3 things you already have in your house that are good for your mental health
You can incorporate these science-backed activities into your evening routine tonight.
It's getting dark earlier now, as we head towards the crisp snap of November air. Days at work, as a result, can feel longer: You're leaving the office and it's already nearly nighttime. Those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder begin to experience the effects during the fall, according to the Mayo Clinic. And even if you don't have SAD, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed this time of year, as we begin to think about the holidays ahead. Luckily, science shows us that there are things we can do right in our own homes to increase our happiness and well-being.
These relaxing activities, backed by research, can turn a stressful day into a calm night with minimal time and effort. They utilize common household amenities and take place around the house, too — you can use one of these ideas (or all of them) tonight.
Take a hot bath
This may sound like a familiar recommendation — but it's now backed by science. A small new study by researchers at the University of Freiburg found that a hot afternoon bath just twice a week had a significant, positive effect on depressive symptoms in study participants. The onset of that symptom relief was quicker than the relief provided by a control group, at two weeks compared to eight. The reason for the effect, the study authors postulate, is that a warm bath helps increase core temperature and thus synchronizes circadian rhythm, a struggle for some depression sufferers. Even if you can't follow the study's procedure and get home to bathe in the afternoon, try to take your bath as soon as you get home from work: The study explains that our best sleep happens when core body temperature is low, so practicing circadian-rhythm synchronizing through the heat of the tub is better done farther away from bedtime.
Throw some lavender essential oil in your bath
When I couldn't sleep as a child, my mom used to sprinkle a few drops of lavender oil on my pillow — it would, she said, help me relax. The idea, which she brought across the Atlantic from Eastern Europe, isn't unique to my family: lavender pillows and candles abound. Science, this week, has caught up with the popular appeal and relaxing association many of us have with the herb: a new studyreveals that smelling vaporized lavender, or more specifically, the compound linaloo that it contains, has a calming effect. There are plenty of ways to harness this research to help achieve maximum evening relaxation, including my mother's trick of lavender essential oil on your pillow, but a great option is also putting some drops of the oil in your bath — why not double up your benefits?
Listen to the Song "Weightless" by Marconi Union
While research has shown that listening to music in general can have mental health benefits, there's one song that can reduce stress by up to 65 percent, according to reporting by Melanie Curtin. The song was actually formulated with this relaxing effect in mind, through consultation between the band Marconi Union and sound therapists. So queue it up during your lavender-scented bath and enjoy: warm, fragrant, and serenaded, you may find yourself reaching maximum relaxation.
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- The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
- Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
- These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.
Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.
A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.
Rethinking humanity's origin story
The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.
David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.
The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.
Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"
He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.
"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."
Migrating out of Africa
In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.
Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.
The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.
The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.
Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.
Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.
Did we head east or south of Eden?
Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.
Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.
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