still had the option to conceive a child of her own.

One night, however, whilst at a friend’s party, she found herself crying in a kitchen, isolated the crowds and absorbed in a phone call that changed everything. The treatments didn’t work, the option was no more.

What do I tell my future husband about kids, how do I bring that up?”

When speaking of this night, I saw a comfort in her eyes. The knowledge that adoption is still an option allowed positivity to take over her young mind. She sat and spoke of her future Gary and the ways in which adoption could be spoken about. Funnily enough her humour began to reveal itself during the disheartening conversation, as the name Gary did not only belong to her future imagined husband but belonged to her hospital IV pole.

Emili’s individualistic experience with chemotherapy was one of positivity and resilience. For Emili she was able to scare cancer off in only two months. She told herself that even though the road was long and coarse, cancer was not going to be the end. 

Her Family

On day four of the first cycle Emili found herself trapped, surrounded by claustrophobic dark thoughts. Split-second conceptualisations of demise began to plague her once pragmatic mind. It was bad. She asked herself, is life worth this treatment? She continued to reflect on family and close friends who became main channel of positivity and assistance throughout.

Whilst we sat eating Emili could not stop talking about the love that continues to grow for her family in which her strength stemmed.

“I feel like it’s harder for the family and friends then it is for the person… I had to go through there’s nothing you can do, but other people have to see me go through that experience.”

With the prescribed medications altering Emili’s hormones, she began to have breakdowns. The strength of her parents shone through during the most difficult of times. A Mum who helped her daughter in showers where the water became a feared enemy of long, transparent glass. When she found herself in compromised positions unable to muster up the strength, her father became her muscles.

During hospital chemotherapy sessions, her father embraced Emili’s style of dry, sarcastic humour, as he began to laugh and joke with doctors.

“Would you give her another bag (of chemo),” he asked the doctor, only to be met with a confused expression.

“Why?” the doctor replied.

“Because she won’t shut up,” he laughed.

Even when retelling the story over coffee, laughter caused Emili’s eyes filled to the brim with tears.

It goes a long way to show just how parents will act when their child is sick, craving to create a smile no matter what. Trying to provide comfort when the idea of such is hard to imagine.

Her Faith

The first cruel cycle led her to want to give up. On the fourth day of an unbearable 11 days in hospital, she sat in the bathroom crying. This became a significant factor in shaping Emili’s idea of hospital, now never wanting to go back. A breakdown was had alone. Emili’s physical and mental state ready to give up. She let it out, standing there unable to convince herself that she could do this alone. Even with the comfort provided by doctors and family, Emili turned to her faith.

 

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My Hair Journey ❤ . One of the hardest parts about this camcer journey is losing a piece of yourself. I went from being a sick person to looking like one but it made me so humbly confident in my other features that I think this was meant to happen. Not only for the hair but this whole journey, to show my strength and turn me into this confident strong person I never knew I could be. . I lived with this disease for so long and I had no idea. Get checked and not only checked, if you don’t feel right push. Because I did and they still mistreated me, till I was finally diagnosed and on the way to healthy. . My tumour has shrunk significantly so to that I say #fuckcancer and I’m going to play with my new hair while I get healthy 🤣❤. Hodgkins Lymphoma stage 4 whoo?? . #lymphoma #hodgkinlymphoma #cancer #cancersucks #hair #wigs #wig

A post shared by Emili Milosevska (@emili_milosevska) on

“I’m giving you my life God, you want to take it away, you want to use it, you want to abuse it, do whatever, but this is in your control now. I’ll be here for the ride and you do whatever you want to do.”

It wasn’t until the journey home days later where Emili sensed a change. The hardest and most draining part of the first cycle was coming to an end and a shift was felt. The pain and exhaustion began to drift slowly away as her father began to drive further from the hospital. Her life was no longer in her control.

Knowing God held her life, she sat back to await the next chapter of her story. It caused her to shift from dark thoughts and the rollercoaster of emotions began to calm. The sense of a higher power taking control over her life allowed the weight on her shoulders to decrease.

From this Emili started to sing again, play music again. She sat in the bathroom singing, not crying. From here things began to look up and as she sat in that car, reminiscing of the days in hospital, the pain that began to fade and her mood began to change.

“You did listen, you son of a gun,”

“There’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills. It puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible.” – Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist.

Gen Z were the first generation to grow up amidst social media, with the first notable site, Six Degrees, being created in 1997. Rapidly, social media has proliferated out of control, gaining popularity across the well known sites we know today. 

But what effects has this had on generations starting with Gen Z and that of which followed?

