Headspace

Update: 2016-12-027
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Some of our most powerful feelings — stress, depression, despair — are the hardest to understand. This hour, TED speakers challenge assumptions about emotion, disquiet and the essence of well-being. (Original broadcast date: November 6, 2015).

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support for this podcast in the following message come from concur a service where employees get simplified expense reports and business leaders get full visibility into their company spending habits expense travel invoice learn more at concurred dot com slash Radio Hour eight sky here this week were re broadcasting our episode called head space it's that some of our most powerful and difficult emotions stress depression has horrible things but this is a uplifting show I promise it's about how we can all approach things like mental illness with more compassion and even optimism this is the Head Radio Hour each week groundbreaking had talked the Technology Design at Stanford delivered and Ted conferences around the world gift of the human imagination we had to believe in impossible the true nature of reality beckons just beyond those talks those ideas adapted for radio NPR guy Russ do remember what it was like when you are going through it I remember when I would think we need to take a shower this is the writer and psychologist Andrew Solomon think the shower shower ok we need to turn the water on a need to stand under a shower we need to find a sham who need to put my head back under the law I'm thinking through every one of those steps the way that you would be thinking things through if you are trying to send month long can the dead may you know to plan your whole group think and I duet shower can I do it one of the most honest descriptions of what depression is actually like simple things like taking shower getting into bed can seem impossible and Solomon wrote about this in his book The New Day demon An Atlas of Depression and even after he got treatment he tried to forget about it immediately after it happened I wanted to associate myself from that person who that person was seemed shameful and bad and like a failure and I didn't want to think about or be reacquainted with any sort of whiff of failure use out of yourself as capitulation like that you had a weak ass like you thought the fact that you went to deal with this and go on medication was a sign that you were not tough right I did think that and now I tend to think that it takes a certain toughness I suppose I didn't know about toughness it takes a certain focus on resilience to be able to to seek the help that you need and go on and build a worthwhile life but that something I can say now that I'm feeling better most of the time almost everyone listening right now is probably at some point in life either experienced emotional or mental breakdown a crisis or known or loved someone who has and yet something is so widespread and you'd think we'd talk about it more people were able to talk more openly about these experiences they would discover that most people's response is not to laugh at them but to say Oh my god me to even with all the things we know about cognition memory and decision making are so many things about our minds we don't understand like where exactly depression anxiety live in the brain and why or whether drugs are better than therapy or if both the best is one thing we do now and it's at keeping those problems like that isn't going to get us any closer to finding answers so on the show today I do that we're going to open up go into our head space and hear new ideas from Ted speakers about biological and philosophical approaches to our emotional well being all of those depressed people who are afraid of the impression they make on all of those people they perceive never to have dealt with depression are actually keeping a secret from people who have the same secret from them yeah and all that effort that goes into it could better be spent on recovering the trader Andrew Solomon be back later in the shell or so to the story of twenty three year old Alex Chen writes the story which may make you rethink your assumptions about mental health here's Alex on the Ted stage I am a very visual thinker I think in pictures not words you may have noticed I don't have much inflection in my voice that's why people often confuse me with a GPS the eye this can make basic communication a challenge unless you need directions the a few years ago when I started doing presentations I went to get headshots done for the first time the photographer told me to look flirty and I have no idea what she was talking about the He said Do that scene you know with your eyes when you're flirting sky is what scene I as you know squint and so I tried really I look like I was searching for Waldo the room there's a reason for this as there is a reason that Waldo is hiding the when I have asked voters are high functioning form of autism that impairs basic social skills one is expected to display them it's made life difficult in many ways and growing up I struggle to fit in socially my friends would tell jokes but I didn't understand them I aced my personality switch from being shy and awkward to be named to Phi and cursing out a storm many of us to say I did not have any friends I was also hyper sensitive to texture the feel of water on my skin was like pins and needles and so for years I refuse to shower I can assure you that my hygiene routine is up to standards now relics can joke about all this now it's sort of how she copes with it but it wasn't easy for her to get to this place opening up about what's going on in our minds hard for anyone that asked burgers is condition that by its definition makes it really hard to communicate your feelings and a lot of times are a lot of incoming feelings that would come that I wouldn't