Research has shown physical movement to be a powerful tool in alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as enhancing our overall sense of well-being. As we enter the sunshine and blue skies of Hot Texan Summer (TM), it is helpful to remember the beneficial effects of movement on our mental health and the importance of incorporating physical activity into our daily lives.
Over the years, a growing body of research has shed light on the positive impact of physical activity on individuals experiencing depression and anxiety. These studies highlight several key findings:
Release of Mood-Boosting Chemicals. Engaging in regular physical activity triggers the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins induce feelings of happiness and well-being, counteracting negative emotions. This chemical boost can significantly improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Neurogenesis and Neuroplasticity. Movement has been shown to promote neurogenesis, the formation of new neurons, and enhance neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganize and adapt. These processes play a vital role in improving cognitive function, memory, and learning abilities. By stimulating the growth and connectivity of brain cells, physical activity helps create a healthier neural network that supports mental well-being. Several studies indicate that regular exercise may even significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia.
Stress Reduction and Anxiety Management. Movement acts as a natural stress reliever by reducing the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and promoting relaxation. Regular activity can also help manage anxiety symptoms, which often coexist with depression. Engaging in activities like walking, jogging, yoga, or swimming can provide a much-needed respite from daily stressors, promote a sense of calm and mental clarity, and improve sleep.
Social Interaction and Support. Participating in group activities or team sports provides an opportunity for social interaction and support. Engaging in activity with others can foster a sense of belonging and community, creating a supportive environment that combats loneliness and enhances mental well-being.
Physical activity can be a powerful a complementary tool alongside professional treatment for depression and anxiety. A recent meta-analysis published in JAMA Psychiatry, found that relatively small doses of even moderate physical activity (2 hours per week) were associated with substantially lower risks of depression. (Dr. Roger Seheult examines this and another recent study exploring depressive symptoms and sedentary behavior in adolescence in the video linked below.)
If you are looking to enjoy these benefits by adding more movement into your life, here are some helpful tips:
Find or Rediscover the Joy of Movement. Experiment with different forms of movement until you find activities that you enjoy. Whether it's walking through the neighborhood, learning a TikTok dance, hiking with friends, hula-hooping, kayaking, or playing pickleball, choosing activities you genuinely enjoy will increase the likelihood of incorporating them into your regular routine.
Seek Support and Connection. Consider involving a friend or family member, or joining a club, exercise group or class to provide support and accountability. Sharing activity with others can make it more enjoyable, which will help you want to return to it regularly.
Movement can be a powerful ally in supporting our mental health and overall well-being. By engaging in physical activity, we tap into natural mood-boosting chemicals, promote brain health, and cultivate social connections. Embracing joyful movement as part of our daily life empowers us to take an active role in our mental well-being, helping us on the path towards a healthier, happier life.
Now, please excuse me as I take my not-so-stupid walk. (I hope to see you out there.)
Talking about Bruno
Dr. Dara Greenwood, social psychologist and associate professor of Psychology at Vassar College, provides a thoughtful and engaging article interweaving psychological research with powerful messages from Disney's Encanto that are resonating with children and adults. Greenwood's key take-aways:
Check out the full article here.
Are you looking for some good distractions to help manage your 2020/COVID/quarantine/election/end-of-daylight-savings/holiday stress? These are a few of the things that have helped to keep my mind occupied and my heart hopeful.
Daniel J. Levitin's Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives. “Growing old may be the only event in life that is both desired and feared. Daniel Levitin alleviates the fear with sound advice that can tilt the balance so that we have more healthy years and fewer sick ones. The brilliance of this book is that Levitin not only tells us what to do and what not to do—he gracefully and eloquently shares the science behind how we can change our minds and brains, and how even small changes can reap large benefits. Share this book—especially with anyone you hope to grow old with.” -Diane Halpern, past-president of the American Psychological Association
Lori Gottlieb's Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed. "[In the end, Gottlieb and her patients] are more aware—of themselves as people, of the choices they’ve made, and of the choices they could go on to make . . . It’s exploration—genuinely wanting to learn answers to the question Why am I like this?, so that maybe, through better understanding of what you’re doing, you figure out how to be who you want to become." -Slate
Mark O'Connell's Notes from the Apocolypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back. "A fitting travelogue for our stationary moment...O’Connell’s 'future-dread' haltingly yields to faith in humanity’s resilience, resourcefulness, and capacity for cooperation." - New Yorker
Allie Brosch's Solutions and Other Problems. “Gut-busting . . . . Like a millennial James Thurber, Brosh has a knack for seeding a small, choice detail that snowballs into existential chaos . . . [Her] spidery and demented digital portraits, a visual expression of fun-house mirror anxiety, fits her material perfectly. . . This achingly accurate and consistently hilarious comic memoir finds Brosh moving forward and becoming a stronger, braver storyteller page by page.” - Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Dan Rather's What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism. “…a deeply felt reminder of what is the best of America. What Unites Us is at times almost unbearably poignant. Yet Rather’s words provide a sort of salve—and clear thinking about how to recover from these ugly times. What Unites Us is a passionate treatise on preserving the best of America and letting go of that which makes us weaker.” - BookPage
Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. “Eleanor Oliphant is endearing, [a] whip-smart read. . . a fascinating story about loneliness, hope, tragedy and humanity. Honeyman’s delivery is wickedly good, and Eleanor won’t leave you anytime soon." - Associated Press
Rotten Tomatoes guide to 150 Great Feel-Good Movies You can Stream Right Now. (Note that the better reviewed films come latest in the list.)
Empire's list of 30 Feel Good Movies to Distract You from the Horror of 2020.