A popular documentary released on Netflix called ‘The Social Dilemma’ examines this and the damaging effect that this has had on children’s social skills. Teenagers in particular have been the primary focus and their ability to create new relationships.

“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person whose paying to manipulate those two people. So we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context with the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation.” – Jaron Lainer, founding father of Virtual Reality Computer Scientist

In America, a short survey was conducted to discuss this by The Teen Advisory Board (TAB), and they discovered:

– 75% of teens said social media negatively affected their romantic relationship

– 77% chose texting as one of the popular ways to start a relationship

– 82% said texting is one of the two ways to end a relationship.

As children engage in face-to-face communication, they are developing social skills through vocal and visual cues which brings context to the situation. These communication cues can be portrayed through eye contact, tone of voice, facial expressions and space between individuals (Knapp & Hall, 2010).

But if children are communicating solely through social media, they aren’t learning these non-verbal communication skills that are necessary to succeed in life.

It has become trendy across all social media platforms for Gen Z to joke about their social incompetencies with comments such as needing their parents to book doctor’s appointments for them because they’re afraid to talk over the phone, but to what extent is this going to affect how society will function in the future? 

“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves. That is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.” – Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and co-founder of Centre for Humane Technologies

Perhaps social media isn’t the future, but something that needs to be changed or consumed in extreme moderation.

Studies discover symptoms of depression and anxiety can be reduced through mindfulness meditation practices.

Studies at John Hopkins School of Medicine reveal a strong correlation between mindfulness meditation and its ability to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.

After reviewing research on participants in mindfulness based meditation programs, lead researcher Madhav Goyal and his team discovered effect sizes ranged between 0.22 to 0.38 for anxiety symptoms and 0.23 to 0.30 for depression symptoms.

The Journal of the American Medical Association show these small effects are comparable with what would be expected from the use of antidepressants in a primary care population but without the associated toxicities.

“In our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants,” Goyal explains.

While meditation can be dated back to ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions, this age-old practice is gaining traction from its ability to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety without the harmful side effects of prescription medication.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that mindfulness performs as well as or better than medication,”Adrian Wells professor of psychopathology at Manchester University states.

Mindfulness meditation works by establishing concentration to observe inner thoughts, feelings and emotions while focusing attention on the present moment to not be reactive or overwhelmed by what’s happening around us.

Meditation is a state of induced relaxation that focuses awareness on breathing and encouraging positive attitudes to achieve a healthy and balanced mental state.

Around one in six Australian adults now practice meditation, with the number of people who meditate worldwide rising by three times as much since 2012.

With studies revealing that mindfulness meditation can improve anything from memory in patients with Alzheimer’s to insomnia symptoms, it’s easy to see why this practice is being used by an estimated 200-500 million people around the globe.

The University of Oxford released a new study finding mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to be as effective as antidepressants in preventing a relapse of depression, further enhancing the credibility of this ancient practice.

In the study participants were randomly allocated to either the MBCT group or antidepressant group. The rate of relapse in the mindfulness group was 44%, with the rate of relapse of those on antidepressants at 47%.

Nigel Reed, participant from the study explains how mindfulness based therapy gave him life long skills to deal with depressive thoughts and episodes.

“Rather than relying on the continuing use of antidepressants, mindfulness puts me in charge, allowing me to take control of my own future, to spot when I am at risk and to make the changes I need to stay well.”

Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, psychiatrist at the Centre for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders believes it makes sense to use meditation to treat disorders such as depression and anxiety.

“People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power. They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”

“If you have unproductive worries, 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,’” Hoge explains.

While meditation can be dated back to 1500 BCE the benefits aren’t just an old wives’ tale as science and studies have repeatedly proven.

Meditation is known for changing the way the brain processes thoughts and emotions but new research by Sarah Lazar at Harvard University reveals it can also change the structure of the brain.

An eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program discovered increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus, and certain areas of the brain that regulate emotions and self-referential processing.

Decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala were also found, with this area of the brain responsible for thoughts of anxiety, fear and stress.

These changes matched the participant’s reports of stress levels, signifying that the program impacted their feelings and subjective perceptions in a positive way through meditation.

Evidence from The University of Hong Kong also confirms Lazar’s study with further evidence suggesting meditation practices have the potential to induce neuroplastic changes in the amygdala.

Participants in an awareness-based compassion meditation program were found to have significantly reduced anxiety and right amygdala activity, which may be associated with general reduction in reactivity and distress.

These significant findings explore the powerful outcomes that can result from using mindfulness meditation practices to alter the way the brain processes thoughts of anxiety and stress.

While there is no magic cure for depression or anxiety, meditation brings hopeful benefits for those not wanting to take medication long term, or those who suffer from the intolerable side effects of antidepressants.

