Our Better Health

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How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity

Research shows that most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation. Complaining is tempting because it feels good, but like many other things that are enjoyable — such as smoking or eating a pound of bacon for breakfast – complaining isn’t good for you.

Your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future – so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.

You can’t blame your brain. Who’d want to build a temporary bridge every time you need to cross a river? It makes a lot more sense to construct a permanent bridge. So, your neurons grow closer together, and the connections between them become more permanent. Scientists like to describe this process as, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.

And here’s the kicker: complaining damages other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus – an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.

Complaining is also bad for your health

While it’s not an exaggeration to say that complaining leads to brain damage, it doesn’t stop there. When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol shifts you into fight-or-flight mode, directing oxygen, blood and energy away from everything but the systems that are essential to immediate survival. One effect of cortisol, for example, is to raise your blood pressure and blood sugar so that you’ll be prepared to either escape or defend yourself.

All the extra cortisol released by frequent complaining impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes.

It’s not just you…

Since human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with. This process is called neuronal mirroring, and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy. The flip side, however, is that it makes complaining a lot like smoking – you don’t have to do it yourself to suffer the ill effects. You need to be cautious about spending time with people who complain about everything. Complainers want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. Think of it this way: If a person were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? You’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with complainers.

eckhart-tolle-complain-quotes

The solution to complaining

There are two things you can do when you feel the need to complain. One is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. That is, when you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something that you’re grateful for. Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels. Any time you experience negative or pessimistic thoughts, use this as a cue to shift gears and to think about something positive. In time, a positive attitude will become a way of life.

The second thing you can do — and only when you have something that is truly worth complaining about – is to engage in solution-oriented complaining. Think of it as complaining with a purpose. Solution-oriented complaining should do the following:

  1. Have a clear purpose. Before complaining, know what outcome you’re looking for. If you can’t identify a purpose, there’s a good chance you just want to complain for its own sake, and that’s the kind of complaining you should nip in the bud.
  2. Start with something positive. It may seem counterintuitive to start a complaint with a compliment, but starting with a positive helps keep the other person from getting defensive. For example, before launching into a complaint about poor customer service, you could say something like, “I’ve been a customer for a very long time and have always been thrilled with your service…”
  3. Be specific. When you’re complaining it’s not a good time to dredge up every minor annoyance from the past 20 years. Just address the current situation and be as specific as possible. Instead of saying, “Your employee was rude to me,” describe specifically what the employee did that seemed rude.
  4. End on a positive. If you end your complaint with, “I’m never shopping here again,” the person who’s listening has no motivation to act on your complaint. In that case, you’re just venting, or complaining with no purpose other than to complain. Instead, restate your purpose, as well as your hope that the desired result can be achieved, for example, “I’d like to work this out so that we can keep our business relationship intact.”

Bringing It All Together

Just like smoking, drinking too much, and lying on the couch watching TV all day, complaining is bad for you. Put my advice to use, and you’ll reap the physical, mental and performance benefits that come with a positive frame of mind.

TRAVIS BRADBERRY       Entrepreneur.com      Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016
A version of this article appeared on TalentSmart and Entrepreneur.com.
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Real Preventive Medicine: The 5 Keys to Staying Healthy

Elson M. Haas, MD

What is called “Preventive Medicine” in America in the 21st Century is really more appropriately termed early intervention and early diagnosis. Having immunization injections or taking tests such as x-rays and mammograms, prostate exams, and blood tests are not really preventive in nature. Rather, they are an attempt to detect diseases in an early state. What is promoted as cancer prevention with the use of mammograms or prostate exams, sigmoidoscopes or colonoscopes is really early cancer diagnosis. This is done in hopes that cancer can be aggressively attacked before it spreads and destroys the entire body and life. Cancer represents a state of toxicity and its reaction on cellular mechanisms in the body; it is a disease of our body and not separate from it, and represents some breakdown or misguidance of our intricate immune system. After it occurs, it clearly is difficult to treat without great measures. Preventing cancer (and cardiovascular diseases, for that matter) is indeed an important goal in preventive medicine.

Real Preventive Medicine—preventing acute and chronic diseases—in other words, Staying Healthy, results from the way we live. We are a culmination of our life experiences. Our health is a by-product of our life, our genes and constitutional state, our upbringing and the habits we develop, our diets, our stresses and how we deal with them, our illnesses and how we treat them (whether we attempt to discover the underlying cause and change our lifestyle so we no longer manifest disease patterns)—all of this and more affects the level of health and vitality we experience. How we live—our lifestyle choices—is the key to long-term health, quality of life, and vitality in our later years.

