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Thu, Apr 20, 2017 AT 11:08 am - Mind Well
Actors Beyond the Stage: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By Aubrey Freitas

Photo of actor Will Block

The annual Healthy Campus Initiative (HCI) celebration will take place this year on May 4th, an event that will commemorate the Initiative and all of the work it has accomplished this year, all things pertaining to health, and the opening of the new living amphitheater and garden in the Sunset Recreation Center on the hill. On this night, the amphitheater will host its first performance ever, put on by UCLA’s very own Theater, Film, and Television (TFT) department. The show will consist of fairies, interesting musical aspects, and lots of love as the actors bring to life Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I sat down with fourth year TFT student Will Block, who will be playing Oberon, the king of the fairies, at the celebration. As an English major myself, I can sit and talk about Shakespeare for hours on end, a trait that I noticed in Will as well, as passion and enthusiasm about literature, performances, and just life in general flowed throughout our conversation.

Some things to know about Will are that his favorite musical is Fiddler on the Roof and his favorite play of all time is Cyrano de Bergerac (I highly recommend clicking on the link and reading the synopsis, I had no idea what this play was about before meeting Will, but from word of mouth and my own readings I can see why he would want to watch as many performances of it as possible!) He credits the play with helping shape who he is. Instead of watching Saturday morning cartoons, his mom would put on short, animated versions of Shakespeare’s plays, and because of this early exposure, Will is well-versed in the English playwright's tragedies and comedies. On top of all of that, he likes to sew, has an adoration towards cats, and shares a guilty pleasure of SpongeBob with his mom.

Will has performed in three versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the past seven years, and has had the opportunity to play a different character each time. I wanted to know what his favorite part of working on this show was, to which he responded “exploring a role that [he] originally didn’t think [he] fit, and being able to make [his] own stamp on the performance.” He also noted that it will be exciting to perform the show on a greater scale than they originally expected (thanks to the new amphitheater!), and that he was able to work closely with some of his best friends.

He described the upcoming performance as  “eclectic” and spoke it in such a positive tone. He seemed completely happy that the play was going to reflect a “hodgepodge of references.” The play itself is about three different stories combining with each other, reflecting themes of companionship, love, and crossing barriers.

Directing has become the main focus for Will, as of now, but he wants to continue to gain expertise, and make Shakespeare accessible to all. One of the subjects we talked about was how Shakespeare can be daunting for some to try and read or understand, because it has been given a sort of elite status in literature, but Will hopes to share the universality of Shakespeare with as many people as possible. Will described Shakespeare's literature as complex, that it “stretches the boundaries as much as possible,” and it’s important for us to experience the tightrope that he walked, because he risked a lot to create it. He believes that “what matters is that people relate to the stories [of Shakespeare]” and he hopes to assist people in doing just that.

Since HCI is collaborating with the TFT department, I asked Will what living well meant to him, to which he replied short and sweet, “doing what you want.” He claimed that early on in his career at UCLA he cared too much about what professors and peers said and thought, focusing on, “matching other people’s expectations instead of [his] own.” He encourages people to do what makes them happy and be less career focussed, because “life is just too damn short to be listening to what other people tell you,” and I couldn’t have said it better myself. He also suggested that people never make any decisions based on fear, and wittily tacked on the Nancy Reagan quote, “Just say no,” to round out his advice on living well. Some words of advice he shared pertaining to difficult choices were, “I’ve learned that what scares me the most was the most worth my time.” A philosophy many of us can probably apply to our own lives when it comes to taking risks, because the ten seconds of courage are well worth the payoff.

Continuing with the HCI themed questions, I wanted to know how UCLA has helped him lead a healthy life or develop healthy habits, to which he humorously replied, “stairs have made my butt look great,” a statement which, I’m sure, runs through many students heads as they carry themselves up the several sets of steps on campus. On a more serious, and sentimental, note, Will said that UCLA has allowed him to make a lot of important friendships through his involvement in TFT and the Shakespeare Theater Company, and his work as a tour guide on campus. He also shared a few stories about some of the “ridiculous things” that lead to such a close bond, so maybe find him after the show and ask him about them yourself if you’re in need of a few good laughs.

The performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is going to be incredible, so save the date for May fourth in your calendars, and come celebrate the living amphitheater with us, as well as all of the work done by HCI in this past year, and the work of the Theater, Film, and Television department. Come watch Will tackle the role of Oberon, along with the rest of the cast as they bring a play that is 422 years old to life once again, here at UCLA . Tickets are free at UCLA’s Central Ticket Office or for $25 online (all proceeds benefit HCI’s Living Amphitheatre). Check out our Facebook event as well! Hope to see you all there!

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


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Wed, Apr 19, 2017 AT 9:53 pm - Mind Well
Get Involved: Out of the Darkness Campus Walk

By Aubrey Freitas

It’s the beginning of Spring quarter — with only eight weeks until we reach the much-awaited summer — so what can we do to make this last quarter a memorable one? Get involved with a meaningful cause! A great chance to get involved is at the upcoming Out of the Darkness Campus Walk  at UCLA’s Drake stadium on Sunday, April 23rd from 1pm-3pm. The walk is an event hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and promotes suicide prevention and awareness, as well as the importance of mental health in general. Sounds like a noteworthy cause already, doesn’t it? But how much do you know about the statistics of suicide in the world today?

Before we get down to the numbers, let's learn a little bit about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and why it hosts the Out of the Darkness walks. The AFS provides opportunities for survivors of suicide loss to be active in educational, outreach, awareness, advocacy, and fundraising programs. All of this has been done to create a culture that’s smart about mental health, in order to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. They are the largest private funder of suicide prevention research, and even started out as a small research organization until public donations transformed it into what it is today.

Some of their research thus far has been on the relationship between decision-making in a negative environment and the effects of teens who text a crisis line when seeking help. Their research has greatly contributed to what the world understands about suicide today, and more of their findings can be found here. You can also sign up to become an AFSP field advocate, along with thousands of other volunteers, and receive the latest policy news and events surrounding mental health, as well as learn how to take action against policy issues you care about. AFSP has chapters and events occurring in all fifty states, so check out their website for more information. On top of all of the above, they offer educational programs for schools, communities, and workplaces, such as More Than Sad and Signs Matter. It’s clear to see all of the effort that AFSP puts into the cause of suicide prevention and awareness, and it hosts the Out of the Darkness walks to fundraise for these efforts, as well as spread hope and awareness throughout the communities in which they are held. Now that we know what the cause is about, let's return to the statistics which created it all.

The Facts

In the US alone:

  • There is one death by suicide in the US every 13.3 minutes
  • About 39,500 Americans lose their lives to suicide every year

In the world as a whole:

  • There is one death by suicide in the world every 40 seconds
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide

In terms of gender:

  • Suicide among males is 4X’s higher than among females
  • 79% of all US suicides are attributed to male deaths
  • Females attempt suicide 3X’s as often as males
  • Females experience Depression at about 2X’s the rate of men

In terms of age:

  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people the ages of 15-24
  • The prevalence of suicidal thoughts, planning, and attempts are highest among adults age 18-29

In terms of gender identity and sexual orientation:

  • LGBTQ+ youth who come from families that reject or do not accept them are 8X’s more likely to attempt suicide than those from families who accept them
  • LGBTQ+ youth are 3X’s more likely than straight youth to attempt suicide in their lifetime
  • Each time a LGBTQ youth is a victim of verbal of physical harassment/abuse they are 2.5X’s more likely to hurt themselves

Pretty startling, isn’t it? Suicide is a prominent concern in our society, affecting all ages, genders, and sexual orientations. Even if you haven’t been directly affected by suicide, the chances are that you have a family member, friend, or coworker who has been. We walk for them, and for all those who have been affected, in hopes of reducing the rate of suicide 20% by 2025.

If you feel drawn to the cause, you can donate to the foundation and the walk event by clicking here. If you would like to donate your time at the event, register to be a walker/start your own team here, or volunteer  to help at the event if that appeals more to your interests. Those are three ways that you can get involved with the walk to show your support for suicide prevention awareness — which one will you try?  If you do decide to walk, come and find me with the Resilience Peer Network (RPN) walking team, or visit the table hosted by UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge. We may not all have a mental illness, but we all have mental health, and it’s imperative that its importance be brought to the forefront of everyone’s attention. Lace up your shoes, and get ready to make this Spring quarter one in which you show your support for a great cause.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


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Fri, Mar 17, 2017 AT 12:02 pm - Mind Well
Creativity & the Arts in Healing

By Ping Ho, MA, MPH, Founder and Director, UCLArts & Healing

10-year-old Kara makes a collage featuring a large bird standing on a branch of a barren tree with an arrow pointing its beak towards a strawberry, while a smaller bird stands on an opposite branch looking up towards a raspberry. Using a structured fill-in-the-blank bio poem, she writes from the voice of the bird:  

I am a little birdie.

I wonder if my mom’s going to survive, because she has a cut wing.

I hear my mom crying.

I see my dinner.

I want my mom to be healed.

I am a little birdie.

Creative expression reveals what is inside us.  It invites reflection that can lead to self-discovery, connection, and empowerment.  The universality and non-verbal essence of the arts transcends traditional barriers of culture and ability.  Moreover, shared creative experiences provide an organic opportunity for self-revelation, meaningful dialogue, and the development of empathy.

An elementary school counselor shared her insights in working with a group of 5th graders, after receiving a UCLArts & Healing training in Beat the Odds, which integrates activities from group drumming and group counseling to build social-emotional skills: 

“I used the one drum that I had to talk about problems and had kids give information verbally and with rhythm on the drum.  The kids loved it.  I noticed improvements in behavior with a greater sense of cooperation between them.  Those who were shy or acting out would bring out each other's qualities . . . to level each other out.  Some of these children, if put together previously, would have been fighting.  Then they became a group, and you don't beat up a member of your group.”

What tools can address emotional turmoil and social divisions as efficiently, cost effectively, and sustainably as the arts? 

Traumatic stress responses inhibit speech center activity in the brain, which interferes with our ability to articulate what we are thinking and feeling.1 They also inhibit rational brain functions of sequential thinking, decision–making, and social behavior.  On the other hand, when under stress, we are evolutionarily wired for activity in visual, movement, and sound centers of the brain for self-protection.  Therefore, non-verbal pathways for self-expression and engagement can be useful in addressing trauma.  

Unlike other healing modalities, the arts are also uniquely capable of enhancing positive emotions, particularly when the focus is on process over product.2  Furthermore, active participation in the arts engages large areas of the brain, which quite literally crowds out stress, grief, and pain.3

How can you bring these practices to your community, school, workplace, or home?

At UCLArts and Healing, we maximize the innate benefits of the arts by integrating them with mental health practices, such as nonjudgmental language that invites dialogue.  For sustainability, we offer professional development with scripted materials that anyone can use with a variety of populations, in a variety of settings.  We also teach others how to develop their own supportive curricula through our Certificate Program in Social Emotional Arts.  Our vision is to offer effective programs across the lifespan that can be implemented in school, health care, and recreational settings, where nearly everyone visits.

We invite everyone to attend our inaugural, experiential conference on Creativity & the Arts in Healing from Thursday, March 30th through Sunday, April 2nd, 2017 at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport.  Learn arts-based tools for facilitating communication, building connection, promoting positive emotions, fostering engagement, reducing stress, and managing the impact of trauma.  Choose from 125+ workshops delivered by leading national experts in art, dance, drama, drumming, music, and writing integrated with mental health practices. Select any one or combination of days.  Over 30 continuing education credits are available.  Sponsored in partnership with the Expressive Therapies Summit. To register: expressivetherapiessummit.la


----------------

1 van der Kolk BA.  The Body Keeps the Score. New York: Penguin Books; 2014.  

2  Frederickson B.  How positive emotions heal. Keynote lecture presented at: International Research Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health; May 16, 2012; Portland, OR. http://webcast.ircimh.org/m/2012?link=nav&linkc=date. Accessed March 16, 2017.

3 Tramo MJ.  Biology and music: music of the hemispheres. Science. 2001;291(5501); 54-56.


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Thu, Mar 16, 2017 AT 7:53 am - Mind Well
Exploring Mindfulness

By Mandy Mekhail

Photo via Flickr

I was first exposed to mindfulness when I started at UCLA. When I first arrived at Rieber Vista as part of my New Student Orientation, I was jumpy, perhaps even noticeably so. Born with something of a nervous disposition, I had a hard time keeping still. With that being said, however, I had never been the kid who was bouncing off the walls; rather, I was the kid whose thoughts never stopped racing.

The novelty that surround orientation and ultimately my future at UCLA set my mind abuzz with both fear and excitement. I arrived to my room, duffle bag in hand, and greeted my roommate with such forced enthusiasm that she laughed. She noted my nerves, which of course made me more nervous, and mentioned that she was a bit jittery herself. She suggested that we try this meditative practice together, one she had successfully used before in moments such as these.

My first thought at her suggestion was one of sheer disbelief. I certainly believed that college would be different, but I didn't think it would be something out of Eat. Pray. Love. However, I was a nervous pre-1st year, so of course I didn't announce my skepticism. With almost the same amount of hyper-enthusiasm that started this tirade, I readily agreed.

I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor as she instructed me to close my eyes, breath, and clear my thoughts. Unfortunately, my attempts to clear my thoughts only caused me to think more. I started to feel even more stressed than when I began. After what seemed to be an uncomfortably long amount of time, she asked how I felt. Once again, I lied through my teeth and insisted that it was essentially the best thing that ever happened to me.

After that day, I put the notion of mindfulness and meditative practice in a box and locked it someone far, far away. I deemed it something that simply wasn't for me. So you can imagine how I felt when it became something that was strongly suggested — essentially enforced — as a component of my job as a GRIT Peer Coach and my role as a Certified Resilience Peer. I was skeptical to say the least, perhaps even frustrated at times. No matter how times I tried, I always felt like I was doing something wrong. My mind would never fully clear, the awareness of which would then snowball into more thoughts. For the longest time I considered myself a failure at mindfulness.

My frustration with mindfulness stemmed from the fact that I didn't really know how to define it. I initially thought it to be something elusive, something I had yet to attain. In some ways, I was right. Mindfulness is like a muscle. The more one exercises it, the more proficient it becomes. But most importantly, mindnessful is a state of being and a way of living, not something a person does in isolation.

While it took me time and some continue prompting from others, I realized that there was more to mindfulness than sitting quietly in a room. I found that I could incorporate mindfulness into my life by looking up from my phone a little bit more often as I walked to class or listen a little bit more intently to a friend’s story. Slowly but surely, mindfulness stopped being this scary, nebulous entity. It became a lifestyle choice, one that not only helps keeps my anxiety at bay, but allows me to appreciate my life more.

Mindfulness is essentially the state of being present and aware both of one's surroundings and one's own body. Effective mindful practice involves acknowledging that the mind can stray and accepting that discomfort is valid if that is what one is feeling. In doing so, we become more attuned to parts of ourselves that we may have otherwise locked away.

Studies have shown the numerous benefits of mindful practice. As students, it is sometimes all too easy to put our mental health on the backburner. Moreover, in the hustle and bustle of being a student, it can seem like there is not enough time in a day to engage in mindfulness, regardless of the benefits. Luckily, mindful practice doesn't have to be a grand, structured event in order to be effective. In moments of stress, I recommend taking 3 deep breathes. When walking on campus, look up and take in everything. When lying in bed, conduct an assessment of the muscles in your body from head to toe.

Challenge yourself to be a little more present everyday. The benefits will be endless.

Mandy Mekhail is a 4th year undergraduate Psychology major and Disability Studies minor at UCLA. She currently serves as the Assistant Commissioner of the Student Wellness Commission, a student organization dedicated to promoting holistic health and wellness in the UCLA community.


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Fri, Mar 10, 2017 AT 11:11 am - Mind Well
How to Practice Self-Compassion

By Maya Ram

In the journey towards finding balance in your life, the practice of self-compassion may be a game changer. Self-compassion is the act of recognizing your own humanity, accepting yourself at the present moment, and appreciating yourself not for your productivity, but for your inherent worth. However, self-compassion is one of the hardest things to practice when we have high expectations set for ourselves, perfectionist ideals, and constant messages that we should be doing more. Practicing self-compassion is an active process that involves the mind and body. Here are some things you can work on to incorporate self-compassion into your everyday life.

Image via Pexels

Start to recognize your self-talk

When we are stressed, the thoughts in our head quicken in pace and amplify. Some of those thoughts are your own mind talking to you about your self-worth or your current situation. You may call yourself names, blame yourself for doing something “wrong” or not being good enough, or tell yourself that your actions have much larger implications than they really do.  It can be scary to identify what these internal voices are saying, but this is a significant first step to practicing self-compassion. Try writing down your self-talk in a journal. You may even notice certain patterns in your self-talk.

Use affirmations

So, you have recognized your negative self-talk, but what do you do next? It can be overwhelming to simply notice your self-talk without working to reframe it. This is where affirmations come in. If you are just starting to use affirmation work, look over your self-talk and think about what you would tell your best friend to comfort them. Channel these words of love towards yourself, taking the time to write or say your affirmations aloud. Repeat them, giving them time to sink in. If you find it hard to accept affirmations, explore what it might be like to believe one, with curiosity. Patience is key when it comes to using affirmations.

Image via Flickr

Meditate to presence yourself

Part of the practice of self-compassion is grounding yourself, which means bringing your awareness into the present moment. One way to come into the present moment is to meditate. Meditation can be practiced in many ways, but one way is to sit comfortably with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing. If you would like more structure to your meditations, the Mindful Awareness Research Center website has guided meditations that walk you through the process. This amazing resource has a Loving Kindness meditation, if you would like to practice compassionate meditation.

Do things that make you happy

The best way to practice self-compassion is to do the things you love. When we are stressed, it is common to restrict ourselves from doing pleasurable activities until we finish our work and complete all our obligations. But what if we allowed ourselves to do the things we love, guilt-free? Practicing self-care, even for short periods of time, can not only improve productivity, but can also increase mental wellbeing. It is easier to practice self-compassion (and be productive) when we are getting what we need. So next time you are feeling stressed, do something kind for yourself.

Compassion with accountability

It is easy to forget to practice self-compassion. Often times, self-talk emerges without us even noticing. Taking a brief moment each day to give yourself affirmations, meditate, or even recognize your self-talk will make self-compassion part of your routine. The GRIT Peer Coaching Program offers individualized session to work on practicing self-compassion and building skills to improve your overall wellbeing. You can request a coach for spring quarter to increase accountability and work on maintaining balance in your life here at UCLA. Enjoy your journey towards self-compassion!

Maya is a third year World Arts and Cultures major and Public Health minor, and she represents the Bruin Research Center in the HCI Living Well Coalition.


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Tue, Mar 7, 2017 AT 11:01 am - Mind Well
Yoga and Yogis: You’ve Gotta Check it Out

By Aubrey Freitas

Photo via Aubrey Freitas

In a place like Los Angeles, we hear about yoga almost everywhere we go: celebrities use it to stay fit, just about every other person walking next to you has a yoga mat slung over their shoulder, and Lululemon products are popping up all over the place — but, what exactly is yoga? A quick scan through Google can give you the textbook definition, somewhere along the lines of “Yoga: a Hindu philosophy that teaches a person to experience inner peace by controlling the body and mind.” Whenever you pass someone holding a bright, neatly rolled, cylinder-like object on their back or arm, feel free to think of them as a “Yogi: a person who practices yoga.” That’s just a bit of lingo to keep you sounding hip.

As a passionate, backbending yogi myself, I have a deep interest in the practice and what it can do for mental health and for the body. If you’re already interested, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with yoga on or close to campus, like UCLA Recreation Center, CorePower (which offers a free class every Saturday), and Flexible Fridays (which holds free yoga classes on the hill for UCLA students). Yoga for Flexible Futures (YFF), a nonprofit organization here on campus that teaches yoga and nutrition to elementary school children at the UCLA Community School, has recently begun holding yoga classes/workshops, open to everyone, every Thursday from 7-8pm in Squash Court A at the John Wooden Center. Some of the workshops so far, taught by YFF club members, many of whom are certified yoga instructors, have been on acro-yoga, inversions, and vinyasas. If any of these catch your interest, please email yogaforflexiblefutures@gmail.com with any questions or requests. I sat down with two of their yogi members to find out more about their experiences with yoga, the effects it has had on their lives, and why the practice has become so popular.

Meet the Yogis

Ailey Word Simpson is a charismatic fourth year student, with a love of architecture and mathematics. She’s an adult-certified yoga instructor who has had a passion for handstands since she began her practice six years ago. She also has a secret talent of being able to touch her elbow to her toes (I have seen it happen with my own eyes!) and baking cakes on the weekends. Katie Salow is also a fourth year student and long time member of the club. Her interests are Psychobiology and Global Health on the school front, and triangle pose and headstands on the mat. She enjoys eating cookie dough ice cream, pottery, and looking at corgis dressed in costumes (though, not all at the same time).

