Category: anxiety

Scientists Have Found the Gene That Governs an Organism’s Waking Life

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The Biology of Sleep Cycles

The day-night cycle is an inescapable part of living on planet Earth, so it wasn’t too surprising when scientists discovered that organisms (including humans) have an internal body clock that follows this same day-night rhythm; however, when we look at ostensibly drab or banal subjects like the rhythms that govern wakefulness and sleep, the “why” and the “how” transform the quotidian and banal into fascinating challenges requiring the most creative minds in the world.

This is exactly what happened to three American biologists, Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young. Last week, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for discovering the master genes that govern a creature’s waking life and, ultimately, solving the mystery of the body’s circadian rhythms.

Scientists who lived during the 18th century, like the Frenchman Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, saw the first hints of the body’s internal clock when plants that were kept at a constant temperature in a dark cupboard retained their daily rhythm, opening and closing their leaves at regular intervals. Strangely, de Mairan believed this was because plants can “sense the Sun without ever seeing it.”

Of course, this wasn’t actually the cause, and we can prove that now, thanks to the work of the latest Nobel winning scientists.

Sleep is in the Genes

For their work, the three American biologists above isolated the gene in fruit flies that determines the rhythm of a living organism’s waking life. In so doing, as the Nobel prize committee noted in their press release, the scientists peered into the machinery that “explains how plants, animals, and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.”

To break this down a bit, the active “period” gene encodes a protein inside the cell overnight. This protein later degrades during the daytime hours. This process goes on, and on, and on, governing the rhythm of when we are awake and when we are not.

In the human brain, this gene exists in a tiny part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. It’s linked to the retina in the eye and, farther back, it connects to the brain’s pineal gland, which secretes the sleep hormone melatonin.

Prof Robash, a 73-year-old faculty member of Brandeis University of Waltham in Massachusetts, noted that, when he published his study in the 1980s, he never had any “grandiose thoughts” about the significance of the discovery. But since then, it has become a major topic in scientific circles and the significance well understood.

Robash explains the gravity of the discovery, noting that, ultimately, this process is a fundamental component of our biology and has a significant impact on how organisms function on the cellular level: “It’s [now] pretty clear that it has its fingers in all kinds of basic processes by influencing an enormous fraction of the genome.”

American Insomniacs

So what does this mean for you? How does it impact your day-to-day life? Well, for starters, it allows scientists to better understand the biology of sleep. This, in turn, helps us understand how to achieve optimum conditions for rest. And one of the things that we know now is the role that deep touch has when it comes to sleep.

But to back up a bit, in 2014, 30 to 35 percent of Americans had brief symptoms of insomnia, this is caused by a myriad of factors and the symptoms usually last no more than three months. However, a full 10 percent of the American population suffers from chronic insomnia disorder, which occurs at least three times weekly for at least three months.

Obviously, insomnia can affect productivity at work or undermine job advancement. In the U.S. alone, about $63 billion in lost work is attributed to insomnia-related work performance each year. It can prevent you from performing at your best in school. It could also exacerbate background depression, cause anxiety attacks, and even cause death.

Image credit: hernanpba
Image credit: hernanpba

Earlier this year, The Center for Sleep Research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) reported that up to 70 million Americans suffer sleep disorders, which adds a maddening $15.9 billion to the national healthcare bill. So what’s a sleepless insomniac to do?

Perscriptions are one option, but they can have high reoccurring costs and may not be suitable for all individuals. Moreover, as a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders notes, “drugs are often addictive or have side effects, and psychological/behavioral methods require long treatment sessions and it may take time to achieve satisfactory results….Hence there is a need for additional, simpler methods to promote and maintain better sleep.”

And it turns out there are simpler solutions to sleepless nights on top of us (nearly) every night. This is where deep touch comes in. Blankets actually affect how you sleep, and weighted blankets have proven to be exceptionally effective at helping you keep your eyes shut.

Weighted blankets spread an even amount of pressure across the entire body while you’re asleep. Pellets inside the blanket give it roughly 10 percent of the user’s body weight, and gravity forces contours to form around the shape of the sleeper’s body. The pressure is a kind of deep touch therapy. This increases serotonin levels, which then creates melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep. This is similar to the way swaddling a baby helps them sleep.

