|June Gloom over Seal Beach (photo courtesy of Darkest Tree)|
I'm starting to hopefully wind down my graduate career (fingers crossed), but the idea of the "next game plan" is a little daunting to say the least. My lab just put out a grant renewal which was really hard on our little lab - imagine two main people running around like two headless chicken scrambling to put together figures and preliminary data. Yikes! Sleep has been evading me and a majority of the time, I think I could successfully pass as a zombified freak. Just in time for Comic-Con too.
It's over though. But it was a painful set of stressful weeks with one horrible week of bad digestion problems. I'm not going to go all TMI on you, but it was bad. June was hard, but the sky is clearing up, the weather is looking more "Socal," and there's a silver lining appearing... hopefully.
I never quite understood the power of positive thoughts. I'd talk to friends and family and always hear the "keep your head up," or "stay positive!" but never got it. I say those things too, but they're more for inspiration. You say that kind of stuff to people to make them feel better, hoping that their luck does turn up. But do happy thoughts, good meditation vibes, or positive chakra really translate into something physically changing in your body or brain? Or is it more placebo effect?
It turns out that thinking happy thoughts, or remembering happy memories actually can reverse the negative effects of stress... At least in mice.
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a recent article in Nature documenting a phenomenal finding. In this study, Ramirez and colleagues optically stimulated "happy memories" into the memory specific region of the brain (dentate gyrus) within mice subjected to stressful environment, and discovered a reduction and amelioration of stress-induced behaviors and cell loss. Mice that normally experience stressful environments display different behaviors such as anhedonia (lack of pleasure), less mobility, and even cell loss. All these behaviors were restored to levels similar to control mice when happy memories were reactivated. The researchers also identified the pathway responsible for mediating the control of maintaining depressive symptoms as network connecting the memory-rich dentate gyrus with the more emotional regions of the brain like the nucleus accumbens and hypothalamus. By stimulating the dentate gyrus and reactivating the "happy network" of cells, depressive symptoms and protection against cell loss were kept at bay.
It's an interesting possibility, and definitely something that we can all take to heart. I always try to tell people to think positive, but implementing it myself is hard. As a "glass is half empty" type of person, it's hard for me to try to maintain positivity when stress hits you hard. But finding moments of happiness may just help reduce the impact of stress on your life (and hopefully, ward off those wrinkles on your face!).
If you think back on rough patches in your life, what really helped pull you out of the rut? It might have been the kind words of family, a little "get well" card from your BFF, recalling a fond memory of the last time you were happy, or even looking forward to something after this stressful moment in your life. One of my major motivators? My family and MOH.
|Blissfully happy in Irvine (photo courtesy of MJD)|
Sending good vibes to everyone on this Sunday - enjoy the remainder of your weekend! Until next time, happy eating!
Ramirez, S et al., 2015. Activating positive memory engrams suppresses depression-like behavior. Nature. June 18: 522(7556):335-9.