The five keys to good health and disease prevention are:

  • Diet—what we eat and how, i.e. our intake habits.
  • Exercise—stretching and working our body regularly to keep it flexible and strong.
  • Sleep—adequate rest and sleep (and dream time) for each of us is crucial to “recharging our batteries,” healing many problems, keeping our moods balanced and staying healthy.
  • Stress Management—learning to deal with life’s ups and downs.
  • Attitude—keeping a positive outlook so we treat our self and others with the life-supporting respect and care we deserve.

The first level of dietary reform involves assessing potentially-toxic daily habits, such as the regular use of sugar, nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, and chemicals—what I call our SNACCs—and cleaning these up or taking breaks from them to re-assess our health potential and how we feel. I believe all of these substance abuses so common in modern-day cultures act as insidious poisons when used consistently over the years. The incidence of chronic, debilitating disease is steadily growing in our culture and these long-term habits are also prime contributors to this poor health in our aging years.

My nutritional message in my personal life, practice and my books has been to turn back (or forward) to a nature-based diet for greater vitality and health, to eat closer to the earth’s food source, from the gardens, farmer’s market, from the orchards, away from the boxed and canned foods and the refined and “chemicalized” cuisine. Focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, nuts and seeds, and much less animal-based foods and refined/processed foods will greatly improve health, both in our immediate future and over the years.

5keys

Our exercise program must be frequent (at least three to four times a week), consistent over the years, and balanced, which is very important. A balanced exercise program should include regular stretching for flexibility, weight work for building tone and strength, and aerobics for endurance and stamina. Exercising regularly commonly improves body function and health as well as attitude. It is one of our best stress managers, relaxers, and mood elevators.

We should exercise realistically at our current level of physical strength and endurance so that we can progress consistently and avoid injury. If we are just beginning and not in great shape, we can start slowly and build as our stamina and strength improve. If we have been working out regularly and are already fit, then it is beneficial to periodically evaluate our state and progress, and then make appropriate changes to exercise at our full potential.

Sleep offers life’s balance for all of our activity, and that’s physical, mental and emotional activity, too. Like breathing fresh air, drinking good quality water, and eating a nourishing diet, our nightly quality sleep is crucial to our well-being. There are many stages of sleep important to our body’s recharging itself, and although we all do not regularly recollect our dreams, we need to sleep deeply enough to go into that theta wave, REM (rapid-eye-movement), dream sleep. If we are not sleeping well, applying the other principles of Preventive Medicine, such as eating well and avoiding stimulants, exercising regularly earlier in the day, and managing stress may all be helpful. And we don’t have to turn to medications for sleep because there are many natural remedies that can help, such as calcium and magnesium, L-tryptophan, and many herbal relaxers.

Managing stress is a key element in minimizing health risk and enjoying life. Stresses are our body/mind responses to our personal experiences and we are individual in the issues to which we respond and react. There are so many illnesses and diseases that are generated or worsened by stress that it is imperative each of us develop skills to deal with mental and physical demands and emotional challenges. Simple relaxation techniques, meditation, exercise, sports, outdoor activities, and especially internal disciplines like yoga or tai chi are all extremely valuable in dealing with both daily and long-term stress.

I believe one of the greatest problems of modern day life is the Indigestion of Life. Most of us do not have enough personal time to digest and assimilate our daily experiences— work, relationships, and food that we experience rapid-fire throughout our day-to-day existence. This leads to the implosion of energy and the potential explosion of emotions or bodily symptoms. These are our body’s attempt to convey messages we do not have time to receive and incorporate. Here again, it would be helpful if we were to take time to quiet ourselves, to breathe and listen, to digest and assimilate, to experience and enjoy. Taking time to clear ourselves, to become current and ready for new creativity and life is a concept and an activity that can lead us to more optimum health.

Likewise, staying positive and motivated to experience life, unafraid to handle challenges or deal with uncomfortable emotions is also crucial to health. Lifestyle Medicine is the highest art of healing for each of us. As a doctor, I believe the most important thing I can do is to encourage my patients and readers to make personal changes in their lifestyle—diet, exercise, proper sleep, stress management, and attitude. If our lifestyle supports health, then we can influence our own health over the course of our entire lives.

Our personal health and well-being is up to each of us. We can begin by first assessing our health and lifestyle. What changes will provide us with more energy, greater clarity and vitality, and better overall health and longevity? We can create a plan to implement and experience a better quality of health with fewer sick days, fewer doctor’s visits, and a more enjoyable and livable life.

