Category: Mental Health

Impostor Experience: The Advice I Keep Giving Myself in Graduate School

Impostor experience is characterized as having an inability to internalize one’s accomplishments, where those who experience it feel that they are a fraud, that they have somehow deceived others to believe that they are smarter than they actually are. These feelings occur even when contradicted by success, often crediting luck or good timing over their own hard work and effort. And it is quite prevalent in academic spaces.

When I started my graduate career, I was lucky enough to have professors who were well aware of this topic, encouraging students to reach out when they needed to, reminding us that we all have expertise to contribute to the classroom, we all have a space.

As a first generation college student, I still have moments almost daily where I feel like I don’t belong, that this isn’t really the place for me. Sometimes it’s a simple comment, someone in class sharing an experience, like “Oh my dad’s a doctor”. Don’t get me wrong, my parents are two of the hardest working people I know. But there are constantly reminders for me that in pursuing a graduate degree, I’m taking a career path that not many people who knew me as a child could even imagine.

Below I’ve attached some resources that I have found particularly helpful at some low points in my academic career. But what has helped the most for me is opening up to my friends and classmates, and realizing that I am not the only one having these feelings. I’m writing this because I’m not perfect at taking my own advice, I still need to step back and use some of these strategies, and I still need to practice opening up when I’m struggling.

Sources:

APA Cover Story: Feel like a fraud? http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Impostor Syndrome is Definitely a Thing: http://www.chronicle.com/article/Impostor-Syndrome-Is/238418

Should you sleep naked?

As someone who traditionally loves wearing pajamas to bed at night I have always wondered about the question: is it better to sleep naked than in pajamas? A lack of sleep over time has been shown to increase the risk for stroke, diabetes, cognitive decline, depression, and obesity, so it’s important to determine what’s best for yourself to get a good night’s rest.

Rather than sit around and continue to wonder, I decided to do some research on the topic and solve this dilemma once and for all. In the US, around 10% of the population admit to sleeping naked; which is actually kind of low considering about 30% of our friends in the UK do so. Now that I know some people in the world actually do sleep naked, what are the benefits of doing so?

The most scientifically sound reason I could find for sleeping naked was to better regulate your body temperature overnight. If you sleep in pajamas and have heavy covers it can be easy to overheat and disrupt sleep accordingly. The Sleep Council has determined that 68°F is the ideal sleeping temperature for a high-quality night’s rest.

Personally, this just tells me to make sure my thermostat is set to 68°F at night before going to bed. I normally don’t have trouble sleeping at night, but I know that is not always the case. It seems there is more research needed to truly determine its effect, but do you think sleeping naked actually helps sleep quality?

 

AB

Straight Skinny, but Gay Fat? Reflections on Pride, the intersection of identity and mental health, and the stigmatization of queer bodies

This past weekend marked the 33rd annual celebration of North Carolina Pride, a time to celebrate the beauty, diversity, and resiliency of the LGBTQ community. The week of October 1-7 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, observed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, to “fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for equal care” in regards to mental health. Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ identified individuals are three times more likely to live with a mental health condition than their heterosexual counterparts. This includes, but is not limited to: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or Body Dysmorphic Disorder, to name a few.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD, is classified as a body-image disorder where individuals have persistent and intrusive preoccupations with a defect in their appearance, which can be imagined or slight. Obsessions about appearance can be all consuming, and make it hard for those affected to focus on other areas of their lives. Oftentimes, those living with BDD can perform a compulsive or repetitive behavior, with some examples being: avoiding mirrors, skin picking, excessive grooming, excessive exercise, frequently changing clothes, trying to hide or conceal body parts, or in extreme cases seeking surgery to correct the perceived flaw or flaws. These behaviors can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, resulting in avoiding social situations and having difficulties with work responsibilities and personal life. Individuals suffering with severe BDD are also at a higher risk of having suicidal thoughts or to attempt suicide.

People living with BDD often also suffer from other anxiety and mental health disorders, such as social anxiety disorder, depression, eating disorders, or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Because of similarities and overlap of symptoms, BDD can be misdiagnosed as one of these other mental health disorders, specifically with similarities to OCD, being distinguished when behaviors focus specifically on appearance. According the American Psychiatric Association, between 2.2-2.5% of people in the US experience BDD, and it usually begins to occur around the age of 12-13.

