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3 Mental Techniques That Boost Your Immune System

Lack of sleep, loneliness and stress are the main psychological factors that make people more vulnerable to infection, research finds.

However, loneliness can be combated by speaking to others using apps like FaceTime, Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Google Duo.

Stress can be reduced with simple psychological exercises and sleep can be improved by following sleep hygiene guidelines.

Dr Christopher Fagundes, an expert on how mental health affects the immune system, said:

“We’ve found that stress, loneliness and lack of sleep are three factors that can seriously compromise aspects of the immune system that make people more susceptible to viruses if exposed.
Also, stress, loneliness and disrupted sleep promote other aspects of the immune system responsible for the production of proinflammatory cytokines to over-respond.
Elevated proinflammatory cytokine production can generate sustained upper respiratory infection symptoms.”

1. Loneliness

Studies have repeatedly shown that loneliness tends to make people more susceptible to infection.

People who spend less time around others are more likely to get sick when exposed to a virus, research finds.

Staying connected with others and experiencing positive emotions, though, can boost the immune system.

Dr Fagundes recommends video calls:

“There is some evidence that it may be better to video conference versus having a regular phone call to reduce feelings of isolation.
There’s something about chatting with people and having them visually ‘with’ you that seems to be more of a buffer against loneliness.”

2. Sleep

Sleep deprivation makes people more likely to get sick, said Dr Fagundes:

“The overwhelming consensus in the field is that people who do not consistently get a good night’s sleep—7-9 hours for adults, with variation on what is optimal—makes a person more likely to get sick.”

One of the best methods for improving sleep is called stimulus control therapy.

In general, though, having a regular sleep schedule, bedtime routine and prioritising sleep, all help people sleep better, scientists have found.

 

sleep

 

3. Stress

Stress is the third factor that can affect the performance of the immune system, said Dr Fagundes:

“It’s important also to note that when we talk about stress, we mean chronic stress taking place over several weeks, not a single stressful incident or a few days of stress.An isolated stressful incident does not seem to make a person more susceptible to a cold or the flu.”

Daily routines are a wonderful defence against stress, said Dr Fagundes:

“This will regulate your sleep and allow you to focus on immediate goals and plans.In turn, you will overthink things less and feel more accomplished.”

People who are particularly susceptible to worry may like to try this exercise, said Dr Fagundes:

“People often worry and overthink things because their brain is telling them there is something to solve.
However, it can be counterproductive after a while.
A good technique is to set aside 15 minutes a day where you allow yourself to worry, preferably with a pen and paper.
After that, you aren’t allowed to think about the issue for the rest of the day.”

A further step is to address cognitive distortions, said Dr Fagundes:

“People often convince themselves that a situation is much worse than it is by telling themselves things that are not true.
We call these cognitive distortions.
For example, it is common to catastrophize a situation by convincing themselves that the worst-case scenario is the most likely scenario.
When people learn to identify and then refute these thoughts, they often feel much better.”

 

The studies were published in various journals (Cohen et al., 2011; Cohen et al., 2018; Prather et al., 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog.
He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

 

source: PsyBlog        March 28, 2020


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Your Clutter May Be Concealing Some Critical Truths 

It’s hard to imagine that the clutter stacked on our countertops, and stuffed inside a few cabinets, closets and maybe the garage could signify an important revelation. It’s hard to imagine that it’d spark insights about who we are and what we need.

But it can.

For Brooke McAlary, who pens the blog Slow Your Home, decluttering revealed all sorts of uncomfortable truths: “I had no idea what I stood for, what was important in my life, what deserved my time and attention and what didn’t.”

McAlary wanted to portray a specific image to others, which was actually driving her desire to buy more and have certain things: “I wanted people to think I ‘had it all together,’ that I was successful and living a good, enviable life. I wanted to own the clothes, wear the makeup, have the new house, not because they were important to me but because I wanted to appear successful.”

Maybe you can relate.

Maybe you grew up in a family where appearances were everything, where your possessions somehow spoke to the person you were. Maybe you’re living in a neighborhood where that’s the case, where big homes, designer bags and pricey cars mean you’re successful—and ultimately that you’re worthy. Maybe you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses online instead of next door.

So you’ve accumulated everything from a closet crammed with clothes (with tags) to boxes of seasonal decorations to several collections of fine china and random trinkets. And you’ve unwittingly adopted values that when you really think about it, actually have nothing to do with what you sincerely believe.

Maybe you grew up in a family where gifts meant love, or there wasn’t enough money for presents. And so, you’ve given what feels like thousands and thousands of toys to your kids (and have thousands of dollars of debt).

Maybe your clutter reveals the person you yearn to be, but have yet to become: the athlete, the well-read book collector, the natural-born chef, the super creative mom who loves to craft and give homemade gifts. Which is why you cling to: the unused exercise equipment in the basement; the bikes and triathlon gear in the shed; the shelves of unread books; the cabinets of unused appliances; or the plastic bins filled with glue, scrapbook paper, old magazines and glitter.

Maybe your clutter represents someone you’re not anymore.

McAlary had a hard time getting rid of her jewelry supplies, even though she’d closed her jewelry business. “My identity for the past few years had been tied directly to that jewelry, and to give it away was admitting I wasn’t the person I thought I was,” she writes in her insightful new book Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World. “I wasn’t the go-get-‘em budding entrepreneur or the hard worker or the mom who managed to balance work and stay-at-home parenting, and what did that say about me?”

Our clutter often represents our someday, a day that actually never comes. What does is the shame, which keeps lingering. You wonder what’s wrong with you. You wonder why you can’t get it together. You realize it must be because you’re inherently flawed.

You’re not. You’re simply changing. Or you were never interested in those things to begin with. That’s OK, too.

McAlary views decluttering as “a wonderful place to begin the work of excavating our true selves, our values, our priorities, and creating the time and space with which we can begin to live a more truthful version of life.”

clutter

In other words, getting rid of the excess can create the opportunity to shed old and no longer true parts of ourselves. It can create the opportunity to relinquish old needs, wants and wishes. It can create the opportunity to start living according to our most significant values.

McAlary eventually gave away all her jewelry, because it was dragging her down and keeping her stuck. As she writes in her book, “I continued to tie my identity to this stuff, but instead of being a positive thing, it had morphed into self-loathing and failure. Why would I want to keep that around?”

Letting go of the jewelry actually felt liberating—and it was both less scary and more exhilarating than she thought it would be.

She also let go of wanting to appear successful to others and started asking herself more meaningful (and tougher) questions: “What matters to me? What do I want my life to stand for? What do I want my legacy to be?”

What if you asked yourself these questions, too?

McAlary wrote her own eulogy when she was 31. “[I] have used it ever since as a foundation on which I’ve slowly built a life full of the things that are important to me. And while my eulogy had nothing at all to do with decluttering, I would never have had the clarity to sit and write it had I not spent time shedding layers of stuff for years before.”

She includes her eulogy in the book, which she imagines her children saying:

Quick to laugh, creative, compassionate, with a wicked sense of humor, Mom was never without a new plan or adventure on the horizon. She…was spontaneous, loyal, introspective, and believed wholeheartedly that we all have a responsibility to leave the world a better place than we found it. Mom, we’ll miss you always. Thank you for our roots, but thank you even more for our wings.

When we declutter, we stop carrying the weight of all our things, of all our past needs and wishes and identities, of values we no longer hold, of shame that only shatters us.

“We can let go of the guilt and the obligations and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are,” McAlary said. “[A]nd we can put that time and energy in to things that truly matter to us.”

Which might mean savoring short trips and adventures with your family, practicing restorative yoga, taking dance classes, hosting dinner parties (where the main course is pizza from the delicious place down the block), and having items in your home that you absolutely love, that genuinely reflect who you are. Right now.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.         9 Sep 2018
 
Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central.
Her Master’s degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University.
In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.


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If Losing Your Job To The Pandemic Destroyed Your Identity, Here’s How To Find It

        “If I’m not (insert job title here), then who am I?”

This is the type of question some adults are asking themselves as they struggle through the darkness of losing a job to the pandemic.

Some never realized how tied their identities were to their careers until they lost them. They feel lost mentally and emotionally, as if they’re experiencing a bad breakup. The present is surreal, the future is uncertain, and they’re unsure how to define themselves.

Christa Black, a freelance copywriter from Ashland, Kentucky, said her work shaped her identity.

“I finally felt like a ‘real’ writer, because after several years of trying, I was actually being paid to do what I enjoyed and was good at,” she said. “I started to feel less like an artist and more like ‘a professional.'”

But when the pandemic hit, the work faded away. Black’s income decreased to little to none. She soon felt that she had lost her identity, that she was no longer a professional and that she didn’t fit in with the creative community from which she had come.

That might be because sudden unemployment is a threat to “narrative identity,” said Jonathan Adler, a professor of psychology who specializes in identity and narrative psychology at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts.

“Identity is the story of our lives that weaves together the way we reconstruct our past, make sense of the present and anticipate our future,” he said.

That narrative identity is the confluence of you and the culture in which you live. We grow up in a sea of stories about what a typical life’s journey looks like and what moments we’re supposed to hold onto, Adler said, so we take the templates available to us and tailor our experiences to those master narratives.

