Saturday, July 17, 2010
Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.
Scientists now hope to explore the neurological underpinnings at play, especially considering the explosion of blogs. According to Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, the placebo theory of suffering is one window through which to view blogging. As social creatures, humans have a range of pain-related behaviors, such as complaining, which acts as a “placebo for getting satisfied,” Flaherty says. Blogging about stressful experiences might work similarly.
Flaherty, who studies conditions such as hypergraphia (an uncontrollable urge to write) and writer’s block, also looks to disease models to explain the drive behind this mode of communication. For example, people with mania often talk too much. “We believe something in the brain’s limbic system is boosting their desire to communicate,” Flaherty explains. Located mainly in the midbrain, the limbic system controls our drives, whether they are related to food, sex, appetite, or problem solving. “You know that drives are involved [in blogging] because a lot of people do it compulsively,” Flaherty notes. Also, blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running and looking at art.
The frontal and temporal lobes, which govern speech—no dedicated writing center is hardwired in the brain—may also figure in. For example, lesions in Wernicke’s area, located in the left temporal lobe, result in excessive speech and loss of language comprehension. People with Wernicke’s aphasia speak in gibberish and often write constantly. In light of these traits, Flaherty speculates that some activity in this area could foster the urge to blog.
Scientists’ understanding about the neurobiology underlying therapeutic writing must remain speculative for now. Attempts to image the brain before and after writing have yielded minimal information because the active regions are located so deep inside. Recent functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown that the brain lights up differently before, during and after writing, notes James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin. But Pennebaker and others remain skeptical about the value of such images because they are hard to duplicate and quantify.
Most likely, writing activates a cluster of neurological pathways, and several researchers are committed to uncovering them. At the University of Arizona, psychologist and neuroscientist Richard Lane hopes to make brain-imaging techniques more relevant by using those techniques to study the neuroanatomy of emotions and their expressions. Nancy Morgan, lead author of the Oncologist study, is looking to conduct larger community-based and clinical trials of expressive writing. And Pennebaker is continuing to investigate the link between expressive writing and biological changes, such as improved sleep, that are integral to health. “I think the sleep angle is one of the more promising ones,” he says.
Whatever the underlying causes may be, people coping with cancer diagnoses and other serious conditions are increasingly seeking—and finding—solace in the blogosphere. “Blogging undoubtedly affords similar benefits” to expressive writing, says Morgan, who wants to incorporate writing programs into supportive care for cancer patients.
Some hospitals have started hosting patient-authored blogs on their Web sites as clinicians begin to recognize the therapeutic value. Unlike a bedside journal, blogging offers the added benefit of receptive readers in similar situations, Morgan explains: “Individuals are connecting to one another and witnessing each other’s expressions—the basis for forming a community.”
This article was originally printed with the title, "The Healthy Type".
Source: Written by Jessica Wapner for Scientific American Magazine, June 2008 issue.
Posted by Johana Johari at 7:36 AM
There is nothing that feels much worse sometimes than being lonely and depressed at the same time. Usually, loneliness tends to facilitate depression, although it's a fact that many people who are mild to moderately depressed tend to isolate themselves from others creating their own lonely situation. Sometimes it's hard to know which feeling causes the other, but there are some simple, practical steps that you can take to help you deal with some of the issues of loneliness and depression.
If you are not seriously clinically depressed, in which case you should see a doctor for help, you can make a few adjustments in your life which can help you tremendously. The most important thing is to give yourself something to look forward to that is stable and reassuring during this time of feeling lonely and depressed. One of the best ways to do that is to make a predictable schedule in your life for a whole month. Sometimes scheduling your life around some personal positives within a set amount of time can really add a lift to your life and help with the negative feelings you are experiencing. Here's where to start:
Establish a Sleep Pattern
Make a choice to go to bed before midnight every night for a whole month - Did you know that every hour of sleep before midnight is worth 2 hours of sleep after midnight? Try to establish a routine for your body by going to bed the same time and getting out of bed the same time every day, whether you feel like it or not. This will help your body and mind adjust to a positive cycle of rest and sleep.
Eat at least two well balanced meals a day. Even though you may eat three meals a day, make sure that two of the three are nutritionally well balanced. Breakfast and one other meal are generally the most important to receive necessary nutrients.
Add an exercise routine to your week - Even if you've never exercised before in your life, start now! If it's just a simple 30 minute walk around the block, or at the local high school track or at the indoor mall, do it at least 4 times every week. Walk more if you feel like it.
Quit Thinking of Only Yourself
Do one random act of kindness for someone each day - Think of someone other than yourself every single day! Maybe your coworker needs some help, or maybe an elderly person needs a lift to the grocery store or perhaps your neighbor is ill and needs a dinner meal. Send a card, say "Good job!" or pat someone on the back for change. Do something, however small, that encourages someone else. At the end of the month, you will have gifted others with 30 acts of random kindness!
Start a Hobby
Choose a hobby to engage in throughout the whole month - Even if you don't really do anything, choose something. Maybe you'd like to learn Spanish or gardening. Perhaps you'd like to bowl or learn calligraphy. Take a class or join a group or join the gym. It really doesn't matter, but find something that interests you and become involved in it at least once a week for a month.
Have Dinner with Someone
Ask one person out to eat with you at least once a week - Whether it's family, a friend, a coworker or a casual acquaintance with whom you've never taken the time to get to know, ask them to eat lunch or dinner with you. This alone can help you if you're lonely and depressed.
Make these simple choices at the start of 30 days and don't deter from them. Even if you are lonely and depressed, don't allow yourself to be passive. It's only for 30 days! You will be surprised at how you feel at the end of a month of changes in your life. You will benefit from feeling better, looking better and maybe even helping someone else in the process. Many times, by helping others, we are helping ourselves!
- Bryan Sims writes about various topics including health issues and product information for the online audience. Find information about the newest website at http://www.wallmountforlcdtv.net/ which helps people find super saver deals on a wall mount for lcd tv and more information about various types of wall mounts for televisions.
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Posted by Johana Johari at 7:28 AM