Simply Scientific: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Why you might get “SAD” when fall rolls around

It’s that time of year again. It’s 6 p.m., you look outside and it’s already almost pitch black. Before you know it, we’ll have reached the dreaded state of perpetual night: waking up and going to sleep while it’s still dark — inevitably, leaving you feeling miserable.

No, you’re not the only one who feels this way… Unfortunately, many of us are feeling it too.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 15 per cent of Canadians will experience a mild form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) over the course of their life, while two to three per cent deal with more extreme cases of SAD recurringly.

But, what exactly is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a mild form of depression that is relative to the changing of the seasons. It is known to alter mood, emotions, and reduce energy. Ultimately, SAD leaves sufferers feeling lethargic, unmotivated, agitated, and having difficulty sleeping. In more severe cases, it can even cause an onset of suicidal thought and behaviours.

Researchers are still not 100 per cent certain what actually causes SAD. Though it is just a theory, researchers believe this is caused by a lack of sunlight. Changes in the light are known to disturb the circadian rhythm, also known as the sleep-wake cycle, which regulates hormones and other bodily functions such as digestion, mood, and body temperature.

Lack of sunlight may also interfere with the normal operation of neurotransmitter functions, which enable the transmission of serotonin (the happy chemical) and dopamine (the pleasure hormone).

However, contrary to what most people might think, SAD doesn’t only occur in the winter. While it is less common, a more mild case of the disorder has been known to affect people starting in the spring and over the summer months.

Despite the symptoms of SAD being almost identical to those of depression, it is important to note that they are not the same. A key characteristic that defines their differences lies in the nature of SAD, which is subjective to the seasons. A person suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder will experience symptoms for one to two seasons of the year (generally, they will have experienced it for more than two years in order to be diagnosed), whereas someone with depression will exhibit symptoms year-round.

Research has shown that people who live north of the equator are more susceptible to SAD, on account of a decrease in sunlight. Because SAD is caused by an environmental change, many doctors recommend exercise, outdoor exposure and — when it’s too cold to go outside during daylight hours — light therapy. Also known as phototherapy, light therapy consists of using a light box to replicate outdoor light.

If and when you start feeling the unbearable weight of winter affecting your physiological well-being, try engaging in endorphin-releasing activities, exposing yourself to the sun for even just a few minutes, and using these self-care methods to help ease the blow.

 

Feature graphic by @sundaeghost

Simply Scientific: What do we know about Déjà vu?

Have you not read this article before? Pretty sure you haven’t. You might just be experiencing déjà vu.

Ever had a conversation,

That you realize you’ve had before,

Isn’t it strange?

Have you ever talked to someone,

And you feel you know what’s coming next?

It feels prearranged. – Iron Maiden

Despite scientists’ attempts to find an explanation for déjà vu, they haven’t yet reached a conclusion. For now, hypotheses are all we have. But, a few years ago, the scientific community started targeting their research around the most plausible cause: memory.

In 400 AD, philosopher St. Augustine was already wondering about this phenomenon, however, the expression “déjà vu” was first introduced and popularized by philosopher and medium Émile Boirac in 1876. Before science got involved in the topic, people would link déjà vu to premonitory dreams and even reincarnation.

From a scientific perspective, a potential cause of déjà vu has been researched in studies of epilepsy. According to a 2012 report published in the medical journal Neuropsychologia, there is a strong correlation between déjà vu and the seizures that occur to those who suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). TLE is a type of epilepsy that affects the hippocampus of the brain, which is crucial for learning and memory. Experts then suggested that déjà vu, just like a seizure, could be prompted by a local neurological dysfunction in which neurons happen to send signals at random, giving us a feeling of familiarity. Nevertheless, it is still uncertain whether déjà vu could be explained by physiological similarities between a healthy brain and the brain of a patient with epilepsy, as mentioned in an article of Cortex journal.

Another possible explanation, explored in 2012 by Colorado State University psychology professor Anne M. Cleary, is that our brain could be associating a present situation with the memory of an experience that we cannot consciously recall. To test this theory, Cleary put 74 participants in a static virtual reality (VR) simulation “to demonstrate that an identical spatial layout to a previously viewed but unrecalled scene increases the likelihood of reported déjà vu for an otherwise novel scene.” Even though this theory is now largely accepted, a question remained: what is the relation between déjà vu and the feeling of premonition?

