By: Angela Couch, RN, MSN, PMHNP-BC,
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

The research is in, and it’s clear. Exercise can help with depression, anxiety and cognitive decline, not to mention the physical benefits which we are all probably familiar with already. Physical inactivity can also be a risk factor for depression and anxiety.

What are the ways exercise can benefit us?

  1. Increases our energy and motivation levels
  2. Releases “feel good” endorphins, and endogenous cannabinoids that enhance our sense of well-being
  3. Reduces the inflammatory activities of immune cells that can harm us
  4. Has positive impacts on brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which can increase the growth of new neurons (cells) in the brain
  5. Enhances the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep
  6. Improves self-esteem
  7. In the immediate time frame, exercise helps reduce feelings of anxiety, drops our blood pressure, enhances alertness, and can help break the cycle of negative thoughts
  8. With time, exercise reduces feelings of depression, increases motivation, and helps with executive functioning
  9. With time, it reduces the risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults

But lifestyle changes are hard to begin with, right?  How do I do it when I’m feeling depressed or anxious, or otherwise unmotivated?

  1. Don’t wait to have the motivation. We can always find an excuse to do it another day, or wait for the “right” time when we feel “better”, and hours can become days, days can become weeks, you get the picture.  However, choosing to do it now is choosing to do something that might make us feel better. “I’ll go for a walk now to help me feel better” instead of “I’ll go for a walk when I feel better.” Motivation levels increase when we’re in a good routine of activity.
  2. Start small, and set reasonable goals. If the idea of “exercise” is too intimidating or unpleasant to consider, shoot for increasing physical activity to start.  Just getting off the couch and moving around is a great start.  Physical activity can include working in the yard or garden for a few minutes, doing some stretching, parking further away from the grocery or the office, vacuuming the house, or walking to the end of the street and back. Don’t think of exercise as another chore on the to-do list, but as a wellness activity and part of treatment.
  3. Make it easier. Set the time, date, and activity on the calendar.  Lay your clothing out the night before, or sleep in it when you’re shooting for activity first thing in the morning.  Set your sneakers by the door.  If you need help getting out of bed for a morning workout, set the alarm on the other side of the room so you cannot lay in bed and hit the snooze button.  If mornings aren’t your thing, choose the time of day when you feel the most energy, or tend to be in the brightest mood, for getting started.
  4. Use an app or a video if you’re not sure what to do, don’t want to pay for a gym membership, or don’t particularly want to be around people. You can get lots of ideas for things you can do at home, if the gym is not your thing, by looking on Pinterest, YouTube, or the internet.  There are often options for mild, short workouts for beginners available.  Make sure to start slow, don’t do anything that causes pain, make the duration short to start, and don’t expect to master the move right away. Consult with your primary care provider, especially if you have some physical limitations or challenges.
  5. Find activities you know you’ll enjoy, or try new things. We’re much more likely to follow through on activities we enjoy. If walking on a treadmill in the basement seems boring, go for a walk or bike ride outside, or hit the local mall and “window shop” while you walk. Take the dog to the local dog park with a tennis ball for play time.  Listen to fun music, or an interesting pod cast, to make the activity more enjoyable.
  6. Enlist help. Work with your therapist or provider to come up with a viable plan to get you moving.  Set up physical activities or exercise to do with a friend,  to make it more enjoyable and  increase the likelihood of follow through. Signing up for a fitness class, or for sessions with a personal trainer, may increase the likelihood of follow through because of sense of accountability.
  7. Be kind to yourself. Reward yourself sometimes for doing the hard thing. Track your victories, even ones you feel are small, and review them when you’re feeling low or discouraged.  Allow yourself to take a break when you need to.

Exercise and physical activity are two tools we can use to help improve our well-being, which can be cost-effective and don’t require a prescription.

Toups, M., Carmody, T., Greer, T., Rethorst, C., Grannemann, B., & Trivedi, M. H. (2017). Exercise is an effective treatment for positive valence symptoms in major depression. Journal of affective disorders209, 188–194. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.08.058

Kandola A, Vancampfort D, Herring M, et al. Moving to Beat Anxiety: Epidemiology and Therapeutic Issues with Physical Activity for Anxiety. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2018;20(8):63. Published 2018 Jul 24. doi:10.1007/s11920-018-0923-x

Stubbs B, Vancampfort D, Rosenbaum S, Firth J, Cosco T, Veronese N, Salum GA, Schuch FB. An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2017 Mar;249:102-108. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2016.12.020. Epub 2017 Jan 6. PMID: 28088704.