understand where they come from or why they were there and how I reacted to them varied and most of the time his tantrums or meltdowns and other times I just stood in solitude in the outset when Alex was a kid doctors looked at all the symptoms and he came to a conclusion as preggers but bipolar disorder and that was a mis diagnosis I keep all my journals in one drawer at my house from throughout my life and I open one that I had when I was eight years old and the prompt was What do you wish for and I wrote I wish I didn't have bipolar disease ants I don't think any child should have to be reading that at the age of eight years old and I started medications I think when I was six years old are give or take a year I don't quite remember how all the pictures you see even as a child I have kind of squinty like tired eyes all the time and I don't remember a lot of my childhood even from six to eleven or twelve I have friends that I would talk to them we went to school within that age range and they would tell me all these fun memories they had with me and I didn't remember any of them at eighteen years old or eight years old and are you thinking I'm bipolar and depressed I mean that's a lot for a year old to deal with yes there's this quote by William Gibson before you diagnose yourself with depression just make sure you're not surrounded by ACA is because a lot of times people feel depressed and feel this way because people are telling them these things and making them feel that way to and I did have some pretty awful teachers and peers in my life I was bullied and so in that way environment determines a lot to me were dead it can hold me to that specific feeling that something's wrong with me because people are treating me this way the The throughout her childhood Alex was in and out of treatment centers she had a particularly bad experience at one place when she was twelve she had to do chores she thought were unfair but Alex couldn't quite express it can communicate her feelings about why she thought that and it to the doctors at the facility that was viewed as defiance and to address that they gave me Aman el doble medication that induce me medically into psychosis I started to see things that weren't there and I became very paranoid like I thought the people at the school poison my food so I would need I thought that I can go to sleep because he would kill me why I was sleepy and ice all things come at me and I thought I had to do certain things in order to live longer like wear certain colors it was a very bizarre experience and it was because of those medications my family I developed a code word on that I could say to them and they come pick me up no questions asked to pose a cooler think it was watermelon and that was it became yes it was a very stressful time and I was only twelve years old at the time I transferred to new treatment center that understood my versions my trauma and my social anxiety and I and they knew how to treat and I got the help I finally needed in after eighteen months of hard work I went on to do incredible things nineteen I want to research competition on my research on coral reefs and I ended up speaking at the UN Convention on biological diversity present in this research and twenty Taro I'm getting ready to graduate college and I am a cofounder of a biotech company called Autism sees the one of the things to fast for curves is that oftentimes people have a very complex inner life and I know for myself either very colorful personality rich ideas and just alot going but the there's a gap between where that stands and how I communicated with the rest of the world and this can make basic communication a challenge with so many people with autism are being overlooked everyday are being taken advantage of my dream for people with autism is to change that to remove the roadblocks to prevent him from succeeding the is really incredible to hear how far you've come after we've been through I mean you were a kid I was convinced you were bad and weird because that's how people treated you you are a nice person and you care about people it's obvious thank you I mean right that's the thought of yourself said and sometimes a lot of my insecurities are based off of that I'm always questioning if I acted appropriately or if I was to water whether that person like me are not like it doesn't matter how much success your team to have achieve sometimes the scenes are carried with you and trying to work for it now that I'm aware of it and you do that by actually interacting with the world with the person you want to be rather than What You Think You Are The The Alex generous she's also the co founder of Autism swear she's working on technologies to help people with autism communicate better you can see her entire talk the attack on the coming up how fruit flies could reframe the way we think about our mental health and Guy rise show today head space and this is Ted Radio Hour from NPR the R O Hey watch it with thanks to two of our sponsors who helped make this podcast possible first two vine age business modern technology is on inspiring invited believes it's about time business communications caught up with intuitive cloud communications from bondage business you can instantly pulled calls from your desk phone to your mobile phone record conference calls with push button region voicemails e mail transcription and to integrate your phone system with CRM tools C Have Eyes Can transform Your Business Communications bondage dot com slash guest advantage business grade people friendly thanks also to racket mortgage by Quicken loans mortgage brings home financing into the twenty first century with a completely on line process it's fast easy and convenient it's the paperwork and use your phone or tablet to safely share your bank statements and pay steps and get a custom mortgage solution on your terms in just a few minutes to get rocket mortgage