Gravity Blanket, made by Gravity Products LLC, is specifically designed to do all of this. With a tried-and-tested gravity blanket, your body can heal and repair heart and blood vessels, battle illness, and regulate hormone levels.

Head here to check out the science behind the gravity blanket’s proprioceptive input and select a blanket of your very own.

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Activity in Part of the Brain Could Determine Whether You are a “Winner”

Using Light to Make Winners

Your level of success may be all in your head — literally. Chinese scientists have turned submissive “loser” mice into dominant “winner” mice in a study published in Science. They triggered the transformation by promoting activity in the part of the brain associated with “effortful behavior” and “social dominance.”

The experiment used a typical “Dominance Tube Test,” which involves putting two mice in opposite ends of a tube, and observing which one pushes the other out of the way. While the “winners” are not necessarily stronger, professor Hailan Hu, who led the study, asserted to The Guardian that the test ascertains which subject holds the higher social position based “not [on] aggressiveness per se,” but “perseverance, motivational drive, grit.”

Neuroscientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences collaborated with other institutions to use optogenetics — a fiber optic implant which encourages neural activity using light — to stimulate the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) in mice who had been “losers” in the test case. In order to do this, the scientists also had to genetically engineer the mice to make their dmPFCs light sensitive.

After being exposed to the treatment, the former “losers” won in 90 percent of cases. When the researchers conducted further experiments, they found that the effect also worked vice versa — “activation or inhibition of the dmPFC induces instant winning or losing, respectively” — and that some mice retained “this newly dominant position.”

The Ultimate Makeover

The findings of the study are interesting in two respects. First, it gives us an insight into the way that power is constructed in the animal kingdom, which we may also be able to apply to humans. Ivan de Araujo, a psychiatry researcher at the Yale University School of Medicine, told The Guardian that:

[An animal’s] history of winning is one characteristic of social dominance that is relevant for almost every social species studied, from insects to primates. Because each brain region investigated has its direct primate homologue, the present study opens new opportunities for understanding the involvement of brain regions linked to planning and decision-making in establishing social hierarchies.

Second, it opens up an avenue of research that could allow us to use similar implants as a form of therapy for individuals who are either too competitive or not competitive enough. If the system can be optimized and applied to humans, we could use it to curb the impulses and behaviors of overly aggressive individuals or to empower people with social anxiety or confidence-related disorders.

This is not the first startling behavioral change that can be instigated using optogenetics. Studies over the last few years have found that the technique can be used to make a sterile mouse fertile again, combat addiction by rewriting memories and experiences, and send mice into a rage that causes them to bite and attack anything in their path.

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New Study Reveals a Group of Neurons Active in Anxious Brains

An Uncertain Bad Experience

Everyone worries sometimes, but about one in four adults in the U.S. suffer from anxiety disorder, a mental illness characterized by anxiety that interferes with their daily lives. New research from St. Louis’s Washington University School of Medicine provides insight into the workings of the anxious brain, revealing a group of neurons that becomes active when animals are faced with unpleasant events that are possible — but not certain.

“We found a population of neurons that activated specifically when monkeys thought something bad or annoying – like a puff of air to the face – might be coming, but not when they knew for certain it was,” study author and assistant professor of neuroscience and of biomedical engineering Ilya Monosov told MedicalXpress. “These neurons did not activate when the animals thought they might get something good, like a sip of sweet juice. Only an uncertain bad experience activated these cells.”

The team studied the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain’s outer layer where its two hemispheres meet. The area plays a clear role in mental disorders like anxiety, attention deficit disorder, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Researchers have confirmed differences in the anterior cingulate cortex between healthy people and people with these mental disorders. However, he functions of cells associated with these brain differences, and their consequences, are not well-understood.

Cellular Roots Of Anxiety

For their study, the team trained the monkeys to respond not just to the uncertainty around when they would receive the unpleasant puff of air in their face, but to the certainty and uncertainty of possible rewards as well. They observed that possible rewards engaged an entirely different group of neurons.

