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How To Manage Fear Around COVID While Still Staying Safe

There’s a delicate balance between vigilance and prioritizing other parts of our physical and mental health. Here’s what to know.

At this point in the pandemic, many people are struggling to make decisions about how to behave.

Since the start of the pandemic, the bulk of messaging about COVID has been extremely fear-based. We’ve read scary headline after scary headline as we have kept tabs on record-high case counts, death rates and hospitalization rates. We have consumed stories of people’s life-threatening battles with COVID and long COVID.

As a result, many of us have become exceedingly fearful about navigating life in the pandemic. And for a valid reason: This has been a scary 22 months. The coronavirus is new and ubiquitous, and, for a long time, we didn’t have ways to effectively mitigate the risk, said Dr. Lucy McBride, a practicing internal medicine physician in Washington, D.C. There absolutely has been a reason to be afraid — to a degree.

Fear has a very important role in our lives: It keeps us safe by teaching our brains to avoid dangers and threats. In a way, it also helps people understand the risks associated with COVID so they can make informed decisions about what is and isn’t safe.

But hitting people with too much fear can backfire. Excessive fear can reduce our tolerance for risk, it can make us hyperalert and hypervigilant, and it can cause us to make decisions that don’t optimally serve our mental and physical health. The key is finding the delicate equilibrium.

How fear influences our behaviors

Our brains are devoted to learning about the world, said Dr. Greg Siegle, a professor of psychiatry, psychology and translational sciences at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. If we are rewarded for a good thing, our brains continue to seek out the good thing. If we are punished for a bad thing, our brains become fearful of the bad thing so that we learn to avoid it.

“Fear is very good at creating avoidance,” Siegle said. “If you want somebody to avoid something, you make them afraid of it.”

Of course, for many people — especially certain immunocompromised individuals — it makes sense to be fearful of COVID. The risk isn’t zero, and it probably never will be. Vaccines have significantly improved outcomes in immunocompromised individuals who get COVID, but those with weakened immune systems are experiencing higher rates of breakthrough infections, and some of those can turn severe. Their vulnerability greatly depends on what local transmission is like, and whether the people around them are vaccinated ― two things that are largely out of their control.

But when we become absorbed by fear, our brains prioritize that fear and we start constantly scanning for threats with wide eyes. When this happens, we stop processing other important healthy behaviors that might seem more optional — things like digesting food, sleeping and connecting with loved ones.

“Particularly, at this moment, with a ubiquitous virus that is highly transmissible, fear isn’t shielding us from coronavirus,” McBride said. “It’s actually, for many people, limiting their ability to meet their broader human needs.”

When our fear systems are chronically over-activated, our physical and mental health can deteriorate. That’s why it’s important to walk the right line when it comes to fear, particularly fear-based thoughts that are within our control. Previous research has found that when people are overwhelmed with fear, they become anxious and engage in more destructive behaviors like smoking, drinking and unhealthy eating. Being overwhelmed with fear can even demotivate us to seek out the rewarding things in life, according to Siegle. Plus, when it comes to public health messaging, too much fear erodes trust in public heath.

It’s crucial to be intentional and nuanced when communicating the risks associated with COVID so that people don’t dismiss what’s going on or become overly afraid. (It’s worth noting that how much fear we can tolerate is also very individual and cultural. Some people, and cultures, can handle and comfortably live with more fear and arousal than others.)

“Fear is natural and important — but maybe it shouldn’t take us over and be the primary ruling thing in our lives,” Siegle said.

“Fear is very good at creating avoidance. If you want somebody to avoid something, you make them afraid of it.”  – DR. GREG SIEGLE

How to manage fear while still being responsible and safe

If you want to develop a more rational and less fear-based approach, Siegle said you’ll want to look at your risk assessment in a nuanced, evidence-based way. Be intentional about where you get your news and information: Avoid sensationalist headlines, look for the facts, and try not to solely read articles that reinforce your fear.

Siegle also recommended using the microCOVID risk calculator, which helps people estimate their personal risk for various activities in a specific, nuanced way. You punch in your location, vaccination status, and the activity you’re interested in doing ― including with whom and for how long. Then, you determine how much risk you’re willing to assume (some, none or a lot) and the calculator provides you with an idea of what living with that risk level looks like.

Similarly, McBride’s biggest piece of advice was to find a trusted doctor who can translate all of the information about COVID and apply it to your unique situation.

Ultimately, you want to find meaningful activities you can engage in, with modifications when necessary, that can bring you comfort, joy and solace, said Nathaniel Ivers, an associate professor in the department of counseling at Wake Forest University who specializes in terror management theory.

It’s important to stay connected to others, Ivers said, and COVID has created so much isolation that has left us alone with our thoughts.

“Try not to sit in the thoughts and the emotions by yourself ― really try to bounce them off of other people because, in so doing, you’ll receive feedback on how reasonable and rational those ideas are,” he said.

Mindfulness can also be extremely helpful in bringing us back to the present moment. When we are fearful, we’re oftentimes future-oriented and thinking about all the things that could happen.

“Mindfulness requires us to be present-focused, non-reactive and non-judgmental about the things that are happening around us and within us,” Ivers said. It helps us focus on what’s actually happening, rather than worrying about what could.

Finally, if your fear has led to debilitating depression and anxiety, ask for help and find a good therapist or psychiatrist. Living with fear — especially in the time of COVID — is natural and normal, but there are helpful therapies and medications available if fear has become overwhelming and is negatively interfering with the quality of your life.

“Fear is human, and fear is important,” Siegle said. “We can respect it and we live with it, but we don’t have to be ruled by it only.”

