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Why Live Music Matters

Our Mindful Music team entered the Pediatrics Unit at the Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center on a mission to engage and uplift children who are fighting short and long term illness, using a participatory live music session for the entire unit.

We approached patients like Angey, who was lying on her bed watching TV with her sister, and surprised them with a chance to make music. Within minutes, Angey played with a xylophone and violin joining musicians Stephen Spies and Kate Bacich. Together with her care team and other children in the Pediatrics Unit, Angey made music and an average day turned into a unique experience for the children, parents, and staff.

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Between the uncertainty of health outcomes and stressors of the environment, nobody wants to be in the hospital. Live music has the power to uplift patients, family members, nurses, administrators, doctors, technicians, janitors, and many others involved, to serve these patients and aid in their healing process.

Mindful Music sessions lower the tension and stress of the hospital setting. For a period of time, children and families are able to engage with music outside of their rooms and meet other patients on the floor. We work closely with the Pediatrics Unit to strategically schedule music sessions to best benefit patients and families who endure a lot of testing and treatments during the day, as well as staff who have specific transition times for shift changes.

We made this music video to serve as a torch of hope for patients and families entering the hospital. Our production encompasses an original song by accomplished musicians paired with an award-winning filmmaker focusing on the bravery, strength, positivity, and beautiful personalities of the child patients.

“It was a remarkable experience working with the children at the Pediatrics Unit. I was holding in tears of empathy and joy watching the children shine and forget their pain while they played and listened to music. It was a beautiful heartwarming moment that will show through this video,” stated Melody Miller, award-winning filmmaker and mastermind behind the video. Melody is a dedicated creative storyteller, who was awarded the Women in Film Award and the Motion Picture Association of America Award for her work empowering women and children around the world through film.

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Stephen Spies and Kate Bacich wrote and performed the song to raise awareness about the impact of live music on children in the Pediatrics Unit. They are both part of an up-and-coming band, Hello Noon. Some of their most fulfilling musical moments have come from their experience teaching piano, guitar, and ukulele to patients at Miller Children’s Hospital, as well as performing for pediatric patients at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica.

Mindful Music is the bridge connecting live music to areas where day to day life happens, which isn’t always a concert hall or grand performance center. It is an innovative human-centric solution designed to use music performance for stress management, changing workplace culture and fostering community.

The non-profit startup strives to transform a regular space into a musical performance venue for people to gather and take a break from their desks and computers. By partnering with health systems, academic institutions, startups, and companies, Mindful Music is able to custom tailor a live music experience in an unexpected space and time of day. As a bridge between artists and audiences, Mindful Music develops and specifically curates their roster of talented musicians to connect with audiences and share a wide spectrum of genres such as classical, jazz, and world music.

One single patient filled up with hope through music, can change the entire health system, which can be the beginning of change for our world. The ripple effect of hope and joy begins with one melody.

Dalida Arakelian is the founder & executive director of Mindful Music, established at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior at UCLA. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Public Health from UCLA. Dalida is involved in ongoing collaborations with musicians, artists, scientists, and media makers to produce content, both live and online, to positively impact the way people behave, think, and live together. She was a featured TedX UCLA speaker where she shared the idea behind Mindful Music.

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Week 6 is for Mindfulness, are you up for the Challenge?

What is the Stop, Breathe, and Think MIndfulness Challenge?

Last year, Campus and Student Resilience and the Mindful Awareness Research Center paired up with Stop, Breathe, and Think to host a five-day meditation challenge. The challenge is back this year and will be held week 6, starting today (February 12th) until the 16th, so sign up now to get started. Both last year and this year, the goal of the challenge has been to get more people involved with the practice of mindful meditation, and different variations of focus are to come in the future, since a Mindfulness Challenge will be taking place every quarter during week 6 from here on out! Now that’s a lot of resilience building. All students (undergraduate and graduate), faculty, staff, and alumni are invited to take part in the challenge.

What I Learned From the Challenge

I participated in the five-day Mindfulness Challenge last year and had a really great experience. I was introduced to meditation through the practice of yoga and my involvement with the Resilience Peer Network (RPN) on campus, but aside from these activities, I never practiced meditation, especially not on my own. When the Healthy Campus Initiative announced the Mindfulness Challenge, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to develop my own mindfulness practice.