This research opens up possibilities for studying the roots of anxiety, and could one day lead to new treatments. The findings from the study also help elucidate the cellular bases of complex mental processes. It appears that our brain’s response to uncertainty is rooted in our neurons.

“Now that we know which cells are active when an animal is faced with the uncertainty of a bad experience, we can try to disrupt the activity of these cells,” Monosov said to MedicalXpress. “It opens up avenues of research, which may one day lead to new ways to treat disorders such as anxiety and depression.”

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This Is How We Will Reduce Anxiety In The Future

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Stressed Out

Every year, the world around us moves a little faster, and it’s easy to stumble and get stressed out as we try to catch up with it. Almost every fifth person in the United States has an anxiety disorder, costing the country more than $42 billion a year. Nearly half of those who suffer from depression are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as well.

While sufferers would be wise to reach out to professionals for help, they can also take certain measures on their own to improve their everyday lives. The following tools may not be as effective as consulting a professional, but they could certainly lead to a less anxious and stress-free life in the future.

Virtual Reality

This Is How We Will Reduce Anxiety In The Future
Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Virtual reality (VR) isn’t just for gamers — it can be used as a tool to reduce anxiety and curb the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well.

By transporting the user to another time and place inside a virtual 3D-rendered environment, researchers are trying to send PTSD sufferers mentally back to the scenes that first triggered their anxieties and fears. In other clinical trials, virtual reality technology is being used to recreate a setting with a private therapist sitting across from the patient.

The Berkeley Well-Being Institute is trialing its own anxiety-reducing VR method by relaxing the patient through “virtual wellness,” a suite of apps that range from deep-breathing exercises to star flight simulations.

Headspace

This Is How We Will Reduce Anxiety In The Future
Image Credit: Headspace

Meditation has been a common practice for thousands of years. Its history is intricately bound to religious practices, but secular forms have become increasingly popular as a way to relax and reduce anxiety.

The popular app Headspace has been developing its own technique through the science of mindfulness. According to their website, “a number of studies […] have initially found that online mindfulness training does produce results similar to in-person training.”

Not only can app-based mindful meditation reduce anxiety, it can sharpen your concentration at work and help you sleep better.

The Gravity Blanket

This Is How We Will Reduce Anxiety In The Future
Image Credit: Gravity Blanket

The idea of a weighted blanket aiding in reducing stress and anxiety is a proven concept. Weighted blankets such as the Gravity Blanket have been shown to increase serotonin and melatonin levels, helping users relax and sleep.

The Gravity Blanket is made of high-grade microfiber on the outside for an exceptionally soft feel and maximized comfort. Users will never miss a minute of sleep again.

Muse Headband

This Is How We Will Reduce Anxiety In The Future
Image Credit: Muse

Rather than reaping the benefits of meditation through an interactive app on a smartphone, a company called Muse is trying to help sufferers reduce anxiety with the aid of a sensing headband. The Muse headband uses EEG-neurofeedback sensors to guide a wearer step-by-step through customized meditation programs.

emWave2

This Is How We Will Reduce Anxiety In The Future
Image Credit: HearthMath

HeartMath’s emWave2 promises increased athletic performance and a reduction of stress by providing users with real-time heart rhythm feedback. The idea is to be able to act upon this information immediately, thereby “balancing your mind, body, and emotions.”

Thync

This Is How We Will Reduce Anxiety In The Future
Image Credit: Thync

The Thync wearable is designed to help users overcome negative thoughts and anxiety with daily sessions that last for 10 minutes.

According to their website, the Thync uses low levels of electrostimulation to “activate specific nerve pathways on the head and neck.” The science behind the technology has been developed by a team of neuroscientists from MIT, Harvard and Stanford over the last five years.

Sensory Deprivation

This Is How We Will Reduce Anxiety In The Future
Image Credit: WikiMedia Commons

Imagine yourself inside a completely dark pod, floating in a pool of high salt content water. Feeling relaxed yet?

The so-called sensory deprivation tank treatment is burgeoning into a cult phenomenon of sorts, and the idea behind it is simple: spend 45 to 90 minutes inside the tank without any external stimuli.