Photo via Aubrey Freitas

Questions and Thoughts

Q: Tell me a little bit about YFF from your point of view. What does it mean to you?

Katie: Our organization makes health and mindfulness fun and accessible to kids that wouldn’t normally be exposed to the practice. Yoga serves as more than exercise, and helps the kids become more confident and comfortable with themselves while learning new and cool “tricks,” as they call them. (You guys can all see their smiling faces in the adorable pictures below)

Q: Why do you think it’s important for kids to take part in the practice of yoga and have knowledge of nutrition?

Katie: Yoga enhances Physical strength and flexibility, and encourages more novel uses of a variety of muscle groups. Not only is it physically beneficial, but it helps build focus and concentration, traits that are incredibly applicable to all aspects of development.

Ailey: Getting kids excited about living healthier and more mindfully at a young age will, hopefully, allow them to develop ways to carry that positive lifestyle along with them as they grow. We try to make the lessons applicable to their everyday lives, so that they can carry what they learned off the mat.

Q: Why did you start practicing yoga?

Ailey: I grew up dancing ballet, and I first started practicing yoga as a supplement to dance training. I started practicing consistently years later, and have developed an appreciation for all of the benefits that yoga can have, aside from strength and flexibility.

Q: Have you experienced any changes in your life because of the practice, like less stress, a calmer mind, or just an overall more positive way of living?

Katie: Absolutely. Yoga is a great workout, but the practice teaches you to focus and let go of negative thoughts that aren’t adding to your quality of life. It is a moving meditation that helps ground your thoughts and creates balance in all aspects of life.

Ailey: Having a consistent yoga practice has definitely changed how I approach my day-to-day life. At this point in my yoga journey, I am more comfortable with my body and have learned to practice better self care physically and mentally.

Q: What would you tell someone who was thinking about getting into yoga, but was worried that they weren’t flexible enough to participate in the practice?

Katie: Lesson plans for classes are geared towards valuing the variety of everyone’s bodies: whether you’re more flexible, strong, energetic, or still. (There’s many different aspects of the practice, it’s not all about being able to twist into a pretzel shape.)

Ailey: No one is good or bad at yoga, and there is no one way that each pose should look! Embrace your current level of flexibility and strive to find the variation of each pose that feels right in your body, rather than the extreme instagram version. (We all know what she’s talking about!) Yoga is all about how you feel, not how you look.

Yoga is a beautiful practice that will allow you to work on silencing your mind, exploring the abilities of your body, and, ultimately, find balance (literally and figuratively here, people.) It’s for everyone, and every age, and it’s because of the diversity it holds within itself that so many people are drawn to it. Try out some of the local yoga options mentioned above, or try finding others that may appeal more to what you are looking for out of the practice, or maybe, just maybe, these yogis and I will see you on Thursdays in Wooden.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


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Mon, Feb 27, 2017 AT 8:47 am - Mind Well
Interview with a Certified Resilience Peer

By Aubrey Freitas

Upon reading the title above, many questions may come to mind: What is a Resilience Peer? What do they do? Why are they important? By the end of this interview, I hope to help answer all of those questions.

A Resilience Peer is a UCLA student (undergraduate or graduate) that is a part of the Resilience Peer Network (RPN), a group that offers peer-to-peer counseling and support outside of a clinical setting. Participants in RPN undergo internet-delivered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is very effective for managing mental health, especially mild to moderate Depression and Anxiety which are the main focus of RPN. Trained Resilience Peers offer individual or group therapy sessions to students who have screened into the program, under the supervision of licensed professionals.

One goal of RPN is to expand the availability of effective care to UCLA students who face challenges accessing guidance at existing mental health services. Recently, RPN teamed up with UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge, the biggest Depression study in history; the Grand Challenge aims to reach and collect information on 100K individuals from around the world to better understand the origins of Depression, as well as develop new treatments to combat it. The challenge, in collaboration with faculty members in numerous departments at UCLA, desires to cut the burden of Depression in half by 2050 and eliminate it by the end of the century. UCLA, with its diverse population of students, leading expertise in many fields, and large connection of networks throughout the world, is using its resources to find a solution that millions will benefit from. If you want a quick overview of the Depression Grand Challenge and to learn of its many other goals, watch this YouTube video that covers it all.

The Interviewee

Now that we have some background information about RPN and what it does for mental health, let's get to know a bit about the girl with all of the details, our backstage pass to RPN, our interviewee, Mandy Mekhail. She is a fourth year undergraduate student with a passion for Psychology and Disability Studies. She’s been an ASK Peer Counselor, New Student Advisor, and a GRIT Coach during her time at UCLA, but, most importantly, she’s been an advocate for mental health through it all! If you’d like to know a bit more about her awesomeness, she learned how to play, and in fact beat, her first video game before she was four years old. For all of the reasons above, she is clearly qualified to assist us as we delve into the world of RPN.

The Interview

Q: When did you decide to join RPN?

A: I first joined RPN last year when I was serving as Events Director of Active Minds, a committee within the UCLA Student Wellness Commission (SWC) that is dedicated to changing the conversation surrounding mental health.

Q: How has joining RPN helped or influenced you?

A: I consider myself a stanch mental health advocate and this opportunity has allowed me to come across many different populations of people.  These experiences have encouraged me to approach anyone I meet with kindness and cultural humility. My goal is to listen to understand, not listen to respond.

Q: Why do you think bringing access to mental health support is important for students to know about?

A: There is no denying that students here are busy. RPN and internet-based cognitive therapy provides students with much more flexibility in seeking treatment. It’s arrival signals the importance that mental health has, not only in our school, but in our society.

Q: How has RPN and the Depression Grand Challenge helped erase some of the stigmas surrounding mental health?

A: RPN does a wonderful job of challenging stigma within our student body by normalizing the presence of depression and anxiety by emphasizing that there are other students, just like us, who also struggle. In that respect, I would argue that RPN removes some of the isolation that might go hand in hand with both a student’s busy schedule, and a decreased focus of self-care.

Q: What would you tell someone looking to get involved with RPN?

A: I would tell someone looking to join RPN to think about what the program could provide for them, but also what they could provide for the program and the people within it. As a certified resilience peer, we have the opportunity to facilitate a shared space of empathy and trust. The things we do have a profound impact on others, whether they realise it or not. With all that being said, I would recommend that the person think about their strengths and weaknesses, because we all have areas to grow in, as well as areas in which we uniquely flourish.

We all have mental health, and it’s important that we do all that we can to help maintain it, for ourselves and for all of those around us. If you are a strong advocate for mental health and feel as though the Resilience Peer Network is for you, contact Dr. Elizabeth Gong-Guy at egongguy@saonet.ucla.edu and provide information concerning your degree program, year, and a bit about why you are interested in joining the program. If you would like to receive treatment from RPN, visit https://goo.gl/PA27eb for more information and to participate in the iCBT Student Study screening, which will determine your eligibility. Follow #BlueForHope online and on social media to discover more people joining to the Depression Grand Challenge to greater our understanding of a mental illness that is the number one source of misery in the world, and that affects so many people around us.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


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Wed, Feb 8, 2017 AT 9:08 am - Mind Well
The Many Benefits of Knitting

By Aubrey Freitas

Photo via Google Images

When we hear the word “knitting”, many of us think of sweet-looking, elderly grandmothers. However, this connotation does not do the hobby justice. Research conducted on the effectiveness of Therapeutic Knitting reveals that its benefits for mental health are remarkable. Gone are the days where knitting needles and copious amounts of yarn are the instruments of secluded senior citizens; it’s 2017 and everyone should try out the hobby of knitting, because it will allow them to reap a whole lot of benefits.

Stress Reduction

The relaxed and repetitive motions of weaving the yarn between the knitting needles or crochet hook is very soothing, and helps to calm the body as well as the brain. Similar to breathing exercises and mindful meditation, which also use repetition for calming effects, the mind and body are brought to focus on the present moment, and can remove judgment from oneself, as the knitting becomes the main focus. Knitting has the ability to ease people into a state of mindfulness without them even knowing, allowing people experience the practice in a different way, and use the tool to their advantage. The movements are also very similar to a yoga flow, creating a rhythm that produces a feeling of stability and inner quiet. If you prefer to take part in more extrovertive style of the activity, hobbies like knitting, crocheting, and loom-knitting are also often done in groups, like with friends and family, or instructional classes, acting as a social activity that can combat feelings like loneliness and isolation which could otherwise contribute to other problems surrounding mental health and wellbeing.

Increased Ability to Cope with Mental (and Physical) Illness

Research suggests that the constant, soothing motion of needle art can enhance the release of Serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the body which plays a key role in mood regulation, learning, sleep, and pain perception. The meditative-like qualities produced through knitting can help people “forget” their mental and physical struggles for a certain amount of time on a day-to-day basis. Therapeutic knitting has been connected to combatting depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, eating disorders, and chronic pain, proving that a wide variety of people could benefit from it.

Keeping Your Mind Sharp

Some of us (like myself) have never really taken a liking to math, while others find delight in the use of numbers. For those of you who like math already, this is just going to be the cherry on top of your knitting experience, because knitting is actually a good example of ways that we use math in the real world. The patterns, stitch counts, different stitch types, all require some amount of math, but what’s great about it is that you may not even know you’re using it. The meditative or social state you surround yourself in while knitting creates a sense of happiness and calm, allowing you to exercise your mind without feeling any strain, because you are partaking in an activity that you may find enjoyable. Keeping the brain active in this way was proven in one study to reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment, which is one of the many precursors of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of Dementia.

So, go to a craft store and pick out a spool of yarn that is calling to you, choose one of the many variations of needleart that seems most interesting to you, and experience the "feel good" effects of knitting for yourself. If you’re a beginner and feel a bit worried about learning a new skill on your own, grab a friend to join in the experience. There are a lot of different resources/clubs to use to get you started in the learning process, like UCLA’s iKNITiative, as well as Jeniffer Knits and  Compatto Yarn Salon, which are close to campus and offer weekly drop-in classes. Alternatively, contact WHeartsTWHands@gmail.com to find out more information about my very own knitting-inspired non-profit, Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting in return for one donated piece made using it. If you decide to try out Therapeutic Knitting, or already practice it, comment here and online to share your experiences with anyone interested.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.

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Wed, Jan 18, 2017 AT 7:21 am - Mind Well
5 Non-traditional New Year's Resolutions for the Body, Mind, and Soul

By Aubrey Freitas

Photo via Flickr

Every 365 days, a large, sparkly ball drops in Times Square, New York, and the millions of us that watch it often resolve to make up a list of “improvements” or “guidelines” to stick to throughout the next 365 days to come. Some people, however, opt out of making New Year’s resolutions, because they believe they can make a positive change in their life whenever they want to. I, for one, have never actually made a New Year’s resolution.

The more I talked about this with friends and family, the more I realized that part of the reason New Year’s resolutions can be frowned upon is because many of them revolve around being physically attractive, and, in addition to that, can be overly ambitious, setting us up for failure. However, I believe New Year’s resolutions should promote beneficial change in your day-to-day life, and that they shouldn’t push you too far out of your comfort zone such that you wish to give them up before receiving their benefits. With that being said, here is a list of five unique ideas for New Year’s resolutions that will benefit your overall well-being. Adopt them yourself or use them as inspiration to come up with your own resolutions. Even if you aren’t the kind of person to create New Year’s resolution lists, and even though it is a couple weeks past January first, any of these resolutions can be added to your day-to-day life to create positive habits.

1) Check in with your body daily

No one knows your body as well as you do, so it’s important to listen to it to keep it healthy and running smoothly. With school, work, family, and social lives to balance, among other things, your body is put through a lot of stress and exertion (which can lower your immune system!), so it’s important to take five to ten minutes everyday to assess how your body is feeling. After you check in with you body, it will help you decide what it needs. Maybe your body needs a rest so you stay inside and read a good book, or maybe it’s feeling energized so you take a walk. Our bodies are our homes, and our most relied upon mode of transportation, so understanding how they are feeling will lead to better, happier days.

2) Smile every morning

Smiling is not only contagious, but can also lift our mood, as well as the moods of those around us, so when rolling out of bed for that early morning class, take a couple seconds to exercise those cheek muscles. The act of smiling causes neuropeptides to be released, which send neural messages throughout your entire body, triggering the release of Dopamine, Serotonin, and Endorphins, all of which create a feeling of euphoria. It may just make that blaring alarm sound a bit more soothing, and the rest of your day seem all the more pleasant.

3) Keep a dream journal

The idea of a dream journal being beneficial for mental health has been around since the time of Sigmund Freud.  We can only remember a small portion of the dreams we have every night, and, without writing them down, we will eventually forget even that. Keeping track of your dreams and reflecting upon them can give you a better look inside of yourself, as well as benefit your psychological and emotional health through its therapeutic nature and possibility to help one work through unprocessed material of our minds during sleep. On top of being a great destresser, dream journaling can also boost creativity, which is useful in just about every aspect of life.

4) Read more poetry

Poetry, and sometimes literature in general, can seem so daunting or challenging that it makes us stray away from it, but don’t let those be excuses for not picking up a book and diving into a different world. The benefits of poetry are vast, ranging from improved critical thinking and innovation skills, to allowing for more creative problem solving solutions, as well as increasing the reader’s empathy and emotional wellbeing, and those are only to name a few. Everyone can benefit from acquiring these skills, especially college students who have their brains tested every day of class. One more plus to reading poetry on your own is that you can choose to read whichever authors, or themes, or time frames you are interested in, and since you are in control of your poetic experience, you will be more apt to continue with it throughout the year.

5) Volunteer more

There are over seven billion people on the planet, many of which need help in one way or another. Furthermore, there are many, many organizations that allow for supportive connections to be made for just about any cause you may be interested in. Volunteering produces double the benefits; you benefit from partaking in something you care about, and others benefit from you donating your time and support. Some great organizations to get involved with are Let's End Poverty, A Place Called Home, and the Young Storytellers Foundation. Don’t worry if you don’t know about any specific organizations that you would like to join, or if you don’t know what exactly you would like to get involved with; there are several resources available that can assist in the process, and give you ideas for local organizations, as well as ones abroad, which may be just what you’re looking for.

New Year’s resolutions are all about you, so if you’re going to create a list of resolutions, compile one with things that you like, but may not have made enough time for in the previous year, or maybe things that you want to find out if you like or not. There is no rulebook for making resolutions, so let your list take you wherever you want to go. If, after reading this, you’re still opposed to making New Year’s resolution lists (like myself), then maybe try out one or two of the things mentioned above in your daily life for no reason other than it makes you happy, or if you’re happy as is and don’t want to make any additional changes, then you don’t have to. If you have any ideas for non-traditional resolutions that didn’t appear on the list that you want to share with others to inspire a new addition to their collection, comment below or online. Cheers to another round of 365 days of possibilities.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


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Fri, Jan 13, 2017 AT 11:16 am - Mind Well
New Year, New You? Mental Health and New Year’s Resolutions

By Danielle de Bruin

Photo via Google Images

While the New Year appears to present a positive opportunity for us to “reinvent” ourselves and make ourselves “better,” the process of setting New Year’s resolutions can negatively affect our mental health.

In the days surrounding January 1st, we are bombarded with articles and advertisements that suggest we, as we currently are, are not enough. Whether you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed or a reputable news site, you’re likely to come across articles with tips on how to “get in shape,” “watch less TV,” or “finally quit drinking” this year. Before I became a body image advocate, I devoured articles like these. I wanted to know what I could do this year to lose weight, eat more healthfully, or be more confident. I saw setting New Year’s resolutions as an opportunity to better myself and my life; I bought into the idea that a “new” and “better” me (where “better” was defined by these articles I had read, not myself), would be a happier me.

Though the New Year is supposed to be about positively impacting your life, these New Year’s resolutions had negative impacts on my mental health and self image. Resolutions pushed me to change myself instead of cultivating self-love and encouraged me to use my current dissatisfaction with parts of my body and life to fuel this change. Focusing on what I didn’t like about myself made me even less comfortable in my own skin, resulting in feelings of depression and anxiety. However, what was negatively impacting my self-image was not my resolutions in and of themselves, it was the motivations behind my resolutions.

Like the majority of Americans, my resolutions tended to be health-related. In 2016, for example, one survey found that 41.1% of respondents wanted to “live a healthier lifestyle” and 39.6% of respondents wanted to “lose weight.” These statistics were consistent across age groups. While living a healthy lifestyle and losing weight can be positive goals, they are only positive if they are positively motivated. If someone resolves to lose weight because the $64 billion diet industry has convinced them that only certain body types are attractive or tries to “live healthfully” because they dislike parts of their body, they, like me, will inevitably experience feelings of low self esteem. I would resolve to lose weight because I hated my stomach or wanted others to find me attractive, and it was these negative motivations that triggered periods of poor mental health.

So what can we do to remain mentally healthy in the wake of New Year’s resolutions? It’s important to remember that you by no means even have to set a New Year’s resolution! Even if everyone you know has set resolutions and the media is pressuring you to “better yourself,” please do not feel like you have to change anything about yourself! You are allowed to be happy with yourself and your life as is.

If you do choose to make a resolution, ask yourself why you want to make a change. Make sure your reasoning comes from a place of self-love (e.g. “I want to drink more water so I have more energy to do the things I love), not a place of self-hate (e.g. “I’m going to lose weight because I hate the way I look”). Furthermore, ignore the many people, businesses, and industries telling us what we need to change about ourselves, and make resolutions for you, not them. Your life and your resolutions are up to you and no one else.

Danielle de Bruin is a fourth-year undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Sociology with a double minor in Italian and Global Health. She is the blog coordinator for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative and the director of UCLA’s Body Image Task Force, which is a committee within the Student Wellness Commission. With the Body Image Task Force, Danielle organizes events, workshops, and campaigns to promote healthy body image, self-confidence, and mental health on campus. She is also published in the journal PLOS Medicine and the Huffington Post.


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Wed, Dec 7, 2016 AT 10:13 am - Mind Well
Expanding Your Perspective on Self-Care

By Maya Ram

In order to be a successful student, being healthy and well is pretty much vital. Therefore, self-care should be a priority to manage the stress that accompanies life as a UCLA student. Self-care can be described as “engaging in activities and practices that promote wellbeing and a balanced lifestyle” (GRIT Peer Coaching Program). A balanced lifestyle includes getting enough sleep, eating regular and satisfying meals, and exercising. However, there are many components of self-care that are less normalized but equally important. Self-care goes beyond the physical, to include psychological, emotional, interpersonal, and even academic practices. Look at each category to see how you can improve your overall wellbeing.

Physical Self-Care

Taking care of the body can be one of the first things to go when faced with back-to-back deadlines and exams. When time is limited, our campus culture tells us that all-nighters are the only way to study weeks worth of material, and that eating “real food” is a luxury only for those who do not have an exam tomorrow. In order to improve your physical self-care, you must be aware of your body’s needs. Grounding yourself by taking deep breaths and stepping away from your work can give you insight into what your body needs, whether that be sleep, nutrition, or a good stretch. Examples of physical self-care also include taking time off when you are sick, thinking positive thoughts about your body, and wearing clothes you enjoy.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Psychological Self-Care

We are so lucky to have CAPS, MARC, and other mental wellness services on our campus, but self-care to complement these professional services can improve mental wellbeing. Psychological self-care is equivalent to taking a mental break and bringing awareness to your current state of mind. Throughout the day, we encounter stressors that we cannot always process in the brief moments between class, work, and meetings. Taking time to self-reflect can make a huge difference when it comes to building your awareness of stress triggers and your ability to cope with stress. To improve your psychological self-care, try taking day trips or mini-vacations, reading something unrelated to school, and saying “No” to extra responsibilities to make time for yourself.

Emotional Self-Care

When you’re a student, stressful situations come up so frequently that they begin to seem normal. These situations can cause you to engage in coping behaviors that end up making you feel worse. In order to get to the root of stress, exploring and labeling our emotions is very helpful. Withholding emotions eats up a lot of energy, which may be why you feel so drained after an emotionally-heavy week. Emotional self-care is about doing things that can help improve your emotional state and clear away negative emotions. This can include spending time with people whose company you enjoy, expressing things that bother you directly to the person(s) involved, allowing yourself to cry or express emotions, and giving yourself praise and affirmation.

Relationship Self-Care

Relationships are a huge part of the UCLA experience, whether you are making new friends, building upon current relationships, or keeping in touch with old friends and family. Social connections are a form of support and relieve stress by reminding us what is important. When time is a precious commodity, spending it with people you love can be challenging. In order to improve relationship self-care, prioritize your time with friends. Allow others to do things for you, and try to ask for support when you need it.

