fading hands

Mental Health Literacy: Anxiety

1 in 3 college students report experiencing a diagnosable mental health disorder. However, it is estimated that 64.5% of these students are not seeking the help they need. The Mind Lexicon project was a study conducted by the Semel HCI MindWell pod to assess students’ knowledge of mental health terminology, since improved understanding can reduce stigma and encourage people to seek treatment. Surprisingly, only 27.7% of student responses were categorized as good understanding. The Mental Health Literacy blog series aims to continue the conversation around commonly misunderstood mental illness and mental health terms, ultimately to lessen stigma and empower readers to take care of their mental health.

Gaps in the knowledge

Among the seven mental illness terms on the Mind Lexicon survey, students’ knowledge scores for anxiety disorder ranked second to last. In fact, almost 50% of students demonstrated poor to no understanding of anxiety. Accordingly, students expressed a relatively high level of stigma; 11% of students’ descriptions of anxiety contained stigmatizing language. This is consistent with the overall findings of the study: a lack of knowledge is correlated with greater stigma.

These findings are surprising given the prevalence of anxiety. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the country, with 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiencing an anxiety disorder in the past year.

Anxiety disorder is commonly confused with stress, fear, and worry. For example, students in the study thought that anxiety is when someone is “constantly worrying” or “unable to be at peace.” However, this is not the whole story.

We all have periods in our lives where we worry a lot. You might feel anxious when you experience family problems, job interviews, finals week, or even a long to-do list. This is completely normal – your brain is built to anticipate future threats and be averse to separation in close relationships. In fact, humans have been able to avoid danger and survive as a species thanks to this feature of the mind. Thinking that these normal feelings in response to a stressor constitute anxiety disorder, however, can lead to the belief that anxiety is not a real medical condition, which perpetuates stigma.

Some people also interpret anxiety as a sign of weakness. It can seem like the person is at fault for not being able to handle life’s difficulties. Several responses in the study trivialized anxiety in this way. One student described anxiety as “the inability to handle adversity or even the possibility of adversity in an adequate manner.” However, this notion also stigmatizes the illness and decreases the likelihood that people will seek help. Anxiety can affect anyone, and it doesn’t mean you’re weak.

So…what IS anxiety disorder?

If some amount of anxiety is normal, when does it cross the line and become a disorder?

1. Anxiety disorder is marked by excessive worry or obsessive thinking.

You are not only anxious in response to typical stressors – you also feel this way when there is no apparent threat, no obvious reason. You feel extremely worried about several areas of your life, and the anxious thoughts and feelings seem uncontrollable.

2. Anxiety is chronic.

It’s not a temporary feeling that passes after a stressful situation ends; you feel excessively worried more days than not for six months.

3. Anxiety interferes with daily activities.

When anxiety starts to impact your day-to-day functioning, it’s a sign that it has surpassed normal levels. The anxious thoughts and physical sensations interfere with your relationships and ability to perform in school or work.

4. Since the mind and body are deeply connected, anxiety is not just psychological – it is accompanied by at least three of these six telltale physical symptoms.

  • Feeling on edge or restless; unable to relax
  • Feeling weak or tired all the time
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained muscle aches/pains
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep

Other common physical manifestations include dizziness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and nausea.

To put the official definition in perspective, one student in the survey described anxiety as “worrying excessively about everyday things that do not worry most people and eventually impair[ing] function or cognition.” Another student wrote that anxiety is “my way of being in the world. Elevated heart-rates, lack of sleep, concern about what others think, over-analyzing, inability to pay attention because too many things are happening at once, racing thoughts.” These descriptions are characterized as good understanding because they capture both the chronic and debilitating nature of anxiety.

Anxiety is not one-size-fits-all

Though most people with anxiety experience these general symptoms, it’s important to remember that the disorder may affect each individual differently. There are also a few specific sub-types of anxiety disorder. One of these is panic disorder, in which the person experiences unexpected episodes of intense fear, sometimes for no particular reason. During these moments, they may feel a sense of losing control, a rapidly beating heart, and a sense of detachment from oneself, which can be very frightening. This quote from the National Institute of Mental Health encompasses what a panic attack could feel like:

“Without any warning or reason, a feeling of terrible anxiety came crashing down on me. I felt like I couldn’t get enough air, no matter how hard I breathed. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and I thought I might die. I was sweating and felt dizzy. I felt like I had no control over these feelings and like I was drowning and couldn’t think straight.”

As opposed to panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder does not usually include panic attacks. Sometimes people don’t seek help because they aren’t experiencing panic attacks, but just because you are not experiencing panic attacks does not mean your anxiety disorder isn’t real.

Panic attacks are also common for people with agoraphobia. This is a type of anxiety where people avoid certain situations for fear of not being able to escape if they experience a panic attack there. They may avoid places like shopping malls or public transportation, or they may not be able to leave home at all.

Other forms of anxiety include separation anxiety, specific phobias (such as fear of insects, flying, or medical procedures), social anxiety, and selective mutism.

What can I do?

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, you can fill out this online screening questionnaire to help gauge if what you are experiencing is an anxiety disorder.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, there are many self-help practices for anxiety management. They may not make anxiety magically disappear, but incorporating these practices into your routine can make a world of difference:

  • Do your best to stay in the present moment. Anxious thoughts are often about the future, but the future hasn’t happened yet. Try to focus on what’s happening now. Practicing meditation can help train your mind to continually come back to the present moment.
  • Challenge your thoughts. Anxious thoughts immediately bring you to the worst-case scenario, telling you that a situation is more dangerous than it really is or that you can’t handle it. Notice the thought you’re having – even write it down. Accept that the thought is there. Then have a conversation with it: Is it true? Is there evidence that it’s true? What is a different way I could think about the situation?