The treatment is said to reduce stress and anxiety, enabling you to forget the hardships of everyday life — assuming you aren’t claustrophobic, that is.

Cryotherapy

This Is How We Will Reduce Anxiety In The Future
Image Credit: Thrive Drip Spa

Cryotherapy — spending about three minutes in a -151.1 degree Celsius (-240 degree Fahrenheit) chamber — is no longer reserved for top-level athletes. It’s supposed to help burn calories and leave you in a relaxed state, figuratively freeze-burning the stress away.

There are a number of first-person accounts and small-scale clinical trials of cryotherapy aiding in anxiety reduction and treating depression, but the practice has yet to become widespread.

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New Study Reveals That The Brains of People With Depression Look Different

White Matter Matters

A new study published in Scientific Reports has revealed a link between depression and the structure of white matter in the brain, which we use to process our emotions and thoughts. The research, which was conducted by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, analysed data from 3,461 people in the U.K. Biobank database, making it the largest study of its kind in history.

Image Credit: Scientific Reports
Image Credit: X. Shen et al. / Scientific Reports

The scientists used diffusion tensor imaging — which is based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — to create highly detailed maps of the fibers in the brain. When they compared depression sufferers to healthy individuals they realized that there were substantial differences in the “integrity” (or “quality”) of the white matter.

Heather Whalley, who led the team, said in a Biobank press release that “there is an urgent need to provide treatment for depression and an improved understanding of it[s] mechanisms will give us a better chance of developing new and more effective methods of treatment. Our next steps will be to look at how the absence of changes in the brain relates to better protection from distress and low mood.”

The Depression Crisis

Depression is epidemic in today’s society, with 40 million adults — 18 percent of the population — being affected in the U.S. alone. However, only a third of people suffering from anxiety related disorders receive treatment. Research like this study is pivotal to improving the quality of millions of lives by uncovering the physical causes of the disorder.

The study adds to a growing body of research that supports the understanding that depression as a physical condition rather than a chemical or purely psychological one. This has instigated a fundamental change in the way depression is treated.

For example, researchers at UCLA have begun to use magnetic pulses to target the specific parts of the mind that are associated with depression — “actually changing how the brain circuits are arranged, how they talk to each other” as the press release stated.

In order to fight depression these types of research are crucial — let us all hope one of them leads to a cure capable of helping millions.

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Scientists Assert They Will Soon be Able to Edit Human Memories

How Memories Work

Researchers have recently discovered two different types of memory use completely different processes in the same nerves, opening the way for a new pharmaceutical solution for treating anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The find challenges earlier research that had suggested memories of traumatic events used the same nerves in the same ways, making them impossible to physically distinguish.

A team of scientists from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and McGill University analysed neurons from a marine snail called an Aplysia in order to test a hypothesis explaining why memories of incidents surrounding a bad experience can themselves trigger anxiety.

Neurons build long term memories by reinforcing the chemical bridges called synapses that link them together.

An experience that could harm an organism, such as touching a hot surface or experiencing violence, becomes encoded as an associative memory as the connections between neurons strengthens.

Experiences aren’t always quite so cut-and-dried; an organism might touch a hot surface as it hears a bell, or hear a dog bark nearby as they are assaulted. The bell might be related, or might just be incidental – neurons still record the information in case it’s necessary.

Sometimes this incidental memory doesn’t do the individual any favours, triggering anxieties that do little to help prevent them from future harm.

Many people with PTSD re-experience trauma by association with seemingly unrelated stimuli.

“The example I like to give is, if you are walking in a high-crime area and you take a shortcut through a dark alley and get mugged, and then you happen to see a mailbox nearby, you might get really nervous when you want to mail something later on,” says researcher Samuel Schacher from CUMC.

Anxiety caused by the incidental memory of the mail-box can interfere with a person’s life as encounters with similar innocuous mail-boxes produces a stress response, while offering no advantage in avoiding muggings in the future.

Memory Erasure

The synaptic tagging-and-capture hypothesis alleges a weak stimulus can still create a long-term memory it it’s paired with a stronger stimulation entering the nerve through a different synapse.

