Mind & Mood

Your mood and your mental health affect every aspect of your life, from how you feel about yourself to your relationships with others and your physical health. There's a strong link between good mental health and good physical health, and vice versa. In the other direction, depression and other mental health issues can contribute to digestive disorders, trouble sleeping, lack of energy, heart disease, and other health issues.

There are many ways to keep your mind and mood in optimal shape. Exercise, healthy eating, and stress reduction techniques like meditation or mindfulness can keep your brain — and your body — in tip-top shape.

When mood and mental health slip, doing something about it as early as possible can keep the change from getting worse or becoming permanent. Treating conditions like depression and anxiety improve quality of life. Learning to manage stress makes for more satisfying and productive days.

Mind & Mood Articles

The adolescent brain: Beyond raging hormones

Originally published in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, July 2005 In every generation, it seems, the same lament goes forth from the parents of adolescents: "What's the matter with kids today?" Why are they so often confused, annoying, demanding, moody, defiant, reckless? Accidental deaths, homicides, and binge drinking spike in the teenage years. It's the time of life when psychosis, eating disorders, and addictions are most likely to take hold. Surveys show that everyday unhappiness also reaches its peak in late adolescence. Plenty of explanations for teenage turmoil are available. Adolescents need to assert their independence and explore their limits, taking risks, breaking rules, and rebelling against their parents while still relying on them for support and protection. ("What's the matter with the older generation?") They have to cope with disconcerting new sexual impulses and romantic feelings. Cultural change heightens incompatibility between the generations. Now scientific research is suggesting a new reason for the clashes between teenagers and their environment. Unsettled moods and unsettling behavior may be rooted in uneven brain development. More »

Relaxation tips

It’s nearly impossible to avoid all sources of stress in your life. While you can’t change the world around you, you can try to change your reactions. Learning the relaxation response — which is the opposite of the stress response — can help create a sense of peace and balance. The relaxation response is a physiologic shift that puts the brakes on stress before it becomes overwhelming. You can elicit this response by practicing techniques such as deep breathing, progressive relaxation, visualization, and meditation. (Locked) More »

Pain, anxiety, and depression

Everyone experiences pain at some point, but in people with depression or anxiety, pain can become particularly intense and hard to treat. People suffering from depression, for example, tend to experience more severe and long-lasting pain than other people. The overlap of anxiety, depression, and pain is particularly evident in chronic and sometimes disabling pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, low back pain, headaches, and nerve pain. For example, about two-thirds of patients with irritable bowel syndrome who are referred for follow-up care have symptoms of psychological distress, most often anxiety. About 65% of patients seeking help for depression also report at least one type of pain symptom. Psychiatric disorders not only contribute to pain intensity but also to increased risk of disability. Researchers once thought the reciprocal relationship between pain, anxiety, and depression resulted mainly from psychological rather than biological factors. Chronic pain is depressing, and likewise major depression may feel physically painful. But as researchers have learned more about how the brain works, and how the nervous system interacts with other parts of the body, they have discovered that pain shares some biological mechanisms with anxiety and depression. More »

Medical marijuana and the mind

The movement to legalize marijuana for medical use in the United States has renewed discussion about how this drug affects the brain, and whether it might be useful in treating psychiatric disorders. Unfortunately, most of the research on marijuana is based on people who smoked the drug for recreational rather than medical purposes. A review by researchers in Canada (where medical marijuana is legal) identified only 31 studies (23 randomized controlled trials and eight observational studies) specifically focused on medical benefits of the drug. A separate review by the American Medical Association (AMA) also concluded that the research base remains sparse. This was one reason that the AMA urged the federal government to reconsider its classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance (prohibiting both medical and recreational use), so that researchers could more easily conduct clinical trials. Consensus exists that marijuana may be helpful in treating certain carefully defined medical conditions. In its comprehensive 1999 review, for example, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that marijuana may be modestly effective for pain relief (particularly nerve pain), appetite stimulation for people with AIDS wasting syndrome, and control of chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting. Given the availability of FDA-approved medications for these conditions, however, the IOM advised that marijuana be considered as a treatment only when patients don't get enough relief from currently available drugs. Additional research since then has confirmed the IOM's core findings and recommendations. Although anecdotal reports abound, few randomized controlled studies support the use of medical marijuana for psychiatric conditions. The meager evidence for benefits must be weighed against the much better documented risks, particularly for young people who use marijuana. More »

Left behind after suicide

Those left behind after the suicide of a family member or friend struggle with a particularly difficult grief. Support groups, individual counseling, and online assistance may make the process easier to handle. More »

What causes depression?

It's often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance, but that figure of speech doesn't capture how complex the disease is. Research suggests that depression doesn't spring from simply having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Rather, there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It's believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression. To be sure, chemicals are involved in this process, but it is not a simple matter of one chemical being too low and another too high. Rather, many chemicals are involved, working both inside and outside nerve cells. There are millions, even billions, of chemical reactions that make up the dynamic system that is responsible for your mood, perceptions, and how you experience life. More »