Elson M. Haas, MD is a medical practitioner with nearly 40 years experience in patient care, always with in an interest in natural medicine. For the past 30 years, he has been instrumental in the development and practice of Integrated Medicine at the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (PMCM), which he founded in 1984 and where he is the Medical Director. Dr Haas has been perfecting a model of healthcare that integrates sophisticated Western diagnostics and Family Medicine with time-honored natural therapies from around the world.
This educating, writing doctor is also the author of many books including Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine, 21st Century Edition, The NEW Detox Diet: The Complete Guide for Lifelong Vitality with Recipes, Menus, & Detox Plans and more. Visit his website for more information on his work, books and to sign up for his newsletter.


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Why Complaining Is Holding You Back & How To Stop

January 8, 2014       by Alanna Ketler

We all do it at some point or another, usually quite a few times per day and generally too much. We complain about the weather, our jobs, our partners, our friends, our cars, our houses, our headaches, our food, our plants, our animals and pretty much everything else. Why do we do this? I think that we all know that complaining doesn’t actually fix anything or make anything better, but we still do it, all the time. Some people do it a lot more than others, but in general most people are doing it too much. Perhaps we can find out an answer.

Most people do not even realize how much they complain because it is a habit, and like most habits it tends to be so familiar that it goes unnoticed. A complaint can generally be a good icebreaker for some people. Do you ever find yourself or someone else commenting on things like how crappy the weather is, how long the line is or that the store or bank should have more cashiers on? It seems that it is easier for people to say something negative and get a good response than it is to say something positive. People also complain because they want validation for their negative thoughts, they want to know that other people agree with what they are saying.

The thing about complaining is that it actually creates more negativity in our lives, and the more you do it the more down you feel, it is like a snowball effect. Sometimes we tend to use a complaint as an excuse for something, if we are late we might say that the traffic was out of control today, instead of taking responsibility for our actions and just taking a mental note that we should have left earlier. Being frustrated with something like traffic on the way to work, which is entirely out of your control, can actually make you feel down or upset for the entire day. This one complaint sets off a bad mood, which often leads to even more complaining. In turn this isn’t just affecting your mood, but everyone’s mood around you as well.  Have you ever noticed how drained you feel after getting together with a friend and all they do is complain? Have you found yourself completely drained after complaining a lot to a friend? There is no doubt about it complaining brings us down.  To clarify, there is a difference between an observation and a complaint, an observation is simply noticing something and making a comment about it without any judgment or negativity towards it. You can probably feel pretty easily whether or not you are making an observation or a judgment.

stop complaining

So What Can We Do?

The first step to breaking this habit is to admit you have a problem… just kidding. The first step is to be aware of your complaints throughout the day. I watched an episode of Oprah about 5 years ago and one of the topics was about a book called “A Complaint Free World,” and a technique was discussed to assist with breaking this habit. You wear a bracelet on your wrist either the left or right, every time you complain you have to switch the bracelet over to the other wrist. The goal is to eventually not have to switch the bracelet at all for an entire day. This is a great tool to help you become more mindful of your complaints, but also the less you complain the easier it is for you to completely break the habit.

Try to lessen your judgments towards people and situations, if you aren’t judging so often you most certainly won’t be complaining. When these judgments do come up, try and look at why they are happening in the first place and why you are bothered by what other people are doing, or the situation you’re in. If you can’t change the situation that you’re in you have no choice but to walk away from it, or accept it.complain

A big one is to just try not to dwell on things and don’t take things too seriously. Sometimes small problems are greatly exaggerated, but in the grand scheme of things how important is it really?

Now with all this being said, I don’t think that it is a good idea to pent up all of our anger, frustration and unhappiness, I think it is very important to express ourselves and ‘vent’ from time to time. The key here is to look at our thoughts and actions and be aware of how we are feeling and thinking. Changing our negativity, not blocking or ignoring it, but getting to the point where little things are not making us upset anymore, so instead of blocking all of your anger, you just aren’t feeling as much of it. I think the world would be a much happier place if we would focus more on the awesome aspects to life, rather than the draining, depressing sides to it! We can all do our part to see this happen, its up to us to

“Be The Change You Wish To See In The World.”   🙂

Much Love

Sources and further readings
http://www.acomplaintfreeworld.org/
http://tinybuddha.com/blog/10-ways-to-complain-less-and-be-happier/
http://www.mindbridgetraining.com/why-do-we-complain


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How to Keep Negative Thoughts from Sabotaging Your Life

“The Buddhists have a great term for these (thought) excesses. They refer to them as the condition of “monkey mind.” A person in the throes of money mind suffers from a consciousness whose constituent parts will not stop bouncing from skull-side to skull-side, which keep flipping and jumping and flinging feces at the walls and swinging from loose neurons like howlers from vines…” – Daniel Smith, author of ‘Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety’

To feel as if you are a victim of your own thoughts is not a pleasant experience. Being barraged by a seemingly endless stream of negative thoughts is both exhausting and potentially even dangerous to your physical and mental health.