The changes in the nerve needed for it to store the memory are sparked by chemicals called plasticity-related proteins, which – according to the hypothesis – are ‘tagged’ in some way at each synapse.

Previous research showed the chemical processes behind the two forms of memory formation have common properties, making it impossible to distinguish the two.

But if those hypothetical tags happened to be different, that would provide a physical property that could be exploited.

“One focus of our current research is to develop strategies to eliminate problematic non-associative memories that may become stamped on the brain during a traumatic experience without harming associative memories, which can help people make informed decisions in the future – like not taking shortcuts through dark alleys in high-crime areas,” says Schacher.

To keep things simple, the researchers took a pair of snail sensory neurons connected to a single motor neuron (dyed red in the image below).

New Discovery Could Allow Us to Edit Memories to Make Them Less Traumatic
Image Source: Schacher Lab/Columbia University Medical Center

One sensory neuron was stimulated in a way that represented a strong associative memory; the other was stimulated to induce an incidental, non-associative memory.

The researchers found that the strength of the connections at each synapse was the result of a two different types of protein called a kinase, types they called protein kinase M Apl I and protein kinase M Apl III.

Selectively blocking just one of these kinases prevented that particular experience from etching itself onto the neuron, virtually erasing that specific memory from existence.

That’s good news for Mr Aplysia, but what about humans?

Fortunately, vertebrates also have similar versions for these kinases at work in memory formation, suggesting our brains work in rather similar ways.

Far more research would be needed to come even close to developing a pharmaceutical capable of blocking traumatic memories, but the research opens a door that had been considered closed.

“Memory erasure has the potential to alleviate PTSD and anxiety disorders by removing the non-associative memory that causes the maladaptive physiological response,” says Jiangyuan Hu from CUMC.

It could one day be possible to take a pill after a mugging that would let your brain forget mailboxes and barking dogs while still recalling the colour of the assailant’s jacket.

Recent research has also shown forgetting incidental information could have a big payoff in helping our brains retain other key information.

Even without potential therapeutic applications, such a discovery still adds a significant piece to the puzzle on how our brains produce long term memories.

This research was published in Current Biology.

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Researchers Have Discovered a Way to Potentially Erase Unwanted Memories

A New Hypothesis

Perhaps the most disruptive aspect of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety-related disorders is the role of “weak” or incidental sensory data. Because this data is converted into a long term memory along with the stronger, more traumatic details, it can piggyback onto the trauma and act as a trigger for the negative feelings associated with it. This results in seemingly innocuous stimuli causing a stress response.

“If you are walking in a high-crime area and you take a shortcut through a dark alley and get mugged, and then you happen to see a mailbox nearby, you might get really nervous when you want to mail something later on,” explains Samuel Schacher, a professor of neuroscience at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC).

When Schacher studied this phenomenon along with other researchers at CUMC and McGill University, the team found that a long-held belief about it — that both the incidental data and significant information were processed in the same way in the brain — may be inaccurate.

Through experiments on a marine snail called an Aplysia, the researchers concluded that the incidental data and the significant data used unique proteins to form their connections to the motor neuron. Because of this, the researchers found they could block one type of protein without affecting the other, thus eliminating the connection formed by the incidental data without affecting the one formed by the significant data.

Using Schacher’s mugging as an example, this would mean researchers could remove a person’s fear of mailboxes while letting them retain their memory of the mugging, which might be useful in preventing them from entering a similar situation in the future or for recalling the event for criminal proceedings.

Better Memories

According to the National Center for PTSD, the condition affects an estimated 7 to 8 percent of Americans at some point in their lives, and the chances of women developing the condition are more than twice as high as men: 10.4 percent compared to 5 percent. By removing the memories that trigger breakdowns or flashbacks, such as the mailbox, the lives of PTSD sufferers could be improved.

Reprogramming the Human Mind: Here’s How We’ll Make Humanity 2.0 [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

The ability to selectively erase memories could be useful for a number of problems beyond PTSD, too. For example, drug addicts whose cravings are caused by apparently random stimuli could be treated to no longer respond to that stimuli.

