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Improved Mental Health Tied to Quitting Smoking

In a new study from Washington University, researchers find that quitting smoking does more than improve physical health as stopping the habit also improves mental health.

Typically, health professionals who treat people with psychiatric problems often overlook their patients’ smoking habits, assuming it’s best to tackle depression, anxiety, or substance abuse problems first.

However, the new study shows that people who struggle with mood problems, or addiction can safely quit smoking and that kicking the habit is associated with improved mental health.

The study is published online in the journal Psychological Medicine.

“Clinicians tend to treat the depression, alcohol dependence or drug problem first and allow patients to ‘self-medicate’ with cigarettes if necessary,” said lead investigator Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, Ph.D.

“The assumption is that psychiatric problems are more challenging to treat and that quitting smoking may interfere with treatment.”

In the study, Cavazos-Rehg discovered that quitting, or significantly cutting back on cigarette smoking was linked to improved mental health outcomes.

Specifically, quitting altogether or reducing by half the number of cigarettes smoked daily was associated with lower risk for mood disorders like depression, as well as a lower likelihood of alcohol and drug problems.

“We don’t know if their mental health improves first and then they are more motivated to quit smoking or if quitting smoking leads to an improvement in mental health,” Cavazos-Rehg said.

“But either way, our findings show a strong link between quitting and a better psychiatric outlook.”

Naturally, the serious health risks associated with smoking make it important for doctors to work with their patients to quit, regardless of other psychiatric problems.

“About half of all smokers die from emphysema, cancer, or other problems related to smoking, so we need to remember that as complicated as it can be to treat mental health issues, smoking cigarettes also causes very serious illnesses that can lead to death,” she said.

Researchers analyzed questionnaires gathered as part of the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

This survey was administered in the early 2000’s and just under 35,000 people were surveyed. As part of the study, participants answered questions about drinking, smoking, and mental health in two interviews conducted three years apart.

The researchers focused on data from 4,800 daily smokers. Those who had an addiction or other psychiatric problems at the time of the first survey were less likely to have those same problems three years later if they had quit smoking.

And those who hadn’t had psychiatric problems at the initial survey were less likely to develop those problems later if they already had quit.

At the time of the first interview, about 40 percent of daily smokers suffered mood or anxiety disorders or had a history of these problems. In addition, about 50 percent of daily smokers had alcohol problems, and some 24 percent had drug problems.

Forty-two percent of those who had continued smoking during the years between the two surveys suffered mood disorders, compared with 29 percent of those who quit smoking.

Alcohol problems affected 18 percent of those who had quit smoking versus 28 percent who had continued smoking.

And drug abuse problems affected only 5 percent of those who had quit smoking compared with 16 percent of those who had continued smoking.

“We really need to spread the word and encourage doctors and patients to tackle these problems,” Cavazos-Rehg said.

“When a patient is ready to focus on other mental health issues, it may be an ideal time to address smoking cessation, too.”

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Relationship Advice: Breaking Up Hurts For Real And How To Recover Faster

In studies of life’s most stressful events, being divorced or break up is the number two top life stressor, following right behind number one, being widowed. Both can plunge you into severe depression and health problems. Breakup of a significant relationship or marriage creates a panic response in the brain and such stress in the body that neuroscientists believe it can lead to a lowered immune system and illnesses. If you fall into either of these categories, you absolutely need to take care of yourself and do all the activities we discuss.

Women who hadn’t gotten over a relationship by 16 weeks after the breakup had decreased brain activity in the regions associated with emotion, motivation and attention. This is a physical change in the brain. That’s why it is so hard to concentrate on anything-so hard to get up and go. Do not let yourself go this length of time without intervention.

Researchers at UCLA have pinpointed the part of the brain that registers the pain of a break-up. Being rejected activates one of the same areas of the brain as physical pain! In the study, the more ignored the people felt, the more activity they had in the anterior cingulate, which also registers physical distress. So your pain is physiological.

Other researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have found that a breakup can create physical heart pain and shortness of breath. They call it Broken Heart Syndrome and, of course, it affects more women than men. Emotional stress or rage can actually precipitate a heart attack, so on this one you need to get it medically checked out.

Relationship Advice: Getting Over the Heartbreak Faster

Getting over heartbreak isn’t easy but there are definitely some clinically proven methods to beat the blues. There are five recovery methods I recommend: sharing; meditation; sleep; exercise; and, having imaginary conversations with the ex. In one study, talking about their negative feelings lessened the participant’s activity in the pain-feeling part of the brain. Among the recommendations coming out of the UCLA study is that a good remedy for heartache is to spend time sharing with close friends, because this activity causes the brain to release natural opioids, which are like the painkillers found in opium. So make a beeline for your friends, a sponsor, a minister or someone else you confide in.

A second group of recovery methods recommended by the Johns Hopkins researchers emphasizes practicing relaxation techniques, including meditation, deep breathing or journaling out your feelings.

Sleep is very important to helping immune function but with the depressive reactions that many have, sleep may be hard to come by. This is another reason to consider starting a regular relaxation or meditation program-these have been shown to help people sleep better. Also, working out at the gym may help, because it releases opioids.

One final way to beat the blues comes from a study that showed that people who had imaginary conversations and then said goodbye to their partner had more relief from grief than those who didn’t. Here is one imaginary conversation that Darlene, had with her very narcissistic ex:

“You are so classically narcissistic! You only think of yourself. You sucked me in at first with all this generosity, but once you had me, you only took, took, took. And you were the one who abandoned the relationship, even though I bent over backward for you, you jerk! Withdrawing slowly from me to the point where there was nothing left. You stonewalling jerk! Even though you were the one withdrawing, you provoked me into ending it by actually going on Match and chatting online in the same room as me! How humiliating! And now I hear you are happy. It makes me so upset! You never deserved me and I hope in your next relationships you’ll get exactly what you dealt out–a lot of bullshit in a charming voice. You wasted my time and my life these past 2 years. I fell for it, I didn’t self-protect, I was too anxious to be in a relationship and I ignored the signs. I wanted someone else to do the hard work for me. Well, I have learned that I have to do it. I will watch out for myself. I will speak up for myself!”

Airing these pent-up issues and feelings helped Darlene let go and later she moved forward into a relationship with a terrific guy she met at church. Similarly allowing yourself to be with and process your own thoughts and feelings, no matter how painful they are will also allow you to move beyond them and the guy who triggered it all.

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