Regardless of what you may think about Buddha or the philosophy of his teachings, he was perhaps the most brilliant psychologist to have ever lived. Long before medication, cognitive therapy, and psychoanalysis, the Buddha was writing and teaching about the human mind with brilliant insight and wisdom.

A core tenant of his teachings was that of a “monkey mind,” describing (accurately) the fact that the human mind can be compared to that of drunken monkeys, where our thoughts are constantly chattering while jumping around aimlessly and endlessly.

These thoughts include those of a negative nature – fear, anxiety and worry among them. Negative thoughts, if prevalent and ceaseless, can indeed sabotage your life. Fortunately, there are some practices that will detoxify these drunken monkeys and put them back in their place.

Here are 5 different ways that you can keep negative thoughts from sabotaging your life.

1. Remember that your negative thoughts are automatic.

This cannot be stressed enough. When you are faced with an uncomfortable or undesirable situation, the responses that you often have inside your own mind are frequently automatic. In other words, you really don’t control them – but you do control the reaction that you have. We are going to discuss some specific practices below.

2.  Don’t fight your negative thoughts

Here’s something to remember: you cannot get rid of negative thoughts by engaging in a mental battle with them. These thoughts are not true anyways, so what’s the use in fighting something that is imaginary?

Here’s an analogy: consider a tabloid article about a celebrity engaging in their latest extramarital affair. Out of curiosity, you read the article’s outrageous claims and determine that there is no validity to it. The article is completely biased, its contents exaggerated and taken out of context. With no intent to buy, you put the tabloid and its useless drivel back on the shelf, shake your head, and just move on with your day. While inexplicably enticing, it provides nothing true, important or useful.

Same thing applies to your negative thoughts. It’s tabloid material for your mind.

messy thoughts

3. Keep yourself and your thoughts productive

When you do something productive and of value, you are significantly decreasing the possibility of negative thoughts arising. After all, you are doing something enjoyable while realizing the inner fruits of your labor.

Have you ever heard the phrase “The idle mind is the Devil’s workshop?” You don’t need to be of any religious orientation or belief system to understand that remaining idle makes you vulnerable to negative thoughts and feelings. After all, you have a lot of time to think…too much time in many cases.

Read a book, write, listen to music, or check off something on your to-do list. Whatever you do, try to keep your mind engaged in something of value to you.

4. Be aware of the company you keep.

Outside of yourself, the presence of others is the most powerful influence on your thoughts. Therefore, stay away from people who are consistently negative and downtrodden. These types of people will drain your energy, lower your guard, and make you susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings.

In some cases, you may need to work with people like this. If so, limit your interaction to strictly business and nothing else. If these individuals insist on interacting with you, politely state that you have something to do – even if it’s checking the email on your phone). If necessary, verbalize your concerns and tell them (politely, but with firmness) that you are trying to keep a positive mindset and that their presence makes it difficult.

While certainly not the easiest thing to do, being straightforward and honest will get negative people thinking about their behavior, while potentially resulting in them making some positive changes. If nothing else, they will limit their interactions with you.

5. Stop procrastinating

Being human, many of us have the tendency to put things off until absolutely necessary. While this tendency is certainly unproductive, procrastination also allows negative thoughts to creep in. These negative thoughts are often a by-product of guilt – you know what you need to do, you have the time to do it, yet you choose not to in favor of engaging in something more interesting.

To stop procrastinating requires both self-discipline and self-awareness. You must learn to control your impulses and redirect your energy towards the task at hand. Further, you must be aware of the fact that immediate gratification is really not gratifying at all. Instead, it produces weakness of character while managing to stunt your ambitions.

In closing…

If you have read the article to this point, you obviously have the mindset of a proactive individual and desire to rid yourself of negative thoughts. Good for you!

While getting rid of all negative thoughts may indeed be impossible, you can take some of the action steps mentioned in this article to drastically reduce their presence. Remember, you are not your negative thoughts. If nothing else, absorb this fact, commit it to memory, and repeat it every time you find a negative thought arising within your mind.