Photo bia Flickr

Academic Self-Care

Although academics can cause major stress for UCLA students, academic self-care is rarely mentioned. But it makes sense to channel your self-care towards the parts of your life that create stress. Finding comfort in where, when, and how you study can drastically improve your productivity. Studying in spaces where you feel productive, seeking help from academic resources, taking intentional study breaks, and scheduling regular times to study are all examples of academic self-care.

Self-care is not about excelling in every strategy. It is for you alone to decide which tools work for you when moving towards a more balanced lifestyle. To plug into a program that emphasizes self-care and holistic wellness, check out the GRIT Peer Coaching Program, a free one-on-one peer coaching program that any student can utilize for a supportive and empathetic listening space.Taking care of yourself and prioritizing your own needs is a process, but these strategies and resources can support you at any stage of your growth.

Maya Ram is a third year World Arts and Cultures major and Public Health minor, and she represents the Bruin Research Center in the HCI Living Well Coalition.


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Mon, Nov 28, 2016 AT 10:17 am - Mind Well
8 Ways to Beat the Stress of Finals

By Aubrey Freitas

Photo via Creative Commons

Finals week signals the end of weeks worth of students’ hard work and dedication, so it should be a cause for celebration, right? Unfortunately for many students, finals is usually clouded by stress and anxiety. Everyone faces the rigors of stress at one point or another throughout the school year, but finals week is generally the most stressful time for students during the academic year. However, learning ways to manage stress can make finals week far easier. Here are some tips to try this week:

1. Take a time-out from studying to give your brain a break during long cram sessions. Go to the gym or practice yoga to allow your mind to focus on something other than hitting the books; both options are great distractions for the mind, and for the body. Physical activity is very beneficial in burning away any tension or frustration that stress may bring.

2. Count to ten slowly, take deep breaths, or listen to your favorite music. All three practices have calming effects on the body and mind that will allow you to gather your thoughts and distance yourself from your stress.

3. Making sure to get enough sleep and eat well-balanced meals. Sleep and adequate nutrition are necessary for your body and mind to function at its best. Ever heard of the motto “put good in, get good out?” Properly preparing yourself to take on the day’s tasks will make them easier to handle, reducing the level of stress they produce. Learn more about what a healthy and balanced diet consists of here, and check here to find out if you are getting enough sleep, and if not, how to fix it.

4. Don’t spend time worrying about things that are out of your control, like what grade you will get on a test after you have taken it. Worrying about the uncontrollable only adds to whatever stress or anxiety you may already be feeling. Accept that all you can do is give your best effort (perfection doesn’t exist!), and be proud of whatever work you produce.

5. Talk to someone, whether it’s friends and family, or a professional like a physician or therapist. UCLA’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is a resource available to all UCLA students. Outside of counseling, engaging socially is the quickest way to reign in stress, as communicating with another person allows one to feel safe and understood, which calms the nervous system.

6. Avoid unnecessary stress. Some causes of stress need to be dealt with in life (e.g. bills, school assignments), but there are ways to diminish the avoidable ones, like pushing yourself too hard or trying to control the outcome of events. Know your limits, because you can only do so much; don’t be afraid to say “no” to something that will be more than you can handle. Avoid people and environments that could trigger your stress.

7. Take care of yourself by making time for fun and relaxation in your everyday life. Write in a journal, spend time in nature, or read a good book. UCLA offers pet therapy during finals, which is just another way to alleviate stress. Nurturing yourself is a necessity that will allow you to be in a better place in life when dealing with stressors.

8. Stay positive. Changing the way you view a situation can change the situation itself, so build yourself up instead of tearing yourself down. Instead of saying “I can’t do this” remain positive and say “I will do the best that I can.”

Implementing these tips into your daily routine during finals week can assist in the reduction of stress, teach you healthier ways of coping with it, and leave you better prepared to face any stress that may come in the future. Everyone is affected by stress differently, so there isn’t just one sure-fire cure. Try testing different methods to find out which one works best for you, and share your experiences with your friends and other students who may be going through stressful times as well. If you have a way of dealing with finals stress that wasn’t on this list, please share it with us in the comments below or on social media!

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


Fri, Nov 18, 2016 AT 10:25 am - Mind Well
Perfectionism, Procrastination, and the Practice of Self-Care

By Mandy Mikhail

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

For most of my academic career, I prided myself in being “one of the smart kids”. Homework was completed the day that it was assigned, and tests were taken without much thought or fear of repercussions. In my AP European History class in high school, for example, I remember coming home everyday, sometimes after a long day of extracurriculars, and feeling compelled to take an additional three hours worth of notes. Yep, I was that kid.

Coming to UCLA opened my eyes in a multitude of ways. For one, I was no longer the top of my class — putting hours into my classes didn’t automatically guarantee me a good grade. Furthermore, I no longer had to be the top of class — my identity could be founded upon so much more. At UCLA, I was more than just my GPA. The world was my oyster. I didn’t want to look back on college years and recall days of turning pages like I had in high school. In doing so, I thought that I could finally relax the unrelenting pressure I put on myself to succeed.

However, I thought wrong. The pressure, the negative self-talk, and the rigorous standards remained. They just changed their face. Instead of putting in hours upon hours of work to succeed in my academics, I put in next to none. I would procrastinate, waiting to the very last minute to begin a homework assignment, let alone study. The days leading up to a test would seem carefree on the surface. I would enjoy my time with friends or immerse myself in Netflix. But the anxiety was under my skin like an itch, growing more and more pronounced as time would go on. Come time for the test, and I would be sitting in seat, vacillating between utter indifference (one of my many self-defense mechanisms) and excessive anxiety about how the results would ruin my future.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that my perfectionist standards and my procrastinating tendencies were actually closely related. Even though I thought I had been relaxing my standards, I had really just been pushing them to the side. In hindsight, I can see that I did this for a multitude of reasons. For one, I was frightened. I was frightened of losing an aspect of my identity that had come to define me for so long. For another, a part of me simply thought I couldn’t make the cut at UCLA. Despite my getting accepted, a part of me still denied that I deserved a place here. So I shut down, thereby having an external excuse such as my not studying rather than an internal deficiency to point at should I fail.

However, while studies support a link to procrastination and perfectionism, they also point to the existence of underlying distress. As students notorious for balancing academics, friends, work, extracurriculars, and sleep all in the span of 24 hour days, it can be hard, even seemingly impossible, to take care of one’s well-being.

Contrary to the popular notion that wellness is limited to physical and perhaps even mental health, wellness has multiple dimensions. The UCLA Student Wellness Commission, or SWC, is a prime example of how the promotion of health and wellness can span across topics ranging from mental health, body image, nutrition, fitness, environmental sustainability, and sexual health. Moreover, the ways in which in individual can promote his or her own wellness, or self-care, are endless. There is no “right” way to practice self-care; so long as an individual is meaningfully and deliberately prioritizing his or her overall well-being is an act of self-care.

So how do I self-care? As an avid user of Google Calendar, I’ve taken to scheduling in times when I can breathe and just treat myself. Sometimes this means spending time with friends. Other times it means watching episode after episode on Netflix. On the rare occasion, I can even be found blowing bubbles and making intricate balls out of Play-doh. But my favorite form of self-care by far is sleep, the benefits of which are immense. Want better skin? Sleep! Want to do better on a test? Sleep! If my explanation points aren’t enough to convince you, check out this article.

One last fun fact: Journaling has often been heralded as a wonderful way of promoting mental health. So much so that studies even show that writing about test-related anxieties immediately before taking an exam actually improves your test score. What a win-win, right?

How have you been putting yourself first lately? How do plan to start? Take some time to reflect, breath, and live. Try to remember that self-care isn’t selfish.

Mandy Mekhail is a 4th year undergraduate Psychology major and Disability Studies minor at UCLA. She currently serves as the Assistant Commissioner of the Student Wellness Commission, a student organization dedicated to promoting holistic health and wellness in the UCLA community.


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Tue, Nov 15, 2016 AT 9:20 am - Mind Well
What to Eat or Drink in Class to Stay Awake and Focused

By Aubrey Freitas

For many college students, the one thing we can’t seem to get enough of is sleep. Sleep deprivation leaves us groggy, with bags under our eyes, and probably reaching for a cup of coffee to keep us awake while attending lectures or studying for midterms.

What can students do to stay focused in class and improve their alertness? Eat! There are numerous foods out there that give the body the boost it needs to function at its best (even while running on a lack of sleep), so I’ve compiled a list of some great options for students to bring to class. However, please remember that sleep is extremely important to your overall well being, and these foods should not be used as a substitute for it. Instead, consume them to provide boosts of energy, when needed, throughout the day.

3 Snacks that Please the Stomach and Mind

1. Fruits with Vitamin C — These fruits are a source of many vitamins and minerals that have health benefits for the body all around, but fruits with high amounts of vitamin C are best for staying focused and alert. Fruits contain natural sugar, which provides quick bursts of energy, without the intense crash that sugar in candy brings. Fruits also help convert fat into energy, which wards off fatigue in the body. Try bringing some of these fruits that are high in vitamin C to class on days you’re feeling sluggish: oranges, pineapples, strawberries, grapefruit, guava, kiwi, or many more that can be found here. Fruits that are high in potassium, like bananas, raisins, and pears have also been shown to boost alertness. Find more potassium rich foods here. Maybe even combine the vitamin C and potassium rich foods to make one killer, energy packed fruit salad.

Photo via Flickr

2. Protein — This macronutrient offers a slow release of energy after consumption to provide consistent energy throughout the day. Since the boost occurs over an extended period of time, it is best to consume a few hours before you think your body will need to use it, maybe for breakfast to start your day strong or during a break between classes to keep you going until the end of the day. Yogurt, beef jerky, and string cheese are great sources of protein and more options can be found here. If you have dietary restrictions to dairy or meat, peanut butter, nuts (especially pistachios and almonds), and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, and chia) are great alternatives. Find more vegan/vegetarian sources of protein here.

Photo via Flickr

3. Dark chocolate — Cocoa contains a natural source of caffeine, so the darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine content. Dark chocolate may be considered a healthier substitute for other forms of candy on the sugar spectrum, but it should still be consumed in moderation when reaping its benefits, such as antioxidants and flavonoids, which are heart healthy. Pack some dark chocolate in your backpack to regain some energy when sitting through long lectures.

Photo via Flickr

2 Drinks that Provide Energy Benefits

1. WaterDehydration can make you feel sleepy, so it’s important to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Everyday activities can drain your body of water, and if it’s not replenished it can negatively affect your mood and energy levels, as well as your memory and brain performance. Check here to find out more about how much water you should be consuming every day.

Photo via Flickr

2. Green tea — This beverage option contains less caffeine than coffee, so it doesn’t cause an immediate crash once the caffeine has worn off. This means you may be able to skip that afternoon nap you take when you drink coffee, and spend that time studying (or having fun!). On top of its abilities to keep you awake and alert, green tea is also very good for you. Its benefits include supplying plenty of antioxidants to the body, and reducing the risk of heart disease and many cancers.

Photo via Flickr

Fall quarter is winding down, and these last few weeks of lectures and discussions are the final hurdles students need to make it through before the arrival of finals (and a much awaited winter break!). Use these snacks to eat your way to a more energized day, and a more focused mind. Pack your bags with some of these snacks and experiment with which ones help you through the day best, then please share your experiences with students around you or online!

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


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Mon, Nov 7, 2016 AT 8:20 am - Mind Well
Implementing Meditation into your Life: How to do it and Why you should

By Aubrey Freitas

Photo via Flickr

As a college student, there are so many things to think about simultaneously: studying for tests, finishing essays, balancing hours for your work schedule, paying bills, thinking about what you’re going to eat for lunch, etc. With so much to balance, life can feel hectic or overwhelming at times, so wouldn’t it be nice to step away from those tensions and relax? UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) and the Healthy Campus Initiative are offering ways to do just that by supplying opportunities to engage in the practice of meditation.

How to Begin Practicing Meditation

Mindful awareness is the process of connecting one moment to the next, and one actively observes and experiences their mental, physical, and emotional state. Free drop-in meditations are held on and around UCLA’s campus at various locations and times Mondays through Thursdays by various accomplished professors. All of these sessions are open to anyone wishing to learn how to be more present and less stressed in their everyday lives. Free drop-in mindfulness sessions are also occasionally offered to the public, which further explore the mind-body connection and different ways to implement the practice into your life. Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPs) classes are also offered to help people develop individualized meditation practices, as well as understand the basic principles of mindfulness, through weekly two hour group sessions for a period of six weeks. The MAPs level one class offers instruction on mindfulness to work on physical pain, common obstacles faced by many in the practice, cultivating positive emotions, and many more. As MARC is in support of the Healthy Campus Initiative, all current UCLA students are able to sign up for these classes for free, yet another great resource offered at our university that promotes mental wellbeing. Check the MAPs class schedule here for upcoming dates and class registration. If you feel that physically going to a class or a group setting isn’t really for you, MARC offers a wide variety of free online classes, like mindfulness for daily living, and cultivating positive emotions, as well as free downloadable guided meditations.

Why you should Practice Meditation

Mindful meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress , improve attention, boost the immune system, reduce emotional reactivity, and promote a general sense of health and wellbeing. The practice has also been linked to the improvement of metabolism , getting a better night’s sleep, as well as reducing aging. The benefits of meditation go far beyond that of simply feeling an inner sense of calm. Because of the mind-body connection, one will experience physical benefits along with the mental ones, such as reduced risk of heart attack or stroke, normalized blood pressure, and reduced anxiety and depression, which have all been associated with mindful meditation.

Take advantage of the wonderful opportunities offered on campus to improve your mental health. All drop-in sessions and classes are open to anyone interested, so don’t worry if you haven’t figured out the meaning of life just yet, or feel as though you don’t quite know how to meditate-- it’s all a learning process. A curiosity in the practice of meditation could lead to the development of a daily practice that will improve your day-to-day life! Stop by one of the drop-in meditations, or register for one of the MAPs classes, and share your experiences with us or online, so that more people can get involved with changes that will improve their wellbeing.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


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Thu, Oct 27, 2016 AT 11:09 am - Mind Well
Taking Care of Your Mental Health in College: 3 Common Challenges

By Aubrey Freitas

Photo via Flickr

College is often a wonderful experience for young men and women, providing a path to discover more about themselves and their desired field of education. However, this journey can also bring with it many rigors that may affect one’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Poor mental health of students on college campuses has been on the rise since 2013, and it’s important to know what the major mental health issues affecting college students are, so students can better take care of their own mental health, as well as that of those around them.

3 Major Mental Health Challenges Faced by College Students

1) Depression: Depression is the feeling of sadness for at least a period of two weeks, causing changes in one’s life, such as the lack of interest in daily activities, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy or concentration, significant weight loss, feelings of worthlessness or extreme guilt, and thoughts of suicide. Depression is the most common mental health issue faced by college students and the disorder contains many different branches, such as Major depressive disorder, Persistent depressive disorder, and Seasonal affective disorder, among many others. Some causes of this illness are hormone imbalances, inheritance through genetics, a change of environment that may make you feel uncomfortable, and biological differences in the brain, such as defective neurotransmitters. It’s important to recognize that a person can feel depressed from time to time without having major depressive disorder or any of those associated with it.

How to find help: The Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) center at UCLA is a valuable resource when needing a professional to talk to. Students can either walk in or schedule an appointment at CAPS. Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” is the most popular method of treatment for depression, which aims to help people understand their illness and to teach them ways to diminish unhealthy thoughts. Medication, such as antidepressants, are also treatment options, when recommended by a medical professional. GRIT Peer-to-Peer Coaching is an on campus resource that provides one-on-one sessions with trained coaches to promote the academic and personal success of students. The Resilience Peer Network (RPN) offers one-on-one help from trained undergraduate counselors through self-guided internet based cognitive behavioral therapy. Other beneficial care options include exercising daily, getting enough sleep, surrounding yourself with supportive family and friends, and tackling large tasks by breaking them down into smaller ones, so that they don’t seem so overwhelming.

2) Anxiety disorders: The definition of anxiety is an emotion described as bringing tension or worried thoughts that are persistent or recurring over a long period of time. These feelings are accompanied by physical changes in the body, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate. There are several different forms that are associated with anxiety, including general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Anxiety is the most common psychiatric illness, affecting almost 40 million adults in the U.S.; a large portion of those 40 million are college students. The disorder results from a series of factors including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events (like the possibly stressful transition into college). While many are affected by anxiety disorder, it is important to note that a person that is not diagnosable with an anxiety disorder can also experience feelings of anxiety.

How to find help: A wide variety of therapies have proven to be effective, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy , acceptance and commitment therapy , and dialectical-behavior therapy. Medications are also available, as prescribed by a psychiatrist or other medical professional, to help those with intense or chronic anxiety. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at UCLA is a beneficial resource for students to seek professional advice on campus. Meditation, yoga, and acupuncture have also had positive effects on mental health through their release of energy flow, relaxation, lowering heart rates and relieving stress. Check out HCI’s event calendar for dates and times of their drop-in meditations, and look into yoga classes offered at John Wooden Center to experience their benefits.

3) Relationship problems: challenges in romantic partnerships. Some examples are a lack of fairness/equality, not respecting one partner’s feelings, and feeling pressured to change for your partner. Other signs of an unhealthy relationship are a lack of privacy, or physical violence, that begin to negatively affect one’s emotional/mental health and overall wellbeing. It is often seen that college signals the beginning of many students first romantic relationships, or at least their first serious ones, and although these partnerships are thought of as blissful, they can sometimes become unhealthy. A survey by the American Psychological Association found that 35.8% of students visiting their college’s counseling centers were there seeking help for relationship problems that had begun to affect their mental health. Romantic relationships aren’t the only ones that can negatively affect mental health, friendships, and family ties can be equally as disruptive if they share the characteristics mentioned above.

How to find help: Along with CAPS, UCLA offers other helpful resources for those seeking help in their personal lives including Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) which offers counseling and a confidential place to talk for students who have faced domestic violence and/or stalking, or the UCLA offices of Ombuds Services which aims to offer fair and balanced assistance in settling disputes.

There are several different ways to go about treating the aforementioned mental health issues, but every individual is unique and may not respond the same way to certain recommended treatments. It’s good to explore as many of the options as possible to find out what works best for you. Use the symptoms described above, as well as your own research on websites like the American Psychological Association or the National Institute of Mental Health , to help you know what to look out for in your own mental health, as well as your fellow students. Good grades and an active social life may be important aspects of college, but taking care of our mental health is an important aspect of life that will remain with us forever. Are you currently struggling with one of the mental health issues mentioned, or have struggled with one in the past, and feel like sharing your experiences with other students? If so, comment or post online to spread the word about the importance of mental health in college and reach out to others who may be going through similar experiences.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


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Mon, Oct 17, 2016 AT 8:21 am - Mind Well
To judge or not to judge in mindfulness

By Lobsang Rapgay, PhD, research psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry UCLA

Photo via Beth Cortez-Neavel on Flickr

Being non-judgmental is a defining feature of modern forms of mindfulness. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, which is the most researched form, is the main draw for many to the practice of mindfulness. Part of the appeal is that many of us feel passionately that it is wrong to be judgmental of others. We might have strong feelings about being judged, criticized, and ridiculed, perhaps because we may have personally experienced their painful effects during childhood and even later in life. So when modern mindfulness says it will teach us to be non-judgmental, many of us buy into it readily.

We assume we are going to learn a special approach for how not to judge others based solely on their looks, gender, or race, or simply because we dislike them, and replace such biases with a more accepting approach. When someone we know is judgmental of others based on physical characteristics, we feel uncomfortable, upset, and wish we were not around such a toxic person.

On the other hand, we want our children to learn to make good choices as they go out into the world.  We want them to make informed judgements about the types of friends to go out with and those to avoid. Making good judgments involves not only making judgments based on one's likes and dislikes, but also by weighing the pros and cons of whether the friendship is rewarding and meaningful.  Research shows that learning to make informed judgements can take a long time and is only fully developed well past adolescence.

Modern mindfulness trains us to avoid making any form of judgments, sometimes at the cost of learning to make informed judgments.  If a child is mean to others, mindfulness teaches us not to judge the child as mean. If someone never completes his or her assignments, mindfulness teaches us not to judge the person as lazy. Calling someone mean or lazy imposes a label that interferes with our ability to experience that person as a whole person. Instead, we identify them with one characteristic. John is not just a person, instead he is lazy John. According to modern mindfulness, this makes it impossible to recognize that John is a complex individual with both good and bad traits.