In addition to opening up the potential for us to erase memories, a better understanding of how our minds store what we experience could also allow us to enhance our memory capabilities. This could be done through selective electrical brain stimulation, brain implants, or by memory exercises. Ultimately, the more we can learn about the various functions of our brains, including memory storage, the more potential we have to manipulate them, ushering in a new age in human evolution.

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Doctors Are Now Fighting Depression by Targeting the Brain’s Wiring, Not Its Chemical Balance

The Damage of Depression

Depression is becoming an epidemic that is damaging individuals, society, and the economy. Its has become the leading source of disability and of ill health in the U.S. It affects more than 15 million adults in total, including 1.5 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 18 in a given year. Depression is especially on the rise in young people, with its rates in teenage girls jumping by 37 percent over the last decade.

Currently, the main form of treatment is medication, but drugs can be ineffective and have undesirable side effects. Some form of consistently effective and less invasive treatment needs to be developed in order to spare millions of people the pain and loneliness the disease causes.

Scientists have recently discovered the physical seat of depression in the brain, as well as finding particular genes that cause it. This establishes depression as a largely physical disease, which has led to a number of treatments that seek to treat depression not as a chemical issue, but a physiological one.

Rewiring the Mind

One of the methods being developed is  transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which targets specific areas of the brain with magnetic pulses. Ian Cook, director of the UCLA Depression Research and Clinic Program, said in a UCLA press release that they “are actually changing how the brain circuits are arranged, how they talk to each other.”

For the treatment, patients sit back in a chair while a technician positions a magnetic stimulator at a specific location on their head which is determined by brain calibrations. Patients undergo the procedure a few days a week over the course of six weeks.

Andrew Leuchter, director of the Semel Institute’s TMS clinical and research service, said in the press release “TMS is a revolutionary kind of treatment” — this is because it interacts with the brain as an electrical organ instead of as a chemical one. While medication aims to re-balance neurological chemicals, TMS targets the electrical formation of the brain.

TMS has only been clinically applied to depression, but the treatment could potentially be applied to a number of other mental disorders, including schizophrenia, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic pain by changing how the neural network functions.

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This Is the Science Behind One of Kickstarter’s Most Popular Projects

A New Kind of Gravity?

The “Gravity Blanket” launched on Kickstarter last Wednesday (April 26th, 2017). In the first 24 hours, the blanket that promises to “relax the nervous system” and “decrease stress and anxiety” made almost 300k in funding, and the project has skyrocketed since then. It’s just a week later, and the Gravity Blanket is rushing towards $2 million (at the time of writing, the campaign is at 1.7 million).

And it’s getting coverage everywhere. From Martha Stewart to Business Insider to Mashable to Bustle (and on, and on). So, what’s the story with Gravity?

The Gravity Blanket was created by entrepreneur John Fiorentino, who states that he decided to make the product after realizing that weighted blankets, which are commonly used in the medical community to help alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety and assist people with autism, could also provide benefits to society at large.

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In an Interview with Futurism, Fiorentino stated that his main goal is to assist individuals suffering from stress or anxiety and to help people to start to feel relief:

All the research I uncovered showed that these blankets are tremendously effective when it comes to helping with PTSD and other severe anxiety disorders; however, most people hadn’t ever heard of weighted blankets, and it’s hard to get them outside of the medical community. Also, they are extremely expensive. So what I am trying to do is bring weighted blankets, which are highly effective in treating sleep and stress disorders, to all people by making them high quality and affordable.

According to the Gravity Blanket’s Kickstarter page, the weighted blanket is engineered to be about 10 percent of your body weight. The weight is distributed in key locations throughout the blanket to activate pressure points in the body, which increases serotonin and melatonin levels and decreases cortisol levels, thereby, “improving your mood and promoting restful sleep at the same time. All without ever filling a prescription.”

So, What Does Science Have to Say?

To begin with, what Fiorentino is talking about is called “proprioceptive input,” also known as “deep touch pressure stimulation” (DTP). Early research into proprioceptive input shows that DTP does produce a calming influence—one that could help with stress and anxiety (or related conditions).

