With the second round of assignments and midterms fast approaching, many UTM students experience anxiety, nervousness, and a slew of other emotions while they study. Once we get our marks back, we may not be happy with what we see. But how is it that our brain turn the feeling of “FML” into “Oh well, there’s always next time!” for some tests, but not for others? Researchers from UC San Diego may have a clue.
The brain is composed of billions of neurons—areas that receive and deliver signals. Special hormones called “neurotransmitters” travel between neurons and act as messengers. Researchers at UC San Diego found that when our brains go “oh well”, an uncommon signalling appears. This signalling involves two neurotransmitters targeting the lateral habenula (LHb) during negative events.
THE LATERAL HABENULA AND NEUROTRANSMITTERS
The LHb has been associated with depression. An overly excited LHb means an overly depressed person. While current research focuses solely on the LHb, the San Diego researchers saw two opposing neurotransmitters create a dimming effect on the LHb, transforming depression into disappointment.
The neurotransmitter glutamate acts as the “on” switch to get LHb excited. The San Diego researchers paired it with its functional opponent, GABA, a neurotransmitter that would turn off LHb. They found that decreased GABA going to the LHb meant more depression, and on the contrary increased GABA acted like an antidepressant.
The researchers concluded that releasing both neurotransmitters and regulating them changes how we perceive negative events. Their results might lead to an improvement in antidepressant drugs and treatment targeting the LHb for those suffering with depression.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
With more research invested into the LHb, pharmaceutical companies can start designing drugs that have higher amounts of GABA in them. At the moment, most antidepressants target the neurotransmitter serotonin. While serotonin helps adjust mood, it unfortunately also affects other tasks like sleep, memory, and appetite. GABA contributes to other tasks too, so researchers are looking into creating a drug to manipulate the pre-existing GABA-glutamate signalling.
In the meantime, researchers and doctors have determined tips to lessen the feelings of depression and disappointment:
Develop a positive attitude: Doctors observed that patients who recognized their own distressing thoughts and actively sought to change them felt happier and had a more positive outlook about their goals.
Improve physical health: Other studies show that increased negative thoughts are associated with greater risk of illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Stop blaming yourself: “If only I studied harder on that test” or “I should have done my assignment differently” can have negative consequences for your mental health. A person should recognize and learn to accept that there are certain things they cannot change, such as the past. Then they should focus and redirect positive thoughts into elements of their life that they can change and control, such as the future.
Diet: Doctor Susan Marusak from UCLA explains that having a diet low in fat and rich in fish (mainly omega-3s) and folic acid improves a person’s mood. She says that while caffeine helps us be alert, reducing caffeine intake lowers the risk of depression.
Sufficient rest: That all-nighter may sound like a good idea now, but repeated all-nighters have severe consequences on physical and mental health. Poor sleeping habits affect the brain in many ways, affecting memory, alertness, stress in relationships, and chance of physical injury. Doctors recommend eight hours of sleep on average, so make sure to clock in some ZZZs.