The Challenge sends out meditation reminders every day, so it made it harder for me to forget to practice with everything else going on in my busy life. The challenge also offers incentives to keep you motivated throughout the week, such as raffle prizes that are awarded at the end of the five days to lucky winners that complete all five meditations. The messages also come with a link to a specific guided meditation that is geared towards that quarter’s focus, so I didn’t feel overwhelmed when I opened the Stop, Breathe, and Think app and saw all of the different meditation options (and, wow, there’s a lot of options!)

Knowing that a lot of people were participating in the challenge with me served as its own kind of motivation. It’s called the Mindfulness Challenge for a reason, because it is, indeed, a challenge. It challenged me to put aside a little bit of time each day for myself, to quiet my mind, and find a sense of calmness in my day. It challenged me to meditate, an act that many have not been heavily exposed to, to push me out of my daily routine, and to develop a new habit.

Last year, the challenge motivated me to incorporate meditation and mindfulness into my everyday routine, something that I have now continued one year later! I still have the Stop, Breathe, and Think app on my phone because I liked it so much after being introduced to it in the Mindfulness Challenge. I even have three other apps downloaded as well, just to spice my meditation practice up a bit. The challenge caused me to make a New Year’s resolution of sorts, one that came after January 1st, but a good one all the same. The Mindfulness Challenge is a great way to dip your feet into the ocean that is meditation and the mind-body connection. It’s like an introductory course that helps show people the ropes to mindfulness, one day at a time. Incorporating mindful meditation into my everyday schedule is one of my favorite things I have done for myself, and it all started with this challenge.

What I Hope for This Year

This year, I’m approaching the challenge with intentions that are a bit changed from the previous year. I’m hoping to dedicate a little extra time to mindfulness than I already do, to push myself to set more time aside to check in with myself. I look forward to taking short breaks at times of the day that I don’t usually meditate, to explore my own practice further and refine it so it fits me best. I also want to get more people involved with the practice of meditation, so I’m looking to the challenge to do all of the convincing for me, after I recruit as many people as I can. Join me and sign up now to see what the challenge can do for you.

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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 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.

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How to stay grateful after Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has come and gone; taking with it the feeling of fall coziness and the smell of pumpkin pie, and leaving behind the lure of winter break and an extended vacation. While some families celebrate in the traditional Thanksgiving style, with a roast turkey and everyone listing what they’re thankful for before dinner, others denounce the holiday as a glorification of the abuse of Native Americans. Still others don’t celebrate at all, as Thanksgiving is an American holiday not often observed by UCLA’s international students. Regardless of your opinion on Thanksgiving, it’s worth considering adopting its central theme, thankfulness, as acknowledging your gratitude can be an extremely effective and efficient way to improve your quality of life.

In fact, research shows that reminding yourself of what it is you are grateful for about a loved one has a “uniquely predictive power in relationship promotion, perhaps acting as a booster shot for the relationship.” But gratitude won’t just improve your relationships. It’s also been proven that “the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.”

Here are three ways you can incorporate practicing gratitude into your daily life.

  1. Start the day by writing down one thing you’re grateful for.

Keeping a small notebook filled with lists of good things in your life is not just a cute idea you can find all over Pinterest. It’s a great way to set a focus for your day in addition to practicing gratitude. When you write down the best things going on in your life, you’re forcing yourself to acknowledge what does and does not matter, thereby better defining your own values while practicing gratitude – it’s the perfect two birds with one stone!

  1. Say thank you once a day.

Muttering “thanks” as you rush forward to catch a door held open for you doesn’t count. Make it a goal to thank someone for something that required time and effort once a day. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something they did for you; you could thank them for an inspiring post they made on social media or for a positive quality they possess that you’ve always admired, but never felt able to mention. Using your gratitude practice as an excuse, you can tell the people you love that you’ve always thought the way they handle themselves under pressure is amazing, that you really appreciate how they’re always suggesting fun things for you to do together, or any other compliment that has been on the tip of your tongue.

  1. Think about what your life would be like without the good things that have happened to you.

Perhaps rather counterintuitively, research on gratitude also shows that sometimes all it takes to feel incredibly lucky is to imagine your life without the people and events that make it special. Spend time thinking about what it would be like if you hadn’t met your best friend, or if you had never gotten that acceptance letter or taken that amazing class. Everyone has the occasional fantasy about redesigning their life, but if you think about the good things you do have, it’s scientifically proven to have a positive effect on your outlook.