Thoughts from anxiety

  • Make time to relax. Give yourself permission to set aside your problems and responsibilities for a designated block of time. Listen to music, make art, read a book, practice yoga, meditate, practice progressive muscle relaxation, anything that gives your mind a break.
  • Breathe. Remember to breathe deeply throughout the day. You can also practice breathing exercises such as the 4-7-8 breath: inhale and count to 4, hold the breath and count to 7, exhale and count to 8.
  • Aim for daily movement. Even a short walk can produce mental health benefits.
  • Eat whole foods and drink plenty of water. See this article for tips on managing anxiety with diet.

anxiety coping status

  • Sleep – ideally at least 8 hours! The importance of sleep for mental health is greatly underestimated.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. They can trigger physical symptoms of anxiety.
  • Talk to friends or family about how you feel.

Understanding the source of anxiousness

While the above practices build a strong foundation of mental wellness, many people with anxiety require additional treatment. In combination with your results from the screening questionnaire, talk to someone knowledgeable to decide if self-help is enough, or if you would benefit from one of these treatment options:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT involves working with a therapist to identify thoughts and behaviors that trigger or worsen anxiety. Then, you learn how to replace them with more helpful patterns. CBT also can include exposure therapy, where you learn how to confront activities that anxiety was previously holding you back from.
  • Group therapy. CAPS offers a variety of treatment groups, including groups specifically for anxiety. These groups utilize a variety of techniques including CBT and acceptance-based therapy.
  • Medication. Medications commonly used to treat anxiety include benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and beta-blockers. They can help relieve extreme worry and physical anxiety symptoms. Medications come with side effects and they affect individuals differently, so work with a doctor or psychiatrist to make the right choice for you.

In addition, be sure to take advantage of these mental wellness resources offered at UCLA:

 

Emily Short is a 4th year UCLA undergraduate majoring in Psychology and Economics. In addition to blogging for the MindWell Pod, she is a project coordinator for a research study in the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab. You can also find her drinking tea, reading, and practicing yoga.

A painter covers a canvas with red paint and a blue flower.

Do I Need a Hobby?

When you hear the word “hobby”, what do you think of? You may conjure images of a post-retirement activity or your childhood art projects. Maybe you associate it with an idle waste of time. In reality, a hobby is any leisure activity that you voluntarily do when you are free from responsibilities. A wide range of activities fall into this category – creative pursuits, athletics, practicing a skill. It can truly be anything you enjoy that brings you a sense of meaning.

Of course, most of us do something we love at least once in a while. But amidst the constant busyness of our modern lives, it’s common to feel a twinge of guilt when setting work aside to engage in leisure. Or, responsibilities have slowly taken over the time we used to spend on hobbies, and now we’re not even sure what we’re interested in. Even so, we’re doing our mental health a favor when we devote more time and attention to hobbies, no matter how difficult it can be.

Relieve stress, improve mood

Spending just two hours per week engaging in creative leisure activities is shown to significantly boost overall mental well-being, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of mental illness. One major benefit of hobbies is the ability to cope with stress and negative emotions. Hobbies act as restorers, filling up mental reserves after an exhausting day. Practicing these activities allows your mind to rest from daily pressures, and this relaxation can induce positive emotions and a sense of calm.

Research has also shown that people with hobbies experience lower levels of depression and more positive mental states. Even during the enjoyable activity itself, people demonstrate reduced stress, reduced heart rate, and improved mood.

Why do hobbies boost our mood and release stress? For one, they provide us with a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy. When we accomplish a goal or progress toward mastery, we create meaning and purpose for our life. Hobbies also add depth to our identity. Work or relationship stress may be less damaging to our self-esteem if other pieces of our identity are found in creative or athletic undertakings.

Additionally, practicing hobbies facilitates a flow state – the feeling we get when we’re “in the zone.” When we remove distractions and immerse ourselves mindfully in an activity, we enhance our psychological well-being.

These mental health benefits aren’t limited to solo endeavors. Leisure activities in community aid in mental illness recovery and foster greater social connectivity. One study found that Australian adults who participated in team sports experienced lower levels of depression and anxiety than those who did not regularly participate.

A hand holding a pen is shown writing on paper. Journaling or creative writing can be a great stress reliever.

Overcoming barriers

Spending more time doing things you love seems straightforward…who wouldn’t want to do that? However, it’s perfectly normal to struggle with starting and maintaining a hobby practice. Sometimes our mindset can get in the way – here are two thoughts you might have experienced regarding your hobbies and how to deal with them:

1. I have to be perfect, or else it’s pointless.

You might relate to the feeling: attending diligently to every detail, striving to perform at the best of your ability, ensuring you’re making the “right” decision. When performance on tasks becomes equated with self-worth, pressure to succeed leaves you feeling inadequate after every action you take. For this reason, studies have shown that perfectionism is associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety.

Perfectionistic habits can limit you in your leisure activities, too. You don’t put pen to paper because if your writing isn’t published-author quality, why put in the effort? You don’t try that painting technique you saw online because if you can’t do it perfectly at first, what’s the point? When every action feels damaging to your self-worth, enjoyment is stripped away. Creative potential goes unrealized.

Thankfully, hobbies are a great first step to stop this negative spiral. Challenge yourself to dive headfirst into an activity you know you enjoy, even if you feel resistance at first. Focus on improvement, rather than achieving a certain standard. Shifting your goal from proving self-worth to learning has been shown to alleviate depression. When you repeatedly practice the activity and expose yourself to imperfection, you will see that the consequences of messing up aren’t so bad. You may begin to discover the meaning that is found in growing, improving, and yes, imperfection. Releasing the pressure and expectations for yourself can help you achieve the previously unimaginable.

For more tips on tackling perfectionism, check out this article.