In 2018, Cleary and her collaborator Alexander B. Claxton conducted a similar experiment, but this time, with an animated VR simulation. They suggested that déjà vu could be an illusion of prediction. The study showed that many participants often thought they knew what would happen next based on what they had previously seen while being unable to predict an outcome. Therefore, déjà vu seemed to have something to do with thinking about the future, but not much to do with premonitions, though the study “[has] not ruled out the possibility that memory-driven déjà vu can, in other situations, drive actual predictive ability.”

Ever had a conversation that you realize you’ve had before? Whether you think it’s a glitch in the matrix or a special ability, the lack of knowledge surrounding the mysteries of the brain makes it difficult to come up with a thorough answer regarding the causes of déjà vu. Who knows, maybe 60 to 70 per cent of us really are psychics. It feels prearranged. Isn’t it strange?

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

Categories
News

Simply Scientific: Seasonal Allergies

As winter nears its end and spring is right around the corner, it’s the season of runny noses, sneezing and watery eyes for many people.

Whether it’s oak, grass or birch pollen that triggers an allergy, we can all agree they’re a pain. But how does an allergy come to be, and what can be done to treat such a reaction?

According to Heathline, an allergy, also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever, is when the immune system overreacts to a foreign substance it sees as harmful. As a response, the immune system produces histamine, a chemical whose role is getting rid of the allergen that happens to be the cause of unpleasant symptoms.

These allergies are more heightened in spring than in any other season due to the fact that trees begin to pollinate. Examples of outdoor allergens include, but are not limited to, cedar, alder, horse chestnut, willow and poplar.

The common symptoms of seasonal allergies include a runny nose, watery eyes, itchy throat, ear congestion and an overproduction of mucus, while the rarer symptoms are coughing, wheezing, headache and shortness of breath.

Regarding treatment for seasonal allergies, there are a few ways to go about it with medication. Over-the-counter medications such as Zytec, Tylenol, Benadryl, Pfizer and nasal steroid sprays can relieve and lighten the burden of allergies. However, these types of medicine can cause side effects like dizziness, drowsiness and confusion.

In very severe cases of allergies, allergy shots may be recommended by a doctor. If medicine isn’t your cup of tea, there are alternative treatment methods like the consumption of vitamin C or Lactobacillus acidophilus, a bacteria found in yogurt.

Don’t let allergies stop you from enjoying spring and summer after such a long time in wintry darkness!

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

Categories
News

Simply Scientific: Why do we dream?

Ever dreamed of something so interesting that you wake up thinking “Wow! How did my brain come up with that?” Well, there are a couple of different theories on the origin of dreams.

In 1977,  Harvard psychiatrists J. Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley came up with the Activation-Synthesis Theory. Their theory is that dreaming is the brain’s way of processing information that we gather throughout the day. It chooses what to disregard and what to store in our memories.

How? 

When we enter a deep sleep cycle, circuits in our brains become active. The circuits send signals that travel from our spinal cord to the brainstem––which is responsible for our body’s unconscious functions like regulating heart rate and breathing. From there, the signals travel to the middle part of the brain––called the limbic brain––which controls our senses, emotions, and memories. When we sleep, our brain activates this sector and it begins to process information and thoughts. That is how we dream.

Hobson says “Dreaming may be our most creative conscious state.”

In fact, we dream four to 10 times every night. When we enter the Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM), we dream every 90 to 120 minutes. This deep state of sleep allows us to dream more vividly, which results in us remembering our last dream.

I think we can all agree that dreaming is strange.

Did you know that our brains cannot invent faces? So, every face we see in our dreams, we have actually seen somewhere. What is even crazier is that about 12 per cent of people dream in black and white. Even blind people have the ability to visualize images in their dreams.

However, our daily encounters are not the only causes of dreams. Emotions also have a big part in what we imagine. Trauma, sadness, anxiety, and guilt can lead to nightmares. Women are more likely to have more nightmares than men. Reducing stress in our daily life is said to be the best way to have more positive dreams and better sleep.

Dreaming is fascinating. We can use dreams as a tool to teach us more about ourselves. Yet, even today there are some things that science cannot explain. Could dreams predict the future? I guess only time will tell.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

Categories
News

Simply Scientific: Leap Year

Every four years, a leap year occurs. No, it’s not a worldwide event where people take a leap by changing a habit nor is it a fun activity where everyone jumps at the same time. Instead, a leap year is when there is an extra day to the shortest month, February, and 2020 happens to be one. But why exactly do we have leap years?