today at Quicken loans com slash ideas and just to equal Housing lender the licensed in all fifty states and MLS consumer access dot org Number thirty thirty is the end of your purchase of even asking about the best way to show support for the Ted Radio Hour so first of all thank you for asking it and get this is pretty simple stuff you go to this website its stations that dot NPR dot o RG you find your local station and you make the year end contribution or even better become a regular monthly donor and when you do please tell them that Ted Radio Hour sent you you can find your local station at stations that NPR dot O R G will take like two minutes all tax deductible and please do tell them Ted Radio Hour sent you a Gannett stations that NPR O R G and thanks the it's the Ted Radio Hour from NPR and I rise today a head space ideas about our approaches to emotional well being of all of us have family that have dealt with some aspects of anxiety or depression and other things and friends as well or a grass so we have that's right and that's actually what led David Anderson who's a neuro biologist to study the connection between the brain's circuitry and our emotions in Motion is absolutely central to understanding everything that happens in our brain that actually kind of unusual thing for an era biologist to focus on because most people like David who study the circuitry of the brain are concerned with how we think and not many scientists look at that same circuitry understand how we feel our perceptions our decision making our actions are planning everything is affected by emotion and yet emotion has been relegated sort of to the area of psychology and it's really frustrating to see how primitive the state of medicine is and it's because of our deep lack of understanding of the underlying biology of the For example think about how medicine works when it comes to our bodies if you're suspected of having a cancer diagnosis you go to your doctor and you get bone scans biopsies blood tests liver function screens but when it comes to our mind if you worry that you might be depressed you go to your doctor and you get a questionnaire the idea is that as much as we're able to open up about our emotions are still so much more our brains can tell us about how they work so why don't we have a more scientific approach to mental health here's David Anderson's theory as told on the Ted stage part of the reason for this is that we have over simplified and increasingly outmoded view of the biological basis of psychiatric disorders we tend to view them and the popular press aides in the bets this view as chemical imbalances in the brain as if the brain were some kind of bad chemical soup full of dope mean serotonin and Nora Efron this view is conditioned by the fact that many of the drugs are prescribed to treat these disorders like Prozac act by globally changing brain chemistry as if the brain were indeed a bag of chemical soup that can't be the answer because these drugs actually don't work all that well a lot of people won't take them or stop taking them because of their unpleasant side effects these drugs have so many side effects because using them to treat a complex psychiatric disorder is a bit like trying to change or engine oil by opening a can and pouring it all over the engine block some of that will dribble into the right place but a lot of people do more harm than good an emerging view is that psychiatric disorders are actually disturbances of neural circuits that mediate emotion mood and the fact we think about cognition analogy eyes the brain to a computer that's no problem well it turns out that the computer analogy is just as valid for motion is just that we don't tend to think about it that way but we know much less about the circuit basis of psychiatric disorders because of the overwhelming dominance of this chemical imbalance hypothesis it's not that chemicals are not important in psychiatric disorders it's just that they don't bathe the brain like soup rather they're released in very specific locations and they act on specific sap has to change the flow of information in the brain soul the way we behave the things we do that way we feel it with their electrical currents and there are very telling although anecdotal examples from the work of famous neurosurgeon in Canada name Wilder Penn Field who was stimulating different regions of the brain with electrical current and some patience that brief electrical stimulation could evoke the whole emotional response like feeling of panic or sudden crying and sadness by stimulation of particular neurons particular circuits now an experiment like that it's kind of hard to do with human subjects today and feel that he is in the early twentieth century so David's figured out a different way to find where specific brain circuits influence specific emotions and instead of humans he uses this awful the the ooh what's what's untrue stuff le sorry it's commonly referred to as a fruit fly out fruit fly yeah it's just amazing something so small had so many complex and interesting behaviors into its tiny little brain but he might be wondering how can fruit flies tell us anything about human emotions well it turns out you can trigger something that is neuro chemically speaking pretty similar to human emotion in the brain of a fruit fly so David and his colleagues designed an experiment to see if flies could be provoked into showing the kind of behavior that you see by the proverbial wasp at the picnic table you know the one that keeps coming back your hamburger the more vigorously you try to SWAT it away and seems to keep getting irritated so we built a device which we call the format in which we could deliver little brief air puffs fruit flies in these plastic tubes are laboratory bench and blow them away and what we found is that if we gave these flies in the puffer met several puffs in a row they became