Cooney GM, Dwan K, Greig CA, et al. Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;(9):CD004366. Published 2013 Sep 12. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004366.pub6

Tan ZS, Spartano NL, Beiser AS, et al. Physical Activity, Brain Volume, and Dementia Risk: The Framingham Study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017;72(6):789-795. doi:10.1093/gerona/glw130

Nuzum H, Stickel A, Corona M, Zeller M, Melrose RJ, Wilkins SS. Potential Benefits of Physical Activity in MCI and Dementia. Behav Neurol. 2020;2020:7807856. Published 2020 Feb 12. doi:10.1155/2020/7807856

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition | 2018 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

 

By: Jen Milau, APRN, PMHNP-BC

When I started my career as a nurse practitioner in 2017, I couldn’t have guessed that I’d end up where I am today – a psychiatric provider treating children, adolescents, and adults with a largely misunderstood and relatively controversial diagnosis that causes severe neuropsychiatric symptoms due to a misdirected immune response.

Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS), considered by expert consortiums to be a type of Autoimmune Encephalitis (AE), is characterized by a dramatic onset of severe obsessive-compulsive symptoms or food restriction that presents along with two or more of the following which cause impairment to functioning:

  • Behavioral/developmental regression (immature play, “baby talk,” afraid of the dark, wanting to sleep in parents’ bed, etc)
  • Abnormal movements such as tics, jerking/involuntary muscle spasms, stereotyped movements
  • Severe mood swings and depression
  • Out of character rage, aggression, tantrums with or without self-injurious behavior or suicidal/homicidal ideation or gestures
  • Changes to executive functioning (poor memory, impaired concentration/focus, slowed processing speed)
  • Separation anxiety and panic attacks
  • Psychosis
  • Sensory amplification (aversion to certain textures, sensitivity to noise, lights, or repetitive sounds)
  • Insomnia or other sleep disturbance (nightmares/night terrors)
  • Changes to fine motor skills or muscle strength (for example, difficulty opening doors, using utensils or holding a pencil; changes to handwriting or drawing abilities)
  • Urinary changes (bedwetting, daytime accidents, urgency/frequency of urination)

So what causes this?

While originally believed to be an unusual response to a Group A Strep infection (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus, or PANDAS), we now understand that in susceptible individuals, PANS can be triggered by anything that activates the immune response – this can include infection, allergies, certain cancers, inflammatory conditions or injuries, and exposure to toxins. Like other autoimmune diseases, PANS occurs when the immune system mistakes our own cells and healthy tissue as foreign pathogens that need to be eradicated. More commonly-identified autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, hashimoto’s thyroiditis, etc., present with primary physical symptoms that are associated with the type of cell that is mistakenly targeted by the inflammatory response. In the case of PANS/Autoimmune Encephalitis, however, it’s healthy tissue in certain areas of the brain that is the target of this autoimmune attack – the result being the array of severe neuropsychiatric symptoms described above.

Interestingly, since the start of the COVID19 pandemic, PANS/AE clinicians across the country have seen a significant increase in cases. In some instances, this is clearly related to infection with the COVID19 virus, itself; however, often the trigger is not straightforward, and while many theories currently center around the impact of extreme stress (which subsequently can increase inflammation and suppress the immune response which elevates the risk of reactivation of latent infection or acquiring illness from exposure), the overall etiology is not clear.

How is it diagnosed & treated?

PANS symptoms exist on a spectrum of severity that impacts the approach to a diagnostic work-up and treatment recommendations. For individuals with mild to moderate symptoms who are otherwise functioning fairly well overall, I often recommend “traditional” psychiatric treatment with the appropriate psychotherapy interventions along with low-dose medications to target their psychiatric symptoms, with the plan to keep PANS on my differential should their presentation abruptly change in the future.

Typically, however, the patients that I see have a much more severe and impairing set of neurological and psychiatric symptoms that warrants a diagnostic assessment to look for underlying infectious, inflammatory, or immunological abnormalities that might be impacting their clinical presentation. This typically consists of blood work and urine studies though can sometimes include imaging when clinically indicated. In rare and severe cases, a lumbar puncture might be considered. Collaboration with clinicians in other specialty areas such as immunology, rheumatology, and neurology, is necessary in more complex case presentations.

In general, the treatment of PANS entails a three-pronged approach:

  • Initiate appropriate psychiatric interventions including psychotherapy and medications to target specific symptoms (SSRIs/SNRIs, Non-stimulant ADHD medication, Antipsychotics).
  • Treat any underlying infection with appropriate antimicrobial medication, keeping in mind the importance of balancing this with pre/probiotics to ensure that gut flora is adequately maintained during therapy.
  • Treat immune system dysregulation with anti-inflammatory medication and/or immunomodulatory therapy if indicated.

Once someone has gotten through the most severe part of their flare-up, we often transition to a “maintenance” phase of treatment which includes lifestyle and dietary changes along with selective use of supplements to support immune health and manage systemic inflammation. Psychiatric treatment is also maintained for as long as clinically indicated. These efforts, along with quick identification and treatment of signs/symptoms of future flare-ups, help to minimize the frequency/intensity of subsequent flares and can ultimately improve long-term prognosis.

What makes this such a controversial diagnosis?