Never, ever let negative thoughts derail you from living the fruitful, happy life that you so deserve.

We hope that you all stay productive, healthy, and encouraged as you continue on in your life’s journey – each and every day.


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Join a Choir, Sing Your Way to Happiness?

December 6, 2013 | By Health Editor

FRIDAY, Dec. 6, 2013 (HealthDay News) — Singing in a choir might be good for your mental health, a new study suggests.

British researchers conducted an online survey of nearly 400 people who either sang in a choir, sang alone or belonged to a sports team. All three activities were associated with greater levels of mental well-being, but the levels were higher among those who sang in a choir than those who sang alone.

The poll also revealed that choral singers regarded their choirs as more meaningful social groups compared to how athletes viewed their sports teams.

The study, presented Thursday at a meeting of the British Psychological Society in York, England, did not actually show a cause-and-effect link between singing in a choir and being happy, however.

“Research has already suggested that joining a choir could be a cost-effective way to improve people’s well-being,” study author Nick Stewart, of Oxford Brookes University, said in a society news release. “Yet we know surprisingly little about how the well-being effects of choral singing are brought about.”

“These findings suggest that the experience of using your voice to make music may be enhanced when you feel part of a cohesive social group,” he said. “Further research could look at how moving and breathing [in concert] with others might be responsible for creating a unique well-being effect.”

Research presented at meetings is typically viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

source: news.health.com


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How Happiness Boosts the Immune System

Researchers have struggled to identify how certain states of mind influence physical health. One biologist thinks he has an answer