2. I’m too busy!

“I used to love reading, but I don’t have time anymore…” You’ve probably heard – or said – something like this before. UCLA students, staff, and faculty are busy. But this notion that we’re too busy to pour energy into hobbies may be more of a mindset than a reality. Americans don’t work more hours than they have in the past several decades. The busy feeling probably has more to do with our increasingly connected society – an infinite to-do list items are readily available. Productivity has also become a status symbol; if we’re not maximizing our time to be the most productive we possibly can, we’re not doing enough. As a result, when we consider slowing down to read an entertaining book or create a watercolor painting, we label this as “unproductive,” and it’s relegated to a lower position on our priority list.

It’s hard to shake the goal of productivity. So, it might help to know that leisure time helps you perform better at work. In one study, employees who engaged in hobbies experienced more job creativity and recovery from demanding work, two markers of a healthy mind.

Work, emails, and social media seem to creep in and consume every available hour. Physically scheduling hobbies into your calendar can help – you end up working smarter and trimming screen time to fit that meaningful activity in, so you probably will accomplish the same amount of work as you would otherwise. Trust that active leisure is worth making time for – the mental revitalization it brings will help you excel in other areas of life that you care about.

Hands rest on illuminated piano keys, surrounded by darkness. A musical instrument can be a great way to de-stress and take time for yourself.

Need inspiration?

Consider investigating UCLA Recreation’s offerings, including martial arts, yoga, outdoor adventures and intramural sports. Find a new piece of music and practice it on one of the public pianos on campus. Attend a Mindful Music concert or learn more about mindfulness by attending a free drop-in meditation. Head over to our previous blogs to learn more about knitting and journaling.

You can also check out this list of 101 hobbies to get you thinking. The ideas are endless! The most important thing is to find a good fit for your interests and abilities, and be true to what makes you happy.

Of course, simply choosing an activity to spend more time on is not the ultimate cure to serious mental illness. Hobbies are certainly not equivalent to therapy or medication. But when we consider the true meaning of mental health, we don’t just mean diminished symptoms – we’re talking about human flourishing. A life of flourishing includes creativity, life satisfaction, and eudaimonia. Practicing meaningful hobbies is essential, in concert with other self-care practices, to experiencing holistic mental well-being.

 

Emily Short is a 4th year UCLA undergraduate majoring in Psychology and Economics. In addition to blogging for the MindWell Pod, she is a project coordinator for a research study in the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab. You can also find her drinking tea, reading, and practicing yoga.

Hike in Santa Monica Mountains

Want Free Therapy? Try Nature

We know intuitively that getting outside is good for us. But how much time do we really spend appreciating green space, away from technology and to-do lists that so often pull us indoors? With more and more research unveiling nature’s powerful mental health benefits, lack of nature exposure may be costing us more than we realize. Maybe a powerful medicine for our mental ailments has been in front of us all along.

Your brain needs rest too

When we juggle a constant stream of attention-demanding tasks, our brain is strained and we feel distracted. The prefrontal cortex is primarily responsible – this brain area typically helps us plan and solve problems, but it easily becomes overloaded with a busy lifestyle. Research suggests that spending time in nature actually lowers brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. Even a short walk in a park can restore our concentration, improve memory capabilities, and bring us into a meditative state.

Additionally, this reduction in prefrontal cortex activity gives us mental room to be creative. You may have heard avid hikers report that mental chatter slows down and their best ideas flow in the outdoors. Indeed, one study demonstrated a 50% increase in creative problem-solving task performance after a wilderness backpacking trip.

Nature as medicine

Time in nature is a possible remedy for a wide spectrum of mental health challenges. A nature walk could reduce activation in brain areas associated with rumination, or negative self-reflective thinking – a predictor of mental illness. In another study, individuals with major depressive disorder experienced improved mood after walking in a natural environment. The benefits of nature are promising for reducing stress and anxiety, too. Walking among trees significantly reduces cortisol levels and relaxes the nervous system, while the same does not hold true for a city walk.

Healthcare providers have recognized the healing potential of the outdoors. Some doctors are already prescribing nature for their patients to treat everything from depression to ADHD. This typically includes working with the patient to locate nearby parks and specifying how many times they will visit the site each week. Wilderness therapy programs are also harnessing the healing powers of nature to assist people suffering from trauma and PTSD.

A little goes a long way

It turns out that you don’t need to summit a mountaintop or go for a week-long backpacking trip to reap the benefits of nature (though it wouldn’t hurt). In a study of UC Berkeley undergraduates, everyday nature experiences such as walking through a greener part of campus led to improved well-being. Research like this suggests that the most important thing is to appreciate the nature around you. Walking for 20 minutes in a woodsy area, sitting under a tree after class – simple acts like these can positively impact well-being. The caveat? It’s best if nature experiences are unplugged. You may not be maximizing the benefits for your brain if you’re distracted by your phone – remember, our brains need rest! Instead, take a few deep breaths and notice the sights and sounds around you.

Nature spots near UCLA

Whether you have five minutes or a whole weekend, there are many places near UCLA where you can get your nature fix. This can be a space for self-reflection, but it’s also a perfect chance to foster community. Research shows that a group walk in nature is just as beneficial for mental well-being as going alone, so don’t be afraid to invite friends.

If you have a favorite location or walk that’s not listed, leave a comment!

