Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence

Destigmatizing Medical Conditions

See it through my eyes 

As a child, I had headaches but I didn’t think much of it. When I was in grade five, it was a known thing that I’d get a headache by 3:30 every day. 

When I was a little older, I went to the eye doctor. He was checking my eyes and asked me if I was getting headaches to which I responded the affirmative. He told me that those are migraines based on my sensitivity to the light. He suggested that I stay away from certain foods like nuts, seeds, cheese and wines. 

Although I became more cautious and tried to avoid those food items, I was too young to understand the magnitude of what the doctor had told me.

Navigating in the dark

When I was in tenth or eleventh grade, my migraines increased dramatically. I couldn’t go a week without missing days of school. They started to come more frequently and increasing in length and intensity. 

My pediatrician referred me to see a neurologist who conducted various exams to make sure that there was nothing else serious going on. 

My mother wanted me to hold off on starting a prescription medicine. My uncle is a doctor and my aunt gets migraines too. We sent them the prescriptions to look at. They suggested trying to find another solution as this one can make you become more forgetful. 

Laying low 

By my first year of CEGEP, I was experiencing waves of extended periods of time where I’d be fine and then missing more than three weeks at a time because of migraines. They became so debilitating that I was bed-bound. My migraines lasted more between 8-12 hours. 

Migraines also include experiencing nausea, vertigo and distortion of sight. Usually I’ll experience tell-tale signs that a migraine is setting in. 

It was at this point where I started taking medications. They help decrease the frequency and intensity of my migraines. It also causes side effects like brain fog which can be from the medication or the migraines.

Migraines ≠ headaches 

People don’t understand the magnitude and implications of having chronic migraines. I will often be told to take Tylenol and move on with my life. This is a pretty universal response that those who experience migraines will receive. 

If there was one thing I wish people would know, it would be that migraines and headaches are not the same thing. Migraines can be debilitating. When I get migraines, my eyes and head start hurting. Lights and noise become unbearable. I need to just lay down until it passes. 

Stress Management

Stress Management

How does Stress affect our body?

What is stress? According to the Mental Health foundation, stress is our body’s response to pressure related situations which can lead to physical, mental and emotional changes. When we feel like we are in danger, our bodies go into a “fight” or “flight” response. Stress can cause short term as well as long term health issues or problems. Catecholamines (including adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones) are triggered by the adrenal gland during the short term stress. Similarly, during long term stress cortisol is released and a high increase of cortisol leads to Cushing’s syndrome, which makes you feel tired and weak. Even though stress is unpredictable, there are many ways to control it. These include following a proper healthy diet, exercise and getting enough sleep.

Why follow a healthy diet? 

Following a proper diet is very important for our body. According to Matthew J. Kuchan, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at Abbott, “Eating a healthy diet can reduce the negative effects of stress on your body,” These include cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and high blood pressure. According to the VeryMindwell article, coffee does boost your body immediately but it also increases the cortisol levels in your body. Fish and nuts contain omega 3-fats, which play a role in the regulation of mood.  In an article published by the journal Nutrients, researchers Jiwon Kim and Jihye Kim have found that green tea which contains an amino acid, called theanine, which acts as an anti-stress benefit for people fighting with depression. At the end of the day, it is very important to take a proper healthy diet.

Feel Fresh, Feel Good

 The most important factors in reducing stress is exercise. We already know that exercise is good for weight loss and improving muscle strength but did you know it also helps in the production of endorphins? According to an Exercise and Depression article, their role is to reduce pain and increase positive feelings. The famous philosopher, “Saint Thomad Aquanias”, mentioned that, “All men need leisure”. Exercise is a way to distract ourselves from the daily grind of our lives.  When we are involved in  some type of physical activity, our minds are relaxed and we are able to think freely.

Connection between Stress and Sleep levels

Getting an adequate amount of sleep is mandatory. As per the National Sleep foundation guidelines, an adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Usually if our cortisol level increases during the night, it will disrupt the release of melatonin. This hormone controls the sleep-wake cycle. In an article written by Sleepscore, research shows that lack of sleep can make you more impulsive, and more sensitive to negative stimuli. Sleep deprivation can give rise to stress in a number of ways. It is our job to give our brain some rest so that we can be active and improve our concentration, thinking skills.

Small efforts lead to good results

In order to be able to reduce or overcome stress, we should begin to follow a healthy diet meal, perform some sort of physical activity and most importantly get the right amount of sleep. These small efforts will allow your brain to think freely. You will feel confident and full of energy.

Dreams: What goes on in our brain when our body is at rest?

Dreams: What goes on in our brain when our body is at rest?

 

Fascination in complexity 

The human brain is known to be one of the most complex networks in the universe, if not as complex as the universe itself. Containing billions of signal-transmitting neurons, these cells practically carry out all internal and external functions in our bodies. 