Although many studies suggest the benefits of mindfulness for those with depression and anxiety, it is best to consult a professional to find the best treatment option for you.

 

My life with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder has placed a strain on the very relationships that once gave way to warmth. It holds me close and tight and doesn’t let go until I am left feeling the brunt of its cruelty.

I suffer from disturbing, intrusive thoughts, over which I have no control. These intrusive thoughts can be cruel, and invade my brain throughout the day. With no warning. They threaten the very foundations in which make my life bearable – friendships and relationships.

These destructive thoughts hold me back from enjoying existence. They make me question who I am.

I feel there is something wrong with me.

I have OCD.​

I know the shame that intrusive thoughts bring about. So, I understand that only one-third of the 500,000 OCD sufferers in Australia seek treatment. For a long time, I refused to discuss it with anyone, but it becomes overwhelming and too difficult to keep locked away in my brain.

OCD calls on the demons hiding in the most remote corners of my brain to come downstairs and ruin my optimistic outlook on life. They convince me that I’m a despicable human and a danger to myself and others.

I won’t discuss in detail the context of my thoughts, what I will say though is that they cause such immense grief, I often feel my stomach may very well expel from my body.

The thoughts come in tsunami-like episodes, getting worse as time moves on, leading to one of the most heartbreaking episodes of all.

It had been a long night. I had been locked away from the outside world for just over a week. One could call it a self-isolation of a brain, my brain. It had been occurring for months, years even, somewhat episodically, but this time, it was all too much. I couldn’t handle the strain my brain placed over me. I had called a few helplines who suggested going to see someone but little did they know I was already in the process of finding someone. But as it was approaching Christmas, the wait for an appointment was well over 3-4 months.

My friend and I had planned to meet up for dinner and dessert, however, my eyes, stained red from distress, gave way to crucial evidence. She had been there for me two years earlier when the thought of still being around in 2019 felt like a mere fantasy.

It wasn’t an ideal situation. I sat in my car for 15 minutes trying to calm myself down. Once I felt the air float back into my lungs, I escaped the confinements of my car and made my way to her work. The sun, in its slow process of setting, shone a light shade of pink throughout the plaza.

“Just keep looking at the sunset,” I thought to myself. “It’s going to be a new day soon and this will all be a distant and faint memory.”

When you’re about to panic or on the verge of crying, the best thing someone can do is ask “R U OK?”, but I’ve found that this causes the flood gates to burst open, leading to a tsunami of emotion. The tsunami releases all the negativity trapped inside, explosions and cascades of gasps and tears tearing through the silence of their response. This occurred that night as I waited in the empty plaza outside the department store. Waiting. Breathing. Silence.

“Hey!” she said.

“Shit,” I thought.

Her smile often brings joy and the warm fuzzies, but on this day I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming army of joyless demons crush against my chest. The infection spread from my chest to my stomach as my hands started to tremble. I let out a nasty cry and fell into her arms.

She was the first person I told my thoughts to.

Everything spilt out in a rapid eruption of words and tears. I told her of the thoughts that caved away into the deepest parts of my brain, and how I had no control over them. These thoughts, intruding around my body as if on vacation refused to withdraw.

After 30 minutes of ugly crying, my friend thought it best that we call a mental health crisis helpline. Another 30 minutes went by. My ugly crying grew stronger and my friend performed her duty as a translator, relaying information onto the mental health officers.

I was too busy attempting to breathe. By 9:30 pm we were in the hospital’s mental health ward. Unfortunately, not my first time sitting in an emergency department due to mental health complications. What felt like a 30-minute wait turned into a 6-hour wait.

A lengthy couple of months ensued. I saw several mental health officers including a psychiatrist who put my mind at ease, informing me that these thoughts weren’t me. Asking me a very important question:

“If these thoughts, in any way, represented the type of person you were, then why would they cause you so much distress?” He said. “So much distress that it caused you to question your place on this earth.”

I finally had the answers, I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It was a relief when I finally had an answer for the thoughts. These maleficent thoughts were so overwhelming that I questioned my place on this earth. And for the week leading up to that night, my brain spun into what felt like a never-ending cycle. Continuing to ask the same three questions:

Why are these thoughts in my head?

Why are they coming back with more ferocity than the last time?

Should I still be alive if I have these thoughts?

The truth is, at that time I wasn’t sure why I was having them; I didn’t realise that OCD could bring about such nasty thoughts. Thoughts that made me feel physically sick. It was as if a hand had made its way down my throat, stuck these ideas in my gut then withdrew in a hurry. Scurrying far away, leaving no evidence it was once there. It left doubt in the pit of my stomach. I asked myself – Am I this sick? Am I capable of these ideas? Is this me?