However, research shows that excessive training in non-judgment can impair cognitive functioning.  A 2015 study provides preliminary evidence for the negative effects of non-judgment training. Researchers found that subjects trained in non-judgment failed to accurately recall words they memorized earlier. The results suggest that excessive training in non-judgment appears to impair certain cognitive functions that are critical for accuracy of memory.  One of these impaired cognitive functions is discrimination: a critical function for differentiating between what words did and did not appear in a set.  When discrimination is impaired, it interferes with memorizing and, consequently, with accurate recall later.  

Given that bias and judgment are virtually built into us – an evolutionary survival mechanism passed on from generation to generation-- we need to question the purpose of being non-judgmental.  Studies show that judgments about various faces made in the first 1/10 of a second rarely changed even when the subjects later saw the same faces for a full minute.  The findings suggest that the instant we see a face, we categorize it-- even before we have time to think about it.  These findings clearly suggest that training in non-judgment may have significant negative consequences on cognitive functioning.

One of the reasons for these inconsistencies lies with the founders of modern mindfulness, who have failed to clearly define non-judgment based on scientific concepts, principles and findings.  Rather, a practice was taken from the East, and poorly translated into a practice to suit the Western mindset. In fact, classical Buddhist teachings do not associate non-judgment training with mindfulness the way it is done in modern forms of mindfulness. Instead they teach the opposite: the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, as taught by the Buddha, begin with discrimination training in relationship to the sensory experience of the breath. In classical mindfulness, thinking is suspended to refine our capacity to fully sense our breath and body moment by moment in a non-evaluative and non-reactive way.  The objective is to reduce our habitual thinking, imaging, and self-narratives in order to experience the sensory world directly.  

Modern mindfulness training in non-judgment is a powerful way to reduce excessive judgmental thinking, worrying, and ruminating, which are responsible for exacerbating common psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression.  The above evidence suggests that we have to learn to be both non-judgmental at one level, and make healthy and informed judgments on another level.

People using modern forms of mindfulness can, therefore, benefit enormously by complementing non-judgment training with making healthy informed judgments. This requires learning when to apply non-judgment and when to make informed judgments. Integrating classical mindfulness provides an excellent means to do this given that it is consistent with current forms of mindfulness.  

When you know exactly when and how to apply non-judgment skills, you can then train yourself in discrimination, as taught in classical mindfulness. Once you acquire the ability to discriminate between various types of sensations associated with the breath and the body, you can extend that skill to discriminate between various types of thoughts, affect, and behavior.  The beauty about classical mindfulness is that such discrimination is not made based on moral values of the individual, but rather by observing, in a non-evaluative and non-reactive way, the effects that thoughts, affect, and behavior have upon you.  

As you acquire insight into the consequent effects of specific thoughts, affect, and behavior, you can verify those insights with further behavioral experimentation to determine if your assumptions and conclusions are valid.  Over time, you may discover a pattern – certain types of thoughts, affect, and behavior lead to distress, fear, anger and a host of other psychological and behavioral imbalances.  On the other hand, other types of thoughts, affect, and behavior lead to awareness, calm, self-regulation, and positivity.  Through personal experience and discovery, you can confirm which of these are beneficial and which are harmful.

In this way, you develop a template of how to think, feel, and act not based solely on what you have been told, but rather based on your personal exploration through an objective yet gentle process of direct experience, complemented with insight and validated with repeated behavioral experimentation.  

Rather than seeing the two forms of mindfulness as contradictory and exclusionary, opening yourself to the full exploration of what both current and classical teachings have to offer, can lead to a life-long, meaningful skill that can serve us well through our quest for growth and development in the midst of a challenging and demanding world.  

 For more information visit: www.integratedmindscience.org 


Lobsang Rapgay, PhD is a research psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry UCLA under the mentorship of Robert Bilder, Phd. He also maintains a private practice in West Los Angeles. His primary area of research is on the neural, physiological, and behavioral correlates of fear reconsolidation. He was a Tibetan Buddhist monk for 18 years and is well trained in the theory and practice of Buddhism.

Wed, Oct 12, 2016 AT 7:48 am - Mind Well
Beauty Inside and Out: Female Body Image and Mental Health

By Aubrey Freitas

Photo via Creative Commons

Every year, thousands of young women head off to college in pursuit of personal growth and higher education. However, this big change can alter the way women view their bodies and themselves. Studies show that college-aged females are particularly concerned with the way their bodies look, which consequently impacts the mental health of female students. Focusing on papers, midterms, and other assignments can be hard enough on its own, but with the added challenge of one not being comfortable in one’s own skin, college life becomes even more challenging.

What is body image?

Body image is a subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body that is influenced both by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others. Struggles with body image are not unique to any singular group of individuals, and can affect people of any gender, race, and sexual orientation. Having a healthy body image means having an undistorted perception of your shape, feeling comfortable and confident in your body, and appreciating your individual uniqueness. However, it is completely normal to not feel confident about your body 100% of the time — everyone has off days every now and then. A healthy body image is about having a positive relationship with your body and learning to process and deal with off days or bad body thoughts instead of putting ourselves down.

What’s so important about having a healthy body image? Body image dissatisfaction is linked to higher rates of depression, stress, isolation and insecurity, all of which can take a huge toll on the body and the mind. Working towards a healthy body image is especially important for college students because bad body thoughts and insecurities can dramatically affect their education and work quality.

How Body Image is Linked to Health

Studies show that as many as 40% of college females have eating disorders or serious problems relating to body image. That means two out of every five women on college campuses are not able to get the most out of their educational experience. Furthermore, the number of women that are unhappy with their bodies is at an all-time high of 91%, with 58% of college females feeling pressure to be a certain weight. This is incredibly dangerous, because poor body image contributes to poor mental health, and can consequently interfere with learning. Studies show that people with negative body images have higher levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidality than those without. Bad body thoughts can cause low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and make one feel as though their body is inadequate.

These statistics given demonstrate some of the ways women’s college experiences and self esteem can be affected, and can cause such a heavy burden that it makes it hard for them to function on a day to day basis. Women entering college are in a critical age group in terms of body image, and so it is important that they are provided with resources that can help them to feel comfortable and confident on their college campuses.

Why does college contribute to negative body image?

The college transition can be very difficult because it can often be very different from what an individual may have experienced in previous years of education; the introduction of a new setting, new people, and new mentalities can also influence one’s body image. In an article on Her Campus, one student claims that “college does not promote a healthy body image because there is so much fear over how easily one can gain weight.” There is social pressure to consume unhealthy dining hall food, party on weekends, and drink alcohol, yet at the same time there is a pressure to stay fit and not gain the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen.” These contribute to the anxiety women feel during their college experiences, and can cause them to waver in their studies because of having poor mental health.

The pressures of college atmospheres can force female students to be more focused on what they eat and how much they exercise than on their studies and extracurriculars. Some students suggest that if campuses “promoted a balance between staying healthy and enjoying being young” this that would allow students to feel more confident in their own bodies and minds. UCLA has taken strides to make changes among its campus through offering many resources to help combat negative body image and eating disorders, such as an Eating Disorders Program which offers help to people of all ages, and a research program dedicated to understanding and assisting those with Body Dysmorphic Disorder. There is even a student group dedicated to promoting healthy body image on campus called the Body Image Task Force.

Tips to Build a Healthy Body Image

There are a plethora of ways to work on building a healthy body image, and in turn, maintain one’s mental health throughout college. One way to build your self-image is to build a strong family support system and immerse yourself in it; strong family bonds are beneficial to curtailing outside pressures. Next time you’re feeling down about yourself or your body, try calling a family member or other loved one to cheer you up and remind you that you are loved. You can also work to develop skills to deal with stress, such as taking time out of your day to meditate or listening to your favorite music, which are calming activities that will help to create balance in your life. Additionally, try to be more proactively self-compassionate. One study found that people that actively practice self-compassion are more likely to have a healthy body image and experience a higher quality of life.

College can be a day-to-day struggle, and what’s harder than just that in today’s world? Being a female college student dealing with an unhealthy body image and all that accompanies it. Helping students feel as though they are accepted for their bodies is imperative, and contributing to other’s having positive thoughts about themselves can make a great difference in a female’s college experience. It’s okay to love yourself for who you are, treat yourself right and do what you want to do to be mentally and physically happy. With support from campuses and those around us, awareness of positive body image and mental health of female students can be brought to the light.


Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


Fri, Oct 7, 2016 AT 10:24 am - Mind Well
Mind Well Gives Students Tools to Address Their Mental Health

Photo via Artemisia Valeri

By Ross Szabo, Author Behind Happy Faces

Every week I read new studies, reports, or articles letting us know what’s wrong with college students today. They’re stressed out more than ever. They’re not sleeping. They’re abusing prescription medications. They’re overweight. They’re depressed. The list goes on and on. In some ways it’s like society is normalizing these problems for students instead of giving them skills to deal with what’s happening.  Students hear the news and are overwhelmed when they identify with these issues, but where are the solutions?

In response to these studies, an endless amount of mental health, mental illness, and suicide awareness campaigns address these problems. Grassroots organizations use PSAs, websites, and marketing materials to highlight helpful information to reach affected populations with messaging that students should seek help and end stigma. There are more young mental health advocates today than ever before. Students are standing up and giving a voice to these issues to empower others to come forward.

Moving Beyond Mental Health Awareness

We definitely need to continue the mental health awareness efforts that are being done on campuses. But, we also need to go further. Most universities have been focused on training faculty, parents, and students on what to do when someone has a mental health challenge, but typically the only thing we tell someone who is experiencing a problem is to seek help.

In some ways this is like telling everyone else what to do when someone has a heart condition, without giving the person with the condition any idea of what they can do for themselves. Mental health has to be the only public health issue where we attempt to prepare everyone for a crisis, but don’t give the individuals who are experiencing the problems the tools they need to address their emotions.

This approach creates numerous problems. Counseling centers are overwhelmed. Students can’t afford to seek help off campus. The lucky ones who have access to mental health treatment have to start developing coping skills for the first time in therapy, instead of learning these skills from a younger age. The earlier a person identifies a mental health disorder and accepts it, the better chance they have to manage the issue. Unfortunately, most people are being told they should seek help only after something significant has changed in their lives, instead of receiving proactive education from a young age.

Mind Well Makes a Difference

UCLA has been doing tremendous work to help students with educational efforts from the Mind Well pod of the Healthy Campus Initiative. The goal of Mind Well is to promote wellness of mind, brain and spirit, foster creativity, and enhance social connectedness throughout the UCLA community.

Mind Well has hosted events to educate students about sleep, meditation, mindfulness, and happiness. What makes their approach so successful is full student involvement. For example, this past spring, two students won a contest by creating their own mindfulness-coloring book and successfully distributing it to thousands of students at UCLA as well as other campuses.

Mind Well is currently conducting a Mind Lexicon study to determine the words students use to describe their emotions and assess if students know the meaning of commonly used mental health terms. The results will be a baseline to enhance outreach and educational efforts.

We need to start teaching mental health the same way we teach physical health. Mind Well helps make learning about difficult topics more approachable. Students get the chance to better understand brain development, what affects their moods, how to change coping mechanisms, the symptoms of mental health disorders, and how to manage their mental health.

For more information about our work on campus, visit our website.

Thu, Oct 6, 2016 AT 9:03 am - Mind Well
Play Explores Mental Health and Friendship With Beloved TV Show as a Backdrop

By Gene Gillespie, PhD, HSS Guest Writer

L-R: Nick McLoughlin, Joseph Mango, and Miranda Wynne visited the Friends’ Central Perk set on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Photo via Elizabeth Lizaola.

I get by with a little help from my friends – The Beatles

Doesn’t everyone have that favorite book they can pick up and read a few pages, and feel the sensation of an old friend’s embrace? Or a song that helps them see hope when it feels like there is none? Or a film that provides an escape from their daily struggles when they feel they can’t continue?

The concept of art as a means of coping and consolation is central to a play being produced by UCLA Semel Institute’s Center for Health Services and Society (HSS). On October 7th and 9th, the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s Tamkin Auditorium will hold two performances of The One with Friends, written by HSS staff member Joseph Mango.  The play follows an aspiring writer (Lucy, played by Miranda Wynne) and a struggling actor (Callum, played by Nick McLoughlin) confronting feelings of depression and isolation as they strive for personal and professional success. The play is being produced in conjunction with a pilot research study that assesses the impact of the arts on stigma and perceptions of mental health. HSS, which also helped bring the story of USC Law Professor Elyn Saks’ battle with schizophrenia to the operatic stage at UCLA in July (see Huffington Post article here), will hold this event as a part of an ongoing effort to raise community awareness and understanding of mental health through the arts.

The play is set primarily in a Santa Monica coffee shop, where Lucy is composing a script for a reunion episode of the beloved television show Friends, which aired on NBC from 1994-2004. Through Lucy’s perspective, the play explores our experience of personal tragedy, and the anxieties and uncertainties of pursuing your dreams in the face of tremendous odds.  “I was so drawn to the character of Lucy, who I find both instantly relatable and hilarious in her desire to alienate others,” says director Ashley Griggs. “It has been such an exciting task to tackle a character with layers like hers; someone who is blunt and kind and cold and vulnerable, all at once.”

The other lead, Callum, suffers from clinical depression, offering a unique yet intersecting perspective to that of Lucy.  Callum’s depression leaves him isolated and only after his therapist assigns him the task of approaching a stranger as part of his treatment, does he meet Lucy.  They build a friendship grounded both in their personal problems, but also in their shared professional interests and aspirations, and the burgeoning hope that there are better times ahead. Chloé Hung, who plays The Model, discussed the connection between the main characters, despite and perhaps because of, their differences: “Callum and Lucy’s relation to depression is very different, but they can recognize a similar quality and relate to each other through their respective experience. The script is incredibly empathetic and emphasizes the need for one another to reach out and just listen.”

Friends is personified as an actual character in the play, and much of the emotional verve brought by the actors is derived from a deep-seated nostalgia for the show’s characters. “I think the reason this show was so successful is because the audience could find something relatable in every single one of the characters,” says Miranda Wynne, who plays Lucy.

The One with Friends aims to bring a deeper understanding of the emotional and mental challenges faced by our fellow human beings, and offers a reassurance that no one is alone. “I think art really helps mental health awareness just by bringing it to light. A lot of these things can be difficult to talk about,” says Lindsey Ford, who plays The Warm-Up Woman.  “When someone on television, in a movie, or in a play talks about having suicidal thoughts or dealing with a bad depression, it not only allows others to recognize that many people deal with these difficulties, it empowers the friends and family of those individuals an entry into conversations about these types of mental health issues.”

For playwright Joseph Mango, the play is a semi-autobiographical account drawing on emotions from his angst-filled teenage years, fraught with social pressures to the distinct anxieties of young adulthood. Throughout these challenges, one television show was a constant, not subject to the rollercoaster of emotion that life can become. “In writing the play, I wanted to emphasize the important role family and friends play, as well as the arts, when a loved one is living with major depression.  While everyone’s experience with depression is different, and medication and therapy aid in the journey of recovery, I always believe that the support of family, friends, and that favorite TV show, movie, or song when you need it most is just as important.  Friends is something that is constant and positive and has been there for me since it debuted in 1994,” says Mango.  

Exploring his personal thoughts and the role of Friends in his life allowed Mango to channel his passion for battling depression stigma through the arts. This inspired him to co-lead a pilot study to assess the impact of his play on people’s knowledge and attitude toward depression and how this might be affected by the arts. With the play, Mango and HSS hope to increase understanding of depression and to celebrate the power of the arts in promoting healing.

For more information about the play and to reserve free tickets, visit: http://www.theonewithfriends.com

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to everyone.  All calls are confidential.


Fri, Sep 30, 2016 AT 11:01 am - Mind Well
Putting Your Brain First: 5 Mental Health Student Organizations at UCLA

By Aubrey Freitas

The beginning of another school year brings opportunities for students to get involved with new or different clubs and organizations on campus. UCLA is home to more than 1,000 student groups spanning a wide variety of topics from healthcare to soccer to fashion, so there’s a club for you on campus no matter your interests!

If mental health is one of your passions, there are many groups you can get involved with on campus. Check out this list of student groups and join one that will help you take care of your own mental health while helping others with theirs!

1) Yoga for Flexible Futures is a nonprofit organization that teaches the importance of yoga and nutrition to kids. The health benefits of yoga include increased body awareness; stress relief; reduced incidence of anxiety, depression, and insomnia; and even more. Once every week, Yoga for Flexible Futures members visit the UCLA Community School (a public K-12 school partnered with UCLA that strives to teach students to be multicultural, active participants in society) to teach a yoga class that is specifically designed to capture children's attention. The classes always revolve around a fun theme (like under the sea or Halloween) and incorporate traditional yoga poses into a unique learning experience. The club also spreads the health benefits of yoga on UCLA’s campus by collaborating with other student groups to lead adult classes. New member training, which will be held on October 2nd, will certify incoming members to teach children’s yoga and allow them to instruct classes throughout the year with the club. Check out their Facebook page to apply now and for more information.

Photo via Facebook

2) Active Minds is a national organization that aims to change the conversation surrounding mental health by teaching students the importance of advocating for mental health and working to fight the stigmas associated with mental health. UCLA’s chapter is actually the biggest Active Minds chapter in the entire country! The organization aims to change the way people view mental health by helping everyone realize that mental health is a shared aspect of life we all need to do our best to take care of. The group hosts workshops, events, and educational opportunities to better support those who need help improving their mental health. Check out their Facebook page for upcoming events and for their Fall application. Also, check out the All of Us campaign that recently merged with Active Minds and is now its own committee under the group. All of Us is a campaign that stresses that while not every individual has a mental illness, every individual has mental health that must be proactively cared for. The campaign aims to break the stigma surrounding mental health by holding educational programs, workshops, and events created to educate the community on the importance of seeking help before concerns with mental health become crises.  

Photo via Facebook

3) Bridging Minds Through Art, affiliated with the Painted Brain, is a student group that was created to bring people within UCLA’s mental health community together through the use of artistic expression. The Painted Brain is a nonprofit organization that uses art to bridge the gap between those struggling with mental heath and those who are not through collaborations, a magazine, and vocalized story sharing. Bridging Minds Through Art is made up of artists, poets, musicians, writers, and others who are interested in art that all work together to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. The organization allows people who are struggling with poor mental health to collaborate with others from all backgrounds to create art pieces that reflect what it’s like to live with their mental health struggles. Creative expression is the driving force for this organization in developing a positive community through hosting events at colleges, high schools, and several other locations that mix art and mental health awareness/expression. Get involved by visiting the Painted Brain’s nearby community center (open to anyone with a passion for art), contributing an art piece to be displayed during a showcase, or taking one of the coding workshops offered by the organization.

Photo via Facebook

4) Autism Speaks U at University of California, Los Angeles is a campus chapter furthering the work of the organization Autism Speaks. The organization engages college campuses and local communities to help all of those affected by Autism. The UCLA chapter desires to change the future set for all individuals struggling with any version of Autism. In particular, the club is interested in funding research about the causes of Autism, methods of prevention, and treatments; raising awareness about the disorder; and understanding its effect on individuals, families, and society. Check out the club’s Facebook page for more information and get involved by participating in events like Walk Now for Autism Speaks , the Los Angeles Racket Run by ACEing Autism, and more.

Photo via Facebook

5) Falun Dafa at UCLA is a student organization and Qigong group that offers free meditation. Millions of people all over the world participate in the traditional, high-level Chinese practice involving the use of posture, breathing techniques, and mental focus. The club promotes the meditative art by teaching it to others and also promotes overall social well-being. The practice of meditation has numerous mental health benefits: reducing negative emotions; building skills to manage stress; increasing self-awareness; reducing pain, high blood pressure, and insomnia; and combatting anxiety and depression.  Check out the club’s Facebook page for more information about this specific practice of meditation and upcoming events.

Photo via Facebook

The new school year may have just begun, but it is never too soon or too late to get involved with groups that can help to keep you mentally healthy and happy or to encourage your peers to adopt healthy habits. Check out these organizations for yourselves and see if any of them are a good fit for your own personality and individual mental health needs. Don’t see your favorite mental health club on here? Comment and share your feedback online to connect others with great opportunities to get involved with mental health around campus.


Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


Tue, Sep 6, 2016 AT 9:31 am - Mind Well
Tips to Fight Every College Student’s Worst Habit: Procrastination

By Miso Kwak

Photo via Google Images

If you are a UCLA student, you are probably all too familiar with procrastination. In fact, you might even be procrastinating right now as you read this blog post! I am no different; I have lost count of how many times I have submitted assignments just an hour before they were due, telling myself “Never again!”...