Practicing gratitude can be hard. More often than not, we’re hardwired to focus more on the negative, and with the stress of finals coming up, it’s hard to find the time to count yourself as lucky. But gratitude is all about recognizing that each annoyance and stressor in your life is just one part of a much larger whole, and when you’re able to realize that, not only do you have an increased ability to turn those negatives into positives, you also have the motivation you’ll need to do it.

If you want to learn more, check out one of our older posts about a series of short films on what gratitude is, why it’s important, and tools to foster more of it in your daily life.  

Maya McNealis is a second year neuroscience student. In addition to writing for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she is a news reporter for the Daily Bruin.

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Meditation Apps Review: For Your Finals Stress Relieving Pleasure

Week ten seems to have appeared upon us once again in the blink of an eye (thanks quarter system!) and that means that finals are starting for everyone.

Testing time can feel like a tsunami of stress, which can make us feel low and even perform worse on the things that we are trying to score high marks on. With that being said, let me present to you a way of reducing stress levels and keeping calm during midterms: meditation. We’ve all heard of it, some of you may have even tried it, and thanks to technology we can all access it on our phones. We have our devices in our hands or by our sides for more hours a day than we may want to admit, but during testing time this can be a particularly good thing if we use them in beneficial ways, like downloading a meditation app to open up whenever we are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or like we just need a breather. This past week I’ve tried a number of different meditation apps and have compiled a list of all of their unique attributes that may spark your fancy. Even if you’ve never thought that meditation would be the thing for you, the vast variety of exercises and features spanning these apps may make you reconsider.

Stop, Breathe & Think

General Opinion: This was my personal favorite of the four meditation apps I tried, but, to be fair, I’ve been using it for half a year and have had some good experience with it.

Cost: Free.

Structure: It invites you to check-in everyday with how you are feeling both physically and mentally, and add specific emotions that you are feeling at the time you are planning to meditate. It then takes this information and suggests a number of meditations to suit your interests, or you can peruse their entire list of meditations to find one that calls to you.

Meditation Types: Their meditations range from breathing exercises to mindful walks to acupuncture and yoga for stress to those focusing on joy, compassion, gratitude, and change. The app also provides a very short falling asleep meditation that I swear by. Now the only time I look at my phone right before I go to sleep is to partake in this exercise. Almost all of the meditations offer varying time lengths to meet anyones need, from beginners to those more adapted to the practice. Most of the meditations offer both a female and male voice to guide your session, and neither Jamie nor Grecco have ever failed to make me feel like I’m floating on a cloud. If you’re more of an independent meditator, the app also has a meditation and breathing timer that simply rings bells to keep you focussed at intervals that you set yourself. The app also has an entire section dedicated to teaching users how to meditate, so don’t be nervous about starting the practice because you don’t feel like you know how.

Features: The app tracks your progress by showing you how your emotions have changed throughout the week, which meditation you use the most, and how much time you actually spend meditating on the app. It also allows you to have a meditation streak for consistently using the app– move over Snapchat! The cherry on top of this app is that it rewards you with rather adorable stickers in your trophy case, which keep you incentivised.

Simple Habit

General Opinion: This app actually got its start on the TV show Shark Tank, and is geared towards helping busy people find the time to focus on their mental health by providing short, five minute meditations to reduce stress. I had never heard of this app before a week ago, but it has found a cozy spot on my device and comes in a close second. This app supplies a considerable amount of free meditations (I can only imagine what the subscription would unlock) and is a great app for people looking to break into the meditation world one five minute break at a time.

Cost: This app is also free to download; however, it requires a paid subscription to access the app in its entirety, and, once again, for the sake of monetary conservation, I did not explore that part of the app.

Structure: This app starts users off by giving you a choice between a handful of diverse themes, each lasting seven days, and only requires five minutes a day to complete.

Meditation Types: These free seven day meditations on the app include: simple habit starter, foundations of mindfulness, learn to meditate, calm anxiety, and improve focus. Four different sleep meditations are offered for free, one morning meditation in bed, two 11-day podcasts, one before an exam meditation, and two 31-day fresh start meditations. Three different nature sounds variations are offered (ocean, rain, and water) as well as an unguided meditation timer. The coolest part of this app is that it has an “on the go” section, where users can select what kind of special activity they are doing (ex: tough day, taking a break, commute, etc.) and after another menu pops up to narrow the selection even more (I clicked on “taking a break” and then clicked “taking a bath” in the next menu and up popped a meditation for people who are taking baths!) I have never seen this type of specificity in a meditation app before, and it’s really amazing how easy it is to find precisely what it is that you are looking for. I had never done a bathtime meditation before (nor knew that such a thing existed!), but it may very well be my new favorite meditation.

