Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


Leave a comment

Just 10 Minutes of Meditation Boosts Mood and Focus for People With Anxiety

It also prompted a shift away from future-oriented worrying and helped people focus on the present. 

People who suffer from anxiety are often plagued by repetitive thoughts, which can distract from the task at hand and affect mood and productivity. But a new study suggests that just 10 minutes of daily meditation can help reduce episodes of mind wandering, especially for people who report high levels of emotional stress.

Previous research has found that meditation can help prevent “off-task thinking” in healthy individuals, but this study, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, aimed to determine the benefits of mindfulness specifically as they relate to anxiety.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo asked 82 college students, all of whom met the clinical criteria for anxiety, to perform a monotonous computer task that measured their ability to stay focused. At random points throughout, the participants were asked to reveal their thoughts “just prior to this moment.”

Then they divided the participants into two groups: One listened to an excerpt from The Hobbit, and the other listened to a 10-minute meditation that instructed them to focus on breathing and “remain open-minded to their experience.” (You can listen to the same recording, called Mindfulness of Body and Breath, here.)

The groups then repeated the computer task. This time, 43 percent of thoughts in the meditation group were considered “mind wandering,” meaning they weren’t related to the task or to things going on around them, down slightly from 44 percent in the pre-test.

In the group that listened to the audio story, the percentage of mind-wandering thoughts actually increased—from 35 percent in the pre-test to 55 percent in the post-test.

The meditation group also reported a significant decrease in “future-oriented thoughts,” from 35 percent before the mindfulness exercise to 25 percent after. This could indicate a shift in thinking from internal worries (about tomorrow’s exam, for example) to things going on around them in the moment (say, a dirty computer monitor or a flickering light), the authors say. That’s important, because stressing about future events is a hallmark of anxiety.

And while meditation didn’t reduce all forms of off-task thinking in the study (like being distracted by external stimuli), it did appear to lessen performance disruptions associated with those thoughts. Both groups also experienced a decrease in negative emotions between the pre-test and the post-test.

“In short, meditation is beneficial in both improving mood and helping people stay focused in their thoughts and also behaviors,” says lead author and PhD student Mengran Xu. “The two do go together.”

Mind wandering accounts for almost half of humans’ daily stream of consciousness, Xu adds. It can cause us to make errors on everyday tasks, like mailing an envelope without its contents, but it’s also been associated with an increased risk of injury and death while driving, difficulties in school, and impaired performance in everyday life.

By Amanda MacMillan        May 3, 2017


Leave a comment

The New Way to Combat Stress at School and Work

By Gina Shaw        WebMD Health News         Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Sept. 24, 2015 – In the cavernous gymnasium at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, dozens of third, fourth, and fifth-graders sit on yoga mats – legs crossed, eyes closed, palms loosely open and facing upward on their knees.

At the front of the room, a young man guides them through a series of breathing exercises, yoga poses, and meditation. The program’s goal: to show students how to focus better, control anger, and ease stress.

Called the “Holistic Me After-School Program,” it was developed by brothers Ali and Atman Smith and their colleague Andres Gonzalez. Their Holistic Life Foundation has been bringing mindfulness education to the schoolchildren of Baltimore – including this school with a large low-income population, and more far-flung communities – for more than a dozen years.

“It gives them tools to peacefully resolve conflict and manage their stress and their anger,” says Atman Smith. “You can see it in their eyes.”

No longer viewed as just a West Coast fad, mindfulness training is catching on in schools and workplaces across the country.

Dozens of mindfulness programs now serve schools in various states, with the majority on the East and West Coasts.

One of the largest programs, Mindful Schools, says it has trained nearly 10,000 adults from organizations in all 50 U.S. states and 100+ countries, impacting over 300,000 children and adolescents.

“The rate of training has been growing quickly,” says Mindful Schools’ Director of Research Camille Whitney. She says the organization trained nearly 1,100 people just in July 2015.

“Mindfulness is growing … because people are seeing the benefits of this in kids,” says Steven Hickman, PhD, founder and director of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of California, San Diego. “With all the stress they’re under and the distractions they face, it’s helping them calm down and pay attention.”

meditate child

People of All Ages Can Benefit
Google, Target, General Mills, and Aetna are among companies that have made a big investment in these programs. They’re among companies adopting Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, an 8-week program teaching mindfulness and gentle yoga originally developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The center says that since its inception, more than 22,000 have completed the 8-week program.

And in the world of sports, NFL Super Bowl-winning coach Pete Carroll has used mindfulness training with his team for several years.

What exactly is mindfulness? Programs differ, but in essence it’s a simple form of meditation that involves focusing your attention on your breath as it moves in and out. It also teaches you to focus on the emotions, thoughts, and sensations you’re experiencing in the present moment.

“I started to see a difference in the students’ behaviors,” says Coleman Elementary principal Carlillian Thompson. “Instead of fighting or lashing out, they started using words to solve their problems. Those students who began in the program, who are now middle-school students, are very successful, and they come back and participate in the program also.”

Research shows that the programs have significant benefits for children.