Our understanding of PANS and other neuroinflammatory conditions is still somewhat in its infancy. This means that much of the existing literature is based on empirical evidence gathered by expert consensus groups and clinicians with experience in assessing, diagnosing, and treating this special patient population. As with any emerging field of science or medicine, new research and expanded awareness of the disease have led to modifications to the original diagnostic criteria and theories associated with PANS/PANDAS – however, these updates (namely, that PANS/AE may not present as “acute” onset, but rather, as sub-acute or insidious; not limited to pediatrics – can also occur in adolescence and adulthood) are largely underrecognized, and as a result, the condition is prematurely “ruled out” in individuals who otherwise meet criteria based on their clinical presentation.

The complex and variable presentation of symptoms and potential triggers associated with PANS leads many clinicians to refute the connection between infection/immune dysfunction and psychiatric symptoms. Unfortunately, when seeking care, families often face judgment and experience repeated invalidation when they attempt to bring up their concerns for possible PANS/AE, as individual providers and occasionally even entire organizations maintain a firm stance against the assessment/diagnosis and treatment of PANS/PANDAS as a whole.

Final thoughts and resources:

PANS/AE can be a significant source of suffering not only for the individual impacted by the illness, but the entire family who is involved with their care. It’s important to strengthen your own support systems and build in time for self-care when faced with a loved one’s intense cognitive and behavioral manifestations of the disease.

Regardless of the underlying etiology, psychiatric treatment with psychotherapy and appropriate medication management is imperative for individuals with this diagnosis.

Below are a few of my favorite resources for patients, families, and clinicians who want to learn more about PANS/PANDAS/AE:

https://pandasnetwork.org/

https://www.pandasppn.org/

https://aspire.care/

OCD is a common disorder and affects 1 in 40 people, it is also the 3rd most common psychiatric condition. This disorder can be very tricky and tries to tell lies to keep people trapped in anxiety. Below are the 10 common tricks it tries to use to keep the anxiety lingering as well as how to combat them.

The most common trick is OCD trying to convince you that “this time it is not OCD.” It is important to educate patients how to spot the difference and it’s helpful to emphasize that OCD tends to feel like an emergency and needs to be attended to immediately. One way to treat this lie is to do the “public service announcement” test which is basically challenging the patient to call the radio and request to make a public service announcement to warn people about their fear (i.e., please inform everyone they should not wipe less than 20 times when going to the bathroom, it is not safe to do less than this). This strategy helps them test out their belief and helps them realize they need to accept uncertainty but increase willingness to bet that is OCD and not give in to the compulsion.

The second most common trick is that OCD convinces you that “only crazy, bad, dangerous people have these thoughts.” It is important to teach patients that the content of one’s thoughts is the maker of “crazy, bad, dangerous.” Also educating patients that everyone has intrusive thoughts and how we cannot control our thoughts helps normalize this.

The third most common trick is “if only I knew why I had these thoughts I could stop my OCD.” Many patients have found the why, but actually only have recovered once applying evidence-based CBT skills. Teaching patients that finding the why will not solve their OCD is important.

The fourth most common trick is thinking “you’ll never beat me (OCD), so don’t even bother trying.” Teaching patients that short-term comfort will only lead to worse OCD and more discomfort overall, but short-term discomfort will actually lead to a more free and comfortable life is important for this trick.

The fifth most common trick is to convince you that you must control your thoughts. Teaching patients it is impossible to control their thoughts will be helpful for beating this trick. The more you try to control them the worse they get. Having patients use meditation like leaves on a stream to allow them to practice observing their thoughts is helpful for this.

The sixth most common trick is trying to convince you that compulsions must be done perfectly. To combat this helping the patient complete the compulsions imperfectly is helpful, such as changing the language of compulsions, or changing the preferred hand to complete the compulsion.

The seventh most common trick is convincing you that rituals will help give you the comfort of certainty. This is a common trick and one that patients spend a lot of time trying to obtain. Teaching patients that there is never certainty in anything is key here. Helping the patient see all the ways they are able to tolerate uncertainty in other areas of their life is helpful: while driving, while eating, when going to bed, going to the grocery store, etc.

The eight most common trick is that you will feel better with reassurance. Helping them reduce reassurances is helpful here, which can be done by tracking reassurances and reducing them by 20% each day to week.

The ninth most common trick is thinking you have a great responsibility to keep everyone safe. One cool technique for this trick is to have patients actually try to make something happen to you by thinking “I hope you break leg tomorrow” or “I hope you get a flat tire on your way home.” This helps the patient see that they don’t actually have control over things.

Finally, the tenth most common trick is thinking” if you don’t do this ritual, something bad will happen to you or your family.” To combat this last trick it can be helpful to change the way you do the ritual as mentioned previously, and to also purposefully wish for bad things to happen, which directly targets the fear.

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is responsible for our “fight, flight or freeze” response and has been essential to our survival since beginning of our existence. In the case of traumatic, threatening emotional, mental and physical experiences, this fear response can become altered.  Connection between the amygdala and hypothalamus causes change to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), increasing cortisol levels and increased HR, increase respiratory rate, hypervigilance, and sleep disturbance. There are several neural connections and neurotransmitters acting on the amygdala contributing to fear response, and medication management has its risks. In hopes to improve overall outcomes of patients, many people and practitioners have utilized complementary and alternative medicines (CAM).