Features: This app also has a progress section that tracks your total meditation minutes, total sessions, and day streak. You can also go beyond seeing just your contacts or Facebook friends that are using the app, but can also participate in meditation challenges that are happening worldwide.
Calm

General Opinion: This was my go-to meditation app until I found “Stop, Breathe, and Think.” I would recommend this app to anyone and everyone, regardless of whether or not they are looking to get involved with meditation, simply because the resources of this app go above and beyond.

Cost: This app is free to download; however, there are aspects that are restricted to users with a paid subscription. As standard, I’m only going to talk about the parts of the app that are accessible without a subscription.

Structure: The app begins with having users choose their top goals they wish to achieve through meditation (ex: increase happiness, reduce stress, increase gratitude) and then recommends meditations targeted towards your choices. After this step, you are brought to the app’s home page, which is a lovely, realistic animation of green mountains lightly topped with white snow spanning the background, while water ripples in front of them. The scene is complete with water, wind, and bird/nature sounds that crank that zen dial up to a million.

Meditation Types: Meditation themes include: breathe, college collection, managing stress, calm, happiness, focus, calming anxiety, sleep, self-esteem, forgiveness, and six others. Another great touch to this app’s design is that while you are searching the meditations for one that interests you, the nature sounds continue to play throughout it all. This is nice because it helps put you at ease and prepares your mind and body for the meditation ahead, so you aren’t just stepping right into the quiet/stillness after all of the events of the day.

Features: This app is also equipped with a music section (which also has themes to choose from) including: engage, captivate, willpower, centre point, falling slowly, and seven more. All of these playlists are about an hour long, which is perfect for relaxing study time, or early mornings when we find it hard to get the day started. The third and final section of the app is targeted towards sleep, where it features a plethora of sleep stories. They are like bedtime stories, but for adults. How great is that? No, the stories aren’t like the three little pigs that we were read while children, they’re interactive, meaning that they incorporate breathing exercises and meditation practice into them. For my story I took a dreamy morning walk through a lovely field of lavender flowers until I drifted off to sleep. While the story is being read, there are captivating images flowing across the screen that match the narration, so when I say I took a trip through lavender fields, I really did take a trip through lavender fields. This portion of the app will actually shut off your phone screen for you and close you out of the app when the story is over, so you can go right to sleep.

Headspace

General Opinion: I had heard about this app from several students, TA’s, and professors on campus, so I figured that now was as good a time as any to give it a try.  I would say this app (the parts that are accessible without a subscription) is good for someone who is new to the practice of meditation that is looking to try a little bit of everything. It allows users to sample many different topic-focussed exercises for just about every situation you can possibly think of.

Cost: This app is free to download; however, many aspects of the app require a paid user subscription. For the sake of this review, I only explored the parts of the app that were accessible without a subscription.

Structure: This app starts users off with ten days of basic guided meditations to ease everybody into the practice and get them comfortable with the app. There is also an extremely cute introduction video animation filled with lots of zainy characters who will be helping you along the way.

Meditation Types: There is a section on very short “mini” meditations, where users can partake in a breathing exercise, and there are also longer, topic-focused meditations called “packs.” These packs include several topics: basics, anxiety, regret, self-esteem, prioritization, leaving home, and a sports pack. All of the above mentioned packs offer one free meditation each.

Features: There is also a section that tracks your statistics while using the app, which lets you know your total meditation time on the app, number of sessions completed, daily average, and a day streak.

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Finals are coming, and we need to arm ourselves with ways to protect our brains and bodies from fatigue, stress, and anxiety. Any one of these apps would be a step in the right direction to reducing all of the latter symptoms. With so many resources at our fingertips, we have a way of avoiding some of the negatives that finals can bring with them. Namaste, future zen masters.

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.

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5 Tips to Creating Your Perfect “Snooze-List”

We all have that favorite pillow or sleeping position where our worries are set free and the sheep begin to count themselves. Although the process of sleeping brings us so much comfort, many of us are still sleep deprived and suffer the consequences in our day-to-day activities. My college years, probably like yours, were one of sleep deprivation and stress. I was sleep deprived because when it was time to sleep at night, I had a hard time falling asleep despite how many times I fluffed and rotated my pillow.

What is sleep and why do we need it?