As someone living with BDD, I spent years of my life not having words to describe what I was feeling, being hyper aware of my body and the way I see it as being perceived by others. Most of the time, these are internal conflicts, rarely do they manifest in ways that are visible for others. On Saturday night, I was waiting in line to get into a gay night club to celebrate Pride with friends. When it was time to pay the cover to enter, the thought of people looking at my body, of people touching parts of my body that I find unsightly, resulted in a panic attack where I ended up leaving and going home. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt uncomfortable in a space like this, but I can’t shake the feeling of letting my friends down, of allowing my insecurities to get in the way of what was supposed to be a fun night out.

My bigger concern is that my experience isn’t unique, that others have also struggled to feel accepted in places that are supposed to be welcoming to then. The unrealistic standards around body image in queer spaces foster an environment of self-doubt, generate feelings of insecurity, and further reinforce the heteronormative narrative that is already placed on us by larger society as a whole.

But issues around unrealistic body issues aren’t the only problem facing the LGBTQ community. Blatant and covert racism, misogyny, and the policing of how others live their lives are also major hurdles that we need to overcome. And many of our spaces aren’t accessible to a number of people due to cost.

On top of all of this, we don’t give each other spaces to talk about the ways we are struggling, whether that be with our mental health, our interpersonal relationships, or how we are handling navigating a society that simply is not designed for us. My hope is that by sharing, it will open up a space for others to acknowledge what they are feeling, to finally have words to define those feelings, or to simply be aware of the struggles that others are going through.

Below are some sources if you are interested in learning more about the topics that I discussed here. If you feel that you need to reach out, talking with a mental health professional can be a great place to start. If you are a student here at UNC, CAPS offers a variety of mental health services, more information can be found below.

For CAPS Walk-In Services:

Go to the 3rd floor of the Campus Health Services Building

MON-THURS: 9 am – noon or 1 pm – 4 pm

FRI: 9:30 am – noon or 1 pm – 4 pm

Sources –

National Alliance on Mental Illness Awareness Week – https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Mental-Illness-Awareness-Week

National Alliance on Mental Illness LGBTQ – https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Body Dysmorphic Disorder – https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/body-dysmorphic-disorder-bdd

Breathe in… breathe out…

Feeling anxious or stressed? Consider diaphragmatic or “deep breathing” exercises! Deep breathing can be a helpful technique for relaxing both mind and body, as well as stress and anxiety management. It can even improve our energy levels!

With deep breathing, we are able to consciously control our breathing, lower our blood pressure and heart rate, and relax our muscles. During normal breathing, we typically breathe shallow breaths using our chest and not our bellies. However, with deep breathing, we breathe with our bellies, taking in slow, deep breaths.

One key muscle involved in the process of deep breathing is our diaphragm, located between our chest and abdomen. When we inhale, we contract our diaphragm, expanding our abdomen, which then pushes air into our lungs. We then exhale, relaxing our diaphragm, and air is pushed out of our lungs.

Interested in trying deep breathing? Click here for a step-by-step guide!

Happy stress relief!

References:

Diaphragmatic Breathing [PDF file]. (2016, September). Retrieved from https://www.uncmedicalcenter.org/app/files/public/196/pdf-medctr-rehab-diaphbreathing.pdf

Patel, S. (N.d.) Retrieved from http://www.chopra.com/articles/breathing-for-life-the-mind-body-healing-benefits-of-pranayama#sm.00019xogqb4t2eoex3f1a17fb6wn4

Rakal, D. (2016). Learning Deep Breathing. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/learning-deep-breathing/

Wong, C. (2017, April 30). Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/how-to-breathe-with-your-belly-89853

 

9/11, Hurricane Season, and disaster-related Secondary Traumatic Stress

Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 Terror Attack, and like many Americans I can easily recount where I was at when I saw the coverage of the attack. The event dominated news media for weeks after the events unfolded, and became enshrined as a defining moment of 21st century America.