Walking trail in the dorm area

  • Take a short urban hike around campus: starting at Westwood Plaza and Sunset, go west on the dirt path along Charles E Young Dr N. Turn right on De Neve Dr. You’ll eventually pass Sunset Canyon Rec Center and the jane b semel HCI Community Garden. Turn right on Bellagio Dr, left on Sunset, and left on tree-lined Veteran Ave. Continue to the De Neve dorms to return back to the hill, or turn around and go back the way you came.
  • Carve out time to visit the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Gardens. Soak up the benefits of this peaceful mini-forest by strolling along the paths or relaxing on a bench. There are also tables you can use for studying and meetings.
  • Check out Total Wellness Magazine’s post for inspiration on the best campus green spaces and how you can incorporate them into your daily schedule.
  • Hike at Will Rogers State Park, only 15 minutes by car or 35 minutes by bus from UCLA. 
  • Explore other nearby hiking areas in the Santa Monica Mountains, such as Temescal Canyon Park, Topanga State Park (Los Leones is a popular trail), or Malibu Creek State Park. 

Walking trail on Veteran Ave

Emily Short is a 4th year UCLA undergraduate majoring in Psychology and Economics. In addition to blogging for the MindWell Pod, she is a project coordinator for a research study in the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab. You can also find her drinking tea, reading, and practicing yoga.

The Clinical Corner: How cancer affects mental wellbeing in patients

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be the single most terrifying and life-changing moment in many patients’ lives. Coping with this news in a healthy way is an important part of the treatment and recovery process, one that may actually affect how disease recovery and remission progresses.

It may come as no surprise that a life-threatening disease diagnosis tends to adversely affect the mental states of many patients, but some research also suggests that depression in patients may lead to worse symptoms of the physical disease.

The two way street between mental and physical health

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that “it is common to feel sad or discouraged” after a serious diagnosis or during pain management. However, distinguishing those feelings from more acute mental health concerns is important for both mental and physical health.

When depression symptomatology lasts longer than a few weeks it can become a serious hindrance to cancer care, treatment, and decreases a patient’s overall quality of life. In fact, the NIMH found that co-occurrence of mental and physical health issues is common.

David K. Wellisch, UCLA professor of psychiatry and behavioral science and doctor of psychology at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, says that 66 percent of cancer patients have an adjustment disorder. “It’s very common,” says Wellisch. “The issue becomes, is it transient, or does it persist and become clinical depression?”

Patients with chronic physical illnesses are more likely than the general population to develop depression, and the same is true of the opposite. According to the NIMH, people with depression are more likely to receive a serious physical health diagnosis and experience more severe symptoms.

In some cases, these relationships even have their own set of terminology. Cancer-related post-traumatic stress (PTS) has been described as presenting similarly to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The National Cancer Institute found that as many as 25 percent of cancer survivors experience symptoms of depression, 42 percent experience anxiety, and survivors are 50 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

A study published by Australian psychiatrists Jane Turner and Brian Kelly in the Western Journal of Medicine called Emotional dimensions of chronic diseases, highlights the ways in which depression may affect a patient’s chances of disease recovery.

“Even mild depression may reduce a person’s motivation to gain access to medical care and to follow treatment plans,” wrote Turner and Kelly. Failing to follow treatment plans could lead to an exacerbation of the medical condition, which in turn feeds the mental disturbance, creating a cycle. The study also notes that diagnosing depression in physically ill patients is difficult, as common symptoms like sleep disruption or mood swings may be the result of the medical condition.

Encouragement from family members may not be enough to result in a patient seeking psychological help, so hospitals and oncology professionals must be equipped to provide patients with the resources they need. Additionally, training these doctors to be aware of depressive symptomatology will increase the likelihood that a mental condition is treated before it becomes a bigger concern.

How machines may be able to help 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become something of a buzzword in the medical field, with promises of streamlined healthcare IT, better disease diagnosis rates, and even tailored treatment plans on a patient by patient basis. An AI system developed at the University of Surrey, in partnership with the University of California, San Francisco, may even be able to predict mental health symptoms in patients.

A study published in the PLOS One Journal reported that researchers were able to create a machine learning based program to accurately predict the symptoms of depression, anxiety and sleep disturbance in cancer patients. This program, which sorts symptoms by likely severity, could lead to an increase in patient quality of life and even help allocate mental health resources correctly.

Payam Barnaghi, a professor of machine intelligence at the University of Surrey, remarked on how these programs could positively affect cancer patients.

“They can help clinicians identify high-risk patients, help and support their symptom experience and preemptively plan a way to manage those symptoms and improve quality of life,” Barnaghi said.

Where mental health support is needed most 

Studies proving these connections between mental health and disease mortality, suicide, and continuing mental health concerns after treatment are plenty. Just as cancer treatment considers to monitor for reappearances of tumors after remission, mental health resources should be accessible long after treatment is over. 

The University of Surrey’s intellectual investment into alleviating mental health concerns for cancer patients could signify an important shift in the way the oncology field prioritizes a patient’s mental wellbeing.

The need for comprehensive mental healthcare is large, considering the implications of failure to treat these patients. A study conducted at Tilburg University in the Netherlands found an increased mortality rate of 19 percent among cancer patients with depression.

Disease severity may be a factor in these cases of depression and suicide, where conditions with shorter life expectencies and worse symptoms could cause more mental health issues. Cancer is a notoriously unpleasant disease, and variations like mesothelioma, which moves quickly and aggressively, are especially bleak diagnoses to receive. The Australian Psychological Society studied the connection between mesothelioma and depression, finding that lung cancers have “been associated with greater morbidity and higher levels of psychological distress than any other form.”

Age is also an important factor in allocating mental health resources. A Canadian study in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment found that “depression is strongly associated with mortality in younger patients with early stage breast cancer.” For continuing care, factors beyond disease severity or longevity should be considered, as clearly younger patients are more at risk. Still another factor to pay attention to is location. An American Cancer Society study reported in cancer survivors, “clinically significant psychological distress” was 5 percent more likely in rural than urban survivors.

Making resources a part of holistic cancer treatment would ensure that cancer survivors don’t feel alone, and even have the possibility to reduce mortality and suicide among those affected. For example, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) has adopted what they refer to as a collaborative care model.