If these thoughts did in any way portray the kind of person I was, then in no way did I want them to be true. This is why that night I was in such distress. Once I was suffering from this “episode” it felt as though the thoughts would never end. With my previous episodes, I had managed to force the ideas to disappear after 2 or 3 days, but I couldn’t this time.

When I realized I had no control over them a wall of shame crashed into me. This was the moment I decided to lock myself away. Fortunately for me, I had already planned that dinner date with my friend. My stomach wanted to stay locked away, but my brain saved the day. My body activated the “Save Sarah Mode”, hoisting me up, out and into the car. On my way, I went.

Luckily for me, there are be people in my life I could and still to this day can trust. You can spill your guts to them, metaphorically that is.

Even if you feel like you are alone, stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean, someone will eventually turn up, even if they are also stuck in the middle of the ocean, maybe in a dingy. Together you will form an unbreakable bond, forced together by the wildest of fears and thoughts and anxieties that crash against you like the wild, unpredictable waves they are.

 

My friend, that night, was my lifeboat.

There is this misconception that OCD only encompasses cleaning, organising, washing hands or turning light switches on and off. Now, even though these are common compulsions, it doesn’t represent everyone who has the misfortune of living with OCD. And for me, it made it difficult to speak up about my diagnoses.

Since experiencing this terrible uncontrollable episode, I have found peace. I am now able to open up to people regarding my OCD. I am able to accept that these thoughts aren’t me. And I am not able to control some thoughts that come my way.

 

If you or anyone you know require assistance in relation to distressing thoughts and/or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.  Sanskrit Proverb

Nutrition and exercise are the first to be scrutinised when it comes to our health; yet it’s easy to overlook the importance of something that we do 25,000 times a day – breathe.

Journalist and author, James Nestor, believes we have lost the ability to breathe correctly, resulting in dire consequences for our health. He discusses this in his new book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.

After experiencing recurring pneumonia, Nestor’s doctor recommended he try a breathing class to help strengthen his lungs and calm his mind.

Nestor shares, “I’d been feeling these cracks for much of my life, and chances are you have, too: stuffy noses, snoring, some degree of wheezing, asthma, allergies, and the rest. I’d always thought they were a normal part of being human.”

Nestor was shocked to discover after his first breathing class ended, he was dripping with sweat. The following morning after a surprisingly restful sleep, he felt even better, and wondered what exactly had transpired to induce the intense reaction in his body.

Nestor wanted to learn more, so traveled the globe for answers behind the science of breathing. He first visited Greece and wrote on free diving, which led him to pour over even more research on the breath, and how it can influence longevity, weight loss and overall health.

The Breath

From there, Nestor continued to travel and interview experts, conduct research and learn about ancient breathing practices such as Pranayama and Tummo.

Nestor discovered that information concerning the breath was found in unlikely places such as dental offices and ancient burial sites, rather than in the area of Pulmonology, which specialises in emphysema, cancer or lung collapse, mostly dealing with emergencies.

Scientists discovered, since the Industrial Age, the way we breathe has deteriorated, with 90% of us breathing incorrectly, exacerbating or resulting in a catalogue of chronic disease.

Nestor describes breathing practices as a lost art. Many of these techniques are not new discoveries, but methods which have been around for hundreds and thousands of years.

Researchers have found asthma, psoriasis, attention hyperactivity deficit disorder and anxiety could be reduced or eliminated by adjusting the way we breathe.

Nestor believed this work was “upending long-held beliefs in Western medical science.”
“Breathing in different patterns really can influence our body weight and overall health,” he says.
“Yes, how we breathe really does affect the size and function of our lungs. Yes, breathing allows us to hack into our own nervous system, control our immune response, and restore our health. Yes, changing how we breathe will help us to live longer.”

The Chinese Tao dating back to 400 BCE, the Hindus, and the Buddhists, all valued breathing as a method for healing, both to lengthen life and to reach higher consciousness.

Nestor explains that regardless of age, fitness level, weight or genetic predisposition, nothing will matter unless we are breathing properly.

Mouth Breathing

Breathing is an unconscious act for most, causing this vital pillar of health to be overlooked in chronic disease.

Dr. Jayakar Nayak, a nasal and sinus surgeon from Stanford Department of Otolarynology Head and Neck Surgery Centre, conducts investigations before, during and after one of Nestor’s research endeavours.

To explore the nuances of nasal verses mouth breathing, Nestor plugs his nostrils with silicone for 10 days, only breathing through his mouth.