Kim Barthel, an occupational therapist and neurobiologist, asserts that DTP works by altering cortisol levels and serotonin production, decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure as a result. The Mayo Clinic clarifies, “as adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities” for but people with stress or anxiety disorders “the long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes.”

When these levels are off kilter, it puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, such as depression, headaches, digestive problems, and other issues associated with improper chemical regulation. To that end, the evidence supporting the effectiveness of weighted blankets, and subsequent DTP activation, is found in both clinical use and peer review research.

“Proprioceptive input is good for pretty much everyone and anyone.”

In an interview with Futurism, Amber Martin, an occupational therapist with a M.S. degree from Utica College, noted that deep pressure stimulation is one of the most effective methods of assisting individuals in her therapy sessions, adding that deep pressure stimulation isn’t useful in just therapy sessions. As Martin notes, “proprioceptive input is good for pretty much everyone and anyone. It can be very calming and organizing.”

So scientists have reached some interesting conclusions about the positive benefits that weighted blankets provide, and it seems that the Gravity Blanket could help you realize these benefits. You can learn more about the science behind proprioceptive input, and select a blanket, here.

As a final thought, it is important to keep in mind that the one unifying symptom of all anxiety disorders, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), is that persistent feeling of excessive fear or worry in non-threatening situations. This makes restful sleep exceedingly difficult and exacerbates the issue. By reducing stress and anxiety and allowing you to get a better night’s sleep, or even just a few moments of rest in an otherwise busy day, the Gravity Blanket can help.

Futurism partnered with Gravity Products LLC on this product.

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We Need to Talk. Our Society Has an Issue With Anxiety and Mental Health.

A Heavy Mind

Having your heart race as you watch a horror movie is a totally normal physiological response. So is having trouble sleeping the night before delivering an important presentation. Not so normal is experiencing those same feelings on a near-constant basis, regardless of the circumstances.

For the 18 percent of the U.S. population with an anxiety disorder, it is oftentimes difficult for sufferers to live a normal life. In an interview with The Guardian, one young woman who was forced to drop out of college due to her panic disorder explained what her day-to-day reality was like: “I don’t enjoy sitting at home all day long,” she said, “but I physically can’t do anything else at the moment. It’s as though a pause button has been pressed on my life. I’m just…waiting.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), panic attacks are just one symptom of anxiety disorders. Others can include a feeling of impending doom, restlessness, nausea, and difficulty falling and staying asleep. Those sleep-related symptoms of anxiety can create a vicious cycle, with the lack of sleep making it harder and harder for a person to cope with their anxiety, which then makes it even harder for them to sleep—it’s a neverending cycle.

It is important to note that chronic anxiety is not a problem with one single solution. It’s a continuous presence that must often be attacked on multiple fronts.

Medications help, but at the present time, they cannot cure anxiety disorders, only treat their symptoms. For some people, the process of finding a drug that works with their body’s unique chemistry can be a source of stress all its own. According to the NAMI, some medications can take weeks to begin working and cause unwanted side effects.

As if that’s not troubling enough, getting off some anti-anxiety medications can cause withdrawal symptoms worse than those experienced prior to their usage, including seizures and even death, leaving the patient with little choice but to continue taking the medication.

And as investigative journalist Robert Whitaker notes in his book “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” in the end, the adverse effects of psychiatric medications may lend to the growing mental health epidemic. After analyzing the scientific literature that has been produced in peer review articles over the course of the last half century, Whitaker found that some psychiatric medications appear to be effective over the short term, but that these drugs ultimately increase the probability that a person will become chronically ill over the long term.

This does not mean that medication doesn’t work (it does work, and for a lot of people). Rather, what it means is that our current treatments have a number of issues and don’t work (or don’t work well) for all people. In this respect, we are making progress, but we have a lot of work that still needs to be done.

And we’re still just getting started with the issues our society faces when addressing, or trying to address, mental health issues.

Accepting the Truth: We Have A Problem

We Need to Talk. Our Society Has an Issue With Anxiety and Mental Health.
Image Credit: Robot Hugs

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is believed that only about half of those affected receive treatment. Part of the problem is the stigmas that are attached to mental health issues. Most people see mental issues as “weakness,” as something that people just need to “get over.”