“Collaborative care is patient focused,” said Tammy Wetzman, an oncology social worker at SCCA, in an interview with Social Work Today. “It provides centralized psychosocial care for our patients. The care manager, generally a clinical social worker, who is a key member of the medical team, has regular interaction and collaboration with psychiatry and psychology colleagues and other supportive care providers to create a multidisciplinary and cohesive team that can deliver comprehensive and holistic care.”

Dr. Anne Coscarelli, director of the Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology, has noticed a decided shift in the mental health care for cancer patients from the beginning of her career to present day, she said in a UCLA Health interview.

“The focus was on how to get the cancer under control,” Dr. Coscarelli said. “Now we’re paying attention to the whole person with cancer. There is a greater awareness that cancer affects more than just the body.”

 

 

Emily Walsh is the Director of Community Outreach at Mesothelioma.com, which has been working for 22 years to connect patients and their families with authentic and helpful information and resources. Walsh stays up to date on the latest cancer research and asbestos news to advocate for a full fledged asbestos ban and promote healthy information for cancer patients.

The Roots of Eudaimonia: An Interview with Joseph Raho

The Roots of Eudaimonia: An Interview with Dr. Joseph Raho

Eudaimonia AwardsUCLA is holding their third annual Eudaimonia awards on April 29th, 2019, and in anticipation for the event, I sat down with ethicist Dr. Joseph Raho to discuss the roots of eudaimonia in ancient Greek philosophy. After majoring in philosophy in undergrad, Dr. Raho wished to use the analytic skills he learned during his studies in a very practical way. He found that opportunity in bioethics, landing a job after graduation with The President’s Council on Bioethics (a federal bioethical commission in DC). That experience led him to pursue his PhD in moral philosophy with a concentration on end-of-life ethics at the Universita’ di Pisa, Italy. This is how Dr. Raho ended up living in Italy for five years, developing a passion for Italian art and culture, espresso, and reminiscing about the passeggiata. He returned to the States to do his post-doctoral fellowship in clinical ethics at the UCLA Health Ethics Center in 2014. He was hired as clinical ethicist for UCLA Health in the spring of 2016. In this role, he aims to facilitate the principled resolution of ethical conflicts and challenges that healthcare professionals, patients, and their families face in the hospital setting.

Feb 2015 Ethics Center Raho

Photo by Julia Saltzman

Q: If you had to give a quick elevator pitch to describe Eudaimonia to someone who did not know what it was, what would it sound like?

A: I would have to start with what it means in Ancient Greek: Eu (good) daimon (divinity or spirit). It’s someone who has a good spirit, or someone who has been able to realize their inner spirit. In English, it’s something akin to happiness, enjoyment, or pleasure. The best translation is not happiness, however, but a state of flourishing or excellence. Aristotle connected eudaimonia with virtuous behavior—virtue in accordance with reason and contemplation. Virtue is not about singular, isolated activities and behaviors, but habitual ones. You become virtuous by molding yourself through your actions over time. This raises important questions: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to flourish specifically as a human being? What does it mean to live well? What kind of person do I desire to become? What kind of activities, projects, or hobbies should I seek out because they will be conducive to my overall flourishing? At a very rudimentary level, it will be hard to flourish if you don’t have the basic necessities in life. I would also add that it’s hard to flourish alone—activities, projects, and hobbies are important, but frequently leave one only partially fulfilled, so relationships are a big part of what it means to flourish. To live well involves doing good not only for yourself, but also for others. We must strive to go beyond ourselves, overcoming our limitations. Finally, living a good life is, in a major way, connected with the various roles one has been given or assumed in life (for example, that of a parent, healthcare professional, or teacher). What does it mean to truly flourish in those roles?

Q: Where did you first hear about Eudaimonia? What do you remember about that moment/time?

A: It was my freshman year of college while studying ancient philosophy. I remember that when the professor talked about it, the concept resonated with me. I think each of us tries to live a meaningful existence. Human beings strive to create meaning. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the answer is, it’s about the dialogue—and that really drew my interest.

Q: How do you incorporate Eudaimonia into your life?

A: Mindfulness and reflection about your life and the lives of others.

Q: Can you explain the link between Eudaimonia and Philosophy?

A: The word philosophy comes to us from Greek, meaning “love of wisdom.” Yet, you don’t have to be an academic philosopher to be a reflective thinker. Human beings are naturally curious and reflective individuals. We all yearn for understanding and meaning. Philosophy is a branch of knowledge that tries to uncover fundamental truths about ourselves and our world in a systematic way. Eudaimonia is a state of human flourishing or excellence. Philosophical reflection would seek to better understand fundamental truths about what it means to flourish or be excellent human beings and why.

Q: What’s one bit of advice you would give to someone looking for meaning and purpose in their lives?

A: I would ask the person: “Where do you find joy in life and why is that aspect of your life filled with joy?” Trying to find meaning and purpose in life is admittedly very subjective—it will depend on what a person values. Striving for meaning and purpose should be understood as a journey instead of as a destination. It’s not necessarily about achieving particular things or goals (even if those things are important). Ultimately, I think the person should ask herself “What kind of person do I want to become?” and then strive toward that ideal.

Q: What can one do daily, monthly, yearly, to live with Eudaimonic principles?

A: That is a very difficult question! One should think about what it means to flourish in a holistic sense and set that as a goal for oneself. Then, he or she should strive to live in accordance with that goal one step at a time, recognizing that it may need to be modified along the way.

Q: What gives you purpose in life?

