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To all my African Goddesses…

I am what I am, woman, soul, spirited
I am fearfully and wonderfully created
I am what no man can do without
I am meant to deliver with no doubt
I am behind every successful man
I am what was created out of a rib of a man
I am what I instill today in the future tomorrow
I am that feels the pain others will never feel
I am that bleeds without getting hurt
I am emotional and fragile I easily get hurt
I am that heals by my words and understanding
I am the producer of fine product
I am who’s character is reflected in my conduct
I am the one with my hands open wide for the weak
I am what every child seeks
I am a mentor and role model for many
I am not imaginary
I am strong even when left alone
I am never weak forever
I am the super diva
I am unstoppable
I am capable of doing the impossible
I am self-sufficient
I am self-indulgent
I am young and sophisticated in my own way
I am with the semblance of a new day
I hold my head high when its supposed to hang low
I am beautiful, I am joyful
I am the perfect imperfect
I am mistreated, misunderstood and mistaken
I am underestimated and often shaken
I can’t be outrun or outmatched
In being everything that I am
I am what I am, soul and spirited African woman


abigail sikwenda
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Understanding Critical Components of the Brain’s Stress Circuitry

Study identifies how the PVT interacts with other brain areas during stress

 • Science Update

Everyone feels stressed from time to time. While people often learn to deal with stress in a healthy, adaptive way, sometimes people respond to stress in a maladaptive way, which can put them at greater risk for developing mental illnesses. Now, a new study conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has revealed more about the organization and function of a brain structure that may serve a key role in linking stress detection to the development of adaptive behaviors. The study, published online June 18, 2018, appears in Nature Neuroscience.

The paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT) is a brain structure that has been identified as a player in emotional processing, learning, and in adaptive responses to stress. Although knowledge of the role of this brain structure in stress responses is growing, researchers are still working to understand how this structure is organized and how it connects with other parts of the brain.

The PVT has a unique place in the brain, receiving inputs from brain areas that make it sensitive to both environmental cues as well as to internal bodily signals. The dual nature of these inputs has led some to hypothesize that the PVT may serve as a critical link in the brain, helping to integrate information about environmental stressors and internal physiological states to guide behavior. In this study, NIMH IRP researchers investigated the cellular and circuit mechanisms by which stressors impact PVT function. To do this, the researchers examined the contribution of different neurotransmitter systems in the PVT. They found that, during stress, dopamine (a major modulator of brain function) triggered a reduction in inhibition of the PVT. Notably, the disinhibition produced by dopamine made the PVT more sensitive to aversive outcomes.

“A stressful event typically leads to an increase in our sensitivity to new stressors, which suggests that a ‘stress memory’ center exists in the brain,” said study author Mario Penzo, Ph.D., chief of the Unit on the Neurobiology of Affective Memory at the NIMH. “Previously, scientists speculated that the PVT may be such a center. We now have evidence that indicates this is indeed the case. Our results suggest that stress-induced changes of the PVT circuit may promote susceptibility to future stressors.”

A surprising observation made by the researchers was that the stress-induced disinhibition of the PVT by dopamine was brought about through input from the locus coeruleus (LC). The LC is a small structure of the mammalian brainstem that is involved in physiological responses to stress and panic, but that it is primarily thought to do so via the release of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. According to lead study author B. Sofia Beas, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the NIMH Unit on the Neurobiology of Affective Memory, the uncovering of dopaminergic modulation of the midline thalamus by the LC was unexpected and remarkable.

“Our finding that the LC, which is primarily known as a hub for norepinephrine, is the main source of dopamine to the midline thalamus is outstanding, given that this region is normally thought of as a norepinephrine center and not as a dopaminergic one,” said Beas. “This finding also emphasizes the intricacies of the neurotransmitter systems and challenges how they are defined in the nervous system”

While the researchers know that the PVT plays a role in stress processing, they are currently working to better understand how modulation there impacts downstream structures that are also involved in emotional processing and adaptive responding.

The findings help clarify the structural and functional roles of an important piece of the brain’s stress circuity and provide a platform for future research into how the brain responds to and is impacted by, stress.

An overlay image of the PVT showing the terminals from the locus coeruleus (red) and the neurons that project to the nucleus accumbens (green).

An overlay image of the PVT showing the terminals from the locus coeruleus (red) and the neurons that project to the nucleus accumbens (green). Image credit: B. Sofia Beas, Mario A. Penzo, and Nature Neuroscience.


Beas, B. S., Wright, B. J., Skirzewski, M., Leng, Y., Ho Hyun, J., Koita, O., … Penzo, M. A. (2018). The locus coeruleus drives disinhibition in the midline thalamus via a dopaminergic mechanismNature Neuroscience, 21, 963–973.

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You are not alone in feeling lonely!