Yoga is probably the most known and utilized form of CAM in the united states. Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years to heal both physical and mental ailments. Philosophically, Yoga is defined as “Union”, and often interpreted as “union to the divine within”. Union is achieved through pranayama- breathing and asanas- postures.  This ancient Eastern tradition has gained popularity due to the awareness of the mind-body-spirit, holistic approaches in America and Europe. There is now a fair scientific understanding and body of research validating its potential benefit as an integrative intervention.

There are several benefits to incorporating yoga that could benefit people with trauma. It is important to assess one’s state of stability prior to introducing yoga therapy. In yoga philosophy, the concept of krama means “in the correct order” and can reduce risk of additional pain and suffering caused by the treatment. Just as establishing a sense of safety prior to other trauma therapies is essential, it is also to do so with yoga.

Controlling the length of inhale and exhale and manipulating the diaphragm stimulates the Vagus nerve or CN X and parasympathetic response to “rest and digest”. This effectively promotes cardiac relaxation, decreases contractility in the atria and ventricles (less-so). Primarily, it reduces conduction speed through the atrioventricular node. CN X can lower cortisol levels via modulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis. Which is thought to be hyperactive in people with trauma and stress disorders.

Vagal tone is the body’s ability to successfully respond to stress. One study, by a team in Boston University School of Medicine (Streeter et al, 2012), hypothesized that Yoga effected the autonomic nervous system to improve stress response in PTSD. Using ujjayi pranayama (form of resistance breathing popular in Hatha yoga)  they found “increased relaxation response and increased heart rate variability” thus resilience to effects of stressors It is well understood that yoga has a calming action on the nervous system and is valuable as an adjunct treatment for those with trauma and stress related disorders.

In yoga there are two major concepts that can have psychological benefit. Chitta is the inner processes and capacity of attention and focus inward; and samskaras- the storehouse of past actions, self-beliefs/messages. In yoga the use of asanas, pranayamaand meditative practice- one works towards awareness and letting go of these unhelpful attachments that are stuck in the mind and body. As we know in people who have survived trauma, emotional scars can be felt throughout the body and leave scars of psychological destruction. Yoga offers a loving message of positive, self-compassion and promotes a gentle, non-judgmental environment.  Letting go of negative self-beliefs has many benefits psychologically.

After a trauma, in my experience and in DSM V criteria, one’s self-perception of negativity as well as negative beliefs about the world can damage spirituality or connection to a power greater than oneself.  In yoga the common ending to a practice is to bow in honor and say “Namaste”. Which translates into “the Divine light within me sees, honors and respects the Divine light within you”. For those with trauma, believing there is light within them that can shine again, can be the key to transformational healing. Yoga is not a religion, and it does not promote worship of any deity, instead “God” is expressed as truth, light, love and energy that is flowing through the universe.  Religious and non-religious can benefit from the spiritual practice of Yoga.

Yoga has proven its place in the holistic approach to mental health treatment, and because the only requirement is to be able to breathe, it is accessible to anyone who can breathe.  It has been said about yoga, by a great teacher… the breath is a wonder drug! I hope you consider utilizing a yoga practice for yourself or recommending it to someone who could benefit.

Christine Collins, MD, Lindner Center of Hope

By: Christine Collins, MD, Lindner Center of HOPE Addiction Psychiatrist

 

 

 

Legalization of cannabis is rapidly expanding across the world. To date, 17 states (and DC) in the US have legalized marijuana for all uses, and another 19 states have legalized it for medical purposes only. The media tends to portray cannabis and its constituents, as safe, natural items that have potential to provide benefit. As medical marijuana dispensaries and CBD stores seem to be popping up all over, it is important for us to recognize the impact of cannabis on mental health and how it may affect vulnerable populations, such as young people. Clinicians and patients alike should be aware of the current state of scientific evidence and possible risks posed by cannabis use.

Cannabis is a complex plant composed of hundreds of compounds including THC (9delta-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive component) and CBD (cannabidiol, purported to offer many health benefits). There are currently several medications approved by the FDA that are cannabis-related: dronabinol and nabilone (synthetic THC containing meds used for chemotherapy-related nausea and for appetite/weight gain in HIV patients), and recently-approved Epidolex (cannabis derived which contains CBD used for the treatment of rare childhood seizure disorders, Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome). These were extensively studied and underwent the typical FDA process for approval as effective and safe medications for these purposes. Other uses of cannabis are largely unregulated.