The results are frightening, and during the mouth-breathing portion of the experiment, Nestor experienced:

  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Lowered heart rate variability indicating his body was in a state of stress.
  • Increased pulse.
  • Decreased body temperature.
  • Decreased mental clarity.
  • Increased snoring by 4820%.
“Mouthbreathing, it turns out, changes the physical body and transforms airways, all for the worse,” Nestor says.

A 2010 study concluded, mouth-breathing throughout critical growth stages in children results in:

  • Increased inclination for clockwise rotation of the mandible.
  • Decrease in posterior facial height.
  • Irregular increase in anterior lower vertical face height.
Nestor explains that snoring isn’t normal, and that any amount of sleep apnoea comes with risks. “Dr. Christian Guillemunault, a sleep researcher at Stanford, found children who experience no apnea events at all-only heavy breathing and light snoring, or “increased respiratory effort”, could suffer from mood disorders, blood pressure derangements, learning disabilities, and more.”

Symptoms of Mouth Breathing

  • Dry mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Snoring
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Waking irritable and tired
  • Hoarseness
“Sleep apnea and snoring, asthma and ADHD, are all linked to obstruction in the mouth,” says Nestor.

Nasal Breathing

Phase Two of the experiment sees Nestor switch pathways, only breathing through his nose.

“Inhaling from the nose has the opposite effect. It forces air against all those flabby tissues at the back of the throat, making the airways wider and breathing easier. After a while, these tissues and muscles get “toned” to stay in this opened and wide position. Nasal breathing begets more nasal breathing.”

During the nasal breathing portion of his experiment, Nestor reported:

  • Blood pressure 20 points lower than its highest point.
  • Increased heart rate variability.
  • Increased energy.
  • 4000% decrease in snoring from 10 days prior.
  • Sleep apnoea became non-existent.

How does nasal breathing have so many advantages?

  • The nose becomes a filter to particles in the air.
  • Adds moisture to the air, preventing dryness.
  • Warms up air to body temperature.
  • Adds resistance to the air stream, maintaining lung elasticity and increasing oxygen uptake.

While breathing is an unconscious act and a body function we rely on, its significance can easily be overlooked.

As Nestor states: “Everything you or I or any other breathing thing has ever put in its mouth, or in its nose, or soaked in through its skin, is hand-me-down space dust that’s been around for 13.8 billion years.”
“This wayward matter has been split apart by sunlight, spread throughout the universe, and come back together again.
“To breathe is to absorb ourselves in what surrounds us, to take in little bits of life, understand them, and give pieces of ourselves back out. Respiration is, at its core, reciprocation.”

With one in four Australian women on the oral contraceptive pill, few are aware of the link between the pill and mental health conditions.

With more than 100 million women worldwide and one in four Australian women taking oral contraceptive pills, new research is showing a strong link between the pill and mental health decline.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have conducted a study examining the brains of women taking oral contraceptives.

Research found that women taking the pill had a significantly smaller hypothalamus volume compared to those who weren’t taking this form of birth control.

The hypothalamus is a small region of the brain located near the pituitary gland responsible for producing hormones and regulating essential bodily functions such as moods.

Dr. Michael Lipton, head of the study, concluded that a smaller hypothalamic volume was also associated with greater anger and showed a strong correlation with depressive symptoms.

Depression affects twice as many women as men and it’s estimated one in four Australian women will experience depression in their lifetime.

Since the 1960’s, this tiny hormone-packed tablet has been treated as a miracle pill admired by women who now have the power to plan their periods and pregnancies.

With depression being one of the most predominant and devastating mental health issues in Australia, the prized benefits of the pill no longer outweigh the newly discovered evil it can create.

So what exactly is the pill?

The oral contraceptive pill is a tablet taken daily that contains both estrogen and progesterone hormones. It works by stopping the ovaries from producing an egg each month, preventing it from being fertilised.

The pill is used for many different reasons including; pregnancy prevention, improving acne, making periods lighter and more regular, skipping periods and improving symptoms of endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

While the pill has many benefits for women, research suggests that it can be linked to causing mental health issues, a detrimental side effect that doctors aren’t telling patients.

Evidence from a large Danish study on links between oral contraceptives and low mood rings alarm bells as 23% of women on the pill are more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant compared to those who aren’t.

The study also found that depression was diagnosed at a 70% higher rate amongst 15 to 19 year olds taking the pill and women between the ages of 15 and 33 are three times more likely to die by suicide if they have taken hormonal birth control.

Medical practitioners are quick to point out the less harmful physical side effects of taking oral contraceptives, yet seem to fail to mention the psychological damage it can trigger to a women’s mental health.

The praised pill has seen doctors handing it out like candy on Halloween to every women complaining of cramps, blemished skin or wanting an ‘easier’ option for birth control.