I cannot even begin to fathom the first hand experiences of people who directly impacted from the attack, but for many, the day is a permanent memory of the way they felt, perceived, and witnessed everything unfold.

Secondary Traumatic Stress occurs when an individual hears the recounting of another’s traumatic life event. Often, the symptoms are similar to that of the more commonly known Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. In recent years, there has been more research being done to see the effects of disasters that affect those beyond those immediately experiencing an event.

In the wake of the recent disasters of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, we have seen coverage of their destruction everywhere from major news sources to the social media that we consume for updates from loved ones. A recent New York Times piece noted that the Weather Channel, being the only network to provide 24/7 access to coverage of the recent Hurricanes, had seen its audience increase nearly tenfold. The coverage of these storms has been vast, because the scale of the destruction of these storms has been unprecedented.

Covering these events is vital, it is important that we do not sensor the news that we receive just because of the harmful effects that it may have on us. But, by being more aware, and staying informed, we can acknowledge the way that having information so freely available can help us to cope, and hopefully heal, together.

 

Sources –

New York Times Piece: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/09/business/media/weather-channel-hurricane-irma.html?_r=0

Secondary Traumatic Stress: http://www.nctsn.org/resources/topics/secondary-traumatic-stress

Narrative Reconstruction: a Lesson we can learn from Taylor Swift

This past Sunday, Taylor Swift premiered the music video for her latest single, Look What You Made Me Do, at the MTV Video Music Awards. The video went viral upon release, and subsequently has been the subject of a number of internet think pieces breaking down the star’s critiques on different personas of herself in the public eye over the course of her career. In case you missed it, you can find it here.

 But beyond providing a tongue in cheek look into the perceptions of a widely successful pop artist, the idea of reconstructing narratives for self-affirmation can be key to those who have suffered previous traumatic experiences.

 A study recently published in Qualitative Social Work studied the effect of narrative construction, or having an organized and logical story of their previous traumatic experiences, along with a clear sense of self throughout and a sense of how that experience has shaped them. They found that compared to those who had not constructed a narrative, those with a higher level of narrative construction noted an increased acceptance of their experiences, and being more likely to perceive life experiences as positive and significant. Those with an elevated sense of narrative construction credited their success to strategies such as reflective writing, informal conversations with supportive friends and family, and seeking professional help such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

But often, the stressors of daily life are somewhere between trauma and celebrity feud. As summer is ending and the school year here again, it’s a great time to begin to regularly process emotions, especially with the seemingly constant stream of news and celebrity gossip. With September being Self-Awareness month, taking the time for some reflective journaling, or simply maintaining a strong support system of friends and family can set you up for success. If you feel like talking to a professional, the university has wonderful Counseling and Psychological Services, with walk in services regularly available. Beyond that, if you need additional help for figuring out to find a therapist, or if you’re curious about what therapy could look like, check out this article published by the New York Times – How to Find the Right Therapist.

 

For CAPS Walk-In Services:

Go to the 3rd floor of the Campus Health Services Building.

MON-THURS: 9 am – noon or 1 pm – 4 pm

FRI: 9:30 am – noon or 1 pm – 4 pm.

 

Sources-

Qualitative Social Work: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1473325016656046

New York Times Article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/smarter-living/how-to-find-the-right-therapist.html?mcubz=1&_r=0

Meditation and Stress Relief

Earlier this semester, I heard about Transcendental Meditation (TM) for the first time. It’s defined as a technique that trains one to turn “attention inwards towards the subtler levels of a thought until the mind transcends the experience of the subtlest state of the thought and arrives at the source of the thought” (Mahesh Yogi, 1969). A distinguishing characteristic of this form of meditation is the carefulness with which the pedagogy is preserved–requiring a training process to certify preservation of fidelity to the method. (Wallace, 1970).

An early and foundational study noted physiological changes attributed to practicing TM.  These included decreased heart rate and oxygen uptake, and changes in EEG frequency (Wallace, 1970). Generally, as we’ve heard in class from various individuals who practice, these manifest themselves as lower stress levels, in creased focus, and increased clarity and decision-making power.

Other positive benefits have been described in a variety of populations. TM has been suggested to facilitate decreased drop-out rates from urban schools, improve quality of life in children living with Autism Spectrum Disorder ,  boost immunity levels , and generally improve mental health and well-being.