A: Relationships. Being a good partner, a good friend, a good family member, a good colleague. We should also try to help people if we are in a position to do so. Finally, we should be mindful about our actions and their impacts on others. As an ethicist, I aim to identify, analyze, and help people navigate difficult value-laden decisions. My goal is to equip them with the tools needed to arrive at their own decisions, in a way that is consistent with their deeply-held values and beliefs. I like to think that I am using my training in a creative way to assist individuals who may be struggling with complex medical decisions.

Q: What would you like UCLA to know about the Eudaimonia Awards?

A: The purpose of the awards is to recognize outstanding persons whose actions embody our collective ideals of a life well lived. The winners not only excel as individuals, but also use their talents for the broader good of the community and society at large by making an impact on the lives of others. By recognizing and celebrating such excellence, the hope is to get people on campus to think: “That is the type of person I want to become.”

 

 

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

RISE 1

Resilience on the RISE

Resilience (noun)
re·​sil·​ience | \ ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s
​1)​ The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.
2) An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
– Merriam-Webster Dictionary
As people in and around the university, we all face the trials and tribulations of stress, anxiety, and difficult situations. We can learn to better cope with daily challenges through a practice of resilience that supports our well-being.
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The ​Office of Campus and Student Resilience​ and ​Counseling and Psychological Services​ (CAPS) have created a “holistic wellness hub” on campus that provides a variety of programs, classes, trainings, and self-directed resources aimed at creating a greater sense of resilience on campus. This hub is called​ Resilience in the Student Experience​ (RISE) and is located on campus, downstairs at Lu Valle Commons room B-01. RISE serves as a physical extension of CAPS, and as part of its programming, RISE offers meditations, yoga, peer coaching, and other mind-body modalities.

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When I say that RISE offers a vast amount of programs and meditations, it’s no understatement. So far in the lineup they have:
  • Yoga as healing – trauma-informed yoga for survivors of sexual assault
  • Weekly drop-in resilience sessions for all
  • Mindful Ambassadors​ meetings
  • Drop-in meditations for post doctoral students
  • Weekly drop-in mindful nutrition for all
  • GRIT coaching​ corner
  • Wazo ​wellness series
  • Mindfulness for women of color
  • Healing expressed with art (HEART) for trauma survivors
  • Weekly drop-in mindful self compassion break
  • Fitwell​ yoga classes.

The RISE schedule is bursting with programs and opportunities that can meet our diverse student body where they are. And there’s no sign of slowing down; Dr. Allyson Pimentel, associate director of UCLA Campus & Student Resilience, tells me, “it’s only going to get better.”

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RISE has an upcoming 5 session training series, Training for Campus Peer Leaders, which is geared towards UCLA student leaders looking to learn more about resilience, how to support students in distress, and many other important topics. This workshop will be held every Wednesday from weeks 4-8, with each session lasting two hours. The sessions will be held in the basement level of Lu Valle Commons, room B-01. If interested in this particular workshop, you can learn more and sign up ​here.

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Check out the RISE space itself or come participate in some of the upcoming meditation sessions and workshops! For more information email ​RISE@caps.ucla.edu

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

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Healthy Minds and Healthy Hearts: An Interview with Kimberly Uehisa

While heart health is often overlooked by younger generations, the effects it can have on living a healthy lifestyle are nonetheless important. Mental health can be severely impacted by stress, and so can heart health. Kimberly Uehisa, fourth year MIMG major and global health minor, is championing the importance of cardiovascular health and education in her new study with the UCLA Women’s Cardiovascular Center​. I sat down with her to find out more about ECHOS (Early Cardiovascular Health Outreach), herself, and the importance of heart health.

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Kimberly has been a research fellow with the Women’s Cardiovascular Center for two years, studying prevention and effects of cardiovascular disease with her faculty mentor Dr. Tamara Horwich, Dr. Marcella Press, and Dr. Karol Watson. She became interested in heart health in high school after discovering she and her family had a history of high blood pressure and other heart-related medical issues. On top of her passion for helping others live heart healthy lifestyles, Kimberly is a research coordinator for the Department of Cardiac Surgery, and just started working in a bioengineering lab focusing on cardiovascular research. She was also recently selected for the Undergraduate Research Fellowship program for this particular research study.

To give a little bit more insight into who she is outside of her research, Kimberly strongly recommends owning a pet for their benefits in relieving stress, even though she doesn’t own any herself. Kimberly also likes to go hiking and explore the outdoors and is actually from Hawaii, where hula dancing was part of her school curriculum from elementary to high school. Also, while she is from Hawaii, no, she’s never surfed, and yes, she does get that question a lot. She’s an energetic firework here to spread the importance of early heart health with UCLA, and we are excited to learn more!

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Q: What’s happening in the pilot study?
A:​ First, students will sign up on a link or QR code from a flier, and they will fill out a pre-survey. They will receive text messages for a 4 week period, 3 times a week, with suggestions of campus resources and heart health information. There will be weekly prize drawings to encourage active participation. At the end of the 4 week period, students who complete the post survey may receive a $10 gift card for their participation in the study. This text messaging system will hopefully alleviate stress and help student’s current and future well-being. The study is still waiting for IRB approval; once it is approved, we will notify UCLA’s student body.

Q: Why and when did you decide to study women’s cardiovascular health?
A: ​A history of high blood pressure in my family lead me become interested in cardiovascular health. I started my first research study in 2017 with Dr. Jennifer Phung-Woo. We recruited teens and young adults between the ages 13 and 25 and found out text messages were actually helpful, effective, and educational. The goal of the study was to reach out to young people about heart disease, connecting with them via text-messaging to educate them about the subject and know they aren’t the only ones that may be affected by it. Forming healthy habits early in life is really important.