By Julia Ries        01/29/2022

pandemic

 

Coronavirus Anxiety:

Coping with Stress, Fear, and Worry

Fears about COVID-19 can take an emotional toll, especially if you’re already living with an anxiety disorder. But you’re not powerless. These tips can help you get through this stressful time.
Understanding your anxiety
It’s a frightening time. We’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, with many places at least partially shut down, others struggling to reopen safely. Some of us are in areas where the coronavirus infection rates are getting worse. Others are bracing for what may come next. And all of us are watching the headlines and wondering, “When is this going to end?”
For many people, the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is the hardest thing to handle. We still don’t know exactly how we’ll be impacted, how long this will last, or how bad things might get. And that makes it all too easy to catastrophize and spiral out into overwhelming dread and panic. But there are many things you can do—even in the face of this unique crisis—to manage your anxiety and fears.
Stay informed—but don’t obsessively check the news
It’s vital to stay informed, particularly about what’s happening in your community, so you can follow advised safety precautions and do your part to slow the spread of coronavirus. But there’s a lot of misinformation going around, as well as sensationalistic coverage that only feeds into fear. It’s important to be discerning about what you read and watch.
  • Stick to trustworthy sources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization, and your local public health authorities.
  • Limit how often you check for updates. Constant monitoring of news and social media feeds can quickly turn compulsive and counterproductive—fueling anxiety rather than easing it. The limit is different for everyone, so pay attention to how you’re feeling and adjust accordingly.
  • Step away from media if you start feeling overwhelmed. If anxiety is an ongoing issue, consider limiting your media consumption to a specific time frame and time of day (e.g. thirty minutes each evening at 6 pm).
  • Ask someone reliable to share important updates. If you’d feel better avoiding media entirely, ask someone you trust to pass along any major updates you need to know about.
  • Be careful what you share. Do your best to verify information before passing it on. Snopes’ Coronavirus Collection is one place to start. We all need to do our part to avoid spreading rumors and creating unnecessary panic.
Focus on the things you can control
We’re in a time of massive upheaval. There are so many things outside of our control, including how long the pandemic lasts, how other people behave, and what’s going to happen in our communities. That’s a tough thing to accept, and so many of us respond by endlessly searching the Internet for answers and thinking over all the different scenarios that might happen. But as long as we’re focusing on questions with unknowable answers and circumstances outside of our personal control, this strategy will get us nowhere—aside from feeling drained, anxious, and overwhelmed.
When you feel yourself getting caught up in fear of what might happen, try to shift your focus to things you can control. For example, you can’t control how severe the coronavirus outbreak is in your city or town, but you can take steps to reduce your own personal risk (and the risk you’ll unknowingly spread it to others), such as:
  • washing your hands frequently (for at least 20 seconds) with soap and water or a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • avoiding touching your face (particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth).
  • staying home as much as possible, even if you don’t feel sick.
  • avoiding crowds and gatherings of 10 or more people.
  • avoiding all non-essential shopping and travel.
  • keeping 6 feet of distance between yourself and others when out.
  • getting plenty of sleep, which helps support your immune system.
  • following all recommendations from health authorities.
Plan for what you can
It’s natural to be concerned about what may happen if your workplace closes, your children have to stay home from school, you or someone you love gets sick, or you have to self-quarantine. While these possibilities can be scary to think about, being proactive can help relieve at least some of the anxiety.
  • Write down specific worries you have about how coronavirus may disrupt your life. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a break.
  • Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of. Try not to get too hung up on “perfect” options. Include whatever comes to mind that could help you get by.
  • Focus on concrete things you can problem solve or change, rather than circumstances beyond your control.
  • After you’ve evaluated your options, draw up a plan of action. When you’re done, set it aside and resist the urge to go back to it until you need it or your circumstances significantly change.
How to stop “what-ifs” from spiraling
Relinquishing our desire for certainty and control is easier said than done. If you feel yourself start to spin out into negativity or panic, grounding yourself in the present moment can stop the negative spiral and allow your rational brain to come back online.
 
The technique is simple yet effective: Bring your attention to your breath and your body. Focus all of your attention on the here and now: noticing the sights, sounds, and smells around you and what you’re feeling in your body. Continue to breath slowly in and out—gently bringing your mind back to your body and breath every time it drifts—until you feel more calm.
 