Sleep, interestingly, is an active process that occupies one-third of human life. One of its intended functions is to conserve energy and restore our bodies. Science has shown that we require sleep to regulate our metabolism which in turn controls our weight, consolidates our memories to long-term storage, and regulates our mood. As you can see, sleep is very important for our bodies and minds. But, sleep onset, as you may have experienced, isn’t always the easiest. Sometimes we have those nights where we will fall into a deep slumber very quickly, but sometimes we have those other nights in which we are tossing and turning until we can finally fall asleep.

A Surprising Tool to Help You Sleep Faster

You might have tried dimming the brightness of your screen or turning on the ‘night shift’ setting to reduce the amount of blue-wave light so that your mind isn’t tricked into thinking that the sun is shining at 11:00 pm at night. Or you might have picked up the habit of reading or meditating before bed to help lull you into sleep. Surprisingly, another remedial tool to help promote sleep-onset that is both cheap and easy is music! Music can promote relaxation and improve your sleep quality. In fact, many individuals with chronic sleep problems turn to music for emotional regulation to calm any frustrations from not being able to fall asleep.

We all have that ‘relaxing’ or ‘calm’ playlist that we turn to in times of anxiety or stress, but how about we create our own ‘snooze-list’. Researchers have found that music with 60-80 bpm are found to have the most relaxing and anxiety-reducing effects. This specific slow tempo of music serves as a distractor from any negative psychological or physiological experiences like pain or anxiety. Often, we have felt anxiety from the stress of not being able to fall asleep and this eventually can become a prolonged stressor. This type of sedative music can help with sleep onset by increasing muscle relaxation and lessening distraction from intrusive thoughts. Ready to give your “snooze list” a try?

Time to Create That “Snooze-List”

Looking to create that perfect playlist that snoozes you to sleep? Here are my top 5 tips to creating your “Snooze-list”:

  1. Choose songs that are between a 60-80 bpm range. I suggest classical music!
  2. Select slow, flowing non-lyrical music.
  3. Find songs with low tones and strings. Try to find songs with minimal brass sounds and percussion.
  4. Set it at a maximum volume of 60 decibels, which can be compared to having a normal conversation from a 3-ft. distance.
  5. Listen to music for a minimum of 15-20 minutes before bed to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate.

Need some help getting started? Here’s a link to a free playlist on Spotify.

Write below in the comments section your experience with using music as a sleep-aid. Happy sleeping!

If you are interested in learning more about sleep, sleep deprivation, and other sleep-aid tools and applications, please read the literature review titled “The Science and Research Methods of Sleep and Sleep Deprivation” on the UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative Sleep Well page.

Chantel T. Ebrahimi received a B.S in Psychobiology from UCLA in 2015. She is a Staff Research Associate II on the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study at UCLA.

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TEDxUCLASalon Resilience

By:  Lucy Tseng, MA, Event Organizer and UCLA Staff

“The greater the force of your compassion, the greater your resilience in confronting hardships.” – Dalai Lama

“Resilience is based on compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others.” – Sharon Salzberg

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius

TEDxUCLA invites you to participate in this year’s annual salon on RESILIENCE. In addition to an activities fair, speakers will explore the topic of resilience and offer a program of thought and conversation in this critical time. We believe GRATITUDE (last year’s topic and our recurring theme) and RESILIENCE are ideas worth spreading.
The core of happiness is gratitude, the quality of being thankful in the present moment. This year we explore the concept of gratitude a step further with the topic of resilience, the ability to bounce back. Regardless of age, gender or financial background, we all experience levels of stress and disappointment on a regular basis. Our goal as individuals and as a nation is to cultivate resilience and find ways of coping that lift stressful circumstances towards a more positive outcome. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
UCLA James West Alumni Center
Activities Fair: 2-3pm
Talks, Q&A + Networking: 3-5pm

Activities Fair is open to the public while the Talk, Q&A and Networking will be a ticketed event. Feel free to contact us at TEDxUCLAGratitude@gmail.com should you have any thoughts, questions or concerns.

If you are interested in volunteering, please complete this form: https://goo.gl/forms/M0STkaR70LTutcVD2.

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Benefits of Journaling

Sometimes when you are going through a lot, whether it be in your academic, personal, or professional life, it helps to write it down. Now, this might sound like a quote pulled out of pinterest, but it actually holds a lot of truth. We already spend so much time typing and writing, so why not take some time to write down those thoughts and words that are limiting the space in our minds?