“We use our stories as the foundation for everything else that we do,” Adler said. “So when you rock the foundation, everything else on top of that crumbles.”

Through some inner work, however, you can take back your worth.

How our identities influence our jobs

For some, jobs provide merely a paycheck. For others, occupations also supply a sense of meaning that holds weight when they think about their sense of selves.

Our perpetually “on the grind” culture defines who we are by what we do for work.

“The first thing we ask when we meet a new person is, ‘What do you do for a living?'” said Nicole Hind, an Australia-based psychotherapist behind the online community, blog and practice Unveiled Stories.

“It’s as though we equate ‘goodness’ with ‘work’ when in fact goodness is so much more than that. It’s important to note that this is particular to our modern industrialized society: the idea that work is all of who we are and that we are not worthy humans if we don’t work.”

Additionally, people who feel motivated and engaged by and passionate about their work might have experienced psychological benefits from finding their calling, Adler said.

In the idealized college-job-promotion-passion trajectory, becoming unemployed isn’t part of the vision. “All of a sudden the end is totally open and uncertain,” Adler said.

Our narrative identities serve two additional functions that make us feel good. They provide a sense of unity, so that we feel we are the same people over time. They also provide a sense of purpose, so we know the meaning of what we’re doing and what our lives are about.

People suddenly faced with job loss are now challenged by a story with a cliffhanger and interrupted senses of unity and purpose — all of which can lead to anxiety, depression and anger.

 

mirror

What to do about it

Finding your identity begins with questioning yourself about three themes that construct life stories and tend to be the strongest predictors of well-being, Adler said.

“It’s not so much what happens to you [that matters]; it’s how you tell the story of what happens to you,” Adler said.

The first is agency, a characteristic of the main character in your story (which is you). Maybe your effectiveness at your job provided your sense of agency. Though no one is in complete control, how much are you in the driver’s seat of your life versus batted around by the whims of external forces?

Give yourself the space to grieve the losses, Hind instructed.

Don’t rush into proclaiming why you’re stronger because of it. Instead, acknowledge what you’re feeling physically, emotionally and mentally. Recall positive moments, too: the times when you advocated for what you believed in or hit a goal.

Summer internships have dried up because of the pandemic. Here’s how to get ahead without one

“People who do what’s called exploratory processing — which means deeply trying to make sense of their experience before creating a redemption sequence at the end — actually do better than the people who just do redemption without exploring the challenge,” Adler said.

Then find something else to prioritize, like a new venture or hobby. Revisit your core values and what really matters: What parts of your job were important to you? What fueled your passion? How can you express those during this period?

You can stay invested in those values whether you’re employed or not, Adler said.

For example, Black, the freelance copywriter, has found her roots again in creative writing. “It has helped me get back in touch with my creativity and given me something enjoyable to focus on while I emotionally recover from everything that came along with the pandemic and its fallout,” she said.

In this way, the underlying value of her job might be fulfilled.

Figure out your own definition of success, Hind said. What do you admire about your role models? Is it their “success” or their skills, compassion, kindness or wisdom?

And our stories aren’t just about ourselves. Communion, secondly, entails a sense of being connected to, nurturing and feeling cared for by quality relationships. Engage with the connections that matter to you.

“Step away from ‘job’ as being the only and step towards appreciating [yourself] and others for everything: the way you take care of someone or the meal you cooked today,” Hind said. “What [do] my everyday life, my interactions and my values say about who I am?”

Taking action and finding community foster the growth leading to redemption — stories that start out bad but end well.

“There’s a lot of research on the theme of redemption. It’s sort of a classic American master narrative,” Adler said. “We have the Puritan settlers finding freedom. We have ex-slaves’ narratives about liberation. We have the rags to riches stories.”

The outcome of finding yourself

Reclaiming your identity requires both a quick shift in mindset and a journey of changing your thought patterns and behaviors — just like setting an intention to lose weight, Adler said.

“That’s something that takes place over time, but it actually happens every moment of every day. You can’t just diet and exercise on the weekends,” he explained. “Changing your narrative identity is like that — it’s a cumulative process that builds up over time, but the intention … is something you do in the here and now every day.”

When we’re focused only on work as a measure of success and what defines us, we lose touch with many other areas, Hind said.

We might devalue our contributions to our families or forget to be present with them, ourselves, pets and other sources of joy. We say we “don’t have time” for leisure and then wonder why we’re so anxious all the time or need a drink to unwind. Then we wonder why we’re unhappy, Hind said.
Just as a threatened identity might have upended every area of your life, a solid identity can also flow into different domains and increase your confidence.

By Kristen Rogers       June 18, 2020
source: www.cnn.com


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The Most Natural Way To Boost Mental Health During COVID-19

It can help improve mental health and wellbeing and reduce anxiety.

Even modest reminders of nature can help boost mental health during lockdown, research finds.

Nature can be experienced on a walk close to home, in the back yard or even indoors.

All have been shown to improve mental health and wellbeing and reduce anxiety.

Experiencing nature mindfully can help increase its effect, as can sharing memories of nature, thinking back to natural places that induce calm and sharing these stories with others.

Nature can help stop rumination — thinking about the causes and consequences of depressing events — a process common in depression.

Dr Kathleen Wolf, an expert on the health benefits of nature, said:

“Studies have proven that even the smallest bit of nature—a single tree, a small patch of flowers, a house plant—can generate health benefits.
Look closely in your neighborhood, and the bit of nature you may have taken for granted up until now may become the focus of your attention and help you feel better.”

Over the years, thousands of studies have shown the positive effect of nature on mental health.

As little as 20-minutes of nature can help to reduce stress, one study has found.

Gardens and backyards provide some with access to grass, bird song, leaves and flowers.

For those stuck indoors, though, potted plants or even photos or videos of nature can provide the necessary reminder.

Being mindful is key to getting the most out of nature, said Dr Wolf:

“It’s important to be mindful, commit to the activity and think about your observations while looking at these materials or elements of nature.
That means not merely scrolling through on your computer, but looking at photos or video streams with more intention.
It’s essentially nature-oriented meditation.”

Sharing experiences of nature with others is also powerful, said Dr Wolf:

“Even though we are physically distancing, it’s really important to our health to maintain our social connections.
There is evidence that people who are lonely or who are socially isolated can be prone to poorer health.
Nature might be a means, either by being outside a safe distance from others or by sharing stories with each other, of staying socially connected.”

Exposure to nature helps to stop people ruminating, a process of continuously worrying about the past and the future linked to mental health problems.

Professor Peter Kahn, an expert on environmental sciences, explained:

“In these times, I think our minds can be a little out of control.
Part of the effect of nature is that it can soften negative conditioned mental patterns.
If you can find nature, engage with it and get your heart rate down, then your mind begins to settle.
When your mind isn’t ruminating, it can then open to a wider world, where there’s great beauty and healing.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology (Hunter et al., 2019).

About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog.
He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

source: Psyblog
mask girl

Why You’re Having Anxiety Over Lockdown Ending,
And How To Cope

As coronavirus restrictions lift and states began to reopen, therapists say there are things you can do to manage your anxiety and stress about the transition.
As states and cities start to ease lockdown restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, many are thrilled to get back to business and return to normal — well, normalish — life.
Yet there are just as many people who feel conflicted about these seemingly overnight developments. You can be glad to see things reopening ― and heartened to see people protesting systemic racism across the country ― but simultaneously, a little anxious about how the next phase of cities reopening will play out.
After all, the stats are still overwhelming: As of this week, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world has exceeded 6.6 million. In the United States, more than 1.8 million cases have been recorded and more than 108,000 people have died so far from COVID-19.
If you’re experiencing anxiety over lockdown ending or just the coronavirus in general, know that you’re not alone. Recent Census Bureau data found that 30% of Americans now show symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.

“Many of my clients, most of whom have never previously experienced anxiety about going out, are nervous as states begin to reopen and loosen restrictions,” said Jennifer Chappell Marsh, a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, which is in the process of moving from stage 2 of reopening to stage 3.

As that happens, Chappell Marsh said many of her clients are reporting generalized social anxiety about resuming their regular lives in public.

“They’ve spent months without much exposure to people and places while consuming a lot of coronavirus-related media,” she said. “But there are so many unknowns: We don’t know how bad this will get and we don’t know how long this will last. They don’t know what to expect and the unknown can be terrifying, especially because the risk of infection is real, can lead to death and there is no vaccine.”

Over the last few months, Chappell Marsh has learned on the fly how to address concerns like these. Below, she and other experts share their best advice for managing panic and anxiety as states begin to reopen.

Recognize that it’s entirely natural to feel anxiety about this.

Amelia Aldao is a psychologist and anxiety specialist in New York City. People in big metropolitan areas like NYC may feel heightened concern about the end of isolation since most city dwellers are used to seeing and interacting with hundreds of people in the course of a day (during subway commutes, at the office, walking around the city).

“We were used to [it], but during the last few months, most of us have only had real, face-to-face interactions with a small subset of people,” she said. “It’s going to take some adjustment to go back to ‘real life.’ At the very least, we might experience sensory overload, since our brains are no longer used to processing so many social interactions.”