For audio meditations that can help you relieve anxiety and regain inner calm, click here.
Stay connected—even when physically isolated
Evidence shows that many people with coronavirus—particularly young, seemingly healthy people—don’t have symptoms but can still spread the virus. That’s why the biggest thing that most people can do right now to make a positive difference is to practice social distancing.
But social distancing comes with its own risks. Humans are social animals. We’re hardwired for connection. Isolation and loneliness can exacerbate anxiety and depression, and even impact our physical health. That’s why it’s important to stay connected as best we can and reach out for support when we need it, even as we cut back on in-person socializing.
  • Make it a priority to stay in touch with friends and family. If you tend to withdraw when depressed or anxious, think about scheduling regular phone, chat, or Zoom dates to counteract that tendency.
  • While in-person visits are limited, substitute video chatting if you’re able. Face-to-face contact is like a “vitamin” for your mental health, reducing your risk of depression and helping ease stress and anxiety.
  • Social media can be a powerful tool—not only for connecting with friends, family, and acquaintances—but for feeling connected in a greater sense to our communities, country, and the world. It reminds us we’re not alone.
  • That said, be mindful of how social media is making you feel. Don’t hesitate to mute keywords or people who are exacerbating your anxiety. And log off if it’s making you feel worse.
  • Don’t let coronavirus dominate every conversation. It’s important to take breaks from stressful thoughts about the pandemic to simply enjoy each other’s company—to laugh, share stories, and focus on other things going on in our lives.
Emotions are contagious, so be wise about who you turn to for support
Most of us need reassurance, advice, or a sympathetic ear during this difficult time. But be careful who you choose as a sounding board. The coronavirus is not the only thing that’s contagious. So are emotions! Avoid talking about the virus with people who tend to be negative or who reinforce and ramp up your fears. Turn to the people in your life who are thoughtful, level-headed, and good listeners.
Take care of your body and spirit
This is an extraordinarily trying time, and all the tried-and-true stress management strategies apply, such as eating healthy meals, getting plenty of sleep, and meditating. Beyond that, here are some tips for practicing self-care in the face of the unique disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
  • Be kind to yourself. Go easy on yourself if you’re experiencing more depression or anxiety than usual. You’re not alone in your struggles.
  • Maintain a routine as best you can. Even if you’re stuck at home, try to stick to your regular sleep, school, meal, or work schedule. This can help you maintain a sense of normalcy.
  • Take time out for activities you enjoy. Read a good book, watch a comedy, play a fun board or video game, make something—whether it’s a new recipe, a craft, or a piece of art. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it takes you out of your worries.
  • Get out in nature, if possible. Sunshine and fresh air will do you good. Even a walk around your neighborhood can make you feel better. Just be sure to avoid crowds, keep your distance from people you encounter, and obey restrictions in your area.
  • Find ways to exercise. Staying active will help you release anxiety, relieve stress, and manage your mood. While gym and group classes may be out, you can still cycle, hike, or walk. Or if you’re stuck at home, look online for exercise videos you can follow. There are many things you can do even without equipment, such as yoga and exercises that use your own bodyweight.
  • Avoid self-medicating. Be careful that you’re not using alcohol or other substances to deal with anxiety or depression. If you tend to overdo it in the best of times, it may be a good idea to avoid for now.
  • Take up a relaxation practice. When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can bring you back into a state of equilibrium. Regular practice delivers the greatest benefits, so see if you can set aside even a little time every day.
Help others (it will make you feel better)
At times like this, it’s easy to get caught up in your own fears and concerns. But amid all the stories of people fighting over wearing face masks or lining up outside gun stores to arm themselves, it’s important to take a breath and remember that we’re all in this together. As a quote circulating in Italy reminds us: “We’re standing far apart now so we can embrace each other later.”
It’s no coincidence that those who focus on others in need and support their communities, especially during times of crises, tend to be happier and healthier than those who act selfishly. Helping others not only makes a difference to your community—and even to the wider world at this time—it can also support your own mental health and well-being. Much of the anguish accompanying this pandemic stems from feeling powerless. Doing kind and helpful acts for others can help you regain a sense of control over your life—as well as adding meaning and purpose.

Even when you’re self-isolating or maintaining social distance,

there’s still plenty you can do to help others.

Follow guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus.
Even if you’re not in a high-risk group, staying at home, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding contact with others can help save the lives of the most vulnerable in your community and prevent overburdening the healthcare system.

Reach out to others in need. If you know people in your community who are isolated
—particularly the elderly or disabled—you can still offer support. Perhaps an older neighbor needs help with groceries or fulfilling a prescription? You can always leave packages on their doorstep to avoid direct contact. Or maybe they just need to hear a friendly, reassuring voice over the phone. Many local social media groups can help put you in touch with vulnerable people in your area

Donate to food banks.
Hoarding has reduced supplies to food banks in many areas, while unemployment and economic difficulties have greatly increased demand. You can help older adults, low-income families, and others in need by donating food or cash.

Be a calming influence.
If friends or loved ones are panicking, try to help them gain some perspective on the situation. Instead of scaremongering or giving credence to false rumors, refer them to reputable news sources. Being a positive, uplifting influence in these anxious times can help you feel better about your own situation too.

Be kind to others.
An infectious disease is not connected to any racial or ethnic group, so speak up if you hear negative stereotypes that only promote prejudice. With the right outlook and intentions, we can all ensure that kindness and charity spread throughout our communities even faster than this virus.

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A. and Lawrence Robinson                          October 2021
 
References
Pan, K.-Y., Kok, A. A. L., Eikelenboom, M., Horsfall, M., Jörg, F., Luteijn, R. A., Rhebergen, D., Oppen, P. van, Giltay, E. J., & Penninx, B. W. J. H. (2021). The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with and without depressive, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorders: A longitudinal study of three Dutch case-control cohorts. The Lancet Psychiatry, 8(2), 121–129. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30491-0
 
Mertens, G., Gerritsen, L., Duijndam, S., Salemink, E., & Engelhard, I. M. (2020). Fear of the coronavirus (COVID-19): Predictors in an online study conducted in March 2020. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 74, 102258. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102258
 
Millroth, P., & Frey, R. (2021). Fear and anxiety in the face of COVID-19: Negative dispositions towards risk and uncertainty as vulnerability factors. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 83, 102454. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2021.102454
 
Twenge, J. M., McAllister, C., & Joiner, T. E. (2021). Anxiety and depressive symptoms in U.S. Census Bureau assessments of adults: Trends from 2019 to fall 2020 across demographic groups. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 83, 102455. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2021.102455
 
Aylett, E., Small, N., & Bower, P. (2018). Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice – a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Health Services Research, 18(1), 559. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-018-3313-5
 
Kandola, A., Vancampfort, D., Herring, M., Rebar, A., Hallgren, M., Firth, J., & Stubbs, B. (2018). Moving to Beat Anxiety: Epidemiology and Therapeutic Issues with Physical Activity for Anxiety. Current Psychiatry Reports, 20(8), 63. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-018-0923-x


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Why you might be happier if you don’t buy anything in Cyber Week

I delight in finding the perfect gift for a loved one and experience joy in thoughtful personal purchases. But I bristle against spending for the sake of spending, especially for manufactured “holidays” like Black Friday.

