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
In obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a person is troubled by intrusive, distressing thoughts (obsessions) and feels the pressure to carry out repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
Neuroscientists believe that the brain pathways involved with judgment, planning and body movement are altered in OCD. Environmental influences, such as family relationships or stressful events, can trigger or worsen OCD symptoms.
OCD affects an estimated 2% to 3% of people in the United States. The percentage is about the same in Canada, Korea, New Zealand and parts of Europe. About two-thirds of people with OCD have the first symptoms before they are 25 years old. Only 15% develop their first symptoms after age 35. There is strong evidence that the illness has a genetic (inherited) basis, since about 35% of people with OCD have a close relative who also has the condition. Although 50% to 70% of patients first develop OCD after a stressful life event – such as a pregnancy, a job loss or a death in the family – experts still do not understand exactly how stress triggers the symptoms of this illness.
Sometimes people with OCD manage their obsessions without giving any external sign that they are suffering. Usually, however, they try to relieve their obsessions by performing some type of compulsion: a repeated ritual that is aimed at soothing their fears. For example, a woman who has the obsession that her hands are dirty may develop the compulsion to wash them 50 times a day. A man who fears that his front door is unlocked may feel compelled to check the lock 10 or 20 times each night.
In post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), distressing symptoms occur after a frightening incident. For the most part, a person with this disorder must have experienced the event him or herself, or witnessed the event in person. The person may also have learned about violence to a close loved one. The event must have involved serious physical injury or the threat of serious injury or death.
Exposure to violence through media (news reports or electronic images) is usually not considered a traumatic incident for the purposes of this diagnosis, unless it is part of a person's work (for example, police officers or first responders to a violent event).
Some examples of traumas include:
Military combat (PTSD was first diagnosed in soldiers and was known as shell shock or war neurosis)
Serious motor vehicle accidents, plane crashes and boating accidents
Natural disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions)
Robberies, muggings and shootings
Rape, incest and child abuse
Hostage-taking and kidnappings
Imprisonment in a concentration camp
In the United States, physical assault and rape are the most common stressors causing PTSD in women, and military combat is the most common PTSD stressor in men.
Stress of this severity does not automatically cause PTSD. In fact, most people who are exposed to terrible trauma do not develop this particular illness. The severity of the stressor does not necessarily match the severity of symptoms. Responses to trauma vary widely. Many people develop mental disorders other than PTSD.
Acute Stress Disorder is the term used when symptoms develop within the first month after a traumatic event. The term PTSD with delayed onset (or delayed expression) is used when symptoms surface six months or more after the traumatic event.
It is not clear what makes some people more likely to develop PTSD. Certain people may have a higher risk of PTSD because of a genetic (inherited) predisposition toward a more intense reaction to stress. Another way to put this is that some people have greater inborn resilience in response to trauma. A person's personality or temperament may affect the outcome after a trauma. Lifetime experience of other traumas (especially in childhood) and current social support (having loving and concerned friends and relatives) also may influence whether or not a person develops symptoms of PTSD.
People with PTSD are more likely to have a personality disorder. They also are more likely to have depression and to abuse substances.
Up to 3% or so of all people in the United States have full-fledged PTSD in any given year. Up to 10% of women and 5% of men have PTSD at some point in their lifetime. Although PTSD can develop at any time in life, the disorder occurs more frequently in young adults than in any other group. This may be because young adults are more frequently exposed to the types of traumas that can cause PTSD. The risk of developing PTSD is also higher than average in people who are poor, unmarried or socially isolated, perhaps because they have fewer supports and resources helping them to cope.
A person with somatization disorder is chronically preoccupied with numerous "somatic" (physical) symptoms over many years. These symptoms, however, cannot be explained fully by a non-psychiatric diagnosis. Nonetheless, the symptoms cause significant distress or impair the person's ability to function.
The person is not "faking." Somatization disorder is a medical problem. The disorder, however, is probably related to brain functioning or emotional regulation rather than the area of the body that has become the focus of the patient's attention. The symptoms are real and are not under the person's conscious control.
People with somatization disorder report multiple medical problems over many years, involving several different areas of the body. For example, the same person might have back pain, headaches, chest discomfort, and stomach or urinary distress. Women often report irregular periods. Men may report erectile dysfunction (impotence). The person may:
Describe symptoms in dramatic and emotional terms
Seek care from more than one physician at the same time
Describe symptoms in vague terms
Lack signs of defined medical illness
Have complaints that medical tests fail to support
People with somatization disorder do get diagnosable medical illnesses, too, so doctors must be careful not to dismiss symptoms too easily.
A person with somatization disorder also may have symptoms of anxiety and depression. He or she may begin to feel hopeless and attempt suicide, or may have trouble adapting to the stresses of life. The person may abuse alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications.
Spouses and other family members may become distressed because the person's symptoms continue for long periods of time and no medical treatment seems to help.
Symptoms of somatization disorder vary by culture, sometimes depending on how illness or "sick roles" are viewed in a given culture. Cultural factors also affect the proportions of men and women with the disorder.
Female relatives of people with somatization disorder are more likely to develop the disorder. Male relatives are more likely to develop alcoholism and personality disorder.
Scientists do not know the cause of the symptoms reported by people with somatization disorder, but researchers have some theories. It is possible, for example, that people with this disorder perceive bodily sensations in an unusual way. Or they may describe feelings in physical (rather than mental or emotional) terms. Trauma or stress may cause a person's physical sensations to change.
Biofeedback tries to teach you to control automatic body functions such as heart rate, muscle tension, breathing, perspiration, skin temperature, blood pressure and even brain waves. By learning to control these functions, you may be able to improve your medical condition, relieve chronic pain, reduce stress, or improve your physical or mental performance (sometimes called peak performance training).
During biofeedback training, sensors attached to your body detect changes in your pulse, skin temperature, muscle tone, brain-wave pattern or some other physiological function. These changes trigger a signal a sound, a flashing light, a change in pattern on a video screen that tells you that the physiological change has occurred. Gradually, with the help of your biofeedback therapist, you can learn to alter the signal by taking conscious control of your body's automatic body functions.