As the city begins to reopen, even Aldao has said she’s dealt with some unexpected anxiety while walking around town.

“I was walking in the park here in NYC and all of a sudden I was feeling very foggy and confused,” she said. “I then realized it was because my brain had a hard time adjusting to seeing that many people outside!”

People at the park were spaced out far enough from each other and wearing masks, but it still felt jarring, Aldao said.

“My brain was just having a hard time adjusting,” she said. “Much like when we are outside on a very bright day and our eyes have a hard time adjusting to the change in light when we go inside.”

Ask yourself: What can I control now?

You’re living with a lot of unknowns right now: Will the surge of COVID-19 infections slowly decline in your part of the country, or will it pick up as it has in other parts of the country? Will your workplace do enough to ensure employees are social distancing? How safe are indoor public places right now (retail stores, for instance, and restaurants)? Will people remain vigilant about wearing masks?
When you get stuck in this loop, try to refocus on positive thoughts about things in your life you can control, Chappell Marsh said. You can wear a mask to lower your chance of catching the virus and others’ chances, too, for instance. You can talk to your manager at work and slowly reacquaint yourself with going out in public places again. (No need to rush to make those restaurant reservations!)

“In times of uncertainty and overwhelm, it’s best to bring our focus to the here and now, asking ourselves, ‘What can I do?’ said Chappell Marsh. “Shifting our mindset in that way takes us mentally from overwhelm and anxious to empowered and hopeful.”

You don’t have to rush back out there, but try to take baby steps to get comfortable with being in public again.

With the exception of work demands, there is no need to rush into anything as restrictions are loosened, said Julia Yacoob, a psychologist in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. You can still avoid big crowds and say “no” to invitations to a bar or restaurant if you’d rather keep your social circle somewhat small.

“Stay in touch with your feelings, continuously check in with yourself, and respect where you are, given what you’ve just experienced,” Yacoob said. “That doesn’t mean you need to let your feelings completely dictate your actions if you know rationally that they are not serving you well. As in, just because you feel something is true does not mean that it is.” (In other words, sometimes our feelings can convince us of that we’re more at risk than we are when, say, we go to the market with a mask.)

The goal here is to build emotional tolerance slowly, Chappell Marsh said. Obviously, the risk is real and we can’t ignore that. But avoiding everything that triggers anxiety will only make it worse, she said.

Take baby steps. Start by asking yourself, “What is a small risk I can tolerate today?” the therapist said.

“Then identify one thing that you can do that feels uncomfortable,” she explained. “Keep washing your hands, wearing your mask and maintain good distance when in public while also pushing yourself to take one small step outside your comfort zone. Once there, allow yourself to stay in the discomfort and breathe through it until the discomfort dissipates.”

When you start to worry, try this simple thought exercise.

Aldao has been telling her clients dealing with COVID-related anxiety to try this simple cognitive behavioral therapy exercise. It might help you, too.
First, identify what’s at the core of your anxiety.

“What’s triggering it?” she said. “What are the specific worries you’re having?”

Once you’ve identified these worries, ask yourself the following five questions:
  1. What is the evidence for and against the worrisome thought?
  2. What’s the usefulness of having this thought? (Is it adding more tension than helping you solve problems?)
  3. What would you tell a friend or loved one in a similar situation?
  4. Can you set aside time to worry later?
  5. Can you breathe through the worry and practice mindfulness?
Lastly, she said, try to identify how the worries and anxiety hold you back.

“Are there specific things that they make you avoid? If so, write these down and every day, try to push yourself to do those things you’re scared of,” she explained. “This is a technique called exposure and we use it in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders.”

Consider counseling at least temporarily if you’re feeling a heightened sense of anxiety.
If your stress is worsening or you’re noticing a major uptick in anxiety, low mood or problematic behavior (substance abuse, for instance), it might be worth talking to a professional. Many people are currently turning to teletherapy ― videoconferencing with a mental health expert ― to get help.

“Counseling to help improve mental health in response to this experience can be helpful,” Chicago therapist Anna Poss told HuffPost. “As a society, we haven’t done a great job of normalizing counseling, but it is a great way to get support and does not mean anything is ‘wrong’ with you. It just means that something is hard and you don’t have to go through it alone. That’s certainly the case with a pandemic.”

Keep the focus on you and your self-care, not on others and how they’re approaching things reopening.

Continue to prioritize self-care, including exercise, a healthy diet and sleep, but also self-compassion and compassion toward others, Yacoob said. That means holding back on the judgment when you see your sister-in-law bouncing around from bar to bar on her Instagram story over the weekend or questioning the number of people your neighbor has over.

“We have no insight into what those around us may be experiencing, so as best you can, lighten up on judgment and harsh words towards others,” she said. “It’s healthier to focus on you right now.”

By Brittany Wong             06/09/2020


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Ikigai: Your Reason for Being

What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning?
When asked what is the single most powerful contributing factor to one’s health and vitality, integrative medical doctor Oscar Serrallach answered without hesitation: having a sense of purpose. Serrallach went on to describe that while some of his patients have developed great regimes of nutrition, lifestyle activities and movement to support their wellbeing; those without a clear sense of purpose in their life experience continuing struggle with physical health issues. The distinguishing quality of many of his healthiest patients – those who  transcend common health challenges despite not having lived by the book, in terms of healthy lifestyle factors – is that they seem to be the most aligned or ‘called’ towards some primary focus of meaning in their life.

Japanese culture actually has a word which addresses this focus. The word is ikigai and translates simply as, ‘reason for being’.

What is Your ‘Reason for Being’?
According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai. To find it often requires deep enquiry and lengthy ‘search of self’ – a search which is highly regarded.

The term ikigai is composed of two Japanese words: iki referring to life, and kai, which roughly means “the realisation of what one expects and hopes for”. Unpacking the word and its associated symbol a bit further, ikigai is seen as the convergence of four primary elements:

  • What you Love (your passion)
  • What the World Needs (your mission)
  • What you are Good at (your vocation)
  • What you can get Paid for (your profession)

The word ikigai, that space in the middle of these four elements, is seen as the source of value or what make one’s life truly worthwhile. In Okinawa, Japan, ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”. Interestingly, while certainly incorporating the financial aspects of life, the word is more often used to refer to the mental and spiritual state behind our circumstance as opposed to our current economic status alone. Even if we are moving through a dark or challenging time, if we are moving with purpose, if we are feeling called toward something or have a clear goal in mind, we may still experience ikigai. Often the behaviors that make us feel ikigai are not the ones we are forced to take based on the expectations of the world around us, but rather they are the natural actions and spontaneous responses that emerge from a deep and direct connection to life.

 

Ikigai

The Question of Purpose
Many ancient indigenous cultures took time to honour the question of purpose through ceremony, vision quest and rites of passage in order to help reveal the essential role that each member was born to play in the greater tribe and story of life; though the space and reverence for this question does not always seem to exist today. For many, our decisions around life-focus unfold in a more reactionary way, propelling us into educational, professional and life-directional paths based less on deep inner calling or soul-inspired vision, and more on societal expectations, so-called ‘practical reality’ and what is required to survive in the systems we’ve created to live in.

The truth is, if there was ever a time on our planet where a sense of true purpose was needed, required, or desperately called for, now would be that time. But amidst the multi-layered pressures of our modern world, how do we peel back the layers and discover why we are here and what we are really supposed to be doing?

American mythologist and author Joseph Campbell shared his view on fulfilling our purpose when he said,

My general formula for my students is,

 ‘Follow your bliss.’ Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it .

Sacred Activism, encourages us on the other hand to find our purpose by ‘following our heartbreak’. Andrew Harvey calls us to discover that which is most deeply disturbing in our world and to use this as a catalyst to propel our actions and discover where we can make the biggest difference.

Meanwhile, philosopher and civil rights leader Howard W Thurman said:

 Don’t ask what the world needs. 

 Ask what makes you come alive and do that… 

 Because what the world really needs is people who have come alive. 

While each of these viewpoints are powerfully compelling in their own right, whether we are following our bliss, following our heartbreak, or that which makes us come alive (or a combination of all three!), for many of us there is also an apparent need to follow that which pays the bills each month and allows us to cover the basic necessities of life. So how do we balance all of these factors in the creation of a life which is meaningful, purposeful and aligned with our true calling? Is it possible to have it all? The essence of ikigai gives us a framework to balance these elements into a cohesive whole.

Passion as a Vehicle for Change and Contribution
As the world moves through massive change on many levels, more and more people are feeling called to align their skills and gifts with a higher cause or sense of contribution. Beautiful examples are emerging in many arenas of social change and activism where people are not abandoning their passion for the cause but rather channeling the thing they most love doing in the direction of positive change – and discovering inspired ways to support themselves along the way.