Q: Why do you think heart health education is particularly relevant to college students?
A:​ As a student, I know from firsthand experience that college students experience high levels of stress, which affects our lifestyle choices. In this environment, education on heart health is particularly beneficial. The effects of stress on the body leave students at greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

Q: What are some cardiovascular health resources on campus?
A:​ A lot more will be shared in the text messages sent out to participants in the study, but off the top of my head: CAPS, Mindful Meditation, and Mindful Music. The text messages sent out in the study will give students quick links to the schedules so they can effectively and efficiently access the resources. The goal of the text messages is to cover all aspects of student life.

Q: If you could tell someone one tip to change or add to their lives to positively impact their heart health what would it be?
A:​ Just try not to be stressed (haha). On a more serious note: having a good support system and really strong relationships to be there for you is really helpful in the long run. Also, being aware of yourself and how you take care of your body.

Q: What do you think one of the biggest misconceptions is about heart health?
A:​ That it’s a man’s disease and not a woman’s disease. It happens to everyone, at all ages.

Q: What’s the main thing you hope students take from this study?
A:​ I hope for everyone to be aware of their stress and be engaged with their bodies as the heart is the heart of all health! Everything begins with being aware of yourself and aware of your surroundings.

February may be known for the more emotional aspects of the heart, but it’s also Heart Health Month. This makes it the perfect time to learn about living a heart healthy lifestyle and also just so happens to be when participants can begin signing up for the study. In just four weeks you can learn about resources on campus to help you engage in stress relief, be more educated about heart health, and possibly receive a $10 gift card. For further information or questions about the study, please contact Dr. Horwich at ​Thorwich@mednet.ucla.edu​.

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

Slime During Grind Time

On Friday, December 7th, members of the MindWell pod in the Healthy Campus Initiative came together to put on a de-stressing event for students before finals head into full swing. The event was filled with fun, relaxation, and slime– appropriately named slime time during grind time.

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Yes, slime. That stretchy, goopy substance that many of us played with when we were little, and that Nickelodeon has made famous. Making and playing with slime has also been really big on Instagram for the past couple of years as it’s oddly satisfying to watch others play with slime.

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The goal of the event was to bring a pop of fun into students’ days, bring their minds away from the stress of finals and papers, and allow them to relax and have fun making something they could use to destress with at home while they’re studying. All of the students who stopped by our tables took home beautiful and fun globs of slime that can act as stress balls, or recreate the act of play when students want to take a mental break from their studies.

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About 100 Bruins stopped by the tables in front of Powell library in a span of three hours to make their own slime. The atmosphere at the tables was one of community, with many of the students talking about finals that they had just come from, papers they were heading to the library to write, or study groups they were going to.

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We asked the students to fill out a small evaluation sheet before they left the table with their cup of slime, many of whom gave sweet feedback in the comments section. Several remarked how fun the event was, others asked for us to do the event again or put on a similar one, and several others were just handwritten thank you’s. One of the comments was a combination of the ones described above stating, “Thank you for this event! It really helped me with de-stressing and not worrying about my finals. I hope you guys do this again!”

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It was an absolute delight for the MindWell pod to put on this event for students, and we hope there will be more to come. For those who weren’t able to stop by the table, or who just want to try making some slime, here are the instructions we followed:

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Prime Slime Anytime

Ingredients:

Elmer’s glue,  contact lens solution, baking soda, and any food coloring, glitter, or beads that you want to add.

Instructions:

  1. Pour ¾ of a cup of Elmer’s glue into a bowl
  2. Add 1 ½ tablespoons of baking soda
  3. Add 3 tablespoons of contact lens solution and desired amount of food coloring or glitter, and mix until slime begins to form
  4. Begin to knead the slime in your hands until it begins to firm. If needed, add more contact lens solution to make it less sticky.
  5. Add whatever other beads, more glitter, or even color that you want into your slime and have fun!

Enjoy some more slime photos below:

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Taking a STAND for Mental Health at UCLA

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The Depression Grand Challenge​ has taken many strides towards reaching its goal of cutting the rate of depression in half by 2050. As of last year, UCLA was “believed to be the first university to conduct a ‘​campus-wide mental health screening program​’, where it invited students to “check in” and offer them treatment within the study’s 8 week​ Internet Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (iCBT)​ program if they showed signs of mild to moderate depression or anxiety. This multifaceted challenge encompasses many groups working towards the same goal through different approaches and focus areas. One of these groups is the ​Resilience Peer Network​ (RPN), a combination of UCLA undergraduate and graduate students that are trained to support their fellow peers as they work their way through the 8 week iCBT study. RPN just announced a new name for their resilience peer services, the STAND (screening and treatment for depression and anxiety) program. Once members have gone through the necessary training, they will officially become a STAND peer and are eligible to facilitate many different kinds of support groups, including one-on-one and group settings.

RPN teaches their Resilience Peers a number of tools to combat negative emotions and increase one’s ability to cope. The 8 week iCBT program has a different focus or tool to share with participants each week, such as developing an exercise routine, starting a mindfulness practice, hunting for positives, and shifting attention, to name a few. One of the wonderful things about the iCBT program is that it provides a holistic overview of mental health and offers a diverse group of tools which participants get to test out themselves each week to see what works best for them.

As a STAND Peer within the program, I have my favorite lessons and skills picked out, and I actively use them and share them with those around me. You don’t have to take my word for it though, you can try it for yourself:

Hunting for Positives:​​

We all have bad days, and, unfortunately, bad days will continue to happen to us in the future. We simply cannot control everything. Wouldn’t it be nice though if those bad days didn’t have to be all bad? The truth is that they probably aren’t, but we allow ourselves to get so caught up in our emotions and events of the bad day that it distracts us from appreciating the good parts of it that may just make the day seem not so bad after all.

Maybe you passed by some pretty flowers on your walk, or got to pet a cute dog, or you got a call from a loved one you haven’t heard from in a while. Those are all positives that deserve to be recognized and that could change the way you feel about a bad day. As you continue on throughout the rest of your day, I challenge you to hunt for positives and see how you feel when you turn in.