One study found that a group of 194 first- through third-grade children who participated in a 12-week program of breath awareness and yoga improved their attention and social skills and decreased their test anxiety. Another found that three adolescents with conduct disorder (a range of antisocial behaviors) who were trained in mindfulness had a drop in their aggressive behavior. And after a 5-week mindfulness program in a California elementary school, teachers said they noticed improved classroom behavior — paying attention, self-control, participation in activities, and caring and respect for others — that lasted for at least 7 weeks after the program.

Workplace adopters are reporting perks, too. Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, recently told the New York Times that the company’s meditation and yoga classes have led to reports of lower stress levels and an average increase of 62 minutes of productivity per employee per week. The company estimates that is worth $3,000 per employee annually. One study published last year found that a mindfulness-based stress-reduction program used by the Dow Chemical Company led to drops in stress for participants, as well as more resiliency and engagement in work.

Some companies are pursuing mindfulness solely with an eye toward the bottom line, or because they think it’s a fad – “Google’s doing it, so we should too.” “But others are doing it because they want to have happy, satisfied, well employees,” Hickman says. “That’s where it’s going to be sustainable.”

There are other areas, though, where mindfulness is still almost unheard of. “There are still the challenges that public schools face, in people perceiving mindfulness or yoga as being some sort of religious activity, even though it isn’t that by any stretch. It’s simply paying attention,” Hickman says.

Kevin Pokorny, a business consultant and coach in Des Moines, Iowa, recently co-hosted two Mindfulness Summit Dialogues for people in his community. Attendees, about 16 at each session, included people from local businesses and nonprofits, therapists, and people involved in their own mindfulness work.

“This is something pretty new for people here; I think we are really breaking ground in this area,” Pokorny says.

He says he thinks that the legal insurance company ARAG is the only area organization that has a mindfulness program – but he’s hoping that will change soon. “I have integrated mindfulness practices in some of the consulting work with my clients here in Iowa, and they’ve been very receptive.”

Another plus for mindfulness: It can be done virtually anywhere with no equipment at all.

“You don’t need props or supplies, just a person with a desire to practice,” Ali Smith says. “Once you equip a child with these tools, no matter how chaotic their external environment is, they can find a place inside them that’s quiet and calm and peaceful.”

Article Sources 
SOURCES:
Ali Smith, Holistic Life Foundation.
Atman Smith, Holistic Life Foundation.
Andres Gonzalez, Holistic Life Foundation.
Camille Whitney, Mindful Schools.
Steven Hickman, Ph.D., Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, University of California, San Diego.
Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Kevin Pokorny, Pokorny Consulting, Des Moines, Iowa.
Journal of Applied School Psychology.
Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders.
Journal of Child and Family Studies.
Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Financial Times.
New York Times.

source: WebMD


3 Comments

A One-Minute Meditation To Silence Your Mind and Calm Your Energy

BY GABRIELLE BERNSTEIN     AUGUST 5, 2014 

The world as we know is in dire need of a higher vibration in its collective consciousness. During a recent morning meditation session, the intuitive loving voice within me reminded me of the true power we all have in seemingly powerless situations. Therefore, I would like to inspire YOU to start raising your own energy and vibration through a regular meditation practice.

If you’re part of the MindBodyGreen community, it’s likely that you’re no stranger to meditation. Maybe you have your own dedicated practice, dabble from time-to-time or are familiar with meditation but have never tried it. Regardless of where you are on your meditation journey, you can ignite an amazing practice today. Here’s what you need to know to do just that.

Anyone can meditate, you’ve just gotta want it. Like any practice, you have to want to do it in order to achieve results. It can be hard to start a meditation practice because it seems so foreign from what we’re taught to do.

But I have good news: Meditating is much simpler than we make it out to be. Beginning a meditation practice requires only your slight willingness. Your desire to experience something new is all you need to get on a new path.

Let’s set the intention to begin your practice now. Affirm this statement out loud to yourself: I am open to meditation and I welcome a new practice into my life. This simple statement will give you all the energy and enthusiasm you need to continue reading this article and begin your own practice! It’s very important to accept that anyone can meditate as long as they want to.

You can begin now. You have a minute to spare, right? One minute a day spent in stillness can change your life. Commit to change by devoting just one minute a day and try the following Kundalini meditation practice to silence your mind and calm your energy.

meditate

The One-Minute Breath

Breathe in for 5 seconds

Hold your breath for 5 seconds

Release for 5 seconds

Hold for 5 seconds

Practice this breath pattern for one minute a day. Try it now.

If you’re feeling powerless given the circumstances of our times this is your chance to harness your true power. When people gather to raise their collective energetic vibrations, they can create a ripple effect worldwide.


1 Comment

11 Meditation Tips for Beginners

For those who have never tried meditation, it can seem like an unproductive, strange way to spend twenty or so minutes of your day. However, meditation offers a slew of benefits to anyone on the planet, and it costs nothing to start up a daily practice.

By meditating regularly, you can increase your vibrational energy, or life force, and even retrain your brain to think positively. If you need some help getting started with meditation, refer to these tips for guidance.

