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Self-Assessing Mental Health

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

Last week I heard a horrific news about a former Miss USA, Chelsie Kryst, committing suicide by jumping off a high-rise Manhattan apartment building. Ms. Kryst was 30 years old and incredibly accomplished: She was an attorney, she had an MBA, well known for her work for social justice and she was a correspondent for a television show. How is it possible that a person with so many positive aspects of her existence felt compelled to end her life? Some of her last writings indicate a concern about aging and some exposure to "body shaming".

Each day bout 132 people die in the United States from suicide. About 1.4 million Americans attempted suicide in the year 2020. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. Studies have shown that about 6 million Americans thought about suicide.

What motivates/triggers people to think about ending their lives? Here are some factors:

-Loss of a loved one (particularly in last two years)

-Legal problems or a previous criminal record

-Being a victim of abuse

-Relationship problems

-Financial stress or job loss

-Depression, anxiety or other emotional problems

-Feeling of isolation (e.g., many people may be feeling this due to COVID-19)

-Serious medical problems

You can guess now, I will turn this post into advocating for swimming for your mental health. Two of the quickest and instant results after a nice 1-mile swim is:

Mood Booster

Rhythmical breathing, total immersion in the moment and connection of mind and body - the perfect mindfulness ingredients and they all come included in every swim session

Self Esteem Upgrade

Staying confident in who we are requires regular focus. Every session in the pool provides valuable evidence for building your self-esteem through getting fitter, stronger and ensuring your mind is connected to a body that you're proud of.

But getting more into scientific evidence about how swimming helps our mental health, this is what I found.

  1. Endorphins and Serotonin

Any form of exercise, including swimming, causes the release of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones produced in the pituitary gland in response to stress or pain, kind of like a natural analgesic. These endorphins interact with receptors in our brain that reduce our receptors in our brain that reduce our perception of pain. Along with serotonin, endorphins bring about a sense of happiness, positivity and well-being. Research has also proven that regularly getting those feel-good hormones flowing (a.k.a. exercising) has deep mental health benefits and helps your body respond better to stress in general.

2. Breathing Regulation

The ability to regulate your breathing is an integral aspect of swimming. When you're stressed or panicked, you tend to take in shallower and more rapid breaths. This can lead to hyperventilation and possibly morph into a panic attack. However, the breathing pattern in swimming ensures that you take in enough air that can prevent the possibility of such attacks. It is a great workout for your lungs, as it forces you to inhale and exhale evenly. This in turn can help in lowering blood pressure, eliminating toxins from the body, and assisting in relaxation.

3. Boosts Blood Flow

A study by Carter et. al showed that just immersing yourself in water increases blood flow to the brain. This improves memory, mood, concentration and cognitive function in general. Studies have also shown that swimming can reverse brain damage from stress via hippocampal neurogenesis (i.e. creation of new neurons). The nutrient supply to the brain also increases, which proves that swimming can actually effectively combat mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

4. Mental Well-Being and Stress Relief

While we swim, almost all of the senses are engaged: sight, sound, touch and smell. It is one of the rare distractions from technology. In addition, the "screenless" atmosphere alleviates stress and encourages relaxation and creativity. Also, the feeling of water moving over our body creates a massage-like sensation. In short, swimming helps us release pent-up tension and also makes us more mindful of our surroundings.

5. Blue Mind Science

"Blue Mind" is a term associated with water-related calm and peace. This science tells us that as humans, we are naturally drawn to blue space. This leads to a feeling of wellness and peace when we are in or around bodies of water. As water makes up 70 percent of our bodies and covers about 75 percent of the earth's surface, our brains have an immediate positive response when we're near water. Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, author of the best-selling book Blue Mind, says,

"Research has shown that being near, in, on or under water can provide a long list of benefits for our mind and body, including lowering stress and anxiety, increasing an overall sense of well-being and happiness, a lower heart and breathing rate, and safe, better workouts. Aquatic therapists are increasingly looking to the water to help treat and manage PTSD, addiction, anxiety disorders, autism and more."

Moreover, just mere contact with water or hearing water flow can induce a flood of neurochemicals that make us happier, healthier and less stressed out.

Now, to go back to self-assessing mental health, it is normal to feel sad at times, especially during these dark/cloudy/cold months. However, if the sadness reaches the point when we start to think about "life is not worth living", immediate help and evaluation is needed.

A simple and very old tool can be used to self-assess your state of mental health. The Zung Depression scale has been used by professionals for decades. Take the time to fill this out and see where you stand:

"Health" is not just important from the physical standpoint, but mental health is every bit as important. If you ever need immediate help, my cell phone is 240-899-9161 and suicide prevention lifeline is 800-273-8255


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