When Steve Cole was a postdoc, he had an unusual hobby: matching art buyers with artists that they might like. The task made looking at art, something he had always loved, even more enjoyable. “There was an extra layer of purpose. I loved the ability to help artists I thought were great to find an appreciative audience,” he says.
At the time, it was nothing more than a quirky sideline. But his latest findings have caused Cole — now a professor at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the University of California, Los Angeles — to wonder whether the exhilaration and sense of purpose that he felt during that period might have done more than help him to find homes for unloved pieces of art. It might have benefited his immune system too.
At one time, most self-respecting molecular biologists would have scoffed at the idea. Today, evidence from many studies suggests that mental states such as stress can influence health. Still, it has proved difficult to explain how this happens at the molecular level — how subjective moods connect with the vastly complex physiology of the nervous and immune systems. The field that searches for these explanations, known as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), is often criticized as lacking rigour. Cole’s stated aim is to fix that, and his tool of choice is genome-wide transcriptional analysis: looking at broad patterns of gene expression in cells. “My job is to be a hard-core tracker,” he says. “How do these mental states get out into the rest of the body?”
With his colleagues, Cole has published a string of studies suggesting that negative mental states such as stress and loneliness guide immune responses by driving broad programs of gene expression, shaping our ability to fight disease. If he is right, the way people see the world could affect everything from their risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease to the progression of conditions such as HIV and cancer. Now Cole has switched tack, moving from negative moods into the even more murky territory of happiness. It is a risky strategy; his work has already been criticized as wishful thinking and moralizing. But the pay-off is nothing less than finding a healthier way to live.
“If you talk to any high-quality neurobiologist or immunologist about PNI, it will invariably generate a little snicker,” says Stephen Smale, an immunologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is not affiliated with the Cousins Center. “But this doesn’t mean the topic should be ignored forever. Someday we need to confront it and try to understand how the immune system and nervous system interact.”
The best medicine?
In 1964, magazine editor Norman Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a life-threatening autoimmune disease, and given a 1 in 500 chance of recovery. Cousins rejected his doctors’ prognosis and embarked on his own program of happiness therapy, including regular doses of Marx Brothers films, and credited it with triggering a dramatic recovery. He later established the Cousins Center, which is dedicated to investigating whether psychological factors really can keep people healthy.
At the time, mainstream science rejected the idea that any psychological state, positive or negative, could affect physical well-being. But studies during the 1980s and early 1990s revealed that the brain is directly wired to the immune system — portions of the nervous system connect with immune-related organs such as the thymus and bone marrow, and immune cells have receptors for neurotransmitters, suggesting that there is crosstalk.
These connections seem to have clinical relevance, at least in the case of stress. One of the first researchers to show this was virologist Ronald Glaser, now director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at the Ohio State University in Columbus. “When I started working on this in the 1980s, nobody believed what stress could do, including me,” he recalls. He and his colleagues sampled blood from medical students, and found that during a stressful exam period, they had lower activity from virus-fighting immune cells, and higher levels of antibodies for the common virus Epstein–Barr, suggesting that stress had compromised their immune systems and allowed the normally latent virus to become reactivated.
The field of PNI has grown hugely since then, with medical schools worldwide boasting their own departments of mind–body medicine, of which PNI is just one component. It is now accepted that the body’s response to stress can suppress parts of the immune system and, over the long term, lead to damaging levels of inflammation. Large epidemiological studies — including the Whitehall studies, which have been following thousands of British civil servants since 1967 — suggest that chronic work stress increases the risk of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes, for example. Low socio-economic status increases susceptibility to a wide range of infectious diseases, and there is considerable evidence that stress increases the rate of progression of HIV/AIDS. But researchers have a long way to go before they will understand exactly how signals from the brain feed into physical health.
Worried sick
PNI studies have mostly tended to look at levels of individual immune-cell types or molecular messengers — such as the stress hormone cortisol and the immune messenger proteins called cytokines — or the expression of individual genes. But Cole wanted to get a sense of how the whole system was working.
His first foray, published in 2007, looked at loneliness. Social isolation is one of the most powerful known psychological risk factors for poor health, but it is never certain whether it causes the health problems, or whether a third factor is involved: lonely people might be less likely than others to eat well, for example, or to visit their doctor regularly.
Cole and his colleagues looked at gene expression in the white blood cells of six chronically lonely people — people who had said consistently over several years that they felt lonely or isolated, and were fearful of other people — and eight people who said that they had great friends and social support. Out of the roughly 22,000 genes in the human genome, the researchers identified 209 that distinguished the lonely people from the sociable ones: they were either regulated up to produce more of an individual protein or regulated down to produce less. Any individual gene could easily look different by chance, but Cole was struck by the overall pattern. A particularly large proportion of the upregulated genes in the lonely group turned out to be involved in the inflammatory response, whereas many of the downregulated genes had antiviral roles. In sociable people, the reverse was true. It was a small study, but one of the first to link a psychological risk factor with a broad underlying change in gene expression.
The researchers have since replicated that result in a group of 93 people. Cole says that he has also seen a similar shift in gene expression in individuals exposed to various types of social adversity, from imminent bereavement to low socio-economic status.
The results make evolutionary sense, he says. Early humans in close-knit social groups would have faced increased risk of viral infections, so they would have benefited from revved-up antiviral genes. By contrast, people who were isolated and under stress faced greater risk of injuries that could cause bacterial infection — and thus would need to respond by ramping up genes associated with inflammation, to help heal wounds and fight off those infections. But modern stresses lead to chronic and unhelpful inflammation, which over time damages the body’s tissues, increasing the risk of chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer and diabetes.