11 Meditation Tips for Beginners

1. Don’t get frustrated with your brain.

In the beginning, you will probably have a hard time just sitting quietly, even for five or ten minutes at a time. It takes time to adjust, as meditation is a foreign concept to many people. However, as long as you make a conscious effort to tune out from everything and go within, you will soon find that the restlessness slowly melts away.

2. Start out with five to twenty minutes each day.

Go easy on yourself when you begin a regular meditation practice – remember, slow and steady wins the race. Meditation is a highly personal journey, and you have to go at your own pace. Do what feels comfortable to you; if you only have ten minutes in the morning before work to meditate, that’s ten minutes you spent relaxing your brain and improving your relationship with yourself.

3. Go to a peaceful place to practice.

This could be anywhere you feel most connected to the stillness within you and the universe – your backyard, the beach, your bedroom, or a quiet meadow in the woods. While you can meditate anywhere, some places will resonate with you more than others, so make sure you choose a spot where you can totally let go and experience the true serenity within your soul.

4. View meditation as a tool to help you grow, not as a chore.

If you look at meditation as just something to knock off your to-do list, you won’t get to experience the full range of benefits that meditation provides. Try to not set aside times to meditate, and instead choose to practice when you really feel like it. Meditate at times when your soul truly longs for it, so that it becomes a method of spiritual growth, and not just a task you need to get done each day.

5. There’s no “right” way to meditate.

A lot of people give up their practice because they can’t completely quiet their mind, they get bored, or they don’t see the benefits of meditation right away. Just because you haven’t reached a state of pure nirvana yet, doesn’t mean that you should judge your personal journey with spirituality. Don’t compare yourself to others or obsess about getting things just right; instead, focus on letting the universal energy flow through you, and give yourself praise after every meditation session.

meditate

6. Focus on your breathing.

The breath represents your life force, and connects all of us on Earth. Through our breath, we can channel higher energy and enter a totally new state of being. Take long, deep breaths all the way down into your belly, and picture each breath going deeper within you, healing your entire body. Breathing forms the cornerstone of a successful meditation practice, and will help you increase your focus and awareness of your thoughts.

7. Don’t label your thoughts as “good” or “bad.”

Let the thoughts enter your brain, but avoid attaching them to labels. Just let them move freely through your mind, observe them, and let them pass. Assigning labels to anything causes our brain to form judgments, and therefore deeply engrains certain thoughts and feelings within us about that label. Learn to just observe everything in your inner and outer world as if you had come from another planet and had no idea what “good” or “bad” even looked like.

8. Create a meditation friendly environment.

If you practice in your room, you can light candles or incense, put on calming music, or rub your favorite essential oils on your skin to help you transition into a peaceful state of mind. Make your surroundings work for you, and add to them if necessary. If you go outside to meditate, you can still bring crystals or whatever is symbolic to you to guide you into relaxation.

9. Remove any distractions.

In just the same way as you can add tranquility into your environment, you can also remove anything that hinders your practice. Get rid of your phone, computer, or other electronic devices if they impair your connection to source energy. Remove any other stressors from your room, such as to-do lists, bills you have to pay, or schoolwork you need to get done. You can come back to those any time after your meditation practice, but just focus on clearing your space so you can get the most out of what you’re doing in the present moment – meditating.

10. Try different forms of meditation.

Not everyone enjoys just sitting in lotus pose, and believe it or not, you can meditate in many other ways. Yoga is also a form of meditation, and involves holding certain poses and flowing through different movements to achieve mind-body-soul unity. You can also engage in “walking meditation,” in which you fully focus on the act of walking, and helps you develop mindfulness. You can test out different styles, or combine them, to find one that relaxes you the most.

11. Check out guided meditation videos.

You can find many of these videos on YouTube, or even popular yoga websites where teachers help you adjust to a regular meditation practice. It can be difficult in the beginning to silence your mind, so having someone guide you through the process can make it easier. While you don’t need a teacher to meditate, others can offer you advice and techniques to help you get started on the right foot.

 


Leave a comment

How to Claim Some ‘Me Time’

By Karen Asp       WebMD Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

Say it loud, and say it proud: Me, me, me! OK, maybe you don’t want to shout it, but it is that important.

Fitting in time for yourself is essential to do your healthy habits. Take charge of your health and happiness, and you’ll lower your stress, become more productive, and have more energy.

You may think “it’s all about me” is selfish. But consider this: Other people benefit from your “me time,” too. Do things that feed you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and you’ll bring greater patience and a more positive attitude to your relationships. You’ll become a better parent, spouse, and a more effective team player at work.

Book It

Take a page from your calendar, literally. Every week, look at your calendar and book some me time.

Can’t find an hour to devote to yourself? Even 5-15 minutes can work, if you stick to it.

Don’t use the time to fold laundry or catch up on email. It may even seem more stressful at first to leave things undone, but you’ll have more energy if you take a little time off.

Where to find the time?

  • Take advantage of the kids’ reading or nap time.
  • Get up 10 minutes earlier.
  • Ask your kids (and spouse) to do the dishes.
  • Turn off the smartphone.
  • Claim a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon for yourself, even if that means adjusting your family’s schedule.