somewhat hyperactive took awhile to calm down more puffs are more intense plus make the state last for longer period of time now we want to try now that hyperactivity even though we're talking about the brain of a fruit fly actually relies on the same chemicals you and I have in our brains that's right flies like people have double meaning and attacks on their brains and Anderson at Sisk through the same dopamine receptor molecules that you and I have the double mean plays a number of important functions in the brain including attention arousal reward and disorders of the dopamine system have been linked to a number of mental disorders including drug abuse Parkinson's disease and ADHD The opening functions differently in the brain depending on where in the brain you're talking about so in some areas can make you hyper active and in others he can calm you down and in order to understand what's going on in a particular disorder like ADHD or depression we need to understand the way error in the brain as well as the what we can do that in humans least not yet but in the brains of the fruit flies we were able to see where in the brain this dopamine receptor was expressed and to find out where that don't mean receptor actually had to function in order to control this calming down the and once David founded Open interceptor he could put the fly under a powerful microscope you're literally tearing down the lens into the brain of a living fruit fly wow and watching neurons blink on and off while that fly is behaving or smelling or responding to some other stimuli and again this is not brain surgery it's fly brain surgery and at this level of detail David can actually take that tiny fruit fly dope an interceptor and turn it off and on so when we take away the dopamine receptor and the flies take longer to calm down from that we infer that the normal function of this receptor and open mean is to cause the flies to calm down faster after the puff and that's a bit reminiscent of ADHD which has been linked to disorders of the dope mean system in humans so slowly I began to realize that what started out as a rather playful attempt to try to annoy fruit flies might actually have some relevance to human psychiatric disorder in the air connection you can make between what you're finding and what might actually be an effective way to treat some of these illnesses I would say it so it's a little too early and for that I e I wish there were but we are able to identify the genes that are turned on in individual types of neurons and that might lead to the discovery of new potential drug targets so if today right when you are treated with Ritalin for ADHD or or Prozac for depression could you imagine in like fifty years not actually taking a pill getting something like like an electrical pulse to a specific part of your brain you could imagine getting electrical pulse but you could also imagine delivering an electrical pulse to your brain by taking a pill so technologies are developing now that allow us to activate neurons with chemicals that act on a receptor for the drug which is genetically targeted to a particular type of neurons and the pill would only go to the part of the brain where you need it to correct the symptoms to go back to this engine to be pouring the oil into the place with the engine oil goes and not just flopping it all over the engine block that's the dream the Anderson isn't there a biologist and professor at Caltech you can see his full tock dot com The show today ideas about how we approach our emotional well being and why it's important to open up the feelings we usually one hide you know that this is the first time in eighteen years I've interviewed somebody named Kai really well congratulations this is Guy winch is an author and psychologist yet been interviewed by someone called guy so with us both having firsts ok so I took of a personal question here Do you ever wake up and for no particular reason just just like really crappy tear bad by yourself you know to be honest with you I'm a morning person so I used to make a good mood and it's very annoying very I guess this by taking care of what he calls his emotional hygiene just like most of us will get a cold or a stomach bug or headache a few times a year guy points out that you know we also go through periods where our mental health also isn't one hundred percent and so he's been arguing that we have to take care of our minds just like we do our bodies here's Guy winch on the Ted stage I recently was at a friend's house and their five year old was getting ready for bed he was standing on a stool by the sink brushing his teeth when he slipped and scratched his leg on the stool when he fell he cried for a minute then he got back up got back on the stool and reached out for a box of bandaids to put one on his cut now this kid could barely tie his shoelaces but he knew you have to cover a cut so it doesn't become infected and have to care for your teeth by brushing twice a day we all know how to maintain our physical health and have to practice dental hygiene right we we know it since we were five years old but what do we know about maintaining the psychological health well nothing what we teach the children about emotional hygiene thing how is it we spend more time taking care of our teeth then we do our minds I mean when you say hygiene and thinking you know like you said I'm brushing my teeth at night and wash my face and you're saying that we need to think about what's inside our head a little bit in the same way right into me the most obvious example of that is negative self talk in other words we say things to ourselves we would never consider saying to anyone else that habit of becoming extraordinary self critical and self punitive is about as opposite as emotional hygiene as can be it is akin to taking a swim in a sea of bacteria one
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