How complex is the brain you might ask? To answer that question, scientists till this day are still trying to uncover all the why’s and how’s that lie deep below the brain’s surface, one of which, is probably one of the most fascinating phenomenons― Dreams. 

In order to understand some of these why’s and how’s that revolve around dreams, we must first understand the basics of sleep, when and where do dreams occur, and what exactly are they? Most importantly, what do dreams convey about the brain itself when our bodies are at rest? 

Understanding sleep 

It has been calculated that humans spend an average of one third of their lives sleeping. Who would have thought that sleeping would take up so much time of our life? Although it might seem so time consuming, the importance of sleep goes beyond its basic necessity for survival.

Researchers from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke have proven that within the 7-9 hour period that the body is asleep, the brain uses this time to restore itself by clearing out all toxins that build up during the day, a process that cannot be done when the body is in its conscious state. 

The exact process of the brain’s restoration however, is still unknown. The brain’s ability to restore and clear toxins for the improvement of its overall function proves to show how active the brain is during that period of time when our body is not. 

Stages of Sleep 

In the unconscious state during which our body is asleep, our brain produces different brain waves and neuronal activity, causing our body to go through two phases of sleep: non-REM sleep and REM sleep. 

The abbreviation REM is short for rapid eye movement, however, this eye movement behind our closed lids does not occur until the last stage of sleep. 

Non-REM sleep occurs in the first three stages in which our body enters its unconscious state. In the first stage, the brain transitions from its conscious state to sleep. This light sleep stage slows brain activity, breathing, and heartbeat as the body eases itself into slumber. 

In the second stage, the body’s functions continue to lower, as well as its temperature. Although the brain’s activity remains to slow down, small sparks of electrical activity are detected. 

The third stage is the stage your body enters its deep sleep. At this stage, your brain and body’s functions drop to their lowest points. 

Soon after, the body enters its last stage ― REM sleep. It is at this stage that rapid eye movement begins, and the brain becomes strikingly active, as if it were in the body’s conscious state. This is when our brains start creating all sorts of visual imagery, with familiar characters in distorted situations. Dreams unravel and become the most vivid in this final stage. 

This cycle eventually repeats itself, and the brain enters the REM stage 4 to 5 more times, which might explain why we experience a series of fragments of different dreams that have no correlation between them whatsoever!

What about dreams?! 

Dreams are scientifically described as hallucinations that we experience when the brain is at its most active state during sleep. 

Dreams carry a mysterious quality to them, as they leave people and scientists with questions that have no definite answers as to why exactly we experience dreams and if they hold some sort of importance on the brain’s or body’s overall function. 

In REM sleep, significantly more brain activity is observed in the hippocampus, a section of the brain responsible for memory and learning. This observation allows scientists to conclude that there is a strong connection between dreams and memory. 

Dreams are different from one individual to another, the reason being that dreams reflect on the individual’s reality. These dreams are a distorted mirror of the environment we live in, the people in the past and present we associate ourselves with, our inner thoughts and emotions, and everything we have ever experienced or observed in our life. 

All of this information is stored in our hippocampus as memories, which later on at night, our brain uses small fragments of to create a bizarre, happy, or even a frightful conscious-like experience while our body is in deep sleep. 

A forgetful mystery… 

The mechanism and function behind dreams continues to show how complex our human brain is, and how much more there is to discover.

Although we might not have all the answers to why our brain functions the way it does, or what the exact purpose of dreams are, or even why we remember only some parts of our dream and forget the rest, this mystery behind these unanswered questions is what keeps people fascinated simply by not knowing the unknown. Maybe dreams uncover emotions, thoughts, or desires that our conscious mind is not aware of itself? Maybe the purpose of dreams is to shine light on the true person we are deep down? Or maybe it is preparing the brain itself for the unknown, whatever that might be.

However, of all these questions, perhaps the one we should be more focused on is: Maybe some mysteries are meant to be left unsolved? 

 References 

“Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.” Brain Basics

www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/understanding Sleep#2. Accessed 17 Feb. 2021. 

Dhikav, Vikas. “Hippocampus in Health and Disease: An Overview.” PubMed Central (PMC), Dec. 2012, 

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3548359/#:%7E:text=Hippocampu s%20is%20a%20complex%20brain,of%20neurological%20and%20psychi atric%20disorders. 

  1. Eugene, Andy. “The Neuroprotective Aspects of Sleep.” NCBI, MEDtube Sci., Mar. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4651462. 

Wamsley, Erin. “Memory: How the Brain Constructs Dreams.” ELife, 8 June 2020, 

elifesciences.org/articles/58874#:%7E:text=Deep%20inside%20the%20te mporal%20lobe,to%20remember%2C%20imagine%20and%20dream.

Is time nothing but a human-made illusion?

Is time nothing but a human-made illusion?

Our perception of time may be completely flawed.

Have you ever sensed that time felt weird in 2020 or that it speeds up as we get older?

