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How Anger and Loneliness Affect Your Physical Health

True wellness lies in the embrace of both mind and body. But optimizing that bond means facing some uncomfortable truths and challenging cultural norms.


From Allure

My skin was peeling off. Epidermal layers as paper-thin as a blotting sheet balled up on my cheeks and forehead like snowflakes. No amount of scrubbing or moisturizer helped. At the time, I was leading a wellness editorial brand yet I felt I was being treated poorly by a powerful colleague. When that person left the company, my snowflakes soon up and flitted away. Until then, I hadn’t realized that the cause of my complexion woes wasn’t physical. Science may bear out my skin’s reaction: One 2018 study in Japan showed that psychological stress may make skin drier and reduce its barrier function.

For centuries, physical and mental health slept in separate beds. But new data indicates how rarely they’re apart. Like twins, one influences the other, speaking a language that scientists and doctors are just starting to decode. We now know that mental health issues can precede cardiovascular disease. Irritable bowel syndrome, likewise, shares a physiological mechanism with anxiety, according to a 2017 study in India.

In the era of #MeToo, this connection has sharpened. According to a new study, women who had been sexually assaulted or harassed were more prone to depression and anxiety and twice as likely to have insomnia. I learned this when I was interviewing a woman for my Instagram brand, @club_mental. Before memories of her childhood rape flooded in, she had what she calls “body flashbacks,” vomiting upon hearing others’ molestation stories and hyperventilating when she discovered her jury duty case related to child abuse.
Because of all the racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic shit we deal with in America, our bodies carry a lot of tension.

But there is hope, too, as such dualities can work favorably: A long hug may reduce the symptoms of a cold. Massage can lower your blood pressure. Skipping fast food may decrease the risk for depression.

Now that researchers are dedicated to understanding these links, we’ll get critical information to treat ourselves more holistically in a way that no wellness regimen has done before. But the real breakthrough — not only for the nearly 44 million adults who experience mental illness, but also for the sake of our collective well-being — would be for us to accept that mental health is physical health and vice versa. Until then, let’s talk about our anger, our loneliness, our sadness, our anxiety. The dialogue begins here. — Amy Keller Laird, writer and founder of clubmental


Women and Our Experiences With Anger

It’s fueled the #MeToo movement and the “blue wave.” It’s the uncredited star of HBO’s Sharp Objects. And it’s being monetized in rage rooms where, for a fee, you can smash the crap out of vases and other inanimate things. Anger is woven into our self-esteem. From infancy, women are taught that anger and femininity don’t mix, says Soraya Chemaly, the author of Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger. “We associate anger with ugliness through osmosis,” she says. “In mythology, Medusa’s head is covered in serpents. In Disney films, the angry women are older and ugly and ethnic stereotypes.”

But there’s an even more sinister layer: One study showed that when teenage girls are angry, they tend to skip lunch, says Chemaly. “We don’t know why, but in my interpretation it’s, If I feel angry, I must be ugly. I have to be prettier, so I won’t eat. A 14-year-old girl could think that.”

The way we view our bodies can also impact the way we experience anger. “Body image is such a central way that girls are evaluated in our society that we constantly compare ourselves to idealized bodies that are unrealistic,” says Elizabeth Daniels, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. “[One theory holds] that when we are worried about what our body looks like to other people, we’re not as clued in to our internal states.” That not only makes it harder to be present, but women who self-objectify at higher rates are more likely to experience depression. Daniels speculates that those same women may be less likely to express anger about beauty standards.

That’s a shame, since anger can bring change, says Ryan C. Martin, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. Women tend to turn their feelings about their bodies against themselves. But they could embrace a technique called adaptive thinking, says Martin, who has used it with eating-disorder patients. “It’s healthier to be angry with cultural norms than with ourselves for not living up to them,” he says. “Think about those standards and whether they are reasonable,” — Elizabeth Siegel, deputy beauty director.


How We Deal With Loneliness

If you’ve ever been on a plane that has experienced extreme turbulence and a silent PA system, you might be familiar with the benefits of hand holding, even with a stranger. I will forever be grateful to the woman in 21A, also headed to Raleigh/Durham in a hurricane, who silently held my hand as the oxygen masks dropped and the drinks cart flew unattended down the aisle. (Spoiler: We lived.)

There is science behind the instinct for connection. Studies have shown that platonic, consensual touch can lower blood pressure. Make it a massage and “you have better immune function and your brain waves change toward greater relaxation and alertness,” says Tiffany Field, the founding director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

The psychological rub? Our chances to experience all of that goodness have never seemed more scarce as we interact more with our touch screens than with each other. Loneliness is now highest among members of Gen Z, followed by millennials, per the 2018 Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index. It’s a condition, the survey also noted, with the same impact on one’s mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

But there’s a growing movement to help us connect. For one, cuddle parties — where people can bond over nonsexual forms of touch — have expanded in reach. And many are being organized via the very thing that has led us to feel as detached as ever: social media. What’s more, they’re targeting oft-marginalized groups. Dalychia Saah, a sexuality educator, has hosted a session via Facebook specifically for people of color. “My work is about creating spaces for [them] to heal and explore their bodies outside of the white gaze,” she says, and to ask for the touch they need. “And because of all the racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic shit we’re dealing with [in] America, our bodies are carrying a lot of tension,” she says. “Asking for and receiving consensual hugs, cuddles, and massages can help release that tension.”