This New York Times article chronicles the experiences of schools implementing TM in classrooms around NY, largely featuring success stories, while still noting that research on the use of TM in an academic setting is not yet conclusive.

There is room to speculate whether TM is radically different form other forms of inward reflection. Surely, there are many ways to reduce stress and enhance productivity, of which TM is just one. With TM on my radar, I look forward to seeing if research can discern TM as a distinctively beneficial.

 

Non-linked References:

M. Mahesh Yogi, The Science of Being and Art of Living (International SRM, – London, rev. ed., 1966), pp. 180-209.

Wallace, R. K. (1970). Physiological effects of transcendental meditation. Science, 167(3926), 1751-1754.

*credit for articles/reference guidance to EPID799c course resources made available to students

Why our perception of beauty is skewed

My friend asked me last night, seemingly out of the blue, “Do you ever wonder why stores separate their plus size clothes?”

The truth is, it didn’t cross my mind until she asked it. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it since because, really,  it seems like a classic microagression–a small, perhaps mundane but not insignificant–manner by which to separate people who lie outside of what, at some point, became considered the norm. Not that it should matter, but a 2016 VCU article cited data claiming that over 60% of women in the US wear clothes that are plus or extended sized. Another article notes that plus size women account for 28% of the clothing market (Binkley, 2013). With an affected population that substantial, it’s even more glaring how insensitive we can be.

A 2016  article published in Body Image links anti-fat attitudes, body shaming, self-compassion, and fat-talk in female college students. They found that internalizing body-shaming led to engaging in fat-talk, among other negative anti-fat attitudes. They found the converse to be true as well–that self-compassion leads to better psychological well-being and less engagement with objectification and self-denigration. The health education and communication implication of all this, is to promote self-compassion (Webb, 2016).  It isn’t hard to imagine that segregated stores don’t play into a healing cycle very well.

Though there has been a recent movement for models to that match all body types, the retail industry still largely caters to a frankly thinner than average body type. Consider the last mannequin you saw that wasn’t unrealistically proportioned. I can’t recall a single one…

One article says these social pressures, among others like harsh lighting and narrow spaces in dressing rooms,  are driving plus-sized women to opt towards online shopping (Money, 2017).  Despite some small successes, Money says, men and women of size “are clearly tired of limited options and unwelcome shopping experience”.

The thing is, it wasn’t a question out of the blue. She had gone shopping with her cousin. It should have been a fun  outing– bonding, enjoying rare time together, catching up and picking out clothes for each other. Instead, they parted ways near the entrance of the store.

References:

Binkley, Christina (2013, June 12), “On plus side: New fashion choices for size 18,” The Wall Street Journal, Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB100014241278873 23949904578540002476232128.

Money, C. N. (2017). Do the Clothes Make the (Fat) Woman: The Good and Bad of the Plus-Sized Clothing Industry. Siegel Institute Ethics Research Scholars, 1(1), 1.

Webb, J. B., Fiery, M. F., & Jafari, N. (2016). “You better not leave me shaming!”: Conditional indirect effect analyses of anti-fat attitudes, body shame, and fat talk as a function of self-compassion in college women. Body image, 18, 5-13.

http://www.hercampus.com/school/vcu/problems-womens-plus-size-clothing

 

Study Drugs Limitless? More Like Limited: Know the Risks

By: Shauna Ayres MPH: Health Behavior candidate 2017

There has been much attention on the opioid and heroin epidemic in the last several years. Appalachian states in particular have suffered a great deal from a sharp rise in addiction and overdoses caused by opioid drugs. However, like many other addictive behaviors, there is silent rise in rates of “study drugs” on college campuses across the nation. Study drugs are prescription drugs, such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse, that are used to treat Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Those with ADHD suffer from a brain abnormality that causes difficulties in concentration and increases impulsivity; but, college students without ADHD are using them to increase focus, sleep less, or do more academic, professional, and/or social activities.