Gimme 5

If 5 minutes is all you’ve got, you’d be surprised at how much you can make it count.

Just breathe. Really focus on taking deep breaths. Your mind may wander — that’s OK, just gently lead it back from thinking about everything that’s on your to-do list.
Stretch. Get up from your desk and energize your muscles.
Do nothing. Sit quietly. Resist the urge to jump up and clear the table or pick up the kids’ toys. Let your mind and body rest.

A Few Minutes More

At least once a month, carve out a little more time for yourself — say 30 minutes to an hour. Get a pedicure. Or a facial. Go somewhere you’ve never been (a certain museum or a walking trail, perhaps). Write down your dreams and goals in a journal.

Say No, Gracefully

You don’t have to tell your friends and family what you’re doing. But if their demands cut into your time, it’s okay to create a buffer.

Tell them you can help but that you need a quick 20 minutes (or whatever amount of time feels right) before you can do it.

Stick to It

Unless it’s crucial, don’t cancel me time. It’s tempting and easy to forgo this time. But if you do it too often, you won’t have any me time left!

Stick up for yourself, and you’ll find it pays off for those around you, too. You’ll be happier and more able to help them.

source: WebMD


Leave a comment

10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science

Written by Belle Beth Cooper       Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Happiness is so interesting, because we all have different ideas about what it is and how to get it. It’s also no surprise that it’s the Nr.1 value for Buffer’s culture, if you see our slidedeck about it. So naturally we are obsessed with it.

I would love to be happier, as I’m sure most people would, so I thought it would be interesting to find some ways to become a happier person that are actually backed up by science. Here are ten of the best ones I found.

1. Exercise more – 7 minutes might be enough

You might have seen some talk recently about the scientific 7 minute workout mentioned in The New York Times. So if you thought exercise was something you didn’t have time for, maybe you can fit it in after all.

Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it’s actually been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression. In a study cited in Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage, three groups of patients treated their depression with either medication, exercise, or a combination of the two. The results of this study really surprised me. Although all three groups experienced similar improvements in their happiness levels to begin with, the follow up assessments proved to be radically different:

The groups were then tested six months later to assess their relapse rate. Of those who had taken the medication alone, 38 percent had slipped back into depression. Those in the combination group were doing only slightly better, with a 31 percent relapse rate. The biggest shock, though, came from the exercise group: Their relapse rate was only 9 percent!

You don’t have to be depressed to gain benefit from exercise, though. It can help you to relax, increase your brain power and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight.

A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who exercised felt better about their bodies, even when they saw no physical changes:

Body weight, shape and body image were assessed in 16 males and 18 females before and after both 6 × 40 mins exercise and 6 × 40 mins reading. Over both conditions, body weight and shape did not change. Various aspects of body image, however, improved after exercise compared to before.

We’ve explored exercise in depth before, and looked at what it does to our brains, such as releasing proteins and endorphins that make us feel happier, as you can see in the image below.

2. Sleep more – you’ll be less sensitive to negative emotions

We know that sleep helps our bodies to recover from the day and repair themselves, and that it helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out, it’s also important for our happiness.

In NutureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep affects our positivity:

Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”

The BPS Research Digest explores another study that proves sleep affects our sensitivity to negative emotions. Using a facial recognition task over the course of a day, the researchers studied how sensitive participants were to positive and negative emotions. Those who worked through the afternoon without taking a nap became more sensitive late in the day to negative emotions like fear and anger.

Using a face recognition task, here we demonstrate an amplified reactivity to anger and fear emotions across the day, without sleep. However, an intervening nap blocked and even reversed this negative emotional reactivity to anger and fear while conversely enhancing ratings of positive (happy) expressions.

Of course, how well (and how long) you sleep will probably affect how you feel when you wake up, which can make a difference to your whole day. Especially this graph showing how your brain activity decreases is a great insight about how important enough sleep is for productivity and happiness:

Another study tested how employees’ moods when they started work in the morning affected their work day.

Researchers found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods.

And most importantly to managers, employee mood had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it.

Sleep is another topic we’ve looked into before, exploring how much sleep we really need to be productive.

3. Move closer to work – a short commute is worth more than a big house

Our commute to the office can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness. The fact that we tend to do this twice a day, five days a week, makes it unsurprising that its effect would build up over time and make us less and less happy.

According to The Art of Manliness, having a long commute is something we often fail to realize will affect us so dramatically:

… while many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long term because we acclimate to them, people never get accustomed to their daily slog to work because sometimes the traffic is awful and sometimes it’s not. Or as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”

We tend to try to compensate for this by having a bigger house or a better job, but these compensations just don’t work:

Two Swiss economists who studied the effect of commuting on happiness found that such factors could not make up for the misery created by a long commute.

4. Spend time with friends and family – don’t regret it on your deathbed

Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying. If you want more evidence that it’s beneficial for you, I’ve found some research that proves it can make you happier right now.

Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference to how happy we feel, generally.

I love the way Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert explains it:

We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

George Vaillant is the director of a 72-year study of the lives of 268 men.