Sixteen year old rapper, dancer and global youth director of Earth Guardians Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a living example of ikigai, blending his creative gifts and passion for the Earth in the rise of a world-wide youth-lead revolution in support of future generations.  Poet/rapper/Facebook sensation Prince Ea has woven his love and concern for humanity and Earth with a gift for capturing profound messages into powerfully creative 3-5 minute videos – an expression of ikigai which galvanises the energy and support of millions of people online each week. Visionary art therapist and yoga teacher Atira Tan responded to her “heartbreak” witnessing child sex trafficking in Asia and has discovered incredible passion and aliveness through the sharing of her global foundation Art2Healing, bringing justice and transformational healing and movement arts to those who have suffered from this experience.

Youth Director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, in hip-hop expression of ikigaiYouth Director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, in hip-hop expression of ikigai.
The truth is many of the challenges we face in today’s world are not simple, technical challenges. They are complex, multi-dimensional issues which will require expansive, multi-dimensional thinking and action. The type of thinking, action and energy that emerges naturally when we are in the throes of creative expression or connection with others. When we are immersed in any endeavor that brings us into our hearts, that makes us come alive – and we are bringing ourselves fully to it – instantly we become more generative, more magnetic and more dynamic in our ability to navigate challenges and discover pathways of breakthrough.

What is Your Ikigai?
Take a moment to draw your own version of the overlapping circles of the ikigai symbol and consider the following:

  • What do you Love? What aspects of your life bring you into your heart and make you come alive?
  • What are you Great at? What unique skills do you have that come most naturally to you? What talents have you cultivated and what do you excel at even when you aren’t trying?
  • What Cause do you believe in? What breaks your heart or pulls at your gut? What change would you most love to create in the world? What would you give your life for?
  • What do people Value and pay you for? What service, value or offering do you bring, or could you bring, that brings real value to others? Something people need and are happy to pay for or share some value in exchange?

Take a few minutes to write whatever key words, phrases, and ideas come up for you in each circle, then look for areas of natural overlap. Reflect on the sum total of these elements and how they may relate to each other. Bring yourself quietly to the centre of the circles and leave space in your mind for whatever impulse or calling may emerge naturally in the coming days… What is one simple thing you could do or be today that would be an expression of your ikigai?

By Chip Richards        Monday January 14th, 2019
 


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How People Are Practicing Healthier Behaviors in the Face of COVID-19

  • In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are getting motivated to make healthier choices and adopt healthier habits.
  • Some people living with chronic conditions have found they’re also vigilant about self-care.
  • Experts say even small changes can lead to big improvements in overall health.
  • With many things still shut down, experts say this is an excellent time to focus on your health.

Like most New Yorkers, Rob Taub, 64, has been sheltering in place as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the city and the nation at large.

For Taub, a writer and broadcaster who lives in the city’s Upper East Side neighborhood, there has been one surprising result of the radical day-to-day life changes brought about by the outbreak — his overall health has improved.

Taub has been living with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure for nearly 15 years. An athlete growing up, he said when he was in his 40s he “looked like an NFL player,” but then something changed as he got older.

“I started gaining 15 pounds a year. Soon I was 40 pounds, then 50 pounds overweight,” said Taub, who serves as an ambassador for the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.

Now, as he’s been adhering to physical distancing and stay-at-home guidelines, he’s found that his overall health has improved.

The man who ate out at restaurants for about 80 percent of his meals now cooks for himself at home. A big change has been salt intake.

“One of the things I switched to recently prior to COVID-19 was oatmeal because there’s no salt in it and I realized my blood pressure was going down while eating it,” he said. “When cooking for myself, there is no salt. I realize restaurant food is laden with salt and it’s not good for you.”

Taub takes his blood pressure every day — at the time of his interview with Healthline it was at 112/80 mm Hg — and has been able to cut back on his medications.

These readings are better than he ever thought he’d see, especially when they were at their worst about a decade and a half ago.

Being vigilant is also important because he has a family history of these health concerns. His mother died at 73 from complications tied to diabetes.

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A time to embrace healthy habits

While now is a difficult time for many — stress and anxiety are up, people’s insecurities and fears over their personal health have increased — for some people like Taub, this new way of life has ironically led to better, healthier behaviors.

Dr. Robert Eckel, the American Diabetes Association president of medicine and science, and an endocrinologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said Taub’s story isn’t unusual.

With life on pause, he said that “now is a good time to focus” on health.

He added that depending on a person’s individual lifestyle and desires — and assuming they’re not facing too severe of an economic impact from the current health crisis — sheltering at home gives an opportunity to adopt some healthier behaviors, from more routine fitness to better sleep habits.

A big piece of it is reflected in Taub’s experience — eating better food.

“In general, a heart healthy diet is a diabetes healthy diet and cancer healthy and blood pressure healthy diet,” Eckel, a past-president of the American Heart Association, told Healthline.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an independent science-based consumer advocacy organization, writes that rampant unhealthy diets have something of a domino effect on overall health in the United States.

The organization says that diets that rely on heavily processed meals low on nutritious value contribute to about 678,000 deaths each year as a result of diseases tied to poor nutrition and obesity, like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

It should be no surprise then that each of these conditions are highly prevalent in the North America.

Annually, heart disease is the leading cause of death nationwide, resulting in 1 in every 4 deaths, while more than 100 million adults live with diabetes or prediabetes.

Obesity statistics are similarly high, with the condition’s prevalence shooting from 30.5 percent in the year from 1999 to 2000, to 42.4 percent in the 2017–2018 time frame. The prevalence of obesity-related diseases moved from 4.7 percent to 9.2 percent during that time frame.

Eckel said that as the coronavirus puts a pause on day-to-day life, it gives Americans an opportunity to hit the reset button on some of these worrying trends.

He cited both the DASH and Mediterranean diets as fairly accessible healthy eating plans that promote weight reduction, decreased salt intake, increased daily nutritional intake, and lowered blood pressure.

He also cited moderate exercise as a way to maintain healthy behaviors while stuck at home.

This means trying to fit in about 40 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day — this doesn’t mean having fancy or expensive equipment. It could be a brisk walk or using light weights to include some sort of resistance-training workout at home.

Really anything to avoid being in a “predominantly sedentary position,” he explained.

The challenges of making these changes

Of course, all of this can be easier said than done for some people.

The emotional, psychological, and financial toll taken by COVID-19 can make it hard for people to dedicate time to make some of these lifestyle shifts.

Dr. Luke Laffin, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, told Healthline that the people he treats generally have fallen in two camps during this crisis. One group was already exercising, visiting gyms, and adhering to healthy diets. Anecdotally, he noticed this group actually seemed to “fall off a bit” from their schedules once sheltering at home.

“They haven’t been doing as well in this setting,” Laffin said.

The other group consists of people who weren’t regularly exercising, not making the best dietary choices, but are now changing their routines slightly, finding they have more time to go for a walk or start preparing meals.

“It’s a double-edged sword. I’ve seen people benefit from this time but also some people not benefit as much,” he added.

For those in the second group, does Laffin envision these new healthy habits being maintained over the years once the COVID-19 threat passes?

“I think the most important part is getting into these habits and routines, and sticking with them. People are creatures of habit, so if for a couple of months with more time to exercise and eat healthily, I hope they find they can’t go without the daily routine of eating healthier, of making these choices,” he said.

If they feel better and see that their weight is lower and that their overall health has improved, Laffin added that he hopes these people will see these are necessary behaviors to hold on to.

Maintaining new routines

For those in the first group who are finding it difficult to self-motivate during an uncertain time, Laffin suggested pursuing routines that aren’t intimidating.

Just walking around the block is a good way to add some activity, and taking quick breaks in between working from home to do some light exercise could be helpful.

As for food, one doesn’t have to embrace complicated recipes if they’re used to dining out or grabbing a quick meal at the office cafeteria. He said to make sure you try to make dishes that have 50 to 60 percent fruits and vegetables.

Try to stock up on some healthier items when you do go to the local grocery store, just so you have them on hand and can incorporate them with your meal, even if it’s a side dish to complement what you might naturally gravitate to.

“I think it’s important for everyone to be realistic with themselves, however,” Laffin added. “A lot of people out there will slide back a bit, they will put on some extra pounds, they won’t be as physically active. Understand that this is not a 6-week reality, this is going to be going on for 6, 12, 18 months — now is the time to make these adjustments but also be realistic.”

For Taub’s part, he’s a social person who lives alone and said he will heartily embrace eating out with friends once it’s safe and responsible to do so.

What will he make sure to do moving forward to keep up with his new shelter-in-place healthy behaviors?

“I’m going to be aggressive in restaurants about what I order, I might even call ahead to see what I can get that is salt-free. If they won’t accommodate me, then I won’t go there,” Taub stressed.

“If I’m able to control my blood pressure more, then I have to be more cognizant of my behaviors,” he added. “It’s too easy to depend on medication, as great as it is. I need to be really diligent about it.”

Written by Brian Mastroianni              May 26, 2020              Fact checked by Dana K. Cassell


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Here Are A Few Things To Feel Optimistic About Right Now

From vaccine advancement to cleaner air, these positives are worth focusing on amid this coronavirus pandemic.

It’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of bad news right now, since the vast majority of headlines are calling attention to all that’s going wrong in the world.