A day is calculated by the number of hours it takes for the Earth to make a full rotation on its axis, and a year is

Meme by 8shit

calculated by the number of days it takes for the Earth to orbit the sun. In practice, it was established that the Earth takes 365 days to orbit the sun, with each day taking 24 hours. However, it actually takes 365.24 days to orbit the sun, or roughly a quarter of a day longer. Quick math shows that every four years, this little addition equates to almost a full day, which is added as Feb. 29.

However, this doesn’t occur every single fourth year. The slight difference of 0.24 days every year is not exactly a quarter of a day (that would be 0.25 days), and this difference eventually adds up. In fact, we lose three days every 400 years from this and skip a leap year every now and then as a result.

There are rules as to when to skip leap years. First, a year to add an extra day to has to be divisible by four. Second, a leap year cannot occur in a year divisible by 100. However, there is an exception to that rule: that would be the third rule. If a year can be divided by 400, a leap day can be added. This is why the two last leap years in years divisible by 100 happened in 1600 and 2000.

And there it is! Leap years and their exceptions!

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

Categories
News

Simply Scientific: Can you get sick from being cold?

You’ve probably heard it before: Don’t go outside without a scarf, you’ll get sick! Make sure you wear thick socks and gloves, you get sick from the extremities! 

We’ve all heard that being cold makes you sick. But is that true?

The short answer is no. When you get sick, it’s because you caught a virus or bacteria.

Basically, a cold is an upper respiratory tract infection. The most common culprit for this infection is the rhinovirus, a common virus that replicates quickly in the nose and then goes down to infect your throat. This makes you cough, and can sometimes lead to ear and sinus infections. You may also get a fever and fatigue as your body fights against the virus.

This “common cold” virus is quite easy to catch. Unlike many bacteria and viruses that are only transmissible in certain ways—think about how HIV can only be transferred through bodily fluids—rhinoviruses are airborne.

This means they can spread through droplets in the air—like when someone coughs or sneezes—and enter through your mouth, eyes, or nose.

It can also spread through hand-to-hand contact; for example, if you shake hands with someone infected who coughed into their hand and then you touch your eyes, you’re likely to catch the virus.

In short, to catch a cold, you need to be exposed to someone else who has a cold. No virus, no illness.

So why do people think you’ll get sick if you are cold?

The answer lies in the effect that cold temperatures have on viruses, human bodies, and our behaviour.

Being cold weakens your immune system, making it harder for your body to resist infection when you are exposed to viruses.

It has also been shown that rhinoviruses replicate faster when it’s cold, making it more likely that you will be exposed to it.

In addition, when it’s cold outside, you’re probably going to spend more time indoors, surrounded by other people who may be sick.

Indoor humidity also plays a role in getting sick: when it’s humid, viruses can attach to water droplets; since heaters dry out the air, the virus is more prone to infect you instead. Heaters also dry out your sinuses, and a lack of nasal mucus makes it harder for your immune system to fight off infection.

Overall, the combination of low humidity and low temperature makes viruses last longer and your immune system weaker, both of which together may get you sick.

So, can you get sick from being cold?

The long answer is yes, but only because cold and dry environments increase the likelihood of you catching whatever virus or bacteria you’re exposed to.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

Categories
News

Simply Scientific: do you have an internal monologue?

Do you have an internal monologue? Can you have a mental argument with yourself? Talk yourself in and out of things? Amp yourself up?

A recent Twitter trend has shown that not all people do.

A 2017 study led by Elinor Amit, researcher for Harvard’s Department of Psychology, explains why some individuals think visually—sometimes literally in pictures—and others more conceptually abstract.

To summarize the study, “people create visual images to accompany their inner speech even when they are prompted to use verbal thinking, suggesting that visual thinking is deeply ingrained in the human brain while speech is a relatively recent evolutionary development.”

While this research focuses on the interdependence of visual and verbal thought processes, Twitter users were fascinated with the idea that not everyone has an inner monologue.

At The Concordian, five out of 21 staff identify explicitly as only having interior monologues, 13 out of 21 have both, and four identify as having no inner monologue at all. Those without inner monologues said that they don’t have one unless they think about having one and most of their actions, written and spoken ideas are based off instinct or what feels right in the moment.

This thought variation is described as a “robust phenomenon,” meaning that these results are highly dependent on a variety of circumstances, making it an unreliable statistic. For example,  the number of languages learned and spoken as a young child, and one’s connection to visual, auditory, and written media can have an effect. It is also possible for one to think tactically, having to actually be doing or saying something in order to absorb information and really understand it.