Using “medical” marijuana varies by state and is a much different process from taking an FDA approved medication which has been rigorously studied. Since it is designated DEA schedule I by the federal government, large scale studies on cannabis have been limited in the US. The current scientific evidence on cannabis remains mostly observational data and animal studies, rather than the gold-standard randomized controlled trials in humans. There is an ongoing need for well-designed research in this area to better understand the possible therapeutic benefits and safety profile of cannabis and to differentiate the effects of its constituents. Current evidence suggests that cannabis may help chronic pain, nerve pain, and spasticity in certain patients. There is limited and inconsistent evidence that CBD in particular may have benefit in treatment-resistant anxiety, social anxiety, and insomnia. However, other studies show that whole-plant cannabis worsens existing anxiety and mood. Notably, there IS consistent evidence that cannabis increases the risk for developing a psychotic disorder in vulnerable individuals and exacerbates psychotic symptoms. Cannabis use in anyone with a history of an addictive disorder may trigger another cross addiction or contribute to someone falling back to an old addiction.

Safety considerations must be taken into account regarding cannabis. Today’s whole-plant cannabis is generally more potent (higher levels of THC) than it was historically. How it is consumed also plays an important role—vaping allows for a higher percentage of THC to be absorbed quicker and therefore may be more likely to trigger adverse mental health reactions such as anxiety and paranoia. Edibles can cause problems for users who expect a quicker onset of action leading to higher levels of consumption to achieve a desired effect. Interactions with other medications do occur. For instance, certain psychiatric meds may alter the breakdown and elimination of THC and CBD, and vice versa.

What may be the area of greatest concern is the impact of increasing cannabis acceptance and legalization on young people. A recent study demonstrated that earlier use of all substances including cannabis was associated with increased risk for developing a substance use disorder later in life.  Cannabis use has been shown to have adverse effects on IQ and executive functioning. Moreover, younger onset of marijuana use is associated with lower overall neurocognitive functioning. Youth who engage in marijuana use, also report taking part in other risky behaviors such as using other substances like nicotine and alcohol, and driving after marijuana use. As such, there is grave concern that cannabis use in this age group could lead to significant problems.

While ongoing high-quality research is needed in this area, current available evidence does NOT show consistent benefit for cannabis (including CBD products) on mental health symptoms and it may instead exacerbate symptoms. Patients should be encouraged to use caution and to have open conversations with their mental health and medical providers about cannabis use in order to understand how this may impact their mental health. Clinicians should be aware of the risks of cannabis use particularly for adolescents and should help prevent use in this specific population.

Sources:

Dharmapuri, S, Miller, K, & Klein, JD. Marijuana and the pediatric population. Pediatrics. 2020; 146(2)279-289

Hill, K. Medical marijuana for treatment of chronic pain and other medical and psychiatric problems, a clinical review. JAMA. 2015; 313(24) 2474-2482

Levinsohn, E & Hill, K. Clinical uses of cannabis and cannabinoids in the United States. Journal of the Neurological Sciences. 2020; 116717

Whiting et al. Cannabinoids for medical use: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2015; 313(24) 2456-2473

 

Jennifer L. Farley, PsyD
Lindner Center of HOPE, Associate Chief of Psychological Services

Congratulations! Your child graduated from high school!  And now…   what?

Many are busy selecting their fall semester college courses and buying necessities for their dorm room. Others have chosen to delay college and work instead, using time to consider their future. Some opted to focus on a career trade and are doing apprenticeship work. No matter their course, these newly-minted adults can now do 3 main things in America: vote, go to jail for their own actions, and enter into contracts on their own accord.  Yet, there are some contracts for which 18-year-olds are too young, and many lack the financial independence many contracts require. Bottom line: young adults still need support. But things are different, they’re high school graduates now. And most still live at home, at least for a little while.

The length of time it takes for one’s emancipation from home is entirely dependent on the path they’ve chosen and their success with it. For college students, the biggest first leap is when they move into their college dorm. It’s their first space outside of home to call their own.  Yet, the college dorm is still a contained bubble, where rules still dictate what’s expected and complete freedom is not given. Even dorms typically shut down during extended or holiday breaks. Freshman year represents the first of a graduated series of “bubble” expansions, when by their 3rd or 4th year, students have learned how to cook some of their own meals (instead of relying on cafeteria meal plans), they have to navigate roommate tensions without the aid of a dorm resident advisor, and they’ve (hopefully) learned to be self-disciplined and self-accountable. Most college students aren’t fully emancipated from their parents until they function completely independently on their own – when they get a job and make enough money to support themselves. That stage doesn’t mean “without support” of parents, it’s just that the adult child no longer requires parents’ resources to live on their own. For any young adult, this takes time:  time to get a job, time invested in working, and time spent saving money.

Even among the healthiest of families, any young adult’s process of emancipating from home comes with tension. This is par for the course… it’s how young adults develop self-confidence and gumption.  Without “tests” involving interactions with family, without the development of gumption, young adults risk a poor transition into their independent years. Imagine going away to college, working a full-time job, or moving out feeling insecure about yourself, not being able to trust that you can assert yourself or make good decisions. Without gumption, one may be so comfortable at home that they don’t seek more independence. Gumption fuels self-decision-making and serves as a foundation towards independence. Gumption often brings tension, and tension is experienced before big changes or transitions. The changes involved with emancipation are experienced by young adults and their families, alike.