Some never-fail feel-good films include:
Singin' in the Rain
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The Greatest Showman
Paddington (1 and 2, actually)
and The Princess Bride.
The Great British Baking Show (Netflix) may help restore your faith in humanity. With its British charm and contestants who root for one another and take both their wins and losses on the chin, the annual baking competition is feel-good TV at its best.
The Mandalorian (Disney+). Jon Favreau's Disney Original series is an exquisitely shot gun-slinger Western set in the cinematic universe of Star Wars. Also, Baby Yoda. Need I say more?
Ted Lasso (Apple TV+). Ted Lasso (played by Jason Sudeikis) is an American football coach hired as the unlikely coach for an English premier league football (soccer) club, is definitely less family-friendly, but 100% wholesome with some of the best quote-able quotes to come out of 2020.
A World of Calm (HBO Max). This series of 30-minute documentaries comes from the creators of one of the most popular mediation apps, Calm. One person described an episode to me as "a nature documentary about a sea turtle - except that unlike a nature documentary, the sea turtle in A World of Calm is never in peril!"
This page contains links to websites not administered by Las Colinas Psychological Services (LCPS). LCPS is not responsible or liable for the accuracy or the content of linked pages. LCPS does not benefit from the sale or promotion of the organizations, books, or websites listed above.
Managing Election Stress
Dr. Steven Stosny coined the term "election stress disorder” in 2016, with symptoms such as increased anxiety, insomnia, and difficulty concentrating. Dr. Stosny observed that "the pervasive negativity of political campaigns, amplified by the 24-hour news cycle and social media exposure," creates a significant level of stress, anxiety, or anger in many people.
The American American Psychological Association (APA) Stress in America Survey found that more than two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) say that the 2020 U.S. presidential election is a significant source of stress in their life. This is a substantial increase from the 2016 presidential election when 52% of US adults reported the same.
“This has been a year unlike any other in living memory,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, the APA's chief executive officer. “Not only are we in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans, but we are also facing increasing division and hostility in the presidential election. Add to that racial turmoil in our cities, the unsteady economy and climate change that has fueled widespread wildfires and other natural disasters. The result is an accumulation of stressors that are taking a physical and emotional toll on Americans.”
The APA offers the following evidence-based advice to help people manage their stress related to the election:
This article by Scott Berinato of the HBR explores the different types of grief we are collectively experiencing in the face of this pandemic.
There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety.
We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively.
Finding ways to name what we are feeling, to speak it and ask for help, empowers us to experience and then move through the emotion. As the David Kessler states in the interview, “Emotion needs motion.” Kessler suggests grounding and mindfulness techniques to help calm overwhelming anxiety and re-center ourselves in the present and on the aspects of this situation which we can control.
As psychologist Guy Winch explains, "Much as accountants' busiest time of year is tax season in April, we therapists see our practices overflow in November and December. Why? ‘Tis the season of family gatherings."
Family gatherings have the potential to help us feel connected and loved, but even within the best of family dynamics, cooking, cleaning, and coordinating schedules can be stressful. And the fact of the matter is that not every family shares the best dynamics on display in Hallmark Holiday Specials. Family gatherings can bring old wounds to the surface, and leave many feeling less connected, less understood, and alone despite the holiday crowds. For those who live far from family and friends, singles, and those who are newly separated, divorced or grieving, the family-focused holidays can be a painful and lonely time. Add these factors to the days getting shorter, the weather colder, spending less time outdoors in the sun, and it is easy to understand how the holidays can leave us feeling stressed out and blue.
The following resources can help you survive and thrive through this holiday season:
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with stress or sadness, know that you are not alone. Talking with a therapist about coping with the holidays specifically, or untangling long-standing relationship patterns, can be useful and help you move through the holidays and into the new year with less stress, more understanding of yourself and others, and more skills to navigate this time of year with more grace and less stress in the future.
Calming post-election anxiety
This divisive political season and election have heightened anxiety throughout the US. A Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association found that 52 percent of American adults report that the 2016 election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress (read more here).
As we attempt as a country to come together with respect, compassion, and courage, psychologist Guy Winch gives us concrete advice on overcoming post-election anxiety. "Regardless of its source, anxiety tends to operate in similar ways, which means there are clear things you can do to manage post-election anxiety." Guy has recommendations on actions you can take now to begin lowering your anxiety. Read his full article here:
Three Ways to Lower Post-Election Anxiety
And remember, "sitting with emotional distress of any kind is neither wise nor necessary. If you feel upset, unsettled, and anxious—take action and make decisions that prioritize your emotional health and make you feel better."
You can also view Guy's viral TED Talk on boosting emotional health below.
Take care of yourself and one another out there.
The field of social genomics is granting us new insight into the power of connection and meaning at the level of our DNA. Researchers have known for some time that the stress response stifles the body's immune system and increases the inflammatory response (which in turn promotes the growth of cancer cells, plaque in the arteries, and increases our susceptibility to neurodegenerative disease). Researchers John Cacioppo, professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago, and Steve Cole, professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, revealed that the brains of many of their participants interpret loneliness as a danger or threat, in short, loneliness triggered a damaging chronic stress-response. Fascinatingly, this response is triggered at the level of genome expression.
Inspired by Cacioppo and Cole's work, Barbara Fredrickson, noted positive psychologist from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, became curious as to whether the opposite would hold true. The answer was yes. People who described feeling socially connected, engaged in personal projects, or that they were living in a way that fulfilled meaning and purpose showed the opposite response pattern to lonely and chronically stressed participants.
Read more about this Cacioppo, Cole, and Fredrickson's research here.
About the Author
Clinical psychologist Dr. Kristy Novinski contributes insights, book and film reviews, discussions of pop culture, and exploration of news and research in the field of psychology.