Mental Health

The missing rewards that motivate healthy lifestyle changes

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

Ask anyone who’s ever tried to make a healthy change — after a while, the motivation to keep at it just stops. Indeed, it can be incredibly hard to break old habits, or make new ones. But research has revealed that there are actually two different types of rewards in the brain — and that focusing on the less commonly pursued of the two can help you make lasting changes.

Is addiction a “brain disease”?

Michael Bierer, MD
Michael Bierer, MD, Contributor

A look into the “brain science” behind substance use disorders highlights the fact that for many people with addictions, “just say no” just doesn’t work. The biological underpinnings of addiction teach the brain to react unusually strongly if deprived of drugs, which can make recovering from an addiction incredibly difficult. Fortunately, it’s possible to teach the brain to rediscover healthier sources of joy and reward.

Decline in dementia rate offers “cautious hope”

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Last year, the Alzheimer’s Association predicted that rates of dementia would continue to rise. However, a report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that rates of dementia have actually dropped steadily over the past three decades. Whether the drop in rates applies to everyone, and whether it will continue, remain to be seen. But the evidence also confirms that there’s quite a lot you can do to lower your dementia risk.

New depression screening guidelines benefit pregnant women and new moms–and everyone

Hope Ricciotti, MD
Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recently updated their guidelines on depression screening to include pregnant and postpartum women, which will be a great help to the many new moms who experience mood changes that go beyond the “baby blues.” The updated guidelines offer other benefits, too, that help improve everyone’s access to mental health care — especially those who can’t currently afford it.

Neuroscience can help you live a healthier life

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

Even when we’re determined to make healthy changes for the better, our brains can sometimes undermine us. But there are three things we can do — namely, decreasing stress, making our goals a priority, and being more specific — that will help our brains avoid old habits and make a positive change.

Managing worry in generalized anxiety disorder

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

For people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), worrying actually has a protective benefit: if they worry all the time, they don’t have to experience a sudden outpouring of negative emotion when something bad really does happen. Fortunately, people with GAD — and all the other “worriers” out there — can retrain their brain to accept the worry and then look past it.

New depression screening guidelines outline very helpful, yet achievable goals

Michael Craig Miller, M.D.
Michael Craig Miller, M.D., Senior Editor, Mental Health Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently updated their guidelines on screening for depression. This time around, they recommended widespread screening through primary care practices, plus gave special attention to women who are pregnant or recently gave birth. These matter-of-fact, achievable guidelines and goals have the potential to reap enormous health benefits.

The truth about altruism

Michael Craig Miller, M.D.
Michael Craig Miller, M.D., Senior Editor, Mental Health Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

Many people believe that the human tendency to want to act for the greater good is rooted in kindness. But research suggests that altruism may have evolved alongside the impulse to condemn and even chasten those put self-interests first.

Yoga in pregnancy: Many poses are safer than once thought

Marlynn Wei, MD, JD
Marlynn Wei, MD, JD, Contributing Editor

Yoga can help relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress, all of which are common during pregnancy. A new study shows that many yoga poses are safe for mothers-to-be and their babies. However, pregnant women should take certain precautions when doing yoga — for example, avoiding heated yoga classes and being careful not to over-stretch. It’s also important for pregnant women to check with their doctors to be sure there are no underlying health concerns before starting yoga.

Teaching gratitude this holiday season – and all year long

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Whether this time of year brings gift-giving rituals in your household or not, it’s a good reminder to practice the “skill” of gratitude. Even young children can learn to focus on what they have instead of what they lack. Practicing gratitude is more than a social grace. Research suggests it can help your child build resilience and it is associated with greater happiness in life. Dr. Claire McCarthy shares her tips for helping your child cultivate the skill of gratitude.