While medication should only be prescribed when medically necessary to patients, the pill is being prescribed routinely and by default from doctors.

So why are the mental health side effects of oral contraceptives being hidden from unsuspecting patients who are being prescribed them?

Dr. John Littell, a family physician, explains that the side effects of the pill are not often told to patients as they are seen as not important.

“Physicians in training during the past thirty years or so have been taught to find any reason to put women on some form of contraception without mentioning the possible risks associated with these methods.”

This is alarming news as Dr. Littell also mentions that when talking about the side effects, doctors are trained to see them as less of a concern than the overarching “problem” of pregnancy.

“The pill is often prescribed without any sense of hesitation from the prescribing physician, stating risks are viewed as less important than encouraging the woman to take it,” Dr. Littell explains.

Many women are now breaking free from the synthetic hormone cocktail being put into their body daily that is mixing with their emotions.

With research telling us what the doctors won’t, it’s no surprise why the most common reason women now change or stop taking the pill is because of mental health side effects.

Articles written by women titled “Why I’ll never take the pill again” and “My nightmare on the pill” explore firsthand the impact this pill has on women and the decline of their mental state.

Psychologist Sarah E. Hill suggests that almost half of those who go on the pill stop taking it within the first year due to intolerable side effects, with the main one reported being unpleasant changes in mood.

“Sometimes it’s intolerable anxiety, other times it’s intolerable depression, or maybe both simultaneously,”

“Even though some women’s doctors may tell them that those mood changes aren’t real or important, a growing body of research suggests otherwise,” Hill states.

Digital media brand The Debrief has launched an investigation linking mental health to the pill, surveying 1,022 readers between the ages of 18 and 30.

93% of women surveyed were on the pill or had previously taken it and of these women, 58% believe that the pill had a negative impact on their mental health.

45% of women experienced anxiety and 45% experienced depression while taking oral contraceptives.

43% of these women sought medical advice about their mental health, and over half the women believed that doctors did not take their concerns seriously.

With studies revealing the truth and doctors trying to hide it, the alarming facts point to a deadly pill polluting the brains of innocent, unsuspecting women.

While the oral contraceptive pill still remains the most popular and accessible form of birth control in Australia, it should be taken with caution and use should be monitored daily to prevent the occurrence of harmful side effects.

 

With one in four Australians living alone, isolation proves at odds with our primal need to come together. Lack of physical contact combined with unknowingness is a recipe for anxiety. New York Times bestselling author Sarah Wilson (I Quit Sugar and First We Make the Beast Beautiful) recommends certainty anchors as a solution.

During the pandemic, Sarah blogged The Anxiety – and danger – of isolation when you live alone, describing the aftermath of lockdown as a “humanitarian time bomb”. Exacerbated by isolation and the most commonly used phrase of 2020 “social distancing”, who knew our living situation during the pandemic was conducive with catastrophe.

“With a crisis, what happens is traditionally we are programmed to come together,” says Sarah, with “biological cues” such as physical touch and eye contact needed to neutralise the nervous system.

The trouble is, with a pandemic comes the enforcement of isolation – isolate the people to isolate the virus, seems sensible right? But at what cost has this had on our solo dwellers?

“It’s like with everything with COVID, it’s the big revealer, everything’s come out from under the rug,” says Sarah. If you’re in a bad relationship or your children are having issues, or for those of us already dealing with anxiety, all of a sudden COVID’s “put it right in your face!”

Sarah shares how important living in a “connected world” is for a solo dweller, how crucial it is to connect to her community outside of her residence. With isolation wiping contact and severing connection on an emotional as well as physical level, it’s a “humanitarian time bomb,” explains Sarah, “because single people and solo dwellers have been prevented from “biologically solving the pain.”

Even as restrictions ease, the effects are still felt by those suffering with anxiety. Sarah’s sense of belonging to her community comes from restaurants, gyms and swimming pools, which are yet to return to normal operations, so the wait and uncertainty continues.

Those of us who suffer from anxiety know just how unhelpful uncertainty can be. Sarah explains how the same part of the brain that navigates decision-making controls anxiety; so when you overtax decision making, you get anxious.

Putting in place “certainty anchors” such as not overcomplicating breakfast, sticking to exercise and routinising your day is the best way to deal with uncertainty and the anxiety which proceeds.

The same rule applies for supporting an anxious friend or relative; relieving them of the burden of making decisions can be as simple as, “I’m coming over with Thai curry, we’re going to watch X, Y or Z on Netflix and I’ll leave you to go to bed by 9:30pm,” Sarah advises.