There’s no denying the pandemic is tough on our physical and mental health, that people are dealing with all types of loss, and the overall situation is pretty dire and bleak. But we can recognize and respect that while also noting that not everything is completely miserable and awful. Amid the chaos, there are a number of silver linings worth acknowledging.

Our air is getting cleaner. Scientists are innovating at lightning speed and creating new types of tests, drugs and technologies. People around the world are uniting and so much more.

There are quite a few things that can bring some (measured) optimism into our lives right now — you just might have to go digging around for it. Here are just a few of those positives:

Smog is clearing up.

Around the world, major cities that are usually dampened by chalky clouds of dust and pollution are now getting some major relief. A new report found there’s been nearly a 17% decline in global carbon dioxide emissions since last year, potentially the largest drop in pollution ever recorded.

The biggest winner here is India, where air quality is notoriously terrible — during the lockdowns, pollution in the region has dropped to a 20-year low. Back in the U.S., we’re seeing clearer air, too.

Los Angeles, a city that’s been battling a smog crisis for years, is consistently seeing crispy, clear blue skies. The Twin Cities have seen a drop in pollution amid the stay-at-home orders — pollution in Minneapolis is down by 15%, and nearby areas are seeing up to 35% less pollution typically caused by car traffic and industrial activity. Detroit has seen a 30% drop in smog, Ohio residents are breathing fresher air, and same goes with the string of cities in the Southwest.

Crisis is breeding innovation — and lots of it.

There’s also a stunning amount of innovation going on right now. There’s a big problem that needs to be solved — the coronavirus — and the great thinkers of the world are hard at work coming up with solutions to treat, contain and prevent COVID-19.

Onyema Ogbuagu, a Yale Medicine infectious disease doctor, said there are over 250 trials currently looking at various drugs and treatments for COVID-19. There are new technologies that can sanitize personal protective equipment and medical equipment for reuse. Old drugs are being repurposed; new drugs are being developed.

“I think it’s amazing to see how much innovation is going on,” Ogbuagu said.

And it’s all happening at a record speed; crisis prompts ingenuity. These new discoveries won’t just help us recover in the short-term, but they’ll transform our lives for years to come.

 

The world is united in a big way.

All that innovation wouldn’t be possible without the massive amount of collaboration and info-sharing between countries and regions right now.

Science has historically been an extremely competitive sport, and researchers typically like to hoard info and take all the credit for their work. But during this time, scientists around the world are sharing their findings so, together, the world can take out COVID-19.

“[The pandemic] has ushered in an unprecedented era of cooperation and innovation from the private and public sector and medical community towards achieving common goals,” Ogbuagu said.

This level of collaboration has transcended country borders and regions and galvanized the research community, he added. The world is united in a way we’ve never really seen before.

Live entertainment is, in a way, more accessible.

Concerts, comedy shows, orchestras — attending such events are usually super pricey and involve a whole lot of planning and coordination. Lately, creators and artists are performing live online for free.

You can pretty much tune in to a performance every night of the week if you plan it right. You can start the week with Grace Potter or Metallica, wind down each night with a live stream from the Metropolitan Opera, spend Thursdays with Radiohead, and end the week with Ben Folds and Major Lazer. Here’s to hoping couch concerts are still a thing every so often on the other side of the pandemic.

You have a chance to reconnect with friends and family from afar.

Since we’re prohibited from doing many of the activities we love with the people we live close to, people are Zooming, FaceTiming, chatting and even letter-writing with friends and family from afar.

Though social distancing and stay-at-home orders are by no means easy, they’ve given us the opportunity to reach out and connect with people we might not have the opportunity to see regularly.

“Crisis has an interesting way of giving us permission to reach out to those closest to us for support reinforcing positive relationships,” said Collin Reiff, a psychiatrist with NYU Langone Health.

You can pick up new and old hobbies

Mental health experts say hobbies do wonders for our mental health and well-being, but it can be tough to find the time to take on new hobbies in the normal hustle bustle of life.

Reiff said he’s noticed many people are using their new free time to practice self-care — they’re going on walks, crafting, cooking, reading, writing and gardening. People are also revisiting activities they loved as a kid — whether it be playing soccer or making friendship bracelets — as a way to relax and revisit old memories (and, of course, stop thinking about the coronavirus).

We are being forced to recalibrate.

Finally, the pandemic has given us time to check in with ourselves and really prioritize our own well-being. This time is urging us to take care of ourselves. Not only is it important to keep yourself healthy, but other people depend on it now, too.

That goes for slowing down, as well. Our society has been so obsessed with being busy and outdoing one another. But in a global health crisis, that’s not totally possible. It’s OK if you’re not productive right now. Life is on pause. Acknowledge that, and let yourself rest.

Julia Ries   05/22/2020


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5 Tips For Combating Loneliness During Lock Down

Weekends and weekdays are not what they used to be, with a pandemic happening all over the world, we are all told to stay home and self-isolate for an extensive period of time. Although this is to help reduce the spread of the virus and ensure we keep ourselves healthy and safe, more and more people will feel extremely lonely. Being told not to leave our homes can have a huge impact on our mental health as we feel isolated and cut off from the world. Naturally we want to communicate with others, go out freely and do what we do on a daily basis. So, having these restrictions put in place can be difficult for many. This is why it is important for those feeling lonely during this period of time to find ways to combat it.

It is extremely important that you keep yourself occupied or that you find ways into getting into contact with other people. Here are a just a few ideas to help fight your loneliness during your self-isolation time.

1) Make use of technology
Yes, you read it right. This might come across as a surprise as many people will be against others spending a long period of time on their mobile phones or laptops whilst being alone.

But it is all about how you utilize your mobile phone!

This does not mean spending hours scrolling endlessly on your Instagram or watching YouTube videos back to back that have no meaning. You want to take advantage of the things your mobile phone can offer.

There are millions of apps you can download falling under different categories. If you enjoy reading or listening to audiobooks, there is an app for that. If you want to learn a new skill, there is an app for that. If you want to learn a new language, there is an app for that. If you want to catch up with a group of friends and play a game, there is an app for that. If you want to connect with like-minded people (in industry, for dating etc), there is an app for that. Now it is easier than ever to do what you’ve always wanted to do through your mobile phone, there is a world and a wealth of knowledge at your finger tips. So take advantage and go for it!

2) Communication
It is hugely recommended that you try to avoid texting friends and family and instead opt for different forms of communication while you are self-isolating. This includes voice notes and video calls. Video calls are recommended as is truly is the best thing after face to face interaction. If you find yourself lonely, video call a friend or family member. Seeing their facial expressions and reading their body language will help you feel like you’re not alone in your home.

There is also the possibility of having Thursday night drinks online, or watching a movie synchronised with friends.

3) Find your community
Now is the perfect time to identify your community. By this I mean, think about what your passion is. Now I can guarantee you, you will find an online community for it. Explore different platforms and find support groups and online communities that fulfil your needs and interests. It is the perfect opportunity to meet like-minded people and allows you to be your true authentic and vulnerable self. You will begin to build your own safe space online, allowing you to escape from your home to a space filled with interesting people.

4) Keep yourself occupied
It is important that you fill the time you have while you are self-isolating, keeping yourself occupied. With so much time on your hands, you can find yourself overthinking leading to you feeling anxious and lonely. Keeping yourself occupied can simply mean tidying up your room, learning a new recipe, working on a business idea, thinking of how you can add value to your employers or even picking up that book you’ve wanted to read for some time.

It is also important to have some downtime, you can keep yourself occupied by watching a series on an online streaming platform or listening to an audiobook. Podcasts are also highly recommended as it gives the feeling you are surrounded by others in the room. This will stop you from feeling lonely as you will have distractions all around you.

5) Stay active
There is an emphasis placed on ensuring you stay active throughout this self-isolation period. As gyms and many parks are closed, there are several alternative options instead:

  • YouTube – YouTube has millions of workout videos you can do online from the comfort of your home. There are all kinds of workouts available, with something for everyone. In addition to lots of personal trainers offering online sessions live on Instagram.
  • Cycle – if you own a bicycle, go for a ride. This is a great way to stay active and also ensures you are not in contact with anyone whilst doing it.
  • Go for a walk – If you don’t own a bicycle or don’t want to work out at home, the best option is to go for a walk. Take a walk around your neighbourhood, allowing yourself time to relax and take in the scenery around you.

These are only a few suggestions to help you during your self-isolation. Give some a try and make sure you are always keeping yourself busy or communicating with others to help fight the feeling of loneliness. If you need help, confide in someone or call a helpline.

Stay home, Stay safe!

Bianca Miller Cole  Apr 4, 2020
 
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Four Ways to Help Prevent Loneliness
While You’re Social Distancing

What if we were told that the best way to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic was to smoke 15 cigarettes a day? What would you do?

Loneliness, we know from the research, can be as bad for your health as smoking. It’s more predictive of mortality than obesity. And loneliness itself was a pandemic long before covid-19 got its name. (Between 1990 and 2010, there was a threefold increase in the number of Americans who said they had no one in whom they could confide.)

So canceling church, school, work and sports means we are doing something that can be hazardous to our health — in order to save lives.

It sounds like a trap. But it’s more like a balancing act — a seesaw we all have to ride now. You can alter one side and stay in balance, but only if you change what’s on the other.