Though the #MeToo movement shed light on the egregious misuse of power, it also weaponized touch, making it that much more crucial for boundaries. “Consent and boundaries are key to safe cuddling,” says Samantha Hess, a master cuddler at Cuddle Up to Me in Portland, Oregon, a service that offers platonic cuddling. Hess says most female clients are caregivers (say, a social worker) who need relief or have just gone through a breakup.

We all have varying needs. “I think of it in the same way as sleep or food. One person may need more sleep and another might need less. But nobody needs none,” says Kory Floyd, a professor of communication whose research at the University of Arizona focuses on affection.

Touch always needs to be given with consent and no one is owed it from another. In fact, touch doesn’t need to come from another human to benefit from it. “There is a recipient reward in touching,” says Francis McGlone, a professor of neuroscience at Liverpool John Moores University School of Natural Sciences and Psychology in England. “The giver of touch gets an elevated expression of endogenous opioids in their brain, too,” — Cotton Codinha, senior beauty features editor.


The Prevalence of Depression

Moving. Job loss. Divorce. The death of a loved one. Four of the most traumatic life events one can experience, experts say. I ticked off the first three in nine months last year.

Traumatic, yes. But was I depressed? I always envisioned that word as a metaphorical cottage: a remote place cluttered by emotional tchotchkes one couldn’t part with. Instead, I felt as though I was in a high-rise of anxiety. Awful, yet addictive. What fresh hell would develop next? Each event pulled at my psyche like Jenga pieces. Until...collapse. In the carnage, I was carrying 30 extra pounds. As I separated from the things I once loved, I also separated from my body. I was stuck in corporeal gridlock. I stopped working out, dodged mirrors, and barely touched myself.

I had started seeing a therapist to contend with what she told me was situational depression, but I knew it was even more crucial to feel my body again. And so began an experiment through exercise, baths, and light therapy. For the previous two years, my idea of working out had been bicep curls with my blond trainer, Mr. Pinot Grigio. But real exercise (even moderate) can decrease symptoms of depression. Still, there’s nothing moderate about me, so I started doing interval sprints. I relished the fruits of my labor — the sting in my chest, the imprint of my sports bra across my rib cage. I felt alive.

Finding peace through bubbles, though, is frowned upon by some in the mental health community, who say baths belittle the struggle of disease. But a new small study found that the ritual could improve symptoms of depression. So I took a dip with a drizzle of Jo Malone London Amber & Lavender Bath Oil. The latter ingredient has been shown to ease anxiety. Post-soak, I slept for eight hours — something that had bedeviled me for months.

And how could light therapy help? Research says it may ease seasonal affective disorder, so I tried it at the close of daylight saving time, bellwether of gloom. At dawn, I would sit before the Verilux HappyLight 10,000-lux light-therapy lamp, working up to a meditative 30 minutes. One morning, my five-year-old asked: “Dude, what’s with the UFO?” I invited her to join and it’s become our ritual — a time to talk and, ultimately, see the light. — Theresa O'Rourke, contributing editor


The Stigma of Taking Medication

“Why Antidepressants Don't Work." "Antidepressants Work. PERIOD." Two opposing headlines, but which one is true? As these women explain — and women are twice as likely to use them as men — it’s both.

What it's like to come off meds: Sara had been on Xanax for two years and noticed little change in her depression. Under the watch of her therapist, she weaned herself off the drug while also altering her diet to treat her irritable bowel syndrome. “Maybe it was in my head, but it made me feel so much better,” she says. In fact, new research bears out a growing link between mental illness and the gut.

When you need to change your dose: Two different drugs, five different doses. That’s what it has taken Jocelyn, an Indianapolis-based real estate agent, to treat her anxiety without sabotaging her sex drive. Still, she says, it has not returned completely to where it was pre-meds.

The experience of coming off of them and then going back on them again: Meredith stopped all meds for six months “because I realized they just made me feel shitty,” and tried to control her symptoms through mindfulness-based stress reduction and yoga. But the New York–based writer calls it a failed experiment. “I got so depressed and tried new meds that gave me allergic reactions.” Ultimately, she went back on the original antidepressants, and “my new ‘shitty’ ended up being my ‘thank God it’s better than before.’”
mental health,wellness,anxiety,antidepressants,mental health stigma,skin,Body Image,depression,medication,therapist

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