In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

He shared insights of the study with Joshua Wolf Shenk at The Atlantic on how the men’s social connections made a difference to their overall happiness:

The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics states than your relationships are worth more than $100,000:

Using the British Household Panel Survey, I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.

I think that last line is especially fascinating: Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness. So we could increase our annual income by hundreds of thousands of dollars and still not be as happy as if we increased the strength of our social relationships.

The Terman study, which is covered in The Longevity Project, found that relationships and how we help others were important factors in living long, happy lives:

We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier. Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest.

Surprise: our prediction was wrong… Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

5. Go outside – happiness is maximized at 13.9°C

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness:

Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory…

This is pretty good news for those of us who are worried about fitting new habits into our already-busy schedules. Twenty minutes is a short enough time to spend outside that you could fit it into your commute or even your lunch break.

A UK study from the University of Sussex also found that being outdoors made people happier:

Being outdoors, near the sea, on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon is the perfect spot for most. In fact, participants were found to be substantially happier outdoors in all natural environments than they were in urban environments.

The American Meteorological Society published research in 2011 that found current temperature has a bigger effect on our happiness than variables like wind speed and humidity, or even the average temperature over the course of a day. It also found that happiness is maximized at 13.9°C, so keep an eye on the weather forecast before heading outside for your 20 minutes of fresh air.

6. Help others – 100 hours a year is the magical number

One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives.

If we go back to Shawn Achor’s book again, he says this about helping others:

…when researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities—such as concerts and group dinners out—brought far more pleasure than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches. Spending money on other people, called “prosocial spending,” also boosts happiness.

The Journal of Happiness Studies published a study that explored this very topic:

Participants recalled a previous purchase made for either themselves or someone else and then reported their happiness. Afterward, participants chose whether to spend a monetary windfall on themselves or someone else. Participants assigned to recall a purchase made for someone else reported feeling significantly happier immediately after this recollection; most importantly, the happier participants felt, the more likely they were to choose to spend a windfall on someone else in the near future.

So spending money on other people makes us happier than buying stuff for ourselves. What about spending our time on other people? A study of volunteering in Germany explored how volunteers were affected when their opportunities to help others were taken away:

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before the German reunion, the first wave of data of the GSOEP was collected in East Germany. Volunteering was still widespread. Due to the shock of the reunion, a large portion of the infrastructure of volunteering (e.g. sports clubs associated with firms) collapsed and people randomly lost their opportunities for volunteering. Based on a comparison of the change in subjective well-being of these people and of people from the control group who had no change in their volunteer status, the hypothesis is supported that volunteering is rewarding in terms of higher life satisfaction.

In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman explains that helping others can improve our own lives:

…we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.

7. Practice smiling – it can alleviate pain

Smiling itself can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study:

A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts – such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital – improve their mood and withdraw less.

Of course it’s important to practice “real smiles” where you use your eye sockets. It’s very easy to spot the difference:

According to PsyBlog, smiling can improve our attention and help us perform better on cognitive tasks:

Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees.

A smile is also a good way to alleviate some of the pain we feel in troubling circumstances:

Smiling is one way to reduce the distress caused by an upsetting situation. Psychologists call this the facial feedback hypothesis. Even forcing a smile when we don’t feel like it is enough to lift our mood slightly (this is one example of embodied cognition).

One of our previous posts goes into even more detail about the science of smiling.
8. Plan a trip – but don’t take one

As opposed to actually taking a holiday, it seems that planning a vacation or just a break from work can improve our happiness. A study published in the journal, Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as employees enjoyed the sense of anticipation:

In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.

After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.

Shawn Achor has some info for us on this point, as well:

One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.

If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar—even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.

9. Meditate – rewire your brain for happiness

Meditation is often touted as an important habit for improving focus, clarity and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness:

In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier live. I believe that this graphic explains it the best:

According to Shawn Achor, meditation can actually make you happier long-term:

Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness.

The fact that we can actually alter our brain structure through mediation is most surprising to me and somewhat reassuring that however we feel and think today isn’t permanent.

10. Practice gratitude – increase both happiness and life satisfaction

This is a seemingly simple strategy, but I’ve personally found it to make a huge difference to my outlook. There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from keeping a journal of things you’re grateful for, sharing three good things that happen each day with a friend or your partner, and going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you.

In an experiment where some participants took note of things they were grateful for each day, their moods were improved just from this simple practice:

The gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being across several, though not all, of the outcome measures across the 3 studies, relative to the comparison groups. The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding. Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.

The Journal of Happiness studies published a study that used letters of gratitude to test how being grateful can affect our levels of happiness:

Participants included 219 men and women who wrote three letters of gratitude over a 3 week period.

Results indicated that writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction, while decreasing depressive symptoms.

Quick last fact: Getting older will make yourself happier

As a final point, it’s interesting to note that as we get older, particularly past middle age, we tend to grow happier naturally. There’s still some debate over why this happens, but scientists have got a few ideas:

Researchers, including the authors, have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less.

Other studies have discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods — for instance, pruning social circles of friends or acquaintances who might bring them down. Still other work finds that older adults learn to let go of loss and disappointment over unachieved goals, and hew their goals toward greater wellbeing.