According to procrastination research, 80-95% of college students procrastinate, especially on their academic work. Consequently, It is no surprise that procrastination is consistently associated with a lower grade point average. In addition to poor academic performance, another study found an association between procrastination and chronic health problems such as hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, which is likely due to the added stress procrastination can bring on.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

As summarized in a Washington Post article, there are many different views on why people procrastinate; some researchers claim it is due to lack of self-control, while others say it is a coping mechanism people use to deal with tasks they associate with fear or dread. Another proposed explanation is that procrastinators lack an emotional connection to their future-selves, which makes them to think about and relate to the future consequences of procrastinating today. Yet another perspective argues that some people intentionally choose procrastinate because they work better under the pressure.

How Can We Resist the Temptation to Procrastinate?

Whatever our reason for procrastinating may be, understanding how we can reduce resist the temptation to put off important tasks and learn better time management skills can help us to both improve our academic performance and our well-being.

Use Technology Wisely

Dr. Ferrari, an expert on procrastination, argues that today’s technology should be a helpful tool for better time management rather than a means of delay. One practical step you can take is putting your smart phone on Do Not Disturb mode. I do this often when I need to focus on reading, finish assignments in a short span of time, or get a good night’s sleep. By putting my phone on Do Not Disturb, I am able to free myself from the distraction that my phone brings. Another easy strategy is to utilize the calendar and/or reminder function and organize tasks in order of urgency and importance. There are also several apps you can download on your computer or phone to discourage procrastination. On your computer, try downloading the Blocksite extension for Google Chrome, which you can use to block Facebook, Pinterest, or other sites you tend to frequent when you’re avoiding tasks. If you have an iPhone, the app Procrastinatorr will send you notifications if you start to use other apps while you’re supposed to be working on a certain task.

Take a Break

While it may seem counter-intuitive, research has shown that taking a break is an important part of being productive. Some healthy ways to take a break include going on a walk, taking a tea break, meditation, and doing indoor exercises. Just make sure your break doesn’t become so long that it distracts you from moving on to the next task! Using a timer could be a good way to prevent this.

Whether you were reading this post as a way to procrastinate or not, I hope it encouraged you to be more productive and gain greater control of procrastinating. Procrastination may seem like a habit that is unbreakable, but I believe that with practice, we can fight the procrastination. If you have any tools or tips you have found helpful for fighting procrastination, please share them with me at livewellblog@ucla.edu or on Facebook!


Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.



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Fri, Aug 19, 2016 AT 10:31 am - Mind Well
The Health Benefits of Prosocial Behavior

By Miso Kwak

Photo via Flickr

Today, August 19th is World Humanitarian Day, which recognizes the aid workers who have lost their lives in order to provide humanitarian assistance to people around the world. In addition to recognizing humanitarians, it is important to celebrate the spirit of humanitarianism -- and its health benefits. This article investigates the health benefits of engaging in prosocial behavior, and offers simple, easy ways to incorporate prosocial behavior into daily college life.

What is Prosocial Behavior?

Prosocial behavior refers to voluntary action that intends to benefit other people and/or society as a whole. It encompasses a wide range of behaviors from something as simple as holding the door for someone behind you to making a financial contribution to a charity. Such actions not only benefit those around us, but also our own well-being.

Benefits of Prosocial Behavior on Well-Being

In a recent study on the association between prosocial behavior and daily stress, subjects were asked to report both levels of stress, positive affect, and negative affect and the number of prosocial activities they engaged in for 2 weeks,. The study found that subjects who reported more time engaged in prosocial behavior showed higher levels of positive mood. Furthermore, subjects who engaged in greater than average number of prosocial activities experienced less negative affect in response to daily stress, leading to better overall mental health. In other words, engaging in prosocial behavior may be effective in defusing the negative influence of stress on positive affect and emotional well-being.

Another study compared life satisfaction of subjects before and after performing 10 days of either acts of kindness, acts of novelty, or no act. The study revealed that acts of kindness and acts of novelty resulted in increased life satisfaction, whereas the control condition did not result in a significant difference. It suggests that as little as 10 days of engaging in prosocial behavior or trying something new can positively affect how we feel about our lives.

Incorporate Prosocial Behavior into your Campus Routine

A new school year is quickly approaching. If one of your goals for the new school year is to improve your emotional health and self-esteem, brainstorming creative ways to engage in prosocial behavior may be a strategy to consider. Here are some suggestions:

1. Share your snack with classmates, even if you don’t know them – and even better if it’s something nutritious, like dried fruits or nuts.

2. Smile and express gratitude to maintenance staff in the dorms and dining halls – the clean environment and delicious food would not be possible without them.

3. Write a positive memo for your roommate(s) such as “Have a nice day” or “Thank you for taking the trash out.” Small acts of appreciation can go a long way for developing a positive relationship.

4. Leave a sticky note with positive slogan on the desk in the lecture hall for a fellow student who would sit in your spot for the next lecture – it might be just what they need to get through the day.

5. Hold the elevator for someone if they appear to be in a rush -- we've all been in that situation and know how can those few extra seconds can make a world of a difference.


Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.


Tue, Aug 16, 2016 AT 1:18 pm - Mind Well
The best mental health book that isn’t a mental health book

By Aubrey Freitas

The best health and wellness book I have ever read is not one in the traditional sense. It is not written by a doctor, psychologist, or other professional claiming to know the answers to how to find peace within oneself. It is written by an ordinary person who faced several struggles in their life and decided to share how they found themselves after a long time of being lost. The book is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, a nonfiction novel that shares the author’s firsthand accounts of her once-perfect life that fell to ruin, and of her journey to three different countries where she learns to put the pieces of herself together again.

The book begins with Gilbert at the lowest point in her life, where she questions why she should continue in a life that seems to have pushed her to her limits. It is a nighttime miracle that inspires Gilbert to prioritize her happiness and take a very special trip around the world. Each of the countries Gilbert visits during her year of adventure brings with it a different step towards healing: learning to love her body, losing the feeling of guilt, learning devotion through yoga, and balancing between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.

Before Gilbert’s journey began, she was plagued with depression, suicidal thoughts, an eating disorder, stress, and anxiety. However, each country she visits during her soul searching mends a part of her that was wounded. Gilbert encourages all who are facing struggles, or who have contemplated suicide, to turn to journaling as an outlet and safe space for releasing fears, anger, sadness, and doubts from the mind, so as to keep nothing but happiness inside one’s head and worries on the paper. The honesty in which mental illness is written about through this novel is striking, parts of which are excerpts from Gilbert’s diary, which she credits for saving her life and helping her regain her mental stability. By including excerpts from her diary, Gilbert creates an intimacy that allows readers to feel as though they are going through the experiences, growth, and healing along with Gilbert. Gilbert offers yoga, meditation, exploration, and indulgence as remedies, from her personal experiences, to depression and anxiety. One significant message the book conveys is that in order to heal one’s scars, they first have to forgive themselves; Gilbert cites this as the best advice she was ever given, which she passes on to readers in hope that it will assist in their own battles. Gilbert admits that if she had not taken such actions to change her life that she would not be alive today. Her story aims to show that there is so much to discover in the world that brings euphoria and peace of mind to people’s lives, and that if actions are not taken to alter one’s unpleasant position, all of the world’s beauty will be missed. By putting herself and her own happiness first, Gilbert is able to return to her favorite version of herself, work through her mental health struggles, and create a piece of literature that is able to help others do the same.

Gilbert’s story exemplifies that we all go through low points, but we do not have to succumb to them or let them ruin us, for, “..perhaps [our lives have] not actually been so chaotic, after all. It is merely this world that is chaotic, bringing changes to us all that nobody could have anticipated” (320). This story is a simple reminder to never give up on ourselves, because we are incredible beings and the world has so much to offer. I have read many books in my lifetime, and never has a nonfiction book touched my heart in such a way, or caused me to alter my life. As this book is filled with diverse content, it can appeal to almost anyone: travel bugs, foodies, hopeless romantics, linguists, yogis, soul searchers, comfort seekers, and many more. It is one of the best books to be read when wishing for a reason to persevere and desiring to find happiness and well-being in one's own life.

Photo by Aubrey Freitas

Photo by Aubrey Freitas


Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


Fri, Jun 3, 2016 AT 5:00 pm - Mind Well
Resilience in the Face of Tragedy

Students and community members hold up LED lights at vigil for Professor William Klug. Image from UCLA Newsroom 

What can we do to heal from the events at UCLA on June 1? Our student body and facultyare already stretching themselves thin as we close out the final days of the Spring term and head into finals week. Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Waugh, and Chancellor Block have publicized the availability of help for students at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS; 310-825-0768), and for staff and faculty at the Staff and Faculty Counseling Center (SFCC; 310-794-0245), and campus healing spaces have been organized.

A vigil organized by the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science thatis open to campus and community will take place at 4 p.m. today in the UCLA Court of Sciences. We will post notices of upcoming special events related to this crisis on the Healthy Campus Initiative website as these become known. You may also review many other resources to support resilience and emotional well-being (healthy.ucla.edu/pod/mindwell). 

Moving forward as a community, we need to recognize first that each of us experienced theevents differently, and we should expect a range of responses. Many on campus and in thesurrounding areas may have felt threatened, and those off campus watching the events unfold were alarmed. Not everyone will experience traumatic psychological responses, although many will. It is very important to know that there is no “right way” to cope. Some mayexperience distress in the immediate aftermath that can abate relatively quickly, while othersexperience symptoms that persist over time. These responses do not necessarily correlatewith how close you were to the event or how many people you knew who were there. Trauma exposure can impact our functioning, leading to thoughts and uncomfortable feelings that maynot go away immediately. 

Some may find it helpful to express emotions. Talking about one’s fear, distress, and associated physical symptoms, may be healing. We can help one another by reaching out and offering support, and we can help ourselves by actively seeking connections to our friends and families. Listen to others without judgement and spend time with close others. We should anticipate that some members of our community will need more help, and help is available. 

If you or someone you know needs it, please do whatever you can to learn about the effects of trauma and how we can guide others to take advantage of the resources (For students: http://www.studentincrisis.ucla.edu; For staff and faculty: https://www.chr.ucla.edu/behavioral-intervention-team).

We hope to move forward in closer empathic connection to one another, and invite you to share your ideas to help us enhance resilience (Email us at MindWell@ucla.edu). Through shared action, we can build a future where such tragedies become less common. 

Robert M Bilder, Tennenbaum Professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences and Psychology, David Geffen School of Medicine and College of Letters & Science at UCLA. On behalf of the Mind Well pod, UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative

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Tue, Apr 26, 2016 AT 10:43 am - Mind Well
Sleep Deprivation Is No Joke


By: Carolanne Link, UCLA Undergraduate Student

Recently, I had one of those days where I prioritized homework above sleep. I was in my fourth straight hour of chemistry homework when I made myself laugh. How? Well, while doing an extensive calculation, I picked up my cellphone and started typing into that. I only realized my phone was not in fact my calculator when I couldn’t find operations on the keypad. I chuckled, picking up my calculator and spending the next two minutes typing the calculations in, only to realize that I had never turned the calculator on.

At this point my chuckling started to give way to a bit of worry about my inattention. I’m sure some of you are smirking, imagining this scenario and/or commiserating with this tale while remembering something similar you’ve done. It’s a common “college-esque” incident; students joke about all-nighters, late-night cramming, and, in my case, “binge-homeworking.”

But the problem with this is that we caffeine-infused go-getters brush over how our self-induced sleep deprivation affects our long-term learning. Within 48 hours of my homework binge, I couldn’t have told you what half those problems were about, or how I solved them.

When my TA went over some similar examples during my discussion later that week, some of it came rushing back. Mostly, though, it hit me that if I had gotten these problems on a test or quiz, I would have drawn a giant blank - regardless of how well I did on the homework set! After the shock and internal horror faded a bit, I considered the fact that this was probably the topic of many scientific studies.

A quick search yielded a 13-page report on the “Neurocognitive Consequences of Sleep Deprivation.” I found out from this study that there are three types of sleep deprivation: 1) Partial sleep deprivation = less than 7 hours of sleep every 24 hours, 2) Short-term sleep deprivation = no sleep for an extended period less than or equal to 45 hours, and 3) Long-term sleep deprivation = no sleep for more than 45 hours.

What really grabbed my attention was the following: “When all three measures [mood, cognitive performance, and motor functions] are collapsed together, the mean functional level of any sleep-deprived individual is estimated to be comparable to the 9th percentile of non-sleep deprived subjects. Interestingly, mood and cognition were found to be more affected by partial sleep-deprivation than total sleep deprivation.”

In non-academic speak, this basically translates to two things:

1) If you deprive yourself of sleep, you’re likely to be functioning worse than 90% of the people who actually got a full night’s sleep.
2) Consistently not getting a full night’s sleep can be even worse for you than large binges of deprivation!

Therefore, please don’t be like me and all the other college zombies around! Otherwise, you might find yourself mistaking your phone for your calculator too, and perhaps at a more dire moment than I did. Heed my warning my dear peers, and always prioritize a good night’s sleep.


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Fri, Mar 4, 2016 AT 1:12 pm - Mind Well
7 Strategies to Optimize Your Sleep Routine

Co-authored by David Baron, MD and the UCLA MindWell Team

The results are in: One in three Americans does not get enough sleep. This is the latest finding in a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that asked almost half a million adult Americans how many hours of sleep, on average, they get in a 24-hour period.

While precise individual sleep needs vary, Experts at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend at least seven hours of sleep each night for adults. According to the new study, only about 65% of us are meeting this recommendation.

Why Sleep Matters

First of all, why does it matter? Who needs sleep anyway? You’ve heard people say, “I can rest when I’m dead.” That’s true, but not getting enough sleep can actually shorten your lifespan.

Sleeping less than seven hours is associated with higher stress, anxiety and depression, poorer cognitive function (sexual function too), obesity, difficulty controlling high blood pressure, and even cardiovascular risks, not to mention loss of creativity and alertness.

And here’s something you might not have thought of: motor vehicle accidents. The number one cause of daytime sleepiness is poor quality or insufficient nighttime sleep. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 846 fatalities in 2014 and an estimated average of 83,000 car crashes per year between 2005-2009 that were drowsy-driving related. One study found that people who drive after being awake for 17 to 19 hours performed worse than those with a blood alcohol level of .05 percent.

7 Strategies to Sleep Smarter

So what’s a work-hard/play-hard, multitasking, over-extended, not-so-well-rested person to do?

We’ve got two words for you: sleep smarter. You may not have a lot of time for sleeping, but you can sleep smarter by optimizing your sleep routine.

1. Cover the basics: Restful sleep generally requires a reasonably comfortable bed in a dark, quiet location that isn’t too hot or too cold. Research suggests an environmental temperature of about 65 degrees is best if sleeping with pajamas and light bedding.
2. Stick to a schedule: Try to consider your sleep time like any other commitment in your busy day. Go to bed and wake up on time!
3. Be smart about screen time: Avoid using electronics (yes, smartphones and tablets, too) late at night as blue-green wavelengths can keep you more alert. Life hack: You can also install f.lux on your devices to remove blue light and adjust your screen according to the time of day.
4. Eat and exercise earlier: Avoid eating large meals late at night, and try to stick to consistent meal times throughout the day. In addition, vigorous exercise within 2-3 hours of bedtime revs you up and makes it harder to fall asleep, while moderate exercise in the late afternoon or early evening can help you sleep.
5. Skip the nightcap: Alcohol can also help you fall asleep but will often wake you up a few hours later (it has a two phase effect on the brain: first sedating, then activating). It’s the same deal with marijuana, which also disrupts normal sleep stage progression (i.e. not as much R.E.M. or Stage IV deep sleep).
6. Make bed a sacred space: Save your bed for sleeping and snuggling. Try not to eat, watch TV, text, or talk on the phone in bed. Note to students: Never study in bed.
7. Get sleepy and try again: If you have trouble falling asleep in 15 to 30 minutes, get out of bed and try doing a mellow activity like reading until you feel sleepy.

The science is clear that healthy sleep is critical for a healthy life. Give these strategies a try before you contact your health care provider about sleeping medications. Your doctor will likely want to talk to you about this approach before writing the prescription. And they should. Sedatives stop working pretty quickly and are generally addictive. In most cases, you can learn to get to sleep and get enough rest without them.

If you don’t believe us, sleep on it.

Get more tips and information from the UCLA Sleep Well Campaign.

Dr. David Baron is the executive director of the UCLA Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center.


Sleep fact sheet co-created by UCLA MindWell, Kendra Knudsen, and Dr. Alon Avidan, Professor of Neurology at UCLA and Director of both the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center and UCLA Neurology Clinic. 


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Sat, May 16, 2015 AT 5:02 am - Mind Well
Be on the Best Stressed List

By: David B. Baron, M.D.

I’m having a particularly stressful week. So I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity to focus this column on one of the top three reasons people come to see a doctor: feeling  “stressed.”

Well, if you are reading this article then you live in the real world and stress is simply a part of that reality.  What’s the cause? It may be the increasingly rapid pace at which we live, a lost sense of connectedness to our families, friends, neighbors and communities (despite the hyper-connectivity of social media and erosion of personal privacy), or a the lack of control we feel over everything from traffic to terrorism, cars to computers, the price of gas to the gridlock in our government. That’s aside from the individual trials and tribulations we each must face in when we lose a loved one, graduate from school, change jobs, partners or homes.  But the end result is the same; it all affects our peace of mind, and ultimately our health.  Everything from back pain to high blood pressure, insomnia to depression, headaches, asthma, diabetes, esophageal reflux and stomach ulcers may be caused by and/or aggravated by stress.  

I am not licensed or likely to be able tell you how to eliminate stress in your life.  Nor should that necessarily be the goal, since what challenges us often offers us opportunities to grow, innovate, and evolve as individuals and as a society.  But to paraphrase an old expression, whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger if you cope with the stress adaptively.  Unfortunately, I all too often see people doing exactly the OPPOSITE of what a reasonable, intelligent person might suggest to a friend who is struggling with undue stress in their life. What I generally recommend is to try to eat regular meals and a nutritionally balanced diet, do some vigorous exercise most days of the week, get enough sleep, avoid alcohol, smoking and drugs, try meditation, yoga, journaling, or therapy, and consider seeking help from a doctor or therapist if you need it.  Instead, many people seem to quit going to gym, eat more fast food and junk, drink more, smoke more, sleep less, dabble in drugs, hide problems from friends and family, stop going to their houses of worship and refuse to see a therapist or try something new that might give them an hour or two of peace and quiet contemplation or just plain fun and release. That’s what I call “maladaptive coping.” 

Whether or not it’s “human nature” to wallow in the misery, lick your wounds, drown your sorrows, stuff your feelings, sweep it under the rug (take your pick of common formulas for making matters worse) or try to ignore the problems and hope they’ll go away, the results of these types of maladaptive coping are pretty predictably unpleasant and unproductive.

So, think about whether the habits you have and the choices you make are actually CONTRIBUTING to your stress, or helping to alleviate it. There are many more ways than just the ones I’ve mentioned to keep you more balanced, resilient, healthy and growing, even in the face of an unpredictable world in which we’re all struggling to get by. It often takes only incremental, small changes practiced consistently to protect and improve your health in a hurry.  That shouldn’t stress you out too much.

This article also appeared in the Daily Bruin. 








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Tue, Apr 14, 2015 AT 7:52 am - Mind Well
The stranger within: Connecting with our future selves

The stranger within: Connecting with our future selves. UCLA social psychologist studies the emotional disconnect between our present and future selves.



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Wed, Mar 4, 2015 AT 8:24 am - Mind Well
Insights about sleep

See this Daily Bruin Ashe About Your Health article by Dr. David Baron the executive director of the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center.


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Mon, Nov 3, 2014 AT 9:07 pm - Mind Well
Did you see that story on the news last night?

By:  Doug Barrera, Ph.D., Assistant Director, UCLA Center for Community Learning

Ok then. Why don’t you tell me what you would do about immigration? No, really. Tell me what you would do to address immigration concerns in this country. Or, how about Israel and Palestine? What should we do about that? What about the student debt crisis? Or climate change? Do you think there’s about to be a race war in America? How do we ensure all people access to clean water and healthy food? Or should we?

These are the types of discussions you should be having at UCLA. College is meant to be the place where you are asked your opinion of what’s happening in the world; the place where those opinions are challenged, and where you in turn challenge others’ opinions. It’s meant to be the place where your mind is expanded by listening to the experiences of others. In essence, this is where your critical thinking skills about the world around you should be developed so that you graduate not only more knowledgeable about a certain academic discipline, but prepared to be an informed and active civic participant as well. And yet, in the current culture of higher education, such inquiries are happening with lesser and lesser frequency. Rather than being asked, “What do you think?,” you’re being told, “Here’s what you should know.” After all, it’s hard to ask each student for their opinion when you’re sitting in a class with 200 of your closest friends.