Contrary to popular belief journaling has been scientifically proven to bring many benefits to our well-being. Journaling creates mindfulness, reduces stress, boosts memory, and serves as a tool for healing. I’d like to share my own experience to serve as an example of how powerful the art of journaling can be not only to your mental but physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

I used to be very fond of writing. As a little girl I would always keep a diary simply because it was something my friends did. At the time, I did not understand how journaling was impacting my health. All along it was benefitting me in many ways. Not only did it contribute to my learning of the English language as a native Spanish speaker, but it allowed me to always remain in touch with myself and my well-being. Growing up in a community with gang violence and discrimination against the undocumented kept you watchful, fearful and forced you to challenge yourself to remain positive against all odds. Furthermore, growing up within a culture that forces you to internalize emotions and feelings instead of expressing them, journaling became my haven. Through journaling I was able to write down all of my fears, my goals, my aspirations and how I would move forward regardless of adversity.

I practiced journaling throughout my entire high school career. And I would say that the practice of journaling contributed to my acceptance to UCLA–of course the main contributors were my family, friends, and privilege to have educators that encouraged my intellectuality–but if I hadn’t written everything that ever bothered, excited me, or contributed to my happiness, mentality I could not of had made it past high school.

College challenged my practice of journaling. With all the school work load I found it hard to find time to write for my own benefit or for fun; instead, I always felt I needed that time to review notes or write essays. Recently, I went through a very difficult mental breakdown where my mental health was placed at risk. After go to therapy and having a spiritual epiphany, I realized I needed to pick up my pen as I used to before. I had forgotten how beneficial journaling was to me. I have begun to make time for myself and began journaling again. And during this time of stress with finals I can say I’ve never felt any healthier. Journaling has allowed me to remember how important it is for you to be mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually well in order to perform well in anything you do in life.

Monica Aguilar is a third-year undergraduate student majoring in Chicano/a Studies and minoring in Spanish and Food Studies. She is the outgoing project director of FITTED a health and wellness student-run project held in the Community Programs Office.

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Hidden in the Shadows: High-Functioning Depression

 

For the majority of my life, I had no sense of who I was as a person. I had no conception of what I liked or why I did the things I did or why I felt the way I felt. For the longest time, my identity was composed of all the things I wasn’t — I was the person who wasn’t funny enough, wasn’t pretty enough, wasn’t extroverted or interesting or worthy enough. I just wasn’t enough.

Thoughts like these plagued me relentlessly from about the age of 10, the age when I first began to realize that laughing felt forced rather than natural. Every day was an experience of fear. Every second that passed felt like was I under a microscope, with everyone able to see me, flaw by flaw, down to the very core of my being. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was struggling with Major Depressive Disorder, joining my parents, grandparents, and four aunts and uncles who were also diagnosed. In high school, I learned to brave the world with a smile as my mask and laughter as my perfume. Despite being a bit timid, I was well-liked and known as kind, reliable, and overachieving by students and teachers alike. My friends were vibrant, charming, and passionate. Extracurricular after extracurricular filled my time and preoccupied my thoughts. Though my life sounded perfect, it rang hollow. While I wore the titles of student leader, friend, and even role model to some, I felt like a compilation of personas rather than as a person.

Clinical depression is a condition generally characterized by a lowness in mood and a loss interests in activities, even activities found previously enjoyable by that person. While anxiety disorders actually have the highest prevalence in the United States today, a finding by the World Health Organization actually notes that clinical depression “carries the heaviest burden of disability among mental and behavioral disorders”.

With all this being said, however, it is important to note that depression doesn’t have just one “look”. In the media, we are often shown depictions of those with depression as very extreme — these individuals are the most isolated, the most emotional, and the most underperforming. These societal expectations result in a number of unfortunate consequences. For one, the idea that people with depression only look and act a certain way is reinforced. More importantly, however, people who don’t have the typical appearance of depression are invalidated, both by others and even by themselves.

The name for this “atypical” form of depression is regarded as high-functioning depression. Individuals with high-functioning depression, like myself, generally come off as over-achieving. These people can have excellent grades and dynamic social lives, so most don’t suspect a thing. Therein lies the danger. As the signs for this type of depression are either hidden or subtle, individuals with high-functioning depression tend to slip under the radar of mental health clinicians or loved ones unless the individual discloses his or her internal struggle. As a result, these individuals are the ones least likely to receive treatment. With this being said, I recommend that everyone attempt to provide as reliable of a support system to loved ones as possible — utilize active listening and practice non-judgment. Not only can these practices potentially help you detect someone struggling with depression, but it also increases the chances that the individual will see and seek support around them.