During the months leading up to one’s emancipation from home, tension is often experienced in waves. Parents, realizing the borrowed time they have with their child, may seek more time to spend together with their child. Other times, parents may engage in more activities without their child to prepare themselves for their child to leave home. Adult children do a similar dance; sometimes they may seek their parents in anticipation of being away from them, while much of the time they want to spend time with friends. You can imagine the conflicts that arise when an adult child wants freedom with friends during a time when parents seek quality time with their child. This is all natural, it’s just a matter of recognizing and understanding it. Time spent together can involve some creativity with lessons in laundry, basic cooking, and how to manage money – while times of tension make it easier for everyone to prepare to say “goodbye” and to face the changes ahead.

No matter the transition ahead, practice the cycle of a “submarine parent” – stay offshore, come up for air sometimes to check in with your young adult child, and retreat back down in the water when you see your child is doing just fine.

The role of the circadian system in obesity and disordered eating

By Nicole Mori Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

The circadian system is the body’s endogenous timekeeper, a network of hierarchically-organized structures (“clocks” or “oscillators”) in nucleated cells, which regulates a variety of biological processes (including the cell cycle, metabolism, growth, development and sleep/activity cycles) by generating outputs in a rhythmical manner. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus acts as the “master” pacemaker by generating periodic outputs targeting clocks in peripheral cells. The endogenous SCN period is greater than 24 hours, but it resets every day in response to environmental signals.  The main  synchronizer for the SCN is the periodical light/dark signal over the course of 24 hours.  Additional environmental synchronizers include feeding and social activity.  The circadian system enables  organisms to adapt to environmental changes and optimize function, playing a central role in the maintenance of health and illness.  Research has linked circadian dysregulation to a variety of disorders including cancer, cardiovascular disease, metabolic abnormalities and obesity in humans and animals.

Recent studies support the role of circadian dysfunction in the development and maintenance of obesity.  Circadian misalignment can manifest as metabolic abnormalities, sleep disturbances, delayed sleep phase (evening preference), abnormalities in daily rest/activity rhythms and disordered eating patterns. Both endogenous (e.g., genetic) and exogenous factors are involved in circadian dysfunction. External factors include decreased sleep duration, jet lag, frequent snacking and nighttime eating and exposure to bright light. Epidemiological data show shift work is an independent risk factor for obesity and increased metabolic risk. Decreased sleep duration is associated with increased risk for obesity and metabolic disease. Among children, sleep loss is associated with the development of obesity and is a predictor of lifelong obesity. The increasing prevalence of obesity in recent decades has coincided with trends such as shortened sleep duration, light pollution, increased nighttime exposure to bright light and increasing shift work.

Sleep pattern changes affect appetite and eating behaviors and vice versa. Sleep restriction has been associated with changes in circadian hormonal patterns, which result in increased appetite, hunger and food choices such as increased preference for sweets.  In turn, alterations in eating patterns have a dysregulating effect on the circadian system. For instance, overeating has been associated with decreased sleep duration, high dietary fat and carbohydrate intake with decreased short wave sleep and high increased nighttime arousal respectively.

The timing of food consumption plays an important role in metabolism and body weight. Nighttime eating leads to increased insulin resistance and worsened glucose tolerance and lipid levels than meals consumed during the daytime. Among bariatric patients, eating late in the day has been associated with less post-operative weight loss.  In addition, irregular eating patterns are associated with abnormal weight gain, increased binge eating and greater eating disorder severity. Conversely, appropriate timing of eating and regularization of meal times appear to have a beneficial effect. Animal studies show that time restricted feeding (limiting feedings to a timeframe appropriate to the species’ diurnal/nocturnal pattern) is associated with decreased obesity. Among humans, an app study showed an association between time-restricted feeding and sustained weight loss.

As we have seen, the regulation of metabolism and body weight appear to depend on the optimal function of the circadian system, which requires appropriately timed exposure to synchronizing stimuli. Interventional studies suggest that manipulation of synchronizers may be beneficial in treating disordered eating behaviors, metabolic abnormalities and obesity. Potential interventions for circadian dysfunction would optimize the timing of synchronizers (such as bright light therapy, timing of food intake and time-restricting feeding), regularize rest/activity circadian rhythms (by increasing regular exercise, maintain a consistent waking up schedule), or the administration of medications according to circadian phase. The treatment of circadian dysfunction promises improved outcomes in the prevention and treatment of obesity, but further research is needed.  New technologies and methods will enable a thorough characterization of circadian function is obesity and eating disorders and determine whether the circadian system is a potential target for chronotherapeutic interventions.

The Lindner Center of HOPE is conducting a comprehensive study of circadian function in adults with obesity with and without binge eating disorder.  For more information, contact Brian or George at (513) 536-0707 or visit http://www.lcoh.info

Bibliography

Broussard, J. L., & Van Cauter, E. (2016). Disturbances of sleep and circadian rhythms: novel risk factors for obesity. Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity, 23(5), 353-359.