We’ve heard a lot about what not to do. Now it’s time to talk about what we can do. “Look, I wash my hands a lot,” says Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “But if that’s all people are told to do, it only takes you so far.”

There are at least four specific activities that can help compensate for all the things we are not doing, according to the research and my conversations with disaster experts, psychologists and epidemiologists.

Loneliness creates a kind of toxic chain reaction in our body: It produces stress, and the chronic release of stress hormones suppresses our immune response and triggers inflammation. And the elderly, who are most at-risk of dying from covid-19, are more likely to say they are lonely.

Fear also causes the release of stress hormones. And a pandemic involves massive amounts of uncertainty: by definition, the kind that won’t go away quickly. That kind of ongoing stress is hard for anyone to handle.

So what is the antidote? First, anyone who can exercise should do more of it now, every day. Physical exercise reduces stress and boosts immune functioning. “Outdoor activities are good. Going for a walk, riding a bike, those are all great,” says Caitlin M. Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins. You can even do this with a friend, assuming you both feel healthy and are not in high-risk groups (and assuming you stay six feet apart in places such as San Francisco, where public health officials have so ordered). “Our overall goal is to reduce the number of contacts we have with other people, but you have to strike a balance.” And there’s never been an easier time to exercise without going outside or to the gym. (My current “gym” is on my phone, through apps such as Aaptiv, as well as free online yoga classes.)

Second, social closening. (Yes, that’s a word, it turns out.) Relationships are as good for the immune system as exercise. In a meta-analysis of 148 studies that followed more than 300,000 people for an average of eight years, researchers found that positive social relationships gave people a 50 percent greater chance of surviving over time compared with people with weak social ties. This connectedness had a bigger impact on mortality than quitting smoking.

To keep your relationships active, the phone is your lifeline. I’ve set a personal goal to talk (actually talk, not text) with one or two friends, elderly neighbors or family members by phone every day until this pandemic ends.

The one upside of every disaster I’ve covered over the past two decades is that people feel a strong impulse to come together and help each other. So far, I’ve seen that same tendency play out among friends and neighbors, despite social distancing, and we all have to work to keep that going. The coronavirus gives us an excuse to check in with each other.

The third antidote is mindfulness. If you have resisted this trend so far, now may be the time to reconsider. Meditation reduces inflammation and enhances our immune functions, literally undoing the damage of self-isolation. There is evidence that prayer can have a similar effect.

I’ve been using the meditation app Headspace for 10 minutes every day for the past two years. The big surprise is that meditation is not about clearing your mind. It’s about managing your attention, and it’s a hard skill to learn without some kind of guidance. It may sound kind of woo woo, but the science is persuasive. More persuasive than it is for other things we do (such as taking multivitamins).

Fourth, do something small for someone else. In surveys, people say volunteering gives them a sense of purpose and reduces anxiety. In Ireland, a woman named Helen O’Rahilly has helped organize nearly 6,000 volunteers to help elderly and immune-compromised people get groceries, almost entirely through Twitter. In Louisville, Erin Hinson is matching volunteers with people in need using Google Docs. My son and another kid on our street created fliers offering to help run errands for anyone who can’t go outside.

Wherever they strike, disasters have a way of revealing our preexisting weaknesses. But they also open up opportunities. I’ve seen this again and again, from communities destroyed by Hurricane Katrina to families devastated by 9/11. There is a golden hour after disaster strikes, a chance to come together and build resilience.

But this doesn’t happen automatically. We have to seize the opportunity, without fear. Viruses may be contagious, but so is courage.

By Amanda Ripley     March 17, 2020
 
Amanda Ripley is a contributing writer at the Atlantic
and the author of “The Unthinkable: 
Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why.”
 

How to Prevent Loneliness in a Time of Social Distancing

Here’s advice for preserving your mental health while avoiding physical proximity
With increasing numbers of people isolated because of quarantine and social distancing, COVID-19 is not the only public health threat we should be worried about—loneliness is one as well.
While scientists are rushing to understand how the coronavirus works, researchers have long understood the toll that social isolation and loneliness take on the body. People who do not feel connected to others are more likely to catch a cold, experience depression, develop heart disease, have lower cognitive function and live a shorter life. In fact, the long-term harm caused by loneliness is similar to smoking or obesity.
In January, a national survey found that 79 percent of Gen Zers, 71 percent of millennials and 50 percent of baby boomers feel lonely. Similarly, the proportion of people who belong to any kind of community group, such as a hobby club, sports league or volunteer group, fell from 75 to 57 percent over the past decade. Even without the coronavirus keeping us apart, it seems the majority of the population suffers from poor social health.
Although isolation is the right response to the coronavirus pandemic, we need the exact opposite in response to the loneliness epidemic. So how can you cultivate your social well-being while avoiding infection?
An obvious answer is the device you are reading this article on. People often blame technology for the prevalence of loneliness, pointing out that we spend too much time scrolling through social media and not enough of it interacting IRL. Yet recent research by my colleagues at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health paints a more nuanced picture: how you use such platforms seems to matter more than how much you do so. We can all benefit from developing digital habits that support meaningful human connections—especially now that it may be our only option until the outbreak calms.
Whether you are quarantined, working remotely or just being cautious, now is the perfect time to practice using technology in socially healthy ways. Here are a few suggestions for how to connect without contact.
Face-to-face from afar: The next best thing to in-person interaction is video chat, because facial cues, body language and other nonverbal forms of communication are important for bonding. When possible, opt for video over messaging or calling and play around with doing what you would normally do with others. For example, try having a digital dinner with someone you met on a dating app, a virtual happy hour with friends or a remote book club meeting.
One-minute kindness: Getting lots of likes on a social media post may give you a fleeting hit of dopamine, but receiving a direct message or e-mail with a genuine compliment or expression of gratitude is more personal and longer lasting—without taking much more time. When you find yourself scrolling through people’s posts, stop and send one of them a few kind words. After all, we need a little extra kindness to counter the stress and uncertainty of the coronavirus.
Cultivate your community: The basis of connection is having something in common. Whatever your niche interest is, there is an online community of people who share your passion and can’t wait to nerd out with you about it. There are also digital support groups, such as for new parents or patients with a rare disease. Use these networks to engage around what matters most to you.
Deepen or broaden: Fundamentally, there are two ways to overcome loneliness: nurture your existing relationships or form new ones. Reflect on your current state of social health and then take one digital action to deepen it—such as getting in touch with a friend or family member you haven’t spoken with in a while—or to broaden it—such as reaching out to someone you’d like to get to know.
Use a tool: Increasingly, apps and social platforms are being designed to help us optimize our online interactions with loved ones, including Ikaria, Cocoon, Monaru and Squad. If you do well with structure, these resources may be a useful option for you. Or you can consider using conversation prompts, such as TableTopics or The And, to spark interesting dialogue during a video call.
The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that human connection can spread illness. But human connection also promotes wellness. Let’s take this opportunity to recognize the importance of relationships for our health and to practice leveraging technology for social well-being.
By Kasley Killam      March 12, 2020
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Kasley Killam is an Master of Public Health candidate at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper who specializes in social health and well-being.
 


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The Health Benefits of Tai Chi

This gentle form of exercise can help maintain strength, flexibility, and balance, and could be the perfect activity for the rest of your life.

Tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion,” but it might well be called “medication in motion.” There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice, which originated in China as a martial art, has value in treating or preventing many health problems. And you can get started even if you aren’t in top shape or the best of health.

In this low-impact, slow-motion exercise, you go without pausing through a series of motions named for animal actions — for example, “white crane spreads its wings” — or martial arts moves, such as “box both ears.” As you move, you breathe deeply and naturally, focusing your attention — as in some kinds of meditation — on your bodily sensations. Tai chi differs from other types of exercise in several respects. The movements are usually circular and never forced, the muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched. Tai chi can be easily adapted for anyone, from the most fit to people confined to wheelchairs or recovering from surgery.

Tai chi movement

A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for tai chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age. An adjunct therapy is one that’s used together with primary medical treatments, either to address a disease itself or its primary symptoms, or, more generally, to improve a patient’s functioning and quality of life.

Belief systems

You don’t need to subscribe to or learn much about tai chi’s roots in Chinese philosophy to enjoy its health benefits, but these concepts can help make sense of its approach:

  • Qi — an energy force thought to flow through the body; tai chi is said to unblock and encourage the proper flow of qi.
  • Yin and yang — opposing elements thought to make up the universe that need to be kept in harmony. Tai chi is said to promote this balance.

Tai chi in motion

A tai chi class might include these parts:

Warm-up. Easy motions, such as shoulder circles, turning the head from side to side, or rocking back and forth, help you to loosen your muscles and joints and focus on your breath and body.

Instruction and practice of tai chi forms. Short forms — forms are sets of movements — may include a dozen or fewer movements; long forms may include hundreds. Different styles require smaller or larger movements. A short form with smaller, slower movements is usually recommended at the beginning, especially if you’re older or not in good condition.