So if you thought being old would make you miserable, rest assured that it’s likely you’ll develop a more positive outlook than you probably have now.

source: bufferapp.com


Leave a comment

Tips to Manage Stress

Stress is a part of life, a normal response to demands either emotional, intellectual, or physical. It can be positive if it keeps us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger. It can be negative if it becomes chronic, increasing the risk of diseases like depression, heart disease and a variety of other problems. 

Managing stress is key to your health. And it isn’t so very difficult to do.

How Does Stress Affect Health?

The body’s autonomic nervous system has a built-in stress response that causes physiological changes to allow the body to combat stressful situations. This stress response, also known as the “fight or flight response,” is activated in case of an emergency. However, this response can become chronically activated during prolonged periods of stress, which can cause wear and tear on the body — both physical and emotional.

Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress — a negative stress reaction. Distress can disturb the body’s internal balance or equilibrium, leading to physical symptoms such as headaches, an upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, sexual dysfunction, and problems sleeping. Emotional problems can also result from distress. These problems include depression, panic attacks, or other forms of anxiety and worry. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases. Stress is linked to six of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.

Stress also becomes harmful when people engage in the compulsive use of substances or behaviors to try to relieve their stress. These substances or behaviors may include food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, sex, shopping, and the Internet. Rather than relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these substances and compulsive behaviors tend to keep the body in a stressed state causing more problems. The distressed person becomes trapped in a vicious circle.


What Are the Warning Signs of Stress?

Chronic stress can wear down the body’s natural defenses, leading to a variety of physical symptoms, including:

  • Dizziness or a general feeling of “being out of it”
  • General aches and pains
  • Grinding teeth, clenched jaw
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion or acid reflux symptoms
  • Increase in or loss of appetite
  • Muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders
  • Problems sleeping
  • Racing heart
  • Cold and sweaty palms
  • Tiredness, exhaustion
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Upset stomach, diarrhea
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Irritability, impatience, forgetfulness

Tips for Reducing Stress

People can learn to manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives. Here are some tips to help you keep stress at bay:

  • Keep a positive attitude.
  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control.
  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi.
  • Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively.
  • Set limits appropriately and say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
  • Make time for hobbies and interests.
  • Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
  • Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs, or food to reduce stress. Ease up on caffeine, too.
  • Seek out social support. Spend enough time with those you love.
  • Seek treatment with a psychologist or other mental health professional trained in stress management or biofeedback techniques to learn more healthy ways of dealing with the stress in your life. 
source: webmd.com


Leave a comment

8 Fascinating Facts About Anxiety

Studies show that anxiety affects the sense of smell and balance, how we judge faces and perceptions of our personal space.

Anxiety may be an unpleasant emotion, which can be crippling in excess, but it does exist for a good reason.

Anxiety tells us we’re in danger and we need to do something. It was our anxious ancestors who prepared better for winter and made plans to fight off neighbouring tribes. The relaxed, laid-back guys never made it.

But anxiety’s effects aren’t limited to motivation, they seep through the mind to all sorts of areas…

1. Anxiety literally makes everything stink

As people get more anxious, they are more likely to label neutral smells as bad smells (Krusemark & Li, 2013). So, anxiety literally makes the world stink.

The reason, explains Professor Wen Li is:

“In typical odor processing, it is usually just the olfactory system that gets activated. But when a person becomes anxious, the emotional system becomes part of the olfactory processing stream.”

And as people get more anxious they become better at distinguishing between different bad smells (Krusemark & Li, 2012).

2. Exercise reduces anxiety

Generally, when people get a little exercise they feel less anxiety in their lives. As little as 20 minutes can make you feel calmer right now.

The benefits of a little workout extend beyond the gym, though, into everyday life.

One study has found that although simply resting reduces anxiety, it doesn’t help protect against stressful events (Smith, 2013).

Exercise, though, seems to have a more lasting effect, helping to reduce anxiety when faced with stressful situations afterwards.

Indeed, many think exercise should be prescribed for depression and anxiety instead of drugs.

3. The parental effect

Like many things, high anxiety is partly in the genes, but part of the reason anxious people are anxious is because of their parents’ behaviour.

Children are more likely to be anxious when their parents direct criticism at them, display high levels of doubt and are emotionally cold (Budinger et al., 2012).


4. Think different

One of the best ways of reducing anxiety is to think about situations differently.

It’s not an exam; it’s a fun little quiz. It’s not a scary presentation; it’s a little chat with a few colleagues. It’s not a job interview; it’s a chance to meet some new people.

Most situations can be re-framed in this way and studies show that people who do this naturally–as opposed to trying to suppress their anxiety–feel less anxious in stressful social situations (Llewellyn et al., 2013).

5. Anxious people jump to conclusions

Highly anxious people jump to conclusions more quickly when judging facial expressions.

A study by Fraley et al., (2006) suggests that anxious people may have problems in their relationships because they jump to conclusions too quickly about facial expressions.

