Experimenting with Resilience: Lessons from Grad School

Today’s blog is guest-written by Susanna Harris, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

It’s one thing to hear that everything is going to be okay. It’s another to know it and make it that way.

Susanna and her lab mates at a recent bar night
Photo provided by Susanna Harris

At the end of a lab meeting where I had outlined my last of six years getting my PhD, my advisor announced she would be moving the lab from North Carolina to Massachusetts in about six months. Just when everything had settled into place, this announcement turned my bookshelf of plans on its side once again. Suddenly, I didn’t know what would happen next.

I chose to go to grad school partly to challenge myself to accept uncertainty. When I started my PhD in Microbiology in 2014, I thought this would mean reading new papers and adjusting experiments accordingly. As it has turned out, the real challenge has been to constantly get back up as life and graduate school knock me flat on my ass. Yes, I needed strength to power through, but even more than that, I needed resilience.

Continue reading “Experimenting with Resilience: Lessons from Grad School”

What are you so worried about?

stress ropeThe world we live in is increasingly high-paced and demanding of time and attention. Cell phones and social media keep us constantly stimulated. This kind of environment can lead to stress. Stress is a normal reaction to high-pressure situations and can be a healthy mechanism to help us increase performance for a short period of time.

While stress is a response to a specific situation, anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness that may not trace back to an identifiable source. Anxiety is a perfectly normal feeling to have once in a while, especially during or just before or after periods of prolonged stress. This feeling can be beneficial in some cases by creating a heightened awareness and preparing us for what is to come. Continue reading “What are you so worried about?”

A Closer Look at Mental Illness

brainOver the past year, there have been numerous debates about mental illness in this country. Unfortunately, most of the discussion has surrounded incidents like mass shootings and gun control. Mental health has also been in the news as studies reveal that an increasing number of people in US jails and prisons have a mental illness.  Because of this portrayal in the media, it is not surprising that the general public has such a misunderstanding and obvious negative bias of the spectrum of mental health conditions and their effect on society.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines mental illness as a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. This includes anything from depression and anxiety to autism spectrum disorders to schizophrenia to addiction.  According to NAMI, 1 in 4 US adults experience mental illness in a given year and 1 in 17 adults suffer from a serious mental illness (e.g. major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.).  With numbers this high, it is difficult to see mental illness portrayed solely in tandem with violence in the media when there are millions of people working and contributing to society daily with their illness properly treated.  Although the high incidence of mental illness has been recognized by a federal requirement for insurance companies to cover mental health treatment, it has not improved the public perception of mental illness. Continue reading “A Closer Look at Mental Illness”

Your Brain on Drugs: Hope for Today

There do not seem to be any great statistics on the prevalence of addiction; however, there is quite a bit of information on the number of people using alcohol and other drugs. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2010 reports that approximately 8.9% of people over the age of 12 use illicit drugs (defined as illegal drugs or nonmedical use of prescription drugs). Only about 3.1% of the population who use illicit drugs feel the need for treatment, although the majority of these people do not actually seek treatment for a variety of reasons including not feeling ready to stop and not having access to treatment programs. Accessibility can be difficult because most treatment options are very expensive. Insurance companies are beginning to include coverage for expensive stays at alcohol and drug treatment centers. (In this article, the term addiction and addict includes alcoholism and alcoholic, respectively.) Some facilities have funding for people who are indigent at the state or county level, but need for treatment far surpasses the funds budgeted.  Looking at the biology of addiction, it is clear that treatment of some kind is required to get the disease under control. For any treatment to be effective, however, the addict must decide they are ready to stop using the drug. This can be a difficult decision because addiction is strongly tied to identity. Aside from the biological aspects, battling addiction is a long process that requires a lot of effort, usually a complete redesign of the addict’s lifestyle, and intense counseling to uncover issues that led to and resulted from the addiction. Continue reading “Your Brain on Drugs: Hope for Today”