Garaulet, M., Gómez-Abellán, P., Alburquerque-Béjar, J. J., Lee, Y. C., Ordovás, J. M., & Scheer, F. A. (2013). Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness. International journal of obesity, 37(4),
604-611.

self-esteem and self-worth in our youth will bring about numerous long-lasting, positive changes that Cupid’s arrow could only dream of creating.

Thirteen months ago, the world was experiencing the onset of a shared trauma … a pandemic was sweeping over the globe. The actions that were taken to keep people safe included community shut downs, stay at home orders and mandated isolation. Lindner Center of HOPE, like mental health providers around the world, began to see spikes in mental illness and addiction. Individuals who were already struggling with mental illness or a pre-disposition, saw exacerbated symptoms and an increase in severity of illness. People who were managing, saw new onset at higher levels of acuity. As time has passed since the beginning of the pandemic, the trauma has been sustained with higher percentages of people still struggling with mental illnesses and addictions. Additionally, data shows people who have experienced COVID-19 infection are also suffering with co-occurring psychiatric symptoms.

Dr. Paul Crosby, Lindner Center of HOPE

Fortunately, vaccines have been released to protect the population from the physical health threats of COVID-19. However, Lindner Center of HOPE’s President and Chief Operating Officer, Paul R. Crosby, MD, states the vaccine also offers mental health benefits as well.

“The first mental health benefit of the vaccine is simple,” Dr. Crosby said, “since the risk of COVID-19 infection diminishes significantly with vaccination, receiving the vaccine would also protect individuals from co-occurring mental illness that has proven to manifest with COVID-19 infection.”

“The second mental health benefit of the vaccine is the reduction in overall anxiety and stress, as risk and fear of infection is reduced. Vaccinated individuals can lift their isolation from other vaccinated individuals, can begin to see a return to other activities that improve mental health, like more exercise, improved sleep, new experiences through travel and more. A return to these healthier activities can hopefully also lead to a reduction in substance use, overeating or lack of participation in other things that bring joy.”

“The COVID-19 vaccine has significant potential in improving your mental health.”

For individuals experiencing symptoms of mental illness, it is critical to access help. Mental illnesses are common and treatable and no one should struggle alone.

Lindner Center of HOPE in Mason is a comprehensive mental health center providing excellent, patient-centered, scientifically-advanced care for individuals suffering with mental illness. A state-of-the-science, mental health center and charter member of the National Network of Depression Centers, the Center provides psychiatric hospitalization and partial hospitalization for individuals age 12-years-old and older, outpatient services for all ages, diagnostic services for all ages and short-term residential services for adults, and research. The Center is enhanced by its partnership with UC Health as its clinicians are ranked among the best providers locally, nationally and internationally. Together Lindner Center of HOPE and UC Health offer a true system of mental health care in the Greater Cincinnati area and across the country. The Center is also affiliated with the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine.

By Chris J. Tuell, EdD, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS
Lindner Center of HOPE, Clinical Director of Addiction Services; Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience
University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

At the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, 1 out of 5 soldiers (20%), returning to the United States from Southeast Asia, was addicted to heroin. It was estimated that approximately 100,000 American soldiers would be returning home, addicted to this destructive drug. Experts projected a drug epidemic, which would destroy countless lives and communities. It never happened.

Once soldiers returned home to families, friends and communities, the destructive nature of a hardcore drug, like heroin, failed to materialize. In fact, 95% of the soldiers who were once addicted to heroin, stopped using the drug almost immediately once they returned home.

For many years, our understanding of addiction was based on early research conducted in the first half of the 20th century. These studies involved rats and consisted of placing a rat in a solitary cage, providing the rat with a choice of water: plain water or water laced with cocaine or heroin. The study found that all the rats preferred the drug-laced water to the plain water. All the rats overdosed on the drug. The majority of the rats died in the study. This became our model of addiction for many years. The accepted belief became, if you are exposed to a drug, you will become addicted, and you may overdose and die.

Several years later, this original study was replicated, but with a significant difference. Researcher Bruce Alexander from the University of Vancouver, created, what was referred to as: a “rat park.” This park consisted of tunnels, multiple levels, toys, and other rat companions. Similar to the original study, all rats were given the same choice of water: plain water or water laced with heroin or cocaine. In Alexander’s study, rats preferred the plain water. Rates of overdose and death to the rats were significantly lower when compared to the initial study. How do we explain this difference in results? Perhaps, it is about the cage. Perhaps, it is about the environment.

Upon their return home, the soldiers from Vietnam who were struggling with a heroin addiction were able to re-connect with loved ones and community. A change in environment allowed for a change in connection, resulting in health, wellness and sobriety. Likewise, the environment of the rat in a solitary cage, as compared to the environment of the rat park, provided the rat with a “connection” with other rats, an environment which allowed the rat…to be a rat.