For most of my life, my depression was both my closest companion and a secret for which I felt the utmost shame. I couldn’t rectify the fact that I had such a wonderful support system and excellent grades while simultaneously feeling intense self-hatred and helplessness. The guilt that resulted from this juxtaposition for me resulted in my sinking into even deeper depression. To my friends, I was the least likely candidate for depression — bubbly, ambitious, and always smiling.

For most of my life, I hid behind the stereotypicality of depression. It wasn’t until my mother pushed me to realize how debilitating my depression had gotten that I agreed to seek help. Now a senior at UCLA, I consider myself a staunch and outspoken advocate of mental health. There are still many moments in which the all too familiar doubt and negative self-talk kicks in, There are moments when I would rather go to bed earlier than deal with the day any longer. But pain and fear have made me more prone to kindness and empathy.

More than anything, however, I have learned to find resources and hope to combat the helplessness that sometimes consumes me. I was lucky that I had someone like my mom that I could confide in. Unfortunately, not everyone struggling with mental illness is so fortunate. That is why it is extraordinarily important to know about resources in your community, whether for yourself or to recommend to others. Early on in my academic career at UCLA, I found Active Minds, both a national organization and committee within Student Wellness Commission dedicated to changing the conversation on mental health. Not only did I become more educated on a topic that personally affected me, but I gained a family.

While we might not all have mental illness, we all have mental health. I encourage everyone to be more acquainted with the resources we have on campus, whether it’s Counseling and Psychological Services, Active Minds, the Resilience Peer Network. You never know whose life you could be helping by being a bit more knowledge and kindness.

Mandy Mekhail is a 4th year undergraduate Psychology major and Disability Studies minor at UCLA. She currently serves as the Assistant Commissioner of the Student Wellness Commission, a student organization dedicated to promoting holistic health and wellness in the UCLA community.

 

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Presence: In Life and on the Page

As you all may know, May is National Mental Health Awareness month, which aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and to spread awareness about the importance of maintaining our mental health. What have you been doing to celebrate? Maybe you tried your hand at meditation to find balance in the day-to-day struggles, or tried out a physical exercise, like yoga, for the first time? The possibilities are endless.

While those ideas might have popped into your mind when you read the words “mental health”, they aren’t the only ways to celebrate this month and delve into the world of mental health! Reading, for example, presents many benefits for the mind, like increasing one’s empathy and reducing stress. In fact, through bibliotherapy, doctors have discovered the wonderful effects reading has on reducing Anxiety and Depression. That’s one powerful packet of paper!

What To Read

In the spirit of National Mental Health Awareness month, and reading itself, I encourage you to pick up a book and see if you can discover some of the mental health benefits of reading for yourself. This may lead you to the question of ‘what ever shall I read?’ — but don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. My book recommendation is titled Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges, by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard University. This book is pure encouragement and inspiration, and while it is full tips and tools that everyone can learn from, it is far from a textbook.

Topics Tackled in Presence

You may have heard of Cuddy before, as her TED talk has been viewed more than 40 million times, making it the second most viewed TED talk ever. Her talk on Power Poses, body language, and building confidence is a glimpse into what she brings to the table with her book. Presence takes the saying “fake it ‘til you make it” and turns it into “fake it ‘til you become it,” through a body-mind connection. Simple adjustments to the body, like through power poses, actually make us feel more confident. Yeah that’s right, striking the classic superhero pose, with your hands on your hips and chin raised will actually make you feel that much closer to becoming Superman or Wonder Woman in your everyday life. It physically changes your Cortisol and Testosterone levels, which is how your body tricks your brain into making you feel more confident. Not a bad trick to have in your deck when preparing for that next exam, interview, presentation, or for any aspect of your life at all, like a day when you’re just feeling low.

The book also covers the topic of imposter syndrome, which many people, including Cuddy, suffer from. That feeling of not really belonging, that your achievements are not deserved, that you’re a fraud — yeah, there’s a name for it, and Cuddy explains how staying present in your life can combat those feelings. Cuddy’s book challenges the idea that there is just one definition or one way to be present in life, and definitions from people who were inspired by her TED talk are represented throughout, so maybe you’ll find one that you resonate with. The responses represent presence as a range of ideas, like the next five minutes, and finding your true self, and living with an open heart, so as long as you find out what being present means to you, you can use it to your advantage. This book emphasizes that being present in life doesn’t necessarily have to be centered around practicing meditation everyday or aligning your chakras, but that it is a way of showing your best, most authentic self to the world, and finding personal power. The book highlights the benefits of desiring “the power to [do something]”, rather than wanting “power over [someone]”, which shows how presence is all about internal growth and understanding.