But this problem goes beyond the campus. The sources of information that is put in front of us seem infinite. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The Daily Show, Bill Maher, Rush Limbaugh, Huffington Post, Daily Kos, TMZ, ESPN. Not to mention all those posts from your “friends” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. (And then there’s always the old school – newspapers and news magazines – if you care to go there.) Rarely do any of the contributors to these actively seek your opinion. Instead, they want you to know what they think. And that’s a problem.

You’ve probably heard the expression:  “Never talk about politics or religion at a party.” So I once asked a student, “Do you ever talk politics in your sorority house or at a fraternity party?” She told me that she never does, and would be scared to do so. When I asked why, she commented that if she ever did, she’d probably be attacked for what she believes and told that she was wrong. And you know what? She’s right. That is what would happen. Our standard modus operandi is to tell others why they’re wrong and why they should think just like us. We’re not interested in truly listening to others, because that might, possibly, cause us to reconsider what we believe.

But that’s the point of being at a place like UCLA. You don’t come here to have your views cemented. You come here to hear – to hear the perspectives of those different from you, to discuss what you believe, and hopefully, to be asked why you believe what you believe. That’s our responsibility. As Henry Giroux asserts in Take Back Higher Education, if colleges and universities are to be the “crucial sphere for creating citizens equipped to exercise their freedoms and competent to question the basic assumptions that govern democratic political life, academics will have to...(offer) students knowledge, debate, and dialogue about pressing social issues.”

So then, what do we do with all of this information that we are inundated with? How do we make sense of it all? How do we know what to believe and what to toss aside? Perhaps more importantly, how do we change the institutional and cultural barriers that inhibit our critical analysis of the information so that we may use it to become active participants in the global community? Well, one step is to actually talk with others about what’s happening.

That is what we try to do in my Fiat Lux course, Civic Engagement 19, “Social Justice and Democratic Citizenship: Developing a Critical Consciousness.” The goal of the course is to provide a space to interrogate our assumptions and our understanding of how the world works. Through rich conversations, we reflect on the lenses through which we view the world, as well as how we put on those lenses in the first place. Our challenge is to see beyond the status quo and consider how, by being more aware, we can begin to work toward social change. The bulk of the course is spent on discussing the current events of the day – anything from immigration to education to the distribution of wealth to food deserts. The students decide the issues that we discuss, and are charged with leading those discussions – essentially, it becomes their course. And by engaging in such discussions, the hope is that students will not only become a little more informed about what’s going on in the world around them, but will be encouraged to engage their peers further.


Dr. Douglas Barrera is an assistant director with the UCLA Center for Community Learning. He oversees the Civic Engagement minor and the Astin Civic Engagement Research program for the center, teaches classes in the Civic Engagement subject area, and conducts research and assessment for the center, including an evaluation of student learning associated with service learning. He previously served as a research analyst for the UCLA Center for Community Partnerships and the Higher Education Research Institute. Before coming to UCLA, he was program director for a non-profit community organizing agency in San Diego, and taught methods of community engagement at U.C. San Diego and the University of San Diego. He is co-author of the Council of Europe publication, Advancing Democratic Practice: A Self-Assessment Guide for Higher Education, and the Higher Education Research Institute’s publication, First in My Family: A Profile of First-Generation College Students at Four-Year Institutions Since 1971. Dr. Barrera received his Ph.D. and an M.A. in Education from UCLA, and an M.A. and B.A. in History from San Diego State University.

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Sun, Jun 1, 2014 AT 9:37 pm - Mind Well
“What is an artists’ book, exactly?”

By: Robert Gore,  Visual Arts Librarian and curator of the artists’ book collection in the UCLA Arts Library

“There are no limits to what artists’ books can be and no rules for their   construction – and fortunately there is no end of their production in sight.”

  -Johanna Drucker, A Century of Artists’ Books (2004), p. 364.

“What is an artists’ book, exactly?” It’s a question I am often asked, and it is a good question!

Trying to answer it, however, is a bit daunting. Sometimes I want to say, it’s a work of art produced in a book-like form. Or, it’s a book made by an artist. Another answer: it’s not a book-like structure, but more like an art work, but it has a narrative component or story attached.

In my Fiat Lux class, Artists’ Books in the UCLA Library and Beyond, I don’t answer the question, but I do provide an environment for students to consider the question and come up with their own answer(s). During the class, they have a chance to learn about zines, hear about book design from an award winning letterpress printer and book designer, visit or be introduced to collections of artists’ books in four different libraries on and off campus, and see examples of artists’ books that students at UCLA and elsewhere have created.

By week ten they have seen quite an astounding array of artists’ books and on the final day of class they present their main assignment – an artists’ book of their own. As the class moves along, they have seen a variety of different ‘book’ structures, some elaborate and some very simple. I try to encourage them not to get too caught up in making something that is too challenging; I want them to have fun with the process and become familiar with the concept of translating their ideas, research, drawings, collages, and other elements into a creative, book-like form. I also ask them to write an artist’s statement, which can be as short or long as they like – a reflective activity that gives them some exposure to how professional artists approach their own work.

The UCLA Library has one of the largest collections of artists’ books in North America. Each of the libraries or departments that collect artists’ books has a different focus.  The Arts Library’s collection, drawn largely from the private collection of Judith A. Hoffberg, contains many important historical examples of work by well-known contemporary artists including Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, and Gordon Matta-Clark. The UCLA Library Special Collections in the Young Research Library collects artists’ books in limited editions, unique (one-of-a-kind) books, pop-up books, and books by many well-known as well as emerging California book artists’ and printers including Julie Chen and Ninja Press. The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library’s collection includes artists’ books that highlight innovative uses of typography or lettering. The History and Special Collections for the Sciences (the Library Special Collections division located in the Biomedical Library) has a unique collection of artists’ books that relate to the history and practice of medicine, botany, and the natural and physical sciences.

At a conference I recently attended, Mo Dawley, a librarian who works at Carnegie Mellon University, talked about how artists’ books “resist dictating outcomes.” In the past, when teaching and giving presentations, I have characterized the making of artists’ books as a democratic and genre bending opportunity – there really are no limits to where you can go. A good thought for students to be left with when they complete the class!

Face Book, Samantha Masunaga, Fiat Lux, Spring Quarter 2010

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Tue, Apr 8, 2014 AT 2:54 pm - Mind Well
‘Cinemeducation’ - Mental Illness and the Movies

By: David Taylor, MD

Would you agree that movies reflect society’s perceptions of mental illness?  Naturally there are many types of films and not every blockbuster, rom-com or documentary is going to have the same kinds of in-depth character development.  But in general, the portrayal of mental illness in film is often thought to reflect society’s perceptions, biases and stigmas of those suffering from diseases of the mind.

For example, Hitchcock’s classic thriller ‘Psycho’ (1960) perpetuates the myth that equates insanity with a deranged and murderous psychopath.  At the time the film was released, mental illness was a poorly understood and frightening phenomenon suitable for a dramatic movie.  In fact, the audience was so naive about the topic that, to minimize confusion, the movie concludes with a psychiatrist’s lengthy epilogue detailing the psychic origins of the main character’s pathology.  The film’s title alone is a derogatory jab at those who suffer from mental illness.  (However, in fairness to the director, I suppose an alternate title such as “Norman Bates - A Story of a Man with a Complicated Relationship with His Mother” might not have worked well either.)

Almost 50 years later, mental illness has achieved a cultural prominence that was unimaginable just a few generations earlier.  Diagnoses are better understood, treatments are more available, and society is more tolerant of diversity.  For example, ’A Beautiful Mind’ (2001) is the inspiring life story of a Princeton mathematician who won a Noble Prize despite his impairments from schizophrenia.  In ‘Lars and the Real Girl’ (2007), we find a compassionate depiction of mental illness in which the main character is embraced by family, friends and community despite his unusual and awkward delusions.

One of the most interesting observations about movies and mental illness is that each has the power to affect the other.  In other words, just as our beliefs about mental illness can influence movies, the movies can also influence the beliefs of those with mental illness.  For example, ‘The Truman Show’ (1998) imagined an artificial world where everyone — except for one unknowing individual — is portrayed by actors for a hyper-reality TV series.  Although the plot sounds farfetched, last year the New Yorker magazine (“Unreality Star”, Sept 16, 2013) profiled NYU psychiatrist Joel Gold who evaluated nearly 50 patients whose delusional beliefs mimicked the movie.  Dr. Gold even coined the term, Truman Show delusion, for an individual who “believes that he is being filmed, and that the films are being broadcast for the entertainment of others.”

The extraordinary ability of movies to both mirror and transform our beliefs makes them a valuable teaching tool.  Since 2012, I have taught a Fiat Lux freshman seminar called ‘Mental Illness and the Movies’ which explores the portrayal of mental illnesses in popular film.  Of course, movies are rarely designed to be faithful representations of reality and often include inaccurate portrayals of mental illness that perpetuate stigma.  Themes of violent insanity, incompetent physicians or abusive staff can reinforce the prejudices and discrimination against individuals with mental illness.  Through ‘cinemeducation’ this class provides a much needed opportunity to correct these misrepresentations, gain a better understanding of mental illness, and appreciate the wide diversity of individuals in our society.

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Wed, Mar 12, 2014 AT 12:12 pm - Mind Well
Turn Your Assumptions Around about Left Brain & Right Brain

About the Author: Scott Barry Kaufman is a cognitive psychologist investigating the development of intelligence and creativity. His latest book is Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. Follow on Twitter@sbkaufman.

So yea, you know how the left brain is really realistic, analytical, practical, organized, and logical, and the right brain is so darn creative, passionate, sensual, tasteful, colorful, vivid, and poetic?

No.

Just no.

Stop it.

Please.


Thoughtful cognitive neuroscientists such as Anna Abraham, Mark Beeman, Adam Bristol, Kalina Christoff, Andreas Fink, Jeremy GrayAdam GreenRex JungJohn KouniosHikaru TakeuchiOshin VartanianDarya Zabelinaand others are on the forefront of investigating what actually happens in the brain during the creative process. And their findings are overturning conventional notions surrounding the neuroscience of creativity.

The latest findings from the real neuroscience of creativity suggest that the right brain/left brain distinction is not the right one when it comes to understanding how creativity is implemented in the brain.* Creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain.

Instead, the entire creative process– from preparation to incubation to illumination to verification– consists of many interacting cognitive processes and emotions. Depending on the stage of the creative process, and what you’re actually attempting to create, different brain regions are recruited to handle the task.

Importantly, many of these brain regions work as a team to get the job done, and many recruit structures from both the left and right side of the brain. In recent years, evidence has accumulatedsuggesting that “cognition results from the dynamic interactions of distributed brain areas operating in large-scale networks.”

Depending on the task, different brain networks will be recruited.

For instance, every time you pay attention to the outside world, or attempt to mentally rotate a physical image in your mind (e.g., trying to figure out how to fit luggage into the trunk of your car), the Visuospatial Network is likely to be active. This network involves communication between the frontal eye fields and the intraparietal sulcus:


If your task makes greater demands on language, however, Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area are more likely to be recruited:


But what about creative cognition? Three large-scale brain networks are critical to understanding the neuroscience of creativity. Let’s review them here.

Network 1: The Executive Attention Network

The Executive Attention Network is recruited when a task requires that the spotlight of attention is focused like a laser beam. This network is active when you’re concentrating on a challenging lecture, or engaging in complex problem solving and reasoning that puts heavy demands on working memory. This neural architecture involves efficient and reliable communication between lateral (outer) regions of the prefrontal cortex and areas toward the back (posterior) of the parietal lobe.

Network 2: The Imagination Network

According to Randy Buckner and colleagues, the Default Network (referred to here as the Imagination Network) is involved in “constructing dynamic mental simulations based on personal past experiences such as used during remembering, thinking about the future, and generally when imagining alternative perspectives and scenarios to the present.” The Imagination Network is also involved in social cognition. For instance, when we are imagining what someone else is thinking, this brain network is active. The Imagination Network involves areas deep inside the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe (medial regions), along with communication with various outer and inner regions of the parietal cortex.

Green= The Executive Attention Network; Red= The Imagination Network

Network 3: The Salience Network

The Salience Networkconstantly monitors both external events and the internal stream of consciousness and flexibly passes the baton to whatever information is most salient to solving the task at hand. This network consists of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortices [dACC] and anterior insular [AI] and is important for dynamic switching between networks.

The Neuroscience of Creative Cognition: A First Approximation

The key to understanding the neuroscience of creativity lies not only in knowledge of large-scale networks, but in recognizing that different patterns of neural activations and deactivations are important at different stages of the creative process. Sometimes, it’s helpful for the networks to work with each other, and sometimes such cooperation can impede the creative process.

In a recent large review, Rex Jung and colleagues provide a “first approximation” regarding how creative cognition might map on to the human brain. Their review suggests that when you want to loosen your associations, allow your mind to roam free, imagine new possibilities, and silence the inner critic, it’s good to reduce activation of the Executive Attention Network (a bit, but not completely) and increase activation of the Imagination and Salience Networks. Indeed, recent research on jazz musiciansand rappersengaging in creative improvisation suggests that’s precisely what is happening in the brain while in a flow state.

However, sometimes it’s important to bring the Executive Attention Network back online, and critically evaluate and implement your creative ideas.

Or else this can happen:

As Jung and colleagues note, their model of the structure of creative cognition is only a first approximation. At this point, we just have leads on the real neuroscience of creativity. The investigation of large-scale brain networks does appear to be a more promising research direction than investigating the left and right hemispheres; the creative process appears to involve the dynamic interplay of these large-scale networks. Also, converging research findings do suggest that creative cognition recruits brain regions that are critical for daydreaming, imagining the future, remembering deeply personal memoriesconstructive internal reflectionmeaning making, and social cognition.

Nevertheless, much more research is needed that investigates how the brain creates across different domains, species, and timescales.

It’s an exciting time for the neuroscience of creativity, as long as you ditch outdated notions of how creativity works. This requires embracing the messiness of the creative process and the dynamic brain activations and collaborations among many different brains that make it all possible.

© 2013 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved link to <http://www.scottbarrykaufman.com/>

Disclaimer: I was one of the reviewer’s of thepaper by Rex Jung and colleagues.

Note: For more on the latest findings in the emerging neuroscience of creativity, I highly recommend the recent book “Neuroscience of Creativity,” edited by Oshin Vartanian, Adam S. Bristol, and James C. Kaufman.

* There’s some grain of truth to the left brain/right brain distinction. For instance, spatial reasoning recruits more structures in the right hemisphere, and language processing recruits more structures in the left hemisphere. Also, there’s some really interesting research conducted by John Kounios and Mark Beemanshowing that the Aha! moment of insight– in which participants discover seemingly unrelated words– is associated with activation of the right anterior superior temporal gyrus. None of these findings, however, negate the fact that the entire creative process involves the whole brain.

image credit #1: io9; image credit #2, 3, & 5: findlab.stanford.edu; image credit #4:pnas; image credit #6: photocase

This article originally appeared at Scientific American  http://www.creativitypost.com/science/the_real_neuroscience_of_creativity#sthash.G9QeG9D9.dpuf



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Fri, Jan 17, 2014 AT 2:36 pm - Mind Well
How do physicians get through the tough times?
By: Karen Miotto, Professor of Psychiatry in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior. She is the chair of the Medical Staff Health Committee.

Physicians sacrifice for the privilege of caring for others. Caring for people with difficult and often chronic illnesses can be a draining experience. Medical school and residency provide excellent training and conditioning to ensure that your emotional and physical needs come last.  The long hours of work are fueled by caffeine and adrenaline. Sleep becomes a luxury. Exercise falls into the, “not enough” category. Friends and family adjust, or not, to the long hours and exhaustion of training and practice. 

The recent changes in medicine, such as the electronic medical record, promise time efficiency and better coordination of care but require long adoption and optimization periods to appreciate the benefits. The provider and patient both have to acknowledge the keyboard and monitor as important fixtures in the examination room.  The Accountable Care Act is a seismic change that is shifting the landscape of medicine in both anticipated and unpredictable ways. These stressful changes lead to hallway conversations like, "I tell my children not to go into medicine." 

Resilience requires humor, self-care, and connection. Lets break this down to smaller more manageable pieces. 

Physicians need a sense of humor when friends and family recommend, "get more sleep and don't take your work home with you."  You have to laugh, because if you did not laugh you would consider strangling the person who recommended the impossible so glibly. 

Self-care requires an emotional vocabulary. Doctors become Alexithymic. Alexithymic, if you do not remember from your psychiatric rotation, is "a personality construct characterized by the sub-clinical inability to describe emotions in the self."  The core defect is a dysfunction in emotional awareness and attachment. Adaptive alexithymia allows care providers to carry on in the service of others and squeeze one more patient in at noon or at the end of the day. 

Connection, whether it be venting with colleagues, or spending time with loved ones at home, is essential. While finding the time to grab lunch or dinner may be difficult, a coffee break may be just enough time to connect with someone and feel human again.

What do the uber doctors do? 15 minute naps. Meditate. Take "recess" between patients, even if it means just taking 3 deep breaths. Write down any follow-up phone calls or consultations that need to be done so you are not trying to remember 10 things at the end of the day. Take time to eat something healthy. Identify priorities, set boundaries, and say “no” to tasks you don’t have time for. Exercise. While many are walking around the medical center throughout the day, others struggle to find even 15 minutes to exercise. Make time for your well-being. Find a technique that centers your mind and allows a beginning and an end to a patient care encounter. These practices help prevent "taking the patient home with you."

Start small. Little changes can make a big difference when it comes to getting through the tough times.


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Wed, Dec 11, 2013 AT 3:38 pm - Mind Well
This is Your Brain on Chocolate

April Thames, Ph.D.

For those of us who are chocolate lovers, it is no surprise that the mere sight or smell of chocolate immediately peaks our mood and interest.  Think about the number of times when a friend or colleague brought a box of chocolate to a gathering, and you heard someone say, “Hmmm…chocolate.” Our love for chocolate dates back to the 12th and 16th centuries when the Aztec and Maya civilizations used chocolate as a religious offering to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl 1.  Chocolate was also believed to help build up resistance and fight fatigue. In the last few decades, neuroscience has started to look more closely at how chocolate benefits brain functioning.

Neuroimaging studies have invited participants to indulge in the tasty delight while examining brain activity.  For chocolate lovers, it was found that the brain’s reward centers become active, which was followed by reports of good mood2.  Not only does chocolate seem to pep up our mood, but research findings also suggests that chocolate has positive effects on brain function, cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance3-6.  With regard to brain function, chocolate has the potential to protect neurons from injury and suppress or inhibit neuroinflammation and oxidative stress7-9. 

Recent studies have found that chocolate improved cognitive performance in the elderly!10,11 Now before you go out and stock your shelves with Snickers, you should know the “Bad” from the “Good” chocolate.  Good chocolate has not been alkalized, has been dried and cool-pressed rather than roasted, and is greater than 70 percent pure cocoa.  The good stuff contains cocoa butter (not milk fats!) and contains natural low glycemic sweeteners such as raw cane.  The “bad” chocolate usually contains ingredients of processed cocoa powder, refined white sugar, milk fats, hydrogenated oils and preservatives.  Questions to consider when deciding between bad versus good chocolate include: What is the origin and fermentation of cocoa? What was the production process from bean to cocoa liquor? What was the production process of cocoa powder or chocolate from this liquor? 

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “What is the active ingredient that produces all these good effects?” “Does it only come from chocolate?”  Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, which have been demonstrated anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects.  A study published in The Lancet12 showed that chocolate contained four times as much catechin, a type of flavonoid, as tea. Over 4,000 flavonoids have been identified, many of which are found in fruits, vegetables, teas, beer, and (of course) chocolate.  The capacity of flavonoids to act as an antioxidant depends upon their molecular structure.  Many of these different types of flavonoids are still under study and those that produce powerful antioxidant effects are of great interest given that oxidative stress or free radical damage is implicated in all diseases that are associated with aging (e.g., heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes).  

Many foods have been quantified based upon their Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC), which is a laboratory-based test of how well certain substances (e.g., chocolate) protect vulnerable molecules from oxidation by free radicals. The less free radical damage there is, the higher the antioxidant capacity of the test substance. While this quantification method has been referenced across several studies, as of 2012 the USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory eventually removed this information from their website due to growing evidence that the values indicating antioxidant capacity had no relevance to the effects of specific bioactive compounds, including polyphenols on human health13. In other words, the ORAC test (which uses a test tube) cannot account for the complex biochemical changes that occur in the human body. Despite its shortcomings, some believe that ORAC can still be a useful tool for estimating antioxidant activity if one knows the limitations.