If you have an anxious employee or colleague Sarah suggests asking “what are the two or three options you’ve been exploring? From what you’ve just said, option B sounds best,” that frees them up from having to overtax the anxious part of their brain.

Can there a silver lining amidst the COVID-cloud? For Sarah who has always needed to be out in the world to feel safe has turned inwards to find additional strength, “it has actually got me pretty resilient and warrior-like,” Sarah admits.

Another silver lining to add to our isolation-handbook is our mindful conversations. Sarah notes, “instead of the hurried call while running to the mall before picking up your kid from soccer on the other side of town, people are actually finding the time to sit, not be distracted, and have a proper conversation.” A five-minute mindful conversation is far more valuable than a one-hour distracted conversation as Sarah’s uncovered “people have actually gone deeper,” thanks to confinement creating an “enforced state of mindfulness.”

From mindful conversations to moving towards being in a more permanent mindful state, Sarah talks about the importance of toning down our wants – and our busy lifestyle – when life returns to normal. Being able to scale down our needs, structure our routine and create certainty anchors is key in managing anxiety and returning to post-COVID normality intact, mentally.

The Resilience Project holds speaking events and is a curriculum that is aimed at using gratitude, empathy and mindfulness to fight mental illness, with the program implemented in hundreds of schools Australia wide.

“If this book wasn’t written, my sister and I would have never actually sat down and had a conversation about our relationship,” says Hugh Van Cuylenburg, creator of The Resilience Project.

At three years of age, Georgia Van Cuylenburg had been playing alongside her brother, Hugh, when a man picked her up, took her out of sight, and sexually assaulted her.
Her innocence of childhood taken in one fell swoop, and a wound that bleed into many facets of her life for decades, was brought to life. This trauma explaining why the darkness of anorexia had chosen her as it’s host, stripping her down to skin and bones.
“I remembered it happening and when my sister told us as a family I went ‘oh right really’ I didn’t even say I remembered it, she continued to feel alone through that trauma, we never talked about it,” says her brother, Hugh.
Hugh was inspired to create The Resilience Project and write The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude empathy & mindfulness.   
During his time researching his book, Hugh read a lot about vulnerability and shame. “Shame is what locks us up, and really makes it hard for us to be happy and feel well.”
“My shame lied in my relationship with my sister,” said Hugh.
As Hugh showed his family the first copies of his book, he eagerly awaited their opinions and critiques. Georgia was devastated at what her brother had written about her. “She said, ‘when am I going to get that vulnerable side of you?.'”

For Hugh, his book became much more than helping millions of Australians who struggle with mental illness, it became a tool for healing his broken relationship with his sister, a shame he had carried for many years.

Hugh changed his book last minute and worked on his relationship with his sister, deciding that his novel was to focus on human connection and the people that have moved him.
Today mental illness has become an epidemic, taking our youth one by one – an insidious disease that has crept into our society and been given the freedom to flourish, due to stigma, lack of resources and communication. Even today mental illness is not treated the same way that other life threatening illnesses are.
Mental illness is very common in Australia, with one in five Australians experiencing mental illness in a year, meaning that 20 per cent of the population is battling a disease that their family, partner and employer cannot see and might not even believe.

Further statistics show indicates that 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental illness at some stage in their life.

In 2008, educator Hugh had been teaching young teens in Melbourne when his then girlfriend asked him to accompany her on a trip to India. In India, Hugh taught at an under-privileged school in the Himalayan desert area and with approximately 150 children enrolled, his job was to teach English.
As he began to know his students better, many of whom were living in extreme poverty, Hugh became inspired by his student’s happiness, gratitude and lack of mental health issues that had become so prevalent in the Australian schools where Hugh taught. Returning to Australia, Hugh took with him the local children’s insights, practices and wisdom, and he slowly created The Resilience Project.
The Resilience Project began as a talk that outlined Hugh’s research and experiences with mental illness. Today, it is a school program and curriculum that reaches schools, sporting clubs and workplaces all over Australia and now New Zealand.
In The Resilience Project curriculum and speaking events, Hugh explains how incorporating gratitude, empathy and mindfulness (shortened to GEM in his book) can prevent mental illness and provide happiness.
As many parents know, the most influential years of a person’s life is their childhood,with studies showing that 50 per cent of all mental health conditions a person experiences in their life will have started by age 14.