Practicing Mindfulness:​​

Numerous studies will tell you about the positive effects of practicing mindfulness, but these effects are more believable if you experience them yourself. Let’s try a short meditation right now to give you a bit of a break from your day. We’ll do a public places guided meditation focusing on body and sound that you can do wherever and whenever you have a spare three minutes. The ​transcript below​ is one of many mindfulness exercises available on the​ Mindfulness Awareness Research Center​ (MARC) website and is accessible to all UCLA students, faculty, and staff. Take your time to read through the meditation, and really focus on being present during this break.

 

“Begin this meditation by noticing the posture that you’re in.
You may be standing or sitting or lying down.
Notice your body exactly as it is.
And see if you can tune into any sensations that are present to you in your body in this moment. There might be heaviness or lightness, pressure, weight.
There might be vibration, pulsating, movement, warmth, coolness.
These sensations can be anywhere in your body.
And all you have to do is notice them.
Notice what’s happening with curiosity and interest.
Take a breath. As you breathe, relax. Not much to do except be fully present and aware.
Now let go of the body’s sensations, and turn your attention to the sounds inside or outside the room.
There may be all sorts of sounds happening.
Loud sounds, quiet sounds You can also notice the silence between the sounds.
But the sounds are coming and going.
Notice them coming and going.
One tendency of our mind is to want to think about the sounds.
To start to make up a story about the sound,or we have a reaction to it: I like it, I don’t like it. See if instead, you can simply listen to the sound.
Notice it with curiosity and interest.
The sounds are coming and going.
Now once again, notice your body standing, present or seated or lying down.
Notice any body sensations that are obvious to you.
Take another breath.
Soften.
And when you’re ready, bring your attention back into the room.”

 

How do you feel now? Take a bit of time to check in with yourself.

The above two tools are just a couple of my favorites that I learned through my involvement in the Resilience Peer Network’s STAND program. There is so much the Resilience Peers and the program have to offer, whether you’re looking to become involved through facilitating support groups or receiving treatment through the study. Learn more about RPN’s STAND program training and application process​ here​, or take the check-in survey to track your mental health here​.

 

 

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

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Meet Anusha Sadda, CAPS Student Advisory Board Member

Many people know about Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at UCLA, but most people don’t know there is also a board of students working alongside them to provide the best mental health resources possible. This group of students is called the CAPS Student Advisory Board (CSAB). The board is made up of students from different organizations and backgrounds, who have come together to voice the concerns of their respective communities and to inspire change. (Any student can apply to be a part of the board, so if you have an interest in mental health, think about making your voice heard by applying for next year’s board! Keep an eye out for an application announcement.)

About Anusha: Anusha is a graduating fourth year Psychobiology major and Public Health minor and a member of last year’s CSAB board. She’s a mental health advocate because mental health affects all of us even if we don’t all have a mental illness. After graduating, she hopes to work as an analyst at a healthcare company and eventually go to graduate school to become a psychiatrist or work in community health. She prefers TV shows over movies, and if she could watch only one for the rest of her life, it would either be Grey’s Anatomy, or This is Us. She isn’t a fan of either cats or dogs, and if she had to have a pet, she would prefer a goldfish. She adores Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, and her life motto is “you can’t change the world, but you can change your world.”

 

Q: Tell me a little bit about the CAPS Student Advisory Board: how, why, and when was it created?

Anusha Sadda: Nicole Green, the director of CAPS, created CSAB in the 2016-2017 school year. She met with a lot of student groups and wanted a space for students to voice their opinions. She wanted to have a better idea of how to prioritize student needs, and she did that by hearing many different perspectives from some of UCLA’s students.

 

Q: Why did you want to join the CSAB last year?

AS: I was always involved with mental health groups on campus. I served as the campaign manager for All of Us, and I wanted to be involved with something that was more all encompassing. I wanted to learn more about CAPS, their staffing, finances, everything that played a role in making CAPS efficient and effective. It was a privilege making a difference for the students.

 

Q: What did the board focus on or accomplish last year?

AS: The biggest focus was the session limits at CAPS. There has been an increase in mental health service needs nationally, and we wanted to figure out what we would do with all of that demand.

 

Q: What specific things did you want the board to focus on? What concerns did you bring?

AS: I wanted to focus on educating students about what CAPS is, what resources there are, and using CAPS as an avenue to seek the right kind of treatment. Increasing awareness of mental health on campus was an important goal of mine last year. I wanted to create a collaborative effort, kind of like an umbrella, of all kinds of people focused on mental health that were coming from different campus groups, but that were coming together as partners to achieve a common goal.

 

Q: Why do you think it’s important for students to have this close interaction with CAPS?

AS: Not all students can advocate for themselves, and that leads to some people feeling like they aren’t represented. The CSAB board provides a way to bridge that gap, by having representatives speak for a community. The board is then able to hear their issues and address them. It’s also easier for students to talk to students, which helps create honesty and strengthens students’ relationship with CAPS.

 

Q: What do you think the impacts are of having a board run by students geared towards the benefit of students?

AS: I think it shows people that CAPS is really trying to be the best it can be and tend to student needs. Their efforts are going above and beyond. Dr. Green is a very busy woman, and she takes the time to be present at all of the CSAB meetings because she really cares to hear from students. We want people to say what they want to say to the board and have their issue addressed.

 

Q: What do you hope future members of the board accomplish with the partnership?

AS: I don’t have a long term goal for the board, because we never know what is going to be changing in the future. All I care about is that students, staff, and faculty feel like they have the best mental health resources possible­­­— for the UCLA community to be happy mentally, physically, and emotionally.

 

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