Qigong (or chi kung). Translated as “breath work” or “energy work,” this consists of a few minutes of gentle breathing sometimes combined with movement. The idea is to help relax the mind and mobilize the body’s energy. Qigong may be practiced standing, sitting, or lying down.

Getting started

The benefits of tai chi are generally greatest if you begin before you develop a chronic illness or functional limitations. Tai chi is very safe, and no fancy equipment is needed, so it’s easy to get started. Here’s some advice for doing so:

Don’t be intimidated by the language. Names like Yang, Wu, and Cheng are given to various branches of tai chi, in honor of people who devised the sets of movements called forms. Certain programs emphasize the martial arts aspect of tai chi rather than its potential for healing and stress reduction. In some forms, you learn long sequences of movements, while others involve shorter series and more focus on breathing and meditation. The name is less important than finding an approach that matches your interests and needs.

Check with your doctor. If you have a limiting musculoskeletal problem or medical condition — or if you take medications that can make you dizzy or lightheaded — check with your doctor before starting tai chi. Given its excellent safety record, chances are that you’ll be encouraged to try it.

Consider observing and taking a class. Taking a class may be the best way to learn tai chi. Seeing a teacher in action, getting feedback, and experiencing the camaraderie of a group are all pluses. Most teachers will let you observe the class first to see if you feel comfortable with the approach and atmosphere. Instruction can be individualized. Ask about classes at your local Y, senior center, or community education center.

If you’d rather learn at home, you can buy or rent videos geared to your interests and fitness needs (see “Selected resources”). Although there are some excellent tai chi books, it can be difficult to appreciate the flow of movements from still photos or illustrations.

Talk to the instructor. There’s no standard training or licensing for tai chi instructors, so you’ll need to rely on recommendations from friends or clinicians and, of course, your own judgment. Look for an experienced teacher who will accommodate individual health concerns or levels of coordination and fitness.

Dress comfortably. Choose loose-fitting clothes that don’t restrict your range of motion. You can practice barefoot or in lightweight, comfortable, and flexible shoes. Tai chi shoes are available, but ones you find in your closet will probably work fine. You’ll need shoes that won’t slip and can provide enough support to help you balance, but have soles thin enough to allow you to feel the ground. Running shoes, designed to propel you forward, are usually unsuitable.

Gauge your progress. Most beginning programs and tai chi interventions tested in medical research last at least 12 weeks, with instruction once or twice a week and practice at home. By the end of that time, you should know whether you enjoy tai chi, and you may already notice positive physical and psychological changes.

No pain, big gains

Although tai chi is slow and gentle and doesn’t leave you breathless, it addresses the key components of fitness — muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and, to a lesser degree, aerobic conditioning. Here’s some of the evidence:

Muscle strength. Tai chi can improve both lower-body strength and upper-body strength. When practiced regularly, tai chi can be comparable to resistance training and brisk walking.

Although you aren’t working with weights or resistance bands, the unsupported arm exercise involved in tai chi strengthens your upper body. Tai chi strengthens both the lower and upper extremities and also the core muscles of the back and abdomen.

Flexibility. Tai chi can boost upper- and lower-body flexibility as well as strength.

Balance. Tai chi improves balance and, according to some studies, reduces falls. Proprioception — the ability to sense the position of one’s body in space — declines with age. Tai chi helps train this sense, which is a function of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments. Tai chi also improves muscle strength and flexibility, which makes it easier to recover from a stumble. Fear of falling can make you more likely to fall; some studies have found that tai chi training helps reduce that fear.

Aerobic conditioning. Depending on the speed and size of the movements, tai chi can provide some aerobic benefits. If your clinician advises a more intense cardio workout with a higher heart rate than tai chi can offer, you may need something more aerobic as well.

August 20, 2019

 

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11 Ways Tai Chi Can Benefit Your Health

What is tai chi?

Tai chi is a form of exercise that began as a Chinese tradition. It’s based in martial arts, and involves slow movements and deep breaths. Tai chi has many physical and emotional benefits. Some of the benefits of tai chi include decreased anxiety and depression and improvements in cognition. It may also help you manage symptoms of some chronic diseases, such as fibromyalgia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

1. Reduces stress

One of the main benefits of tai chi is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety, though most evidence is anecdotal.

In 2018, one study compared the effects of tai chi on stress-related anxiety to traditional exercise. The study included 50 participants. The researchers found that tai chi provided the same benefits for managing stress-related anxiety as exercise. Because tai chi also includes meditation and focused breathing, the researchers noted that tai chi may be superior to other forms of exercise for reducing stress and anxiety. However, a larger-scale study is needed.

Tai chi is very accessible and lower impact than many other forms of exercise. The researchers found it to be safe and inexpensive, so it may be a good option if you are otherwise healthy and experiencing stress-related anxiety.

2. Improves mood

Tai chi may help improve your mood if you are depressed or anxious. Preliminary research suggests that regularly practicing tai chi can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s believed that the slow, mindful breaths and movements have a positive effect on the nervous system and mood-regulating hormones. Further research is being done to establish a clear link between tai chi and improved mood.

3. Better sleep

Regularly practicing tai chi may help you to have more restful sleep.

One study followed young adults with anxiety after they were prescribed two tai chi classes each week, for 10 weeks. Based on participant reporting, the individuals who practiced tai chi experienced significant improvements in their quality of sleep compared to those in the control group. This same group also experienced a decrease in their anxiety symptoms.

Tai chi can improve sleep for older adults, too. In a study published in 2016, researchers found that two months of twice-weekly tai chi classes was associated with better sleep in older adults with cognitive impairment.

4. Promotes weight loss

Regularly practicing tai chi can result in weight loss. One study tracked changes in weight in a group of adults practicing tai chi five times a week for 45 minutes. At the end of the 12 weeks, these adults lost a little over a pound without making any additional lifestyle changes.

5. Improves cognition in older adults

Tai chi may improve cognition in older adults with cognitive impairment. More specifically, tai chi may help improve memory and executive functioning skills like paying attention and carrying out complex tasks.

6. Reduces risk of falling in older adults

Tai chi can help improve balance and motor function, and reduce fear of falling in older adults. It can also reduce actual falls after 8 weeks of practice, and significantly reduce falls after 16 weeks of practice. Because fear of falling can reduce independence and quality of life, and falls can lead to serious complications, tai chi may offer the additional benefit of improving quality of life and general well-being in older adults.

7. Improves fibromyalgia symptoms

Tai chi may compliment traditional methods for management of certain chronic diseases.

Results from a 2018 study showed that a consistent tai chi practice can decrease the symptoms of fibromyalgia in some people. Participants in the study who practiced tai chi for 52 weeks exhibited greater improvements in their fibromyalgia-related symptoms when compared to participants practicing aerobics. Learn about other alternative treatments for fibromyalgia symptoms.

8. Improves COPD symptoms

Tai chi may improve some of the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In one study, people with COPD practiced tai chi for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, they have improvements in their ability to exercise and reported an overall improvement in their quality of life.

9. Improves balance and strength in people with Parkinson’s

In a randomized, controlled trial of 195 participants, regular practice of tai chi was found to decrease the number of falls in people with Parkinson’s disease. Tai chi can also help you to increase leg strength and overall balance.

10. Safe for people with coronary heart disease

Tai chi is a safe form of moderate exercise you can try if you have coronary heart disease. Following a cardiovascular event, regular tai chi practices may help you:

  • increase physical activity
  • lose weight
  • improve your quality of life

11. Reduces pain from arthritis

In a small-scale 2010 study, 15 participants with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) practiced tai chi for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the participants reported less pain and improved mobility and balance.

A larger, earlier study found similar results in people with knee osteoarthritis (OA). In this study, 40 participants with knee OA practiced 60 minutes of tai chi, two times a week for 12 weeks. Following the study, participants reported a reduction in pain and an improvement in mobility and quality of life.

When compared to physical therapy, tai chi has also been found to be as effective in the treatment of knee OA.

Always talk to your doctor before starting tai chi if you have arthritis. You may need to do modified versions of some of the movements.

Is tai chi safe?

Tai chi is generally considered to be a safe exercise with few side effects. You may experience some aches or pains after practicing tai chi if you’re a beginner. More rigorous forms of tai chi and improper practice of tai chi are associated with increased risk of injury to joints. Especially if you’re new to tai chi, consider attending a class or working with an instructor to reduce your risk of injury.

If you’re pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise program.

How to start tai chi

Tai chi focuses on proper posture and exact movements, something that is difficult to learn on your own. If you’re new to tai chi, take a class or get an instructor.

Tai chi is taught in studios all over the United States and other countries. Larger gyms, like the YMCA, sometimes offer tai chi classes as well.

Choosing a tai chi style

There are five different styles of tai chi, and each style can be modified to suit your goals and personal fitness level. All styles of tai chi incorporate continuous movement from one pose to the next.

  • Yang style tai chi focuses on slow, graceful movements and relaxation. Yang style is a good starting point for beginners.
  • Wu style tai chi places an emphasis on micro-movements. This style of tai chi is practiced very slowly.
  • Chen style tai chi uses both slow and fast movements. This style of tai chi might be difficult for you if you’re new to the practice.
  • Sun style tai chi shares a lot of similarities with Chen style. Sun style involves less crouching, kicking, and punching, making it less physically demanding.
  • Hao style tai chi is a lesser-known and rarely practiced style. This style of tai chi is defined by a focus on accurate position and internal strength.