The strong marketing and pressure by drug companies to prescribe and sell new ADHD drugs has resulted in more youth being diagnosed with this disorder and more prescriptions being written. There are currently 2.5 million Americans prescribed ADHD drugs and manufacturing of prescription stimulants has increased by 9 million percent in the past decade! I think the real questions are: Do more Americans suffer from ADHD? Or, has American’s need for drugs increased? The sad reality is that the more drugs available, the more opportunities there are to abuse those drugs.

It is estimated up to one third of college students have used study drugs. Common characteristics of users include being white, belonging to a fraternity or sorority, and having a grade point average of a B or lower. Interestingly, these drugs may keep students awake longer, but do not increase cognitive ability or capacity, or said another way, they do not make students smarter and are not like the magic pills in the movie Limitless. Most college students report getting or buying these types of drugs from a friend or peer with ADHD and a legit prescription.

Just because a drug is approved by the FDA, does not mean it does not have side effects, especially if it was prescribed to someone other than the person actually consuming it–every drug comes with risks. Some of the more common consequences of ADHD stimulant drugs are increased blood pressure, irregular heart rate, restlessness, anxiety, nervousness, paranoia, headache, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth, changes in appetite, diarrhea, constipation, and changes in sex drive. Hallucinations, cardiac arrest, and death have been reported among people with prior heart conditions. In addition, ADHD stimulants are classified as a schedule II drug due to being highly addictive and the suggested sentence for distribution of schedule II drugs is 20 years in prison and a fine of 1 million dollars.

So, if you are using or considering using these types of drugs, please seek support from Campus Health Services or another health professional.

If you have these drugs for ADHD, do not share them with others. Here is a link to ways to “Protect Your Prescription”.

Resources

Cherney, Kristeen (2014). ADHD Medications List. Healthline. http://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/medication-list#Stimulants2

University of Texas at Austin, University Health Services. HealthyHorns: Study Drugs. https://healthyhorns.utexas.edu/studydrugs.html

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Campus Health Services: Home. https://campushealth.unc.edu/

Drug Enforcement Administration. Federal Trafficking Penalties for Schedules I, II, III, IV, and V (except Marijuana): https://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ftp_chart1.pdf

Center on Young Adult Health and Development (n.d.) Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants: What college administrators, parents, and student need to know. University of Maryland School of Public Health. http://medicineabuseproject.org/assets/documents/NPSFactSheet.pdf

Aberg, Simon Essig (2016). “Study Drug” Abuse by College Students: What you need to know. National Center for Health Research. http://center4research.org/child-teen-health/hyperactivity-and-adhd/study-drug-abuse-college-students/

Making Time for Self Care

drinking-tea

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

The weather is getting (a little bit) colder, and my to-do list is getting much longer. I’ve had several recent conversations with friends in passing about how busy and overwhelmed we are starring to feel as assignments and obligations start to pile up. And I’ve started to rationalize that if I skipped my planned exercise class or morning walk or cancelled plans, I would have more time to tackle all of the things that need to get done. However, even though it’s important to do well and succeed in school, it is also important to take care of yourself! Practicing Self are will help to prevent overload burnout, will reduce the negative effects of stress, and will also help you refocus.

Here are some tips for Self Care

  • Make time to eat well and exercise: No need to cook gourmet meals and workout for multiple hours per day, but it is important to remember to fill your body with good and nutrient dense food (with occasional treats!) and to take time to move your body every day.
  • Don’t overschedule: It may be tempting to fill your schedule up with extracurricular activities and social events on top of classes and homework, but everything starts to add up eventually. Set aside time each week for yourself even if it means saying no.
  • Get enough sleep: Make getting enough sleep a priority. I set an alarm on my phone every day 45 minutes before my ideal bedtime, which gives me enough time to get organized for the next day and to wind down any activity or assignment that I am working on, which has improved the amount of sleep that I get. It may also be helpful to set a caffeine cut off time each day and to limit screen time before bed.
  • Spend time each day NOT working: Even though there is always something productive that you could be doing, it is important to take a break each day. Take a study break by going on a short walk with a friend or take real break at lunchtime and don’t look at your computer. Make time for hobbies and activities that you enjoy like reading for pleasure, sports, and cooking.

Check out this list of TED Talks to learn more about self-care.