Professor Fraley explained:

“This ‘hair trigger’ style of perceptual sensitivity may be one reason why highly anxious people experience greater conflict in their relationships. The irony is that they have the ability to make their judgments more accurately than less-anxious people, but, because they are so quick to make judgments about others’ emotions, they tend to mistakenly infer other people’s emotional states and intentions.”

6. Anxiety affects balance

People who experience more severe levels of anxiety also often have problems with their balance. They sometimes feel dizzy for no apparent reason and sway more than others while standing normally.

This often starts in childhood and, because anxiety can be difficult to treat in children, psychologists have started trying to treat the balance problems.

Studies have shown that treating the balance problem can help with the anxiety (Bart et al., 2009).

7. Meditation reduces anxiety

On top of exercise and thinking differently, those experiencing anxiety can also try meditation.

To pick just one of many recent studies, Zeidan et al. (2013) found that four 20-minute meditation classes were enough to reduce anxiety by up to 39%.

8. Anxiety expands personal space

We all have an invisible field around us that we dislike other people invading.

In front of the face it’s generally about 20-40cm; if others get closer without our permission, it feels weird.

But, researchers have found that for anxious people, their personal space is larger (Sambo & Iannetti, 2013).

So, don’t charge up too close to anxious people, their ‘safety margin’ is larger.

source: PSYBLOG


2 Comments

The 3 Keys to a Healthy Brain

Maria Rodale  July 6, 2013

We all have those moments–a forgotten appointment, a name we can’t recall, a word that’s on the tip of our tongue. For the most part, these incidents don’t worry us. However, as we age, they seem to increase in significance. We wonder if we’re losing our edge. With Alzheimer’s disease and dementia constantly in the news, we can find ourselves falling prey to a climate of fear that plays on our worst anxieties about losing our cognitive capacities.

Luckily, there are a number of steps we can take to preserve our mental sharpness. Like any other organ, the brain responds to input. Not just mental and emotional input, but diet and exercise, as well. Many of the strategies we adopt to maintain overall health also support the brain. We can keep that mental acuity, and it only takes a few simple brain-friendly habits.

1: Brain-Friendly Food and Supplements

One of the brain’s biggest enemies is oxidative stress from excess free radicals, which are generated by toxins, exercise, illness, stress, and normal metabolic processes, among other factors. Like a lunchroom bully, free radicals (atoms or molecules that are short one electron) take what they need from other atoms. As levels of free radicals increase, one theft leads to another, creating a cascade of inflammatory chain reactions that can damage cells down to their DNA.

Antioxidants can help block this cycle, which is why we hear so much about these super nutrients, and there is a wide variety of sources–foods, herbs, and supplements–to choose from. Blueberries are a rich source and have been shown to protect neurons from oxidative stress. Other good antioxidant food choices are beans, cranberries, artichokes, prunes, and raspberries. Herbs and spices like sage, rosemary, ginger, and turmeric are chock-ull of antioxidant compounds to protect the brain and support numerous other areas of health, as well.

Stock up on foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, flaxseed, raw nuts and seeds, and grass-fed beef. While omega-3s are more often touted for their heart-health benefits, they are crucial to brain health, too. A study published in the journal Neurology found that people deficient in omega-3s had smaller brains and did more poorly in cognitive tests. The researchers asserted that omega-3s reduce signs of aging in the brain.


Vitamin E has also been associated with improved cognitive health. In addition, one study indicated it can help patients recover after a stroke. Vitamin E is also a potent antioxidant. Be sure to look for the natural form called d-alpha tocopherol, often found with a blend of mixed tocopherols. Avoid dl-alpha tocopherol, a form that is synthetic and not well absorbed.

As noted, oxidation can play a big role in damaging neurons, leading to cognitive decline. One of the most potent antioxidant supplements is a botanical called honokiol. Derived from magnolia bark, honokiol is 1,000 times more powerful as an antioxidant than vitamin E and has been shown protect the brain in numerous ways. Because its molecules are so small, honokiol taken orally is very easily absorbed, and even has the unique ability to pass through the blood/brain barrier. This allows honokiol to exert it effects directly on brain tissue. Honokiol is shown to improve mood, influencing GABA and other neurotransmitters that help mediate both anxiety and depression. It also is shown to aid in stroke damage and protect against the amyloid plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Another supplement that benefits brain health is curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. In a recent study from the Salk Institute, a drug derived from curcumin reversed Alzheimer’s disease in mice. This is not an isolated study. Other research has shown that curcumin influences neuron creation and enhances memory.

2: Exercise

Multiple studies have shown a close relationship between exercise and improved brain function. One project found that women over 65 who walked 30 minutes a day slowed their cognitive decline. When measuring mental acuity, the researchers found that the people who exercised appeared several years younger than those in the control group, who did not exercise at all.

Another study comparing activity levels and brain health looked at people over age 70. The more active group was significantly less likely to develop cognitive problems. The study also helped clarify the types of activities that promote cognitive health. In addition to “normal” exercise, the researchers found that simple actions, such as standing up and walking around the room, were also beneficial.

