June marks the beginning of Brain Awareness Month, a global campaign to raise public awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. Increased recognition of neurological disorders has led to further clinical research and the discovery of important mechanisms of action, risk factors, and indicators of declining cognitive function. More recently, the medical community has focused its efforts on better understanding the gut-brain axis, or the connection between the human microbiome and mental health. Discoveries continue to implicate the crucial role of the gut in promoting and maintaining cognitive function, mental clarity, and a stable mood.
More people are struggling with anxiety and stress than ever before; anxiety disorders are currently the most common mental illness in the American population, affecting more than 40 million adults. Despite its prevalence, people suffering from anxiety and stress often lack the tools they need to alleviate their symptoms and only 36.9% of them receive treatment. Access to professional help, treatment opportunities, and management techniques may not be easily accessible for everyone looking to improve their mental health, but one crucial element is ubiquitously available – the breath.
Of the many stress coping techniques and lifestyle habits, deep mindful breathing is one of the most important. Breath control has been proven to help subdue the errant stress response – or fight or flight reaction – when it becomes unnecessarily activated by day-to-day events. As chronic stress has been linked to a variety of health conditions such as high blood pressure, suppressed immune system activity, anxiety, and depression, it is important to combat stress reactions with their therapeutic counterpart. A relaxation response, or the state of profound rest, can be elicited through meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, and other soothing practices in combination with focused breathing.
Millions of Americans currently live with a mental illness, and it is estimated that 1 in 5 people will be affected by one in their lifetime. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, during which the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America and many other organizations aim to raise awareness of, and aid people with mental illness. By fighting stigma, educating the public, and advocating for policies, these associations work to inspire millions of people worldwide and support those in need.
A host of factors are involved in the development of mental health disorders, ranging from environmental and biophysical to those of a more psychological nature, such as traumatic life experiences. However, certain risk and protective factors have been identified to help prevent and treat at-risk individuals. Mental health issues stem from more than one risk factor, and often one protective factor is not enough to stop the development of disorders. However, many individuals do not develop mental illnesses even under the stress of multiple risk factors – resiliency is a key determinant in mental health conditions. It is important to remember that all individuals experience negative emotions such as pain, stress, and anger in different ways and that there is no single cause of mental illness. Continue reading