Decisions about dollars are complicated. “The consumer dilemma is the idea that the planet clearly needs us to reduce our consumption, but our economy needs us to consume more and more every year,” said James MacKinnon, author of “The Day the World Stops Shopping: How Ending Consumerism Saves the Environment and Ourselves.”

The pandemic revealed how vulnerable our economic system is to any kind of disturbance in people’s appetite to shop, MacKinnon noted. “We have created a system that is dependent on us acting as consumers. It’s almost as though it limits our freedoms to choose how we want to live and determines what our social role will be.”

There may be financial circumstances that drive a person’s need to make purchases on big sale days, but if you experience the financial freedom that allows you to spend, you might even be happier if you don’t buy anything on Black Friday. Here are some realities to consider:

Acknowledge that biology is in play

If you are feeling bad about compulsive spending habits, you are not alone.

“One thing about Black Friday that makes it even more pernicious is that not only can shopping release dopamine in the brain’s reward pathways — hence becoming potentially addictive — it also manipulates the social herd source of dopamine,” shared Dr. Anna Lembke, psychiatrist and author of “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence.”

Lembke, who refers to smartphones as the modern-day hypodermic needle that delivers digital dopamine 24/7, noted that when people feel they belong to a tribe and share experiences and emotions with other people, dopamine is released.

“That feeling of oneness or immersion is a huge source of dopamine and also serotonin,” Lembke said. She noted that these primitive brain circuits can get in the way of the prefrontal cortex’s ability to make rational decisions, such as realizing you can’t afford to spend the money you are spending.

fomo

Skipping Black Friday shopping this year helps counteract overconsumption.

Shop with intention

If you are looking for a different tribe, an intention-based shopping herd exists.

I recently asked on Instagram Stories whether people were opting out of Black Friday shopping and if they were doing something else instead. Many people shared that they were choosing different ways to shop this holiday season.

Carolyn Kornwitz of Boston wrote that she is opting out of Black Friday and any sale shopping altogether. “I’m going to source the majority, if not all, gifts for the kids from my local Buy Nothing Facebook group, as well as secondhand stores.”

Others shared that they were focused on supporting local businesses, independent sellers on Etsy, or putting their maker skills to use. “My pandemic hobby is knitting so everyone is getting ornate hand-knit items!” wrote Anna Brakeman of Madison, Wisconsin.

MacKinnon agreed that all spending is not created equal. “There are definitely better and worse ways to consume. Support smaller scale businesses, particularly ones that don’t have shareholders to answer to … when you spend your money, spend it in your local community thoughtfully on products that will be meaningful to you or whoever you are giving to.”

Counteract overconsumption with people and experiences

Overconsumption can result from people trying to escape their circumstances, a tactic that is understandable but ultimately doesn’t work, Lembke noted. “A potential antidote is to do the opposite and deeply immerse ourselves in our lives.”

“If we really turn towards our lives everything becomes more interesting. When we reinvest in relationships and experiences, we create new energy and new meaning and it becomes transcendent,” Lembke said.

Indeed, many people shared that they were bypassing Black Friday shopping and opting for connection time in the form of hikes with family or friends, epic games of tag, pickleball, tennis, cycling, or relaxed time at home.

Others shared that they are getting into the holiday spirit through activities such as Christmas tree trimming and experiences like “The Nutcracker” at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. “My parents are in town for Thanksgiving this year. We bought tickets to a nature walk/light show at Crystal Bridges, which is an art museum near us,” shared Liz Fernandez of Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Think back to lessons from last year

Evidence for non-consumerist holiday contentment may come from your own memories.

“Last year forced us to opt out of the traditional Thanksgiving thing and got us thinking this year about how we actually wanted to spend those four days off together,” wrote Kaci Lint of Mesa, Arizona. Given that she has five children, Lint noted that material items get overwhelming quickly. This Thanksgiving, her family is intentionally choosing experiences over things by traveling to camp out and watch the sunrise over the sand dunes in Utah.

MacKinnon is eager for people to shift back to the mindset that it’s enough to spend time together and concentrate on making that time a rich experience.

“Last Christmas everyone wished they could just be together; that would have been more than enough,” he said. In contrast, he noted that this season people feel like company alone is inadequate and they need to show up with armloads of gifts.

People are capable of change

One of the most dramatic and surprising observations amid the pandemic to MacKinnon was how quickly people found their way from a consumerism value system to a new value set centered on relationships, experiences and skill building.

“What we saw as people moved into quarantine and lockdown was that they turned towards other values really quickly. People reached out to old friends they had lost touch with. They were bird watching, mastering new skills, planting things. It took a matter of days for people to find their way to a new value set,” MacKinnon said.

That said, depending on the circumstances, behavioral change may take longer depending on the severity of their addiction, Lembke noted. “People need to abstain from a behavior long enough for homeostasis in the pleasure-pain system in the brain to be restored. Eventually, people will then be able to take pleasure in more modest rewards,” she said.

There is considerable work to be done to figure out the balance of consumerism as it relates to the planet and our economy, but one thing is clear: Our relationships, experiences and well-being are things worth investing in. And we don’t need to be held to a day on the calendar or a line around the block to do so.