Other research has shown that exercise can actually increase brain size. One study used MRIs to compare brain sizes in people who exercised with those who did not. The group of exercisers did significantly better. Maintaining a larger brain is important because one of the side effects of aging is reduced brain volume, which may be implicated in cognitive decline.

3: Meditation

The calming effects of meditation are well documented. However, some research has shown that the practice actually changes brain architecture. Scientists at UCLA found that meditation increases the folding in the cerebral cortex, a process called cortical gyrification, which improves the brain’s ability to process information. Specifically, increased gyrification helps us retrieve memories, form decisions, and focus.

To me, the most striking aspect of these recommendations is their applicability to overall health. Diet, appropriate supplements, exercise, and meditation also benefit heart health, and they can reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome–plus, they simply make us feel better. In the big picture, good practices support health at all levels, forming a foundation for mind-body wellness, longevity, and vitality.

source: Care2.com


2 Comments

Relax: It’s Good For Your Genes

By Maia Szalavitz   May 03, 2013

While it might seem that your body and brain aren’t doing much when you’re on break, relaxing triggers a flurry of genetic activity that is responsible for some important health benefits.

When you really relax —  using any type of meditative technique such as deep breathing, yoga or prayer — the genes in your body switch to a different mode. Genes that counteract the chemical effects of stress kick in, while those responsible for driving more anxious and alert states take a back seat. And a new study shows that long term practice of relaxation techniques can significantly enhance these genetic benefits.

Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, first defined the relaxation response in the early 1970s and led the latest genetic investigation published in the journal PLOS One.

“We have within us an innate, inborn capacity that counters the harmful effects of stress,” says Benson, “And this study has shown its genomic basis:  namely that specific hubs of genes are changed when people evoke this relaxation response.”

“It’s fantastic,” says Dr. Mladen Golubic, medical director of the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, who was not associated with the study. While other studies have linked the relaxation response to lower stress levels and reduced blood pressure, the current trail details the physiological pathways responsible for producing these benefits. The findings confirm and expand on work Benson’s group published in 2008 in which they showed that people who meditated over a long period of time showed altered expression of the genes involved in the stress response.

In the current study, Benson and his colleagues studied 52 people, half of whom had meditated for four to 20 years using relaxation techniques and half of whom were novices. Both groups had their blood taken and analyzed before and after a 20 minute relaxation session in which they used a CD for guidance. The new meditaters agreed to participate in two relaxation sessions; in the first, they listened to a CD that provided general health information unrelated to stress, which served as a control. That way, the researchers could compare any molecular changes captured in their blood after they learned deep breathing, mindfulness and mantra practice, which involved focusing their mind on a single repeated word while ignoring distractions.

After these sessions, the scientists identified four sets of changes in the way genes were expressed; these alterations only occurred after the participants used relaxation techniques. The first involved genes related to mitochondria, the batteries that power the cell. “These changes lead to [mitochondria] being more stable and more controlled,” Benson says, “The word we use in the paper to describe the mitochondrial changes is that they are more resilient.”


That makes sense, says Golubic, since “we know that people engaged in meditation report better moods, more energy and that they sleep better.”

Genes linked to insulin production were also affected, with the relaxation response boosting levels of the hormone that is also involved in energy metabolism. “Insulin facilitates the entrance of glucose into cells and into the mitochondria,” says Golubic.

And wasn’t just individual genes that Benson’s group identified, but suites of genes that were likely connected in a pathway. That strengthened the findings, since the changes appeared consistently and therefore were unlikely to be linked simply by chance. “What really matters is if you find genetic changes in hundreds of genes in the same pathway. When you find whole pathways that show change, that’s impressive,” says Golubic.

Meditation also affected genes related to telomeres, which cap off the ends of chromosomes to protect and extend the lives of cells. “The shorter the telomere, the more the aging process is manifest,” Benson says, “What the relaxation response is consistent with is stabilizing the telomeres and making them less likely to break down.” An earlier study found that experienced meditaters had about 30% more activity in the enzyme that repairs telomeres following an intensive meditation retreat.

The researchers also saw less activity in genes related to inflammation; in other studies, these genes were over-expressed in patients with hypertension, heart disease and cancer. The data suggest that meditation, or regular relaxation, can downplay the activity of these genes and potentially counteract some of the physiologic processes that drive them.

All of these changes were seen to a much greater extent in the experienced meditaters than in the novices. But those new to the practice also showed differences after only two months of training. “The longer you evoke the relaxation response over time — years as opposed to weeks as opposed to once or twice — the more profound the changes.” Benson says.

And there is no “right” or “best” way of achieving relaxation, say Benson and Golubic. Each individual can find whatever method works best; the benefits, according to the research so far, are the same.

“The relaxation response is best understood as the opposite of stress or the fight-or-flight response,” says Benson, “There are two steps generally used in evoking it.  One is repetition.  The repetition can be of a word, sound, prayer, phrase or movement. The other is that when other thoughts come to mind, you disregard them and go back to the repetition.”

Benson recommends practicing the technique for ten to 20 minutes, at least once a day. “It should be a daily habit,” he says, adding “People have been doing it for millennia.  Now we have a scientific basis to prove its worth. It’s wonderful to be alive to see it.”

source: Time