Also, if you’re not convinced on the power of Presence yet, the book is a compilation of stories and life changing moments from people who were inspired by Cuddy’s story that wrote to her to let her know that being present had changed their lives. So, if you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe them. Presence is unique in that it combines informative annotations and biological explanations for why people feel the way they do when they use a power pose or practice staying present, but the examples are from people all over the world and range from landing the big job, to graduating college, to creating championship racing horses — yeah, it turns out power poses work on animals, too!

Try it Yourself

Wherever you are right now, stand up, place your hands on your hips, and and raise your chin with pride. Don’t worry about looking silly, just worry about how you feel. Do you feel happier, more confident, energized? If you’re not feeling it yet, try standing in front of a mirror — some power pose enthusiasts swear by it! One major take away from this book is that you can fake it ‘til you become it, and there’s no shame in that. We all have days when we feel anxious, nervous, or sad, but through presence we can practice showing our best selves to the world, even on days where we wake up feeling low. This ability is a tool we can all use to change our lives.

So, pick up a book in celebration of Mental Health Awareness month (especially if it’s this one!). If you’re celebrating in a different way, let us know how you chose to commemorate the month of May (by commenting below!). If you pick up a copy of Presence, let us know what you thought of it, or what your own definition of presence has become. Share the idea of power poses with all of those around you so that everyone can feel confident when they need it most, it’s an amazing way to impact the body-mind connection, and who doesn’t want to feel like a superhero for a few minutes? Through being present in our lives, we can all show our best selves to the world, or maybe even find ourselves to begin with. There are so many amazing opportunities waiting just around the corner, so “Starfish up!” and get out there!

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.

 

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Stop talking and say something: FacetheIssue.com encourages conversation to tackle mental illness

This May, as we celebrate National Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s time to stop talking and say something. While 1 in 5 Americans struggle with mental health, only 44% of adults and less than 20% of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. Mental health is vital for a high quality of life, so what can we do to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and get people that are suffering the help they need?

The website FacetheIssue.com offers a solution. Face the Issue seeks to “To break the stigma and resulting silence that surrounds a wide range of mental health issues by promoting healthy, productive conversations.” While national campaigns and local programs are important ways to educate the public about mental health, they can be impersonal and thus may not always be effective. For this reason, Jane Semel and Melanie Hall created FacetheIssue.com in 2003 as a resource where friends and family could find tips and tools for how to talk to their their loved ones with mental illness in order to help them to cope and find the help they need.

Face the Issue address three major forms of mental illness: mood disorders (e.g. depression), eating disorders (e.g. anorexia), and neurotic disorders (e.g. anxiety). The site briefly describes each category of mental illness, giving examples of disorders that fall under these categories and providing descriptions of potential symptoms and danger signs. Then, it gives tips about how to start and shape conversations about these disorders (e.g. using “I statements,” being specific, referring loved ones to professionals for further help) as well as specific things to avoid in conversations. For example, if your loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to not comment on their bodies (e.g. “But you look great!”), because comments about their physical appearance could be triggering. In addition to this overview of how to have a conversation about mental health, the site also provides additional websites where friends and family can learn more about mental health as well as a search function that connects users with local mental health providers.

Face the Issue asserts that “Starting a conversation is the first step in supporting those with mental illness and helping to guide them toward recovery.” So, if you have a loved one that is currently struggling with mental health or that might be in danger, I encourage you to first visit FacetheIssue.com to learn how to talk to them about it. Just showing them that you love and care about them and that you are willing and able to support them on the road to recovery is invaluable; a simple “Hey, how are you?” could be the first step to getting someone the help they need to live a fulfilling life.

The MindWell pod and the Healthy Campus Initiative are committed to supporting the mental health of the UCLA community, so for additional mental health resources you can check out the MindWell pod’s resources page on our website.

Danielle de Bruin is a fourth-year undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Sociology with a double minor in Italian and Global Health. She is the blog coordinator for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative and the director of UCLA’s Body Image Task Force, which is a committee within the Student Wellness Commission. With the Body Image Task Force, Danielle organizes events, workshops, and campaigns to promote healthy body image, self-confidence, and mental health on campus. She is also published in the journal PLOS Medicine and the Huffington Post.