Christine Koh is a former music and brain scientist turned author, podcaster, and creative director. You can find her work at christinekoh.com and on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @drchristinekoh.

By Christine Koh, CNN       Fri November 26, 2021


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Fun Fact Friday

  • You have a 96% chance of surviving a plane crash.

  • Canada produces 85% of the world’s maple syrup.

  • Crying is good for your health, flushing unhealthy bacteria out of your body, strengthening the immune system and relieving stress.

  • Adding salt to pineapple will actually cause it to taste sweeter.

~Happy Friday!~
source: @faccccct 


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Why Your Phone And The ‘fear Of Missing Out’ May Negatively Impact Your Mental Health

Electronic devices, such as smartphones and computers, are a necessity of day-to-day life; but that reliance on devices may be taking a toll on Canadians’ mental health.

A new survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) suggests, on average, Ontario adults spend more than 11 hours per week using social media or communicating via email, and nearly four hours per week playing screen-based games. That’s 15 hours a week not including the amount of time spent on devices at work or in school.

CAMH’s study suggested nearly one in five respondents between the ages of 18 to 29 showed signs of reliance on electronic devices, based on questions like, “Have you missed school, work or important social activities because of your use of devices?”

Overall, seven per cent of those surveyed had a problematic relationship with devices, according to the survey. Of those, 24 per cent said they had tried to cut back on their use and 14 per cent reported family members expressing concern about the amount of time they spent on their device.

Ten per cent reported feeling an “irresistible urge or uncontrollable need” to use their devices and seven per cent had experienced anxiety that could only be relieved by using a device.

“It’s clear that, for most of us, our use of electronic devices has skyrocketed over the past five to 10 years,” said Dr. Nigel Turner, scientist at CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, in a press release.

“While our understanding of problematic use is evolving, we know that some people do end up harming their career or educational opportunities by excessive use.”

How to cut down on your device use and improve your mental health

When Canadians talk about limiting screen time, the conversation usually revolves around children – but experts say it’s equally important for adults to consider putting tech restrictions on themselves for the sake of their mental health.

“Technology prompts us to respond – those beeps and buzzes gets our dopamine flowing,” Lisa Pont, therapist and educator with CAMH. “The fear of missing out is huge.”

family tech phones computer

As Pont points out, all of those text messages, Facebook Likes and Instagram notifications lighting up our devices provide us with a hit of dopamine – which helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centre. This often leads to people constantly being tuned in to their devices.

“There is this expectation of people in our lives to be immediately responsive because everyone knows you have your smartphone on you,” Pont said.

Pont says it’s important for adults to reflect on their tech use to see how it’s affecting their day-to-day lives and attitude – do you feel the pressure to respond right away; do you feel anxiety due to information overload, or do you feel FOMO (fear of missing out) when you aren’t using your device; have you argued with your partner because they feel you are disconnected?

“You have to look at the consequences. If it’s affecting your work, or its impacting relationships, those are negative consequences,” she said. “This idea that I have to know what’s going on, it sounds so benign, but I think it truly affects our stress level.”

If you feel your device is impacting your mental health, try imposing limits on yourself – for example, no devices after 8 p.m., turn phones off during family dinners, or no phones in the bedroom.

“Consciously not using it at times when you want to be present,” Pont said. “We have anxiety detaching from technology, but you might discover you like it.”

Another important habit to break: using your phone as your alarm. Although sleeping next to your device may not seem like a big deal, Pont said those beeps and vibrations have the same effect our sleeping brain, causing you to lose sleep – and a lack of sleep can contribute to stress.

The light emitted from a smartphone or tablet, for example, can suppress the production of melatonin – a hormone that regulates a person’s circadian rhythm – and multiple studies have shown that using blue light-emitting, like smartphones and computers, before bed can lead to poor sleep.

Of course, cutting down on your screen time might be hard to do if you have a job that requires you to be available after-hours.

That’s why France banned work emails outside business hours earlier this year, Germany’s labour ministry banned managers from calling or emailing staff outside of work hours in 2013, and Volkswagen made it so that its servers would shut down the ability to send emails 30 minutes after an employee’s shift ended in 2011.

No such bans have been implemented in Canada, however.

These latest survey findings are based on the 2015 CAMH Monitor, a collection of survey data which allows researchers to track long-term trends in the use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco, as well as identifying problematic behaviours related to mental health within Ontario’s population.

Another alarming issue in the survey: 37 per cent of respondents reported they had texted while driving at least once during the past year, while 11 per cent admitted texting behind the wheel 30 or more times over the previous year.

If you have the urge to text and drive, Pont suggests turning your phone on “Airplane Mode.” If you have a hands-free solution in your car and want to keep your phone on for emergency situations, then try leaving it in the backseat or somewhere out of reach.

By Nicole Bogart       National Online Journalist, Breaking News Global News
source: globalnews.ca


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A Technique You’ve Never Heard Of To Help You Combat Fear For Good

by Megan Wycklendt   OCTOBER 13, 2015

The Challenge: We are driven by fear in work and our personal lives.
The Science: Research provides a simple technique to combat fear and live happier lives.
The Solution: It’s something you may never have heard of before.

We all live in fear: fear of getting laid off, of being left, of getting sick, of losing a loved one. We are driven by fear and so we live in constant stress. In order to feel more secure, we end up buying more things, overeating, overworking and so on. However, there is a science-based technique you’ve probably never heard of that can help you achieve freedom from fear.

Contemplating impermanence.

The fact that everything comes to an end can sound like a dark topic but research suggests it actually can help us live a richer, happier and more fulfilled life in 5 distinct ways:

You will stop postponing your happiness.