The very phenomenon is linked to a part of the brain that processes external sound, and in overactive brains can cause overthinking or anxiety. Researcher Mark Scott from the University of British Columbia explains how auditory hallucinations—hearing your thoughts—can be associated with schizophrenia, but picturing thoughts—thinking abstractly—on the other hand, isn’t necessarily linked to visual hallucinations.

Are your thoughts like sentences you hear? Tweet us @theconcordian  

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

Categories
News

Simply Scientific: Work smarter, not harder

Is there something you want to accomplish? Something you desperately want to do but cannot seem to achieve?

We have all been in that funk before. The best way to overcome that is a change in outlook. Develop a goal-oriented mindset—it is that simple! Lucky for us, our brain is programmed to love a good challenge, because we get rewarded by a hormone in the brain called dopamine.

The mesolimbic pathway in the brain carries dopamine to different parts of the brain, including the frontal lobe––the sector responsible for motivation. To the brain, achieving a goal is considered an extrinsic reward. Say you did not like doing something, but you still pushed through to accomplish it. That reward of completion brings a sense of satisfaction to the brain through the rush of dopamine you get when completing a task.

When dopamine is released, the body releases cortisol and oxytocin which reduces stress. The body also releases serotonin which is the brain’s happy chemical. So goal setting and achieving those goals are very good for the body.

We get it, set goals! But how can we do that? The trick to obtaining a goal-oriented mindset is breaking down goals to make them more manageable. We need to set our goals “SMARTER.” Dr. Edwin A. Locke, a specialist in motivation with a Ph.D in psychology, invented the SMART acronym rule, which was examined and extended over time. Now, think about your goal and apply these SMARTER principles.

Specific: you need to focus on only one particular goal.

Measurable: you need to monitor your progress qualitatively or quantitatively.

Achievable: set flexible boundaries that suit you.

Realistic: is it something that you actually can do?

Time: give yourself a time frame to accomplish your goal.

Evaluative: does your goal fall into your personal values?

Rewarding: you obtain your goal and dopamine gives your brain its reward.

Nothing is impossible. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and look at your goals in a different way. So, go out and challenge yourself. You might be surprised at the things you can do.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

 

 

Categories
News

Simply Scientific: Cognitive bias

Individuals tend to mistakenly assess themselves and their intellectual ability as better than it really is when learning something new.

Walking up to a Pittsburgh bank in broad daylight, a loaded gun in one hand, an empty bag in the other, McArthur Wheeler never presumed getting caught as he smiled at the surveillance cameras, clearly pointing his gun at the clerk. But when the city police handcuffed him, he surprisingly cried “I WORE THE JUICE!”

Wheeler’s case was studied by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger and would lead to the phenomenon now called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. According to their findings, some individuals tend to mistakenly assess themselves and their intellectual ability as better than it really is. Have you ever scrolled through social media comments to find a 63-year-old trying to argue with recognized experts about climate change? Then, you understand the gist of it. Ok, boomer, am I right?

In Wheeler’s case, the burglar thought that drenching himself in lemon juice would make him invisible. After all, lemon juice ink remains invisible until heated up. Makes sense right…? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Dunning and Kruger also developed a graphic to exemplify this effect. The vertical axis represents ‘confidence’ and the horizontal axis, ‘knowledge and experience.’ Dunning and Kruger found that beginners tend to consider themselves as experts, but then self-esteem drops drastically upon digging deeper into a subject, before slowly rising as that person actually becomes an expert. Yes, I’ve been personally affected by the effect in my first ever martial art class when I got knee kicked in the chest. Not cool, but I definitely deserved it.

Many experiments were conducted to evaluate people’s perceived skills. For instance, a group of professional comedians and another set of students were asked to rank jokes from one to 11. The rankings averaged at around eight on the chart, with the people showcasing the worst skills placing themselves in the 58th percentile, AKA better than 57 other people out of 100.

Now don’t get bummed out by thinking that being confident in your abilities means you’ll never be a successful human being. Just keep in mind to maintain a level head and remember what Socrates once said, “I know that I know nothing.”

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

 

Categories
News

Simply Scientific: Addiction

‘Addict’ is a label that is often thrown around without much thought. If someone likes something a little too much, they’re considered an addict in the eyes of their entourage.

Addiction is not a quirky way to describe someone’s love and passion for a hobby. The reality is that addiction and negative stereotypes are causing fewer people to seek help, according to Recovery Lighthouse’s website, an addiction recovery clinic. Due to a fear of judgment and rejection, addicts often suffer alone and in silence.