To a classical immunologist such as Smale, Cole’s results are “intriguing, wonderful observations”, but not yet completely convincing. In future work, he wants to see the rest of the physiological pathway nailed down. “Until you put together a full understanding of that mechanism, you have this level of uncertainty and scepticism,” he says. That sentiment is echoed by Alexander Tarakhovsky, an immunologist at the Rockefeller University in New York City. Pinning down precise mechanisms — for example, which neurotransmitters cause which specific effects — is extremely difficult, he says, because the brain and the immune system are both so complex. Cole’s research “makes you think about what the consequences of social hardship could be, but it doesn’t really tell you how it works”.
Greg Gibson, director of the Center for Integrative Genomics at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, wants to see larger studies but argues that the big-picture “genetic architecture” that Cole is uncovering is worth studying, even if not every detail of the mechanism is yet understood. “A lot of people are taking a whole-genome approach, but they focus only on a handful of ‘top hits’. They are missing the wood for the trees.”
Don’t worry, be happy
In 2010, Cole received an e-mail from Barbara Fredrickson, a friend from graduate school who was now studying emotional well-being at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. “Remember me?” she said. She was interested in the biological correlates of happiness and other positive emotional states, and suggested that the pair collaborate. After years of looking at stress and adversity, Cole loved the idea. “I was bored as hell with misery,” he says.
If PNI as a whole has credibility issues, studying well-being is even trickier. It is more slippery to measure than stress — there is no biological marker such as cortisol to fall back on and no simple way to induce it in the lab, and mainstream biologists tend to look down on fuzzy methods of data collection such as questionnaires.
One approach is to test whether it is possible to reverse the adverse effects on gene expression caused by stress. Cole has collaborated in three small, randomized, controlled trials that attempt to do this. Studies involving 45 stressed caregivers and 40 lonely adults respectively found that courses in meditation shifted gene-expression profiles in the participants’ white blood cells away from inflammatory genes and towards antiviral genes. A third trial, led by psycho-oncologist Michael Antoni at the University of Miami, Florida, involved 200 women with early-stage breast cancer. In those who completed a ten-week stress-management program, genes associated with inflammation and metastasis were downregulated compared with those of women in the control group, who attended a one-day educational seminar. Meanwhile, genes involved in the type I interferon response (which fights tumors as well as viruses) were upregulated in the women who took the stress-management course. “Our conclusion was that mood matters,” says Antoni. “If we change the psychology, physiological changes do parallel that.”
Cole and Fredrickson aspired to go further. Instead of looking at the benefits of blocking stress, they wanted to investigate what happens in the body when people are happy. To that end, they asked 80 participants 14 questions, such as how often in the past week they had felt happy or satisfied, and how often they felt that their life had a sense of meaning. The questions were designed to distinguish between the two forms of happiness recognized by psychologists: hedonic well-being (characterized by material or bodily pleasures such as eating well or having sex) and eudaimonic well-being (deeper satisfaction from activities with a greater meaning or purpose, such as intellectual pursuits, social relationships or charity work).
The researchers were surprised to find that the two types of happiness influenced gene expression in different ways. People with a meaning-based or purpose-based outlook had favorable gene-expression profiles, whereas hedonic well-being, when it occurred on its own, was associated with profiles similar to those seen in individuals facing adversity.
One interpretation is that eudaimonic well-being benefits immune function directly. But Cole prefers to explain it in terms of response to stress. If someone is driven purely by hollow consumption, he argues, all of their happiness depends on their personal circumstances. If they run into adversity, they may become very stressed. But if they care about things beyond themselves — community, politics, art — then everyday stresses will perhaps be of less concern. Eudaimonia, in other words, may help to buffer our sense of threat or uncertainty, potentially improving our health. “It’s fine to invest in yourself,” says Cole, “as long as you invest in lots of other things as well.”
Perils of positive thinking
This is just the kind of advice that attracts some of the most vociferous criticisms of Cole’s work. James Coyne, a health psychologist and emeritus professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, says that Cole and Frederickson’s well-being study is simply too small to show anything useful. He also argues that the measures of eudaimonic and hedonic happiness are so highly correlated in the study as to be essentially the same thing. Coyne says that early results are being vastly over-sold. “They claim that if you make the right choices, you’ll be healthy. And if you don’t, you’ll die.”
Coyne wants researchers across the field of PNI to stop publicizing claims about health benefits until the science is more solid. “They’re turning it into books and workshops, telling people how to live their lives.”
Fredrickson, for example, is the author of two popular books, including Positivity (Crown Archetype, 2009), which posits that a specific ratio of positive to negative emotions (2.9013, to be precise) is linked to good health. The book has been praised by eminent psychologists such as Daniel Goleman and Martin Seligman, but the set of equations behind the ratio was criticized this year by Alan Sokal, a physicist at New York University (who famously published a deliberately nonsensical paper in the journal Social Text in 1996, intended to expose the lack of rigour in the field of cultural studies). He pointed out that the equations are based on parameters from a 1962 paper on air flow, with no connection to psychological data at all. Fredrickson acknowledges problems with the maths, which she based on a peer-reviewed paper on the complex dynamics of teams, but says that she stands by the fundamental principles described in the book. “There seems good enough evidence to suggest that emotions contribute to health.”
Cole and Fredrickson agree that their study is small and needs to be repeated. But they say that extensive previous research has validated the questionnaire they used and confirmed that it measures two distinct, albeit highly correlated, emotional states. They also note that correlation does not necessarily mean that two states are the same: height and weight are also highly correlated, for example, yet describe different things. Each type of happiness tends to encourage the other, says Fredrickson, “but we can try to understand which is leading the way towards health”.
The researchers are not the first from the PNI community to face accusations of wishful thinking. Indeed, the story of the field’s founder — hailed in the press as proof of the power of positive emotions — has been questioned. Immunologists have suggested that Cousins was not suffering from ankylosing spondylitis at all, but from polymyalgia rheumatica, which often clears up on its own. His “health probably coincidentally remitted”, says Cole.
Despite the criticisms, and the fact that his work is in its early days, Cole says that he is struck by the evidence that positive emotions can override the biological effects of adversity — enough to make changes in his own life. Although he no longer has time to engage in the art trade, he has embraced the ways that his hobby helped him. “I have spent most of my career and personal life trying to avoid or overcome bad things,” he says. “I spend a lot more time now thinking about what I really want to do with my life, and where I’d like to go with whatever years remain.”
This article is reproduced from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on November 27, 2013.