We need to work to live, but some of us are so afraid of losing what we have that we stay too long in stressful work environments that drain us and don’t allow us to use our talents. Or we work instead of spending time with our family, for example. We stay in relationships that aren’t good for us for fear of not finding someone else. We postpone our happiness (Do expressions like “I’ll be happy when I get a new job, a new relationship, a new car” sound familiar?). We put our enjoyment of life on hold. Happiness always somehow depends on something that will happen in the future. A moment that actually never ends up coming because we’re always hankering after the next thing after that.

As we age, there is an increased chance for multiple chronic medical conditions, career shifts, job insecurity, and a rising age of retirement with eligibility for full benefits. Be aware of a tendency to postpone your happiness until you reach a professional or personal goal. Once it is reached, there will always be another goal you will strive for. Before you know it, years will have passed and did you really allow yourself to enjoy the journey?

Enjoy your life now. Savor your relationships and experiences. Find a work/life balance that brings you happiness now.

You will spend your time and money in meaningful ways.

Financial security is a goal for all of us. We’re afraid of losing money so we save it. We spend all our time working just for fear of losing our job or to gain more financial security. Research, however, suggests that having more money doesn’t always lead to a happier, more fulfilled life.  A worldwide survey found that after having basic needs met for food and shelter, along with simple conveniences and psychological needs, long-term happiness did not correspond to increased wealth.  Society tells us we need to keep buying more things to feel happy and secure.  The hard truth is that no matter to which someone is, all of us die as equals. Your money (or lack of) will not protect you from the inevitable. So, what is most important to you? What will you spend your money and time on?

Research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that “Wealth and abundance may undermine appreciation and reduce the positive emotions associated with everyday experiences.” Reflect on what defines you and your life. Most of the time when we die, we leave the difficult and time consuming task of going through our junk for our loved ones. Although this process can be healing, why not leave things that are simple, meaningful, and tell a story of who you were and what you loved, not where you shopped.

You will find more fulfillment in your daily life.

What would you do if you had one more week to live?

*Pause*

Really think about that question.

Now what if you die tomorrow? What was your last week like?

dancing

No one is immune to bad days. Life happens. When it becomes bad weeks, months, or years, we need to start taking more responsibility. We have to stop blaming our life roles, jobs, and especially other people. Make changes now. If I were to die tomorrow, I don’t want my last week to have been overly stressful or uneventful for no good reason than having let life control and consume me.

That being said, sometimes it’s much more complicated than just deciding to always have a good day. To the millions on antidepressants, and those who are not accounted for, you may think about death even more than the average, and for you, it’s that much more important to talk about it out loud. Holding it in and denying your feelings can make it worse. The biggest lie is that vulnerability is a weakness. It is where we find our strength and the strongest thing you can do is not put on a forced smile and suffer alone but to seek help. Its out there. Let people in. You’re not quite done here yet. It gets better.

You will create deeper connections with friends and family.

Do you know how the people around you feel about death? Have conversations with loved ones on their thoughts, wants and spiritual beliefs. My beautiful mother, and best friend, has Parkinson’s. Although she doesn’t like bringing attention to herself, her lovely soul has allowed me to tell our story in this article. As you can probably imagine, it was difficult for her to accept this diagnosis and as a family we tip-toed around the issue for quite some time. She also feared and delayed telling her very loving and supportive group of friends with a concern of not knowing what they would say or if they would treat her differently. Her process of accepting the diagnosis is not unique. It’s uncomfortable to talk about chronic or terminal illness and coming to terms with the fact that we will die, even if that was the fact all along. Eventually, the conversation broke. Having her friends aware has immensely decreased her stress. It has arguably been the best thing for her health.

My mother and I have recently become much more open about the diagnosis. I’ve found that every time we talk about it, it gets easier. The conversation is allowed to broaden to more general topics of death, happiness, and faith. Our conversations have brought new understanding about what my mother appreciates in life, how she wants to be remembered, and what she hopes for me in my life. Admittedly, I don’t live anywhere near a ‘bubble life’. I’m an adventurer, thrill seeker and am currently spending the next couple years of my life cycling from Alaska to Argentina. If I died, how would she survive? I am comforted that she knows I want her to not only survive but live and celebrate knowing that we share the same faith and beliefs that we will be together again. We shouldn’t be so scared to have these meaningful conversations. And often. They don’t need to bring dread. They can bring peace, enlightenment and closeness that had never before been experienced.

You will become more self-aware.

Don’t wait to be on your deathbed to figure out what is important to you in life. Let’s take advantage of the many studies and articles that provide us with common reflections of people at the end of their life. Let’s listen and learn from them so that instead of reflecting on our regrets, we can look back and smile in contentment. Check out the above links and find that they continue to say the same things! “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” “I wish I had lived my own life rather than how society taught me to live.” “I wish I’d allowed myself to love.”

We need to move from an intellectual, one-dimensional understanding of the life cycle to a deep realization  that we all will die. It is indeed the only guarantee of life. We will all not be so lucky to have that transition time used for looking back on our life and finding peace. Reflect on everything now. What is important to you? Are you a spiritual being? In what ways? What do you believe? This can evolve and strengthen over time. You don’t need to have all the answers but start searching now so that you don’t wait any longer to enjoy what you find.

How do you want to be remembered?
Start living that way today,
as this article is much more about living  than dying.