How does tai chi differ from yoga?

Tai chi emphasizes fluid movement and has roots in Chinese culture. Yoga focuses on posing and originated in Northern India.

Both tai chi and yoga are forms of exercise that involve meditation and deep breathing, and they have similar benefits, such as:

  • relieves stress
  • improves mood
  • Improves sleep

Takeaway

Tai chi is an exercise that can benefit both healthy adults and adults living with a chronic condition.

The benefits of tai chi include:

  • better sleep
  • weight loss
  • improved mood
  • management of chronic conditions

If you’re interested in trying tai chi, an instructor can help you get started. Classes are offered in specialized studios, community centers, and gyms.

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We’re All Glued To Our Screens Right Now. Here’s How You Can Protect Your Eyes

With much of the globe now under coronavirus-related restrictions, we have never been so tethered to our screens – for work, to connect with friends, to unwind or to distract ourselves.

One new estimate suggested that adults are spending more than 13 hours a day using screens, a spike up from 10 hours a day a year ago.

With children cut off from physically attending school, they are more reliant on laptops and tablets for online lessons and entertainment.

And with our new routines likely to have a lot more screen time for the foreseeable future, experts say it’s important to learn how to protect our eyes from suffering as a result.

While there is no evidence of long-term eye damage from extended use of smartphones, computer screens or other devices, prolonged use can sometimes lead to blurred vision, eye fatigue, dry or irritated eyes and headaches, according to Moorfield Eye Hospital in London.

Dr. Raj Maturi, the clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and a retina specialist, called these symptoms “digital vision syndrome.”

He, along with the doctors at the Moorfield Eye Hospital, recommended a 20-20-20 approach — for every 20 minutes spent at a screen you must take a break and look 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds.

“When you are looking at a close target, your eyes are just training that one muscle at all time, and looking into the distance can relieve it,” he said.

Don’t forget to blink

While it’s close work, rather than screen use per se, that strains our eyes. Dr Maturi said that looking at bright devices can make us blink less, which leaves our eyes feeling dry.

“When things are bright, we blink less. It’s behavioral. So we can train ourselves to blink more often and blink fully,” he said.

If you’re already suffering from dry eyes, he recommended the use of artificial tears. Moorfields Eye Hospital also suggested using a humidifier, as well as making sure your work station is set up correctly.

The top of your computer screen should be in line with your eyes and about 18 to 30 inches from where you’re sitting and tilted back slightly, the hospital said in a blog post in April.

Dr. Rachel Bishop, a spokesperson for the National Eye Institute, agreed that where your screen is positioned is important.

“If you are looking down, then your eyelid is shut a bit and you’re not having as much evaporation – which can help prevent dry eyes. If you’re looking up high, your eye dries much quicker,” she said.

Other steps you can take include dimming the surrounding lights so that the screen is brighter in comparison and cleaning your computer screen regularly to avoid dust buildup, which can obscure the screen and cause eye irritation.

If you or your children continue to have vision problems after making these fixes, experts recommended seeking advice from an ophthalmologist or optician as it could be a sign of an uncorrected eye problem like long-sightedness or astigmatism.

If you’re older than your late 30s and unable to see an eye care professional because of lockdown restrictions, there would be no harm in buying a cheap pair of drugstore reading glasses and seeing if they help, said Bishop.

“The focusing muscle in your eye changes as you age. You can focus up close when you’re 20 for hours at a time and have no problems. But that ability declines as you age,” said Dr Bishop.

“For people who aren’t eager to have a medical appointment, the first thing is to try on some low-strength, over-the-counter reading glasses. Hold up something to read and pick the lowest number you can comfortably read at the distance you like to work,” she said.

Blue light

Another potential concern is the “blue light” that digital devices emit, but Dr. Maturi said this affects our body clock, rather than our vision. But it’s something worth paying attention to – especially for kids who can get overstimulated easily.

“When we go outside we look at a blue sky, that’s blue light,” he said. “The issue with blue light is at night. It can delay your ability to sleep quickly,” he said.

He suggested that people turn their devices to night mode or use e-readers with screens that more closely resemble a physical book. The key was to look at how many nits a display had – a measurement of luminance or brightness, he added.

To protect kids’ eyes, parents should encourage them to spend as much time outside as possible – within restrictions that are in place where you live to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The past two decades have seen a massive increase in myopia or short-sightedness among children – and while scientists can’t agree on exactly what has caused this rise and whether there’s any link to screen use, they do know that spending time outdoors, especially in early childhood, can slow its progression.

“We should know more in a few years when research comes up with more answers, but for parents they have a dilemma because the school is now brought into the screen and kids social engagement are now brought into the screen and kids are playing their games on a screen,” said Bishop.

 

By Katie Hunt, CNN      Fri May 1, 2020
 
source: www.cnn.com
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Is all this screen time damaging my eyes?
(Yes. But here’s what to do)

Between Zoom meetings, ordering groceries online, Instagram videos, Face Time, checking the Canadian coronavirus map, endless chats with friends over Messenger, digital symptom trackers, and, of course, bingeing Tiger King, screen time is at an all-time high.

Digital media has emerged as a hero in the covid-19 pandemic, since it’s making remote work possible and social media platforms now provide a lifeline to those of us who feel isolated. But if you do both, as I do, that’s a lot of screen time, even before I start streaming The Plot Against America (must-watch, by the way). Since I’m already nearsighted, I wondered if this lockdown was going to do permanent damage.

I asked Dr. Ritesh Patel, Optometrist at Toronto’s See and Be Seen Eyecare , for a little advice, starting with some straight talk about how much screen time is too much. Apparently, anything over two or three hours is considered too much. Whoops.

“Whether that’s realistic or not is a different story,” says Patel. “So for people spending more time in front of screens, we try to recommend something called 20-20-20, which means that every 20 minutes you should give your eyes a 20-second break by looking 20 feet away, which allows you to refocus your eyes.”

And, thanks to the hand-washing regimen we’ve all recently learned, we should know how long 20 seconds really is—two Happy Birthday songs; the break from “Kiss Off” by the Violent Femmes, or the chorus to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Your choice.

Taking a 20-second breather to look out the window may not seem like the most important part of our new regimen that sees us take measures to avoid the novel coronavirus, avoid transmitting it to others, quell the rising tides of anxiety and find some way to stay physically active in our small spaces, but protecting our vision is an important piece too. It’s more than just the worry that we’ll all be getting new prescriptions, since too much blue UV light, which is emitted from our screens, can cause other problems.

“The devices can cause strain on your eyes, fatigue and, potentially, headaches but they also impact other things such as sleeping patterns,” Patel explains. “So, if you’re using your phone before you go to sleep, your brain is tricked into thinking it’s daytime instead of night time so your sleeping patterns are, of course, impacted as well which has an effect on cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure. It’s a bigger picture and a systemic issue as well.”

Patel advises cutting off the screens two hours before bed. I asked him if that included Netflix and, sadly, it does. Although he did say that, if the TV was far away, it was at least less damaging than staring right into tablets and laptops close-up.

And that principle can also guide us to design vision-friendly home office set-ups. Casting your work to a TV a few feet away is an improvement over working on a desktop or laptop, which, aside from producing eye strain, can also interfere with our normal blinking patterns.

“We don’t realize this but, as soon as we get in front of a screen and get into our zone, we blink a lot less,” Patel says. “Instead of blinking every two to three seconds, you start blinking every four to five seconds and that’s a significant decrease.”

Reduced blinking can make our eyes feel dry, itchy, sensitive to light, red and even lead to more bacteria getting stuck in the eyes, which could lead to infections. He recommends “blinking exercises,” which involve closing your eyes for five seconds and then again for 10 seconds at regular intervals throughout the day.

“I kind of equate it to yoga, how you become conscious about your breathing and realize you take a lot of shallow breaths in your everyday life,” he says. “Breathing and blinking kind of go hand-in-hand, because you don’t think about it, they just happened literally 10,000 times per day, but it feels good to take a deep breath or close your eyes for a break and give your eyes the moisture levels they need.”

Patel recommends looking into technological solutions as well. Many phones and tablets have something in their settings called “Night Shift,” which reduces the brightness of the light and Patel advises leaving that on all the time—not just at night. There’s also software available to filter out the blue light, such as f.lux. And there are plenty of apps to nudge you to do the 20-20-20 thing and take frequent breaks, since some of us will inevitably forget to look away from the screen if we get really engrossed in our work. And “Screen Time,” itself, which tells you how much time you’ve spent on any given device is helpful, too.

Says Patel: “It definitely boils down to awareness, right? If you’re not even aware of the fact that this is an excessive amount of time spent on the computer, then it’s not even going to cross your mind. But if you have a timer that tells you it’s time to take a break now, you might do it.”

By Christine Sismondo    Special to the Star         Mon., April 13, 2020
Christine Sismondo is a Toronto-based writer and contributor to the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @sismondo