Global health service company Cigna (NYSE: CI) released results from a national survey in June 2018 exploring the impact of loneliness in the United States. The survey, conducted in partnership with market research firm, Ipsos, revealed that most American adults are considered lonely. Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).

From the Cigna report we learn the following:

• One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.

• Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).

• One in five people reports they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).

• Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) — even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.

• Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.

• Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.

• Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).

There are some good suggestions for combating loneliness, but a lack of confidence could be the real reason why you are not interacting with others. Loneliness is a feeling and not a fact. It starts with you, not the world around you. If you are lacking the self-confidence to speak to others freely, I strongly suggest seeing a psychotherapist to work on the negative beliefs you have about yourself.

Most of the time we are our own worst enemies and assumptions will bring you nowhere. You will never know what you are missing out on if you do not take a leap of faith and start a conversation with someone you would like to get to know a little better. All healthy relationships started with a simple “hello”.

Here are a few simple but effective ways to combat loneliness…

1. Reach out to others. Just remember – it’s all about taking a chance. Everybody has to go through the same process of saying hello and standing a chance to either walk away with a new friend’s phone number or feeling like a total failure and even more lonely. But each time you puck up the courage to say hello you learn, become stronger and wiser and stand a chance to win a new friend. So worth it!

2. Stop the self-deflating thoughts. You and you alone think that you are a loser or unworthy or silly or whatever you tell yourself. We are not mind-readers and there is no way you can know for sure what people are thinking about you. And really? Who cares? What they think about you does not matter at all. There is a lid for every pot out there and if you keep your head high and stay positive and keep trying, you will meet your match.

3. Focus on others and focus less attention on yourself. What you give may come back to you.

4. Find others who have common interests. But ensure that these are your true interests. Remember, you are the most important person here. Don’t pretend to like something just to impress someone or be accepted into the “cool crowd”.

 5. Always show up when meeting with others. Don’t stand people up. You would not like it if someone stood you up or made you wait. Do to others what you want done to yourself.

6. Be interested in other people. Listen to what they are saying and doing. Take the focus off of you. People love talking about themselves and if they notice that you are a good listener, they will love hanging out with you.

7. Be kind. Some people are rude but most people will respond to kindness. Being mean, rude and a jerk will earn you a reputation you don’t want.

8. Find a group with whom to connect such as church groups, exercise groups, music groups, Alcoholics Anonymous, sewing or baking groups or folks who simply gather for coffee.

Talking, listening, kindness, showing interest in others, participating and helping others will help you in overcoming loneliness and build your self-confidence. Do it for yourself, not for other’s sake. You will soon start to develop long-lasting healthy relationships.

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Suicide: How You Can Make a Difference

 • Science Update

The recent deaths of high-profile public figures and a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on rising suicide rates have brought the topic of suicide into everyday conversations. It’s important to know some facts and to know what to do if you think someone might be at risk for self-harm. A crisis can pass with time and the most important thing is to stay safe through the crisis and get help.

5 Action Steps for Helping Someone in Emotional Pain

  • Ask: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
  • Keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
  • Be there: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may, in fact, reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
  • Help them connect: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number in your phone so it’s there if you need it: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.
  • Stay Connected: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.

The Facts

CDC reported that nearly 45,000 people died by suicide in 2016, it is the third leading cause of death among those age 10-34, and the 10th leading cause of death overall. The suicide death rate has increased in the US since 1999, however, it is still a relatively rare event resulting in approximately 15 deaths for every 100,000 people.

Suicide is Complicated

There is no single cause of suicide, it is linked to mental health conditions and stressful life experiences. It’s important to reach out and talk honestly with anyone going through a difficult time.

Many stressful situations contribute to suicide among those with and without known mental health conditions. Some of the most significant contributing factors include:

  • Relationship problems
  • A crisis that occurred in the past two weeks or that is expected in the next two weeks
  • Substance use problems
  • Physical health problems
  • Job or financial problems
  • Criminal or legal problems
  • Loss of housing

The Warning Signs

These are the most common signs that someone is in emotional distress. If you are concerned, take the 5 Action Steps listed above.

  • Feeling like a burden
  • Being isolated
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Increased substance use
  • Looking for a way to access lethal means (e.g., a firearm or pills)
  • Increased anger or rage
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Expressing hopelessness
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Talking or posting about wanting to die

A Community Effort

Suicide is a growing public health problem and the solution will take a community effort. This CDC factsheet highlights how everyone—from states, employers, and schools to the news media and friends—can have an impact on suicide prevention.

Action Steps for News Media

Research shows that the media can influence suicide rates by the way they report on suicide. Evidence suggests that when the media tells stories of people positively coping in suicidal moments, more suicides can be prevented.

For best practices for safely and accurately reporting on suicide, please see
Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide.

More Information

If you or someone you know need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.

The free service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are confidential. Contact social media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend’s social media updates or dial 911 in an emergency.