We, human beings, are actually considered to have a naive perception of the flow of time. The way we think about time and its one-way direction flow, in fact, doesn’t correspond to physical reality. We believe that time is irreversible and the past can never be experienced again. We can feel its flow when the season changes, when the sun sets, and thereafter rises again, when we get older and when we are reminded of our memories. The past is a part of history. The present is the moment we live in. The future is the present that is yet to come, and will soon become a part of the past. However, the question that should be asked is whether these assumptions are actual realities of the physical world or created by the human mind. In fact, several studies show that our perception of time is unstable and prone to illusions.

Time Perception

Sometimes, we feel like years pass in a blink of an eye, or some memories from ten years ago seem very real to us that it makes it hard to believe that such a long period of time has actually passed. Other times, a minute can last forever while we are waiting for a light to turn green. In fact, Humans are likely to rely on their memory rather than their knowledge to recall the events occurring within their lifetime. However, one must consider that the memory distorts the perception of time, and affects the sense of when an event has actually taken place. 

 There is a theory, known as the “proportional theory”, which suggests that our perception of time is proportional to the length of our lifespan. This hypothesis states that as we age, our sense of present starts to feel relatively short in comparison to our entire lifespan. 

It is also determined that how long a duration feels depends on how many events in it can be recalled. Therefore, when only a few special events happen in our personal life during a year, that year will relatively seem shorter to us compared to a year full of important events.

The Idea of Timeless Reality

According to the operational meaning, time is simply what a clock displays. Nevertheless, the scientific definition of time completely differs from what we have in mind. Physicist Victor J. Stenger, in the book “Timeless reality”, declares that, based on established principles of simplicity and symmetry, reality is literally timeless at its deepest level. Furthermore, he explains that time is actually reversible. In opposition to our basic sense of time, the fundamental reality of the phenomena occurring around us might be with no beginning, no end and no arrow of time. 

In fact, the one-direction flow of time is not found in any of the laws of physics . All the basic physical phenomena are entirely or mostly time-symmetric and can occur in either direction of time. Therefore, if you watch a video of a physical process, you would not be able to tell if it is being played forwards or backwards, as both would be equally feasible. Specifically, when it comes to quantum phenomena and events on an atomic and subatomic level, no trace of time direction can be found.

Neuroscientist Abhijit Naskar, in his book “Love, God & Neurons”, argues that time is basically an illusion created by the mind to aid in our sense of temporal presence in the space. Furthermore, he mentions that there is no actual existence of the past and the future and all that there is, is the present. All we sense is the virtual perception of the past and the future which is created by our neurons, based on all our experiences.

Einstein’s Theory of relativity

Albert Einstein also showed that time is an illusion. According to his theory of relativity, not only there is no significance to the present moment but also all the other moments of life are equally real. Moreover, he suggests that simultaneity is relative. This argues that spatially separated events occurring at the same time is not an absolute fact. Distant simultaneity, in fact, depends on the observer’s reference frame. 

Gravity and speed are two key factors of the observer’s reference frame in the concept of Relativity of simultaneity. As claimed by Einstein, the faster one moves through space, the slower they move through time. Also, the closer one is to a gravitational field of an object, such as the earth, the slower the time goes for them. For instance, time goes faster at the top of mount Everest due to lower gravity and higher rotational velocity compared to the sea level. If you were standing on the top of Mount Everest, it may feel as though the new year begins a few minutes earlier for you compared to people standing at the sea level.

Conclusion

All in all, although many things may seem real to us, they may be only the constructs of the human imagination and don’t correspond to the actual truth. Reality might completely differ from how we see and feel it. We might have been given wrong information all along our lives. So it’s good to doubt our knowledge once a while and ask yourselves questions. Why do we believe certain things? How do we feel a certain way about something? What is the science and logic behind the phenomena we are surrounded by? Even though definite answers might not be found for some questions, at least we will be one step closer to reality.

 

Sources

Matthews, William J., Meck, Warren H, “Time perception: the bad news and the good”, (2014) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4142010/)

Eagleman, David M., “Human time perception and its illusions”, (2010) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866156/)

Stenger, Victor J., “Timeless Reality : Symmetry, Simplicity, and Multiple Universes”, (2000) 

Irish, Muireann, O’Callaghan,Claire ,“How did it get so late so soon? Why time flies as we get older”, (2015) (https://theconversation.com/how-did-it-get-so-late-so-soon-why-time-flies-as-we-get-older-44296)

Howell, Elizabeth, “Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity”, (2017) (https://www.space.com/36273-theory-special-relativity.html)

Redd, Nola T., “Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity”, (2017) (https://www.space.com/17661-theory-general-relativity.html)

Callender, Craig, “Is Time an ILLUSION?”, (2010) (https://www.jstor.org/stable/26002066?seq=1)

Davies, Paul, “That Mysterious Flow”, (2006) (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/that-mysterious-flow-2006-02/)