Ultimately, such responses lead to a number of individuals who go without necessary treatment. This, in turn, has a significant impact on individuals’ health and livelihood. It impacts friends and loved ones. As the author of Robot Hugs notes:

Mental health is a global issue. Mental illness affects people of every race, class, and nationality. Access to mental health resources is a global crisis, and that access is affected and compromised (or facilitated) by factors from all levels of society: legislative, medical, community, employment, interpersonal, individual.

The stigma that mental illness is not real illness, or that it only affects the weak, or that it is shameful, those stigmas permeate each of those levels. This includes governments defunding mental health care, medical professionals dismissing or avoiding issues of mental illness in their patients, communities who turn their backs on their most at-risk members, and families who hide behinds walls of secrecy.

It is an issue that we cannot ignore. Overcoming ignorance is the first step, but in the meantime, there are other solutions that can help that don’t involve medication or therapy.

A Way Forward

The Mayo Clinic has some helpful advice regarding how we can help solve our mental health crisis. First, get treatment from where ever you are comfortable and able (be that a friend, a book, or a professional), and realize that doing so is a great, good thing. As the Clinic notes, “Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Stigma doesn’t just come from others. You may mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help. Seeking psychological counseling, educating yourself about your condition and connecting with others with mental illness can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment.”

The next important thing to do is to avoid isolation, as this often exacerbates the issue. This could start with something simple, such as regularly going out for a walk or joining a community club, or involve some more dedicated work, such as joining a support group.

And of course, something that we can all do is speak out against stigma. The Clinic continues, “Consider expressing your opinions at events, in letters to the editor or on the Internet. It can help instill courage in others facing similar challenges and educate the public about mental illness.”

For those individuals who don’t yet feel comfortable seeking treatment from a professional, there are other solutions. A report by Harvard Health Publications notes that treating the sleep disorder associated with mental health issues can actually alleviate some of the symptoms of the problem, and one way to do that is through using proprioceptive input (also know as deep touch pressure (DTP)) to ground your body with a weighted blanket.

Weighted blankets use DTP to ease feelings of anxiety. The blankets are filled with poly pellets to match 10 percent of a person’s body weight. Research has shown that this kind of pressure results in a reduction in cortisol levels and an increase in serotonin production, decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure by stimulating pressure points—which causes the release of the aforementioned chemicals.

A New Battle

Thus, weighted blankets cause these chemical changes to naturally bring about a sense of calm and relaxation that can ease anxiety and bring on a restful slumber. What this translates to is a feeling of comfort that can help even the most over-active mind start to slow down.

Unfortunately, society at large hasn’t had access to the benefits of deep pressure stimulation. To that end, the Gravity Blanket recently launched on Kickstarter in order to give access to all individuals.

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Gravity: The Weighted Blanket For Sleep, Stress, and Anxiety

This 25-pound blanket is engineered to beat your stress and anxiety

Posted by Futurism on Wednesday, April 26, 2017

While the symptoms of anxiety disorders vary greatly depending on the person and the type of disorder from which they suffer, the one unifying symptom of all anxiety disorders, according to NAMI, is that persistent feeling of excessive fear or worry in non-threatening situations. This makes restful sleep exceedingly difficult and exacerbates the issue.

Thankfully, for some individuals, a weighted blanket provide an immediate, side-effect-free way to help alleviate that symptom under any circumstances, whether it’s caused by a big life event or a chronic disorder that makes every day feel like a horror movie.

It is not a “cure-all,” but it is a way that individuals can begin to feel relief. You can learn more about the science behind proprioceptive input, and select a blanket, here. If you, or someone that you know, is struggling (or seems to need assistance), know that you—and they— are not alone. There are many support services and treatment options that may help. You can learn more about how to seek help here.

Futurism partnered with Gravity Products LLC to bring the Gravity Blanket to life.

The post We Need to Talk. Our Society Has an Issue With Anxiety and Mental Health. appeared first on Futurism.