Why ‘pop’ science, lifestyle gurus are leading mental health discussions

A city-based neuroscientist and neurosurgeon Dr Manas Panigrahi attributed the growing popularity of lifestyle influencers to the lack of stigma attached to them, compared to visiting a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.
Representative Image
Representative ImagePhoto| Express

HYDERABAD : With ‘optimisation’ being a recent unexpected addition to the vocabulary of discussions surrounding mental health and stress management, social media platforms are flooded with lifestyle influencers and ‘pop’ scientists recommending different breathing techniques, meditation apps and cold plunges, among others.

Speaking to TNIE, a city-based neuroscientist and neurosurgeon Dr Manas Panigrahi attributed the growing popularity of lifestyle influencers to the lack of stigma attached to them, compared to visiting a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. “When I refer somebody to a clinical psychologist, society will think he has some problem. But if he goes to a lifestyle guru, the society will accept it. They will not think that he is suffering from a disease,” he says.

Dr Panigrahi reiterates that breathing exercises are not a new trend. He says, “Every person has a different type of breathing exercise, but the final result is that it increases the oxygen level in the blood.”

‘Breathing helps beat stress’

The neuroscientist cited a comparison study carried out by a group of students practising pranayama and other breathing techniques and a group of students who did not follow any method. “The study found that memory and retention was better in students who practised breathing exercises. Breathing exercises also improve oxygen levels of the brain, reducing the degeneration of the brain,” he added.

Dr Panigrahi highlights that breathing and memory exercises are also beneficial for the frontal part and the hippocampus part — responsible for learning and memory — of the brain.

“What we consider as meditation is what is known in the West as biofeedback therapy. More than enhancing memory and well-being, it is also done for relieving stress and in individuals suffering from depression,” he added.

The neuroscientist said that breathing exercises being taught in educational institutions through yoga will equip students to tackle day-to-day stressors in their lives.

Dr Panigrahi also recommends laughing therapy. He says, “Laughing is an extreme form of breathing exercise. Laughing moves your abdominal muscles as well, which also helps to exercise your involuntary stomach muscles and intestinal muscles.”

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