Megan Wycklendt
Megan received her Bachelors in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters in Counseling from the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater, with the hope of being a School Counselor, Wilderness Therapist, Wellness Director or some combination of the three. She finds life balance through breathing, yoga, and meditation, and is actively involved in the Art of Living community to spread the sense of connection and peace. Megan loves to incorporate sarcastic humor and movie quotes into daily conversations, but more often will engage in deep discussions about life, philosophy and spirituality. Although she has strong opinions on various topics, she appreciates being exposed to different perspectives to continuously grow and evolve her opinions. After having her first article published in the Washington Post, she thought to herself, “Hmm, maybe I do have something to say…” and has since been trying her hand at science journalism and blogging. She has managed to successfully balance her life of work, school, and daily showers with frequent stints as a dirty backpacker. As a globe trotter and a program leader for the non-profit Operation Groundswell, she proudly identifies as a backpacktivist and seeks to promote responsible travel and authentic, self-critical, ethically-oriented service abroad. She is currently taking her thirst for travel full time and embarking on a cycling adventure across the length of the American continents, from Alaska all the way to the southernmost tip of Argentina! Follow her journey at http://www.bikelivingtheamericas.com or via facebook, Instagram or twitter.


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5 Tricks to Transform Fear Into Fortitude

“The components of anxiety, stress, fear, and anger do not exist independently of you in the world. They simply do not exist in the physical world, even though we talk about them as if they do.” ~ Wayne Dyer

This statement makes you think, doesn’t it?  How can something not exist if there are so many cases of it causing trouble in our own physical world?  It’s a perfect example of something from the non-physical world creating itself through self-destructive thoughts and choices.  Awareness of this is paramount.

Without the regular practice of positive thoughts and positive choices, our lives can go into a tailspin in a hurry.  If you’d rather create a life path that takes you toward building a strong, confident inner self that can’t be shaken, Touch base with each of the following points, every day if needed.

1. Get fresh air

Not much beats a walk through the park or countryside to collect your thoughts.  As you venture into a peaceful environment, a peaceful environment seems to venture its way into you.  It doesn’t matter how you get out there either – you can even take a walk around a garden or conservatory if you don’t have immediate wilderness.

Smell the flowers, listen to the wildlife, be one with what was put here in the beginning.  Your stress is going to melt away. All you have to do is get your mind wrapped around the idea of letting everything go, including the fear – just enjoy the serenity nature has to offer.

2. Exercise often

You know that feeling you get when you WANT to exercise, but just can’t seem to slide your butt off of the couch?  It’s more than the lack of motivation, it is fear looking you straight in the minds’ eye and telling you that you can’t do it.  I’ve got news for you; you can do it right now.

What’s the benefit?  You’ll do even better tomorrow.

Don’t think twice; don’t worry about where you are right now, because that’s not going to change unless you do. What’s important is that you JUST DO IT.

3. Nourish your body

Nutrition is the perfect complement to exercise.  If you want to treat your body properly with physical activity, you’ve got to feed your body the optimal octane that it’s going to need.  Let’s start thinking about that, shall we?

Think of the human body, broken down into the smallest pieces. It all comes down to single cells doesn’t it?  How you treat these cells is what’s vitally important.  Eat living food, receive life.  Eat dead food, well I’ll let you figure the rest of that out…

4. Craft Change

“What can I do about the people around me that are negative?”

This is the most frequent question I’ve ever been asked about retaining a positive mindset in a negative atmosphere.  There may be certain people floating around in your experience that try to plant the seeds of fear and negativity in your mind when you’re around.  You’re better than that; you’re seeking divine destiny, not defeat.  Do you want to turn the tables with me?

Let’s follow the rules here, step by step. If your thoughts can supposedly alter your reality, then you can change that reality through your thoughts, right?  Someone once said:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

See how that quote only STARTED with your thoughts? That’s right; you can’t cross the finish line if you don’t start running when the gun sounds. It’s completely up to you (since we’re in this physical world and all), to follow up with words, actions and so forth to create your destiny.

Do you want to change the attitude of the person or people around you?  Here’s how to do it, just in case your own positive “ripple effect” hasn’t yet started to take place:

Start thinking about how they can be happy.  Next, talk to them about what makes them happy.  This could be as simple as simply asking them what makes them happy. You might be surprised if they don’t start talking about what actually does make them happy.  Congratulations my friend, you’ve planted the seed of thought.  It all starts with the thought about being happy to ultimately create a happy life.  That’s the Power of Positivity!

Know that you can make positive experiences happen in your own life and in the lives of others.  Be like the lion – fearless, knowing that you are the king of your own jungle.

5. Affirm, Affirm, Affirm!

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

Affirmations:  We’ve all heard of them.  Repeat this or that to yourself and believe in it. It will magically just find itself to you.  Don’t ask me HOW it works, I’m not a quantum physicist; I just know it works. How?  Because every time I ask someone how they’ve earned their massive success, they say “I focused on my dreams and didn’t let anything get in the way.”  That’s even how it started for me!

Here’s the trick:  Wherever you feel you are lacking or whatever “moans and gripes” you have are what is holding your attractive vibration in place. Start repeating daily the exact opposite of those moans and gripes (i.e., “I’m broke all the time.” vs. “My income is constantly increasing.”).  You will notice in time, with repetition and belief in yourself that changes will start taking place.  At first, it may be minor changes, but if you’re steadfast you’ll see more, too!


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The Best Way to Conquer Fear? Sleep on It

By Maia Szalavitz     Sept. 23, 20130    

A new technique makes it possible to sleep away your fears.