How does addiction start though? An addiction is when people lose control over their consumption behaviours as well as the freedom to stop despite the consequences. Lacking self-esteem or being fueled with high levels of anxiety can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and sadness, due to missing their family and friends.

This loneliness may be the door that lets an addiction makes its way into their life. A person may perceive the consumption of certain substances as helping them cope with their negative feelings. The substance brings instant gratification – a phenomenon where a desire for instant happiness causes the person to do certain acts in order to feel better right away.

Sometimes it’s merely habit-related. Imagine someone drinks every single day at a certain time. The repetition becomes a habit and triggers a need. An addiction will start to form, not only when the person obsessively thinks about drinking, but when habits result in negative consequences. Such consequences can be social isolation from being in a state of enormous exhaustion, caused by the physical and mental toll of over-consumption.

Other symptoms of addiction include depression and high levels of anxiety during periods of withdrawal. Some may become aggressive. Even when the desire is present, cutting back altogether can be difficult when emotions the addiction helped cope with were never really dealt with.

The victim may not be aware of what they’re going through. It is important never to judge a person who is suffering from addiction: you’re never alone.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

Categories
News

Simply Scientific: Running with a runny nose

I carry a handkerchief everywhere – and it’s not for trying to appear painfully dainty. As a student who tries to maintain a moderately active lifestyle, regularly running and brisk walking have become part of my daily routine. But when I exercise rigorously, I find myself sniffling, no matter the season.

As it turns out, there’s a term for this particular nuisance: exercise-induced rhinitis (EIR). Medical News Today explains that the disorder really describes a form of non-allergic rhinitis, where exposure to irritants makes blood vessels expand and as a result, the lining of the nose swells. This glamorous process stimulates mucus glands, which ultimately leads to nasal congestion. In truth, EIR pretentiously refers to how environmental triggers that you encounter while exercising may give you a runny nose.

Kristin Hayes reported in Verywell how normally, as the heart rate increases when exercising and adrenaline is released, there’s a decrease in nasal passage obstruction. A stuffy nose often results from allergies, but this form of rhinitis isn’t the case. Perfume, smog, and chlorine are just some of the many environmental factors that could trigger non-allergic rhinitis, according to the National Health Service.

The Mayo Clinic explains that while symptoms of this far-from-dire condition can affect children and adults, they’re more common after the age of 20.

Unless your non-allergic rhinitis is severe, symptoms don’t last long, but they can still be a bother. A person who suffers from EIR can also use nasal sprays or over-the-counter medication to treat their nasal congestion.

For now, I’ll continue to run indoors, far from construction debris and safe in the knowledge that with my handkerchief within arm’s reach, my nose can remain as dry as my sense of humour.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

Categories
News

Simply Scientific: Daylight Savings

While we did enjoy an extra hour of sleep last week, daylight saving may have become an old useless practice.

In 1895, New Zealander George Hudson introduced the concept of “daylight saving” as a way to enjoy more after-work sunlight to catch more bugs. Yup! To catch more bugs, as Hudson was an entomologist. This would allow him to significantly expand his bug collection.

However, it was only in 1916 that Germany became the first country to put it into practice, but with different intentions than catching beetles and butterflies. Daylight saving was actually enacted to save precious coal energy to fuel World War I. Since coal was the primary source of energy, Germany really made big savings. The thinking behind the decision was that people staying outside longer would reduce their artificial light consumption, which it did!

Fast forward a century later, in an era where electricity is king and research has shown that daylight saving is no longer effective. Brian Handwork reported in National Geographic that the method may have become obsolete since it has no effect on energy savings anymore because of the alternative lighting methods we are using.

In fact, it might be dangerous for our health. The same article quotes a study by the University of Alabama in Birmingham that showed an increase of heart attacks and suicide rates during the Monday and Tuesday after moving the clocks an hour forward in spring. While the causes are still unknown, researchers think it is an amalgam of the body’s adaptation to that change.

It turns out that as much as I tried finding compelling pro daylight saving arguments, there are none to be found except one. The further we move away from the equator, the more seasonal changes in daylight affects a region. This is due to the tilted axis of the Earth. In Winter, northern countries will have less light. Changing the hour would be an advantage for those regions since they would enjoy slightly more daylight.

Overall, daylight saving has become obsolete and brings more trouble than advantages. Although I only stated two downfalls, a quick Google search shows thousands of articles bashing the method, and honestly, it is worth giving it a look! But for now, the only thing we could have done was to enjoy our extra hour of sleep last week.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

Exit mobile version