Knowing the benefits of good chocolate (remember…it’s the pure cocoa chocolate!) on the brain can certainly reduce those feelings of guilt when we are tempted to have a bite.

~Dr. April D. Thames is an Assistant Professor at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. She recently received an NIH Career Development Award (K-23) to develop her laboratory in cultural neuropsychology, neuroscience, and health disparities. Dr. Thames has focused her research on the neurological and neurocognitive effects of infectious disease, substance abuse, and cerebrovascular risk factors among underrepresented groups.

References

1.  The Field Museum. The History of Chocolate. Available online at: http://www.fmnh.org/Chocolate/ history.html.

2.  Rolls, E., McCabe, C. (2007). Enhanced affective brain representations of chocolate in cravers vs. non-cravers. European Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 26, pp. 1067–1076, 2007 doi:10.1111/j.1460-9568.2007.05724.x

3.  Grassi D, Necozione S, Lippi C, Croce G, Valeri L, Pasqualetti P, Desideri G, Blumberg JB, Ferri C. Cocoa reduces blood pressure and insulin resistance and improves endothelium-dependent vasodilation in hypertensives. Hypertension. 2005;46: 1– 8.

4.  Engler MB, Engler MM. The vasculoprotective effects of flavonoid-rich cocoa and chocolate. Nutr Res. 2004; 24: 695–706.

5.  Corti, R. Flammer, A.J., Hollenberg, N.K., and Lüscher, T.F. “Cocoa and cardiovascular health,” Circulation, vol 119, no.10: 1433–1441, 2009.

6.  Almoosawi, S., Fyfe, L., Ho, C., and Al-Dujaili, E. “The effect of polyphenol-rich dark chocolate on fasting capillary whole blood glucose, total cholesterol, blood pressure and glucocorticoids in healthy overweight and obese subjects,” British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 103, no. 6, pp. 842–850, 2010.

7.  Martorell, P., Forment, J.V., de Llanos et al., R. “Use of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Caenorhabditis elegans as model organisms to study the effect of cocoa polyphenols in the resistance to oxidative stress,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 59, no. 5, pp. 2077–2085, 2011.

8.  J. F. Bisson, A. Nejdi, P. Rozan, S. Hidalgo, R. Lalonde, and M. Messaoudi, “Effects of long-term administration of a cocoa polyphenolic extract (Acticoa powder) on cognitive performances in aged rats,” British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 100, no. 1, pp. 94–101, 2008.

9.  D. L. Katz, K. Doughty, and A. Ali, “Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease,” Antioxidant and Redox Signaling, vol. 15, no. 10, pp. 2779–2811, 2011.

10.  Nurk E, Refsum H, Drevon CA, et al. Intake of flavonoid-rich wine, tea, and chocolate by elderly men and women is associated with better cognitive test performance. J Nutr 2009;139:120-7

11.  Desideri G, Kwik-Uribe C, Grassi D, et al. Benefits in cogni- tive function, blood pressure, and insulin resistance through cocoa flavanol consumption in elderly subjects with mild cogni- tive impairment: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study. Hypertension 2012;60:794-801.

12.  Ilja CW, Hollman, P., Kromhout, D (1999). Chocolate as a source of tea flavonoids.  The Lancet, vol. 354 (9177), p. 488.

13.  US Department of Agriculture (USDA) database for the ORAC. Retrieved online from http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=15866


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Wed, Nov 13, 2013 AT 9:28 pm - Mind Well
Enlightened?—How can we all achieve well-roundedness and find contentment?

By Maxwell James

  In the last three years I’ve spent at UCLA, I now know the good and bad changes I have experienced have contributed to an overall image of how to be the best student and person I can be.

  But I always have struggled with the “how.” It seems near impossible to stay “well-rounded”—a healthy body, mind and spirit seems rather to just be a working, changing and endless goal. And for starters, this struggle has expanded, flip-flopped, gone dormant and shifted throughout college.

  I also admit that I get anxiety in the constant awareness of what I am not doing. It’s all so hard to stay balanced and excel through. Demands. Demands. Demands.  It’s a never-ending cycle of rewritten iPhone calendar alerts and reminders.

  So what I created for myself in an attempt to stay balanced and sane—to be completely honest—is formulating a schedule where physical, emotional, mental and spiritual exercise work in near perfect concert. A red flag goes up when I know my time spent studying at Peet’s coffee shop exceeds 5 hours or on the other hand, when a full-length novel is unread and way overdue.

  My day-to-day fluctuates between daily meditation, physical exercise, academic work and social interaction. I rarely am able to perform these in equal doses but I make the intention to keep my life well-rounded between my mind, body and spiritual health.

  Although meditation, exercise, eating healthy, etc. are all not groundbreaking lifestyle choices by this decade, meditating regularly, personally, has helped build my self-esteem.  I can attest to how a lack of self-confidence enables my entire day to just plummet. I even react physically—slacked shoulders, tense muscles, and uneasiness throughout my whole body.

  To counteract this, I integrate meditation at the start of the day, around when I wake up: every morning, I sip on my cup of coffee and spend about 30 minutes meditating before I begin the adventures and even perils of the day. Even the space I designate for my mediation resonates with tranquility and positivity. It’s discipline and learned, but I ingrain meditation into my daily life. It has allowed me to connect with myself for a small block of uninterrupted time, without inner and external distractions immediately chipping away at my feelings, thoughts and behaviors for the day.

  UCLA’s MARC center continues to do incredible research and active work in establishing the benefits of mindfulness meditation, including improved immune-system functioning, decreased stress, improved awareness. And studies also prove how brief meditation can improve academic performance.

  However, my initial question when I first started meditating is how the hell am I supposed to turn off my thoughts?! Text messages sent, even flirtatious texts received, Facebook status alerts, the oh-so-frustrating-career changes, family obligations, oh my god—do I have to go on further? I literally googled how to meditate two years ago. Then I googled how to stop thinking while meditating. I thought maybe I am not cut out for this. But my interest was piqued by the not-so New-Age world beckoning for me to experience the apparent wonders of meditation. I wanted immediate results though.

  Then it finally started to click. I still struggle. But the affirmation of “I’m going to set aside time for myself” is what counts. Even if my 30 minute meditation is spent just focusing on my breath, I find gratitude in the intention, in the moments of just “being.” Instant gratification gives way for the experience of patience, gratitude and contentment invested in stillness.

  Last weekend, I attended a yoga class in downtown Santa Monica at Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga studio.  Of course, my slight tardiness—obviously traffic induced—results in my awkward entry; as I knock over candles and step over yogis’ mats while the class is silenced in downward dogs, I manage to settle in, yet cursing myself for running late again.

  Yoga is supposed to eliminate stress? Right. So I straighten out my yoga mat and look around to mock what pose the class was following.  I straighten my arms, curve my back and stagger my feet, left, right, left, right. I take my first deep breath in the class—inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth, “ahhh.”And silence.  Just breathe, Max.

  The yogi leading the class, Dan, walks around in between mat spaces, casually guiding us into complex core poses but simultaneously, he inspires. His humor and modern insight on what it means to be mindful in this crazy, brave new world makes the class so less intimidating but a chance to transition and stop.

  “Instead of reaching or straining, just be. Sometimes we can’t always be what we want to be, but it’s trying, it’s showing up that makes the difference.” His words resonate with me. It’s not about achieving perfection. The intentions make a difference.

  I can empathize with the “strive for perfection” and the near-always let down. It’s impossible to do everything. And we all know that, but there’s this part of me that adds too many goals to my weekly agenda and of course, I fail in keeping up with all these demands. What results is this semi-toxic, unsettling feeling that even a pint of Ben and Jerry’s is unable to subside.

   Instead, I’ve learned that the authentic  me is the one making that transition from stressful appointments, study dates, thoughts, and text messages into purely being—whether that be yoga, class, or even work.

  To be mindful is not about an enlightened Zen-like achievement but merely showing up, completely late, tired, grumpy, upset, disappointed, or angry. These negative emotions are part of us all, but it’s the coming-into-the-experience, with full recognition that we are flawed, that makes the moments real and “well-rounded.” That first breath I took at yoga this weekend became that instant where I was able to transition from the ego part of myself into the authentic me—eager and excited to learn but also tardy, a little frustrated and embarrassed.  Immersing myself into yoga encompassed the whole 100% of me.

  My spiritual journey as of yet keeps diverging, twisting and changing paths, but it’s been a learning process centered around the knowledge of how to be mindful and balanced in what I am. I know I cannot achieve perfection in school, physical health, work and my social circle. Yet, I set priorities for myself—what do I need for myself right now?

  This tuning into my “needs” has been one of the most powerful life lessons I’ve discovered so far: stay true to who you are. I eliminate the negative, admit the good, and accept the beautiful.  We are always learning, but this process of “tuning in,” in itself, is an incredibly valuable tool in making the best you.

-Maxwell James is an undergraduate student finishing his final year as an English major. His interests include mindfulness meditation, consciousness awareness, transpersonal psychology and mind/body health. He is also a member of Innergy and is actively practicing yoga. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact him at maxwellajames@gmail.com.


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Tue, Oct 8, 2013 AT 1:13 pm - Mind Well
Eat Well to Mind Well

First, a shout out to my man Bob Bilder for inviting me to contribute to the Mind Well blog. I’ve been following blogs for 5 years now, but this is my first post!

Would you like to boost your mental performance? Become a mental athlete? How about feel like a million bucks every day, from the moment you wake up to the second your head hits the pillow at the end of a great day?

Well, something might be getting in your way from achieving these goals…or at least coming closer to them than you are now, a lot closer. I’ve discovered through reading tons of blogs discussing the primary scientific as well as clinical literatures, and by wading through much of the empirical work myself, one of the big secrets to what might be holding you back from your peak performance. Diet. I don’t mean a diet that is designed to help you lose weight, although a healthy diet can do that, too. I mean the way you eat on an ongoing basis. Let me ask you a question. What does a cow eat (I don’t mean those feedlot cattle)? How about a pig, a gorilla, a lion? If you were to design a zoo to keep the animals as healthy and thriving as possible, you’d want to know the answers to these questions. And thriving is not just about physical wellbeing, but also about mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

Are you surprised to hear me say that food and nutrition can profoundly affect the mind? The Mind, after all, is the function of the brain, the endocrine system, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, enteric nervous system, and so forth. Even the microbiome, those denizens of microbes that reside in our guts, on our skin, in our noses, and on every hair follicle, are affected by the nutrients we consume and contribute to our ability to process nutrients. They’re also affected by the toxins we ingest. The functioning of all of these organ systems, among which I include the microbiome, depends on what we put in our mouths. Put the wrong foods into our bodies or the right foods in the wrong amounts, can lead malfunction and promote disease. A malfunctioning brain becomes a malfunctioning mind.

As I’ve said, I’ve spent the past 5 years poring through the literature on the question, what is a healthy human diet, and I’ve put my knowledge to practice through self-experimentation. And you know what? Not only have I lost some girth around the midsection, leaned out overall, put hunger cravings at bay, seen dramatic improvements in seasonal allergies and recover from common colds and flues much more rapidly, and put a genetically based autoimmune disorder called EPP (erythropoietic protoporphyria) into remission. I also feel better mentally, more optimistic and full of energy. I don’t suffer from brain fog anymore, especially in the afternoon about an hour after lunch. Brain fog has plagued me all my life (I even blame it in part for the fact that I had to be held back to repeat second grade). My mental focus, clarity, and elevated even-keeled mood are likely due to the big dietary change I went through in adopting what is sometimes referred to as the paleo diet, though I prefer the term ancestral diet (for reasons I’ll get into another time).

So, the foods we consume and choose to avoid, that is, our diet, can play a big…no, a HUGE role in both our physical and mental health. Not only that, but a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that costs for dementia car in 2010 were about $200 billion, which is about double the costs expended on heart disease, and nearly three times the costs spent on treating cancer patients!

Clearly, we need to reverse course as individuals AND on a population scale. Diet is a low-hanging fruit, so to speak. Unlike the toxins in our environment from chemical (e.g., fire retardants in furniture, particulate matter and smog from the burning of fossil fuels, etc.) and technology sources (e.g., EMF exposure), what we put in our mouths is something we have inherently greater control over. What are some of the things I learned about what an optimal diet is for the human animal?

First, avoid industrially-processed foods. The primary culprits here are the three biggies: sugar, industrial-seed oils (aka vegetable oils), and refined carbohydrates (i.e., anything turned into a flour, or made from a flour). There is a burgeoning literature, growing every day (like our waistlines, eh?) implicating these types of highly processed and refined foods in all kinds of disease and unwellness states, such as cancer, autoimmune disease, metabolic disorders (including obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus), chronic cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease, atherosclerosis, and stroke, neurodegenerative diseases, mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, and impaired cognition. The evidence comes from all facets of science, from epidemiological studies (that typically only provide data on associations between factors, but not causal information), bench science from physiologists and biochemists, and clinical trials.

Second, put the right food in your body. What foods should we be consuming to optimize our physical and mental health, to Be Fit? In two words: Real Food (am I channeling Michal Pollen?). What is real food? Animals and plants. More specifically, those animal and plant foods that don’t require industrial processes, chemicals, and synthetics to get it into a consumable form on your plate. This list includes animal products, especially from pastured animals and wild caught seafood (fish and shellfish). Our human ancestors, including contemporary hunter-gatherers, foragers, and pastoralists, in particular prized the most nutrient dense part of the animals, which includes the organ meats and bone marrow. These organs contain much of the healthy fats that contain the much needed fat-soluble vitamins (e.g., preformed Vitamin A, K2, and D3), which are critical to physical and brain health. And organic plants, especially those low in toxins. The plants highest in toxins include grains and legumes, which are the embryos of the plant and thus have a diverse array of anti-predatory chemical defenses. Traditional cultures that consumed grains and legumes knew to treat them with respect, by sprouting and/or soaking them, or lacto-fermenting them. These traditional food preparation techniques dramatically reduce many of the anti-nutrients contained in the seeds, as well as increased the bio-availability of the nutrients that are present but locked-into the seed (e.g., minerals). Also, if you’re going to cook, don’t use a can of spray-on “fat” like Pam, or any industrially produced seed-oils (aka vegetable oils). Instead use animal fats (tallow, lard, duck fat), and plant oils that can be extracted without industrial processes, such as coconut oil and olive oil. These oils are much lower in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs; especially lower in omega-6 fatty acids), and thus are more shelf stable (won’t oxidize and create free radicals), and the saturated fats are in particular very heat stable and thus are the best cooking oils.

I’m not an expert in any of these areas, but I’ve read a ton of research and blogs that review this research. So instead of taking my word for it; I’ve provided a list of some of the top blogs and web-accessible discussions of this literature. I hope you will take the time to peruse this (dive in anywhere that looks interesting and let the ship take you where it will). Come back here with comments and questions. The only way forward is through an open, but critical mind, and open respectful debate and discussion.

These blogs are chock full of interesting topics, some more specific in focus and others quite broad.

Finally, I encourage you to browse the videos of talks  from the three recent Ancestral Health Symposia, which I organized at UCLA (AHS11), Harvard Law School (AHS12), and Atlanta (AHS13).

Yours in health,

Aaron

~Aaron Blaisdell is UCLA Professor of Psychology and a member of the Brain Research Institute. He is also a member of the UCLA Evolutionary Medicine program. Dr. Blaisdell serves as one of three Editors-in-Chief of the nascent Journal of Evolution and Health. His research focuses on comparative animal learning and cognition. Recently, he has studied the role of diet quality on cognition in rats. He lives an ancestral health lifestyle in the climatological mecca of Southern California.

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Wed, Sep 18, 2013 AT 9:13 am - Mind Well
WANTING

Do you want to win the lottery? Chances are, you answered Yes. Okay, so you’ve got the first part down. It’s a fact, focusing on what you want rather than what you don’t want is key to improving mood and living a better life. But, where do you go from there…what about taking action… making change… actually achieving what you want? Do you buy a lottery ticket everyday? Chances are, you answered No. This is because our brains spend energy and currency (thoughts and actions) on things and events that we actually expect to happen, not on things we just merely want to happen. If you truly expected to win the lottery, you would most likely buy a lottery ticket each and every day. 

I worked with a patient who wanted so badly to be in a mutually loving and committed relationship. She created vision boards, collaging pictures of happy couples and she wrote daily about the happy relationship she desired so strongly. After spending time researching and writing about the cognitive power of anticipation, I asked her, out of 1-10 (1 being the least likely and 10 being the most likely) how much she actually expected to be in the type of relationship she wanted, and she replied, “2, sometimes 3”. Right there I knew she barely stood a chance. She could go on wanting a relationship every day, just like you and I, who want to win the lottery, but without a strong expectation that she was likely to be in one soon, she would be spending very little brain currency on allowing herself to meet her match. 

GREAT EXPECTATIONS LEAD TO GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS

I have spent a lot of time working specifically with people on identifying their wants and expectations, revealing huge gaps between the two, then guiding the work and efforts to close this gap, making the relationship between wants and expectations much more symbiotic and positively correlated. Achieving your goals and dreams require you to know what you want but, beyond that, it requires work and a shift in your expectation. So, next time you set a goal or have an intention or desire, ask yourself these questions: What is it that I want and How much do I expect this to happen? 

There is a RIGHT Way to Want: 

1. Identify what it is that you want. This can be surprisingly difficult. Unfortunately, at times, it is much easier for us to identify what it is that we don’t want, rather than what it is that we do want. You can use this as a tool to identify what you do want. 

2. Once you figure out what it is that you do want, write it out clearly, as a positive statement. Our brains work much better within these contexts. For example, when presenting our brain with, “I want healthy lungs” rather than “I want to quit smoking because it is bad for me” our brain tends to have more availability to create positive steps of action to achieve goals. Our brains don’t tend to work well with negative statements which is why many times telling yourself “Quit smoking” or “Quit bitting my nails” is not an effective way to cease habits or addictions. 

3. After identifying a clear and positive want or goal, identify why it is that you want this. What about this would make your life that much better? Change is a very hard state for humans, the only way change happens is if you can identify wanting something so much more than what your current state is and why. 

4. Now you are ready to ask yourself the magic question, “From a rating of 1-10, How much do I expect this to happen?” The lower the number you rate, the more work around improving your expectation you will have to do. Regardless of your answer, go on to step 5. 

5. Now that you have identified what it is that you want and why it is that you want it, spend some time visualizing what it is like to have this already. Visualize, using all of your senses, having healthy lungs, or that new job, or a secure and loving relationship… Many studies have proven that if you can visualize a goal, especially utilizing all of your senses (what does it feel, smell, taste, sound and look like) you are much more likely to achieve it … this is because you are much more likely to increase the likelihood of EXPECTING that this could happen for you!

6. Now, make this very important statement, “Now that I can (see myself achieving that new job/ feel what it is going to be like to be in such a loving relationship/ feel how easily I could breathe and how my healthy lungs enabled me to become a runner… ) my new expectation of how likely it is for this goal to occur is ___ (this number will definitely increase) 

After going through these sets and mapping our a goal or a want in this way, you are significantly more likely to develop the small steps and actually take action towards achieving your goal. 

Happy Wanting! 

~Dr. Deepika Chopra holds a doctorate in clinical psychology with a concentrated interest in Health Psychology, the connection between mind/body and Innovative Cognitive Science. Dr. Chopra is an alumna of multiple UCLA programs.   In addition to completing her BA in Sociology from UCLA, she also completed post-doctoral training programs at the David Geffen School of Medicine and our affiliated site at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.  Dr. Chopra is passionate about studying the benefits of optimism and is driven to innovate new methods that help individuals enhance their positive future and present thoughts and behaviors. She can be reached at drdeepikachopra.com.  

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Wed, Sep 18, 2013 AT 9:12 am - Mind Well
WANTING

Do you want to win the lottery? Chances are, you answered Yes. Okay, so you’ve got the first part down. It’s a fact, focusing on what you want rather than what you don’t want is key to improving mood and living a better life. But, where do you go from there…what about taking action… making change… actually achieving what you want? Do you buy a lottery ticket everyday? Chances are, you answered No. This is because our brains spend energy and currency (thoughts and actions) on things and events that we actually expect to happen, not on things we just merely want to happen. If you truly expected to win the lottery, you would most likely buy a lottery ticket each and every day. 

I worked with a patient who wanted so badly to be in a mutually loving and committed relationship. She created vision boards, collaging pictures of happy couples and she wrote daily about the happy relationship she desired so strongly. After spending time researching and writing about the cognitive power of anticipation, I asked her, out of 1-10 (1 being the least likely and 10 being the most likely) how much she actually expected to be in the type of relationship she wanted, and she replied, “2, sometimes 3”. Right there I knew she barely stood a chance. She could go on wanting a relationship every day, just like you and I, who want to win the lottery, but without a strong expectation that she was likely to be in one soon, she would be spending very little brain currency on allowing herself to meet her match. 