The research, which was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, showed for the first time that the power of emotional memories — specifically, fearful ones — can be weakened with sleep-based tactics, which offers hope that something as simple as a good night’s slumber may reduce phobias and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Researchers led by Katherina Hauner, who conducted the study as a postdoctoral student at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, studied 15 participants who were taught to fear images of particular men’s faces by receiving mild but uncomfortable shocks whenever these faces were shown. Each of the target visages was accompanied by a recurrent odor that the participants chose because they didn’t have any prior emotional associations. (Smells are especially linked with memories of feelings.)

The participants then took a nap. While they slept, the researchers repeatedly reintroduced the odors, including the ones linked to the target faces and a shock — but this time, without the shock.

It was obvious that the smells affected the sleepers. Although they weren’t awake, when the fear-linked odors were wafted in their direction, their skin conductance, which measures emotional arousal, rose. But over time, with repeated exposure, that response declined. (The scientists intentionally chose smells that don’t normally activate pain nerves — like strong peppermint — that can wake people up.)

When the participants faced the scary images after their nap, they were less likely to flinch. In other words, their fear response had been reduced while they slept. And the longer they slept and were exposed to the scent, the less afraid they were when they awoke.

“Individual memories related to fearful events can be specifically targeted and changed during sleep,” says Hauner. “To my knowledge, this is the first [experiment] to show that emotional memories can be manipulated during sleep in humans.”


While she cautions that this technique is not yet ready for clinical use, if other scientists repeat and investigate the process more deeply, it could one day be added to exposure therapy, which is the most effective treatment for phobias and is also used for PTSD. Exposure involves having people engage in their feared experiences gradually — while they are awake — until they learn not to overreact. But because they are conscious of having to face their fears, many patients refuse even to try it. If some of this exposure work could be done while they were asleep, more people might benefit from the therapy.

“[Exposure therapy] is extremely stressful, especially at the beginning,” Hauner says. “It’s very effective for specific phobias and not as good for PTSD. It can be a very difficult process, so anything we can do to enhance it would be good.”

Why would sleeping on a fearful experience diminish its power? Researchers believe that one of the main functions of sleep is to consolidate memories so they can be stored to make room for new memories, therefore freeing up more brain capacity. (Dreams, in fact, may be the replaying of those memories during this processing and storage.)

One element of a memory involves emotion, which flags the memories that should be kept and those that are filed away or even deleted. But each time a memory is brought up, recalled and stored again, it can be changed in subtle ways. That’s why an unconscious experience like smelling a scent during sleep can reshape the memory so its emotional poignancy — in this case, fear — is attenuated so the next time it is activated, it’s less emotionally powerful.

Other research also suggests that emotional memories may be processed in different ways than neutral ones, and that sleep tends to reduce emotional intensity. “In general, the idea is that maybe sleep helps to increase our memory but reduce our worries,” says Bjorn Rasch, a professor of cognitive biopsychology at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, who was not associated with the research, noting that this may be why anxiety disorders and depression are often accompanied by sleep problems.

The new study suggests we may be able to hack this mechanism to fight troubling memories — and get closer to one day sleeping them off.

source:  Time


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5 Risks That Are Always Worth Taking

By  Jo Beth Richards

Life is short and brilliant. Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back, tap into your courage and walk into the unknown with an open heart.

Here are five risks that are always worth taking…

1. Love.

Love makes you vulnerable & can hurt, but it is always worth taking. Without love we are nothing. With love we become who we are meant to be.

2. Follow your DREAMS. 

We only live once — ONCE! So why would you waste your time doing something that didn’t cultivate your passion? Follow your dream; it may be a bumpier path, but that path will lead to sunshine.


3. Forgive.

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to do but, it can be the biggest release. When we hold onto grudges, we’re only hurting ourselves. Even if you can’t actually tell a person you forgive them, forgive her in your own heart, and your spirit will be lighter as a result.

4. Move to a new city. 

Moving is scary, and packing up all your stuff is a pain. But it is worth it if you feel your heart being called to a new place for a new opportunity, for a fresh start.

5. Say what you feel.

Holding everything in is overrated. Yes, we should try our best to always speak with compassion, but use that compassion to help you say what your heart is crying out. Believe in your own voice!

Risks are scary, but they often lead us to great things. Breathe in courage and breathe out a new adventure!


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Why Society Doesn’t Change: The System Justification Bias

“Society’s tendency is to maintain what has been. Rebellion is only an occasional reaction to suffering in human history: we have infinitely more instances of forbearance to exploitation, and submission to authority, than we have examples of revolt.” (Zinn, 1968)

Have you ever wondered why society hardly ever changes? I think most of us have.
One answer is that humans have a mental bias towards maintaining the status quo. People think like this all the time. They tend to go with what they know rather than a new, unknown option.
People feel safer with the established order in the face of potential change. That’s partly why people buy the same things they bought before, return to the same restaurants and keep espousing the same opinions.
This has been called the ‘system justification bias’ and it has some paradoxical effects (research is described in Jost et al., 2004):
  • Poor people don’t strongly support the sorts of political policies that would make them better off. Surveys find that low-income groups are hardly more likely than high-income groups to want tax changes that mean they will get more money. Generally people’s politics doesn’t line up with their position in society.
  • Oddly, the more disadvantaged people are, the more they are likely to support a system that is doing them no favours. This is because of cognitive dissonance. In one US example of this low-income Latinos are more likely to trust government officials than high-income Latinos.
  • Most disturbing of all: the more unequal the society, the more people try to rationalise the system. For example in countries in which men hold more sexist values, women are more likely to support the system.
People seem to rationalise the inequality in society, e.g. poor people are poor because they don’t work hard enough and rich people are rich because they deserve it.
Incredibly, this means that some (but not all) turkeys will keep on voting for Christmas.
source: spring.org      Image credit: kris krug