Individuals, who experience issues of mental illness and/or substance use disorders, have a natural tendency to withdraw and isolate from others. Depression, anxiety and addiction, greatly affect an individual’s ability to connect with others, let alone with one’s environment. This past year we have seen the devastating impact of COVID-19. We know that in order to maintain health and wellness, we need to maintain social distance and disconnect from one another. For now, this has and continues to be, what we need to do. It remains challenging for many of us to continue to avoid contact with loved ones and friends. We are separated from the very individuals who love us, support us, and are our sources of connection.

We have seen the rise of mental health issues during the past year. Nearly 20 percent of COVID-19 patients have developed a mental health issue (i.e., depression, anxiety) within three months of their diagnosis. During the past year, 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. Within the general population, rates of mental health issues and substance use have significantly increased across the board. In addition, the disconnection that we have witnessed has fragmented our society in general by harboring increased levels of fear, anger and animosity towards one another.

Hope on the horizon

Once “herd immunity” is achieved, the importance of re-connecting with one another becomes vital and essential to our health and mental wellness. We are social beings and need connection with one another. History has shown that the mental health impact of disasters outlasts the physical impact, suggesting today’s elevated mental health needs will continue well beyond the coronavirus outbreak.  Like the moth that needs to struggle out of the cocoon in order to develop the strength that it needs to survive in the world, we too are developing the strength that we need from the struggles we have endured.  Re-connecting with one another is an answer.  It gives us strength and it gives us hope.

 

By Elizabeth Mariutto, PsyD, CEDS, Clinical Director of Eating Disorder Services

“How do I encourage mindful eating for my kids?” I often have patients come in with histories of well-intended parents who promoted diets or restrictive eating in the attempts to help their kids become “healthy.” When they come to me to rewire their brains against the diet culture so prevalent in our society, they feel like they don’t know where to start in promoting more beneficial attitudes towards food in their own kids. Here are ten tips for promoting positive food habits in kids.

  1. Set up your home to promote balanced nutrition. Buy a variety of produce, serve meals with a balance of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and while you can definitely have some sweets and packaged snack foods, having too many of these options can lead to turning to these items often. Serve unfamiliar foods with familiar foods, and introduce new foods multiple times. Encourage family mealtimes at the table without electronics.
  2. Allow them to trust their bodies. Think about how we feed babies and small children. Every 3 to 4 hours, they cry and tell us they are hungry. We feed them until they stop eating. If children tell you they are full after a meal, don’t force them to finish their plate. This only teaches them that it’s pointless to follow hunger and fullness cues.
  3. Avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad” or “healthy” or “unhealthy.” Avoid overtly controlling food messages, such as putting pressure on kids to eat fruits and vegetables or telling them they can’t have sweets, as these practices lead to unhealthy eating habits for kids (Scaglioni, Arrizza, Vecchni, & Tedeschmi, 2011).
  4. Serve items for meals that you would like kids to eat at regular times, making sure there is something you know they like on the table. Don’t worry about what they end up choosing to eat.
  5. Avoid rewarding, bribing, or soothing kids with food. Yes, that includes bribing kids for eating their veggies with dessert! Research has found kids consume less of a food and rate them as less tasty if they were presented as instrumental to a goal (Maimaran & Fishback, 2014), and rewarding with food is associated with emotional eating later in childhood (Farrow, Haycraft, & Blisset, 2015). Additionally, teach kids to learn to cope with their emotions in other ways.
  6. Promote body acceptance. Some kids are naturally smaller, some kids are naturally bigger. And that is ok! Weight-related comments are really not necessary at all, and often harmful. Additionally, avoid holding different standards for children of different sizes. Encourage a balanced, “everything in moderation” approach to eating for all children.
  7. Practice what we preach! Be a good role model for body acceptance and positive attitudes towards food. Those little ears are listening! Sure, go out for ice cream sometimes. And avoid criticizing your body or telling yourself you have to work out to get rid of the calories from eating that ice cream. Prioritize sitting down to eat and having regular, balanced meals and snacks.
  8. Encourage healthy activity without tying this to food or weight. Help kids find activities that they truly enjoy, and focus on the value of exercise to help our bodies become stronger, improve our mood, and nourish.
  9. Teach kids to savor food. Help them be selective in choosing which dessert sounds the best, and demonstrate taking slow bites to truly relish them.
  10. If they, or you, mess up, treat this with compassion. No one is perfect, and we don’t need to beat ourselves, or others, up about our mistakes.

Farrow, C. V., Haycraft, E., & Blissett, J. M. (2015). Teaching our children when to eat: How parental feeding practices inform the development of emotional eating—a longitudinal experiential design.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101, 908-13.

Jacobsen, M. (2016). How to Raise a Mindful Eater. Middletown, DE: First Printing.

Maimaran, M., & Fishbach, A. (2014).  If it’s useful and you know it, do you eat? Preschoolers refrain from instrumental food.  Journal of Consumer Research, 41, doi:10.1086/677224

Scaglioni, S., Arrizza, C., Vecchni, F., & Tedeschmi, S. (2011). Determinants of children’s eating behaviors. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 94, 6. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.001685

Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary program that works. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.