GREAT EXPECTATIONS LEAD TO GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS

I have spent a lot of time working specifically with people on identifying their wants and expectations, revealing huge gaps between the two, then guiding the work and efforts to close this gap, making the relationship between wants and expectations much more symbiotic and positively correlated. Achieving your goals and dreams require you to know what you want but, beyond that, it requires work and a shift in your expectation. So, next time you set a goal or have an intention or desire, ask yourself these questions: What is it that I want and How much do I expect this to happen? 

There is a RIGHT Way to Want: 

1. Identify what it is that you want. This can be surprisingly difficult. Unfortunately, at times, it is much easier for us to identify what it is that we don’t want, rather than what it is that we do want. You can use this as a tool to identify what you do want. 

2. Once you figure out what it is that you do want, write it out clearly, as a positive statement. Our brains work much better within these contexts. For example, when presenting our brain with, “I want healthy lungs” rather than “I want to quit smoking because it is bad for me” our brain tends to have more availability to create positive steps of action to achieve goals. Our brains don’t tend to work well with negative statements which is why many times telling yourself “Quit smoking” or “Quit bitting my nails” is not an effective way to cease habits or addictions. 

3. After identifying a clear and positive want or goal, identify why it is that you want this. What about this would make your life that much better? Change is a very hard state for humans, the only way change happens is if you can identify wanting something so much more than what your current state is and why. 

4. Now you are ready to ask yourself the magic question, “From a rating of 1-10, How much do I expect this to happen?” The lower the number you rate, the more work around improving your expectation you will have to do. Regardless of your answer, go on to step 5. 

5. Now that you have identified what it is that you want and why it is that you want it, spend some time visualizing what it is like to have this already. Visualize, using all of your senses, having healthy lungs, or that new job, or a secure and loving relationship… Many studies have proven that if you can visualize a goal, especially utilizing all of your senses (what does it feel, smell, taste, sound and look like) you are much more likely to achieve it … this is because you are much more likely to increase the likelihood of EXPECTING that this could happen for you!

6. Now, make this very important statement, “Now that I can (see myself achieving that new job/ feel what it is going to be like to be in such a loving relationship/ feel how easily I could breathe and how my healthy lungs enabled me to become a runner… ) my new expectation of how likely it is for this goal to occur is ___ (this number will definitely increase) 

After going through these sets and mapping our a goal or a want in this way, you are significantly more likely to develop the small steps and actually take action towards achieving your goal. 

Happy Wanting! 

~Dr. Deepika Chopra holds a doctorate in clinical psychology with a concentrated interest in Health Psychology, the connection between mind/body and Innovative Cognitive Science. Dr. Chopra is an alumna of multiple UCLA programs.   In addition to completing her BA in Sociology from UCLA, she also completed post-doctoral training programs at the David Geffen School of Medicine and our affiliated site at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.  Dr. Chopra is passionate about studying the benefits of optimism and is driven to innovate new methods that help individuals enhance their positive future and present thoughts and behaviors. She can be reached at drdeepikachopra.com.  

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Tue, Aug 27, 2013 AT 3:42 pm - Mind Well
Use of Mindful Exercise to Promote Wellbeing

There is currently extensive use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) — also known as integrative or mind-body medicine — in the United States to sustain well-being in both children and adolescents and in aging baby boomers. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) defines CAM therapies as “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine,” with “conventional” medicine being defined as the approaches used by clinicians in the routine daily practice of Western or allopathic medicine that are within the currently accepted standard of care.

The most recent comprehensive assessment of CAM use in the United States found that roughly 40% of US adults had used at least one CAM therapy within the past year. An estimated 33-88% of older adults will use CAM therapies. In addition, Americans make more visits to CAM providers each year than to primary care physicians and spend at least as much money on out-of-pocket expenses for CAM services as they do for all conventional physician services combined. Patients with mental disorders turn to CAM for relief of symptoms of anxiety, mood, insomnia, impaired cognition, and perceived stress. The most commonly used CAM techniques include prayer for health and the use of multivitamin supplementation. Given widespread use of CAM services among patients, there is an urgent need for greater awareness and familiarity with its applications and outcomes.

As baby boomers age and increase use of CAM, health professionals require a working knowledge of CAM techniques intended to address physical and mental disorders. CAM treatments of mood and anxiety disorders include acupuncture, deep breathing exercises, massage therapy, meditation, naturopathy, and yoga.

Complementary and alternative medicine encompasses a number of techniques collectively known as mindful exercise (e.g. yoga, Qigong, and Tai Chi), or meditation. This ‘physical exercise executed with a profound inwardly directed contemplative focus’ is increasingly utilized for improving psychological well-being. In general, mindful physical exercise contains the following key elements:

  1. Non-competitive, non-judgmental meditative component
  2. Mental focus on muscular movement and movement awareness combined with a low to moderate level of muscular activity
  3. Centered breathing
  4. Focus on anatomic alignment (i.e., spine, trunk, and pelvis) and proper physical form
  5. Energy centric awareness of individual flow of intrinsic body energy, otherwise known as prana, life force, qi, or Kundalini.

Mindful exercise has been shown to provide an immediate source of relaxation and mental quiescence. Scientific evidence has shown that medical conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, depression, and anxiety disorders respond favorably to mindful exercises.

There is a growing database of the physiological effects of mindful exercise and meditation. Tai Chi and Qi Gong have been shown to promote relaxation and decrease sympathetic output, and to benefit anxiety, depression, blood pressure, and recovery from immune-mediated diseases. Tai Chi and Qi Gong have been shown to improve immune function and vaccine-response. These practices have also been shown to increase blood levels of endorphins and baroreflex sensitivity, and to reduce levels of inflammatory markers (CRP), adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), and cortisol, implicating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis as a mediator of stress and anxiety reduction. Brain wave or electroencephalopathy (EEG) studies of participants undergoing Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercise have found increased frontal EEG alpha, beta, and theta wave activity, suggesting increased relaxation and attentiveness. These changes have not been found in aerobic exercise controls.

In our studies, yogic meditation (Kirtan Kriya) for stressed family dementia caregivers resulted in lower levels of depressive symptoms, and improvements in mental health and cognitive functioning. Participants in the yogic meditation group showed a 43% improvement in telomerase activity after 12 minutes of daily practice for 8 weeks, compared with 3.7% in relaxation music control participants. This suggests that brief daily meditation practices can benefit stress-induced cellular aging. Kirtan Kriya reversed the pattern of increased NF-kappa B-related transcription of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and decreased IRF1-related transcription of innate antiviral response genes in distressed dementia caregivers. This reinforces the relationship between stress reduction and beneficial immune response. In the same study, nine caregivers received brain FDG-PET scans at baseline and post-intervention. When comparing the regional cerebral metabolism between groups, significant differences over time were found in different patterns of regional cerebral metabolism suggesting brain-fitness effect different from passive relaxation.

Studies of meditation also report decreased sympathetic nervous activity and increased parasympathetic activity associated with decreased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased respiratory rate, and decreased oxygen metabolism. Functional neuroimaging studies have been able to corroborate these subjective experiences by demonstrating the up-regulation in brain regions of internalized attention and emotion processing with meditation.

In a recent systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations, Chiesa and Serretti (2010) provided evidence on the neurobiological changes related to Mindfulness Meditation (MM) practice in psychiatric disorders. Meditation practices that focus on concentration of an object or mantra seem to elicit the activation of fronto-parietal networks of internalized attention; meditation techniques that focus on breathing may elicit additional activation of paralimbic regions of insula and anterior cingulate; and meditation techniques that focus on emotion may elicit fronto-limbic activation. Future studies will be needed to disentangle the brain activation patterns related to different meditation traditions.

Given the noninvasive nature of mindful exercise and meditation, these exercises are an appropriate option for consumers and clinicians, particularly for conditions that have been examined in controlled studies. Significant evidence supports the assertion that Tai Chi and Qi Gong and yoga and meditation can improve physical and mental health, and quality of life. Ethical considerations should be taken into account when practicing or recommending spiritual interventions by healthcare professionals to respect patients’ beliefs in choosing mind-body interventions. 

~ Helen Lavretsky, M.D., M.S.
Dr. Helen Lavretsky is a Professor of Psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, a geriatric psychiatrist with the research interest in geriatric depression and caregiver stress, as well as complementary and alternative medicine and mind-body approaches to treatment and prevention of disorders in older adults.  

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Tue, Jul 16, 2013 AT 9:34 am - Mind Well
Picture This: Healing Trauma through Art

The creative arts therapies are uniquely effective in the treatment of trauma. Board certified art therapist Erica Curtis, a leader in the field of art therapy, offers reflections on the power of art therapy in addressing trauma.

“It was like reaching into your insides and pulling them out”, “like a war
zone”, “a downward spiral.” 

These words, from those affected by the recent devastation at Sandy Hook Elementary, are more like an evocative painting than a chronicle of the event. And it is no surprise, given how our brains store and process trauma. Trauma is encoded differently than regular events that can be told like a narrative. Traumatic memory is not inherently verbal. It is felt physically. It is known emotionally. It is re-experienced visually. Yet, to prevent serious mental health issues from
taking root, the brain must learn to analyze and understand the trauma as it does other events. As such, there is hope for healing in the sensory and visual experience of art.

Making art makes sense, quite literally. Art can help people make sense of the illogical experience of trauma by serving as a communication tool that is, itself, both visual and sensory. What's more, art therapy*, the art based and visually informed psychotherapy practice, can harness these qualities of art to help survivors access, observe, and analyze memories that are stored as visual and sensory material. In this way, the targeted use of art (often in combination with the art therapist’s knowledge of neurology, cognitive-behavioral intervention, somatic therapies, and more) bridges the visual-sensory realm and the verbal-logical functions of the brain. This aids in the meaning-making that is so important to coping and recovery.

Of course, art-making itself can be an inherently therapeutic experience for children and adults by allowing expression of difficult feelings, fostering support by bringing people together, or providing a soothing experience in an otherwise jarring existence. Art therapy, however, may be indicated when symptoms suggest the body and brain are under stress. In children these may include: repetitive play focused on the event, change in sleep or eating habits, rocking, social withdrawal, decreased interest or enjoyment in play, increased worries or fears, hypervigilance, tantrums, flat affect, irritability, distractibility, or hyperactivity. In this event, an art therapist can intervene with appropriate art directives and media to gently challenge the individual toward recalling the trauma without feeling re-traumatized. More than using art as just a communication or soothing tool, the art therapist can use targeted art-making to stimulate affective experience or cognitive processes when appropriate, identify internal resources, move toward the creation of narratives, reinforce a sense of safety, and temper fear responses that could be triggered during the process.

As declared by so many impacted by the Sandy Hook tragedy (or hurricane Katrina, or 9-11, or car accidents, or abuse): “There are no words.” But there are images and these images can find expression through art, which can lead the way toward healing.

*Art therapy is a master’s level psychotherapy profession that often requires a license or credentials to practice depending on state regulations. To learn more about art therapy, visit the American Art Therapy Association atwww.arttherapy.org. 

----------

Erica Curtis, MA, MFT, ATR-BC 

About the author: 
Erica is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Board Certified Art Therapist. She is a faculty member at the Loyola Marymount University department of Marriage and Family Therapy, served 6 years on the board of directors of the American Art Therapy Association, and is a program advisor for UCLArts and Healing. Erica has a private practice in Santa Monica. To learn more visit www.TherapyWithErica.com. 

Originally published by UCLArts and Healing. To receive, search for, or post information on topics such as this, visit www.uclartsandhealing.org 

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Tue, May 21, 2013 AT 8:42 pm - Mind Well
The Balancing Brain: Finding Harmony and Awareness

Jill Bolte Taylor's TED talk  and book -- "My Stroke of Insight" -- offer vivid and intensely personal recollections of her life-threatening brain hemorrhage. Her stroke shifts a delicate balance of complementary forces in her brain, generating a dramatic upheaval in her sense of self and the world around her. How can we best understand her experience, and what does this tell us about our own minds and brains?

In Dr. Bolte Taylor's narrative, the hemispheres of the brain serve as a neuroanatomical metaphor for a duality of consciousness, the hosts of a dynamic tension between competing powers that exist within us all. She emphasizes contrasts between "parallel," "holistic" and "nonverbal" processing of the right hemisphere, versus "serial," "analytic" and "verbal" processing of the left hemisphere. Others have emphasized the role of the right hemisphere in dealing with novelty, while the left hemisphere designs and deploys rules, tactics and other "descriptive systems" (language, math, the rules of games). I like to view hemisphere differences from an evolutionary perspective, and particularly think about how the hemispheres contribute to the overall balance of stability and flexibility of brain activity. On one hand, we need to keep ourselves on track by stabilizing and then executing our plans for action. On the other hand, we need to flexibly adjust these plans as needed to match the exigencies of our changing world as we experience these through our sensorium. What happens when the scales are tipped?

Imbalance between brain systems is often the source of problems. Ever had a moment when you might have been a tad too "rigid," or when you had difficulty "staying focused?" Consider the plights of those with obsessive-compulsive or attention deficit disorders. Taylor's portrayal is unique in revealing a benefit of imbalance: the "silencing" of some systems may "unleash" others, and yield extraordinary vision and perspective. Taylor reports uplifting sensations of beauty and euphoria that seem to reflect a release from domination by critical analysis. She experiences an expansive state marked by connection to humanity, and freedom from the incessant "chatter" of her verbal brain. Her stroke also had distressing consequences -- for example, paralysis on the right side of her body and a loss of intelligible speech. But the upside of her experience was so profound and alluring, that viewers of her talk ask: "How can I turn off my left hemisphere? Do I need to have a stroke?"

Let us hope readers will not abandon their New Year's diet and fitness resolutions, hoping to clog precisely those cerebral arteries that might help them relive Taylor's experience. There are other ways! Methods for personal brain management  might help readers enjoy some of the benefits without the risks. Some techniques have track records spanning a few thousand years. Ancient contemplative practices may provide the best-documented means to "silence the chatter" by engaging what have been called discursive or open monitoring modes of meditation. Relaxation exercises, particularly those promoting awareness of internal somatic states, may enhance the flexible and connected mode of brain function. Similar states may accompany yoga, tai chi, or vigorous exercise.

More radical (read this as relatively untested, possibly dangerous) methods center on direct management of brain activity. Drugs provide one method to alter the balance of brain function, and there are uncanny parallels between aspects of Taylor's experience and reports from experiments with psychedelic agents. A burgeoning literature now shows that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) may enable stimulation or inhibition of neural activity in specific regions of the brain. While provocative articles have suggested that tDCS may promote increased cognitive function and even "flow" (a mental state of effortless immersion and engagement), this method is still under investigation and the potential adverse effects remain unknown. There are also ways to use neurofeedback -- monitoring of one's brain using visualizations of electrical activity recorded from the scalp -- but here too, there is so far no well-tested formula to produce effects like those experienced by Taylor.

Before embarking on a brain-altering search for deeper understanding, we should first reflect on what we really want to achieve. While Taylor gained enormous insight, she also suffered tremendous trauma and dedicated 8 years to recover lost functions. The most powerful approaches to self-improvement may aim to promote the dynamic balance of forces in the brain rather than the quieting of some to release others. Since antiquity, seekers of truth, beauty, and harmony have traveled paths that balance opposing forces: consider the Middle Way of Buddhism, and the Golden Mean of Aristotle. When we delve into the meditation practices, we find that the most advanced practices engage open monitoring together with its complement, focused attention, and importantly -- these synergistic forces are engaged simultaneously. We have found that similar methods, focused on balancing the brain systems for both flexibility and stability, which lead to the generation of novel work that is also perceived as valuable, are cornerstones of the neuroscientific bases of creativity . Intensive psychotherapy offers another route to remodel thinking and overcome the barriers to achieving better brain balance. We will review these and other emerging methods for managing one's own brain at the UCLA Summer Institute on Brain-Mind-Wellness . Meanwhile, with a fresh 2013 before us, we can be inspired by Taylor's concluding comments about the moment-to-moment alternative mental states that may be available to us and ask: "Which do you choose, and when?" Increased insight into these processes can only help us choose more wisely and precisely who we want to be.

Robert M. Bilder, Ph.D

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Tue, Apr 30, 2013 AT 3:07 pm - Mind Well
Personal Brain Management: Ready for Prime Time?

It defines who you are, whom you love, what you dream and hope for in your future. To some its activity defines life itself. It is your brain. But it does not come with a manual, at least not yet. This is now changing. There are now major forces driving a revolution in personal brain management. The first is the awe-inspiring proliferation of neuroscience, which today has about 20 identified subdomains including cognitive neuroscience, social and affective neuroscience, and neuroimaging. Second is the rapid rise of positive psychology, which aims to help people achieve greater happiness and well-being, including our more primitive hedonic needs and our higher aspirations for meaning and purpose in life. At the intersection of these movements is positive applied neuropsychology -- the systematic study of brain mechanisms underlying well-being. Can you use what we know about the brain to change your own brain, to better achieve your own values and goals?

I came to prioritize personal brain management while working on a talk for TEDx San Diego . I first planned to talk about our Phenomics project at UCLA that involves more than 50 scientists trying to map complex links from the genome up to complex behavior, specifying myriad molecules, cells, and brain systems in between. When I realized this topic was too geeky even for the TED audience, I cleared my mind and contemplated the theme for this meeting -- the Next Wave. Then it hit me. We have reached a tipping point where we do know enough about how the brain works to change the way we use it. Personal brain management is the next phase of human evolution. By the time I finished preparing this 12-minute talk, I had persuaded myself that this is the most important thing I can be working on right now.

Since then I have developed a course on Personal Brain Management (PBM) at UCLA and have given related talks from various perspectives -- particularly, how PBM can be applied to advance creative achievement, social media, human resources, arts and architecture, child development and teaching. I even gave a lecture on how to be your own brain fitness coach. I believe we are now at a most interesting point on the crest of the PBM wave, and like any big wave, there is both amazing and exciting potential, along with risk.

The potential is literally life-changing. Every day we see new, credible scientific evidence that shows we can, through systematic exercises, actually change the structure and function of our own brains. There are examples showing how these changes may take place within a few hours of activity, even though most studies show that it really takes more time to produce structural brain change. Solid research shows some exercises generalize -- that is, by practicing one cognitive activity, other skills also improve and it is possible to become smarter. A wealth of data now shows how some ancient contemplative practices (meditation, yoga, tai chi chih) change our brain function and also change the neural regulation of inflammation, with possible links to a broad array of other healthy outcomes. The amazing promise is that by embracing PBM we may achieve the holy grail of living longer, better, happier, illness free, and creative lives.

What are the risks? As with most new technologies, there is a "hype cycle," and we are now riding the peak of inflated expectations. These early times are marked by a "snake oil" phase of premature commercialization, with some aiming to profit on the promise and excitement before the products have been proven effective. Good news is that most of the activities are unlikely to cause great harm; those that are ineffective are generally just a waste of time and money. A challenge today is that there is no easy way to separate the possibly effective from the probably ineffective. A quick tour through "app stores" provides a few crude indicators, like how many "stars" customers give to the products, along with cryptic reviews, sometimes from thousands of purchasers. The careful consumer might attempt to weed through these in hopes of gaining insight. But all these stars and comments comprise anecdotes, not evidence. Vendors are now treading in murky waters between the land of toys and the land of medical devices. If they try to make claims that their product actually targets a "medical" issue, then the product falls under the regulatory powers of the Food and Drug Administration as "medical devices," and getting this approval demands real evidence. Rather than face this hurdle, most sellers prefer to treat their goods as "novelties" or "games," and the message that these games are going to help you become smarter, richer, or live longer are only implied -- although sometimes implied aggressively.

We are trying to tackle these challenges at UCLA through systematic training that involves education and experience for our students, staff and faculty. This year we started the first UCLA Summer Institute on Brain-Mind-Wellness , which includes full courses including Personal Brain Management, Mindfulness Practice and Theory, and Integrative East-West Medicine. We are also launching a new series of UReviews to provide student-faculty expert surveys of wellness apps, which we hope can serve as a kind of Consumer Reports in this domain, offering unbiased, free information about the credibility and validity of claims made by vendors. We hope that these efforts will help inspire a next generation of students, investigators and inventors who will promote the promise of these new tools for managing our brains, and provide a counterweight against false claims. In the meantime, caveat emptor.

-Dr. Robert Bilder
Professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA
Director, Tennenbaum Center for the Biology of Creativity

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