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11 Tips to Help You Think More Positively

JUNE 12    BY PAUL SLOANE

In a study at the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minnesota patients were given a personality test that assessed their levels of optimism and pessimism. The progress of the patients was measured over 30 years, and it was found that the optimists lived longer than average for their age and gender while the pessimists had a shorter than average life. Researchers found that optimism strengthens the immune system and helps people to adopt healthier lifestyles. Optimists feel better about themselves and take better care of themselves, while pessimists confirm their fears by having higher blood pressure, more anxiety and depression.

You can choose to have depressing, negative thoughts or inspirational, positive thoughts; your attitude determines your mindset, which in turn determines your behaviours and the outcomes in your life. Many studies show that you will achieve more, feel happier and live longer if you chose the positive option. Here are some tips to boost your positive thinking.

Believe in Yourself
Successful people start with a deep inner self-belief. It has been shown that self-belief is more important than intelligence, education or connections in terms of life-long achievement. The important starting point is your conviction that you are capable of significant achievement or that you have something special to contribute.

Set Clear Goals
If you have no destination then your journey is haphazard. If you write down ambitious but achievable goals, then you are already on the road to accomplishing them.

Form a Mental Picture of Your Success
Imagine yourself achieving your goals. Savour the experience of your book being published, of making the sale, of giving the speech to rapturous applause, of winning the race, of living your dream. As your mind comes to terms with this picture it will help you to put the steps in place in order to achieve it.

Take Ownership and Responsibility for Your Life
Don’t be a victim. Don’t blame others or circumstances. You are the captain of the boat and you decide where it goes and what happens. If you are unhappy with an aspect of your life, then form a plan to change it and take action.

Talk to Yourself
Become your own motivator by telling yourself positive things. For example: at the start of the day you might say to yourself, “I am going to do really well today.” Or, “I am going to make real progress towards my goals.” When things go wrong or you falter, don’t make excuses—say something like, “That was my fault, but I can learn from that setback.”

 

yayEliminate the Negative
Use positive self-talk to overcome the doubts and negative thoughts that creep into your mind. Deliberately eliminate worries about difficulties and obstacles by taking a positive attitude, “I can overcome this challenge.” You do not ignore problems—you face up to them with a constructive and optimistic attitude.

Associate with Positive People
Among your friends, relatives, and associates there are probably some upbeat, positive, optimistic, dynamic people and some downbeat, negative, pessimistic or cynical people. Think about them for a moment and select examples of each. You should spend more time with the positive people and less time with the negative people. The optimists will inspire and encourage you, while the pessimists will feed your doubts and make you depressed.

Count Your Blessings
Draw up an assets and liabilities sheet for yourself. If you are educated, employed, healthy, in a loving relationship, financially solvent etc., then put these on the assets list. If you are unemployed, ill, in a toxic relationship, bankrupt, etc., then put these items into your liabilities list. The chances are that your assets will far outweigh your liabilities. We tend to take all the good things in our lives for granted and focus on our failings and needs instead.

Find the Silver Lining
Learn to look for the opportunities in every situation that comes along. Many self-employed consultants will tell you that being made redundant was the best thing that ever happened to them. At the time it may have seemed a terrible blow but now they have found greater fulfilment and satisfaction in what they do. Every change brings good as well as bad, opportunities as well as threats. The people who do well in life are the ones who use setbacks as springboards for new successes.

Relax and Enjoy Life More
Lighten up a little. If you can laugh at things then you can cope with them more easily. Don’t try to do everything at once. Don’t become overburdened with work. Deliberately give yourself little treats and do things that make you smile. Laughter is the best medicine—and the cheapest—so try to keep a balance between work, exercise, relationships and play.

Fake It.
If all else fails then fake it. If you are really worried, nervous, or doubtful, then pretend that you are confident and self-assured. Stride to the lectern, smile at the audience and act as though you are positive, professional and successful. Acting the role helps you develop the attitudes and behaviours that go with the part. You can fool the audience, and more importantly, you can fool your brain—you will start to be the confident, positive person that you are acting.

If positive thinkers achieve more, live longer, and are happier than negative thinkers then why would anyone choose to be a negative thinker? The answer is that many people find negative thinking to be an easy option that is more comfortable and offers less challenge. Do not fall into that trap. Think positively!

source: www.lifehack.org