During his time in India, Hugh noticed how the children were very grateful to be at school and practiced mindfulness every morning before their classes began, incorporating all this into his program for schools and youth, with the feedback having been phenomenally positive so far.
After years of implementing this program, Hugh wrote The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude empathy & mindfulness,releasing the book in November 2019.
Since the book’s release Hugh has had an influx of positive feedback, and is still as humble as ever; with a warm energy and healing nature, it is easy to see why thousands flock to hear him speak and line up afterwards, telling Hugh their troubles and how his words have helped them to heal.
“We have had incredible feedback, I just saw this morning that it is Number One on audio books, which I can’t believe.”
“I’ve had a few really beautiful personal messages from people.”
Hugh recalls one recent message he’d received from a reader who had been feeling suicidal and after reading the book felt so grateful and positive about his life, telling Hugh how his words had saved his life.

“Honestly if he is the only person that reads this book and that’s the only feedback I get, that’s a worthwhile six months writing,” Hugh says.

On a mission to promote gratitude, empathy and mindfulness, Hugh tackles the tricky topic of social media and parenting in his book, describing the rise of social media as only showing ‘the greatest hits’ of life, and how damaging this can be for young minds.
The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude empathy & mindfulness includes a lot of tips and ideas for parents, who have found themselves with children inundated with technology and social media that teaches them validation is found through a screen.

“The best way to help your kids is to start modelling better behaviour, you can’t say to your kids ‘stop being on your phone all the time’ then turn around and check your emails,” he says.

The book is full of strategies to help parents put their phone down with one of the easiest to grasp, yet hardest to implement, simply being to leave their phone at home.
Hugh states that this simple task can leave us more focused on others around us, increasing feelings of connection and togetherness, which are two big ways to fight loneliness and mental illness in this increasingly busy and digital world.
Hugh believes that the less a child is on a device the more aware they are to their surroundings and community, leaving more time to be grateful for the society we are lucky enough to have in Australia.
As for fostering GEM into daily life, Hugh says it’s all down to practice and implementing these small practises into your families every day.
For mindfulness, Hugh suggests going for a walk around the block and focusing on what you can hear, an exercise parents can easily make into family time. Hugh also suggests at the dinner table to reflect on the good in each family member’s day and to share what they are grateful for and looking forward to.
“Look out for opportunities to be kind to people, you watch how happy that makes you and if you do it in front of your kids, that’s the most powerful thing of all,” says Hugh.
“You will have an enormous impact on them because they’ll start to copy you, they will start to be someone who is kind to other people.”

Does a woman of privilege and power ever have the right to complain?

 

The world has growing consciousness over the difficulties mental health presents, and yet, it appears there is still progress to be made before everyone is permitted to speak up and say how they truly feel.

Meghan Markle was at the centre of a social media storm following the controversial documentary ‘Harry & Meghan: An African Journey.’

Many were outraged, remarking the Duchess was audacious in complaining about her privileged position within the British Royal Family, while on a tour of Africa, around those who are, arguably, some of the world’s poorest.

In contrast, many were impressed with Meghan’s honesty and for highlighting the fact many new parents find it difficult to cope even with a privileged social and financial position.

Some felt this statement was ill timed, given their documentary was to highlight their tour of Africa; however Meghan raises an important point of discussion: regardless of a person’s socio-economic background, hormonal ups and downs caused by pregnancy and life with a newborn can impact on a person’s mental health. Once the initial euphoria subsides, overwhelming emotions can be hard, for anyone, to process.

Statistics for anxiety and depression in parents are alarmingly high, with up to 1 in 10 women experiencing antenatal anxiety and depression and more than 1 in 7 experiencing postnatal depression, as reported by PANDA.

 

Men do not escape unharmed from the effects of pregnancy either, with research from PANDA stating 1 in 20 men will experience antenatal anxiety and depression and up to 1 in 10 new dads are likely to experience postnatal depression.

Having a new baby creates multiple changes, many of which are overwhelming: concern about parenting ‘correctly’; the sleep deprivation; breastfeeding challenges; hormonal changes; relationship changes; financial strain and career concerns, all come into play.

Some assume Meghan has no rights to complain. For instance, she has no money worries, appears to be in a happy, devoted marriage and has a large team of staff supporting her within the prestigious British Royal Family, how can she be struggling?

However, Meghan is talking about mental health, which we are continually reminded, does not discriminate. Mental health affects our favourite movie stars, singers, TV personalities and athletes.

It is easy to assume those in privileged positions are vaccinated against any form of sadness, anxiety or depression. But in reality, could it be the assumption they are coping, which ignites their predisposition to mental health struggles?

 

Whether you love or loathe the Duchess of Sussex, she raises an important point about the internal damage that can be caused by keeping quiet about the state of your mental health.

In conclusion, asking someone if they are ok is a question everyone should be asked. It is a question that could potentially lead to that person asking for the help they desperately need.

If you or someone you know is struggling please reach out, speak to your medical professional or seek support from organisations, such as Beyond Blue and PANDA.